Homemade Granola Bars with a Twist

    I'm hooked on granola bars. Anything in bar form, really. Bar cookies and cheesecakes are particular favorites of mine. But granola bars - oh, I could eat them like candy. Which is bad. Very bad. Because many of the ones you buy at the store are full of sugar and low in fiber, which goes against the whole draw of granola bars in general; they should be energy food! Good for your body, good for your mind. Now, there are a few brands out there which are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and good-for-you fats: Larabar, Trio, and Kashi are good choices. But man are they expensive! So this weekend, when I was rummaging around trying to pack my lunches for the week, I had a brilliant idea: why not make my own?

    Now, I have made granola bars before from my favorite cookbook back in Michigan and they were delicious - but I didn't have that recipe and I only had a limited amount of ingredients. Why? Because I depend on the kindness of others to take me shopping since I don't have a car and due to this crazy-mad grad program, none of us have had any time for a leisurely trip to the supermarket. Not to worry - I think the best creations come from the stuff you have on hand. There is a certain security in knowing you can make something out of nothing.

    After typing "granola bars" into Google, I clicked on the first link I found which turned out to be perfect for me - I had almost everything. I got the recipe here but made a few modifications which I HIGHLY suggest. They take these bars to the next level of yum.

    What you need:

    • 3 cups rolled oats
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup white sugar
    • 3/4 cup crushed corn flakes
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup - 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon (change the amount up or down depending on how much you want to taste this)
    • 1/2 cup honey
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    What You Do:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. I used a Pyrex dish and that worked really well to get the bars out.
    2. Mix all the dry ingredients, make a well in the center, and add the wet. If the mixture looks too moist, you can add some more oats or corn flakes, but keep in mind that the moist mixture will soak into the dry ingredients over time. If the mixture looks too wet, add a bit more honey. I kept adding cardamom until I could smell it well - if you add too much it overpowers the flavor and too little will just taste like nothing.
    3. Using your hands, press into the baking dish.
    4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut. I cut mine into nice large squares - don't try for thin strips because the dough is a bit crumbly when warm.

    Tips from the Chef:

    - When doing #2 above, pour the oil into the batter first, then the honey - this makes the honey super easy to pour out and doesn't leave you with a sticky mess.

    - When performing #3 above, coat your hands with Pam spray or butter - this will assure the batter doesn't stick to you!

    - I let the bars cook about 40 minutes because I wanted them to be a little more golden brown.

    - Allow these to cool completely before storage or they will get soggy. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place into a plastic freezer bag - now you're all set to go! A quick and healthy snack you can just grab and head out the door with. And it feels so good knowing exactly what you put in them and how good they are for you, right?

    - Other tasty combos might be chocolate - with anything :) Cranberries and white chocolate, chopped dates or apricots, toasted nuts, or coconut. Whatever you like. You might add a bit of rosewater to give an extra something special if you decide on the cardamon and honey profile.

    Like I said, I am completely hooked on granola bars. And now that I've found an awesome recipe, I intend to play with the multitude of flavor profiles at my disposal.

    Got any favs? Send them my way!

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