For as long as I can remember, my mother has never, ever followed a recipe. That is not to say that she doesn’t have the recipe out in front of her as she cooks. She does, and her favourites are butter- and chocolate-smeared pages or cards which long-ago faded to yellow. Cookies, bars, and brownies are a favourite dish, and the more little hands involved in the baking, the better. No, the problem isn’t that my mother doesn’t base her cooking on a recipe. The problem is that she sees recipes as some sort of creative guideline to be loosely followed on the way towards making the dish of your choice. Sometimes the results are spectacular, sometimes not, but always–always–the process is full of joy.
As a child, I was always inclined to follow rules. If the rule was “cross at the cross walk, not in the middle of the road,” I would take it one step further and insist that my feet couldn’t be so much as a single centimetre outside the lines painted on the pavement or some giant catastrophe was sure to result. Who am I kidding, I still tend towards rule-following even now. Except when I cook.
My mother taught me well, it seems. Take this, for example:
These are so delicious the kids think they are a dessert. Homemade granola bars, made fresh yesterday, using this wonderful recipe I found at Smitten Kitchen. As the house took on the wonderfully pungent aromas of cinnamon and oatmeal and melting chocolate, I thought “The kids love making these. I should do a blog post about these.” I grabbed the recipe, headed to my computer, and sat there, stupefied, realizing that the granola bars we’ve been making not only don’t exactly follow the original recipe, they are so far from it that it boggles the mind that I get out the recipe at all when I’m making them. Long live creative cookery.
Don’t-Follow-The-Recipe Granola Bars
2 1/2 to 3 cups rolled oats or old-fashioned oatmeal, whatever you have on hand.
If you like nuts, add up to 1 cup nuts of whatever sort catches your fancy
1/4 cup brown sugar if you like things sweet, but you can leave this out quite easily
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ, or if you don’t have any wheat germ, throw 1/4 cup of oatmeal in the blender and pulse until it is sort of powdery and use that instead
2 to 4 Tbsp each of flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. Add more if you feel like it.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups dried fruit, or if you roll like we do, chocolate chips and m&ms.
3/4 cup cream-style honey, or the regular kind, whatever you prefer.
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Optionally, add 2-3 Tbsp melted butter, or just add more honey if you find things aren’t moistened enough.
And, because everything chocolate is better with cinnamon, add a pinch or three of cinnamon. K loves them with about a teaspoon, B with much less than that.
Preheat oven to 350. Mix together all of the dry ingredients, then stir in the honey, vanilla, and butter (if you are using it). Press onto a buttered or oiled pan and bake for 18-20 minutes. The more solidly you press them in, the better they will hold together. They should feel somewhat gooey when you take them out — they will solidify somewhat as they cool. Let them sit for 15 min if you can wait that long, then slice into bars. Eat the first ones warm, but keep a wet cloth on hand for washing up chocolate-covered fingers. They’ll keep in a tin on the counter for a few days, which is about how long it takes us to eat them all. I hear they freeze well, but we’ve never had enough survive long enough.