Healthy Pumpkin Bars

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I can still remember my first drive up to East Lansing, Michigan. My parents were taking me to Michigan State University for a college tour, and I was a bit apprehensive. All I knew about MSU was that they had a great hospitality business school, and everyone who went there seemed to be a football or basketball fanatic. And since I’ve never been a real sports enthusiast, I wasn’t quite sure if Michigan State could ever feel like home to me. But sure enough, I started my freshman year at Michigan State, and quickly fell in love with the beautiful campus and the camaraderie of the student body and alumni. And a few years later, I fell in love with a boy who loved Michigan State Football. Fast forward 8 years, and believe it or not, one of my favorite weekends of the year is our annual MSU Football tailgate. All of our college friends get together for at least one home game a year, to celebrate our alma mater. And although I still wouldn’t consider myself a football fanatic, I do love putting together a stellar tailgate. Thanks to our “head ring leader,” Arielle, we typically have a pretty impressive set up. Everyone brings a different dish to share, and we end up with everything from bagels, to sliders, to assorted cookies and salty snacks. This year I tried to provide a healthier breakfast option that was still delicious and seasonal. And I knew I could find a delicious and healthy recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, Ambitious Kitchen. This recipe results in decadant tasting pumpkin bars, that are healthy enough for a nutritious breakfast. Plus they feature pumpkin, making it the perfect fall treat.

Ingredients: Makes 16 bars. Recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 8×11 or 9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Make oat flour: Place oatmeal into blender or food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes until oatmeal resembles flour.
  3. Measure out just 2 1/2 cups of the oat flour and place in a medium bowl. Whisk in baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices; set aside.
  4. In a separate large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla extract, oil, and applesauce for 1-2 minutes until the consistency is smooth and creamy. Slowly add in oat flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  5. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. Bake for 25 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Once finished baking, cool 10 minutes on wire rack. Cut into 16 slices.
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Breakfast Cookies

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I’ve never been particularly good with change. I was that delightful child who cried at the beginning and the end of every school year. My poor parents. I have always been someone who has thrived on a set routine, so any major life change typically throws me for a loop. When most of my peers looked forward to high school and college with excited anticipation, I was busy mourning the loss of the  current state of life that I’d just gotten used. And though I looked forward to the new chapters in my life, I still dreaded the changes that those looming graduation days brought. I hated the thought of saying good bye to precious parts of my life that encapsulated the current season of life- be it a hobby, a job, or a friendship, I was always scared of what would happen if that goodbye turned out to be permanent. Even when unhappy phases of life came to a close, I still feared what would happen next. When I left my first full time job, a job that was marked by stress and anxiety, I still left with a slight sense of regret. Because I didn’t know what would happen next. Yet here I am, only a a week away from the biggest life change I’ve ever experienced, and there isn’t a trace of sadness or dread in my temperament. I can’t wait to begin my married life with Eric. I can’t wait to experience the ups and downs and the changing tides of our life together. I’m excited to make plans for the future, but change them as we go. Because we’ll be partners in it all, and that is pretty fantastic.

But luckily, the best parts of my current phase of life, get to come with me in my next chapter as a “Mrs.”One of which is going over to my Mom’s house and spending the afternoon chatting and baking. We made these breakfast cookies last weekend as a nice little break from wedding planning, and I realized that baking with my mom has been something I’ve carried with me through each phase of life. From the time I was a 1st grader standing on a stool to help her make cookies, to the times I came home for weekends in college to cook dinner, time in the kitchen with my mom is ever present. And though I’m excited for changes to come, this is one thing I am so happy will never change.

These “cookies” are so healthy you could easily eat them for breakfast, but they are definitely sweet enough for dessert. They include entirely wholesome ingredients and are incredibly addicting.

Ingredients: Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, Makes 24 cookies

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 fig butter (The original recipe calls for apple butter, but since we couldn’t find any apple butter, we substituted with fig butter found at Trader Joe’s and it was delicious)
  • 1 large banana, mashed
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried raisins

Preparation:

  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until just combined
  2. Place tablespoons of batter onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 for 15 minutes

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Easy No Bake Granola Bars

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Like a lot of people my age, I grew up on Chewy Granola Bars. I remember having those delicious granola bars for after school snacks and post soccer game treats. My favorite by far was always the Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Variety. But although the Chewy bars masquerade as a “healthy snack” the lengthy list of ingredients says otherwise. These classic school time snacks are definitely a healthier alternative than most snack items these days, but they still have quite a bit more sugar and unpronounceable ingredients than I would like to consume regularly. So I was happy to find a healthier alternative that rivals the taste of the childhood favorite. These easy No Bake Granola Bars consist of rolled oats, mashed banana and peanut flour. Peanut flour, often called PB2 , is powdered peanut butter that has far less fat than typical peanut butter. It is available in most grocery stores in the health food aisle, and adds a nice flavor to these bars. The original recipe didn’t contain chocolate chips, but I added a few in because, well… chocolate makes everything better. Enjoy!

Ingredients: Makes 9 bars, Adapted from UndressedSkeleton.Tumblr.com

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 large, very ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 tablespoons powdered peanut butter or PB2
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well incorporated and mixture resembles oatmeal cookie dough. This will take a few minutes, and the mixture starts out very dry, but don’t add any additional liquid
  2. Once mixture resembles dough, add in chocolate chips
  3. Scoop dough by the tablespoon and form into 2 inch bars
  4. Place bars on a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator overnight

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Super Crunchy Granola

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I’ve made homemade granola quite a few times, and while I’ve found some fantastic flavor combinations, I hadn’t yet found a granola recipe that satisfies my need for that extra crunch that you find in the pricey store bought varieties. Until now. This weekend I finally found a recipe that results in tons of extra crunchy granola clusters. This type of granola is perfect sprinkled on top of oatmeal, swirled in some Greek yogurt, or just eaten by the handful. And you can feel free to add whatever mix ins you’d like. Chocolate chips, dried fruit, coconut flakes, you name it. Whatever add-in floats your boat will work in this easy recipe, because the flavor of the granola is incredibly versatile. Subtle enough to add in whatever punch of flavor you would like, but sweet enough on its own. I think the key to crunchy granola might be the “low and slow” cooking method. I threw this batch in a 300 degree oven and let it cook for 45 minutes. My only hope is that I can make it last all week without devouring the whole batch.

Ingredients: Adapted slightly from Espresso and Cream

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup nuts (I used chopped walnuts)

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk first 6 ingredients together (egg white through cinnamon)
  2. Pour oat, flaxseed, sesame seeds and nuts into bowl and stir until mixture is well coated with wet ingredients
  3. Spread mixture on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 for 40- 45 minutes, stirring granola every 10-15 minutes

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