Granola Bars

ImageFor the most part, I think store-bought granola bars either taste like cardboard (that would be the Kashi and Nature’s Valley varieties) or corn syrup (Cascadian Farms, Cliff Bars and Quaker). They’re one of those products that marketers want you to think are healthy, when really, most of the time, they’re over-processed, full of sugar, and don’t really satiate your hunger. The only store-bought granola bars I love are Larabars and Kind bars. Though they’re tasty, they are not cheap, and I’m still not 100% sold on them because I’m a big eater and need more to my granola bars than those tiny portions provide. So, about a year ago, I took matters into my own hands and went on the search for the perfect homemade granola bar recipe.

And I couldn’t find it. 

I know, I’m picky. I wanted the *perfect* balance of crunchy & chewy. I tried so many different recipes. Most called for ingredients I wanted to avoid completely: butter, vegetable oil, and corn syrup. Eventually, I decided to play around in the kitchen until I figured out what worked for me. And, finally – like with my biscuits – I got there. 

Everyone always asks for the recipe, so, here you go. It’s really more of a ratio than a recipe, so you can play around with it, adjusting the contents to your liking. As long as you keep the ratios the same, these should turn out fantastic every time.

Granola Bars

Reader’s digest version (i.e. the ratio): 2.5 cups oats (with dash of salt & cinnamon), 3.5 cups nuts & dried fruits, 1 cup nut butter, 1 cup honey. 

That’s it! I promise. Here’s the details on how I work them:

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment, spray parchment with cooking spray. This step is crucial to making bars. If you don’t take the time to line your pan, you’ll end up with granola bars that stick in the pan and turn into crumbled granola which – while tasty, especially in a bowl with soy milk – doesn’t work so well for eating on the go, as I do with these nearly every day.

In a large bowl, combine the following:

2.5 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking; I use Bob’s Red Mill)

pinch of salt

some cinnamon (maybe a 1/2 tablespoon?)

1/3 – 2/3 c. flax seed (and if you’ve got any chia seeds, throw them in there, too)

Then, stir in 3.5 cups of nuts, seeds & dried fruit. My combo is usually: sunflower seeds, craisins, raisins, walnuts, pecans, cashews. However, sometimes I throw in dates instead of raisins. Or pistachios instead of pecans. Or pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower. Or add in a handful of dark chocolate chips. Or add some apricots. Or slivered almonds. I do not measure any of these ingredients, so I can’t tell you how much of any I put in there. But I can tell you this:

* I always make the grand total 3.5 cups and 

* I thoroughly chop all my nuts and

* I use more nuts than fruit. 

And I can tell you that all combinations of nuts & fruit I’ve tried have been equally as successful and tasty, though I do tend to stay away from super sweet dried fruits, like pineapple and banana, and I also use plain, unsalted nuts. Except for pistachios. Because, really. Dry roasted & salted pistachios are ah-mazing. 

Then, on the stove, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine: 

1 cup of natural nut butter (my favorite combo is 1/3 cup each peanut, cashew and almond, but you could easily use all peanut butter). NOTE: natural peanut butter contains no sugar, which is why I use so much honey. So if you use non-natural nut butter, you might want to adjust the sugar content in the next step. I haven’t tried this, so you’ll be going rogue – just a warning. 

and 1 cup honey. You can switch it up and use part honey & part agave nectar, but I find the agave nectar to be too sweet. (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who is unhappy with iced tea unless it tastes like tea-flavored sugar water and eats Nutella by the spoonful.) 

Once the honey & nut butters have melted together, pour that mixture in the big bowl with the oats & nuts & fruit, and mix to combine. I use my hands. It’s the only way I can get the granola fully incorporated with the nut butter/honey mixture. (Random aside: I’ve giggled every time I’ve typed “nut butter.”) 

Pour all of the combined granola mixture into the lined pan. Mash it down really well. Get it in all the corners. Really smush it. Then smash it down some more. Take out your aggression on that poor granola. This step is crucial to a dense bar that holds together well. 

Bake for 10 minutes. Take them out of the oven, get a spatula, and smash the granola down in the pan again, using your spatula. This step is crucial, again, to a dense bar.

Return to the oven, and bake for 10 more minutes. Cool completely before trying to cut them. in fact, it’s best if you can let them chill out in the fridge overnight before cutting them into squares. 

These will keep for 2 weeks if you wrap them individually in plastic wrap and keep them in the fridge, but I’m guessing they won’t last you that long because you’ll want to eat them all at once. Or, if you’re like me, you share them with people you love and they go pretty quickly that way, too. 


Grilled Salmon

Team Dawmilam has salmon at least once a month. I could eat it much more often than that; it’s not only a delicious fish, but incredibly nutritious. A warning: one time I tried to make this particular type of salmon from frozen filets, and it was gross. I’m not sure if all frozen salmon is anti-tasty, but I err on the side of caution and, whenever I want salmon, I just go pick it up fresh from the grocery store, aiming to always pick up something that is fresh and not from frozen.

This recipe is simple, healthy, and easy. If you don’t have a grill, you can easily cook this on the stove following the same directions, but your house will definitely smell like salmon for at least 3 days. Plus, the grill imparts a delicious smokey flavor that you just can’t get from a stove, no matter what they tell you about using a grill pan on Food Network.

Grilled Salmon

(sorry, I didn’t take a picture of dinner before I dug in last time I made this. I was too hungry. So here’s a happy salmon to entertain you.)

First: go pick up some filets of salmon – the fresher, the better. It may cost you more, but it’s worth it. Aim for about 4 ounces per serving. I’ve been a big fan of keta salmon that’s been available at Harry’s in Marietta this summer; its flavor is a little milder than a lot of the salmon I’ve had before and it takes to this particular marinade really well. For the price point (it’s the cheapest fresh salmon available at Harry’s; picked it up for $11.99/pound last weekend), you can’t beat it. (If you’re super budget conscious these days, just go get Kroger salmon for $7.99/pound and still enjoy this recipe. Or do what my friend Dana did and have some salmon specially ordered and flown in overnight for a special treat if you’re interested in going all out. That sounded fantastic, D!)

Second: prepare a marinade. Combine about 1/3 cup soy sauce, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, juice of a lime, splash of rice wine vinegar, freshly grated ginger, and some oil in a small container. You can set aside a small portion of this particular sauce to heat up over the stove and pour on top of the cooked salmon as a sauce, if desired (and can increase the ingredients to make sure you have enough of said sauce; just do not reuse the marinade as a sauce after it’s been hanging out with the fish for any amount of time). Taste the marinade before you combine it with fish to correct seasoning. Is it too sweet? Add some vinegar or more lime juice. Too salty? Balance it out with sugar or honey. Pour marinade over 2 large filets of salmon, bones removed (that’s a total pain in the ass, too, so make sure you’ve got some wine waiting on you to help relax after the 20 minutes you spend picking salmon bones out of the flesh), and place in the refrigerator for however long you possibly can – 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Third: when you’re tired of waiting on your salmon to marinate, heat up the grill (I tend to crank it to about medium high), place salmon on an oiled sheet of tin foil, skin side down, for about 6 minutes. Flip to the other side, cook another 6 minutes. Remove from grill and enjoy! Serve with rice (white or brown), grilled asparagus, a side salad, broccoli, spinach, or any other green vegetable.

I usually dislike reheating seafood, but I will tell you that this particular dish reheats really well. Just be careful about reheating it in public so you don’t offend your co-workers with a lunch area that smells like the sea.

Granola Bars

I’m tired of store-bought granola bars. Team Dawmilam consumes a lot of them; Dave eats a peanut butter Nature’s Valley granola bar every day for breakfast, and I keep a stash of some variety (Kashi, Cascadian Farms, or even Quaker) in the “food bin” in my shared office. (Luckily, desk-mate Meredith shares my love of snacks, and she always contributes something tasty to the food bin.)

However, as I was gnawing on a Kashi peanut butter chip “chewy” bar the other day, I realized two things: (1) it tasted like cardbord, and (2) life’s just too short to eat dry, over-sugared, over-processed, no good granola bars.

A quick internet search and a nice fun visit to Harry’s later, I made these:

I basically used two recipes online for two different types of granola bars. The first version: “Hawaiian” style (there’s pineapple and macadamia nuts in there; that’s Hawaiian, right?) were basically uncooked, meaning I just poured a sugary mixture over them and allowed them to sit until they were somewhat hardened. The second version, a more traditional peanut butter/nut/seed combo, were baked for 20 minutes. I couldn’t resist taste testing them while baking, and we’ve been enjoying them all week. The jury’s still out on which one’s better. Everyone who’s tried both has a different opinion on which is better. I actually don’t have a preference: they’re both fantabulous.

Hawaiian Granola Bars

My base was this recipe, and I adjusted it slightly, as follows (had to leave out the shredded coconut since Dave hates it and I’m a good wife like that):

Toast 2 cups oats in oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. While oats are toasting, chop finely some dried pineapple, dried banana slices, white chocolate chips (use sparingly), and macadamia nuts. This should total about 2 cups worth of dried, tasty, chopped up stuff. When oats are out of oven, allow to cool slightly, and stir into dried fruit & nut mixture.

In a small saucepan, heat up 1/3 cup regular brown sugar, 1/3 cup honey, 4 tablespoons butter, and some vanilla extract. Pour into dried fruit/nut/oat mixture, stir together, and spread in a baking dish that’s been lined with parchment and greased up in some way. Allow to sit for at least 3 hours before trying to cut them.

Peanut Buttery Craisin Granola Bars

Again, adapted from someone else’s recipe, as follows:

Combine the following in a bowl:

1 1/3/ cup rolled oats

1/3 cup oat flour (I made by pureeing 1/3 cup oats in the blender)

dash of salt and cinnamon

2-3 cups of dried fruit and nuts (I used slivered almonds, craisins, and sunflower seeds)

Then, combine about 1/2 cup plain sugar, 1/3 cup peanut butter, some vanilla, 1/4 cup honey, 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup, and 6 tablespoons melted butter in another bowl. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, stir together, and place in a baking dish lined with parchment and greased up in some way (I prefer butter or cooking spray). Cook at 350 for 25-30 minutes, and allow to cool for at least 3 hours before removing and trying to cut.

I can tell you from personal experience, both are just fine crumbled up into yogurt and/or consumed by the handful. No more store-bought granolas for me, unless it’s an emergency.