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Homemade Granola Bars with Nuts and Seeds

Many years ago, I wrote a weekly column for the Food Network’s blog. It was called The Weekender and was designed to feature the kind of project cooking best tackled on a Saturday or Sunday. I cooked a whole bunch of things that were way out of my comfort zone during the three year period I had that gig and I learned a heck of a lot along the way.

I often go back and reference select elements of the dishes I made during that run (the spice rub on this chicken is brilliant and I use it all the time). Another technique that I’ve used and adapted a lot over the years is this one for granola bars.

It comes from an episode of Sunny Anderson’s show, Home Made in America, in which she searched out secrets from home cooks. The thing that sets this granola bar apart from others I’ve made is that it results in a nicely chewy, not-too-sweet, easy to eat snack.

The one thing I do differently from the recipe as written is that I don’t bake the bars. Once I press them into the pan, I just let them cool until they firm up. This makes it a good one for summer, because the time the oven is on is minimal.

Once the slab is cool, I cut them into bars, wrap them up in pieces of parchment paper (often using the same sheet that I lined the pan with) and then tuck them into a big jar.

They keep a couple weeks on the counter and even longer in the freezer. Oh, and if you need to avoid nuts because of allergies, omit the almonds, add more sunflower seeds, and proceed as directed.

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Jammy Baked Oatmeal with Mixed Berry Jam

This post is sponsored by Ball® Fresh Preserving Products by Newell Brands.

Yesterday, I showed you how to make the Mixed Berry Jam on FreshPreserving.com. This easy, small batch of jam is versatile, flexible, and really delicious. You can use it any number of ways. Stirred into oatmeal! On peanut butter toast! In sparkling water! Dolloped in thumbprint cookies! Whisked into vinaigrette!

If you are unmoved by those suggestions, I’ve got one more for you. Baked oatmeal. Now, I realize that at first blush, baked oatmeal doesn’t sound like the most exciting dish ever. But here’s the thing. It’s a workhorse. A day saver. A morning mood lifter. Packed with whole grains, applesauce, and a couple eggs for protein and binding. It’s tasty, portable, and easy.

Another truly excellent thing about baked oatmeal is that it’s really easy to make. All you need is a bowl, a two-cup measuring cup, and square baking pan (greased with cooking spray or a small slick of neutral oil). I’ve included weight measurements so if you have a scale, you don’t have to dirty additional measuring cups.

You start by measuring out rolled oats, whole wheat flour (if you’re gluten-free, you can swap in your GF flour of choice), toasted nuts, and raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit). Add some cinnamon (cardamom is another good option, if you prefer), baking powder (to help make it lighter), and salt.

Then, in the measuring cup, portion out milk, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk, add the wet to the dry, pour it into your prepared baking pan, and add dollops of jam in a grid pattern (like a tic tac toe board).

The oatmeal is baked in a hot (375F) oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the middle has lost its wobble, the edges start to pull away from the corners of the pan, and the puddles of jam sink slightly. You can serve it warm (perfect for mellow weekend brunches) or once it’s cooled, you can portion it out into containers for the work week.

I like to eat it straight from the fridge with a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt, or warmed up with a little milk. Full recipe below!

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Bake a Difference with OXO For Cookies for Kids’ Cancer + Oatmeal Muffins

It’s that time of year again, when the folks at OXO host a blogger campaign for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. The goal is to help raise both awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. For every blogger who dedicates a post to the topic, they donate $100 to the cause.

I participated last year, sharing my story of losing a friend to cancer when I was in middle school, and making a batch of tasty cookie bars from Dorie’s Cookies.

This year, I’m offering up a batch of muffins rather than cookies, thankfully, I’m told that they’ll still count. And if you missed Shianne’s story last year, consider hopping over to that blog post to read it.

OXO sent me their Non-Stick Pro 12 Cup Muffin Pan, a dozen Silicone Baking Cups, and Baker’s Decorating Tool and told me to be creative. I spent a little time worrying about doing that decorating tool justice before realizing that one should always write what they know (as it were).

And so I opted to adapt a simple oatmeal muffin recipe from the classic and invaluable King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion and use the filling tip on the decorating tool to give them a plum butter center. It worked better than I’d even hoped. Next time I’m invited to a brunch potluck, I know what I’ll be bringing!

I’m not someone who typically goes in for fancy decorations on baked goods of any stripe (I’d be a terrible contestant on the Great British Bake Off), and so it was my first experience using a decorating tool. I was happy to discover that it was really intuitive to use and fun to booth. I predict that there will be more jam-filling and piped frosting in my future thanks to this devise.

Oh, and if you don’t have a nifty tool for filling your muffins with jam, they would be equally good if you split them and simply gave them a healthy dollop.

Disclosure: OXO sent me the tools you see above. No additional compensation was provided for this post. 

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Sprouted Wheat Berries in Excalibur 5-Tray Dehydrator

Some months back now, my friend Audra spread the word that she was ordering bulk grains and other dry goods from her favorite organic suppler. Her hope was to spread the word about this very good way to get high quality food and to get the total weight of the order high enough to qualify for discounted shipping.

I took her up on the call and ordered 25 pounds of hard winter wheat berries. My goal was to improve my bread baking habit with the addition of sprouted and freshly ground flour. Of course, when I committed to 25 pounds of wheat berries, I’d never sprouted or ground my own flour before. But I had enthusiasm, a vast array of cookbooks, and all the internet at my disposal. What could go wrong?

The truthful answer is that actually, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong, but as is the case with many new things, I did have a few missteps. The first time I tried to sprout a batch of wheat berries, I left them in the soaking water too long and they developed a funky smell, akin to stinky feet.

And I’ve also learned that I really need to get a few of these non-stick sheets to prevent the wheat berries from falling off the dehydrator trays as they dry and shrink a little. Both are relatively low prices to pay in pursuit of greater knowledge and understanding!

I’ve been using my new, fancy 5-tray Excalibur to dehydrate the berries once they’ve been soaked and sprouted and that part couldn’t be easier. I love that I can set both the time and temperature so precisely. I run it at 112F to preserve the enzymatic activity of the wheat (a useful thing if you’re working with a sourdough starter), so appreciate how easy it is to dial in that exact temperature.

Now, you might be wondering why I’d take the time to soak, sprout, and dehydrate my wheat before grinding it into flour. The primary reason is that it helps make it easier to digest. Secondarily, I find that it grinds more readily (which is good, since I’m using the KitchenAid Grain Mill, and the unsprouted grain made the motor work really hard).

If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of homemade sprouted wheat flour, here’s how you do it.

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Speedy Pizza Dough + OXO Pizza Tools

I believe that the process of learning a new kitchen skill is much like learning a new dialect of a language you already speak. In the beginning, you feel awkward and mistake-prone. However, over time you begin to find markers in the landscape and soon enough, your brain builds the pathways necessary for increasing mastery. Eventually, you find that the new knowledge informs your previous understanding and brings greater depth to that which you thought you’d already known intimately.

This is why, despite having at last seven pizza joints within a three block radius of my apartment, I make my own pizza. Because it informs my baking and cooking, deepens my grasp of caramelization, and tastes mighty good, to boot. (I learned a great deal about making pizza from this free Craftsy class taught by baking great Peter Reinhart. If you have the time, I highly recommend it.)

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different pizza dough recipes. When I have an active sourdough starter and I plan ahead, there’s nothing more delicious than a naturally leaven crust. Other times, I’ll use a recipe with very little yeast and do a long, slow rise.

However, most often, I have neither a sourdough starter at the perfect stage of readiness or the time for an overnight rise. When that happens, I use this recipe. It has a generous amount of instant yeast and gets mixed by hand, for a fast rise and a minimum of fuss.

Now, if you have the time, you can let this dough do a second rise, which increases its tangy flavor and makes it even more delicious. But that’s entirely optional. Once the dough is ready, you divide into two portions and then work them flat. For most of my pizza making life, I stretched my dough out on a sheet of parchment paper, topped it and then carefully transferred it to a hot baking steel.

However, recently the folks at OXO sent me some of their pizza tools to try and I’ve fallen hard for their non-stick pizza pan. Instead of using and trashing a sheet of parchment for every pie (and sometimes setting it to smolder in my very hot oven), I work the dough out into a round on the pan (the trick is to work the dough with damp hands and then let it rest for a minute or two. If you keep working it without a rest, it bounces back into a ball), top it, and bake all on the pan.

When it comes to topping my pizzas, I go simple. A jar of homemade sauce (my favorite small batch recipe is in Preserving by the Pint), a combination of grated mozzarella and cheddar, and some slivered onion and pepper (I’m loving the OXO Grate & Slice Set they sent for this prep). If we have it, Scott likes pepperoni, but it rarely feels necessary to me.

Baked at 475F on a pre-heated baking steel (I love this thing! I’ve owned and cracked several ceramic pizza stones over the years, but the steel is indestructible), the finished pizza is ready after 10 minutes or so (if you’re using a non-stick pan like I am these days, make sure to check out OXO’s non-stick safe pizza wheel).

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Sour Cherry Thumbprints for Valentine’s Day

When I was a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. Not for it’s romantic implications, but for the simple fact that it was an excuse to take a trip to the craft store for heart-shaped doilies, glitter, and card stock. I would spent weeks making pretty cards for my friends and classmates.

It’s been years since I did anything particularly crafty for Valentine’s Day, but earlier this morning, I started feeling the itch to make something in honor of the holiday.

A couple weeks ago, the folks from Foodstirs* sent me few of their baking and frosting mixes and they’ve been sitting next to my desk, waiting for me to feel inspired to bake.

And so in between wrapping my husband’s birthday presents (he was a Valentine’s baby!) and slicing the last of my Meyer lemons for the dehydrator, I made some cookies.

I have long been of the opinion that you can incorporate jam into nearly any cookie. Thin roll-outs? Turn them into jam sandwiches. Crumbly oatmeal cookie? Grab a baking dish and turn it into a jam-filled bar. And when you decide to make sugar cookies on a whim and have an open jar of sour cherry jam in the fridge? Turn ’em into thumbprints.

I used a tablespoon cookie scoop to portion out the dough and then used a wet fingertip to make them impressions (sometimes I use a melon baller for this task, but this dough was a little sticky for the task).

The tart jam is a tasty contrast to the sweet cookies and they look perfectly appropriate for the day.

*They offer baking kits featuring organic and non-GMO ingredients that can be ordered individually or you can subscribe to a monthly delivery. And for the Buffy fans among you, it also happens to be owned by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

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