When I go into people’s homes, I can always tell which of their cookbooks are used regularly and which are more aspirational or someday volumes. The ones that fall into the category of “some day” have unmarked pages and perfect, smooth spines. The books that get used have dog-eared corners, splatters and stains. Particularly beloved books open to favorite recipes all on their own.
It is every cookbook author’s wish that their book becomes one of the spotted, bent and broken books. That means it’s being cooked from and that means we’ve done our job.
I see a lot of cookbooks and it’s a rare book that makes me want to immediately leap up, head to the kitchen, break the spine and start cooking. It happened last fall with the Bi-Rite Cookbook and again recently, with Alana Chernila’s new book, The Homemade Pantry.
If you don’t know Alana, she writes the lovely blog Eating From the Ground Up and lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two girls. I first encountered Alana when she introduced herself via email a year or two ago. We finally met in person last fall and it felt more like reconnecting with an old friend than it did an initial introduction.
Once you start reading The Homemade Pantry, you’re going to feel like Alana is one of your old friends too. That’s because her headnotes aren’t just headnotes. They’re full-on essays and they are glorious. Stories of her children, her own childhood and her community weave through the recipes. The book reads like a memoir that just happens to have good things to eat tucked here and there.
The best part of the headnotes is that they demonstrate how personal these recipes are to Alana. They show that every single dish in this book has a reason for being there and is something that she feeds her family. You really can’t ask for a better endorsement than that.
I have long been someone who makes granola at home. There are multiple recipes for granola on this very site and several more in my cookbook (which is now just weeks away!). However, one thing I’ve never been able to get right is a homemade granola bar. I’ve tried so many recipes and they’re either too sweet, too dry or too fragile (and sometimes all three).
When I spotted the recipe for Car Snack 3 (The Nutty Granola Bar), I was tempted. While I don’t spend much time in cars and don’t have any little ones who need snacks, I like having something on hand for mid-afternoons when I can’t focus until I have a little nibble. I was entirely convinced to try them after reading this line, “If you, too, have been searching for the granola bar, try this one.”
Best of all, it was an easy recipe to follow. While the ingredient list is long, it comes together fast. I liked the technique it employs, too. She has you melt the fats (butter, coconut oil and nut butter) together with the sweeteners (sugar and honey).
Once they’re heated through and smooth in consistency, you stir in the rest of the ingredients and press into a parchment-lined baking pan. The parchment means that nothing sticks to the pan and it makes for easy removal once they’ve cooled.
While I knew I could trust Alana to write reliable recipes, I am still blown away by these granola bars. They are, by far, the best homemade granola bars I’ve ever managed to produce in my kitchen. Yes, they are quite calorie dense, but so are any grocery store bar. And since I know exactly what’s in them, I feel no guilt or worry about having a small square as my afternoon snack.
So far, this is the only recipe I’ve tried from the book, but that fact that it worked so well and is so good means that I plan to turn to this book over and over again for my kitchen staples. I have a feeling my copy of the book is going to be totally stained and splattered within weeks and I know that Alana will be entirely pleased by that.
I’m not hosting a giveaway for this book, but Winnie at Healthy Green Kitchen is giving away three copies. If you want a chance at winning, head over to her site and leave a comment to enter. The recipe for Alana’s Nutty Granola Bar is after the jump.
Disclosure: Clarkson Potter gave me a free review copy of The Homemade Pantry. I was not compensated for this post and my opinions remain my own.
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) coconut oil (or butter)
- 3/4 nut butter
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 1/2 cups (8 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups (4.5 ounces) raw sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup (1.25 ounces) shredded unsweetened coconut
- 3/4 cup (4.5 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) oat bran (or 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats ground to powder in the blender)
- 1/4 cup (1.25 ounces) sesame seeds (I subbed in sunflower seeds because I was out of sesame)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving extra paper to pull the finished product out of the pan.
- In a large saucepan, combine the butter, coconut oil, nut butter, brown sugar, vanilla, honey, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until you have a uniform syrup. Remove from heat. Add the oats, almonds, coconut, chocolate chips, oat bran, sesame seeds, and cinnamon. Stir until the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and press it as firmly into the pan as possible, first using your hands, then using a spatula or wooden spoon to flatten the top. Sprinkle the salt over the top.
- Bake until the edges darken, 35-40 minutes (I found that mine were ready closer to 25 minutes, because ovens vary). The mixture will be soft when you take it out of the oven, but allow it to cool completely before taking it out of the pan and cutting it into 16 squares (I went for 32 squares for better portion control).