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The Perfect Granola Storm

September 6, 2009

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I’d like to start off by saying that making granola bars wasn’t entirely my idea.  I read about it on Smitten Kitchen and thought they looked good enough, but the more I thought about it the more I decided I had to make these.  Here is why: the boyf and I are traveling this weekend to go to a wedding and we need portable (moderately healthy) munchy food to avoid the airport food.  Actually, I guess they’re more for me since the boyf relishes any opportunity to eat fast food.  Plus, he’s trying to gain weight. I’ve told him all he has to do is eat pizza and ice cream… it’s really not that hard.

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But I digress.  Back to why I had to make granola bars: I had tons of  little baggies (ok, like four) of dried fruits that I didn’t know what to do with.  And, last but not least, I had an unopened bag of unsweetened coconut that I bought probably…. umm….. a year and a half ago. The coconut was intended for a tempeh recipe that never came to fruition because tempeh is, for lack of a better word, GROSS.  Every time I open the cupboard and see the bag of coconut sitting there, it reminds me of past cooking failures and grand ideas that never happened.  I feel like it’s sitting there taunting me.  Ridiculous, but true.

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I decided to use half tupelo honey and half melata honey.  I got the miele di melata when I was visiting my sister, Kirsten, and her husband in Italy in January at this little stand in downtown Bologna that sells all different kinds of crazy honey.  Miele di melata apparently is not a blossom honey; rather, “it is collection of excretions from  alpine spruce trees that is transformed by the bees into a thick, amber syrup,” which is to say (I think) that the bees turn sap into honey. According to this website the honey “tastes like molasses, with hints of sweet cranberries and pine.”  Why, yes, I suppose it does.

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I also have some orange honey from the same little stand, and there’s also blueberry honey and my sister loves the miele di millefiore.  Who knew there were so many options?  Kirsten and I made several treks in the freezing cold to the honey stand, almost daily, and it was never open.  And it was literally a trek to get there because Kirsten had recently broken her femur (and ankle and knee), so it took us a long time to get there and an even longer amount of time to get home.  But we do love ourselves some good food, so trek or no trek, we were going to get some of that honey, damn it.  It got to the point where Kirsten would stand and wait and I would go walk around the corner to check if it was open and report back to her.  We went right before I left and it was finally open, and luckily we were able to stock up.

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Back to the granola bars… the first step was to toast the almonds, coconut and oatmeal.  It smelled so good I wanted to just eat it then and there.  But it was too hot so I couldn’t.  After mixing the toasted goodness with all the other stuff and packing it as tightly as possible into the baking dish, I baked it for the prescribed amount of time.  Twice.  After baking it once, I tried to cut them and they literally disintegrated into granola bits.  So I popped it back in the oven, cranked up the heat and we were back in business. 

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This recipe is great because it lends itself well to improvisation– you can just throw in whatever you have in your cupboard (which is exactly what I did) and it should turn out well, assuming the granola bars don’t lose the whole “bar” part and just turn into granola.  Which is good too, but not exactly what I was going for.

Granola Bars
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I used about a tsp because I like salty and sweet)
1 1/2 cups dried fruit

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper (I ran out of parchment and haven’t found more, but lack of parchment didn’t seem to cause a problem).

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and press it into the pan until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible (first I tried using my hand sprayed with cooking spray– didn’t work– and then I used a rubber spatula, which did the trick).

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. (I had to cook mine for more like 45 minutes because otherwise they crumbled to bits when I tried to cut them) Cool for 1 or 2 hours before cutting into squares; you don’t want to do this when they are warm because they will fall apart.

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