Friday, August 24, 2012

Basic Granola Bars

While visiting our family in Montana a couple weeks ago, one of the activities I look forward to the most is hiking Mount Helena.  If you start early enough in the morning before it gets too hot, the hike to the top is relaxing, exhilarating, and an awesome workout.  Plus, when you reach the summit, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Helena valley.

I normally have to drag Paul along on the hike.  He seems to have a really hard time adjusting to the altitude and is normally huffing and puffing his way up the mountain top.  I was able to convince him by informing him that he would NOT be carrying a very heavy Mr. Matthew on his back the entire way up.  We were joined on our morning venture by my sister Sophie, who traveled out West with Paul and I, and Paul's brothers James and Peter.  We stopped for coffee on our way to the trail head where Paul gulped down plenty of espresso, with the hope that the extra caffeine kick would propel him up the mountain.

Me and Sophie!

Finally, we set out on our journey towards the summit.  Paul, as expected, took up the rear.  We had to stop and wait for him several times.  James was nice enough to hang back with him just in case he needed a piggy-back ride.

Less than an hour later, we were just about at the top.  Paul decided to cut up the rocky side of the peak in order to reach the summit first via this "shortcut."  Well, his attempts to scale the rocks proved inefficient as he was slower than a tortoise.  He was the very last to reach the summit and we all got some pretty cute pictures of his heroic efforts to make it to the top and not topple to his death.  I knew he could do it!

I tried to capture a picture of all the Nistler boys together.  I must have taken about 10 pictures and this was the best shot of all.  These boys were more difficult to photograph than a group of toddlers.

And then I tried to take a sweet picture with my husband.  He, as usual, was super cooperative...

Fourth times the charm...

I thought it would be appropriate to follow this tale of an epic hike with a granola bar recipe.  This is a basic, basic, basic recipe.  You can choose to add in whatever nuts, dried fruits, etc. that you wish.  If you want them a little chewier, you can add up to 3 tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture.  You can also add a little brown sugar if you prefer your granola bars on the sweeter side.  In the granola bars I photographed, I did not add in any dried fruit, but rather threw in a mashed, extremely ripe banana into the mix along with a handful of toasted walnuts.  They kind of tasted a bit like a banana bread bar.

Anyway, these are infinitely adaptable.  Make them your own!

Basic Granola Bars
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, as seen on Smitten Kitchen

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup sweetened coconut
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup dried fruit

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 baking dish.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

While the mixture is still warm, stir in the honey, vanilla and salt until the mixture is well coated, then the dried fruit. Pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and press, press, press it in until the mixture is packed as tightly as possible.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for 2 to 3 hours on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

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