The number one thing I hear in response to my love for cooking is always how stressed cooking makes people feel. People often associate cooking and childhood memories around it with a stressed out parent struggling to get the big meal out on the special holiday. And to that, I say, I totally get it.
Michael Pollan, whose documentary series I just started watching on netflix, talks about how the entertainment industry plays on this stress by making cooking shows that portray cooking as something better left up the pros (iron chef anyone?) and the food industry has been telling us we're too busy and too stressed to cook for years so that they could valiantly come in and save the day.
The first time I made these granola bars, my vitamix died mid-blend of homemade almond butter. And as I was trying to figure out what the hell was wrong I burnt approximately $15 worth of pistachios that I had just spent 20 minutes shelling. I slammed the pan of burnt nuts down on the counter, yelled at my husband about how next time will be paying extra for store-bought almond butter and pre-shelled pistachios and screw the fact that I was trying to be responsible and save money because look where it got me! Then I slammed the door of our bedroom and put my legs up the wall for a couple deep breaths.
So yeah, I totally get it how cooking can be stressful. That's one of the reasons I prefer to cook alone without a time limit and without a crowd to please, and preferably with a good playlist in the background. As ocd as I sound, I need to start with an immaculate kitchen, and clean as I go, even if it takes longer. This, by the way, drives my husband nuts. But my kitchen is my workspace, and a clean kitchen takes away stress and makes the whole cooking process much safer, trust me.
Somehow after picking out the black nut pieces, these bars came out just as I imagined. They're adapted from one of my favorite food blogs, Cookie and Kate, and inspired by my favorite larabar flavor, lemon! I'm such a sucker for tart, springy lemon. The bars are bound together with a combination of nut butter and honey and packed with so much protein and fiber they could almost qualify as breakfast.
I stocked up on homemade granola bars before this semester of grad school started, and individually wrapped them in plastic wrap then tossed them in a freezer bag on the door of the freezer. They defrost in about 30 minutes, and warm perfectly in the toaster if you're in a rush. Super filling and totally guilt-free on-the-go-treat that will ultimately save you money and leave you feeling fuller than any store-bought kind. Bring these to work or class and people will be jealous. Just saying. They're pretty awesome.
Yields 12-16 bars
Adapted from: Cookie and Kate
1/3 cup pecans (1.5 oz)
2/3 cup shelled pistachios (1.5 oz)
1/3 cup pepitas
2/3 cup dried cranberries (or dried fruit of your choice)
1 3/4 cup old fashioned oats
1 packed tablespoon lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt (decrease if your nut butter is salted)
1 cup almond butter or peanut butter (I did half and half)
1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Line an 8x8 (for 12 thick bars) or 9x9 (for 16 thinner bars) inch baking dish with parchment and set aside. Toast the pecans, pistachios and pepitas in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the oats for about 5 seconds until broken up significantly, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Once the nuts & pepitas are toasted add them to the bowl of the food processor along with the dried fruit and run for about 10 seconds then transfer to the mixing bowl with the oats. Add the lemon zest and salt and whisk to combine.
In a small bowl bowl (or liquid measuring cup) combine the nut butter, honey, vanilla extract, and lemon juice and stir until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. I found using my hands to integrate the ingredients into a thick, sticky batter was easiest, but you could also use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. If the batter seems too dry add in another small scoop of nut butter.
Press the batter into the parchment lined baking dish (the bottom of a drinking glass works best for this) then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. Cut into bars and serve. Bars store best individually wrapped in plastic then stored in a freezer bag in the freezer. Stored this way they should last up to 6 months.