No-Cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

No-cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

Have you spent enough already on snack / granola/ energy / breakfast bars? One – the $$ add up pretty quickly; two – have you turned to the ingredients list? Yes – they may be low in sugar & carbs, high in protein & fiber, and claim to be a good meal replacement. But most of them are chock full of additives & have dozens of ingredients that I would never put in my mouth if I saw it by itself. In my attempt to feed my family food that is tasty, nutritious, natural and most importantly,  can be made ahead, I have been experimenting with a few different recipes.

I found that over the last few months, the alternative to my 4pm sweet tooth / chocolate craving was only satiated by the texture and sweetness of dates and the crunch of a few walnuts or almonds. If that was not enough, I would eat an apple or a banana to tide me through till dinner. Some days, I needed a ‘portable’ breakfast & cereal bars seemed like a good thing to start the day with.

These bars are husband & kid approved, and I generally don’t flinch when my boys go back for a second piece. The recipe below is more of a guide  – feel free to swap out ingredients for what you have on hand and adjust sweetness to your preference.

No-Cook Oats & Dates Breakfast Bars

(Makes 16 – 2X2 inch squares)

  • 2 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc)
  • 2 cups oats ( I used rolled / old-fashioned oats; can probably try Instant / quick cook variety)
  • 1 cup dates
  • 1 cup dry figs (soak in 1/2 cup warm water for about 15 mins and drain well before using)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds (optional)
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon OR cardamom powder
  • few Tbsp honey OR maple syrup OR agave syrup (optional)
  • 1-2 cups applesauce OR finely chopped apple OR banana

1) Heat a wide, heavy bottomed pan on medium-high flame and add the oats. Toast them for about 5-10 mins till they are nutty, stirring constantly and making sure they do not brown. Remove to another wide container to cool.

2) In the same pan, add the nuts in a single layer and toast for a few minutes, again stirring continuously and making sure they do not burn. Toast till they are fragrant and glossy with their own oil. Remove from hot pan to cool completely. Work in batches if necessary.

3) In a large food processor, add the oats, the nuts and the dates & figs separately. Process till coarsely (your preference) chopped, removing to another container as each one is done.

4) Add the cinnamon/cardamom powder and fruit and mix well. – If using applesauce, use only 1/2 – 1 cup to bind mixture, and add on as needed.

5) Alternately, add all the coarsely chopped ingredients and powder back to the food processor and pulse till it all comes together. (This is my preferred method as we don’t like chunks in our bars.) Drizzle in some honey/syrup if needed as everything is getting mixed.

6) Line an 8X8 inch pan with wax paper or foil, making sure it overhangs over the sides.

7) Press the mixture into the pan, and smooth out the top evenly.

8) At this point, the bars are ready to eat. I prefer to let the raw mixture stand overnight in the refrigerator to set and allow the flavors to meld. 

9) When the mixture is set, remove the bars by holding the foil. Slice into 2X2 inch squares and store in an airtight container. They will be fine for a week or more in the fridge.

10) Alternately, once you press the mixture into the pan, cook in a preheated 350* oven for 20 minutes and allow to cool completely. Remove with foil, slice and store in an airtight container.

NOTE: As mentioned above, add or reduce the quantity of the dates, fruits and syrup to suit your tastes. You can also experiment with different types of nuts, although I find that walnuts have the best texture here.

Patterned Jelly Roll

 Patterned Swiss Roll

Love is a game that two can play and both win. ~ Eva Gabor

For Valentine’s Day, I’m sharing the recipe for a Patterned Jelly Roll (or Swiss Roll). I had seen this on the Wilton website a while back, and noticed a few bloggers posting some amazing ideas. Finally got around to giving it a try and I love it. My design incorporates the hearts ubiquitous to Valentine’s Day, but with a slight desi twist 🙂 – I imagined a henna design cake for a mehendi party! The possibilities are endless here – you could personalize the cake with names, logos, themes, characters, wishes, etc. The combinations of colors and flavors are your choice.

Patterned Jelly Roll

For the design:

  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter (softened)
  • 1 large egg white (room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder (for chocolate flavor) OR gel food color of choice

For the cake:

  • 1 (18.25oz) box Duncan Hines golden yellow cake mix OR flavor of choice
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Other:

  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  • Chocolate Frosting OR flavor of choice
  • Piping bag & tip OR  small ziplock bag
  • 2 clean kitchen towels
  • parchment paper
  • 12 1/2 X 17 1/2 inch Jelly Roll pan (similar sizes easily available for a few $)
  • Design printed on (2) 8 1/2 X 11 sheets of paper

1) Find a pattern that you like and print or draw it onto a long 12X17 sheet of paper, or onto 2 horizontally taped letter size (8 1/2 X 11) sheets.

Patterned Swiss Roll

2) Place it on your jelly roll pan and lightly tape down at the edge, making sure that the tape overhangs and is easily reachable with your fingers.

3) Place parchment paper on top of your design, making sure that it comes up the sides of the pan. If the sheet is too large, cut down to size. Gently tape down on one or two sides only if necessary.

Patterned Swiss Roll

4) It helps to make a small diagonal slit at the corners of the parchment paper so that it stays in place more easily.

5) Lightly grease the parchment paper with a thin layer of butter – either ‘paint’ it on using a pastry brush OR rub a stick of butter on the paper to cover evenly. Set pan aside.

6) In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer till fluffy.

7) Add the egg white and beat till well incorporated.

Patterned Swiss Roll

8) Add the flour and cocoa (or food color) and gently mix till no streaks remain.

9) Spoon into the piping bag with tip and secure. (If using ziplock bag – fill, remove air & seal; then snip off a small corner to make a small hole for piping.)

Patterned Swiss Roll

10) Carefully pipe the design on top of the parchment paper by following the pattern underneath.

11) Place the pan in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes for the design to firm up.

12) Meanwhile, heat oven to 325* F [If you bake often, it really helps to have an oven thermometer handy (very inexpensive). Most ovens are not calibrated correctly, and may affect the quality of your food. For example, mine is off by about 30* and I didn’t know for almost 6 years!]

13) In a large bowl, prepare the box cake mix according to directions using the water, eggs & oil.

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14) Remove pan from freezer,and gently slide out the printed paper pattern from under the parchment using the overhanging tape.

15) Gently pour 2 full cups of batter on top of the design and spread evenly all the way to the corners using a dinner knife or offset spatula.

16) Bake in center of oven for 8 minutes.

17) After 8 minutes, turn the jelly roll pan around so the rear is now in the front. This allows even cooking. Cook for another 7-8 minutes.

18) While the cake is cooking, clear the counter and get a cooling rack ready.

19) Remove cake from oven when time is up and place on cooling rack.

20) Roll the cake with the parchment paper loosely and carefully set it seam side down on rack for 2-3 hours to cool completely. Do not disturb or move it.

Patterned Swiss Roll

21) Once completely cool, unroll the cake onto a flat surface and spread frosting or whipped cream & fruit and spread evenly, leaving a half inch clearance at the edges.

22) Re-roll and serve sliced.

NOTE:-  Meanwhile, use the rest of the batter to make cupcakes – I filled mini cupcake liners and used the remaining chocolate batter  to draw little hearts on top. Bake according to instructions on the box.

Patterned Swiss Roll

Kai Idli

Kai Idli

I am sharing a picture of me that was taken in the courtyard of my paternal grandparent’s home in Bangalore, India on the day I turned One . As you can see, I was a ‘healthy’ child 🙂 who grew up in the midst of indulgent grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. My maternal grandmother could whip up an elaborate and delicious meal for guests in what seemed like no time, while also making tiny servings of whatever the children asked for to play house with the neighborhood kids. There was always something to celebrate, and feasts being served. As with any young mother, apparently my mom kept a watchful eye on what was going into my stomach. To this day, my aunt never fails to remind me of how much I used to  love idlis as a little girl, of how my mom would give me 2-3 in a plate, and how I always asked another relative for an extra as soon as my mom left the room.

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Funny thing is that I’ve hardly made idlis over the last few years because in my opinion, it is a pain to soak, blend, ferment, get the measurements & temperature right, steam the batter, and then clean up and put away the dishes!. When I first tasted these at my friend Soumya’s house, it was love at first bite. The flavors of the dill, vegetables, cumin and chillies worked so well. PLUS there was no fermenting! I have made these many times since getting the recipe and they are always a hit. In fact, I always make extra to freeze for another quick meal. [Cool them completely and freeze in double freezer safe bags. To reheat, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and microwave covered till hot.] By the way, Kai means coconut  in Kannada.

 

Kai Idli

Kai Idli

(Makes about 40 idlis – this is a large batch, but can be scaled down as needed)

  • 2.5 cups rice

1) Rinse the rice once or twice in cold running water and soak it for 2 hours in warm water.

2) Meanwhile, chop all these ingredients finely.

  • 1 bunch dill
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 2 big onions
  • 6-8 green beans
  • 2 medium carrots (grate)

3) Blend all the ingredients below into a fine paste using as little water as possible.***

  • 1 full medium coconut – grated (or 3/4 packet frozen grated coconut)
  • 10-12 green chillies
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 Tbsp cumin (jeera) seeds
  • 1.5 Tbsp corriander (dhania) seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 4 tsp left over rice (if available)

4) Blend the soaked rice into a coarse mixture using *****no more than 2.5 – 3 cups water total (including for masala above)*****.

5) Add the rice, masala & vegetables together with salt ( I used about 2 tsp) and mix well. The batter must be slightly thicker than plain idli batter.

6) Grease your idli plates and pour scant 1/4 cups into each indent. Press down lightly to shape.

7) Steam 14-15 minutes covered.

8) Serve with ghee & coconut chutney.

Procrastination……..

So it’s come to a point AGAIN where I’ve wondered where the time has flown. I have been away from the blog for about a whole month now. While the guilt of not posting has been breathing down my neck constantly for the last few weeks, I think I have some idea what writer’s block means. My head has been churning with ideas about all the things I want to share with you all, but the discipline to put it down in words has eluded me. To my credit, I did sit down at the computer couple times to start working on a draft. But first, I wanted an image to refer to my procrastination:

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Or, how about this one: You can change ‘dissertation” to “blog”

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Did you know that Pinterest is such a good source of entertainment information?!?! :))

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While I was online, I found out that Feb 5, 2015 is World Nutella Day! Of course, I had to go through the 700+ recipes to see what might inspire me, right? I’m mean, it’s Nutella!! Look at this picture for No Bake Nutella Cheesecake. You know you want some. nutella_cheesecake_03

Or, how about some Creamy Nutella Liqueur. Sounds delish. I’ll be making some for the next girls night :).

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The cheesecake & liqueur would be so amazing to share while chatting away with my high school classmates – we’ve been spending quite a bit of time over the last few days catching up on WhatsApp and it’s such a welcome sight to wake up to dozens of messages from friends waiting to be read. We’ve been reliving the simple pleasures of growing up in India in the 70s and 80s (there, now you all know what age group I’m in:)). Life has taken us in different directions – personal, professional & geographical – yet, it was easier to feel a connection with them after 20+ years than it is to make ‘new friends’ as we get older.

We also travelled to the west coast over the holidays. While I’d been to LA several times before, it was my first trip to Scottsdale & Sedona, and I loved it!! The landscape is so unbelievably beautiful and unlike anything I had seen around DC.

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Santa Monica Beach & Pier

Though I’m not a beach person in the summer (I’ve been told I’m weird – many times!), I enjoy walking on the sand in spring and fall. The cool ocean breeze, the sound of sea gulls and lighter crowds all make for a relaxing outing.

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Santa Monica Pier

We biked to Santa Monica Pier for the rides, games and watching the sun set.

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Universal Studios, CA

While my kids are too old for Disney, Universal Studios is a great place to go, especially with an 11-year old. I really wanted to do Mummy Returns, but my kids said I was ‘too old’ for it! The best part of the visit was that I was able to climb 200 steps  from the lower to the upper lot. The looks on the faces of the people on the escalator was prizeless. Of course, it’s probably a breeze for many of you but was definitely an achievement for me. The last few weeks at the gym were finally showing some results. 🙂

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Crazy Cayote Tacos – enroute LA to Scottsdale – Featured on Anthony Bourdain

Many of the places we ate at on this trip were hole-in-the-wall / mom-and-pop joints. I mean, there’s only so much chain restaurant meals you can have over 10 days. I will write more about them and provide links for you to use if you are ever in the area. Crazy Cayote Cafe was a family run shack located just outside an Indian Reservation about 2 hours out of LA towards Scottsdale. We had really delicious tacos, spanish rice and a burrito almost the size of my forearm!! All items were under $10 bucks, and the portions were pretty big. Spicy too! But in a good way :))

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McDowell Sonoran Preserve Trail – Scottsdale, AZ

Besides Old Town, Scottsdale, we really enjoyed the scenic hike at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These tall saguaro plants are exclusive to the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona & western Mexico. It is the tallest cactus in all of USA, but grows at an excruciatingly slow pace of about an inch or two every 10 years. While they can grow up to 40-60 feet tall, interestingly, their roots are only a few inches deep long and are spread as wide as the plant is tall. About 1.6 million of these plants are in the Sonoran desert, and are truly a sight to see.

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Earthquake fault line at Broken Arrow Trail, Sedona, AZ

One of the coolest things of the trip to Sedona was taking the Broken Arrow Trail with Pink Jeep Tours. We rode with a professional guide/driver in an open pink Jeep Wrangler, and were taken off road to some spectacularly beautiful view points. The picture above shows an earthquake fault line (different versions state anywhere between 12-30 miles long), and I was amazed at how straight it was, although I’d never expected to see one in my life. It was supposedly so ‘small’ that it didn’t even have a name. Our guide called it “Nobody’s Fault” :)).

We also got a chance to finally go up to the National Christmas Tree by the White House. The 2014 theme was Pathway of Peace. The tree was surrounded by 56 smaller trees representing every US state, territory & Washington, DC. Model trains chugged around at its base, and there was also a giant Menorah on the grounds. We had driven by on several other years, but this was my first visit on foot.

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National Christmas Tree 2014 (time.com)

College acceptance letters came back and my son got into his dream school. Back to feeling “Where did the time go?” It wasn’t that long ago that I was walking him to the kindergarten classroom. ******* sniffle****

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Now that you know why I’ve been away, I hope you can excuse my absence 🙂 and walk along with me as I work my way through my recipe stash and share them with you in 2015. I have a lineup of interesting & international cuisine to share with  you – salads, personalized Valentine’s Day cake, idlis that need no fermenting, easy entertaining recipes, and even low-carb healthy meals that I’ve been making each night for the last few weeks. Hope you all enjoy your weekend and have a fantastic 2015.