No-Bake Bars

I’ve been on a kick recently with making no-bake oat bars.   My husband is a huge fan of Mississippi Mud Cookies, and those spurred me to think that there has to be a good way to make something for breakfast and snacking that is just as easy to assemble and is a bit healthier than his treasured bites of chocolate goodness.   (No doubt they’re good, but a batch of those does not do good things for the waistline. )

So I went on a mission to find something that fit all my requirements.   It had to be :

  • No-bake, though a minimal amount of stove-top time was acceptable
  • Ingredients I likely have in the pantry or refrigerator
  • No obscene amounts of butter or oil
  • No raw almonds (allergy)
  • No shredded coconut (Fresh coconut is one thing, but that shredded abomination in a bag? Well, I’d just as soon avoid it if I can.)
  • And most important, a recipe that makes a portion I can eat within about a week

Thanks to the time-suck vast range of recipes and searching abilities of Pinterest, I found quite a few that fit my list, or could fit with minimal adjustments.  So far I’ve made three, all of which I’ll share, along with any of my alterations.   None were disappointing, and each has enough variety of flavor I’d make them all again.

I started with these gems from Averie Cooks.  I didn’t take any photos of these, but the photos on Averie Cooks are great if you’re a fan of good food pics.  Of course I had to tweak the recipe to my own tastes, but you can view the original recipe here.

Cinnamon Oat No-Bake Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey *
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar (white, granulated)
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla  **
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon ***
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3  1/2 cups quick cook oats (also called 1-minute oats or instant oats)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:

Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Combine the butter, honey, and both sugars and microwave on high for three minutes, stopping to stir after each minute.   During the last minute watch to make sure it doesn’t bubble over.

Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and cream of tartar to the mixture and stir.   Add oats and stir to combine.    Add the flour slowly and stir until the mixture is thick but somewhat moist.  If it’s runny or seems overly thin, add a bit more flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Transfer the mixture to your 8×8 pan and spread it out flat.  Press it down firmly with a spatula, scraper, or your hands.   Refrigerate for about 2 hours (or freeze for 1 hour) until the bars are solid.   Remove them from the dish and cut into bars.   The size and shape are up to you.   I suggest cutting a small one to taste before you cut the rest of the bars as these are somewhat sweet and have a strong cinnamon flavor.

They keep well for a week or so in the refrigerator, sealed up tight or can be frozen for longer storage.

* You can use corn syrup instead of honey, but I’m a big fan of honey for its taste and health benefits.  Corn syrup isn’t “evil”  I suppose, but it doesn’t fit in my “healthy food” list either.  So if I can avoid cooking with it, I do.
** I use STRONG vanilla, so I’d suggest the larger amount if you’re using standard strength, grocery store vanilla.
***  This recipe calls for a lot of cinnamon.   Cinnamon flavors vary from very sweet to moderately hot.   Think of a Cinnamon Twist Pastry vs Big Red gum.  They both use cinnamon, but two very different kinds.   For this recipe you want the sweeter variety.   If you’re not sure what you have, taste it.  Just put a light sprinkle on your finger and taste.    My favorite for this kind of recipe (and pretty much anything that calls for a non-spicy cinnamon) is Penzey’s Cinnamon.   It’s good enough I could probably take a spoon to it and just dig in.  They also have a really good explanation about different kinds of cinnamon here.

The original recipe from Averie Cooks calls for a white chocolate drizzle on the top.  I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I left that off mine.   Plus chocolate for breakfast has never appealed to me.   I’m strange, I know.

These taste great with vanilla yogurt for a quick and satisfying breakfast or snack.

These make an 8×8 pan, which is more than two people should probably eat in one sitting.   My intention with this recipe is to have a quick breakfast and snack food that is healthier than many packaged granola bars, cereals, or snack bars.   It is a moderate enough amount of bars that shared among a family of two or three it will last for the majority of a week.   They taste so good I didn’t get tired of eating them.  I was actually disappointed when they were gone!

I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of my no-bake bar adventures soon…  Stay tuned!

Calling all cooks!  I’d like to find some bars that do not require refrigeration, so any suggestions there are highly welcomed!   I’d like to be able to pack them for travel snacks and I carry a small, non-refrigerated purse.

Rice & Veggie Creamy Baked Casserole

 

I love seafood.  I mean LOVE seafood.   However living this far inland, getting fresh seafood can be a challenge.   I do live not terribly far from the self-proclaimed Trout Capital of the USA (Cotter, Arkansas.)   I can’t seem to bring myself to drive to Cotter, sit either in a boat or on the banks of the river with a fishing pole in hand, waiting  seemingly endless hours for the fish to fall prey to whatever sort of bait I’ve offered up to them.   The mere idea nearly puts me to zzzzzzzzzzz.  Oh I’m sorry, I must have dozed off.

Anyway, I wanted a good side dish for some baked trout, and my go-to with fish is rice.  However plain rice after a while can get boring.  So I opted for a dish that is a rice and veggie blend, to give it a bit of variety.    This is a dish perfectly sized to fit two hearty appetites for a meal or two plus enough for a bit of leftovers for lunch the next day.

I started with a basic recipe from Kraft, and of course couldn’t leave it as- is.   It’s first designed as usual to feed a family of sixteen kids and three cats. (Maybe not that many.)  Also it contains only one veggie – corn.   And I had some sour cream I wanted to use the last of before it disappeared into the back of the fridge to be discovered later as a flourishing science experiment.  So with a few adjustments to make better use of what I had languishing in the fridge & give it a boost of color, you have my version of the recipe.    It would be easy to swap out some or all of the corn and/or carrots for other vegetables you prefer, such as peas or  diced peppers.  Just make sure it will cook sufficiently within about 20 to 25 minutes.

On to the recipe…

Rice & Veggie Casserole
Two or three servings

Ingredients

2 tbsp  cream cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1 egg white
1 cup cooked white rice 
3 oz frozen corn, thawed
3 oz frozen carrots, thawed and diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salt &  Pepper to tasteDirections

Heat oven to 375°F.

Mix cream cheese, sour cream, & egg white until combined and well blended. Stir in rice, corn, carrots, about half the shredded cheese, and thyme.  Add salt & pepper to taste (or none at all, if you prefer.)

Pour into a lightly greased 1qt baking dish and top with remaining cheese.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until it’s bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted.

Adapted pretty substantially from Kraft Cheesy Rice & Corn Casserole.

Cheesy rice & veggies

Not exactly a stellar photo, but very tasty stuff!

This recipe reminds me to share a good tip about cooking for two.   Those smaller sized casserole dishes are ideal for recipes like this one.   I use an 8×8 glass brownie pan frequently.   Look for dishes that are about 6″ diameter and 1 1/2″ to 2″ deep, they are great for smaller portions.   A good source for these size dishes is local pottery makers or smaller manufacturers.  They make more of the unique size that goes well with small side-dishes.  One of my favorites I used for this dish and it fits perfectly.  When shopping for dishes suitable for smaller portions, remember that casseroles need a little extra room on the sides as they may bubble up around the edges.   That slightly deeper dish will save you hours in oven-cleaning time!

 

Lazy Weekend French Toast

I’m thinking about the upcoming weekend, starting with Friday, March 14, otherwise known as Pi Day.   To celebrate will require the making and consuming of pie, so I’m on a mission to find one incredible pie to bake.    It has to be something epic so I can share it and give away a LOT of it.  I love most any pie so keeping it around the house is not so good for the waistline.

I mention the pie because that has me thinking of the weekend, and I like to incorporate one lazy morning if at all possible.  Lazy mornings include a late breakfast.    Now you’ve been exposed to my way of thinking, which often resembles the wildly twisting dotted line from a Family Circus comic showing the child’s “direct” path home.   It makes sense to me anyway!

So on to the French Toast.  French Toast is one of those breakfast comfort foods that can be just ok when made quickly and poorly, but when made properly it can make for a delicious meal.   Probably the most important ingredient is the bread.   Basic white sandwich bread just can’t hold up, so something more robust is necessary.   If you saw my last post about Simply Good Bread and made a loaf, you’ve got a good choice at the ready (if you haven’t eaten it all already.)

This started with one of those recipes that can’t quite be simply cut in half.  A good example is that the original recipe uses 3 large eggs.  Hmm, how do you half an egg?  See my answer to the delima in the recipe below.
Lazy Weekend French Toast for Two

Ingredients:
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp oil (any kind you prefer except olive oil)
1 whole egg
1 egg white (or if you’re not concerned with calories, 1 egg yolk)
3 oz heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg (or more, to taste)
1/8 tsp cinnamon (also to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 thick slices of bread, at least a couple of days old

Instructions:

Mix together egg, egg white (or yolk), cream, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Pour into a shallow dish big enough to hold two pieces of bread at a time.

Heat the butter and oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Place two pieces of bread into the soaking dish for about 10 seconds, flip them over and soak about another 10 seconds.   It should soak in some but not become saturated.

Place the two pieces in the skillet and cook about 3 minutes.  Flip the bread, and the now visible side should be nicely golden.  Cook another 2 minutes and flip to brown each side a little more as needed.  Remove these from the skillet, stash them on a place covered with a towel and repeat with the other two slices.

When all four pieces are done, top with a little powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar and serve with maple syrup.  (NO “pancake” syrup pretty please.  I’m a maple syrup purist.)

Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Rich French Toast recipe.

Simply Good Bread

In recent years I’ve gone from a yeast-o-phobe to a bread baking fool.   Even after I felt I had a good grasp on cooking, any attempts I made to create a bread product involving yeast came with a forgone conclusion: guaranteed failure.   Finally, one day I got a wild notion to make english muffins, and thanks to the guidance of a book from the good cook Alton Brown, I was able to overcome my yeast fears.

Since then, I started making my own bread on a regular basis.  It’s often enough now that I rarely buy bread at the grocery store.   As usual, most recipes make more bread than two of us will eat within a week, so I have devised several good uses for what remains of the bread later in the week.   (More on that later.)

So for those fearful of the yeast, who don’t have a bread machine, or simply would like to know exactly what is in the bread they eat (such as no preservatives), here’s my go-to recipe for a good bread that pares well with, well anything really!

Simply Good Bread

Ingredients
4 cups all purpose flour  (500g)
1 1/2 cups water (warm, about 100 degrees F)
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp wheat bran or wheat germ

Instructions
Mix the flour, salt, honey, and wheat bran in a mixing bowl or the bowl for your stand mixer.  Pour the water over the top, and sprinkle the yeast onto that.   Let it sit for about 2-3 minutes, or until you can smell the yeast.    Mix either with a spoon or a dough hook if using a stand mixer.  Knead either by hand or by mixer with a dough hook until the dough becomes fairly smooth.   (With my stand mixer it takes about 5-7 minutes.)

While the dough is kneading, turn your oven on the lowest heat setting possible and leave it on for one minute, then turn the oven off.   Once the dough is kneaded, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the oven.  Let it rise for 1-2 hours, until it doesn’t spring back if you press it with your finger.

Remove the dough from the oven and bowl, and knead it slightly.  Reshape it into a ball, cover with a not-fuzzy towel and let it rest for about 10 minutes.  (Towel fuzz in your bread does not add fiber!)

Lightly coat the inside of a dutch oven (if you have one) or spray a sheet pan with oil.   Roll the dough into a tight ball and place it into the dutch oven or on the pan.   Cover with lid or lightly oiled plastic.    Let it rise for another 30 -60 minutes, this time not in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Lightly rub a bit of oil onto the top of the bread and sprinkle it with kosher salt.   Cut an X or # into the top of the bread, no more than about 1/4″ into the bread’s surface.   Bake for 30 minutes (leave the lid on if using a dutch oven).   Drop the temperature to 375 degrees F and remove the lid.   If baking on a sheet pan, after 30 minutes, drop the temperature to 375 degrees F, and watch so it does not become too brown.  If it appears perfectly golden brown, you can cover it loosely with foil.

Bake until the bread is about 200 degrees F inside and browned on the outside, about 10-15 more minutes.)   Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes prior to cutting.

Simply Good Bread by Lorrie- thefoodie.wordpress.com

This is some good bread!

Recipe adapted from Dutch Oven Bread by Michael Ruhlman – His books are a valuable asset to my cookbook collection.  Ratio is one of my favorites, and you can pick it up at your local bookstore or order it from Amazon.

This bread is great with soups, for toasted sandwiches such as a panini, or just served alongside a meal.  It has a rustic look to it, so every time I make it looks and tastes slightly different.    Adjust the ingredients as you like for your tastes.   Here’s a few ideas:

  • Use bread flour in place of all-purpose.  It creates a somewhat different texture, and is good for thick slices.
  • Swap the honey for olive oil.
  • Use ground flax, oat bran, or your choice of similar ingredients to enhance the texture and increase fiber.
  • Replace up to half the all-purpose flour with wheat flour.  If you use more than half, you’re on your own!

While this does make more than two people likely will eat in one meal, it can be used in so many ways that I thought it a good choice for this blog.   Coming up… a use for some of the leftover bread!

What you will find on this blog and why it is there

I like to cook.

I like to eat.

And I usually am cooking for just my husband and I, and occasionally the dog.

After countless times of saying “That was just half the recipe!” as I put away the leftovers from dinner, I have determined that I can’t be the only one cooking for less than the typical recipe will feed.  I don’t need a meal that serves six to eight most nights.   I’m not sure even where they find these mysterious six people with gargantuan appetites.  Six to eight means it will provide us with a couple of good meals, followed by a couple more, then a few more just to firmly plant into my brain this recipe makes vastly more food than we will eat before deciding that if I see it again this year, it’s too soon.

I’ve learned how to cut recipes at least in half, sometimes down to a fourth of the original.  It’s not always a matter of simple math, or even bizarre fractions.   For example, dishes that include a pan sauce sometimes require an amount of some oil or fat that falls between half and the whole recipe.    It has involved a lot of trial and error, and after a good deal of practice, there’s less error, or rather less drastic errors.  (Drastic ones require a Plan B, usually involving take-out Chinese or pizza.)

I’ll also include some recipes for the dog.  Yes, the dog.   All I needed to give me the nudge to cook for him was that tainted dog treat scare and it was off to the kitchen, armed with my doggie bone cookie cutters in one hand, cookbook for dog treats in the other.  He hasn’t turned his nose up to anything I’ve made for him yet.   If you don’t like dogs, just skip over those.  I won’t be hurt, and neither will doggie.

And on to the cooking …!