Update: The BEST Granola Bars

Fall 2010 is really shaping up to be one incredible season in our family. After the amazing weekend at House on the Rock, we received a call from my brother on Thursday. Our new niece was determined to join us in the world a little earlier than expected – Mike and Lisa were already at the hospital awaiting her arrival. Well, it turned out to be a LONG wait for the little lady. As Mikey said – if she were a roast beef, she’d be cooking low and slow. Rowan Elisabeth officially entered the world early on Saturday morning, about the same time Mark and I were heading downtown to our last big race of the season, the Hot Chocolate 15K.

The Hot Chocolate runners shiver before the race. Mark, Jenn, Shelley, Jeremy, Elizabeth

And let it be said that my sister-in-law, Lisa, is one tough momma for enduring 3 days of labor without medication or apparently even screaming, though I’m sure she was in PLENTY of pain. Lisa is my hero and proud momma to a beautiful little girl with a full head of fluffy blond hair! Times like these, it’s hard to live a thousand miles away from them, as I wish I could hold my new niece and inhale that sweet baby smell NOW.

Since I don’t live in Colorado, and don’t want to crowd the new parents with my presence as they settle in, the best I can do is to send my love from afar and a few granola bars to snack on…I know from other friends with newborns that one-handed foods that can be grabbed and munched on quickly are needed in those first weeks. I hope these bars help keep their energy up as they get to know little Rowan and her routines.

Granola bars are hands-down the most frequently made food in our kitchen…and the one I’m known for in our circle of friends. It’s an established fact that at any race, biking event, vacation or party, I’m bound to have a baggie of granola bars with me – and I’m usually willing to share. I can’t count on restaurants and shops to have something I can safely eat, so these little granola bars are my go-to snack.

I posted my recipe for granola bars eons ago, but dozens and dozens of batches later, the recipe has evolved, and these bars hold together much better than the old recipe. I love that by adding cocoa powder to the “goo” I get the chocolate flavor in there, without having to worry about them melting if it’s warm out. The recipe is just a general guide – you can use whatever kind of nuts you like (hazelnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds are my current favorite mixture), and you can play with the sweeteners as well – honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup and agave all work fine, so use what you like best.

So welcome to the family, Rowan! Know that Aunt Jenn can’t wait to meet you, and in the meantime, be good to your parents – they’ll be working hard to keep up with you for awhile!

What’s your favorite on-the-go snack? Share your travel snacking secrets in the comments below.

Granola bars
Makes about 30-35 bars (approx 3×3″)

5 cups gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cup chopped raw nuts
 (I use a mixture of 2-3 different kinds of seeds & nuts)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup creamy, unsweetened peanut butter or almond butter
1/3 c honey
1/3 c brown rice syrup (available at Whole Foods – or use maple syrup or all honey)
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T vanilla extract
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 c chopped tart cherries or crystallized ginger, optional
Parchment paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix the nuts and oats on a full sheet pan. Toast the nuts and oats in the oven for 10 minutes, then stir, bake for another 10 minutes, then remove from oven and pour the oat mixture into a large mixing bowl along with any chopped dried fruit or ginger, if you’re using it. Leave the oven on at 350 – you’ll need it later.
  3. During the last 10 minutes of oat baking, combine the brown sugar, honey, brown rice syrup, peanut butter, cocoa powder, butter, and salt into a small nonstick sauce pan over medium-low heat, stirring with a spatula until it all melts and is well incorporated with no peanut butter lumps. Add the vanilla, stir and turn off the heat.
  4. Cut two pieces of parchment paper. The first piece of parchment should be large enough to cover the whole sheet pan, including folding up the sides of the pan. Cut a second smaller piece, just large enough for you to use to cover 1/4 of the bars as you press them firmly into the pan, so you don’t burn your hands, or stick to the oats.
  5. Pour half of the hot “glue” over the oats and nuts in your mixing bowl and use a spatula to stir it all together, coating the oats evenly in the sweet goo. Pour the remaining glue over the mixture and continue to stir until everything is nicely coated.
  6. Place the large sheet of parchment paper over the sheet pan covering the entire bottom with overlap for the sides, then scoop the sticky oat mixture onto the pan. Use your spatula to smooth it out into a more-or-less even layer covering the whole pan. Next, take the second, smaller sheet of parchment and use it to cover part of the pan as you use your hands to firmly press the bars together into a tightly packed, even layer.
  7. Put the granola bars back in the oven for 4 minutes, then remove and set on a cooling rack until completely cooled before cutting.
  8. Cutting the bars: Pick up the whole pan of bars by the ends of the parchment, and turn upside down on a large cutting board. Peel the parchment away, and reserve, cutting the sheet into smaller pieces to lay between layers of bars in a large storage container or ziploc bag, to keep them from sticking.
  9. Use a large chef’s knife and firmly press down with the knife with a gentle rocking motion (do not saw at the bars), and cut your granola into whatever size bars you’d like. I usually get 5 rows of bars across the pan lengthwise, 7-8 bars per row. I also like to cut one row of the bars into two-bite super mini bars for smaller snacking size.
  10. Layer the bars in a large storage container, and slip pieces of the parchment between layers. Store on your countertop or in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks, though I doubt they’ll last that long. I keep ours in the fridge, just to keep my hand out of the container every time I walk into the kitchen!

148 cal per bar, 50 cal from fat, 7g fat, 55mg sodium, 15mg potassium, 17g carbs, 2g fiber, 5g sugars, 4g proteins

A few of my running friends post-race and post brunch: Mark, Jenn, Elizabeth, Heather and Crysta.