Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Homemade Pretty Healthy Granola Bars That Also Taste Good

As most parents know, schools these days are peanut-free. Not like when I was a kid and I took a peanut butter and jam sandwich to school pretty much every single day. For 15 years. Now each night I struggle to come up with something that is nutritious, not boring, and not processed. It’s not just the ‘main course’ that’s a problem, but the snacks too. I used to buy granola bars because they are labelled peanut-free, and then I decided to take a closer look at the ingredients list. Palm kernel oil, corn syrup, things I cannot pronounce, etcetera - a cause for concern.

I have tried to make homemade granola bars in the past and they didn’t turn out well at all. They fell apart and just didn’t taste that great. I never let a recipe-gone-bust deter me from trying again though, so last night I found myself toasting some oatmeal in the oven while my big guy finished his homework.

I found an interesting-sounding recipe on line on a blog called Butter Crumbs, but it was full of nuts and nut butters so I had to adapt (what else is new?).

Here is my adaptation, with notes and advice for future attempts.


2 cups rolled oats
¼ cup oat bran
1/3 cup wheat germ
½ cup honey/maple syrup mix
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2/3 cup bran cereal
¼ cup olive oil
4 quick grinds of salt (about ¼ tsp)
2/3 cup chocolate chips


Place the oats, oat bran and wheat germ on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven. Toast the ingredients for 5 - 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let cool.

Meanwhile, while the oats are toasting, mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl.

Once the oats are cool, add them as well. Stir really well ensuring you coat all the dry with the wet ingredients.

Note: I didn’t let the oat mixture cool and when I added the warm oats to the rest of the ingredients, the chocolate chips melted. This is not necessarily a bad thing but if you want to see the chocolate chips intact in your granola bar, then let the oat mixture cool before adding it to the bowl of other ingredients.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour the mixture onto the sheet. You then need to use something with a straight edge to shape the mound of oats into a rectangle shape. I used a large cleaver but you could also try a ruler. Your oats should be flattened to about ¼ - ½ inch thick. You can use a spatula to do this. If it is sticky, try spraying the spatula with a touch of cooking spray first (or brush with olive oil).

Once the shape is right, place the tray in the oven for 12 minutes at 350 degrees F. I baked mine for 14 minutes and they were a bit overdone. 10 minutes will give you a chewy bar, 12 minutes will give you something more crunchy.

Lift the parchment paper off of the hot cookie try to help the granola cool. While the oats are still warm, cut the rectangle into 16 bars.

If you follow this recipe exactly, each bar is 5 Weight Watchers points (for the Points Plus system). If you want to make these and cut back on the points, you can cut the chocolate chips in half, cut out the sunflower seeds, or replace the chocolate chips with raisins or dried cranberries.

If you don’t have to worry about being nut-free, you can replace the oil with peanut butter or almond butter. You can also add any kind of nut that you want to. 

Enjoy! And tell me about your variations – I’d love to hear all about them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Black Bean & Chick Pea Soup with Sour Cream & Lime Topping

There’s no place like home. 

This past week I spent five long days in Puerto Rico. You may think that this is awesome, but I was there for work and was without my two kids and husband for that time. In addition, the travel time to get to Puerto Rico was about 12 hours (12 hours to get home as well), and the weather wasn’t even stellar (although it was definitely better than the weather in Toronto).

I missed my kids, my husband, my dog, even the hamsters. What I also missed was the ability to cook my own food. It’s one thing to go out for a dinner here, a breakfast there...but 5 days of that is tough. Especially when one is a vegetarian and Puerto Ricans love meat!

I arrived home late on Saturday night and the first thing I did on Sunday was to figure out what food I would prepare that day. I looked in the pantry to see what was there and spied some black beans. You’d think there would be lots of beans on hand in Puerto Rico, and there were, but they all had pork mixed in with them.

I decided to make a black bean soup so I turned to one of my newer cookbooks to check out the recipes. I found one that looked good in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen. The King of Soup was heading out to watch the Super Bowl with his buddies, but before he left he was kind enough to prep all the veggies for me (what a Prince, I mean King).

I started cooking and went to the pantry to get the beans. Uh oh, only one can and the recipe called for 3. How about some chick peas instead? Sure! Why not?

Here is my soup, adapted from Deborah Madison’s recipe.


1 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (original recipe calls for 3 cans of beans and no chick peas)
1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large, sweet onion, finely diced
2 small carrots, finely diced
3 celery ribs, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch of cilantro, stems finely sliced and leaves more roughly chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika, or more to taste
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp cayenne, or more to taste (I think it needs more)


½ cup sour cream
Juice of ½ lime, or more to taste (I used one full lime and I think I might even add more lime to the actual soup)
Pinch of salt (I added freshly ground pepper as well)


Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot (I used my cast iron Le Creuset). Sauté the diced veggies and cilantro stems over medium-high heat until the onion has softened (stir often). Add 1 tsp salt and then add the cumin, paprika, bay leaves, and cayenne. Lower the heat and cook for about 10 minutes more. Stir every couple of minutes and try not to let the spices burn.

Add 1 cup of water and cook for another 8 minutes or so.

Add the beans and the chick peas, another cup or more of water (original recipe does not call for additional water, but I felt it needed it to truly simmer), and 3 tbsp of the chopped cilantro leaves. Cook for about 20 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper as required.

Mix the sour cream, lime juice, the rest of the cilantro leaves and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl.

Puree the soup using a hand blender (original recipe does not call for pureeing). Serve hot with a dollop of the sour cream mixture on top. (I think toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds would also be great with this soup.)

P.S. I did have the chance to eat an excellent Puerto Rican staple called Mofungo (fried plantain and garlic mash). I plan to do some research and test out my own recipe so stay tuned to this space...