Chocolate (Granola) for Breakfast

20170209_090736

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.

20170128_215758

The arting corner

20170128_215817

The dress up corner

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.

img_20170129_125500928

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.

img_20170124_075510_114

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.

img_20170128_170211_027

Getting her nails did for the party. (Six bucks for sparkly gold nails that didn’t take me hours to do a so-so job on.)

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!

Chocolate Granola

Ingredients

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)

Directions

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

No Artificial Preservatives

The fall semester started a few weeks back, which means my 57 bus and the B-train are full of students not exactly sure where they’re going. Commonwealth Avenue, down where I work, is lined with banks tabling for new customers, and eager 20-somethings in brightly-colored t-shirts want my help saving the whales, gay rights and women’s right to choose.

And then there are the freebies. There’s always some kind of vitawater or granola bar someone is offering free samples of. I wasn’t aware of how many Luna Bars and Kind bars had made their way into my backpack until yesterday afternoon, when I dumped its contents onto my dining room table in a fruitless search for my keys. (False alarm… long story.) Rich was astounded at the amount of oats and nuts I had on my person, while I was pretty astounded finally reading the voluminous ingredient lists on the wrappers.

I had made these apricot bars this weekend as a direct result of those ingredient lists. I’d made them once before, using apricot jam instead of soaking the apricots. The directions said I’d have to wait an hour for them to soften, but it turns out things were good after only about a half an hour. I brought these bars to a meeting once, along with some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies that I think are just tops. I played these down, but everyone there loved them. Sorry it’s taken me so long to share this.

The recipe comes from The Common Ground Dessert Cookbook: A collection of naturally-sweetened wholegrain desserts. The Common Ground is New England’s oldest natural foods restaurant. (Sidenote: Is it closed? I can’t tell!) It’s up in Brattleboro, Vermont, which is only an hour from where I grew up. Sometimes my mom and I would take a quick road trip up to Vermont and crunch away on a large wooden bowl of salad put out for taking on the honor system.

I think I downplayed these bars because they are nothing like the Flour granola bars I also made last spring. On the other hand, those take more than three hours to make, while these took less than an hour. These bars, like the whole wheat cheese crackers, make comforting additions to lunchboxes. Sure, there’s a lot of butter in the recipe, but something about the whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup seems to compensate… right?

Apricot Bars

Makes 18 1 1/2”x 3” bars

There are two parts to this recipe, the filling and the crust. My advice is to start soaking the apricots for the filing before you work on the crust. I’ve only done this recipe with the maple syrup, so if anyone tries it with the honey, please do let me know how they turn out. Although the recipe lists the extracts as optional, I have them in the house and used them. The original recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, but I only have regular whole wheat flour. Results were pleasing.

Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9”x9” baking pan.

Apricot Filling

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup boiling water

1/8 – 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Lay apricots in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them. Soak fruit until very soft, which will take between a half hour and an hour, depending on the age of your fruit. While your fruit soaks, prepare the crust.

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/8 cup maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

Mix dry and wet ingredients, each in a separate bowl; then combine and stir well.

Press half the mixture into the bottom of oiled pan.

Prepare the apricot filling:

Drain fruit but save soaking water.

Chop soft fruit and puree it in a blender or food processor with sweetener and only as much soaking water as needed for blending.

Add extracts if desired.

Filling may be thick enough as is. However, if it seems at all runny, bring it to a simmer in a saucepan and stir in 1 teaspoon arrowroot mixed with 1 Tablespoon water to thicken.

Using a spatula, spread the filling on top of the bottom crust.

Sprinkle remaining crust over the filling and gently pat it smooth. Make sure the top crust reaches the edges and corners of the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool completely before cutting into bars or they’ll crumble.