Carrot Cake Oat Bars

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

I like to cook (a lot), but I love to bake. It’s true that I have an affinity for carbs in all forms, being able to whip up breads, cookies, and such is not the only reason I prefer baking. My perfectionist leanings thrive within the confines of a recipe. Where cooking is Picasso, baking is paint-by-numbers.

I like paint-by-numbers. Which is why I rarely deviate from a recipe. But some recipes just cry out to be adapted and made multiple different ways. I felt that way with homemade Clif Bars. Even though I only posted the Cinnamon Golden Raisin variety, I never made them the same way twice. There was a Chocolate Chip Coconut and a Trail Mix version, too.

These Oat Bars are the same way. I found the recipe on Pinterest, made it as per the recipe once, and then kept thinking of different flavor ideas.

The bones of these oat bars are a nutrient rich combination of rolled oats, whole wheat flour, and milk (of any sort). The need for butter in the original is eliminated by using unsweetened applesauce. They are sweetened with honey, making them perfect for No Sugar September and why I even found the recipe in the first place.

Carrot Cake Oat BarsSo, the Carrot Cake version? I had a ton of leftover carrot puree from stockpiling James’ baby food and wondered if it would be an acceptable substitute for the unsweetened applesauce in the oat bars. The idea snowballed from there…

Carrot PureeSidenote: Carrot puree is super easy to make (peel, chop, and boil two large carrots and then blend in a food processor), but I’d imagine canned pumpkin would be a great substitute in this recipe.

My mind immediately went to carrot cake (because I’ve been sugar deprived, perhaps?) and I played off the flavors and mix-ins that are traditionally found in carrot cake – cinnamon, nuts, and raisins. Now that I think of it, crushed pineapple would be a tasty addition, too, but that’s getting into Hummingbird territory and we can’t mix cakes now can we.

Walnut Grinder

Oat Mixture

Carrot Mixture

The end result of all this carrot oatiness is a dense, filling bar that is perfect to pack in a lunch, tuck in a carry on, or nibble on throughout the day. I’ve enjoyed mine with a slice of cheese or scoop of apple butter and a glass of milk. Tim takes them to work for an afternoon snack. They’d be amazing for a newly nursing mom who is in that eat everything, always hungry stage.

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

If you were wanting to make these a little desserty and still keep them refined sugar free, blend cream cheese and maple syrup together to spread on top and cut into squares.

And because I kept thinking of ways to adapt the original, I’ve got a Chocolate Peanut Butter version coming atcha soon. In the meantime, enjoy some Carrot Cake!

Carrot Cake Oat Bars

Carrot Cake Oat Bars
Author: Emily C. Gardner
Cook time: 35 mins
Total time: 35 mins
Serves: 8 bars
A nutrient rich, filling snack bar with no refined sugar. Enjoy them plain, with apple butter, cheese, or a little cream cheese/maple syrup frosting.
Ingredients
  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (any variety)
  • 1/2 cup carrot puree
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together oats, WW flour, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and raisins. (Be sure to separate the raisins to avoid gross raisin clumps in your bars.)
  4. In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk milk, carrot puree, honey, egg, and vanilla until the honey is melted and all the ingredients are combined. It will be a lovely shade of peach!
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.
  6. Put batter in prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool and cut into bars.
Notes
Any variety of milk or milk substitute will work. [br]I use an old fashioned nut grinder to get an even fine chop on my walnuts. [br]Pecans or almonds would be nice, too. [br]If you don’t have allspice, use 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.[br]You could totally use currants or golden raisins instead of raisins.

 

Crockpot Apple Butter

Slowcooker Apple Butter

Simple.

4 ingredients.

Crockpot.

Have I convinced you yet?

Homemade apple butter always seemed complicated until my mom discovered this crockpot method.

 

Crockpot Apple Butter

Peel and chop enough apples to fill your crockpot.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Add vanilla extract and brown sugar (or maple syrup for no-sugar peeps) and let it cook some more. The result is a thick apple spread with intense flavor.

Now, I have no excuse not to have copious amounts of this versatile condiment in my refrigerator. Now, please excuse me while I dip my finger in the jar…

Crock Pot Apple Butter

Crockpot Apple Butter
Author: Emily C. Gardner
Four simple ingredients transform into an intensely flavorful condiment you’ll want to have all year around. Use maple syrup or honey for a spread with no refined sugar.
Ingredients
  • 10-15 apples (Amount depends on the size of your crockpot. Use a variety. I like a mix of Golden Delicious, Fuji, and Braeburn.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup or 1/2 cup brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Peel and core apples.
  2. Chop each apple into 8 pieces.
  3. Fill your crockpot to the brim with apple pieces. My 6-quart crockpot holds 12ish medium apples.
  4. Turn crockpot on low and cook for 8 hours. I let mine cook overnight.
  5. When you wake up, give the apples (now brown) a stir. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Mix to combine.
  6. Let the apple mixture cook, uncovered, in the crockpot until it has reduced to your desired thickness. Mine usually takes a couple more hours.
  7. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or can it for later consumption.

Sugar Crusted Pecans

There’s really too much to say about how good these Sugar Crusted Pecans taste.

A low, slow bake in the oven makes the nuts toasty underneath their sweet, sugary coating.  Using egg white to bind the pecans and sugar together creates the crispy texture I find so addicting.

If there are any pecans that survive my constant grazing, I use them to top salads or oatmeal.

Aside from the pecans, the ingredients are kitchen staples.  Plus, a simple “Rule of One” makes the recipe easy to remember: all the ingredients have an amount of one – 1 pound, 1 cup, 1 tablespoon, etc.

Sugar-Crusted Pecans

  • 1 lb pecan halves
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk egg white and water until it becomes frothy.

Add pecans and stir until all nuts are moistened with the egg white mixture.

Sprinkle sugar and salt over nuts and stir to coat.

Pour nuts onto prepared jelly roll pan, spreading them into an even layer.

Bake for 45 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning.

Cool in pan.  Store in an airtight container. (I usually keep mine in the freezer)

Christmas-Eve Salad

ATTENTION: 90 days until Christmas!

Three months from today is THE day.  I am almost tempted to wear my Charlie Brown Christmas tree t-shirt or the one that has a Rudolph nose that actually glows red.  Needless to say, Christmas and I have a tight relationship. I listen to Christmas music the minute it becomes socially acceptable (no, tolerated…) and look forward to Christmas craft magazines hitting the shelves.

In order to celebrate the nearness of Christmas without overwhelming people with yuletide cheer, I am expressing my enthusiasm via today’s salad recipe.

The original recipe came from Southern Living, but it’s been long enough since my family first tried it that I don’t remember whether Christmas-Eve Salad was the original name or became the name after we ate it on said date.

My mom has tweaked it over the years and now it’s a go-to in our salad repertoire.  In fact, it was the first meal I made for The Hubs in our new place!  The colors are festive and there’s enough protein from bacon and cheese to make it a light entree.

A note on the cheese choice: string cheese may seem like an odd option, but it creates the perfect size pieces of mozzarella with little hassle.  Plus, the discs add visual contrast to the otherwise diced ingredients.

Christmas Eve Salad

adapted from Southern Living // serves 4

Salty bacon, creamy avocado, and toasty walnuts are what set this spinach based salad apart.  Not only do the colors reflect the festive season, the ingredients truly create a holiday in your mouth.

Give this salad an even lighter touch with a few simple substitutions.  Use light string cheese and fat free Catalina (Kraft makes a great one!)

The ingredient amounts listed below reflect my preference for salads with a pretty even greens to mix-ins ratio.  Feel free to play around to get it perfect for your salad palette.

1 (12 oz) bag baby spinach, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 avocado, diced

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

4 sticks string cheese, sliced 

1 cup walnuts

8 strips bacon

Catalina salad dressing  

Cut bacon strips into 1/4 inch wide pieces.  Fry until crispy.  Let excess grease drain off on paper towels.

Toast walnuts in a skillet over medium heat.  Stir occasionally.  Remove from heat when they become fragrant and lightly browned. Let cool while you prep other ingredients.

Chop spinach.  Dice red pepper and peeled avocado.  Cut tomatoes in half, discarding seeds if desired. Unwrap string cheese.  Slice horizontally to create thin discs.  Chop cooled walnuts.

Place spinach, red pepper, avocado, tomatoes, string cheese, walnuts, and bacon in a serving bowl.  Toss with Catalina dressing.

Banana Cream Smoothie

Living right across the street from a state-of-the-art gym has increased my workout regularity, so, I’ve been on the lookout for good “recovery” foods.  Normally my recovery habits include chocolate and bread.  My much more workout savvy husband finally convinced me those weren’t the best foods to replenish the nutrients I loose running and such. Foiled.  He suggested an electrolyte drink like Accelerade (gag!) and/or starchy fruit.

Since I despise Accelerade, I compromised and settled on a meal replacement shake mix.  I’m cheap, thus, given the option between Slim Fast and generic, I went with generic.  Not a bad choice if I do say so myself.  The French Vanilla (Kroger) variety tastes exactly like cake batter!  I had been mixing it with almond milk, which was quite satisfying, but had a banana lying around and decided I might get “recovery” brownie points if I included a fruit in my shake.  Plus, I just purchased a food processor and wanted to give it a whirl…

I’m not normally a pureed banana fan.  In fact, it’s only been in the last few years that I would classify myself as a banana fan at all.  Something about a malleable, potentially mushy, substance was always off-putting to me.  (What’s with me and my weird food texture aversions? Refer to carrot confession…)  With the help of copious amounts of peanut butter, I began to build a tolerance, then a liking, for the ubiquitous yellow fruit.

My jogging scenery: sun setting behind the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail.

After my 4+ mile jog along the Centennial  Trail yesterday evening, I broke out the Cuisinart and downed the results.  Three ingredients and a minute of prep yielded a frothy, stick to the side of the cup concoction that I would be happy to recover with anytime.  It tastes like a banana cream pie in smoothie form.  All for 250 calories.  Score!

Banana Cream Smoothie

1 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk (I used Almond Breeze)

1 medium (6″-7″) banana

1 scoop vanilla shake mix (French Vanilla Kroger brand or Slim Fast)

Peel banana and place in blender or food processor.  Add almond milk and shake mix.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into glass (chilled would be lovely) and enjoy!

Yield: 1 smoothie, 250 calories

Adding a tablespoon of peanut butter to this smoothie would be utterly delicious.  Regular peanut butter would make the smoothie 345 calories, Better N’ Peanut Butter would make it 300.