Olive Oil and Maple Granola Bars

olive oil maple granola bars

Hi, friends. I’ve been away for awhile, and I’ve missed you. I couldn’t stay away forever, and hope that 2015 will be a true new beginning, with more posts and sharing in this space. In the meantime, if you want to catch up with me in “realtime,” follow along on Instagram for the meal-to-meal update of what’s simmering in the kitchen, and tell me what you’d like to see me share here. What brought me back?  Granola Bars. Of course.

Granola bars are an essential nutrient in this house – easy to grab in the morning on your way out the door for a quick breakfast, or to slip into a bag for snacks while traveling. I’m endlessly tweaking, trying new flavor combinations, spices, sweeteners and nut butters to stick ‘em together, but I get bored…even with four recipes already posted here!

Earlier this fall, my girl Johanna, from the fabulous DeFloured Bakery, gifted me some granola clusters leftover from her experiments with making granola bars. As we were discussing technique, materials and “goo-stickiness-factor,” she mentioned that she was only using olive oil and maple syrup for the fat and sweetener, and that the combination made for a more savory bar with the sweetness muted, even though there was the same amount of maple syrup as I would use in sugars and honey in my recipes. Then I tasted the granola, and I was SOLD. I had to get back in the game and start playing.

Johanna’s granola clusters had the same savory crispness of my favorite granola recipe from Molly – with the combination of maple and olive oil making for a very satisfying, not too sweet granola that is irresistible for snacking or scattering atop a small bowl of greek yogurt. I wanted to achieve that same crispness that the olive oil brings, but in bar form.

This would prove to be a great challenge, as the oil being a more slippery partner for the thinner maple syrup, my initial forays resulted in delicious granola, but not the sturdy, yet crispy bars I was seeking. A few lucky friends have been sampling the evolution of this recipe for weeks as I went from loose granola, to fragile bars, to an almost-there bar that just didn’t quite hold up to transport in my lunchbag without crumbling. Today, I got the mix right, and now it’s time to release it to you.

The finished bars are less spiced than my cocoa granola bars or smoked paprika bars, as I wanted the nuts and deep savoriness of the maple and olive oil to be the star here, so I just warmed things up a touch with a little garam masala, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper for a hint of mystery.

Coconut Garam Masala Granola Bars
Makes 24 Bars (4 rows, 6 bars per row)

Note: This is a smaller batch than my other granola bar recipes, so please use a quarter sheet pan (9×13 rimmed baking sheet).
Inspired by Orangette and Defloured Bakery 

  • 2 ½ cups gluten free rolled oats (I use Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 ½ c mixed seeds and nuts (I used a mix of sunflower seeds, pepitas, pecans)
  • ¾ cup unsweetened large flake dried coconut
  • 2 T Butter
  • ⅓ c olive oil
  • ¼ c  cup maple
  • 1/3 c brown rice syrup
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/4 cup almond butter (I use Trader Joes salted, unsweetened creamy)
  • ¾ tsp morton’s kosher salt
  • ¾ tsp garam masala
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper


  • quarter sheet pan (9×13 rimmed baking sheet)
  • small saucepan, preferably non-stick
  • small silicone spatula
  • large, stiff silicone spatula
  • parchment paper


  1. Preheat oven to 300, convection setting if you’ve got it.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and add the oats and pepitas and sunflower seeds, and gently mix together with your (clean) hands.
  3. Combine the maple syrup, olive oil, almond butter, salt, garam masala, black pepper, allspice and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Set aside.
  4. Pop the oat mixture into the oven, on the middle rack. Toast for 20 minutes, stir, and then add the coconut flakes and pecans, stirring into the mix with a spatula. Toast for another 10 minutes then stir again. Toast for another 8 minutes, while you heat the saucepan of liquids.
  5. Place the syrup/oil saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly with a small spatula to incorporate the spices and almond butter into the liquids until you have a smooth “glue.” Do not bring the mixture to a boil, but slow lazy bubbles are okay – you need the syrup just on the edge of simmering. Once the final 8 minutes of oat toasting is done and the coconut is starting to turn a warm toasty tan at the edges, the liquid mixture should be warm and a smooth, thickish mixture with approximately the thickness of cold maple syrup, dripping off a raised spatula in ribbons.
  6. Remove the oat mixture out of the oven and pour into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Raise the oven temp to 325, convection setting if you have it.
  8. Pour half of the syrupy glue over top and mix into the oats using a stiff spatula, ensuring all the oats get a thin skim of the sticky mixture. Then, drizzle the last half of the goo over the oats, and stir together – put some muscle and patience into it to ensure an even, sticky coat.
  9. Place the parchment paper back onto your rimmed baking sheet, and pour the sticky mixture out onto the baking sheet into a few lumps across the full pan. Use your spatula to spread the mixture into a semi-even packed layer. Take another smaller sheet of parchment and place it over one corner of the pan, and use your hands to press the mixture firmly down with even pressure into one well-packed layer, moving the smaller piece of parchment across the sheet pan as you go, until you’ve managed to press the entire sheet pan down. Peel the small piece of parchment off and discard
  10. Return the pan to the oven, bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees, and bake for 10-15 more minutes. The finished bars should be deeply golden, and you should see an almost toffee-like lacy candy forming at the edges. Remove the pan from the oven, and set on a cooling rack for 25 minutes, then cut while the bars are still warm.

Note: You do not want to let the bars fully cool before cutting – the olive oil/maple syrup mixture is a little more fragile than bars made with brown sugar/honey/brown rice syrup. If the bars fully cool, the bars will not cut as easily, and are more likely to crumble a bit.

olive oil granola bars before and after

Olive oil and maple granola bars – Left: before baking. Right: Deep golden brown after baking

Sweet & Spicy Pecans

Our Miracle has arrived, and we adore our sweet little hound! Miracle was anxious for only about the first hour after arriving, then grabbed a toy, whipped her tail around in windmill fashion with utter joy and decided that she was HOME. Maybe Turbo was whispering in her ear that she was going to be happy here – I wouldn’t put it past him – he seems to have blessed Miracle’s joining our family from the first moment.

Miracle may be a tiny hound, but she’s got a big personality that is just starting to unfold. She’s a lovey hound who rolls onto her back to demand belly rubs from anyone nearby. A bit of a clown, too… She relishes in playing with her toys and is not above “discovering” new ones that are just as fun as stuffies – be it a cell phone, hat, bra, or fishing in the bathroom trash for a TP roll…life is FUN, and she is exploring every bit of it.

However, our little lady is not pleased when left alone…this week is the first time in her life when she’s been by herself, with no other neighbor-hounds in the kennel and it’s a definite shock. So, with the help of our wonderful “adoption counselor” from Greyhounds Only, Sue, we’re working through her separation anxiety to help her fully embrace her new life…and once she does – she’ll be free of that crate she so detests right now.

While we’re busy house-training the dog, it seems only fitting to fortify ourselves with some protein-rich snacks for those cold, hour-long walks trying to convince Miracle to pee outside. These sweet and spicy nuts are an addictive snack, far better than those overly-sweet cinnamon almonds you might get at a fair. Our friends Bill & Colleen gifted us with a bag of their cinnamon pecans when we were visiting them in Florida in November. We were hooked. Then, I discovered Shauna’s recipe in her new cookbook, and tried those as well. I liked both recipes, so split the difference for my own take on Shauna’s nuts – not quite as much sugar and egg white, and a tiny hit of smoked paprika for a little mystery.

I liked this recipe so well, I made up a few batches and gave them to all of our family as Christmas gifts. The day after Christmas, I received a message from my brother-in-law stating that: “There’s something wrong with the jar of nuts you gave me. I keep reaching my hand in, and nothing comes out.” If you make either of these spiced nuts, be warned that you may quickly have Brad’s empty jar problem – they are addicting!

What’s your favorite snack – nutty or otherwise? Share you favorite noshes in the comments section below…

Bill & Colleen’s Cinnamon Pecans

1 egg white
1 tsp water
½ cup sugar
¾ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
5 cups pecan halves (almonds work well, too)

  1. Preheat oven to 250º. Combine sugar, pepper, nutmeg, salt & cinnamon together in a small bowl.
  2. Beat egg white with water in a large mixing bowl. Add pecans/almonds to egg white and mix.
  3. Add sugar mixture to pecans. Stir well. Spread on large buttered pan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, cool thoroughly & store in an airtight container…maybe even on a high shelf to keep from eating the whole jar at once.

Sweet and Smoky Pecans & Almonds
Adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef cookbook
1 egg white
1 tsp water
½ cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne
5 cups mixed pecan halves & almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 250º. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, pepper, paprika and cayenne together in a small bowl.
  2. Beat egg white with water in a large mixing bowl. Add pecans/almonds to egg white and mix.
  3. Add sugar mixture to pecans. Stir well. Spread on large buttered pan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, cool thoroughly & store in an airtight container…maybe even on a high shelf to keep from eating the whole jar at once.

Grain-Free Granola Bars

It’s been a little quieter in the Whole Kitchen recently…I’ve been managing to still get a couple posts up each week, but there hasn’t been a lot of activity and creativity in the kitchen. I’ve got a little adrenal fatigue goin’ on from working too hard without taking much vacation time, and recent weekends have been pretty frantic too. My body is calling for a “time out,” and all I can do is say YES. Thankfully, I have some amazing healers on my side – my chiropractor and homeopath are getting me back on the path to wellness with extra support and a few supplements.

For my part, I need more sleep, exercise and meditation…three weeks into the new regime, I’m already feeling a positive change in my body and energy level. I’ve also signed up to run the Chicago Rock n Roll Half Marathon, so the extra exercise I need has been training runs for the big day. Working for the American Cancer Society, I participate in at least one of our events each year. My friend Emily manages the DetermiNation Charity Athlete program, and after having lunch with Emily and one of her committee members, David Pittman…I found myself wondering if I could join the ACS DetermiNation team too. I needed a new fitness goal, so I signed up. I’ll be running the half-marathon on August 1 to fight cancer for ACS (and don’t worry, I’ll be giving you an opportunity to support me later).

What does my tangent about adrenals and running have to do with food? Well, part of the healing path is simplifying my diet for a little while since my stomach has been a little quarrelsome. I’m giving my morning steel cut oats and granola bars a rest, and going as light on grains as I can manage. Green Kitchen Stories just posted a recipe for these nut bars – they’ve got a lot of protein, good fats and no sugar – they’re sweetened by the dates and dried fruit. The resulting bars are fantastic – good peanut butter flavor (always a favorite), crunchy nuts and a touch of sweetness from the fruit. The bars are a lot softer than granola bars, but they hold together pretty well if kept in the fridge. I’ll be very happy to start my mornings with these and a bowl of cinnamon quinoa for the next few weeks while I work on getting my energy back!

Grain-Free Granola Bars
makes 18 3″x3″ bars
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

1 1/3 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used almonds, pepitas, cashews, sunflower seeds and peanuts)
2/3 cup natural peanut butter (or almond butter), unsweetened, unsalted
3 oz dates, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 T water
1/2 cup chopped fruit (tart dried cherries and prunes)
2oz unsweetened coconut flakes
parchment paper

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop the nuts in a food processor (chop the almonds separately from the rest of the nuts, as they are much harder than the others). Dump the nuts onto a small sheet pan and toast for 10 minutes. Place the coconut and chopped fruit in a mixing bowl and set aside. While the nuts are toasting, scoop the peanut butter, chopped dates and water into a small sauce pan and heat the mixture on a low burner, stirring as you go. As the peanut butter warms, it may seize up a bit – add a touch more water. You just want the mixture to be warm, not hot, so that you can stir the mixture together.
  2. After the nuts have been toasted for 10 minutes, pour the nuts into the mixing bowl with the fruit and coconut and stir the ingredients together. Pour the peanut butter mixture on top of the nuts, and use a stiff spatula to fold the mixture together until all the ingredients are coated in peanut butter. Line the sheet pan with parchment, then dump the sticky mixture onto the parchment. Use the back of your spatula to press the gooey mixture onto the pan in an even layer about 1/2″ thick – don’t worry if it doesn’t fill the whole sheet pan, mine covered about 80%. Use your hands to finish pressing the mixture into an even layer. Place the bars into the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes to set the bars, then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before cutting. Store the finished bars in a storage container in the fridge, with waxed paper between layers.

136 cal per 3×3″ bar, 90 cal from fat, 9.6g fat, 55mg sodium, 95 mg potassium, 11g carbs, 2g fiber, 4g sugars, 4g protein

Basil Hummus

When I took the gluten-free plunge 8 years ago, I found parties to be particularly difficult. I LOVE food (as you may have guessed), and the sight of a party table loaded with treats that I could not eat made me so sad. At the start of my long climb back to real health, I ate a very restricted, simple diet to help heal my wounded digestive system – “snack” foods were out. As I racked my brain for ideas of what I could bring to a party to eat – my love affair with hummus began. I then arrived at every party with a platter of chopped veggies and exotically flavored hummus in hand.

Homemade hummus is worlds better than most of what you find stacked in shiny plastic tubs at your local grocery. And if you take the extra step of cooking your own chickpeas (Rancho Gordo, of course) – you’ll really have something revelatory on your hands. Once you’ve got your chickpeas cooked, all hummus takes is a few ingredients and a spin in the food processor to make a high-protein snack that satisfies.

This particular version is my summertime favorite – a hummus that is green in color from all that fresh basil whipped into the beans. While the season is currently far from summer, I did stockpile a bunch of pureed basil and olive oil in the freezer for these cold months, so I popped a couple of the thawed herb cubes into the mix.

Now that I’ve learned to eat wide and deep into the world of fresh foods, I don’t feel at all handicapped when attending parties and my dish-to-pass is likely a little more interesting than a bowl of hummus with veggies. A scoop of hummus and a bag of chopped veggies is still a favorite treat for afternoons at the office, and my friend Rachel also reports that her 2 year-old daughter loves this hummus,  so it’s a kid-approved snack too!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy hummus? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

Basil Hummus
Serves: a party

1 clove garlic
3 cups of home-cooked chickpeas
6 T tahini
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup water
juice of half a lemon
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup packed basil
salt & pepper to taste
  1. Combine the tahini and olive oil in a measuring cup and stir to combine. Set aside. Combine the water and lemon juice in a cup and set aside.
  2. Place the clove of garlic in the food processor and pulse until minced. Add the chick peas and cayenne and puree for a minute until pulverized. Scrape down the bowl. With the machine running, pour the water and lemon juice in slowy. Stop and scrape down the bowl again and add the basil leaves. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the tahini/oil mixture. When the mixture is smooth, stop to taste it – add salt & pepper to taste. If it still needs to be thinned out a bit, add in a little more water and pulse for a few seconds to incorporate. Serve with hearty tortilla chips, crackers or veggies.
  3. Alternate variations for hummus: Instead of basil, drop in a couple of roasted red bell peppers. Or, add a hefty spoon of your favorite mild chile powder or smoked paprika for an exotic feel.

70 cal per 3T, 30 cal from fat, 3.6g fat, 75mg sodium, 80mg potassium, 7g carb, 2g fiber, 2.6g protein

Black and White Popcorn

While Mark and I were kicking back watching House, I felt the itch for a sweet treat, and for once there was no homemade ice cream in the freezer. I went to my other go-to quick snack – popcorn. I wasn’t feeling like making the usual cinnamon-spiced popcorn, so I went rummaging through the spice cabinet in search of new flavors.

Cardmom and garam masala almost won the day, but then I saw my lovely jar of deep, dark dutched cocoa powder from the spice house – ah-ha! Thinking back to that awesome Mexican hot chocolate ice cream, I grabbed the cinnamon too and I was on my way.

Chuck a chunk of butter in a small bowl with a little brown sugar, heaping spoonful of cocoa, a little cinnamon, salt and melt it all together. Make sure you taste the beautiful cocoa syrup to see if it’s got the right balance of deep cocoa, with a hint of cinnamon and salt. Drizzle it on your warm popcorn, give it a stir and watch the bowl magically empty. This is my new favorite TV snack.

What’s your favorite way to eat popcorn? Pop your thoughts in the comments…(or throw popcorn at me for that bad pun).

Black & White Popcorn
Serves 2

8 cups air popped popcorn
2 T butter, unsalted
2 T brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 T good quality cocoa powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
  1. Melt the butter, cocoa powder, brown sugar and butter in small bowl in  the microwave on low. Watch it carefully so that it doesn’t burn or bubble over. Stir with a spoon to meld everything together. When the sugar and butter have melted together, drizzle over the popped corn, and stir quickly to coat. Ta-da!
274 cal per serving, 130 cal from fat, 13g fat, 36g carbs, 6g fiber, 9g sugars, 4.9g protein