granola bars

chocolate granola 7

I don’t know how best to say this in order for you all to understand the significance: My youngest son can now eat granola bars!

You may be thinking this isn’t big news or noteworthy, yet it is. He has a severe tree nut allergy, and there is not a granola bar available for purchase that is safe for him to eat. Because of this he hasn’t had a granola bar since before his diagnosis, which was about 4 years ago. But now, thanks once again to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, he has granola bars daily! And this makes him happy.

Since I started making these, we always have granola bars in the house. Not only are they easy, but the ingredients are not expensive, and are easy to keep stocked in my kitchen.

I’ve made these in different variations, and my son has declared his favorite are the ones with cocoa as well as chocolate chips that aren’t melted in the mix. I prefer the ones without the cocoa. They’re all good … but we each have our favorite!

Below are the two variations I’ve made lately.

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Chocolate Granola Bars

1 3/4 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

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Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Add cocoa. Stir well to combine then remove from heat.

Add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats and cereal. Stir well to combine everything into a big sticky bowl of yumminess.

chocolate granola 1

chocolate granola 2

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

chocolate granola 3

Top with chocolate chips. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even and to push the chips into the granola a bit.

chocolate granola 4

chocolate granola 5

Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

chocolate granola 8

Note: I like cutting them into 1×1-inch pieces — a few of these are perfect for my son’s daily snack at school. Also, for Valentine’s Day I used plastic heart cookie cutters (large and small) and, as you can see, I got the cutest heart shaped granola bars! Since I make these granola bars weekly, I’ll start cutting them using other cookie cutter shapes that I have just to make my son’s daily school snack a little more fun.

Another note: In addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Remember to add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

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granola 11

Granola Bars

2 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips.

Note: If you don’t want the chocolate chips to melt from the heat of the liquid, keep them to the side until after the mixture is pressed into the pan (as I did in the above batch). 

granola 2

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

granola 1

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips in the large bowl. Stir well to coat all the oats and cereal.

*Update: I’ve made these so often now that I’ve changed my favorite version. Adding the chocolate chips at this point is not my favorite way of making these anymore. I prefer to add them at the end, as in the first example. By the way, if I were to add other ingredients, such as chopped pretzels, I might add the chocolate chips to the oats and cereal, because I’m not sure how well it would all stick otherwise.

granola 3

granola 4

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

granola 6

Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even.

Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

granola 7

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

granola 8

granola 9

granola 10

Note: As noted above, in addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

choco-hoto-pots

choco hoto pots (2)

This is Nigella Lawson’s recipe, featured on Oprah back in 2005. This recipe has become a family favorite in my immediate family and with all the extended relatives as well.

I sincerely thank both Nigella and Oprah for introducing me to this luscious, delicious, decadent dessert.

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I wasn’t one of those people that watched Oprah every day. No, that would be my mom. She was a devoted fan, and at least once a week she’d call me right at 4pm to ask if I was watching, because she thought I’d enjoy the topic of the day. Unfortunately, 4pm was not a time that I could sit of the sofa and tune in to any TV show. With children in elementary and middle school during those years, 4pm was the start of crazy time: bus stop pickups, after-school snacks, homework, preparing dinner, handling arguments, serving dinner, household and sibling crisis management. TV did not play a part in that time frame (and this was before we had the technology to record shows at the press of a button to watch later at our convenience, and I had not idea how to program my VCR to record, so those options were not available).

But every once in a while I did watch Oprah, either because school was not in session, or if the older kids had after-school activities and my normal routine was put on hold. It was one of those rare days that I turned on Oprah and was intrigued to see Nigella Lawson as her guest. I don’t remember what other recipes she demonstrated during the show, though I vividly remember the Choco-Hoto-Pots. Hot melty gooey chocolate — hard to forget. And easy to make! Definitely something I could pull off. And that I did, for almost every major holiday meal from that point forward. New Years Eve? Choco-Hoto-Pots! Christmas dinner? Choco-Hoto-Pots! Easter dessert? Choco-Hoto-Pots! Company for dinner? Choco-Hoto-Pots, of course!

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In the recipe below I’ve added an option of dark chocolate chips for the white chocolate, because the last time we made this I was out of white chocolate and my daughter put in dark chocolate chips instead. It was delicious … possibly even better than with the white chocolate. From now on I may always make it with the dark chocolate … extra decadent!

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Choco-Hoto-Pots

butter for ramekins

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white chocolate chips, or shaved white chocolate (melts very nicely), or dark chocolate chips or shavings

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Heat oven to 400F.

Place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot.

Butter four 2/3-cup ramekins; set aside.

Using a microwave-safe bowl, melt together the semi-sweet chocolate and the butter. This takes about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, sugar and flour.

Add cooled chocolate mixture, and mix until blended.

Fold in white (or dark) chocolate.

Divide mixture evenly among ramekins and place on the hot baking sheet.

Bake until tops are shiny and cracked and chocolate beneath is hot and gooey; about 20 minutes.

Place each ramekin on a small plate with a teaspoon and serve either plain, or dusted with powdered sugar, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

choco hoto pots (1)

chocolate mousse cheesecake pie

Say it with me:  Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake Pie. Makes you smile, doesn’t it?

When I saw those words in the subject line of an email about a blog post over at mel’s kitchen cafe, I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was recreated in my kitchen. I knew this even before clicking on the link. Once I did click, and saw all the great pictures and read the recipe, I knew it was going to happen very, very soon.

I showed the recipe to my daughter and she instantly agreed that we’d have to make it, so why not for Thanksgiving. Great idea! In addition to the apple pie and pumpkin pie that I had planned to make, a chocolate dessert would be a nice option. We were right. It was a perfect compliment to the fruit pies.

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I’m not going to type out the recipe here, instead I’m linking to the original (see above). We followed the directions exactly, other than using a graham cracker crust instead of an Oreo crust (because we had it handy). Oh, and we left the cheesecake part in the oven for just a few minutes too long by mistake, but that didn’t alter the taste at all.

So if you’re like us and the name alone makes you drool, go over to mel’s kitchen cafe and try this recipe. You won’t be disappointed!

food and love

Today is Valentine’s Day. Some popular ways to celebrate the day and to say “I love you”  include jewelry (good choice), flowers (not a bad pick), chocolates (yahoo!), and dinner out (though I usually avoid this one on Valentine’s Day due to the crowds).

Here are some photos of ways I put a bit of love into the food I feed my family — and they’re good for year-round use, not just on Valentine’s Day.

However you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, whether with food or not, hope today is a good day for you! And if you do decide to show a little love by way of food, let me know if you use any of the ideas that I’ve posted.

P.S. The heart shaped pizza was a huge hit with my 6 year old … but he was a little sad when it was time to cut it!

jumbo chewy chocolate chip cookies

I posted a favorite chocolate chip recipe a few weeks ago, and here’s another! This one just in time for Valentine’s Day, because let’s face it, nothing says “I love you” to your family than a batch of warm, chewy, delicious JUMBO chocolate chip cookies. Am I right? Sure I am!

My picky younger kids aren’t fans of boxed chocolates, and with so many food allergies and issues in my family, there are few packaged chocolates we could purchase for them, even if we wanted to. So forget a heart shaped box of candy for my kids on Valentine’s Day. But it’s okay, because my kids would much prefer cookies.

And to make these more Valentine’s Day-ish, I melted some baking chocolate and dipped half a cookie in the chocolate. On another I attempted making a heart by dripping some of the melted chocolate from a spoon. It came out very rustic and, in my opinion, beautiful!

*Note: These cookies are HUGE and are terrific for bake sales. Kids (and adults) will find it hard to resist such a large gorgeous cookie! Your bake sale will surely be a success!

*Another note: This recipe was on the inside of a container of Land O Lakes butter.

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Jumbo Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 12-ounce package (2 cups) chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

Heat oven to 375F.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.

Combine butter, sugar and brown sugar in mixer. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.

Add eggs and vanilla. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.

Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture, until well mixed.

Stir in chocolate chips or chocolate chunks.

Drop by 1/4 cupful (yes, that’s not a typo… 1/4 cup of dough to make a jumbo cookie). Place them 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. (We line our cookie sheets with parchment paper and I suggest you do the same, because it makes transferring them off the cookie sheets after cooking a breeze!)

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown. DO NOT OVERBAKE!!!!!! The cookies may look as if they’re not done, and if after the 12 minutes you’re tempted to say, “just one more minute”, don’t do it! Take them out and let them rest on the cookie sheets for 1-2 minutes. Then remove to cooling rack. This method will produce about 2 dozen jumbo cookies.

To decorate with chocolate, melt a few squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate, or semi-sweet chocolate chips, or dark chocolate chips, or milk chocolate chips, or white chocolate chips. Basically, if the name “chocolate” is in the title, you’re good!

Option: If you’d like a more regular sized cookie, drop by rounded tablespoons, instead of the 1/4 cup measurement. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, and again, do not overbake!!!!!! You’ll end up with about 4 dozen cookies.

regular size cookie next to a jumbo cookie