Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

IMG_5366If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years of baking, purchasing, reading about, talking about, and eating food, it’s that “healthy” means something different to just about everyone. Yes, we can probably all agree that deep-fried Twinkies have a very low chance of ever making it into the “healthy” category, and I’ve never met a person who has labeled fresh broccoli as “unhealthy,” but there is still a crazy level of disagreement when it comes to clean eating. I’ve read diet books that forbid the consumption of bananas, grapes, and watermelon due to their high sugar contents, but the vending machine in my residence hall back at school has a “fit pick” sticker pasted on Grandma’s Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies. There are also “fit pick” stickers on bags of low-fat pretzels and salted peanuts, which are scorned by others for their simple carbohydrates and high fat content, respectively. Sometimes it seems like there’s just no winning.IMG_5348

All that being said, there is winning when it comes to this recipe! I’m going to refrain from trying to convince you that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars are “healthy” (because, yes, there are real milk chocolate chips and gobs of peanut butter in them), but I will say that they have no flour, no butter, no white sugar, and no un-pronouncable additives or preservatives. What they do have is a soft, slightly crumbly crust made from oats, maple syrup, and peanut butter–side note: pure maple syrup+peanut butter is one of the best unlikely combos ever–and a thick, smooth filling that consists purely of chocolate and peanut butter. I personally think these bars taste best when eaten straight from the fridge, but you can also freeze them to make them last longer. Although if you’re anything like my family and me, the bars will be devoured in record-breaking time whether or not they’re hidden away in the freezer. I recommend saving yourself the trouble by keeping them thawed in the fridge and at-the-ready for eager consumption. Even if you decide that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge bars aren’t 100% healthy, they are certainly 100% delicious…and when it comes to desserts, that’s what really matters, right? IMG_5340

Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

Yield: 16-25 bars (depending on how large you cut them)

2 & 3/4 cups quick-cooking oats (220g)*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup**

1/4 cup + 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, divided

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)

Directions:

Line an 8×8″ pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a short overhang, and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, 1/4 cup peanut butter, water, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the oats and salt.

Scoop about 2/3 of the oat mixture into the prepared pan and press it down firmly and evenly with the back of a metal spoon. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine the 1/2 cup peanut butter and chocolate chips. Microwave for about 40-60 seconds, stirring after each 20-second increment, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate mixture over the oat layer in the pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture evenly over the melted chocolate, and carefully press it down. Chill for at least an hour, or until the chocolate is firm. Carefully lift the bars out of the pan while holding onto the foil or parchment paper, and cut into squares.

*I only had old-fashioned rolled oats on hand, so I just pulsed them about 20 times in my food processor. Using old-fashioned oats by themselves will change the texture of the bars, making them more crumbly.

**Honey or agave nectar can be substituted for the maple syrup. If you do use maple syrup, make sure you are using PURE maple syrup (not regular pancake syrup).

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered KatieIMG_5349

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Maple-Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

IMG_3264 To use a much-hated cliché, there are two kinds of people in the world: breakfast-lovers and breakfast-haters. I know many people whose favorite meal of the day is breakfast, who love everything from pancakes to eggs to bacon, who savor their morning meal like no other. I’m also aware that for some people, breakfast is their nemesis. Whether it’s because they like to sleep right up until 5 minutes before they have to leave for work/school, because they have zero appetite so early in the morning, or because they simply can’t stand having to put a meal together first-thing, those in the breakfast-hating category have some reason or another to steer clear of “the most important meal of the day,” as it’s so often labeled.

Speaking to the members of both camps, I think you’ll like this little recipe for Maple-Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies. They’re not nearly as sweet as most cookies, instead getting their wonderful flavor from nutty toasted oats and pure maple syrup. The cookies manage to be both chewy and crunchy at the same time, with crisp edges and soft centers. Made with ingredients that you most likely already have in your cupboard, they took no time at all to mix up. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I don’t usually share nutritional information for my recipes (mainly because I don’t know it myself and don’t want to take the time and energy to calculate it…plus I prefer to bask in ignorance concerning the unhealthier treats on here ;)), but since these are so minimal in the ingredient department and so much healthier than other cookies I figured I might as well boast their low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar qualities. Finally, a cookie you can (justifiably) eat for breakfast!

Breakfast-lovers will hopefully add these cookies to their arsenals, and I urge you breakfast-haters out there to bake these up and keep them on hand for a boost of energy in the morning. I find it hard to believe that even the most ardent of breakfast-loathers could resist these Maple-Oatmeal Cookies!

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Maple-Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

2 cups old-fashioned oats

3/4 cup + 2 Tbs whole wheat or all-purpose flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the oats in a large, wide skillet. Cook over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until oats are fragrant and golden. Let the oats cool for a few minutes.

Place the toasted oats into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Stir the maple mixture into the oats until well-combined.

Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto lined or greased cookie sheets. With wet fingers, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until cookies are golden-brown. Let cookies cool on the sheets for 3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

(Recipe adapted from Whole Foods Market)

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Nutritional Information:

For 1 cookie (assuming 24 cookies total):

Calories: 80

Fat: 2.8 g

Total Carbohydrate: 12 g

Sugar: 4.9 g

Protein: 1.3 g

Banana Maple Muffins

On my front porch sits my Jack O’Lantern.  Three weeks ago, when I bought my pumpkin from the local pumpkin patch on our island, it was firm and healthy, orange with a few streaks of green on the back.  Two weeks ago, when I carved into it, my pumpkin was still young and fresh, emitting that sweet, earthy pumpkin smell and full of moist, slimy seeds.  On Halloween, my Jack O’Lantern stood proudly on the stoop, smiling its toothy grin and glowing with candlelight.  Last weekend, I noticed that my pumpkin looked a little saggy.  Its skin was starting to droop and wrinkle, and when I peered inside that toothy grin I spotted a very colorful field of mold growing inside.  Disgusted, I hurried away.  So there it sat.  A few days ago my pumpkin fell off its perch and onto the porch, where it lies in a mildewy puddle of water, a crumbled mess of wrinkly orange skin and moldy speckled flesh.  And there it lies today.

Why haven’t I taken a garbage bag and scooped up my rotting pumpkin remains?  Why haven’t I taken a shovel and hauled it off into the woods to decompose away from the welcome mat of my home?  Good questions.  An even better question would be, why didn’t I pick my pumpkin up off the steps on November first, back when it was still firm and mold-free, and dispose of it like a normal human being?  I have no idea.  For some reason, the more times I walk up the porch steps and spot my sad, sorry mess of a Jack O’Lantern rotting on the ground, the less likely I feel I am to get rid of it.  It’s kind of a little game I’m playing, waiting to see how long it will take before either I or an unlucky member of my family finally breaks down and gets rid of that soggy mess.  Considering the fact that we still have our Christmas lights up (from last year), it could be a while.  I’m half hoping that my pumpkin will just decompose into the wood on the porch or slip down the cracks to the ground below…or something.  I think I’m giving the word “laziness” a new definition.

The good news is, I don’t like to make the same mistake twice.  We had two large bananas sitting in the fruit bowl for quite a while.  As new bunches of ripe yellow bananas got purchased by unknowing family members and placed next to the two brown-spotted bananas, the two old ones kept getting passed up for the new.  It was a sad process to watch; the old bananas kept getting browner and browner, shoved aside for the fresh ones.  Determined not to see this poor pair of fruits suffer the same fate as my Halloween pumpkin, I set myself on a mission…because the best thing to do with brown bananas is bake with them!  Enter these Banana Maple Muffins.  The combination of sweet bananas, rich maple syrup, and a touch of cinnamon and allspice results in a wonderfully moist, sweet muffin.  I also decided to use half whole wheat flour which a) makes them healthier and b) gives the muffins a great hearty texture.  These are a huge step above your everyday common muffins that are virtually unfrosted cupcakes.

I still feel sorry for my squished little pumpkin, but at least these bananas ended up in the form of delicious muffins!  If you have brown bananas, definitely make these.  It will make you feel like you’ve done a good deed!  Or maybe I just need to suck it up and take two minutes to throw away my pumpkin so that I can stop feeling the need to redeem myself by saving two brown bananas…regardless, all these decisions led me to these amazing muffins.  And for that I am glad.

 

Banana Maple Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup mashed bananas (from about 2 large bananas)

3 Tbs vegetable oil

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (dark amber is best)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a 12-tin muffin pan with paper liners or spray with baking spray.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, allspice, and cinnamon.  In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, vegetable oil, sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.

Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about 2/3 of the way.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops of muffins bounce back when lightly touched and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Baking Bites)

Pumpkin Granola Bars

November 1st.  That dreaded day after Halloween when everyone is either groggy and grumpy from lack of sleep the night before or completely wired from eating an obscene amount of candy.  Having two parents as teachers, November 1st is a somewhat dirty word in our house.  Or, uh, two words that is.  I blame my overtired, post-Halloween brain…hey, case in point!

These granola bars are a perfect pick-me-up for days like today.  Full of oats, pumpkin, fall spices, maple syrup, cinnamon chips and dried cranberries, there’s nothing not to like. Not to mention that they are waaay cheaper than buying a box of granola bars that are probably full of preservatives and ingredients that I can’t pronounce, unless you want to the buy the even more expensive healthy type.  Sorry, store-bought granola bars.  I’ve got nothing against you, I promise, but you’ve got nothing on these homemade guys!  Sorry. 

Halloween may be over, but autumn is still here, so savor these last few weeks of fall flavors in the form of these granola bars!  Adapt them as you wish, but I have to admit that this pumpkin/cinnamon chip/cranberry combo is prettttty darn good.  Enjoy, friends! 🙂

Pumpkin Granola Bars

3 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling!)

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or honey)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup cinnamon chips (or chocolate chips)

1/2 cup dried cranberries (or nuts, raisins, etc.)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray an 8″x8″ baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth.  Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the oats until well-combined.  Stir in the cinnamon chips and cranberries.

Evenly press the mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden-brown and firm.  Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.  Bars can be stored for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)