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Homemade Granola Bars

11 Apr

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If I were to tell you straight off the bat that these granola bars were made of whole grains, dried fruit, healthy nuts, and no added sugar or sweeteners, you would probably roll your eyes at me and then refuse a taste of what could only be an exercise of virtuous, boring, tasteless snacking. This would be a mistake, of course, because refusing a taste of one of these delicious granola bars is akin to refusing yourself a…well, a taste of a delicious granola bar. A really, really delicious granola bar.

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I am aware that most people do not give one hoot about what goes into a granola bar, and I understand why. Granola bars are not particularly exciting, and being readily available at any number of stores only adds to the banal nature of their status. But, if you are like me, and you like snacking, and you like your snacking to do as little damage to yourself as possible, you start to actually get interested in granola bars and the elements that make a fine granola bar what it is.

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As with energy bars, I tend to think that a granola bar should not be simply a disguised candy bar or a cookie. If you’re going to eat a candy bar or a cookie, just eat a candy bar or a cookie. Conversely, if you’re going to reach for a seemingly healthy granola bar, it should be all that its reputation advertises. Sweetened with pulverized dates and a hit of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (which is merely unfiltered apple juice, for all you Europeans out there), there is nary an extra sweetener included in these fellows. What is included in these granola bars, however, is a whole lot of stuff that is very good for you, and also has the added benefit of tasting good. It’s not all that often that you can find a place where those two distinctions overlap. Take advantage of that knowledge and put these to work right away.

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Another take on homemade granola bars (although a thicker, sweeter, heartier option) can be found here

Last Year: Cider-Braised Greens and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Tarragon Aioli

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups oats (not quick-cooking oats)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup roughly chopped nuts or seeds of your choice (I used almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds)

½ cup dried fruit of your choice, roughly chopped to be of similar size to the nuts (I used chopped dried apricots, but raisins, dried cherries, or dried blueberries would also be good)

1 cup pitted whole dates (plain, with no added sugar)

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider (also called unfiltered apple juice)

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” by 13” baking pan with a sling of parchment paper, then slightly spray or brush the pan and paper with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, sea salt, nuts, and dried fruit. Toss to combine.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the pitted dates and apple cider. Pulse until the mixture forms a thick paste, with some visible chunks of date still remaining.

In a medium bowl, combine date and cider mixture with almond butter, vanilla, and vegetable oil, then whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your hands, then pat the mixture into the pan, pressing it down into the edges and corners. The mixture will really, really want to stick to your hands, so keep rewetting your hands as necessary until you’ve flattened the mixture completely into the pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. I baked the batch pictured above for far too long, so it is overly darkened at the edges. Don’t make the same mistake.

Allow the bars to cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut them. Cutting with a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) works best for these. The granola bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, but they will keep indefinitely if kept in an airtight container in the freezer.

Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

6 Mar

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I am neck-deep in a rather large project right now (nothing exciting or surprising, unfortunately), but, as I sit at my desk and worry about work, my thoughts keep wandering back to this excellent salad I made last week. The salad had pretty much every element that I love a salad to have: great texture, lots of crunch, a subtle yet tasty dressing, and a nice dash of protein thrown in. Thinking about this salad keeps me from slowly losing my mind about my current work project, which is interesting. Who gets calmed down by a salad?

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Perhaps I should be talking instead about how this salad, while soothing to me, was also rather exciting. Not that calling a salad exciting is any less questionable than calling a salad soothing, but hear me out on this one. Every week or so, we’ve been experiencing a day of relative dryness, when the rain stops, the sun comes out, and everyone who has been trapped inside for months on end by the grayness and the rain comes outside and soaks up the brightness. Some of us, making the correlation between warmer weather and a change in available produce, rush out to find whatever is available to make a fresh, new meal. I love polenta and soup, but when the weather gets warmer, I want light, crisp, fresh meals, not warm, hearty meals that will warm me from the inside. The weather may not stay warmish for long, but I like to make the tiny bit of warmth as meaningful as possible.

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So, I had the idea for a great, crisp salad, loaded with fresh fennel and crisp apples. I had celery on hand, so I threw some in. The tops of the fennel were chopped up at the last minute and sprinkled about, and the result was nothing short of phenomenal. With a super light dressing of just lemon juice and olive oil, followed by a handful of raw pepitas, the salad came to life, earning a spot on my list of top five most favorite salads. Super crisp, wonderfully flavorful, and a reminder of warm days to come, it’s definitely going to make a few repeat appearances around here.

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Last Year: Quinoa, Arugula, and Roasted Beet Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing and Beet Greens and Chèvre Quiche–look at me, using every part of the beet.

Super Crunchy Fennel, Apple, and Celery Salad

One of the great things about this salad is the fact that the vegetables and fruit are sliced incredibly thin—we’re talking whip-out-the-mandoline-slicer thin—allowing each bite to cram in as much of each salad element as possible. As mentioned, I used a mandolin to slice everything as thin as possible, but you could also just use a super sharp knife and slice away.

2 cups fresh fennel, sliced super thin (about 1 large bulb), core removed, leaves set aside

2 cups super thin apple slices (about 2 small apples)

1 cup super thin celery slices (sliced across, not lengthwise, obviously)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil (using extra virgin olive oil will result in a much more punchy dressing, and using a lighter olive oil will give you a milder background of dressing)

big pinch of sea salt

big pinch of freshly ground black pepper

handful of fresh fennel leaves, roughly chopped

¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

In a large bowl, combine fennel, apple, and celery.

In a smaller bowl, add lemon juice, then slowly whisk in olive oil until the mixture is thick and emulsified (this shouldn’t take more than about 30 seconds). Whisk in salt and pepper, taste for more seasoning, and adjust as you see fit.

Pour dressing over fennel, apple, and celery. Toss to combine. Add chopped fennel leaves and pepitas, toss just a couple of times, then serve.

Serves 4 as a side salad, 2 as a main dish salad.

Roasted Parsnip and Potato Hash

6 Feb

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An open letter to root vegetables:

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Dear Root Vegetables,

Oh, root vegetables, how I love thee. I love the way you sweeten ever-so-slightly when roasted in the oven, with your edges so crisp, but your middles so soft and fluffy. I love the way your flavors can be so different, and yet you always adapt so well to similar preparations. Not all vegetables can accomplish this. I mean, I love broccoli and I love cauliflower, but have you ever tried to swap the two interchangeably within recipes? Let me tell you, a lot can get lost in that translation, so I advise you to steer clear of that experiment. It’s not like you, root vegetables. You’re all so friendly to one another, so perfectly matched.

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I mean, I just made this great vegetable hash out of three different types of root vegetables, and the whole time I was making it I was wondering how many other root vegetables I could throw into the mix and still achieve the same comforting, savory bite. The answer to that query is, of course, that I could throw in all the root vegetables and always end up with a fantastic combination. Here I have parsnips, sweet potatoes, and red potatoes, but I could easily throw in a diced carrot, a turnip, or even a golden beet and effortlessly end up with a lovely, delicious platter of food. Maybe next time I will give a new cast of root vegetables a try in this recipe. I am sure it will be delicious. I mean, I am sure you will be delicious. Oh, dear. I am sorry. It just occurred to me that, uh, I am going to have to eat you as soon as you read this. Well. This just got rather uncomfortable. My apologies.

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All the best,

Elizabeth

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Last Year: Gingerbread Waffles and Caramel Cream Sandwich Cookies

Roasted Parsnip and Potato Hash Recipe

1 large parsnip, peeled if the skin is tough

1 medium orange-fleshed sweet potato, peeled if the skin is tough

1 large red potato

3 large cloves of garlic

1 large shallot

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

handful of chopped Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange a rack in the second-lowest position.

Dice the parsnip and potatoes into very small ¼-inch chunks. Very coarsely chop the garlic into rough quarters. Slice the shallot in half lengthwise, then into medium ribs. Combine parsnip, potatoes, garlic, and shallot on a large, heavy baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss everything together to combine.

Roast on second-lowest oven rack for 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the root vegetables are nicely browned. Toss the vegetables around a bit, turning them over as much as possible, then continue to roast them for another 5 minutes, until the edges are crisp and golden.

Sprinkle with chopped fresh Italian parsley, then serve with softly fried or poached eggs.

Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on how generous you make the servings.

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