Chocolate Pecan Grahams

Chocolate GrahamsOn Mondays, I’ve been trying to bake something that I can use all week as a healthy-ish and filling after school snack, pairing it with cut fruit or vegetables or the like. So, I baked these this last Monday, I even baked a double batch, hoping I would have enough to last through the week. Well, we had enough to last through early-morning munchies on Tuesday. So, the bad news was I had to bake a new after school snack on Tuesday (which actually isn’t bad news to me! I have two new cookbooks I’m trying to bake through: Bouchon Bakery–which will take me a few years–and Payany’s Better Made at Home. So delightful!), and the good news was that we have another winner for after school snacks! I’ve adapted this recipe from one on King Arthur Flour (I’ve reduced the sugar and added pecans. The full sugar amount is delicious, but tastes more like a flat brownie than a cracker. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Just wanting a little less sugar before dinner).

Note: these grahams are quite crumbly out of the oven, but firm up within an hour of cooling. Also, I scored them before they went into the oven, and then again right out of the oven. And thanks to Bouchon, I now want a bicycle for scoring. I think that’s what he calls it. Anyway. Big dreams. Another note: my kids had no idea these grahams had pecans in them (Lucie just reading over my shoulder commented on this!). Now, that’s success.

Chocolate Pecan Grahams

1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c.  whole wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 c. pecans, finely chopped or pulsed in a food processor till finely chopped
1/2 c. (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
3-4 T.  honey (I like more, plus I needed it for moisture)
2 T. cold milk
2 T. granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 325°F. Cut out two sheets of parchment as large as your cookie sheets.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cocoa, sugar, and baking powder. With a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until evenly crumbly. In a separate bowl, combine the honey and milk, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and toss lightly with a fork until the dough comes together. Add additional milk, if necessary.

[Alternately, place the dry ingredients in a food processor, pulse 5 times, add the pecans, pulse 2-3 times. Then, add the butter, and pulse until mixture looks like sand, then add the wet ingredients and pulse until the mixture comes together, adding more milk or honey if needed. ]

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and fold it over gently 10 to 12 times, until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the remaining dough covered.

Transfer one piece of dough to a piece of parchment. Roll it into a rectangle a bit larger than 10 x 14 inches; the dough will be about 1/16-inch thick. Trim the edges and prick the dough evenly with a dough docker or fork. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough and parchment. Place the rolled-out dough pieces, on their parchment, onto baking sheets.

Bake the crackers for 15 minutes, or until you begin to smell chocolate. Remove them from the oven, and immediately cut them into rectangles with a pizza wheel or knife. Transfer them to a rack to cool. Store the cooled crackers tightly wrapped. Yield: thirty-two 3 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch crackers.

Best Granola Bars I’ve Ever Had/Made

Puffed Rice Bars

Well, I’m sure almost anyone who has googled “energy bar recipe” like I did has seen this bar, since it comes from the first hit, but it’s time for me to publish how much I like them! After making them the first time, I went to the store the next morning to buy all the ingredients to make them again, in case my kids finished them off after school. They are so good, I’m a little embarrassed I’ve ever purchased a granola bar. And though I’m sure I’ll buy granola bars again, I will always wish I had taken time to make these instead. Soooo good. So Good. This recipe comes from, but I’ve altered it a bit for our taste.

Sweet Pine Nut and Puffed Rice Bars

  • 1 c. pecans, chopped
  • 1 c. oats
  • ⅓ c. pine nuts
  • ¼ c. flax seeds
  • ⅔ c. light brown sugar
  • ½ c. honey
  • 4 T. unsalted butter
  • ½ t. salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 4 c. puffed brown rice cereal (also could mix in puffed Kamut or Millet)
  • 1/4 c. water
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the pecans, oats, pine nuts, and flax seeds on the sheet and bake about 8 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a saucepan, bring the sugar, honey, butter, water, and salt to a boil over medium heat, making sure that the sugar dissolves before the mixture boils. Simmer until a light brown caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Pour the caramel over the nut and oat mixture. Stir in the brown rice cereal until evenly coated.
  4. Line an 11×17 inch baking pan with parchment paper, extend the paper over the sides of the pan to use as a handle later. Pour the cereal mixture into the baking dish and spread out into an even layer. Cover the pan with a second piece of parchment and press down to compress the bars. Let the mixture stand for about 2 hours until firm.
  5. Discard the top piece of parchment and use the “handles” from the second piece of parchment to gently remove the cereal square from the pan then cut into bars and serve.

GIngerbread Castle

gingerbread castle with henry
When my oldest son had to make a castle for school, he had the brilliant idea of making it out of gingerbread. So, we now have proof that he did get some of my genes! Luckily, someone had pioneered this adventure before, and I found a lovely blogger who really mapped out the whole project for us. And, I found an amazing gingerbread recipe. It reminds me of a gingery graham cracker, and it is chewy and almost tastes like honey. So good.

This whole castle, after taken to school and graded, went down in a matter of minutes by a crowd of six-graders and siblings. It was delightful to watch, and incredibly messy to clean up! This recipe comes from alipyper.blogspot, who also gives a template for the castle, if you have need! But we will make this again soon, just for snacking.

Gingerbread House Recipe
Makes one large gingerbread house or one sheet of gingerbread for snacking!

3/4 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 c. dark molasses
2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. ground ginger
1 t. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Cream butter and sugar. Add slightly beaten egg and dark molasses. Mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Cookie dough should pull away from the edges of the bowl, but should not be too dry (If you are rolling out the dough for cut out gingerbread cookies, add a bit more flour so that the dough is stiffer). Turn out dough onto an ungreased 18″ x 13″ x 1″ cookie sheet [I parchment for precaution] and flatten dough, completely covering the bottom of the pan. Smooth it, then lay out gingerbread house pieces and score the pattern with a sharp paring knife.

Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Gingerbread is done when the top is golden brown. As soon as you remove the cookie sheet from the oven score the pattern pieces again. Allow cookie sheet to cool 15 minutes. Carefully remove the excess gingerbread pieces, then using a metal spatula carefully remove the gingerbread house pieces to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Perfect Vanilla Pudding

Vanilla PuddingSo, I actually prefer vanilla flavors over chocolate, but it seems like chocolate usually dominates, and it is also admittedly tricky to find really great vanilla flavors that don’t rely heavily on processed-typed additives. So, I actually haven’t ever found a vanilla pudding that I loved, even though I have many chocolate or butterscotch recipes that are terrific. Needless to say, I was thrilled to try and love this recipe from a sweet Chronicle cookbook called Puddin’ by Clio Goodman, based on a cafe of sorts (i’m guessing) in NYC. This is a great recipe, and yes, we did put salted caramel sauce on top of it!

Vanilla Pudding

2 1/2 c. whole milk
2 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved
1 c. sugar
6 T. cornstarch
6 egg yolks (for something to do with the whites, try macarons!)
1/4 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, cream, and vanilla bean and seeds until steaming but not boiling. Remove from heat and allow to steep 30 minutes. Chill completely in fridge, 1-2 hours. (I skipped the fridge part, being impatient.)

Add sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and salt to saucepan and whisk vigorously.

Place pot over medium-high heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, 5-6 minutes. (Once you can lift the whisk from the pudding and it leaves a faint shadow, it’s done. Pudding will seem fairly loose, but it will thicken up further as it chills.)

Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing pudding through sieve with a silicone spatula. Whisk in vanilla extract.

Cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding, and chill completely in fridge, 2 hours.

Vanilla Pudding 2

A Yummy Easy Spinach Dip

Spinach Dip

I’ve found myself making this recipe perhaps three times in the last two weeks! I’m just loving having it on hand to dip veggies or crackers or bread (or my finger) in. Super quick, super yummy, and super worth having around. This recipe comes from the Make- Ahead Appetizers book by America’s Test Kitchen.

Herbed Spinach Dip

10 oz frozen chopped spinach (I used about 8 cups fresh, and blanched it first)
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour sream
2 T. chopped shallots
1 T. chopped fresh dill leaves
1/2 c. packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 t. Tabasco
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped (or yellow, which is what I had on hand)

Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until well combined, about 1 minute. Transfer to serving bowl and chill for at least 1 hour. Really, it’s that easy!

White Chocolate + Citrus Cookies

Orange White Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is a yummy variation on the traditional chocolate chip cookie! I loved the citrus in it, and if you bake at high altitude, like I do, the texture of this cookie works well, and the cookie holds its shape (that’s a big plus!). So, here’s a thought for your next batch of cookies. I know I will be using this recipe many times–we just loved them! This recipe comes from Six Sister’s Stuff, but I’ve changed the name (they call it an orange dreamsicle cookie–the connection isn’t right for me, but there you have it:)

White Chocolate + Citrus Cookie

2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. orange zest (for me that was the zest of 2 oranges)
2 c. white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Stir in orange zest and white chocolate chips.
Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Do not flatten cookies; it will make them dry. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Do not overcook! Cookies will be plump. Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Fresh Apricot Smoothie

Fresh Apricot SmoothieA lovely friend of ours gave us a huge box full of fresh apricots. They are in abundance this year in Utah! So, I did many things with them this week: canning with my mother and aunts, slicing and freezing them, and additionally, we have been enjoying them every morning in our morning smoothie. After many trials, his version is our favorite. Our cute six-year-old asked to be in a picture with it, because he loves smoothies, and apricots.  

Fresh Apricot Smoothie

10-12 fresh apricots, pitted and cut in half
1 tray of ice cubes (about 2 c.?)
1 c. plain or vanilla yogurt (you may want to sweeten the plain with 1/4 c. sugar or honey)
3 T. orange juice concentrate
1-1 1/2 c. water
1 t. vanilla
a dash of cinnamon (optional, but a great suggestion from our Aunt!)

Blend together and enjoy! Makes about 6 cups.

Oatmeal Raisin Bars

Oatmeal Raisin SquaresNeed a fast treat that’s sturdy and can be done in less than an hour? I have needed this special something several times in the last few weeks of summer, so this recipe has been a lifesaver. It gets to the oven quite quickly, bakes, and then is easy to take to the lake, camping, for a picnic, or just to have around the house as friends are stopping in. I also love that it’s mostly whole grain and since I don’t think butter is all that bad for people (in moderation, of course), I think this is really a great treat. Hope someone else loves it too! This recipe came from an old Everyday Food magazine.

Oatmeal Raisin Bars

  • 3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 c. packed light-brown sugar (I’ve also substituted for 1/2 c. honey, and it works fine, too)
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon [I use 1 t., ’cause we love cinnamon]
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 1 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides; butter paper. [I just line the baking pan with aluminum foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.]

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, sugars, egg, salt, and cinnamon until smooth. Add flour, oats, and raisins; fold in just until combined.

Spread batter in prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Using paper overhang, lift bars onto a work surface; cut into 16 bars.

Brown Bag Caramel Popcorn

Brown Bag Caramel PopcornI couldn’t believe this recipe would work, but I was in a time crunch, so it was worth a try. Amazingly, it works! And it’s delicious! I first made it for my Lucy to take for a class treat, but I have since made it several times, including for 4th of July firework shows. It takes a little less than half an hour, start to finish, and is really as delicious as other, more time-intensive, versions.  This recipe is adapted from, but I’ve changed it here to reflect many of the great suggestions from the readers, as well as eliminate the margarine. 

Brown Bag Caramel Popcorn

8 quarts popped popcorn
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. light corn syrup (honey can also work)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. baking soda

Spray the inside of a large (grocery-sized) brown bag with cooking spray. Place the popped popcorn into the bag. Set aside.

In a 2 quart casserole dish, or other heat-proof glass dish, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt and vanilla.

Now to the potentially tricky part. The original directions say to heat for 3 minutes in the microwave, then take out and stir until well blended. Return to the microwave, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from microwave, and then stir in the baking soda, but I thought it would burn in my microwave (as other cooks had noted it did in their microwave), so I adapted it to microwaving it first for 90 seconds on high, then stirring it to make sure it’s completely combined, then I microwaved it for another 90 seconds on high, and then added the baking soda. I would recommend going with the lower time amount first, because you can always cook it longer, if needed.

Pour syrup over the popcorn in the bag. Roll down the top once or twice to close the bag, and shake to coat the corn. Place bag into the microwave, and cook for 1 minute and 10 seconds (I only did 1 minute). Remove, shake, flip the bag over, and return it to the microwave. Cook for another 1 minute and 10 seconds (again, I just did 1 minute). Dump the popcorn out onto waxed paper, and let cool until coating is set. Store in an airtight container.

Amy’s Granola Bars

Another great recipe from my friend Amy. I love how quickly these bars come together, and they work perfectly for after-school snacks or lunch sacks or camping (they were all three last week for us!).

Amy’s Granola Bars

 2 1/2 c. rolled or quick oats
1  c. dry roasted peanuts, salted (if using unsalted peanuts, add a bit of salt to the recipe)
1 c. raisins (I substitute sweetened flaked coconut)
1 c. sunflower seeds (I have done this–tastes great–and also sliced almonds–also great)
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 stick butter, melted
Preheat an oven to 325. Line a 15×10 baking sheet (jelly roll pan) with foil and spray (or use a silpat).
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl (oats, peanuts, raisins, seeds, cinnamon, milk, butter). Spread evenly onto the prepared pan and bake for about 45 min., until the edges are a golden brown and look crispy. Remove the baking sheet onto a rack. If you want them cut into bars, use a butter knife to score the bars right out of the oven. Otherwise, wait until they cool, and break into pieces. Enjoy!