I’m back! Apologies for not informing all of you – that is, my massive fan base – I would be departing Chicago for the summer to spend it in the lovely Fishkill, New York where I was, sadly, kitchenless. Although since said massive fan base consists entirely of family and friends (need I remind you that in my first post I claimed I would gain international fame within two weeks. It’s been over two weeks sure, but trust me, the international fame is still a comin’) you all probably knew where I was headed this summer. Thus, no need for forewarnings about my lack of posts.
Now you probably expect me to go in to some lengthy explanation of my summer adventures. More on those to come later. Maybe. For now, there are more pressing things at hand. Like Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. (If the author’s name sounds vaguely familiar but you can’t quite place it see if this helps: He also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
Pollan’s book had been recommended to me several times before but it took going to Boston to get me to read it. Well, Boston wasn’t really the deciding factor. It was more my friend, who I was visiting in Boston, handing it to me and telling me to read it, which got me to open up the book. And now I wish I had a million dollars because if I did I’d buy you all a copy and have my personal assistant mail it to you.
It was that good. More than good. Revolutionary. That might be a slight exaggeration. Lets say…eye opening, although that doesn’t seem to do it justice. Anyway, instead of summarizing the book I’m going to let the author do it for you here. What I will tell you is that Pollan gives his reader a very simple pieces of advice, eat food. Yes, eat food. That means real food. Plants, vegetables, whole grains. Not Go-Gurt and 100 calorie packs. Not Lean Cuisines and Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough. Not Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Frosted Flakes. Not even white flour, as much as it can be avoided. He does not say move west, become a hippy or a mountain man or whatever you want to call it, and start growing all your own food. No, no he says eat food with the understanding, at least in my mind, that sometimes it’s just not possible. Of course the book goes far beyond Pollan’s simple piece of advice. To help you understand Pollan’s whole argument and all his suggestions I believe it’s my turn to give you a simple piece of advice: Read the book.
For these granola bars we can thank Michael Pollan then. After reading the book, more like after reading ten pages of the book, I felt inspired to go home and start cooking more of what I eat on a daily basis, that is, pantry staple so to speak. And granola bars are certainly a staple in my life.
I had long ago read about these granola bars on, once again, the Smitten Kitchen website. I was immediately drawn in by the hundreds of comments it received as well as it’s flexibility (see my notes below!). Long before I read this recipe though I had fallen in love with Cran Lemon Zest Earnest Bars, aka the most delicious granola bars ever. Shortly after my discovery, the Whole Foods nearest me stopped carrying the brand. (This summer, however, I found some on the east coast and, after a short investigation, found out that they can be bought online with free shipping and no tax. Score.) So, using the original recipe on the Smitten Kitchen site, I decided to try to replicate the Earnest bars I had once eaten so religiously. And below is my version. While it is not a perfect replication it is equally delicious if I do say so myself. And, I know exactly what’s in them. 100% real food.
Homemade Granola Bars
adapted from the Smitten Kitchen
Remember, this recipe is very flexible. Very very flexible. The flax seed and wheat germ can be completely omitted if desired. Instead of cranberries, walnuts, and almonds you can use any combination of dried fruit and nuts as long as it equates to 2 to 3 total cups worth. (Other possibilities include, but are certainly not limited to, dried apricots, cherries, or blueberries, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, coconut, sesame seeds, or chocolate chips.) The lemon rind and lemon extract can also be omitted. You can substitute vanilla extract is desired or just leave out the “extract” component entirely. Finally, you can likely use all olive oil (or a different type of oil like sunflower or canola) or all butter for the fat. The skies the limit!
I highly recommend following the link above to the Smitten Kitchen site and reading the comments Deb’s followers have made in regards to this recipe. There are some fabulous tips and suggestions. The beauty of this recipe is that you can truly make it your own but a little guidance can still be helpful. The advice from all those who have tested this recipe before may just give you this needed guidance and a dose of inspiration. I for one will be trying chocolate and coconut in mine next time.
Oh, and one more thing…apparently the bars freeze well. I haven’t tested this out yet but if it indeed proves true what a great way to have homemade granola bars on hand at all times!
Makes about 16 bars
1 2/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup whole grain oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup ground wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup walnuts
3/4 cup almonds
1 teaspoon lemon rind
1 teaspoon lemon extract
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey (or maple or corn syrup)
1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Coat the parchment paper and exposed sides with a non-stick spray or lightly grease.
Stir together all the dry ingredients, expect the lemon rind. (The dried fruit and nuts can be chopped, or not, to taste. Obviously, the less they’re chopped the chunkier the bar.) In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon rind, lemon extract, olive oil, melted butter, peanut butter, honey and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry using a fork until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack or, after about 20 minutes, lift and remove the bars from the pan using the parchment paper. Place on a rack in their paper to cool the rest of the way. (The latter method can speed up the cooling process.)
Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. (If the bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them for 30 minutes. Then cut them cold.) To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it is best to refrigerate the bars.