Lake Michigan Granola Bars

IMG_0802It has been a very full summer, so far. Between the weather being so uncharacteristically cooperative (long, warm, sunny days followed by ample rains) and all that business about getting married and having a garden that’s 40 miles from home, things have been happy but busy to say the least.

Seeing just this sort of summer burnout on the horizon way back in May, James and I planned a Michigan getaway for the second week in July. The entire Lake Michigan coastline of Michigan is probably one of my favorite places on earth. It’s a land of fruit orchards, wide open spaces with wildflowers, quaint little lakeside towns, surprisingly stellar restaurants… it’s a virtual Eden for me!

We invited our friend and faithful neighbor, Nicole, to come along, and we set our course for the Leelanau Peninsula. The Leelanau Peninsula is in extreme northwest Michigan — heading toward Michigan’s giant, largely wild and untamed Upper Peninsula (also known as the “U.P.”). Even though it’s only a little more than a six-hour drive from our home, Leelanau feels light-years away from home and the “real world”. A perfect getaway!

IMG_0805Knowing how naughty road food can be – the gnarly stuff one obtains from gas stations and drive-thrus – Nicole and I decided to pack up some healthier stuff for the road trip. She brought lots of fancy things from her work in a gourmet food store. Meanwhile, I cooked up some homemade granola bars that featured ingredients from Michigan: honey, dried cherries, and dried blueberries all from Stover’s Farm in Berrien Springs, MI!

If you’ve never made homemade granola or granola bars, you’re in for a treat. Granola is extremely customizable – you can swap out different fruits and nuts or add spices to suit your own particular tastes or mood. And – since you’re wearing the apron – you can be assured that there are no chemicals, crazy fake stuff, or other unmentionables in it!

IMG_0804Steel-Cut Oats are about as RAW as you can get with oats. Rather than being rolled flat like old-fashioned oats or rolled paper thin and cut into pieces like quick oats, steel-cut oats are merely chopped oats, so they have more bite to them and – research is beginning to show – more of those healthy whole grain qualities we all need.

This past St. Patrick’s Day, I made a very interesting scone recipe that featured toasted, steel-cut Irish Oats. I loved how toasting the oats turned them from tasting raw and chewy into something crunchy and nutty. IMG_0807I decided to experiment and add them into granola bars. I think they made a welcome addition to the mix! The kind you see pictured here are the traditional, McCann’s Steel-Cut Oats — they’re actually imported from Ireland. Here in the US, though, steel-cut oats are catching on and some grocery store chains are jumping aboard. Bob’s Red Mill is another good brand for steel-cut oats (not to mention flour and tons of other stuff). If you can’t find these in your grocery store, just add another half cup of chopped pecans to the mix.

Sucanat is another of my favorite, unrefined sugars. While brown sugar is merely granulated white sugar with a little bit of molasses added back into it, sucanat is the result of cooking down sugar cane juice until all that’s left is the sugar and molasses-y goodness. You can use dark brown sugar in place of the sucanat if you can’t find it in your grocery store.

Lake Michigan Granola Bars
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 24


      2 cups old-fashioned oats
      3/4 cup wheat germ
      3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
      1/2 cup chopped pecans
      1/2 cup steel-cut oats
      1/2 cup dried blueberries
      1/2 cup dried cherries
      2/3 cup sucanat (or dark brown sugar)
      1/2 cup honey
      4 tablespoons unsalted butter
      1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
      2 teaspoons vanilla extract

      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper (a standard 13×9 baking dish will do in a pinch, but a shallow sheet pan makes this easier). In another, preferably larger rimmed sheet pan, combine the old-fashioned oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and pecans. Toast the oat mixture in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes; stirring every 5 minutes, watch carefully for burning.

      Meanwhile, toast the steel-cut oats in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Toasting should take about 10 minutes. The oats will smell like toasted nuts once they’re toasted.

      Once the old-fashioned oats mixture has been toasted, you can turn off your oven. In a large bowl, combine the old-fashioned oats, the toasted steel-cut oats, and the dried fruits.

      In a medium saucepan, bring the sucanat, honey, butter, and salt to a low boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla (be careful: sometimes adding vanilla to a pot of hot syrup makes the syrup very angry indeed).

      Pour the sucanat mixture over the oat mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour immediately into the parchment-lined sheet pan. Spread the mixture evenly. Cover mixture with a layer of parchment paper and – using another sheet pan, a large spatula, or the bottom of a skillet – press the mixture until it is completely flat. The harder you press, the less likely your bars will be crumbly and messy once they’ve cooled.

      Uncover the sheet pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, invert the pan on a large cutting board; cut into 12-24 bars. Wrap each bar individually. When stored in a cool, dry place, the bars will keep for 2 weeks or more.

    IMG_0810

    These granola bars are chewy, fruity, and packed with nutty goodness. The sucanat and steel-cut oats come together to create a taste not unlike caramel corn. We enjoyed cruising down the lakeshore highway, munching on these and experiencing “edible Michigan”.

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    ~ by Jason on July 21, 2010.

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