Date, Cashew, and Coconut Bars

IMG_1550The name says it all…only three ingredients needed to make these delicious Lärabar fake-outs. Having just finished week one of the Whole30 cleanse, I was missing “treats,” meaning bars or cookies, so I went searching for something to scratch that itch. (I know you aren’t supposed to feed your “sugar dragon,” but you are allowed to do snacks for when you’re on the go. So let’s just pretend I’m on the go. A lot.)

I had taste-testers at work and at home try these no-bake bars, giving no explanation other than that they were gluten-free. Everyone who tried them—GF, DF, or not—thought they were really good, and did NOT think they tasted like they were gluten-free. The dates provide both sweetness and glue for the other ingredients, and the nuts and coconuts give them good flavor and crunch. (Since I found this recipe multiple places online, I don’t really know who to give credit to, so pardon me for not citing my source!)

You will need a food processor to mix these, and I don’t think a blender would work as a substitute. These can be pricey ingredients, so I looked around before buying. I found the best price for pitted dates at Costco (if you get your kicks pitting dates, go ahead and do that—I’ve been cooking and chopping my butt off this week, and pitting my own dates would have put me over the edge). I got my raw cashews and unsweetened coconut at Trader Joe’s, as the price was better than Whole Foods or Cub. Next time I purchase ingredients, I’ll take note of the exact prices and figure out how much these cost per bar.

The first time I made these, I used just three ingredients, which worked great. I just made these again, and added the zest and juice of one whole lime, and it helped them stick together better, and made a moister bar. But if you aren’t in the mood for citrus, you can certainly leave that out! Word of warning: you have to keep these refrigerated. They stay chewy if kept cold, and get mushy and fall apart if left at room temp. That’s where packaged Lärabars have these beat—those are more portable.

Makes 12 bars

1 cup whole pitted dates (Medjool or Deglet Noor)
1 cup raw cashews*
1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
Zest and juice of one whole lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Layer the raw cashews on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring once. Toast until golden brown. May sprinkle cashews with salt before toasting. Let cool.

Combine all dates, nuts, and coconut in food processor. Add lime zest and juice, if using. Pulse for a couple minutes, until the ingredients are in bits, and start to stick together. (See below.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and transfer date mixture to pan. Push together to form a ball, then flatten into rough rectangle. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top, then continue pressing into a smoother rectangle, until about ½” thick. (See below.) Chill for 30-60 minutes. Cut into bars, and wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Store in frig to grab as needed.

*NOTE: Why toast the nuts yourself? Because most pre-roasted nuts are cooked in canola oil, and that’s not Whole30 approved. If you’re making these for a nutritious snack and not as part of Whole30 cleanse, then go ahead and purchase the roasted nuts.




Cranberry Conserve

FullSizeRenderDon’t bother with canned cranberry sauce, the stuff that “schluuuuuuurps” out of the can on it’s way to the serving bowl, maintaining it’s telltale ridges. This fresh and tangy relish is the perfect accompaniment to turkey or ham, and has a variety of other uses too. What can of cranberry sauce can make that claim? This recipe came from a Better Homes & Garden magazine sometime in the 90’s, and I’ve been making it every year since I stumbled on this gem. I can’t wait for cranberries to appear in the store so I’ll have jars of this on hand for our family, or to give as hostess gifts over the holidays. (This year I was lucky enough to get a beautiful bag of marble-sized berries from my friend Monique, who got them at a cranberry festival in Wisconsin. Thanks, Mo!)

FullSizeRenderIf a dollop of this relish on your roasted bird isn’t your thing, then try spreading it on some sour dough bread or gluten-free 100% rye bread (pictured here on Trader Joe’s bread), top it with slices of that leftover turkey or some deli ham, Swiss or provolone cheese, and finish with thin slices of Granny Smith green apples. Best sandwich EVER!!! This also makes a nice addition to a wine and cheese tray. The sweet and tangy pairing perfectly compliments aged cheeses and red or white wine. (Or so I’ve been told—I don’t do alcohol…) Or make a quick appetizer with some hearty crackers or earthy flatbread topped with warmed brie or cold cream cheese, and then some cranberry conserve. Give this recipe a whirl, and tell me how YOU liked it best!

IMG_1222IMG_1226Have to tell you this is the first recipe I’ve posted that warranted a trip to the after-hours clinic. My wonderful son, Mitchell, had kindly sharped my knives this week, and then I was commenting on how great it was to work with these super sharp knives while chopping the onions, and WHOOOSH! Off goes a chunk of my thumb, nail and all. My husband layered on the Band-Aids, and I finished the conserve. (Because I’m just that dedicated to my food preparation.) Then I went to the clinic to get a tetanus shot and properly bandage my wound. So all those jars of cranberry conserve lined up like little soldiers on my kitchen counter are extra special this year!

Makes 12-13 half-pint jars

Ease rating: medium (My sister Judy would never make this, so I’ll bring her a jar.)

2/3 cups packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cups butter
4 teaspoons white vinegar
3-4 large yellow (milder flavor) or red onions (stronger flavor), chopped
8 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup raisins
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
7 cups granulated sugar
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Wash 12-14 half-pint glass jars in hot soapy water, or in dishwasher. Set upside down on clean towel to dry. Fill medium sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, and drop in 12-14 Ball or Kerr canning lids. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large skillet, cook and stir brown sugar, butter, and vinegar over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add onions and cook uncovered over low heat for 10-12 minutes, or until onions are glazed and tender. Stir often. Set aside.

In 8-quart kettle or Dutch oven, combine cranberries, raisins, cider or juice, allspice, and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, uncovered, on medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in cooked onion mixture and granulated sugar. Return to boil and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes more. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. (May seem thin after cooking for the 10-15 minutes, but it will thicken up significantly as it cools, so do not over cook.)

Pour conserve into prepared glass jars, filling to 1/4-inch from top. Wipe rim of jar with clean towel to ensure there is nothing on rim, then pull a lid from sauce pan, and place rubber side down on top of jar. Add screw top band and tighten. Place jar upside down on counter. Repeat with remaining jars until all are filled. Let jars sit upside down for 5 minutes, then turn over to cool completely. As jars “plink” you will know they are sealed. If any do not seal, place in freezer. Will keep for up to a year.

Cranberry Pecan Bars

IMG_1157A pop of rich red makes these cranberry bars look special enough for company, yet these sweet-tart treats are easy enough to make any old day. With cranberries showing up in grocery stores soon, I thought I’d share this delicious recipe I found on, sent in by Wisconsinite and cranberry-lover Bonnie Young. They use mostly kitchen staples, and mix up in just a few minutes. I found they work better with frozen cranberries, as the fresh tend to mush and bleed into the batter and that makes them not so pretty. But the frozen berries make the batter very stiff, so you have to pat (or smash, if that’s more your mood) it into the pan with a spatula. Worth the effort though—the result is a deliciously chewy cake-like bar with just enough tang to keep you wanting more.

Makes 12-15 bars

½ cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
2 cups frozen cranberries
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add eggs and cream again. Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat again. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Stir in nuts with large wooden spoon until combined. Fold in cranberries. Press batter into prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top of bars are light golden brown. (Bars may not appear to be cooked all the way through when removed from oven, but they will set up as they cool.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool to room temp before cutting with very sharp knife.

(Shout out to Monique Kleinhuizen, who brought me a huge bag of fresh cranberries—the size of grapes—from a cranberry festival her family attended in Wisconsin. Used them in the batch of bars pictures here. Awesome berries!!!)

Hardware Choker

IMG_0945This choker is another boredom-buster for the men in your life. Little men, that is… My sister Judy is teaching summer school to a bunch of 8-year-old boys. Since her elementary ed training is in music and special ed, she asked me for some craft ideas for Fridays as a reward for the poor little guys having to suffer through school in the summer. (Having raised 3 boys, I’ve got a few guy-friendly project ideas in my arsenal, and am having fun digging through files and tripping down memory lane.) Last week the fellas had a blast making Slime, and this week they’ll be doing these cool hardware chokers. I’ll post 2 more projects in the weeks to come.

You may already have the supplies to make these on hand, and if not, you’ll find most of what you need at Walmart and your hardware store for a couple bucks. (I had to hit Jo-Ann’s as well for the lanyard hooks. They didn’t have them at the Walmart near me.) These are just suggestions to get you started—you may have other choker-worthy supplies in your tool chest. The nice thing is, you can do this without firing up the glue gun, or messing with paint. And your little dude will be sportin’ a new accessory come time for school in the fall.


Suggested supplies

3/8″-16 zinc plated hex nuts (stainless steel are nicer, but more expensive)
1/4″-20 zinc plated hex nuts
1/8″ x 3/4″ zinc plated washers
Lanyard hook
Jump ring
2 pony beads (not pictured in supply photo)
30 inches of Leather lacing

Have kids lay nuts, washers, etc. out in a pattern. Symmetrical patterns will look best in the finished choker, with biggest pieces in the center. String the main middle pieces onto leather lacing and move to center. Tie knots on either side of grouping to hold in place. Leave a little space and tie knots on either side of main section. String more nuts and washers on either side, and tie knots to hold in place. String a pony bead through each of end of choker, and then string a lanyard hook through on one side, and a jump ring through on the other side. Double back with the leather lacing, pushing the ends through pony beads to secure the clasps that have been created with lanyard, jump ring, and pony beads. Adjust lacing as needed so choker is correct length. (You can add a drop of hot glue or Aleene’s Tacky glue to the leather under the pony bead for extra secure finishing.) Cut off excess leather lacing. Choker is ready for wearing!



Squirrel Bars

IMG_0896Don’t worry—no squirrels were harmed in making these scrumptious chocolate and pecan bars. Originally called “Chocolate Nut Toffee Bars,” this recipe came from a magazine insert promoting Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and Hershey’s products. And of course there’s a story behind our re-naming… The first time I made these, I set them out on our porch to cool. When I went out to get the bars an hour later, all the nuts had been stealthily removed, and there were tiny little claw marks marring the top chocolate layer. It looked like a miniature version of Wolverine had attacked the pan. Henceforth, the bars have been called “Squirrel Bars” at our house. We have often wondered if some poor little squirrel needed a few cavities filled after digging into our treats…

The bottom layer is similar to shortbread, only cocoa powder has been added to give the crust a chocolate twist. As simmered sweetened condensed milk makes up the middle layer, and just chocolate chips and nuts top them off, they whip up rather quickly. The hardest thing about this recipe is waiting for them to cool so you can eat them. But if you happen to be a squirrel, no need to wait. Feel free to dive right in.

Makes 24-36 bars

1 cup butter, softened (divided)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
1 (14-ounce) can Eagle® Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips*
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the softened butter for use later. In large mixer bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar until fluffy. Add flour and cocoa, mix well. With floured hands, press cocoa mixture into bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in medium sauce pan, combine reserved butter and sweetened condensed milk. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla. Pour over baked crust. Bake 10 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately top with chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minutes, then smooth out melted chips with back of large spoon while still warm. Top with nuts. Cool. Cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.

*I’m a fan of Nestle’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips myself, but I have to be true to the originators of the recipe here.

Date and Prune Quick Bread

Date-Prune-Bread3-IMG_0644Quick breads are a good way to include fruits, nuts, and herbs in your baked goods, and are called “quick” because they use a leavening agent (baking powder or soda) instead of yeast to rise the dough. No lengthy proofing and punching involved! But you remembered that little factoid from Home Ec classes, right? This bread is loaded with dried fruits, and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, homey aroma when baking. I was reminded about this recipe by my friend and fellow blogger Addis (Ethiomama), who remembered having this at a party we hosted six months ago! It’s that good. We’d served a platter of homemade quick breads and cheeses, and this one was the show stopper. The recipe is from a Lunds and Byerly’s issue of “Real Food” (Winter 2013), and I make it just as the author Serena Bass instructs, except for switching pecans for the suggested walnuts. I also found I had to bake my bread 10-15 minutes longer in order for it to be done in the center. That time adjustment is reflected below.

The sweetness of the bread makes a nice contrast to a goat cheese or other strong, pungent cheese, if you want to pair it with something. It’s great at a brunch, or for bringing as a hostess gift. It will keep for up to two weeks in the frig (if it lasts that long), but it doesn’t freeze well. I’ve kept it out on the counter for the two or three days it takes to consume a loaf, and that’s worked well. Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper once cooled, and then use foil on top of that for a tighter seal. The recipe author says to never use foil right against the bread.

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup dates, cut in thirds (or dried, chopped dates)
1 cup prunes, cut in thirds
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted (at 350° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then chopped)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″x4″ loaf pan with butter, then line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Set aside.

Place dates, prunes, raisins, and baking soda in a bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over the dried fruits. Mix together and let sit for no less than 1 hour, and up to 2 hours.

In electric mixer bowl, cream butter, add sugar, and beat 2 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat another 2 minutes. Slowly add flour and stir until incorporated. Add in fruit and stir slowly to combine. Stir in nuts by hand. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 70-80 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out dry. Cool in pan. Remove from pan and peel off parchment paper. Slice, and eat!



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.