The Best Ever Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

Yet again, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a post together. The months since I returned from my summer working/traveling in Mexico and California have been confusing, to say the least. It’s been tough to translate the otherworldly-ness of the experience to so called “reality.” There have been many big, life-related, distinctly millennial challenges. Decisions beg for the making. Time flies. Clocks tick. Cars go by. God damn analysis paralysis.

 

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The kitchen has been my solace during this mentally crippling phase in life. So much so that sharing my personal and intimate escapades with new ingredients, old favorites, and casual canning here has seemed imprudent. Despite that, I’ve received more requests than ever for recipes, links, and opinions. Perhaps this emotionally-charged silence has laced my menus with a hint of seduction. Who knows.

 

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In an effort to return from my blogging hiatus with a bang, I’d like to share the recipe I have been asked for most since going underground. The best ever super simple no bake granola bars.

 

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I’ve been sending my boyfriend to work with these bad boys for breakfast on and off for a few months now, and word’s gotten around: they’re GOOD. In addition to being perfectly portable and disarmingly tasty, these bars are super simple to make and contain only seven ingredients – all of which are seriously wholesome. No refined sugar to speak of in these bars. Only *cue buzzwords* whole grains, healthy fats, real fruit, and a touch of honey.

I know Clif bars are cheap at Whole Foods, but these are worth the extra effort, I promise. They pack a lasting energy punch thanks to the dates and oats, but don’t flood your body with a barrage of readily-accessible sugar like most store bought granola bars do. They’re the best of both worlds: road ready and cubicle friendly.

And maybe they’ll get you through some tough times too.

 

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Super Simple No Bake Cherry Chia Almond Granola Bars

  • Servings: 14-18 bars
  • Time: 1hr
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Adapted from Minimalist Baker

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pitted dates (loose – not packed tight)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 heaping cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 2 tbs. chia seeds

Directions

  1. Optional (technically interferes with the bars’ no-bake status, as pointed out by discerning reader Rose Winter): Toast the oats at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes until just beginning to change color. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Using a food processor (or blender on low to medium speed), blend the dates until they form a sticky ball of “dough.” There will be chunks, but ensure the paste is at least somewhat uniform.
  3. Add the date “dough” to the oats, along with the chopped almonds, dried cherries and chia seeds. Mix until combined.
  4. In a small sauce pan, combine honey and peanut butter. Heat on low until the mixture begins to loosen.
  5. Add the honey/pb mixture to the oat mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Line a 9×13 inch baking dish with parchment paper. Pour the mixture into the lining and spread until evenly distributed in the pan. Cover the mixture with another layer of parchment paper, and using another smaller flat-bottomed dish, a hardback book, or some other solid, flat surface, press the mixture down into the pan. I am small, so I will actually stand on it!
  7. Put the pan into the freezer to “set” for 15-30 minutes.
  8. Remove, cut into bars, wrap in foil, parchment paper, or wax paper (if desired), and re-freeze in a freezer bag or otherwise freezer-proof container until the morning you plan on eating them. They can also be refrigerated, but keep better in the freezer.

These bars keep as good as new for up to one, maybe even two or three, months in the freezer.

Vegetables Make a Great Breakfast Too

The key to a great day is a great breakfast.  Seriously, what better time to make sure you’re well on your way to a satisfied daily quota of fruits, vegetables and fiber than first thing in the morning?

Here’s how I get an easy, vegan and (almost) raw start that makes me feel great no matter what the rest of the day brings:

Grab a pint-sized ball jar (or comparable reused jar). Best way to transport food hands down.

Assemble the mixable components:

  • Something green (e.g. kale, collards, spinach, beet greens, etc)
  • Something sweet (e.g. 1/2 an apple, pear, or orange, etc)
  • Something smooth (e.g. 1/2 a banana, a scoop of nonfat yogurt, etc)
  • Something spicy (e.g. cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, a pitted date, etc)
  • Something serous (e.g. a heavy splash of almond or soy milk, orange juice, water, etc)
  • Something berry unexpected (I always try to throw something of color into the mix, be it 1/2 a carrot, a handful of frozen blueberries, and/or a couple grapes — whatever is on hand!)
  • Optionally, something strapping (basically protein powder, if you so wish)

Next, summon the high-power blender gods by lighting incense and chanting “Vitaman” while spinning three times in front of your refrigerator.

Keep that going for a minute or two, and assemble the dry:

  • 1 tbs psyllium husks (an amazing supplement that packs a huge insoluble fiber punch, lowers bad cholesterol levels and sops up liquid, making your smoothie into a yummy porridge :))
  • 1/2 tbs oat bran
  • sprinkle of flax seed
  • 1/2 cup high-fiber, low-sugar dry cereal (I prefer a combo of puffed kamut and Kashi Go Lean)

Add the psyllium husks, oat bran and flax seed to the bottom of your jar.  Package the dry cereal in a separate small container or baggie to maintain the crunch-factor for assembly time.

Pour the veggie mixture over the psyllium in your jar and make sure to give ‘er a good shake to get those psyllium husks mixed in and absorbin’!

Pour that sucker out into a bowl, top with the crunchy dry cereal and damn will you be power-packed to take on the rest of your day.  Guaranteed to keep you greened and regular – just the way I like it.

Not to mention, it turns out to be a different color very time!  Make it a game and have your co-workers guess what each day will bring: Green?!  Red?!  Putrid brown?!  What fun!

Celebrate Often, and with Cheese

I was torn about the paltry and primarily symbolic raise I received last week.  The weekend was largely spend navigating extremes, oscillating from pangs of bitter entitlement to moments of humble appreciation.  Emerging now from the emotional turmoil into a week dedicated to raw food and yoga, I realize how gosh darn dumb I really am.  THE ANSWER IS THAT YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL AND GLAD, EMILY.

Darn.  The belated epiphany totally took a dump on my chance to celebrate what I should have (at least with the promptness that gives a celebration that gutsy gusto).  Luckily – memories of the past’s more successful celebrations live on.

So in an attempt to recreate that feeling of exuberance, I’m going to revisit a ridiculously decadent celebratory cheese spread that John and I enjoyed last fall.

And I hope to at least leave someone with a lesson from the errors of my waffling ways: celebrate what you can while you can, be it the laughter of children or the smell of Pillsbury crescent rolls, because, well, duh.

Before I get into the chees-ifics, I should mention that despite how amazing each and every cheese we savored that day was, the winner of the night was hands down the jar of Dilly Beans I myself had made the summer prior with fresh-picked green and wax beans.

That said, there was nothing even remotely close to a loser on the table that night.  We started off with a real stunner: Jasper Hill‘s Moses Sleeper.  This Vermont-made bloomy rind cheese is perhaps the best American made brie-style wheel you can get.  Pillowy, gooey and smooth, the pasty center is at once buttery, citrusy and freshly earthen.  If you’re looking to convert a “non-brieliever” (yes, I went there) this is the cheese to do it with.

Next up was Valley Shepherd Creamery‘s Oldwick Shepherd, a classic favorite from the Garden State.  Fresh raw sheep’s milk is pressed into these firm wheels and cave-aged for at least 3 months to produce this wonderfully nutty Pyrenees-style cheese.  The earthen qualities of the lightly molded rind and the rich fatty sheep’s milk make for a slightly salty bite that would please even the most discerning Basque.

Crossing the world and going back in time to a provincial French monastery, we sample Abondance.  This alpine-style cheese produced exclusively in the Abondance valley is made from the milk of their prized Abondance cows (or occasionally the Montbéliard and Tarine breeds).  This ancient farm cheese touts a firm, smooth and supple body with fruity overtones and a lovely hint of hazelnut.  No wonder this is one of France’s most popular cheeses!

Like that all wasn’t enough, we really hit it big time with Cardo, an incredible washed rind goat cheese made by Mary Holbrook (yes, one lady and one lady only) at Sleight’s Farm in Somerset, England.  Don’t be deceived by it’s innocent creamy appearance — this stunner reeks of meaty pungency.  And yet while its full bodied texture coats your tongue with a savory, earthen, tingly funk, it still manages to deliver the fresh dry delicate floral tones one would expect from a goat’s milk cheese.

Mary has spent years perfecting her technique, which actually incorporates some inconsistency by rule.  For instance, she cuts the curds of the set milk with only her arms, leaving the curds free to maintain some irregularity.  Also setting this magical wheel apart, Mary uses cardoon (aka artichoke thistle) stamen instead of animal-based rennet to start her cheese, a Portuguese tradition.  After an aging process facilitated by Neal’s Yard Dairy (as she has no caves of her own, poor woman), a few lucky folks get their hands on this very limited production treat.

I rounded out this wildly decadent spread with a classic: Colston Bassett Stilton.  This creamy crumbly blue produced with all the pomp and circumstance of English tradition is the best way to finish out a night (especially when paired with a link of the Northeast’s own Rieker’s Landjaeger Sausage and some homemade black raspberry jam).

Take it from me — if you really want to celebrate (be it a baby or a finished book), $50 and a trip to Di Bruno Bros. can take you there.

Do it.

The Snack Most Worth Waiting For: Dilly Beans

This past summer I picked up a load of green and wax beans from my Aunt’s garden.  Not knowing what else to do with ’em, I took a nod from Marisa of the fantastic canning blog Food in Jars and went for Dilly Beans — an old fashioned pickled treat.  Lucky for me, the finished product was buried so deep in my pantry that I couldn’t be tempted to break in early.  After a full four months (three, even, would have probably sufficed) I opened a jar for the first time.  Verdict?  AMAZING.  My boyfriend and I literally ate the whole jar within an hour — well before we finished anything else on the associated cheese plate.  Even better news: NO BOTULISM!  So go ahead, have some fun.  Dilly those beans.

Dilly Beans

  • Wide mouth pint jars or 12 oz. jelly jars
  • Other associated canning supplies*
  • String beans (a combo of green and wax is nice!)
  • Garlic cloves (2 per jar)
  • Split hot chili pepper – fresh or dried (1 per jar)
  • 1 tsp dill seed (per jar)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (per jar)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (per jar)
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed (per jar)
  • 1/4 tsp black peppercorns (per jar)
  • fresh dill
  • water
  • white vinegar
  1. Sanitize jars.*
  2. Trim string beans so that when stuffed upright in jar they are about 1 inch from the top.
  3. Fill jars while still warm with string beans, garlic cloves, split chili pepper, dill seed, salt, cayenne, celery seed, peppercorns and a spring of fresh dill.
  4. For each jar you’ve filled, add 1 cup water and 1 cup white vinegar to a large pot.  Once boiling, pour the hot brine over your beans leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top of each jar.
  5. Run a chopstick or whatever you have on hand around the outside of the jar to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims very clean with a paper towel to ensure a clean seal.
  6. Apply warmed lids, screw on bands, and process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.*
  7. They’re ready to eat basically immediately, and will last about a year in your pantry.

*I’ve never bothered to put together a nice primer on canning but they are certainly available out there. For something comprehensive, try the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning – it’s a bible of sorts.  Alternatively, here’s a quick and simple Canning 101 from Simple Bites!

Make These Now: Easy Airy Kale Chips

Tuscan kale – aka lacinato kale or dinosaur kale – is hands down my favorite kale variety.  It’s tender, scaly, flat leaves are perfect for eating raw or crisping up into deliciously delicate chips.  Unlike curly varieties of kale, whose ruched edges mean a tough texture and uneven baking tendency, these babies melt in your mouth raw, and toast to to perfection without any unpleasant chewiness or char.

20111114-144708.jpgMaking tuscan kale chips is just about the easiest thing to do in the kitchen there could be, and you seem super fancy when you do it.  They are one of the best entertaining snack foods I’ve ever encountered.  Keep in mind, though — the combination of their dangerous addictiveness, crumbliness, and tendency to leave green bits in between teeth you didn’t even know you had mean they don’t make the best date food.  Just sayin’.

Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Remove the stems from the kale leaves.
  3. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil (you need less than you think!) and sprinkle of salt.
  4. Arrange flat on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes.
  5. CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUCH

Birthdays for Fat Kids: Sushi, Burgers, Shakes and…Harbison?

There was no doubt that my 24th birthday had to have something to do with food.

It all started at Zento.  With several recommendations to back it, we thought this would be a great opportunity to break from our norm, Vic’s on Sansom, to satisfy the sushi crave.  Unfortunately, we flubbed our ordering steez, going for lunch specials instead of their famously creative rolls.  We ended up with an okay spread of maki, sushi and sashimi.  Good quality and fresh, but by no means stellar.  We’ll definitely be back to try the Omakase, though.

Next, we headed straight to Charlie’s, a burger joint in Folsom, PA (airport territory) recommended to me for it’s black & white milkshake.  And man.  Did this place do the job.  Best burger and best shake I’ve had in ages.  Got the Charlie Special – one of approximately three menu options – and a black and white.  No frills perfection.  I’ve dreamed about that soft, mushy burger and dangerously chuggable shake every night since.  No lie.

After an afternoon perusing countless of the creepiest raw food maniac websites you’ve ever seen watching Vitamixes versus Blendtecs (you see – my lovely boyfriend got me the two best birthday presents ever: a Shun chef’s knife and a high-powered blender.  What a babe.), we headed to Di Brunos to finalize the pièce de résistance of my birthday’s gastro-bration, the spread:

We worked in trios: three meats, three cheeses, three beers.

Three meats: Smoked Paprika Salami handcured in Washington State, light little lomo florets, and a few precious slices of that unbelievably rich and greasy wild pig jamon iberico.  All stellar.

Three beers: a selection of Mikkeller single hopped brews:And the cheeses.  First up – Yellow Springs Farm Melange, a briefly aged goat and cow cheese charmer.  Smooth mouthfeel, sweet and supple with hints of citrus – it’s definitely worth a try if you can make it out to Chester County (unfortunately the lovely couple that owns Yellow Springs and their 30-50 Nubian goats, produce on far too small a scale for Di Brunos or other urban retailers to carry it for a marketable price):Next up, a classic – Fiore Sardo, a Sardinian ewe’s milk cheese, aged for several months on wet reeds, yielding a slightly smoky, damp, cellar-y flavor, which is refreshing in combination with the hard, crumbly and somewhat chalky texture.  Salty nutty sheepy delicious, especially tasty paired with some homemade black raspberry jam, here she is:And lastly, the star of the show – Jasper Hill Farms‘ new bloomy-rind beauty, Harbison:  Hard to get in the East and apparently impossible to get anywhere else, this gilded mystery is a must try.  Wrapped in the bark of trees freshly cut from their own woodlands, Harbison is aged to perfection for between 3 and 6 weeks.  Pillow-y white, her taut rind peels back to reveal the ooey gooey innards of a goddess…see the moment of truth here.  As you spoon the creamy goodness out of that stiff hoop of bloom-caked bark, the scent of the earth – floral, grassy and bright but also deeply dank and meaty – envelopes you as the paste melts into high heaven on your tongue.  My god:What a day.

All I have to say in closing is thank the lord for the Vitamix, because I spent the next five days drinking my meals in an attempt to make it all up to my poor intestine.  My stomach on the other hand – he had no complaints.

A Chapter from the Autumn Almanac: Applesauce

Again inspired by a sudden excess of perishables, I learned something new last week:

Applesauce is ridiculously easy to make at home.

It’s so easy that I actually almost added steps just to make it feel more like I was doing something.  Granted, for my first applecookin’ experience I stuck with the bare essentials – but it doesn’t take much to spice it up!  Add garam masala for an eastern twist…or some berries for a tart touch!  I’ve also spent a good deal of time contemplating how to most efficiently incorporate bacon into my applesauce.

Whether you keep it simple or go nuts, I promise: if you buy yourself a bushel of apples, set aside an hour or two and do this, you’ll never go back to store bough applecrap again!

How to Make Yummy Applesauce in an Hour or Less

I used about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of apples bestowed upon me by the ancient heirloom trees out on my Aunt’s property:

I managed to enlist some assistance from my lovely boyfriend in peeling, coring and quartering the apples (thanks to a bribe of hockey and Chex Mix), which was the only real labor involved:

Just add 3/4 cup water (you could also use apple juice or cider), along with 1 clove and 2 star anise (totally optional, but classic add-ins), cover and heat!  Let the apples simmer for 15-25 minutes until they’re nice and soft.

Using an immersion blender, or via batches in a normal blender, combine the apples with 1-2 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1-2 teaspoons nutmeg until you reach your desired sauciness:

I prefer my applesauce unsweetened (aren’t apples sweethearts enough?!), but if you would like, go ahead and add any kind of sweetener you prefer be it sugar, honey, agave nectar…what have you!

I ate this stuff faster than a constipated grandpa, so I didn’t really have any left to preserve.  I stuck a small container of it in the freezer (it freezes wonderfully!) in case of emergency, but otherwise packaged it into small jars for snacks at work – yum 🙂

If you’d like to preserve, please follow the USDA instructions found here, processing in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes for half pints and pints or 20 minutes for quarts.

Happy autumn!

When Life Gives You Lemons: Make Habanero Pickled Green Tomatoes

It’s amazing what having access to a high-yield vegetable garden has done to my life.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad – but I’ve developed this squirrellish tendency to hoard produce and devilishly conceive of ways to keep it in my arsenal long past the originally predicted date of decay.  Maybe it’s the sudden abundance of my Aunt’s new vegetable garden, or maybe it’s the coming apocalypse…can’t say for sure.

The fact is that for better or for worse, my current tendency towards gardening and gardens partnered with an irrational/rational fear of impending doom has birthed a hobby: figuring out what to do when you have so much of something that it threatens uselessness and the thought of letting it go to waste induces nausea lest you encounter a future need for past excess.  Now that’s a torment worth prevention.

This week’s culprit: green tomatoes.While I personally like these tart, crisp little buggers on their own, they’re a hard sell fresh.

So on one of those devilish mental tears, I became inspired by the South Philadelphia Tap Room‘s unbelievably sour and spicy selection of pickled delicacies, and decided to attempt my own version of their fiery green tomatoes.And this is what emerged:Do they taste good?  Ask me two months from now.

Do they look good?  Yes.

Try it.  It’s fun!

Habanero Pickled Green Tomatoes

Makes 2 pint jars

  • 1-2 lbs green tomatoes
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion
  • 1 green chili
  • 1 habanero chili
  • 2 garlic cloves*
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp dill seed
  • 2 tsp celery seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tbs kosher salt
  1. If you’ll be preserving, prepare your jars for battle!*
  2. Core tomatoes, and cut into thick slices (horizontally).
  3. “Eighth” onion.
  4. CAREFULLY seed chilies and quarter.
  5. Prepare brine by bringing vinegar, water and salt just to boil.
  6. Once jars are warm,* pack em: stuff each full with tomato slices, a few chunks of onion, half of each chili, a garlic clove (smashed), 1 tsp dill seed, 1 tsp celery seed, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp peppercorns.
  7. Pour hot brine over tomatoes, removing any bubbles with the end of a spoon or chop stick – leave 1/2 inch headspace.
  8. If fridging, allow to cool, and refrigerate – they’ll keep for up to a month.
  9. If canning (in boiling water canner) – process for 10 minutes.*

*If canning, please follow USDA instructions found here!