granola bars with fruit and honey.

Granola bars have become a large part of my diet since I went back to school this past January, and I don't mean that in a cheery sort of way. I've eaten my way through a plethora of bad grain - a blueberry bar with flax seed that was so difficult to chew it gave me a headache halfway through; a fruit filled number that turned to gritty paste once it hit my tongue; and a horrible excuse for a granola bar - swathed in peanut butter and dipped in chocolate. My car is littered with empty boxes and wrappers, a hidden element of shame in my generally organized life and I found myself refusing to carpool or allow anyone to ride in my vehicle for fear of their personal safety. It wasn't pretty.

Justin is an enabler in my junk granola habits - he buys these salty and sweet bars with underbellies dipped in some sort of almond flavored cream and while they have a lovely chew factor, that mysterious cream coats the back of my throat until it burns and I'm mouthing the words "Water...water!" to him in desperate hopes of survival. I tried not to razz him too hard about his poor grocery choices since he does really cute stuff - like buying the peanut butter I like even though he doesn't eat it and keeping milk chocolate bars in his cabinet for my sake even though he never touches anything with less than 65% cacao. But for the most part, his grocery list consists of eggs, milk, diet green tea by the gallon, frozen meat of some sort, deli cheese, butter, bottled water (we're still working on making sure it's spring water and not purified "drinking" water), generic cereal, and jarred pasta sauce. Cookbook, anyone?

So for both our sakes, I decided to try my hand at homemade granola bars. My usual batch of granola has hazelnuts, almond, cherries and a fair amount of sugar, so I was hoping these would be a variation of the crumbly sort with a boost in the healthy department. My friend Christine used to carry around a Tupperware container of homemade granola bars during college but they were loaded with what I thought were mystery ingredients at the time - flax seed and wheat germ. Since I'm a long-standing member of the I Will Eat Healthy As Long As It Still Tastes Okay Club, I wasn't about to dive head first into a granola bar that had the potential to taste like cardboard, as many recipes do, but this one seemed promising.

These turned out quite good and the combination of oats, almonds and coconut toasting away in the oven makes your kitchen smell dazzlingly delicious, but I did find myself hoping they has a bit more goo-factor. They stick together just enough to hold their bar-shape, but once you bite into it they crumble just a bit more than I would've hoped. You can use any mix of dried fruit you like in this recipe, I used dried cherries and chopped apricots and it made for a really good contrast of sweet and tart, crunchy and salty. I packed these up into a box marked for Justin's House alongside two bars of ultra-dark chocolate and made a mental note to clean out my car...again.

Granola Bars with Fruit and Honey
Adapted from Ina Garten

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.
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 degrees F. 

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the apricots and cherries and stir to coat.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. (I sprayed a piece of waxed paper with cooking spray and used it to push the bars down, worked like a charm.) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for about 2 hours before cutting into bars.

These freeze really well or you can keep them at room temperature for about a week.

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