Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars


What would you do if you had a few extra hours to yourself per week?

Someone asked me this recently, and I didn’t have to think very hard before answering: “I’d read more, watch my favorite ’90s movies, probably go shopping for some professional clothes for an upcoming conference, and bake. Definitely bake.”

This weekend, thanks to a much-needed housecleaning service mid-week, I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands. And, true to my prediction of what I’d do in this situation, I decided I really wanted to bake. But I didn’t want to simply follow a recipe like I normally would.

For me, it’s the creative process that makes cooking (and especially baking) not just fun, but actually therapeutic. Still, because I often have a reason my finished product needs to turn out nice-looking or at least reasonably presentable, I’m usually a recipe-followin’ gal. The trial-and-error nature of free-form baking just isn’t worth the risk if I’m preparing dessert for company or bread for family breakfast. Give me a list of steps someone else has promised will lead to success and I’ll follow like a trusting puppy dog.

Sometimes, though, I get the chance to create my own recipe just for the joy of it. Art for art’s sake, let’s say. My canvas? Today, it was a mixing bowl, a baking pan, and a blend of go-to ingredients. The end result? Granola bars! To me, these DIY noshables are a great option for experimentation. They’re low-risk (’cause, hey, they’re just a snack) and generally forgiving, with their wide-open hodgepodge of various ingredients.

Making these Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars, I had a great time tinkering with the ratios of dry ingredients, binders, and mix-ins–and I’m happy to say they came out just right! These start with a flax egg to make them vegan (just kidding, it’s because I didn’t have any eggs). Then, wholesome additions like oats, whole wheat flour, and honey make their way into the mix, plus sweet treats chocolate chips and coconut. After a 30-minute stint in the oven, these bars emerge chewy and ready for snacking action. Our whole family loved them.

If you’re new to making your own recipes, I say start with granola bars. Or, if you’d like a recipe, start with this one! Tried and tested by yours truly, I can assure you these bars make a delicious homemade alternative to packaged snacks.

 


Print Recipe
Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars
Chewy, chocolatey, and coconut-y, these homemade granola bars are a yummy alternative to the packaged variety.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
bars
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
bars
Instructions
  1. Prepare the flax egg: In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. flax seed meal and 3 Tbsp. water. Place in the refrigerator to firm up for about 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients: oats, flour, coconut, chocolate chips, and salt. Mix in coconut extract, vanilla, honey, almond milk, vegetable oil, and flax egg. Spread in prepared pan, pressing down firmly to smooth.
  4. Bake about 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then slice into 16 bars. Store covered at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter To Food Original Recipe.

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7 Creative Ways to Use Dried Fruit

When you think of dried fruit, what comes to mind? “Part of a gift basket we always give Grandpa for his birthday”? “A grab-and-go snack for hiking”? “Shriveled excuse for real fruit”?

Historically, I was never too impressed with dried fruit. (Though, one thing it has going for it is that, here in the States, we don’t call it “desiccated fruit” like I’ve seen in the UK. Sounds more like roadkill than a tasty treat.) Part of my issue was that I always believed it to be less nutritious than regular fruit. With the water drawn out of it, I figured, you get none of the digestion-promoting, skin plumping, all-around body-boosting hydration you would from regular fruit.

But come to find out, just because water is removed doesn’t mean all nutrients have left the building. Dried fruit retains (almost all) its antioxidants, micronutrients, and fiber—more, in fact, per weight, than fresh fruit. So, in one sense, dried fruit could be considered more nutritious than fresh.

Still…even though it turns out dried fruit is actually healthy, I never knew what to do with it. Eating it plain always did remind me a bit too much of Grandpa’s annual fruit basket birthday gift, and not in the most appealing way. So when the friendly folks at Bare Snacks reached out to see if I’d like to try a smattering of their dried fruit and veggie products, I was intrigued. Were there more creative ways to use dried fruits and veggies I just hadn’t thought of yet?

The short answer: Yes!

The bountiful sample Bare sent over invited a whole new world of experimentation with dried produce. The last month or so has been a fun process of discovering the many delightful uses of dried strawberries, apples, bananas, coconut, pineapple, and more.

Here are seven creative (and tasty) ways to reap the health benefits of dried fruit:

1. Make a popcorn trail mix.


Call me crazy (it’s okay, my family does anyway) but I sometimes think popcorn could use a little boost. That’s why I so enjoyed adding dried strawberries and bananas—and chocolate chips, obvs—to this tasty popcorn trail mix. The sky’s the limit for what kind of dried fruit you’d like to mix in for a unique movie night snack.

2. Top cereal with it.

What’s the difference between cereal you see in commercials and the cereal that actually comes out of the box? FRUIT, baby.

(Everyone knows Crispix doesn’t come with raspberries, right?)

Add a little luxury to your breakfast bowl by sprinkling it with dried berries. You might even feel like you’re in a classic, overly enthusiastic 80’s cereal commercial.

3. Make a fruity PB-graham cracker snack.

Peanut butter graham crackers are one of my go-tos for an afternoon snack. Adding dried strawberries and apples makes them a bit more interesting (and tangy! and nutritious!).

4. Make granola or oatmeal with it.

For me, breakfast is the toughest meal of the day to include fruits and veggies in. I honestly have to “trick” myself a lot of the time by incorporating them into the package of whatever I’d choose anyway, like a baked oatmeal or bowl of granola. Try using dried apples in place of fresh in this Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal, or pump up the nutrition in Vanilla Chai Granola by adding dried coconut or mango to the mix.

5. Use it in a yogurt parfait.

Don’t have time to make homemade granola to put in a parfait to start your day? No worries. Simply use dried fruit all by its lonesome. You’ll still get a pleasing crunch mixed in with smooth and creamy yogurt.

6. Put it in cookies.

There’s SO much more to the world of dried fruit in cookies than slipping some Craisins into your Toll House recipe. Jazz up your cookie game (and add some fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, among others) with the dried apricots, figs, and cherries in Ina Garten’s nearly all five-star-reviewed Fruitcake Cookies.

Alllllll the jazz hands for jazzed-up cookies.

7. Use it as an ice cream topping.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean ruining perfectly good Oreo ice cream with dried apricots or some such nonsense. I mean enhancing ice cream with a similarly-flavored dried fruit, like adding some dried coconut and pineapple bits to a bowl of piña colada gelato. Instant added fiber and nutrients plus added yummy taste!

What’s YOUR favorite way to eat dried fruit?

5 Best Books About Food and Nutrition

Are you a reader? As a freelance writer, I consider reading part of my job–and, honestly, it may be my favorite aspect of my work. As many a writer will tell you, keeping up your wordsmithing skills is, to a degree, a matter of putting good writing in front of your eyes. Reading other people’s material helps me stay fresh and reminds me what quality looks like. (If only I actually got paid for it!)

In addition to the craft-honing perks that might come with devouring novels and memoirs, I love to read about food and nutrition. It rounds out my knowledge for both my personal and professional purposes. And back when I was first starting out, wondering whether to make nutrition my career, books had an enormous impact upon that decision. In fact, since I didn’t actually know any dietitians at that time, I’d say books had a greater influence on my career choice than any actual humans.

Here’s a look at five books that fueled my desire to become a nutritionist–and which I continue to recommend today. They enlightened me, educated me, and got me asking some tough questions about what it means to eat a healthy diet. I hope you’ll find they do the same for you.

(And maybe, when I get my butt in gear and read a few more current books, I’ll write another post with a few newer additions!)

1. Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Something like ten years ago, when my husband worked for a well-known book publisher, every employee in the company received a copy of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. I honestly don’t know the exact impetus behind this (I don’t remember ever receiving other books for free), but I’m certainly glad this one came into my life. Simple and straightforward, it offers a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format of 64 dietary principles we could all stand to adhere to. It’s not rocket science. It’s just sound, evidence-based recommendations for how to eat for good health, like “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” or “avoid high fructose corn syrup.” Pollan’s overarching mantra sums it up: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

2. The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin 

Part cookbook and part food exposé, The Cleaner Plate Club explores the world of “kid” foods–and why there really should be no such thing. Food is food is food, and as families, we should (generally) all be eating the same things. In our efforts to get kids to eat, we’ve created a bit of a monster…a greasy, processed, dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget monster. This book offers solutions for getting the entire family’s nutrition back on track.

3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Another one by Michael Pollan? But he’s not even a nutritionist! Or medical professional! True and true. But while Michael Pollan may be “just” a journalist, his research and writing about food are thorough, spot-on, and extremely thought-provoking. While there’s a lot I could say about this book, which examines various aspects of how food is made, my favorite part comes at the end, when Pollan decides to consume a meal he has sourced entirely himself. This involves hunting his own meat, gardening his own veggies, and even scraping sea salt from ponds on the California coast. It’s an arduous endeavor that may remind you just how precious your food is–and the Herculean efforts it takes to assemble the ingredients on a single plate.

4. What to Eat by Marion Nestle

Need a basic primer on, well, what to eat? What to Eat by NYU professor Marion Nestle is it. Is organic actually healthier? Should you drink soy milk and ditch the dairy? This books serves as a sort of encyclopedia for science-based answers to these common questions.

5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:

Not unlike Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, novelist Barbara Kingsolver had a desire to get closer to her food. In this departure from her usual works of fiction, Kingsolver details her family’s move to a farm in Virginia, where they aim to eat only locally (and mostly from their own produce) for an entire year. It’s a fascinating tale that shows the fruits of her family’s teamwork and weaves in plenty of reporting on the state of affairs in the food industry.

So tell me…what’s YOUR favorite book on food and nutrition?

Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissants

Ever find yourself in a sandwich rut? Let’s be honest, most of us have made enough peanut butter and jellies or turkey and cheeses in our lifetimes to feed a small army (in my case, the small army of my own children). And after awhile it can get b-o-r-i-n-g, an endless loop of the same old, same old.

Now that I work from home, I’m especially motivated to make my lunches a little more exciting. I don’t generally do anywhere or do anything special for lunch–and I rarely even see other people (cause I can get kind of hermit-y). Mostly, when lunchtime comes, if my husband isn’t working from home along with me, I sit on my back patio and scroll through Facebook or listen to a true crime podcast over a sandwich or salad.

So when I have an impressive lunch to look forward to, it’s kind of big news. And the lunch I’m talking about is none other than one of my very favorite sandwiches: a Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissant.

I first had this sandwich at a little cafe on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle when we took a trip there a few years ago. The juxtaposition of salty ham, creamy goat cheese, and sweet, chunky mango chutney rocked my world–why had I never thought of this combo before?–and ever since I’ve enjoyed making it on my own. Today, since I just made a Trader Joe’s run yesterday, I had all the ingredients on hand to make it. (If you’re not familiar, TJ’s makes a mean mango chutney for about $2.)

There’s no reason, of course, you couldn’t have a Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissant for an easy dinner, or serve it in mini-croissants as part of a buffet. For me, though, it’s a favorite lunch that makes my workday a little bit more inspiring (and delicious).



Print Recipe
Ham, Goat Cheese, and Mango Chutney Croissants
A sure-to-please combination of salty ham, creamy goat cheese, and tangy mango chutney on a flaky croissant. Is this the world's most perfect sandwich?
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
sandwich
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
sandwich
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Halve croissant lengthwise. Place ham on one side and spread the other with goat cheese and mango chutney. Assemble and eat!
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip


Smoked salmon is one of those foods that polarizes people. You either love it or hate it. I happen to fall into the former category. I love smoked salmon for its high omega 3 content, its smoky flavor, its chewy coolness, and the way it slices so clean with a sharp knife.

Is that not sooooo satisfying to watch?


My husband, on the other hand, falls into the “hate-with-the-heat-of-a-thousand-burning-suns,” “vomit-vomit-vomit” smoked salmon camp.

It’s ok. I get it. It’s an acquired taste–and even more so, and acquired texture. (Is that a thing, “acquired texture”? That’s going to be my new phrase for velour jumpsuits and those reversible sequin unicorn pillows my 7-year-old adores.) Anyway, it’s all right if the cold-and-clammy texture of raw fish doesn’t appeal to you. But I think there’s still hope for you to like smoked salmon in the form of this delicious Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip. 


Yea, verily. 

Although the signature taste of smoked salmon comes through in this appetizer, its usual fishy texture is nowhere to be found, pulverized into oblivion by your friendly food processor. What’s left, when blended with cream cheese, lemon juice, horseradish, fresh dill, chives, and a few other simple ingredients, is a creamy, herby dip that’s perfection on butter crackers, crudités, or as a spread on toast.

Since my husband and kids aren’t fans of smoked salmon in any form, I’ve been powering through an entire batch of this by myself this past week, and I am not mad about it. Now that we’re a couple of days into Lent, which means no meat on Fridays for me, I plan to make it again as a staple for a light lunch. But it would serve just as well in a brunch, a classy baby shower buffet, or as a pre-dinner appetizer. 



So how about you? Where do you stand in the Smoked Salmon Debate? And do you think this tasty dip could change your mind? Let me know in the comments!

Print Recipe
Creamy Smoked Salmon Dip
A creamy, herb-y dip packed with brain-boosting omega 3s. It's perfect on butter crackers, crudités, or toast!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as an appetizer
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
as an appetizer
Instructions
  1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until well blended and consistency reaches your liking. Serve with crackers, fresh vegetables, or on toast or bagels. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Valerie's Kitchen.

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