Wednesday, July 21, 2010

in case of emergency - recipe: "emergency” granola bars

I recently read a blogger’s list of summertime favourites — it included the likes of bare shoulders, sleeping without covers, and tomato & mayo sandwiches.

Of the many items on that list, a good road trip was nowhere to be found. A road trip is definitely on my summertime list. Who doesn’t love a quick afternoon car adventure or a lengthy drive to a much-anticipated vacation spot?

Last weekend, David, John and I were invited to a friend’s cottage in the Huntsville area. It’s safe to say that David and I were both a little nervous about how John would take to being car-bound for three-plus hours on highways 401, 400 and 11.

We played it safe and packed a few new toys and lots of yummy treats in case of an emergency — the emergency being rather loud verbal protesting by John, in case you’re wondering.

I’m both pleased and proud to announce that little John did very well in the car, although that didn’t stop us from devouring the yummy “emergency” treats like these granola bars anyway. As it turned out, David was more in need of pacifying than John...

Because granola bars are inexpensive and easy to make, as well as easy to eat on the run, they make for perfect road food. This recipe was adapted from the Whitewater Cooks granola bar recipe. I added cocoa powder, various seeds and dried fruit for richness and texture.

'emergency' granola bars


  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup coconut, toasted
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup dried fruit — cranberries, blueberries, for example
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 3 and 1/2 cups oats


  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 13” by 18” rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large frying pan, toast the coconut, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds over medium heat until coconut is light golden and seeds are glistening. Set aside to cool.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Next, add the peanut butter, vanilla and cocoa powder until whipped and well combined. Next, add in the maple syrup and corn syrup until combined.
  • On medium low speed, add in the coconut seed mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure that everything is well-mixed.
  • On low speed, add in the oats, dried fruit and chocolate chips.
  • Pour the granola mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and pack down the granola until it is spread evenly across the pan.
  • For crunchy granola bars, bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown; rotating the pan every 10 minutes or so. Let cool slightly and cut into 30 squares while still warm.
  • For chewy granola bars, bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden, rotating the pan once after 10 minutes. Let cool slightly and cut into 30 squares while still warm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

variety of veggies means saying goodbye to ho-hum salads - recipe: caprese salad skewers

Arugula, mache or dandelion greens? Hallumi, chevre or gorgonzola? Meyer lemon dressing, Asian sesame drizzle or Ponzu vinaigrette? Don’t forget the accompaniments such as crispy wonton strips, candied nuts and apple chips. Due to the plethora of grocery store items from which to choose, gone are the days of ho-hum salads.

While salad ingredients and their combinations are more creative than ever, the presentation of salads hasn’t changed all that much. As a food shop and catering business owner, one of my favourite tasks is coming up with creative ways to present standard fare such as salads.

Here are five ideas for one-or two-bite salads that are consistently received with what I like to call the “wow factor”.

fresh salad rolls

Rice paper wraps (pre-soaked in water) filled with Asian ingredients like shrimp, fresh herbs, shredded vegetables, mango and hoisin sauce. For a twist, try something different like Japanese caesar salad rolls (romaine, edamame, crispy bacon, wasabi caesar dressing) or pad thai summer rollas.

mini parmesan cup salads

Make tiny parmesan cups using mini-muffin tins. Stuff cups with chopped mixed greens and roasted grape tomatoes; drizzle with reduced balsamic to finish.

mini cucumber

cup salads Cut a cucumber into one inch slices and use a melon-baller to scoop out the centre of each slice, leaving a shell of flesh. For a one-bite Greek salad, fill cups with chopped tomatoes, olives, fresh oregano, red onion and feta cheese. For something less conventional, how about sesame Asian chicken or shrimp salad?

mini filled cherry tomato salads

Using a bread knife, cut a thin slice off the bottoms of cherry tomatoes so that they will sit flat. Then cut a thin slice from tops of the cherry tomatoes. Using a melon-baller, carefully scoop out the centres, leaving ‘shells’ of tomato flesh.

For mini BLT’s, stuff the tomatoes with bacon, lettuce and lemon-pepper mayo. For a Mexican twist, fill them with guacamole and top with a few black beans and a sprig of cilantro.


I’ve found that almost any salad can be re-invented using a skewer. Skewers make for a fun presentation and are perfect for buffets or casual “fork only” dinners where guests sit on a chair or sofa instead of at the dining room table. In a nutshell, you skewer the various salad items.

I always use a mini four inch skewer. Guests dip the skewers into dressing.

For a Cobb salad, thread a skewer with a piece of bibb lettuce, a piece of avocado, a grape tomato, a piece of bacon (or a cube of ham) and a piece of hard-boiled egg (or a halved quail’s egg). Serve with a blue cheese dipping sauce.

For a pasta primavera salad, thread a four inch skewer with a small (cooked) cheese tortellini, cubes of roasted grilled vegetables (i. e. pepper, eggplant, zucchini) and finish with a second cheese tortellini. Dip in marinara sauce or red pepper pesto.

Caesar, Greek and Caprese salad skewers work well too.

caprese salad skewers

makes about two dozen

ingredients for skewers

  • 48 grape tomatoes
  • 48 mini bocconcini mozzarella balls
  • 1 cup homemade or store bought pesto

ingredients for reduced balsamic dressing

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light soya sauce

method for skewers

  • Marinate bocconcini in pesto for an hour or up to two days in fridge.
  • Thread a four inch skewer with a grape tomato, a bocconcini ball and repeat.
  • Dip skewers into reduced balsamic dressing, or drizzle skewers with balsamic dressing before serving.

method for dressing

Place all ingredients in a pot and boil on high heat until thickened, about six to nine minutes.

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