Once More, With Granola

We’re coming up on a long weekend.  Our school system has been generous, giving the children not only President’s Day, but the Friday prior as well.  Four whole days in a row, and we’re taking advantage of it by going on a little road trip.

Most of you probably know that traveling with children can be tricky.  Some kids are great – strap them in a booster seat, give them a book, some crayons and paper, or a movie, and they’re good to go (that’s my oldest).  Some kids, on the other hand, require a little more, shall we say, attention.  They get wiggly, antsy, bored, and, last but not least, impatient.  This can manifest itself in many ways.  In our case, our youngest expresses his displeasure by yelling, throwing toys and kicking the back of the seat in front of him.  Also, he’s not much of a car sleeper, so this behavior can go on indefinitely.  Pleasant.

Sometimes, snacks help.  Actually, most of the time, snacks help.  If he has food, he’s pretty happy.  That’s why I spent most of this morning attempting, once again, to make granola bars.

I say attempting, because I’ve tried and failed with granola bars many times.  This time around was a semi-success, which is good because we’re leaving tomorrow and I don’t have time to try, try and try again.

I wanted these to be relatively nourishing, since they will be our primary snack of choice over the long weekend.  Whole grains in the form of rolled oats and freshly ground flour, combined with unsweetened dried cherries, a very ripe banana, some raw Tupelo honey (courtesy Savannah Bee Company) and sucanat (dehydrated sugar cane), along with a relatively small amount of expeller-pressed coconut oil and some toasted cacao nibs come together to create a nutritionally-dense granola bar.

Also?  Tasty.

Banana Split Granola Bars
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 40 minutes
yield: 12 bars


  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sucanat
  • 1/4 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil
  • 1 very ripe banana, pureed
  • 2 cups dried cherries
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.  Line it with parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.
  2. Combine the oats, flour, salt, soda and cacao nibs in a large bowl.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine honey, coconut oil, sucanat, banana puree, and dried cherries.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until coconut oil has melted and sucanat has dissolved.  The cherries should also plump slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and add the vanilla to the liquid ingredients.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Press the granola mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 300F for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
  8. Once cooled, remove from the pan and slice into 12 bars.
  9. Enjoy!

These weren’t perfect – they still managed to fall apart somewhat when I went to slice them.  However, the flavor is really good, and the texture is nice and chewy.  The cherries, cacao nibs and bananas combine to give a flavor profile reminiscent of a banana split – sweet, tart, chocolatey – without being dessert-like.  I think they would be especially good with a cup or so of chopped nuts thrown in (I left them out because my husband might decide to try them, and he’s allergic), and maybe a touch more fat in the form of butter, peanut-butter, or just more coconut oil (I think the fat helps to bind them at room temperature).

I think these, along with some popcorn and sliced fruit, will go a long way toward taming the beast-like child on our road trip tomorrow.  Which will go an even further way toward maintaining my sanity.  And that’s a good thing.

In Defense of the Humble Prune

I don’t care how hard the California Dried Plum Growers & Packers try, they will never make prunes sexy.  They can change their name to “dried plums” and put them in fancy packages, but they’ll always be prunes in my book.  And the thing is, no matter how old (and constipated) it may make me sound, I really like prunes.  I don’t need them to be sexy.  I just need them to taste good.  And they do.

Prunes have gotten a bad rap over the years.  Mostly because people associate them with “regularity” and other such sensitive topics.  They were those wrinkly black things that your grandparents ate.  And yet nobody had issues eating dried apricots, or raisins, or dried cherries, blueberries, apples or bananas.  For some reason, prunes were the only dried fruit that gave people issues.  So the powers that be decided to change their name.  Next thing you know, we’ll be calling raisins “dried grapes”.  What is the world coming to when even our fruits have politically correct monikers?

I hadn’t bought prunes in years, but over the holidays, Tami posted this recipe for Zinfandel Poached Prunes.  Simply spooned over a dollop of rich mascarpone cheese, it exuded elegance.  This is how you make prunes sexy, I thought to myself, not by changing their name to something innocuous like “dried plums”.  I still haven’t had a chance to make that beautiful dessert, but I did go out and buy a passel of prunes.  And we’ve been snacking on them ever since.  My youngest thinks they’re the biggest, most delicious raisins he’s ever tasted.

People, I implore you.  Give prunes a chance.

Oatmeal with Almonds and Prunes
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
yields: 1 serving


  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (could sub soy or dairy milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup prunes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sucanat (could sub brown sugar)
  1. Bring milk and salt to a boil in a small saucepan
  2. Add the oats and cook, stirring to keep from sticking, until thickened
  3. Add the prunes, almonds and sucanat
  4. Enjoy

This is a hearty, nutrient-dense breakfast.  It is not terribly low in calories, but it makes up for that by packing a wollop of vitamins, minerals and fiber into the calories that are there.  I’m often left wanting when I eat a bowl of cold cereal for breakfast, but this sticks with you.  It’s sweet, but not too sweet.  The texture from the raw almonds is a nice contrast to the oatmeal and the prunes.   And if you use almond milk (as I did), you get an extra bit of almond flavor, which is nice.

So while this is not as sexy as poaching them in red wine and spooning them over creamy Italian cheese, this oatmeal should help you overcome some of your preconceived prune notions.  Oh, believe me – I’ll be poaching prunes soon – but until then, this will have to do.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

Friends, I just can’t accept the fact that it’s the middle of December.  I just. can. not.  How is it that there are fewer than two weeks until Christmas?  Where has the month gone?  I need for time to just slow down. Take a breather. Relax.


For one thing, it just doesn’t feel like December.  It was 65 degrees outside today.  There I was, out in the garden, picking collards and broccoli and lettuce.  Relishing the warmth. Feeling slightly off kilter because it IS December, after all, and my garden is still offering up all sorts of goodies.

December.  Last year it snowed on Christmas.

I’m kind of torn.  I love the fact that the kids can still play outside in the afternoons, but I miss having a fire every night in the fireplace.  I love the lovely greens still coming out of the garden, but I would also love it if it snowed one day soon.  I want the best of both worlds.  I guess I just need to learn to be thankful for what I’ve got.

I had a meeting the other morning at the school where I used to work.  I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but Atlanta traffic had other plans for me.  As I was sitting there, surrounded by every commuter in the metropolitan area, I praised the fact that my new job is three miles from my house.  I used to drive 50 miles round-trip.  Every day.  Now it’s ten at the most – and that’s because I have to drop the little one off at day-care beforehand.  I know I’m thankful for that.

Because it was an 8 o’clock meeting, I wanted to provide some goodies that we could munch while we chatted.  I had recently dried a bunch of cranberries in my dehydrator, and candied some orange zest using honey in place of the granulated sugar.  I love the combination of orange and cranberry, so I decided to bake a variation on this crumb cake I made last year, but making muffins instead.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 35-45 minutes
yields: 1 9-inch square cake
For the topping:
1/2 cup sucanat (or firmly packed dark brown sugar))
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
generous pinch of salt
For the batter:
2 cups freshly ground flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup plus honey granules (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
4 large pieces candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, reconstituted in 1/2-cup of  apple cider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter.  Pulse the it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the reconstituted cranberries, along with the liquid, and the candied zest to the food processor.  Process until the berries and zest are chopped
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, co tmbinehe sour cream, half and half, eggs,  and oil
  6. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in the cranberry mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

What’s nice about these is that the muffins themselves are not too sweet (the tart cranberries take care of that), so the sweet streusel topping really contrasts nicely with them.  The original recipe called for using fresh cranberries that have been chopped in the food processor, but I think the dried ones work equally as well.  I definitely like the addition of the candied zest.  They were a big hit with my kids, and with my fellow meeting attendees.  I think they would also be a delightful addition to your holiday breakfast or brunch table, if you do that sort of thing.

On the Road: Carrot Cake Cookies

I’m getting ready to head down to St. Simons Island for three days of southern cuisine and hospitality.  I’ll be sharing my adventures here, on my facebook page and on twitter so stay tuned.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of Georgia’s best growers and producers and learning all about Georgia olives(who knew?!), honey, peaches, pecans, shrimp, spirits and more.

Before I get on the road, I wanted to share these cookies with you all.  I made them first for a bake sale fund raiser last weekend, and then again yesterday with the residual carrots I had left from making my youngest son’s 2nd birthday cake.  I’m planning to take some on the road today for sustenance (because who couldn’t use a little cream cheese frosting to keep them going?).

If you like carrot cake, then you’ll love these cookies – they’re kind of a cross between my favorite oatmeal cookie, carrot cake and a whoopie pie.  What’s not to love?  I was inspired by this recipe from Martha Stewart, but I adapted it to suit my taste, adding some baking soda and powder for leavening, and grating in some fresh ginger instead of dried (fresh is always better in my opinion, especially in recipes where the added moisture won’t affect the outcome).

Carrot Cake Cookies
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 12 minutes
yields: 20 sandwich cookies


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup carrots
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. Whisk together your oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
  3. Cream together the butter and sugars
  4. Add the egg and mix to incorporate
  5. Add the ginger and the carrots
  6. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients
  7. Fold in the raisins
  8. Drop teaspoon-full sized rounds onto prepared cookie sheets, 1 inch apart
  9. Flatten with your hand
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven
  11. Allow to cool on a rack
  12. Spread 1/2 a teaspoon of cream cheese frosting on one cookie and place a second cookie on top to make a sandwich
  13. Enjoy!

When All Else Fails, Make Granola

A week or so ago, I posted something to this blog’s Facebook page about trying a recipe, and hoping it wasn’t a total disaster.  My cousin commented almost immediately, saying that she doubted anything I ever made was a total disaster.  While flattered, I laughed out loud when I read the comment – if she only knew how many miserable failures I’ve had in the kitchen (and elsewhere).  Some of them to the point that they’re completely inedible.  I just don’t write about the failures.  Maybe I should.

I think if you love to cook, you can’t be afraid to fail.  There’s always going to be that one batch of cookies that you burn, or that jelly that didn’t set or the bread dough that just didn’t rise for whatever reason.  The important thing is that you try to learn from those mistakes and move on.  Sure, sometimes it can be painful to your ego (and to your wallet, in some cases), but it’s not the end of the world.  I’ve curdled a dozen egg yolks making custard, and had an equal number of egg whites that never whipped to stiff peaks.  I’ve turned multiple batches of failed sourdough bread into sourdough breadcrumbs.  I’ve tossed out a stockpot that had sugar burned so badly on the bottom that it was irreparably damaged.  Believe me – I’ve had plenty of disasters in the kitchen.  Sometimes they push me to try harder, and sometimes they make me take a step back and reevaluate whether I really have the time and the inclination to babysit a sourdough starter.

The answer to the second question, by the way, is no.  At least not right now.

Speaking of stockpots....

Yesterday was one of those days.  You know the ones – where nothing seems to go quite the way you’d planned?  I woke up thinking that I’d do some grocery shopping, wash some clothes and maybe make some granola bars to send to school as snacks for the boys.  A productive day – that’s all I’d really hoped for.  And it’s not that it wasn’t productive, it was just not the kind of productive I’d planned on.

New chickens on the block
New chickens on the block

You see, rather than running my grocery errands and washing the umpteen piles of laundry that are currently carpeting my laundry room floor, I spent half the day yesterday driving 100 miles round-trip to procure these lovely Barred Rock and Ameraucana hens.  We started our backyard flock back in April.  Three Rhode Island Red hens, which my oldest son promptly named Sally, Tweety and Fred.  Since then, the trio has dwindled to a lonesome single Sally – Fred was felled by a Black widow spider, and Tweety we lost to an unknown predator just a couple of days ago.  While we know that these are just some of the perils that come with raising livestock, it’s still a sad affair when you’re faced with the loss of an animal.  Poor Sally seemed a little lost without her flockmates, and we’d been thinking of expanding our numbers anyway, so I felt justified in postponing my chores for a bit so that we could do just that.

Once we got back home, got the chickens’ wings clipped and transferred them safely to the coop to get acclimated, I decided to move on to making granola bars.  I had placed some apple chunks in the dehydrator before we left for our chicken wrangling adventure, and they were nice and leathery upon our return.

Semi-succesful granola bars

I had attempted granola bars earlier in the week, based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  They were good, but they didn’t really ever set up the way I expected them too.  First, they burned and stuck on the edges; and, second, they were too soft at room temperature to maintain their bar shape.  I’m not sure if its my error (probably) or a flaw in the recipe (probably not – Deb’s pretty much a genius, plus she tests her recipes carefully), but I wanted to start over from scratch to try and get something that was more bar-like and less really thick oatmeal-like.

I used a combination of rolled oats, wheat germ, dried apples, raisins, unsweetened flake coconut, sucanat, agave nectar and coconut oil.  I sprayed my pan liberally with oil.  I only baked them for about 15 minutes.

And they were a disaster.  A complete and utter failure.  At least as far as granola bars go.

As granola, though?  A total success (well, except for the part that was so baked on the pan I couldn’t get it off without soaking it in hot water for an hour or so).  With a little almond milk, it makes a delicious breakfast cereal.

So despite the fact, that nothing that I initially intended to get done yesterday actually got accomplished, I wound up with some beautiful new chickens, and some delicious granola.  I won’t bother sharing the ratios I used, since I really was trying for something completely different from what I ended up with.  However, once I do figure out the perfect granola bar recipe, I’ll be sure to pass it along to all of you.  In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try and fail in the kitchen- it’s better than never trying to cook at all (or something like that).

Oh, and those new chickens?  My oldest son ran right out to the coop when he got off the bus and promptly named them: Spot, Dot, Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr.  He’s nothing if not original.

In case you’re just really jonesing for some homemade granola bars, here are a few recipes that seem promising:

Alton Brown’s Granola Bars

King Arthur Four’s Chewy Granola Bars

Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars

Apartment Therapy’s Crunchy Granola Bars

Holiday gift ideas: Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is one of my favorite cookie recipes ever.  It can be adapted in so many ways, and the cookies always turn out chewy and delicious.  Whether you choose to incorporate chocolate chips, tree nuts, peanuts, candied fruit, or (as in the case of this post) dried cranberries and white chocolate, the end result is always wonderful.

The recipe actually comes from a Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies cookbook from 2000.  I think my husband picked it up many years ago from the bargain section of the large chain bookstore for which he works.  I have tried several of the recipes from this book, and all of them have been successful (I especially like the Lemon Pistachio Biscotti), but this is the one I return to time and time again.

This year I’ve adapted it slightly, in that I subbed white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose, and I used a combination of dark and light brown sugar instead of the light brown sugar and granulated sugar the recipe called for.  The reasons for this are two-fold: first, I’m trying to cut down on the amount of refined flour I use for baking; second, because of the addition of whole wheat flour (which doesn’t absorb moisture as readily as its all-purpose counterpart), I needed to increase the amount of moisture in the mix – brown sugar contains molasses, which has hygroscopic properties, and the darker the sugar, the more molasses it contains.

In years past, I’ve used Craisins and white chocolate chips in this recipe.  This year, I had a new toy I wanted to try out, so I did things a little differently.  As a late birthday/early Christmas present, my mother gifted me a fancy new food dehydrator.  I had a huge bag of fresh cranberries, so I decided I was going to make my own unsweetened dried cranberries.  It took quite a bit of trial and error (and two or three days of drying time – not because my dehydrator doesn’t work but because I apparently can’t read directions very well), but I was finally left with dried cranberries.

Now, they are VERY DRY.  Not leathery like Craisins, but dry like freeze-dried fruit tends to be. You could grind them and have cranberry powder (which, believe you me, I’m tempted to do and see what I can do with it).  So, for this application, I decided to reconstitute them a bit using about a cup of hot apple cider and a tablespoon or so of Agave nectar.  I just let a cup and half of the dried fruit steep in the cider mixture until they were soft.  Then I drained them and drank the residual cider – it tasted wonderfully of cranberry and apple, with just a hint of added sweetness from the Agave.  It makes me think you could make cranberry tea from the dried cranberries, sweeten it slightly with honey or agave and have a lovely warm winter beverage.

I also decided to use chopped white chocolate instead of chips.  The chunks of white chocolate held up better during baking than the chips do, and the flakes that result from the chopping get incorporated throughout, lending a bit of white chocolate flavor to every bite.

Last, but not least, I grated about a teaspoon of orange zest into the mix, just to perk up the flavor a bit.
  Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
prep time: 25 minutes
bake time: 9 minutes
yields: 80 cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
3 cups whole-wheat flour
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
4 oz. white chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F
  2. Line cookie sheets with silpats
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the sugar, baking powder and baking soda; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  5. Beat in the eggs, milk, vanilla and orange zest until well combined
  6. Add the flour gradually, with the mixer on low speed
  7. Add the oats
  8. Add the cranberries and white chocolate.  You may have to incorporate this using a wooden spoon – the batter will be quite stiff at this point.
  9. Drop by rounded tablespoons two inches apart onto your prepared cookie sheets
  10. Bake at 375F for 9 minutes, or until edges are golden, but centers are soft.
  11. Cool on cookie sheet for on minute; transfer to a rack to cool

The resulting cookies are chewy, soft and full of flavor.  The whole-wheat flour gives them a bit of a bite, but not so much as to be distracting.  The cranberries are just tart enough to contrast nicely with the sweetness of the white chocolate, and the oats give great texture.  Feel free to substitute with the add-ins of your choice – these are such versatile cookies, and they would be a great addition to any holiday cookie swap.