When people ask if we’re settled into our new house, I can finally say yes. Well, not including things upstairs. Or the boxes all over the basement. But we called the downstairs settled, with pictures hung on the wall and welcome mats in place, at 11PM the night before Lilli’s fourth birthday party, which was scheduled to start at 11:30AM on the following day. Lilli asked for a dinosaur-themed party, so I found dinosaur paper tablecloths, napkins, and plates, and dinosaur sun catchers as an arts-and-craft project for the kids to work on in the playroom. Obviously, the kids didn’t touch the sun catchers and were totally fine with playing dress-up, making play-dough messes, and sticking stickers on any and all surfaces.
I called a bakery to inquire about having a dinosaur cake made, but nearly passed out when they told me it would cost at least $100 to make. Undeterred, and not wanting to let down my little girl, I found a dinosaur baking pan online for $10 and hoped for the best. It was not quite Cake Wrecks bad, but I can say without hesitation it was made with a ton of love by me and Rich the night before. It was a vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting, just as she requested, although it probably wasn’t exactly the vision she had in mind. It tasted much better than it ended up looking.
Last year, for her third birthday party, we had a build-your-own cupcake bar. The year before we had a build your own sundae bar. This year, I decided to keep it simple, so we got some party-sized pizzas, which are apparently a Western Mass thing. But we kept the DIY theme going with a build-your-own salad bar, and a yogurt bar for dessert.
You can really go any direction you want for a salad bar, but mine had two types of lettuce, peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, chick peas, kidney beans, steamed green beans, steamed broccoli, shredded carrots, croutons (store-bought), artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, shredded red cabbage, feta, blue cheese, cheddar, radish, avocado, olives, beets (again, buy the packaged ones), sunflower seeds and raisins. If I had had the time I would have served pickled onions and roasted some Brussels sprouts. I served two store-bought dressings and this tamari and tahini dressing I hadn’t made in years, which was a hit.
The yogurt bar became a part of dessert, although if I had been a guest I would have totally broken into it regardless of what part of the meal we were up to. I served plain organic whole milk yogurt and vanilla organic whole milk yogurt, and raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cut up strawberries, honey, coconut, and (drumroll) this chocolate granola.
Let’s dispel with the notion that granola is healthy. But this granola is particularly not healthy. There’s practically two cups of chocolate chips in every batch. This granola was made as a last-ditch effort to find something for Lilli’s lunch that she would eat and that would not violate the no-nuts rule at her school. I had a little bit of shame about the amount of chocolate and sugar, and debated “pretending” it was carob as far her teachers were concerned. But this is a new favorite in our house, and I’ve found myself making it every week. It’s taken up residence in a massive glass mason jar.
There aren’t a ton of ingredients to it: Some whole oats (healthy), maple syrup from up the road (not terrible), brown sugar (pretty terrible), coconut (which Lilli doesn’t know about), a little oil, and chocolate chips. Nuts had to go, and Lilli turned up her nose at the idea of dried fruit. The way this recipe came about was an accident. I added the chocolate chips too early and the heat of the granola right from the oven caused the chocolate to melt and coat everything, making a dirty good treat. It’s kind of the opposite of when Ruth Graves Wakefield added chocolate chips to her cookie dough, hoping to make chocolate cookies. Instead, she invented chocolate chip cookies.
This recipe comes together very quickly, but you do have to give the oats a little stir every 15 minutes while they bake in the oven. But if I can do it on a weeknight, you definitely can, too. Here’s a little secret from my house: I never can find my quarter cup, so I always use four tablespoons. So when this recipe calls for ¼ cup of something, plus two tablespoons, I just measure out six tablespoons; it’s less clean up time in the end. Keep the large bowl you mixed the granola in to mix the baked granola and chocolate chips together. I reach for a sturdy spatula to stir the oats in the oven, and then use it to stir in the chips at the end. You can also reuse the parchment-lined baking sheet as a cooling surface after you’re stirred the chocolate and granola to melty goodness.
Lilli eats this at least once a day, with plain whole milk yogurt. I fully acknowledge the amount of chocolate in this bars it from being health at all. But this is a dirty good, and easy recipe. Perfect for a snow day like today!
3 cups rolled oats
¼ cups plus two tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cups plus two tablespoons maple syrup
Pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (or chopped up chocolate)
Preheat oven to 250F
In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and salt.
Combine both mixtures and pour onto one sheet pan, covered with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
Cook for up to one hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve evenly colored golden oats.
Remove from oven and transfer back to the large bowl. Immediately pour in the chocolate chips and stir. You can either leave it in the bowl, or transfer it back to the pan for it to cool off, then break it into pieces before pouring it into a jar.