Thursday, September 20, 2007

Homemade Granola Bars

Soft, Chewy and Delicious… For the Hippie in All of Us!
granola bar stack

My love for this high-energy food was initially kindled during my high school years when my appetite was bottomless but my wallet, alas, it was empty. As a lazy, job-less teen with a growing boy’s hunger, I had to get creative with my lunchtime choices and my midday meal would almost always culminate with 5 or 6 delicious chewy granola bars!

Granola bars were also a staple source of nourishment throughout college, and even now, they remain my favorite snack (barring any ten-pound bars of chocolate that cross my path). If I’m in a pinch (traveling, working late, out of propane for the grill), granola bars are even a reasonable dinner replacement item.

My dad introduced me to his version of a granola bar a few years ago and I was immediately hooked. His bars were wholesome, filling, perfectly sweetened and perfectly delicious. Although I used to identify granola bars with shiny containers, uniform sizes and (more often than not) a chocolate coating, after being exposed to the homemade variety, I just can’t eat any other kind.

The next time you take a trip, play a sport or just want a tasty, satisfying snack, try homemade granola bars. They are easy to make, easier to eat, and with all the great ingredients, they have got to be reasonably healthful.

Dad’s Granola Bars

2 cups of quick cooking oats
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup mashed banana (about 1.5-2 large banans)
2 egg whites
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

granola mix

This might actually be the easiest recipe I know. Begin by preheating your oven to 325 degrees. Then combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with a spoon or your hands until everything is evenly distributed and you are left with something that resembles oatmeal cookie batter.

Place the batter into a lightly greased or nonstick sprayed 9-inch square cake pan and pat it down until it fills the pan uniformly and smoothly.
granola patted down

Place the pan into the oven and cook at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes. If it starts to brown around the edges, be sure to take it out.

Allow the granola to cool, remove it from the pan and cut it into squares.
homemade granola bars

This recipe really is so easy and delicious that after you make it once, I am sure that you, much like me, will have found your new favorite snack. Enjoy!
granola bar

Friday, September 7, 2007

Firecracker Shrimp

firecracker shrimp
I’m generally of the opinion that if you cover something in batter and submerge it in boiling oil, it is going to come out better than when it went in. However, this profound logic just doesn’t seem to apply shrimp. Nearly all fried shrimp I have been served have been heavy, greasy and 90% batter. More like shrimp doughnuts… actually, that does sound pretty delicious, but they aren’t!

I think that my disdain is most likely a product of living my entire life in the southwest and as a result, far away from any institution that should have the right to serve what could be quite a delicacy. Unfortunately, growing up, my exposure to seafood was almost exclusively from trips to *shudders* a certain red crustacean chain. It was not until my early twenties (how I miss them) that I would have an opportunity to try fried shrimp as it should be prepared: lightly dredged in flour, coated in panko and fried into a perfect, golden and crispy delight!

These “Firecracker” shrimp are a specialty of Tucson’s Metro Restaurants and are a must-order when visiting any of these establishments. Or you can make the Blackberry Pockets version and enjoy them at your leisure.

This recipe really is excellent and firecracker shrimp are the ultimate hor'dourve! Despite being fried, they aren't that greasy and the shrimp stay firm without getting rubbery.

12 pealed/deveined jumbo (12-16 count) gulf shrimp
1/4 cup flour
2 egges - beaten
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
12 ounces of peanut oil

Begin by butterflying the shrimp by pulling a sharp knife along the back of each shrimp from the top to just past the middle of the tail. Cut deeply but not all the way through, so that when laid out, the shrimp resembles a butterfly.
butterfly shrimp

butterflied shrimp

After prepping your shrimp, gather three cake pans or deep paper plates and add the flour to one, the eggs to another, the panko to the last and set up your work area with shrimp, flour, eggs and panko in an assembly line fashion.

Now pour 1/4 inch of peanut oil into a frying pan and heat on high until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit or you can just sprinkle some panko into the oil and if it fries (but does not burn) within a couple of seconds, it should be ready.

Now coat each shrimp in a light layer of flour (which will allow the eggs to stick), then toss in the eggs (wich will allow the panko to stick), and then, allowing any excess egg to drip off, lightly coat the shrimp in the panko. The key is to make sure that each layer of the batter is coated on as lightly as possible so that each bite is crispy and not doughy. I would recommend that you do this step in batches of four and then move on to the next step of frying and then return and do another batch of four; if the shrimp sit in the batter for too long, they get kind of mushy and do not crisp up as nicely when fried.

When your first batch of shrimp has been completely battered, place them in the oil on their sides and fry for about a minute, flip and the fry for another minute on the other side. If you need to, you can set them up on the butterflied end to crisp up any batter in the middle of the shrimp that may have not gotten cooked.

Place on a cooling rack over a plate and immediately season with salt and cracked pepper. After you have completed all batches, serve them to your sure-to-be-salivating guests or just gobble them up greedily yourself! I think they go fantastic with a little bit of sriracha chili sauce!

firecracker shrimp