Tuesday, April 22, 2014

goji berry cashew granola bars - 1st annual picnic earth day celebration!

Happy Picnic Earth Day Chowder Heads! This is our first National Picnic Day, Earth Day Mashup and I hope to remember to do this for all the years to come. My goal is to show ya'll how to make something that is uniquely Earth Day themed while also picnic friendly. What I came up with are these Goji Berry Cashew Granola Bars. Think of these like an upscale version of the archetype trail mix bar you get at the supermarket. These packable snacks are chock-full of sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy. I just think they are the perfect embodiment of what the earth provides for us and the variety of flavors it can produce - #motherearth, #savetheenvironment, #aliensarenotreal. So without further ado let's get started! By the way, I've gotten comments that I invariably say "did I mention this is easy to make" in all my first paragraphs, so I want to apologize and I won't ever do it again. Unless, by pointing it out I inadvertently say it again in which I don't apologize because that was the plan. 

Like I said before, these aren't your average, one note, cloyingly sweet supermarket granola bars. These are naturally sweetened with honey, a little bitter from the goji berries which I will explain later, salty from the sea salt, and just the slightest bit spicy from some black pepper. Although these have the look, texture, and feel of a mundane granola bar, when you bite into one I'll guarantee it'll be an experience like none other. 

But another aspect that I love about making my own granola bars, is that I get to decide what I want in them. Let's say you don't like cashews, put peanuts, you can't find goji berries, just add raisins, whatever flavors you deem fit you can control that. This recipe is the one I go back to time again but feel free to adjust the recipe - which is at the bottom of the post. You'll probably hurt my feelings but it's not like I can't take it. I'm a big boy, isn't that right Mr. Bear - oh shut up.

In a large saucepan melt butter, honey, and brown sugar. I'm very particular about the type of my honey. I don't like clover honey, or orange blossom honey, any flavored or specific plant honey won't do it for me. People who know me know that I can be over-the-top or extravagant, but that time isn't now. All-natural, from the hive, local, honey is the only one for me. If I even put a drop of the other stuff, by the honey club code, I have to fall on my knife. Oh yes, we're serious about our honey here. 

You want to bring it to a boil and make a caramel. Let it bubble away for approximately three minutes or until it turns a caramel color and consistency. It's kind of hard to tell because the brown sugar makes it brown, but going off time will most likely do the trick. If you've been cooking it for two minutes and still aren't sure just move on to the next step. 

Which is the addition of the oats, berries, nuts - just pour in the rest of the ingredients. I'm using old fashioned rolled oats from a company that sounds a lot like Laker's Coats. It's good to use a large cut oat so you can see the grain in the final product. I'm also using an unsalted cashew for this recipe. I just think the unsalted cashews work best for this recipe, but really whatever you have on hand will work fine. Anything that you can find naturally on the earth is allowed in this recipe - sorry cheeze whiz.

We also get a little fancy by adding goji berries. For those of you who do not know, a goji berry is a superfood that is in some way, shape, or form helps your body function better, but really it just tastes good. I'm a chef, not a scientist. Goji berries are slightly sweet, chewy, and the faintest bit bitter, which works deliciously in balance with the other flavors inside this bar. The last two ingredients - salt and pepper - round out the often overly sweet honey and brown sugar. As you know, salt brings out the natural flavors in food. However, pepper is an interesting flavor addition to this bar that adds that fourth dimension of flavor that really puts these bars over the top. 

Stir on the heat until the cashews, or whatever nut you decide to use begins to toast. It should probably be another two minutes. It's crucial that you stir constantly while the pan is over the heat because if you don't the bottom will form a crust or in a dystopian world, it burns. And no one likes burnt nuts. The more you chow.

So once you got that done set it aside so we can prepare our baking pan. Utilizing the Pastry Quicker Picker Upper™ method, which can be seen featured in our recipes on Mini Blueberry Tarts, or our Chewy Fudgy Brownies, or in our Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Pound Cake, line an 8x8 pan with aluminum or parchment paper. If you don't know what the Pastry Quicker Picker Upper is here is a little refresher. Fold a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper so it comfortably fits the bottom of a pan. Make sure you cut a large enough sheet or else the handles for which you pull the baked good out with will be too small. You'd think a baker would have parchment paper, turns out living on donations lends its way of making you only buy the essentials. 

Grease the sides and bottom with some softened butter. I like the additional flavor the butter gives it, but if you wanted to, you could substitute it with a non-stick cooking spray. By now your granola mixture should be cooled enough. Pour it into the prepared pan and even it out with the back of a spoon - clean hands can and will inevitably be used. 

Let the top dry out for ten minutes which should give you enough time to preheat your oven to 325. For a chewy granola bar bake it for only 20 minutes. If you like a crispier bar allow it to cook for 25-30 minutes. 

If you take these out, like I did, at the 20 minute mark, you will see the top is golden brown but if you try to cut into it, the mixture will not hold it's shape. Wait overnight, or until it's cool and you will see that the honey solidifies and it remains tight to the touch. Lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. How you make my life so much easier Pastry Quicker Picker Upper™. This recipe should yield a dozen bars, plenty enough for the family to enjoy a nice picnic together while appreciating the beauty that is our world. 

To be completely honest, if a couple pieces break off you've just made Goji Berry Cashew Clusters. Congratulations you've just discovered what was going to be next weeks post. 

Happy Picnic Earth to you all. I really hope you all give this one a try. Did I mention that it's easy to make. And as always, 


1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups old-fashioned oats, preferably thick-cut
1 1/2 cups cashews

1/2 cup goji berries
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

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