Category Archives: Back to Basics

Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

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Your (soon to be) favorite granola bar.

When I was pregnant and shortly after I had my son fifteen months ago, I received a great deal of advice.  Some of the advice was game changing, like the advice to get an Ergobaby carrier so I could “wear him down” to sleep while still getting some things done.  Some of the advice clearly works for some babies but not mine…like the advice to put River in his crib and allow him to soothe himself to sleep.  Let me just say that after many, many, many attempts and variations, he wants nothing to do with that business (and who would, when they can fall asleep with their head on mama’s warm chest, listening to the thump thump of her heart?).  And some of the advice was just plain weird, like the time I was told by a well-meaning stranger at a concert that I should take a washcloth and rub vigorously to “toughen up my nipples” before I had my son.  Seriously.  A stranger told me that.  I can’t make this stuff up.

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Two pieces of advice that have been truly invaluable during this time have been 1) to take care of myself and 2) to embrace routine.  Both are often easier said than done but over time I have found some great ways to streamline my day and make sure my basic needs are met so I can be a good caregiver and worker.  As a food lover and still-nursing and pumping mom, that means making sure that I have snacks and lunches prepped and packed for the week every Sunday.  I’m all about making one big batch of snacks and lunches to last through the weekdays.  Freezable dishes?  Even better.  This recipe for granola bars provides me with a healthy snack that is easy to make ahead of time, easy to pack, provides a great boost of energy, and is freezable.  A super food.

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Roasted oats and nuts added to the dried fruit.

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Adding the brown rice syrup, honey, and peanut butter.

When I started out on my task of creating a granola bar recipe, several recipes I encountered online required baking the bars.  I found that it was very difficult to get a consistent end result that was not dry or too chewy.  After much tweaking and taste testing, this granola bar recipe is the result of my efforts.  It requires roasting the grains and nuts ahead of time to add flavor without drying or hardening the bar.  After the grains and nuts are roasted, it only takes a few moments to stir the dry and wet ingredients and to pat them in the pan to set.  Easy.  Delicious.  Cheaper than a Kind bar.  My favorite granola bar yet.  I hope you love it too.

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Combining the wet and dry ingredients until everything is evenly coated.

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Use a flat bottomed bowl or measuring cup to tamp down the mixture.

Have a sweet tooth?  These granola bars are naturally sweet from the brown rice syrup and touch of honey.  Still hankering?  To turn this into more of a dessert granola bar, add a handful of dark chocolate chips to the mix.  You won’t regret it!

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With dark chocolate chips added.

Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola Bars

Ingredients

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup puffed millet (optional – you can use another cup of rolled oats if you don’t have puffed millet)
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 2.5 cups dried fruits such as raisins, cranberries, etc.
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (I like to use crunchy)
  • 2/3 cup brown rice syrup (I buy at iHerb.com)

Instructions

  1. Put the oats, millet, almonds, and pumpkin seeds on a large sheet pan. Spread to distribute evenly. Roast at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until crispy but not browned.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the honey, peanut butter, and brown rice syrup on low in a saucepan. Heat just enough to easily be able to mix the peanut butter with the sweetener.
  3. Put the dried fruit into a large bowl. Add the roasted grains and nuts and mix. Pour the liquid mixture onto the dry mixture and stir well to combine.
  4. Pour the mixture onto a sheet pan or a 9x13 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Press the mixture into the pan hard enough to ensure the mixture will adhere and be able to be cut into bars. I recommend using a flat bottomed measuring cup or bowl to press the mixture into the pan!
  5. Place the pan into the fridge to cool off for an hour.
  6. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles.
  7. These also freeze very well so you may freeze any extras you have.
  8. Makes about 24 bars.
http://dinnerwithaura.com/homemade-fruit-and-nut-granola-bars/

Pumpkinseed, Date, and Tahini Bars

DSC_0807 It’s been quite a while so this is going to be a looooong post….about pumpkinseed, date, and tahini bars.  About Transitions lenses.  About motherhood.  Let’s start with transitions.

Transitions…I’ve had a few.

Three years ago I lived by myself in a historic home in downtown Grand Rapids.  I worked from home and spackled, sanded, and painted my house in the evenings.  I took my dog for a walk nearly every night and would stop to watch live music downtown.  I did yoga four to five times per week – once I even did thirty classes in thirty days for a challenge.  I posted on this blog every week.  Yup.  Every week.

That feels like a lifetime ago.  In what feels like the blink of an eye, my whole world has forever changed.  I recently did five yoga classes…in seven weeks.  It was a small victory. Parenting, nursing, and working full time doing research for a footwear company has changed the every moment and the every day.  For one, I’ve had a real reality check in the kitchen.  Like packing my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for the entire work week on Sundays so I can eat well throughout the week.  Like steaming, baking, and pureeing everything I can think of so my little one can enjoy healthy and diverse solid foods and learn to love food like I do (puh-lease do not turn out to be a picky eater…I will crumble).  Like burning the rice syrup while making these granola bars because he crawled out of the room (how did he get so fast???).  Like nearly burning the granola bars because I left them in for two extra minutes.

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Now put away your tiny violin.  I’m not telling you a sob story.  Most of everything has been so positive.  My son brings more happiness to me than I could have ever imagined.  I get to see the world from his perspective and finally have someone else in the house who completely gets my humor (he giggles when I pretend to smell his feet and say peeeeeuw!).  And like everything else, this stage is a transition, a phase that won’t last forever.  So I’ll just do my best, and keep on trucking.

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But I digress.  I wanted to talk about Transitions for another reason.  The good folks at Transition Lenses asked me to try out a pair of glasses.  Don’t mind if I do, I said, I’ll try anything once.  I have to admit that the first image that crossed my mind was Cindy Knoebel.  Seventh grade.  Small glasses not much larger than swim goggles.  Looking like she wore her sunglasses inside for ten minutes after first hour started.  It didn’t really seem like my thing.  Now, keep in mind that I was not exactly hip.  I wore ugly-with-a-capital-U non-Transition lenses.  Non-shading and non-transitioning from ugly.  And keep in mind that Cindy Knoebel turned out to be prom queen and married the prom king.  Maybe she was onto something.  Anyhow, I gave them a shot and I have to say…I was pleasantly surprised.  The tinting changes much more quickly than in the past.  I was asked to choose from several shading options.  And was able to add all the fancy stuff like anti-glare and a blue-screen filter to protect my eyes from the many hours in front of the computer screens at work.  I also ran into two very cool people at an outdoor music festival this weekend wearing Transition lenses.  Seems like it may be the cool people wearing them after all.

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Well finally, let’s get back to what this blog is all about.  Food.  These granola bars from Cooking Light are my snacks for the week.  On principle, I don’t buy snack bars because I know I can make them myself (but never do).  They were so easy to make (they require about 10 minutes of dedicated attention), very easily adaptable, and very healthy to boot.  I made this version, adding almonds, chia seeds, and some dried cherries to it.  Let me know if you try these…and especially let me know if you come up with fun adaptations for the recipe!

For this and many other DIY healthy snack bar ideas, head to Cooking Light’s DIY Snack Bar slideshow.

Pumpkinseed, Date, and Tahini Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups puffed barley cereal (I couldn't find any so used puffed millet)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup prechopped dates
  • 1/3 cup toasted pumpkinseed kernels
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons toasted uncooked quinoa (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine tahini, syrup, olive oil, vanilla, and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until bubbly. Alternatively, you can heat this on the stove but you must stir constantly and watch carefully so as not to burn the brown rice syrup mixture.
  2. Combine cereal, oats, dates, and pumpkinseed kernels in a medium bowl.
  3. Pour tahini mixture over barley mixture; toss well to coat.
  4. Press into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with quinoa (if using), pressing to adhere.
  5. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until set. Cool completely in dish.
http://dinnerwithaura.com/pumpkinseed-date-and-tahini-bars/

 

How To Make Homemade Croutons

Simple Herbed Croutons

You know the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?”  Well, this week I’m going to show you how to make your own croutons.  You’ll never want to buy a box of croutons again once you know how easy this is and how much better homemade croutons taste!

This is one of those very non-fussy cooking projects, where just about anything goes.  All you will need is some bread, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Ingredients for croutons

A note about the bread:  you can use just about any bread that you like to make these.  I prefer a whole wheat bread but the preferences end there.  You can start with a rustic loaf with, a light loaf, a dense loaf.  Even stale bread works beautifully here.  You should never have to throw stale bread out again–this is a perfect use for it.  Although I prefer whole wheat for everyday croutons, you can also use a rustic white bread, roughly torn into pieces.  It will make for a slightly less-healthy but really tasty version, great for panzanella (a bread salads).  For this batch, I used Stone House Bread’s Honey Wheat Sandwich Bread.  You can pick it up at Meijer for $3.39, a steal!  And this bread is what bread should be, made simply and locally with a few, high quality organic ingredients.

Bread for croutons

Just cut the bread into strips, turn the other way, and cube it!  You can also roughly tear it into pieces.  Either way the results will be great.

Strips of bread

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For the herbs, I prefer fresh parsley or basil but in a pinch, you can use dried if need be.  You will mix the herbs with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix:

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Put the bread cubes into a large bowl and pour the olive oil, herb, salt, and pepper mixture over the croutons.  Spread onto a large baking sheet, making sure to avoid overcrowding:

Bake in a 300° oven for about 15 minutes.  Check to see if they are browned and crispy.  If not, bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let sit until cool.  This will also harden the croutons further so they are nice and crispy.  Once they are completely cool, place in an airtight container.  They will keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature.

Simple Herbed Croutons

Simple Homemade Croutons

  • 6 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley, basil, or other fresh herb
  • generous pinch of salt
  • generous pinch of pepper
  • Optional:  1 minced clove of garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Optional:  2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 300°
  2. Cube bread or tear into pieces.  Place into a large bowl.
  3. Mix together the olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper, and garlic or cheese if you are using them.
  4. Pour the olive oil mixture over the bread and stir to coat well.
  5. Scatter the coated bread pieces onto a large baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes and check for browning and crispness.  If needed, put back into the oven until done.  Mine usually take about 20 minutes.
  7. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
  8. Enjoy on salads, soups, or right out of the jar!

How to Make Homemade Almond Butter: Roasted or Raw

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally try to trick me into eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I loathed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I used to sneak outside and feed them to Popcorn, one of our geriatric Shetland ponies. Lest you think of me as a picky eater, let me share that I much preferred alfalfa sprout, cheddar, and mustard sandwiches or pan-fried tofu and ketchup sandwiches.  Yes, an odd child with adventurous tastes indeed.  There was just something about a classic PBJ that turned me off.  Especially if it had sat in a Snow White lunchbox getting warm and soggy until noon.  Yuck.  I guess I was a foodie before I even knew it.

Fast forward.  I still don’t like PBJ. Probably never will.  And I’m still not too into peanut butter.  But other nut butters can definitely spark my interest.  Cashew and almond butters can be amazing!  They also tend to be expensive and take me a long time to eat a whole jar so I typically skip buying them.  But I recently discovered how easy it is to make your own super-smooth and creamy nut butters at home.  And the beauty is that you can make small batches and customize it to your preference by roasting, not roasting, or mixing some roasted nuts with raw nuts.

I’m pretty excited about this revelation.  So this week I’d like to show everyone how to make almond butter two ways:  roasted and raw.  This is one of the easiest things I’ve ever made (though decidedly not the easiest to clean up…but well worth it).  This week was the first time I have made almond butter and I just couldn’t wait to share the how-to!  Almond butter is (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) much tastier than peanut butter and has the added benefit of providing a hefty dose of Vitamin E.  Not only that, it is cheaper than store bought and you can make it to your liking, depending on if you prefer the taste of raw almonds or roasted.  All you need are some almonds, some salt, a food processor, a spatula, and some patience.  That’s it!  Let’s begin:

First, add about 3 cups of almonds to a food processor with the “S” blade.  The photos I have for this post are for a smaller batch (the larger batch was made under the cover of darkness…no good for photos) but the consistency is the same, whether you are making a batch with 1 cup or 3 cups.

Raw Almonds in Food Processor

Raw Almonds in Food Processor

Turn the food processor on and let it run for a minute.  At first, you will see the almonds grind down into an almond meal.  If you like using almond meal in your recipes (great for baking!), this is a great way to save money–grind your own!  If you are making almond butter, continue processing the almonds.

Phase One:  Almonds Become Almond Meal

Phase One: Almonds Become Almond Meal

The ground almonds will start to build up on the sides of the food processor.  You’ll want to stop the processor every 2-3 minutes and push the almonds down before continuing.

Phase Two:  Almonds Start to Build Up on Side of Processor

Phase Two: Almonds Start to Build Up on Side of Processor

After a while, the almonds will start to get a little clumpy:

Phase Three:  Almonds Start to Clump

Phase Three: Almonds Start to Clump

And will continue to get clumpier and stickier:

Phase 4:  Almonds Get Clumpier and Stickier

Phase 4: Almonds Get Clumpier and Stickier

At around the 10-12 minute mark, depending on how dry your almonds are, the almonds will finally start to release more oil and begin to resemble almond butter.  But don’t stop there!  It’s not quite done.

Phase Five:  Almost There!  About Another Minute or Two to Go.

Phase Five: Almost There! About Another Minute or Two to Go.

After another couple of minutes of processing, the almond butter will suddenly, magically, release more of its oils and become smooth and creamy.  If you taste it, it will be warm from the processing.  Now, add a pinch of high quality sea salt if you like and give it another whir.

Almond Butter Finished!  Smooth, creamy, and ready to eat.

Almond Butter Finished! Smooth, creamy, and ready to eat.

I had some of mine with some sliced apples.  Delicious!  You can use the almond butter in a recipe (try almond butter cookies–just like peanut butter cookies but better) or store in a glass jar in the fridge.  When you want to use the almond butter, take it out for a bit to warm it to room temperature for easier spreading.

Raw Almond Butter With Apples

Raw Almond Butter With Apples

Okay, so how about making roasted almond butter, you ask?  It is *almost* as easy.  There is only one added step:  roasting your almonds.  You will l want to roast your almonds in the oven on a dry sheet pan at 350° for 10 minutes.

Almonds Ready to Roast

Almonds Ready to Roast

When the almonds are roasted, they will turn a nice deep brown color:

Roasted Almonds

Roasted Almonds

Process the nuts in the same way that you would raw almonds.  When you are done, the result will be deeper in color and flavor.

Roasted Almond Butter With Apples

Roasted Almond Butter With Apples

Roasted almond butter tastes amazing on toast with some honey!  One thing to note:  if you want to add honey or any other liquid to your almond butter, wait until you serve it.  Adding liquid to your almond butter will reduce its shelf life.

Enjoy!

Toast with Roasted Almond Butter

Toast with Roasted Almond Butter

 

Homemade Granola with Fruit and Nuts

Homemade raisin almond granola

A while back I taught you all how to make your own yogurt.  I recently also shared this how-to with updated photos on the Grand Rapids Cooking School Blog.  Now that you know how to make your own yogurt, wouldn’t it be great if you knew how to make your own granola to eat with that yogurt?  Granola is a great breakfast and a great snack but is often so expensive to buy in stores and is often much higher in calories than it needs to be.  The good news is that it only takes about 40 minutes (only 10 minutes hands-on) to make a large batch of granola.  Not only is it considerably less expensive, it is so much tastier and you can put anything in it that you want.

Below is a basic granola recipe that can be easily adapted to suit your needs.   For the oil, you can experiment with olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil.  For the sweetener, you can try maple syrup, agave, or honey.  For the fruit and nuts, try any combination that you like.

If you are still not satisfied with your options (I thought I had perfected granola until my sweetie begged for clumpy granola), read on past the recipe to learn how to make CLUMPY granola!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups rolled oats (be sure not to use quick oats)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I switch it up depending on what I have on hand.  I have used raisins, dried apricots, currants, cranberries, or diced prunes–I bet dried blueberries would be great too!)
  • 1 cup nuts and seeds (I usually do a mix of chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, and raw sunflower seeds…but any combination of nuts and seeds will work!)
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • ½ cup real maple syrup, agave, or honey if you aren’t vegan
  • Optional:  sesame seeds, flax seeds, coconut flakes…anything else you want to add!

 Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300°
  2. Mix together oats, cinnamon, salt, nuts and seeds in a big bowl.  Please note:  I have added fruit to the mix at this point mostly with success…but due to burning the fruit a couple of times during the baking process I now choose to add it at the end!

Granola in bowl 3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt until smooth.

4.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring until all dry ingredients are well coated. Spread mixture onto two oiled baking sheets (make sure they are rimmed sheets!).Spread evenly and press down firmly into a single layer with a spatula.  You can leave an empty space in the middle of the pans to create another “edge” to prevent an uncooked middle.

Granola Spread Out in Baking Sheet

5.  Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until granola is golden brown and crisp at the edges. You can bake it to your preference.  One time I made the granola lightly browned:

Golden Brown Granola

And the next time I baked it a little longer:

Browned Granola

6.  Add fruit to the granola while still warm.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes on baking sheet before eating and at least 30 minutes before storing (allow to cool completely).  Store in an airtight jar.

Finished Granola

Now, since you’ve been so patient, I’m going to tell you the secret to making clumpy granola…egg whites!  I’m not sure yet how to make a vegan clumpy granola but so far, as a non-vegan, egg whites are doing the trick for me.  If you want clumpy granola, mix 2 egg whites into your wet mixture before adding to the dry.  When you bake the granola, be sure not to stir it while baking.  This will break up the clusters.  When the baking is complete, allow to cool completely before breaking the granola into nice big chunks.  There will be some chunks and some free bits too.

Now enjoy your amazing homemade granola and yogurt!

Homemade Granola and Yogurt