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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Homemade No-Bake Granola Bars

We like granola bars in our house.  We usually have them for breakfast, but they're good for a nice snack once in a while, too.  Problem is, while many store-bought versions look like they're healthy, they really aren't that great.  (They're healthier than other options, but you know what I mean.)

So I found a recipe in a blog by David Lebovitz for No-Bake Granola Bars.  They sounded good, so I tried them--with a little bit of adjustments to my taste and what we had on hand. 

Well, not only were they easy to make, they were really tasty!  Salty and sweet, a little chewy and a little crunchy.  And no high-fructose anything.  Try them!

NO-BAKE GRANOLA BARS (adapted from David Lebovitz)
Play around with the kinds of fruit and nuts you put in the bars--use what you like or what you think would make a good combination.  Make sure you do not skip toasting, though--it's a huge part of the great taste.

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 cup pitted dates, diced
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried fruit (I used cherries and blueberries), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup honey (I added a little more when mixing because it looked a little dry)
Pinch of salt
  • Preheat oven to 350 (Yes, I know they're "no-bake".  This is for toasting some of the ingredients.)
  • Line the bottom of an 8" square baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Spread the oats and sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 8-12 min, stirring once or twice, until they are slightly browned.  (Keep an eye on them--my oven did it in about 8 min.  Another minute or so and they would have burned.)  Scrape into a large bowl.
  • Spread the almonds on the baking sheet and toast for 10 min.  (You'll smell them when they're close.)  Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop them and add to the oats.
  • Meanwhile, heat the peanut butter, honey and salt in a small saucepan, stirring until warm, but not boiling. 
  • Add dates, chocolate chips, dried fruit and peanuts to the bowl.  Combine.
  • Pour warm peanut butter mixture over the stuff in the bowl and stir until completely incorporated.  (I used a wooden spoon, but hands would work great, too.  This is where I added a little more honey to hold things together a bit better.)
  • Transfer to the pan and pat it down as flat as possible.  Freeze for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the freezer and run a thin knife around the edge to release it from the sides.  Tip is out on a cutting board, remove the parchment and cut into rectangles.  (I cut it in half and then made bars by cutting parallel to the first cut.)
  • Store them in the fridge.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Freezing Tips

First, sorry.  I know I haven't been blogging much lately.  I'm going to try to change that.

I will start with some ideas for getting the most of your money using your freezer. 

I was rooting around in our freezer the other day and noticed some things in there that I thought would be some good tips to pass on as ways to lower waste and save money.  Who doesn't want to do that?  Maybe you know some of these tips, maybe you don't.  And maybe you have others to share--so please do!

Recipes that call for tomato paste rarely use a whole can.  So what do you do with the paste left over?  You can put it in an airtight container in the fridge if you're going to use it soon.  But usually it ends up getting pushed to the back of the fridge and you find it turned into an interesting science experiment.  I scoop tablespoon-sized globs of the paste onto a plate or pan with parchment paper on it and stick it in the freezer.  Once frozen, I put it in a freezer bag--all ready for you to thaw and use when you need it. 

I'm a Parmesan snob, so 9 times out of 10, I grate my own Parm (and Romano) instead of using pre-grated.  Believe me, it's much better that way.  Anyway, you can only grate so far before getting to the rind.  I save these rinds in the freezer and use them to flavor sauces, stews, soups--anything where the cheesiness can help to improve the flavor of your end product.  Simply throw the rind in and let it melt into your dish.  Yum.

Why is it that there always seems to be a banana or two that isn't eaten?  It just sits on the counter getting soft and black.  If it's too soft to eat (but not yet rotten), throw it in the freezer.  They will turn black very quickly, but freeze solid and are great for using in banana bread or pancakes or muffins.  Pull what you need out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter (they thaw pretty quickly).  Instant banana puree ready for your recipe! 

Buttermilk is the tomato paste of the dairy world.  You always need just a portion of the carton it comes in.  Instead of putting it in the fridge for a while and trying to think of a bunch of buttermilk recipes, measure out 1/4 cup portions of the buttermilk into a muffin tin and freeze.  Once it's frozen, put them in a freezer bag and you have buttermilk already measured out--just pop it in the microwave and return it to a liquid state and you're good to go!

There are other things we do that aren't currently in our freezer:  Mary Beth makes loads of basil pesto at the end of the season and we freeze it in ice cube trays--a great way to get a taste of summer in the midst of winter.  In fact, ice cube trays are a great way to save lots of things for later.  I sometimes freeze wine in trays to use later.  Or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  They come in little cans and you never need all of them.  Give them a chop, measure out into an ice cube tray (in tablespoon-sized portions) and you have it whenever you need it.

So there you go--stop wasting food and money with some of these simple freezer tips.  Again, if you have any to share, let me know!