Cooking for your Health: Homemade Granola Bars

In this installment of Cooking for your Health, the theme is brain food: Healthy high energy snack food that’s a perfect pick-me-up during the work or school day or following a workout, providing a nutritional boost of energy which improves concentration and stamina. A diet rich in iron, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and complex carbohydrates comprises a winning menu for your brain, increasing focus and memory. While nailing the nutrition may be easier to accomplish when preparing a sit-down meal, it’s often difficult to find in a snack when you are grabbing food on the go. What can you eat that’s portable, delicious and healthy? Look no further than these homemade granola bars.

The beauty of homemade granola bars is that you can pick and choose your ingredients, omitting excess sugars, fat and additives without sacrificing flavor. These granola bars are studded with dried fruit and nuts, including anti-oxidant rich blueberries and almonds, B-vitamin heavy lifters oats, coconut and wheat germ, and coconut oil which provides lauric acid, known for its anti-oxidant and antibacterial properties. Come to think about it, snacking never felt or tasted so good.

Homemade Granola Bars

Makes approximately 24 small bars.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried fruit, such as chopped apricots, cranberries, blueberries, or raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 by 11-inch baking pan and line with parchment.
Combine the oats, almonds, coconut, and almond meal in a bowl. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour into a large bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the sugar and syrup, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the sugar over the oats, mixing to thoroughly combine. Stir in the dried fruit. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading to firmly and evenly distribute.
Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely in pan until firm, at least 2 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Yogurt Parfaits with Rhubarb Compote and Almond Granola

Yogurt Parfaits with Rhubarb Compote and Almond Granola

~ Rhubarb Compote, Almond Granola, Greek Yogurt ~

Every morning I remind my kids to eat breakfast – and then I don’t eat one myself. I confess that a strong cappuccino is enough to propel me out the door each day, when I know – I know – it’s not smart. How to change my ways and correct this parental double standard? Well, if I had the fixings for this yogurt parfait in my refrigerator each morning, you can bet I would eat it. The good news is  the compote and granola are easy to make in large quantities ahead of time. So no excuses. Eat your breakfast.

Yogurt Parfaits with Rhubarb Compote and Almond Granola

This is delicious for breakfast, lunch or a snack. Feel free to double the quantities so you have extra on hand for breakfasts during the week.

For the Rhubarb Compote:
Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the Almond Granola:
Makes about 4 cups

2 cups oats
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins

Greek-style yogurt

Prepare the compote:
Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the rhubarb begins to release its juice. Simmer, partially covered, until rhubarb is soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Compote may be made up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate until use.

Prepare the granola:
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C). Toss the oats, almonds, coconut, wheat germ, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk oil, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar and vanilla together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Add to the oats and toss to thoroughly coat. Spread the granola on the baking pan. Bake until toasted golden brown, jiggling the pan once or twice, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the raisins. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

To assemble the parfaits, spoon alternating layers of yogurt, compote and granola in a glass, finishing with a topping of granola.

Apple Bran Muffins

I rarely bake muffins, but when I do, I try to make them healthy. Muffins are often mini-cakes, packed with sugar and fat, which to some extent can’t be avoided if you wish to eat a muffin that doesn’t resemble a hockey puck or bird food. To compensate, I try to reduce the sugar and fat and add healthy grains or cereals, fruit and nuts. Today I had a request for homemade muffins from my son who is home sick from school. Since he hasn’t had much of an appetite, I couldn’t resist trying to whip up a batch of Apple Bran Muffins. They are reasonably healthy for a muffin, while sufficiently naughty to indulge a craving for something moist and sweet.

 

Apple Bran Muffins

Makes 12 muffins (or about 24 mini-muffins)

1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup grated apple, packed
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a muffin or mini-muffin tin (or line with paper liners).
2. Whisk the sugar and oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the molasses and vanilla, and then mix in the buttermilk and bran.
4. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined, without over-mixing. Fold in the raisins, apple and walnuts, if using. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin or paper liners, filling them.
5. Bake in the oven until a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes (or 18 to 20 minutes for mini-muffins).

Rise and Shine: Yogurt, Plum and Granola Parfait

~ Spiced Plum Compote, Maple Granola, Greek Yogurt ~

If you need a reason to get up in the morning, then try this sumptuous breakfast parfait. A slick of stewed plums swirls through clouds of rich greek yogurt flecked with nuggets of granola. If it weren’t so early in the morning, you might be tempted to call this dessert.

Spiced Plum Compote
Not overly sweet, this rich plum stew is delicious with yogurt. If you are calling this dessert, do not hesitate to ladle some over a bowl of ice cream, too.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

1 pound plums, pitted, sliced
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the plums soften and the compote thickens, about 20 minutes. Cool, cover and refrigerate until use. The flavors will develop with time. (May be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Granola
Feel free to fiddle with the ingredients. Substitute or add hazelnuts, pecans, flax, dried cranberries … you get the picture.
Makes about 2 cups.

1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 300°F (160°C). Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, wheat germ, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Whisk maple syrup and vegetable oil together in a small bowl. Drizzle over the oats and toss to combine. Spread in a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about 30  minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and cool. Add the raisins. Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

To assemble parfaits:
Alternate plum compote, granola and whole milk Greek-style yogurt in a bowl or glass. Serve for breakfast, lunch or whenever you please.