Sadly, or at least annoyingly, I'm allergic to nuts. Tree nuts, specifically. When I last had a scratch test done about five years ago, the allergist said that on a scale from 0-5, with 5 being the most severe, I was a 7 for pistachios and macadamia nuts, a five for several other tree nuts they tested, a 2 for peanuts and almonds, and a zero for coconut, which is not a nut at all but is, evidently, a somewhat common allergen. With respect to the mild allergy to peanuts and almonds, the doctor said that usually he'd tell someone she wasn't allergic with a mere level 2 reaction. Because of my off-the-charts reaction to certain tree nuts, however, he felt I should be careful. So I eat peanut butter rarely and, when there are nurses or doctors in the vicinity, I've been known to try an almond or two. Otherwise I stay clear. I am pretty used to my nut allergy, as it first developed nearly twenty years ago, so it's not really a big deal unless I'm out to dinner with friends and have to ask a lot of questions about the menu, which sometime makes me a little self-conscious. I am certain that I will never die from an allergic reaction, but it is inconvenient and ugly and uncomfortable - once I didn't leave my flat in Birmingham for four days because my fingers and eyes were so swollen - pretty! - so while I generally don't take phrases like "made in a facility that processes tree nuts" and "may contain traces of tree nuts" too seriously, and I've opted against handing out warning post-its to restaurant staff, I do closely read the ingredient label for anything I put in my mouth and I effectively grill every server who is privileged to have me in her section. Moreover, and most relevant to today's post, I am always on the look out for nut-free variations on items that are traditionally made with nuts. Someday, when I'm super ambitious, I intend to try making macarons with a coconut and poppyseed flour mixture in place of the almond meal. (I saw that substitution on the Baking Obsession website, whose creator has a son with a tree nut allergy.) In the meantime, I'll stick to less risky substitutions, like the ones I use in the recipe below, which is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's version featured on the Food Network in 2008.
These truly are delicious. When I took my first bite, my instant reaction was, "could be sweeter," but that's because I'm addicted to sugar and I'd never eaten homemade granola bars before, so I was prepared for something more like a Quaker or Cascadian Farms granola bar, which is pretty much candy. But then I kept having more and more bites, and I didn't want them to be sweeter, so when I make these again (and I will make them again), I may play around with the fruit combinations and try experimenting with spices (and, okay, I might add chocolate chips at some point but only because chocolate chips and dried cherries make a fantastic granola bar combination!), but I wouldn't add more sugar or honey. They are excellent as is, and I can eat them and someday give them to my daughter for breakfast without feeling guilty.
Now you can too, because they are super easy but, since making homemade granola bars is apparently so rare that I'd never eaten a homemade granola bar before and I know a lot of people and eat a lot of food, totally impressive as well!
Here's the recipe. Now go impress someone.
No-Nut Granola Bars
Liberally adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 16 delicious square bars, about 2X2"
1 cup rolled oats or old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8X8" or 9X9" baking dish and line it with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper.
Toss the oats, sunflower seeds, and coconut flakes on a separate non-stick baking sheet and put in oven while it's preheating. Remove when coconut and sunflower seeds have browned a bit. (Check on them often - the time between brown and ashes is short.) Once toasted, toss mixture with flaxseed meal and salt in a large mixing bowl.
In a small sauce pan over low heat, stir butter, honey, and brown sugar until melted and combined. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour liquid over toasted oat mixture and stir a bit. Add the dried fruit and stir until the dry ingredients are all coated with the honey-butter and the mixture is a bit sticky. Now give a spoonful to your husband and relish your good deed for the day.
Pour the mixture into the prepared square baking dish. Press the mixture with your hand so it is tightly packed in and evenly distributed. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for about two hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.
NOTES: (1) These have lasted in a glass, airtight container for four days now and taste good as new. Other food blogs suggest that homemade granola bars freeze well too, but I haven't tried that myself. (2) To veganize, (a) any of the following could be used in place of butter: apricot oil, walnut oil (if no allergy), or a mild-flavored olive oil, or Earth Balance margarine; and (b) use brown rice syrup (probably best) or, alternatively, maple syrup or agave nectar in place of honey. (3) I think using 2 tablespoons of maple syrup in place of the brown sugar might make an equally tasty, but delightfully stickier bar. I might try that next time.