Wednesday, September 2, 2009

granola bars

granola bars

Some of you have asked me to share what kind of cooking I’ve been doing to stash in the freezer and hopefully tide us over for the coming storm (T-minus 22 days, not that anyone is counting). I know it’s common, in a fit of impatient nesting, for soon-to-be mamas to tuck away pans of enchiladas and lasagnas and meatballs and other hearty, freezable fare so that they don’t starve in those early weeks when the baby demands constant surveillance (okay, cooing), but despite understanding the logic behind this, I should confess: I’m prepping nothing.

dried apricots, cranberries and raisins

At least one of the reasons I’ve decided to ignore sound advice to cook and stash while I can is that food could not be easier to come by around here. Hummus platter with fava bean stews, pirogis and borscht and/or Tom Collichio-crafted sandwiches arrive so quickly after you call, we’ve become convinced that they’re actually preparing in our building’s basement and you don’t even want to know how many Thai and sushi restaurants there are per block around here (at least two). Plus, both of our families live within an hour of the city and (Hi Mom! Hi Alex’s Mom!) our moms are not only good cooks, but have vowed to keep us from starving. Wasn’t that sweet of them?

granola mix

But mostly, I don’t want to fill our freezer with practical meals that will allow us to dote fully on our baby is that I hope to get back in the kitchen as soon as humanly possible after the baby is born, and the only way to get me back in the kitchen is to let me get hungry for something that nobody makes the way I want them to. It is the only reason I cook, it’s the only reason I’ve ever wanted to cook and it’s the only thing that’s going to get me to cook when feasting on pudgy baby cheeks no longer cuts it, as impossible as that is to imagine.

Though I did make granola bars, albeit as much for now as for later. I spend a ridiculous amount of time in doctor’s offices these days and I’m not the kind of person who plans ahead well and find myself starving and wondering if it would kill me to just once pack a nutritious snack. The pre-packaged ones are ick to me, more candy bar than wholesome, but I had one from Le Pain Quotidien last week that was so good, so hearty and so barely sweet, I knew I was overdue to try my own hand at them. I’m so inspired, I might even make an extra batch for the hospital bag. I hear it helps wash down the post-baby double-bourbon.

granola bars

A different granola bar: Several months later, I added another granola bar recipe to this site, a thicker, chewy one. You can see the recipe, along with dozens of adaptations (and more in the comments!) over here.

One year ago: Bourbon Peach Hand Pies
Two years ago: Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes
Three years ago: 44-Clove Garlic Soup and Silky Cauliflower Soup

Granola Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten

I started with Ina Garten’s recipe but hacked it a bit. First, I decreased the sugar because, as I mentioned, I find most granola bars excessively sweet. Think you’ll miss it? Stir in the 1/4 cup brown sugar I took out. I also removed the tablespoons of butter, as I’m convinced that the oil component in most homemade granola recipes prohibits clumping. Of course I have yet to do a side-by-side test of this theory — this is the Smitten Kitchen, not America’s Test Kitchen! — so if you think you’ll miss the butter, stir in three tablespoons, melted.

Finally, if you’re going to be a houseguest this holiday weekend — can I come, too? — I think these would make a spectacular hostess gift. Or, you know, something to tide you over until the rest of the house rouses for a late breakfast.

Makes 12 to 16 granola bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed (I used unsweetened)
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cup dried fruit, or a mix of dried fruit (I used chopped apricots, cranberries and raisins)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter an 8×12-inch baking dish (lacking this, I used a 9×13-inch) and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and press, press, press it in (wet fingers and/or a silicon spatula work great for this) until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares — your best serrated knife is great for this.

You can store these in an airtight container at room temperature for a week or two, as you would cookies, however, I prefer to store mine in the freezer. I find that they stay the most crisp this way as all granola tends to soften at room temperature after a day or more.


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