Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars

unnamedThe sweet-tart combo of strawberries and rhubarb is to die for, in my humble opinion. And since my rhubarb is threatening to take over the world this spring, I’m trying to find new and creative ways to use it up. When I saw a recipe on Better Homes & Garden’s website for bars using my favorite fruit duo, I said, “I’m in!” Then once I started perusing the recipe, I realized 1) the pan/batch was waaaaaaay too small to serve my family or co-workers, and 2) it looked strikingly similar to my blueberry breakfast bars previously posted! (Which DOES make a large enough batch to serve my family or co-workers…)

So I kinda combined my blueberry bar recipe with the BH&G recipe, and I think we’ve got us a winner here, people! Rhubarb is a little more finicky fruit than the berries, though. So it took a little trial and error to get it simmered the right length of time, and make sure the sugar ratio was on point. Now I’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is bake up a batch!

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour*
¾ cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
3 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease an 11″x17″ pan with butter and set aside. In large bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine. Add melted butter and stir until all of oat mixture is combined with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Press remaining oat mixture in bottom of prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While crust is baking, combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, water, and ginger in large saucepan and heat on high. Once mixture starts to boil, turn to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rhubarb should start breaking up, and it should thicken up. Add strawberries and return heat to high. Once it starts to boil again, turn down to medium and simmer for 3-5 minutes. In small bowl or cup, combine cornstarch and water. Drizzle in to rhubarb and strawberries and stir until mixture thickens up a bit. Pour on top of baked crust and sprinkle with reserved oat crumbs. Bake for additional 30** minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

*NOTE: I’ve started using Costco’s Ultragrain flour, which is a non-GMO flour and may be tolerable to those who are sensitive to gluten. But it’s not for those with celiac disease!

**Next time I make these, I may try baking these 40 minutes once crust is topped with fruit. Rhubarb seems to require a longer baking time than berries, peaches, pears, etc. I was concerned about the top burning if I did them longer than 30 minutes, but I think they would have been fine.

Oatmeal Apple Pie Cookies

FullSizeRenderLove apple pie or apple cobbler, but would like those flavors in a bite-sized portion? These apple and oatmeal cookies give you a hint of all-American apple pie without the hassle of making pie crust, something I personally have never mastered. (Whoever coined the phrase, “easy as pie” was nuts, in my opinion.) Since the cinnamon, oats, and apples have a fallish feel, put these on your list to try when the air gets crisp, and the leaves start to turn colors.

Oat-laden baked goods are a favorite with my sons, so the S’more Cookies previously posted got rave reviews the first time I made them. But my son Justin was kinda “meh” about the combo, only because he’s not super into s’mores. (I know, I know…what on earth is wrong with him?) He thought that the cookie base would be better with apples and a cream cheese frosting, and when he texted me a reminder of his suggestion one weekend, I said I’d give it a whirl. 

I was a little unsure about the order of the filling and frosting—should I fill them first and then frost after they were cool? Or drop in some frosting and then top with the apple pie filling? So I tried it both ways, then taste-tested on my family (plus my son Mitch’s friend Karl, one of my most ardent food admirers). They had no preference, gobbling both with equal enthusiasm. But they did vote for the ones with pie filling on top as they had a stronger apple flavor. They also said they really, really liked these because they aren’t an achingly sweet cookie—more in the vein of an apple granola bar. How do you like that! Tested by a discerning taste-testing panel before being posted. You’re welcome.

Makes 24-32 cookies

For cookie dough:
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (about 15 squares)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

For frosting and filling:
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar (aka: powdered sugar, Tom…)
Drizzle of milk, 1-2 tablespoons
1 (21-ounce) can of apple pie filling

Preheat oven to 375°. In medium bowl, combine oats, flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat again. Add granulated sugar and beat until butter and sugars are light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until eggs are incorporated. Add milk and vanilla and beat again. Slowly mix in the oats and flour mixture with the mixer until all ingredients are combined.

Cover bowl of dough with plastic wrap, and chill for 1-4 hours. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.* Drop spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes.

While cookies are baking, make frosting. Put cream cheese in small mixer bowl, and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners sugar, and beat on low until combined. With mixer still on low, drizzle in milk and vanilla, and once the liquids are incorporated, return to high and beat until frosting is creamy. Set aside.

Open can of apple pie filling, and use long thin knife to dice apples while still in the can. Remove cookies from oven and make a slight impression in hot cookies with the back of a spoon. Put a generous tablespoon of frosting in the indent, and then add a dollop (another tablespoon) of apple pie filling on top of each cookie.

Return cookies to oven for 3-4 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely before storing.

*NOTE: I ended up making these without parchment paper ’cause I forgot to use it, and they were fine! Needed a good, stiff spatula to get them off the pan, but the parchment paper wasn’t as necessary as I thought.

Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp

FullSizeRenderWhen sweet peaches and nectarines are in season, you just gotta gobble them up. This crisp or crumble recipe is one I’ve posted before using rhubarb and strawberries, but I just had to share this with you using the perfect combination of nectarines and blueberries.* Fresh fruits are great when available, but this works just as well using frozen fruit in the winter. How much fruit you put in is really up to you—basically, you want to fill your pan or dish about 3/4 full (as shown here). Fruit does shrink as it bakes, so don’t worry about it overflowing in the oven.

Craving apple crisp or crumble? This topping is also wonderful with apples, so I’ve given you that variation below as well. Top baked crisp with ice cream or serve in a bowl with heavy cream poured over it. Heavenly.

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Serves 8-12

Fruit base

4-6 cups chopped fresh or frozen nectarines or peaches
2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Topping

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ or other 3 quart baking dish. Spread fruit in pan. In medium mixing bowl, add oats, sugar, flour, and spices, and stir to combine. Pour melted butter over oats and toss until butter is incorporated. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.

NOTE: You can also bake this dish at 375° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes if you’re in a rush, and it’ll be just as tasty.

For Apple Blueberry Crisp

Granny smith apples and blueberries make a nice tart-sweet combination. Peel, slice and chop 4-5 fresh Granny Smith apples, and mix with 2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. Toss with a tablespoon of lemon juice, then add to pan, and add topping. Bake as directed above.

For Apple Crisp

Peel, slice and chop 6-8 of your choice of fresh baking apples. Add to pan, and then top with oats mixture. Bake as directed above.

See more at: http://forknifespoon.com/2015/05/17/strawberry-rhubarb-crisp/#sthash.lLYqimuI.dpuf

Blueberry Breakfast Bars

IMG_0979Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime snack—these bars are a hit any time. This was a recipe request when I wrote a food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was wildly popular with subscribers.  It had been circulated by WIC as a healthy (or healthier than sugary cereals) and kid-friendly recipe at one time. Fresh or frozen fruit work equally well in these bars, and I’ve made them with either blueberries or raspberries, too. Strawberries do NOT work well in this recipe, so save yourself the hassle (and waste) and don’t bother with those berries. Because these are deliciously soft, they fall apart when I’ve tried to send them in a school lunch bag, so cut and serve the bars at home, or bring a pan to share with co-workers. Others will be glad you decided to share the love.

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or raspberries)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional – I’ve made it without and can’t taste the difference!)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, nuts, baking soda, and salt. Pour melted butter over top and stir until all ingredients are coated with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes.

While base is baking, combine berries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon water cornstarch, and lemon juice. Mix well. Gradually stir into blueberry mixture. Cook and stir for 30 seconds or until thickened.

Spread berry mixture over baked base to within 1-inch of edge, and sprinkle reserved oat mixture on top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered.

Caramel Candy Bars

IMG_0884Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)

A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.

These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.

Makes 45-48 bars

Crust

2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.

*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.

Granola

Granola IMG_0628Take a break from the boring box of cereal, or Dickensian gruel. You can whip up a batch of this easy, healthy, and tasty granola in less than 30 minutes. If you’re a fan of Swiss German granola—called müesli—be warned this is the American version, drizzled in melted butter and honey, and baked. A few years back my husband and I visited Switzerland, and found that the “granola” served at the Swiss continental breakfast was raw oats, with no sugar or butter involved. It may have been healthier and fat-free, but I prefer my granola with a little sweetness and crunch to it.

I got this recipe from a friend of mine who was going through treatment for cancer, and she was trying to avoid all processed foods. She pushed the boxes, bottles, and cans aside, and found recipes like this to keep her healthy while she fought the fight. I’m not saying this recipe can cure cancer, but she pulled through, and happily shared this delicious recipe with me.

Makes 8-10 bowls

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup honey
5 cups old-fashioned Quaker oats (do not use quick oats)
1/2 cup shredded or flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins (or craisins)
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In medium saucepan, melt butter and honey. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, combine oats, coconut, pecans, and almonds. Pour butter mixture over oats and stir to coat. Put half of oat mixture on a 13″x18″ baking sheet, and the other half on another baking sheet of same size. Bake both pans in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Stir oats on pans, and rotate in oven, and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. (Careful not to burn! Coconut takes on an unpleasant acrid odor when burned.)

Scoop toasted oats back into bowl, and add both raisins and golden raisins. Stir to combine. Store in airtight container, but let cool before closing completely. Shake container to break up as granola will clump as it cools. Enjoy with milk, or greek yogurt and fruit.