Accidentally Delicious

I am not the culinary genius in my family.  My mother is a wonderful cook.  One of five girls in a large Italian family, she can make pretty much anything, not just Italian, and it’s amazing (especially veggie pizza and stroganoff–my favorites!)  She definitely tried to pass on this tradition of cooking expertise to my sister and me, but it just wasn’t my thing.  Every meatball I rolled fell apart and every vegetable I sautéed burned.  My sister, Allison, on the other hand, excelled at these tasks and now has a degree in baking and pastries from the Culinary Institute of America.  I remember one night when I was in high school my mom and Allison both had something to do, so I was plan C for dinner.  When my dad called on his way home from work to find out what we were having and found this out, his response was, “Eh, I’ll pick up a pizza”.  My freshman year of college, the first time Nat cooked for me it was Chicken Parmesan.  I sat in his apartment watching him cook and offered to help slice the mozzarella when he realized he forgot bread crumbs and had to run out for five minutes.  Somehow in that time I hadn’t noticed that the apartment was filling with smoke and the alarm went off as soon as he got back. It was clear I did not belong in a kitchen.

Once I moved out of my freshman dorm, had a kitchen of my own, and started to steer clear of the dining hall, it was do or die (not really because Nat still cooked for me a lot of the time).  I slowly learned to put some basic things together.  The more comfortable I got, the more complicated the dishes I was trying.  Who knows?  Maybe I was resistant before because Allison was just so much better at it than me and now I’ve grown to accept that she is just really good at what she does.  Or maybe I was just lazy in high school.  Regardless, I still can’t say I enjoy cooking, but I do get pretty excited about finding new recipes on Pinterest or hearing about them from friends.

Last week, I found a recipe for my own granola bars.  I had been writing “bars” on my grocery list every week for a while and then couldn’t justify paying the amount that they were for six tiny granola bars, so I never bought them.  I generally followed this recipe, but made a few changes based on what I had available to use.  I haven’t done the exact calculations for the ingredient to yield ratio of the ones that I made (and I should also take into account manual labor), but they certainly are delicious and I’ll definitely make them again.

Apple Cranberry Bars
2 cups pecans
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 chopped apples
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil (easier clean up!) and spread the pecans and oats on it in a single flat layer.  Bake them until your kitchen smells amazing and they’re nice and toasty.  I just left them in while I chopped the apples.

2. Peel and chop the apples.  Don’t worry about making them super small yet, they still have to go in the Slap Chop.  Yes, I said Slap Chop.  I don’t have a food processor and when I told my mom I wanted to make these, she gave me this:

I don’t even know if I can call that a Slap Chop.  If that’s what it is, it’s a very early version.  It definitely works, but that’s where the manual labor comes in for my little twist on the bars.  Put the pecans, oats, dried cranberries, and apples all through the Slap Chop treatment.  Do this little bits at a time because the Slap Chop doesn’t do a ton at once.  You might need to pick the dried cranberries off the blade every once in a while.  Once chopped, mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.

3.  Add the salt, cinnamon, and honey to the bowl of chopped dry ingredients.  The original recipe didn’t have honey.  My thought is that with a real food processor, the cranberries (or dates as it calls for instead) would be gummy and the apples would be chopped much more and their juices with the gumminess would act as the sticky factor that keeps these bars together.  That’s why I added honey to mine and it worked out really well.

4.  Line a deep 8×8 square baking dish with tin foil and spray the foil with Pam.  Leave extra foil out the sides to use as handles when the bars are done and you take them out.  Put the yummy gooey mixture in the baking dish and use a spatula to press it all down tight and flat.  Pop it in the oven for 20 minutes.  The recipe says 20 minutes, so I would at least check them then if I were you, but I reverted back to my old ways and totally forgot they were in there.  Mine got an extra 10 minutes and they were still perfect.

Let them completely cool before taking them out of the baking dish and cutting them into bars so that they definitely set and keep their shape.  I cut mine into 8 bars, but they’re pretty big and I think next time I’ll cut them into 10.  Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and keep them in the refrigerator.  They’re a great little post run or snack time treat!