Easy Granola Bars

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Easy Granola!

Easy Granola!

Who doesn’t like a nice, tasty granola bar? Call it what you will: protein bar, energy bar, “health” bar, as long as it can’t be compared unfavorably to a brick of sawdust, it is probably popular and thusly sells very well. Add chunks of chocolate, or a thin base of chocolate underneath and you probably have the sales leader!

But are they really as healthy as you think? That depends. Like cars, they all tend to have the same basic shape, and they all have many of the same parts – it’s just that some parts are better for you than others. The trick is in knowing which is which.

Why not make your own?

If you make it yourself, you know exactly what goes into it. You can adjust ingredients to meet your desired goals. Want more quick energy? Add a bit more honey. Want more protein? Vitamin E? Zinc? Add some wheat germ. Need the extra crunch? Pumpkin seeds will help, and they pack in some unexpected protein, too!

Based on a recipe from the culinary team at my office, here is an easy recipe for making your own granola bars. And hey, it’s an easy activity kids can help with (except the stove-top and oven parts. Use common sense, people!)

Prep Time: 15 minutes                   Cooking Time: 20 – 25 minutes                   Cool-down time: 3 hours

This recipe makes 16 bars, maybe more, maybe less, depending on how you cut them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups of rolled oats (as in Quaker Oats found in the cylindrical cardboard package)

1 cup of almond slivers

1 cup of shredded coconut

1/2 cup of pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2/3 cup of honey (use locally harvested, if you can. Legend has it local honey helps build immunity to allergies. Is it true? I have no idea. But it’s a cool idea, isn’t it? Plus, you’ll be helping out a local business. And who’s against that? I didn’t think so!)

1/4 cup of light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 cups of dried cranberries (or any combination of dried fruits, i.e. 1 cup raisins and 1/2 cup cranberries.)

Directions:

–    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. or gas mark 4 for certain UK ovens, or Stufe 3 for das Deutsch – Ofen. [good granola bars know no borders!]

–    Take a small bit of butter and coat the bottom and inside walls of a 9×13 inch baking dish.

–    Now line the pan with parchment paper. Make sure you have enough paper to overlap the sides of the dish. I didn’t do this when we made the bars today, but now I see the value. Trust me – line with parchment paper. Getting the bars out later will be sooooo much easier!

–    In a large heat-resistant (i.e. Pyrex) bowl, toss the oats, almonds, and coconut together.

–    Pour mixture onto baking sheets and spread thin and evenly.

–    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes; take out, stir gently, re-flatten out, then place back in the oven for 5 more minutes or until toasty and lightly browned.

–    Remove from oven and pour mixture back into large heat-resistant bowl.

–    In a small sauce pan, place the unsalted butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir ingredients together as you heat the mixture over medium heat, just until the mixture starts to boil.

–    Once boiling, reduce heat just a bit and stir for one minute.

–    Pour the hot liquid over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Why wooden? Why wooden you? Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

–    Add the dried fruit and stir again until thoroughly mixed.

–    Pour everything into your prepared 9×13 inch baking dish. Press down until you have an even thickness throughout.

–    Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees F. (gas mark 2 or stufe 1.5)

–    Bake the granola for 20 minutes, then check every few minutes until the desired level of browning is reached. We stopped after 22 minutes.

–    Remove from oven and let cool for three hours. Refrigeration may help but we didn’t try it this time.

When ready, slice the bars and serve. Ours were about 1 inch wide by 6 inches long. If you don’t want to serve them right away, you can wrap individual bars up in plastic bags. Once sealed up, these bars will keep for several days. They make great snacks for traveling, too!

Enjoy!

No time to be a vegetarian?

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Dinner Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Dinner Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Spare time is one of those things we never seem to have in abundance. We always have somewhere to go, people to meet, planes to catch. The pile of work never seems to get smaller and the phone never seems to stop ringing. Maybe that’s why we have grown to love our fast food restaurants. Drive up, speak into a microphone on a pole, pay a few dollars and then have your “meal” handed to you as you keep on driving.

“I know,” you say, “fruits and vegetables are more nutritious. The school nurses have been telling me that since I started school as a little tyke.”

“But I just don’t have the time to prepare all of that healthy stuff.”  That’s what many of us say, at least.

I used to say the same thing. However, today we spent about 30 minutes in the grocery store, shopping for mangoes, bananas, apples, and all of their friends in the produce section. Then I spent another 30 minutes or so washing, chopping and bagging the vegetables. The result? My wife and I had two very nice dinner salads, and I still have six more bags of romaine lettuce, a package of fresh spinach,individual bags of red onion and broccoli, plus a super-sized bag of my vegetable medley. This is a mix of carrots, yellow squash, green zucchini, celery and yellow and green bell peppers.

Now, to make a salad I just grab a bag of romaine, a handful or two of medley, and a little bit from each individual bag. Add a few cherry tomatoes from the fridge and a quarter cup of seeds from the pantry and I am all set for a huge (a delicious) salad. Dressing? A little balsamic vinaigrette works wonders. Crack some pepper on top and I am set.

I spend about 5 minutes in the morning putting my lunch salad together before I get in the car for the drive to work. Think you don’t have 5 minutes to spare in the morning? Time yourself next time you go through the drive through at your local burger joint.

Think of it this way: with one hour of work on a Sunday, and 5 minutes a day, you can have a great salad every day for the next week!

And for those who are worried about protein – many vegetables have protein in abundance. A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds has 9 grams of protein! Who needs a chicken breast when you can have the flavor and crunch of pumpkin seeds on top of your healthy salad?

And for another layer of flavor and texture, add some cooked quinoa or brown rice seasoned with Bragg’s Amino Sauce!

Try this meal planning technique and see how you like it!

It’s working for me – it can work for you, too.