Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola BarsAt the end of April my youngest sister came to visit, meet her newest nephew, and run a half marathon.  Yeah, we like to test the physical endurance of our guests every now and then.  Look!  Aren’t they cute together?
189Nearly every spring since we moved to central IL my family, my husband, and sometimes friends, have run at least one of the races during the Illinois Marathon weekend.  Usually the half marathon is the murderously torturous event of choice (Have I ever mentioned that I hate to run?) and this year my sister ran it for the second time.  Mike ran it too-his third half marathon overall.  Such craziness.  I am actually kind of the odd one out.  Between my husband, my sisters, all my sisters-in law, and some of my brothers, you would think I would join in too.  Well forget it!  You will never break me!!

But I digress…

Even though I don’t run, I have a deep respect for all of the severely misguided athletes that do.  In fact, the spirit of racing is one of the things that make that race weekend one that we excitedly look forward to every year.  The race finish line is at the fifty yard line inside the U of I stadium so it is as exciting for spectators as it is for runners.  Isn’t that neat?  The runners round a curve and the whole stadium is there before them with songs like Eye of the Tiger urging them on for those last fifty yards!  It totally would make a person want to run…almost.  My responsibilities include things much less sweaty.  Like picture taking, runner chauffeuring, and cooking for body fueling-with the exception of the two years (’06 and this past spring) that I had just given birth a few weeks before.  I stayed home then.  But anyway, for my part, I like to research different foods that are good for pre-race fueling and post race recovery so that I know I am cooking something that is just what their bodies need.  A few years ago when my other sister and her friend ran the full marathon, I really felt the pressure.  I didn’t want to be responsible for runners that ate five pounds of BBQ Ribs the night before-not good running fuel-or worse, *gasp*, were hungry!  “No one around here goes hungry!” I declare out loud, slamming my fist on the kitchen counter!  These granola bars have made an appearance several times, as well as being part of our normal snacking repertoire year round.  Mainly because they are fun to make, easy to freeze, you can pick your flavors, and..well…they are awesome.  Oh yeah, and good for you.  I recommend taking the time to just make a double batch.  Kind of like a marathon granola bar making day.  Blasting Eye of the Tiger is optional.
Homemade Granola Bars Homemade Granola BarsOne Year Ago: Fried Corn & Mocha Chocolate Chip Scones

Homemade Granola Bars
Adapted from Ina
In addition to having plain old granola around, these are fantastic to pull from the freezer for a quick breakfast, snack, or road trip munchie.  Feel free to mix and match whatever kind of fruit and nuts you like.  So far, these two combos seem to be universally pleasing and particularly gorgeous.  Aren’t the colors awesome?  And, I might add, they are addictively good.

Fruit & Nut

2 c rolled oats (not quick cooking)
3/4 c sliced almonds
3/4 c shredded coconut
1/2 c wheat germ

Place the above ingredients on a dry sheet pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Beware!  The coconut has a tendency to burn so watch it!  When it is done, carefully pour into a large mixing bowl and reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

1 c shelled pistachios
3/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 c chopped dried apricots

Toss all dry ingredients together.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt together:
4 T butter
3/4 c honey
1/3 c brown sugar

Once it is melted, bring to a slow boil and cook and stir it for about a minute.
Add 1 tsp vanilla and pour over the contents of the bowl.  Stir carefully-its HOT!-until everything is coated and even.  Pour into a greased 9X13 pan and with wet hands, pat mixture down to lightly flatten evenly.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Cool completely before cutting.  Twelve or sixteen bars seems to be the perfect size.  Granola bars can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen in a gallon freezer bag for up to 3 months.

Chocolate Cherry Almond
Make the bars the same as above but increase the almonds and coconut to 1 c each.  Add 2 c of dried sour cherries to the mix instead of the cranberries, apricots and pistachios.  Proceed with the recipe just as above and when the bars come out of the oven, sprinkle the top evenly with dark chocolate chips.  I used about a cup or so, but it is up to you as to how thick you want the chocolate.  Wait a minute for them to melt and then spread evenly over the top.  Cool completely before cutting.