Cooking sans Kitchen Counters
June 8, 2014 § 2 Comments
This year’s birthday was definitely a little unorthodox. I was moving to a temporary summer apartment, mid-way through a rewarding but very full-time internship, and trying to recover from a rather nasty ankle injury (compliments of a gentleman who doored me as I bicycled, in broad daylight, on a bicycle boulevard in Berkeley).
Two weeks later, the new apartment has begun to feel like home. My life is temporarily ascetic, as most of my things were sent home to be installed in a more permanent spot post-internship. The one section of temporary-packing on which I could not skimp was cookbooks, to no one’s surprise. I couldn’t part with Ottolenghi or Heidi Swanson, nor with Deborah Madison or Nigel Slater. I needed Kim Boyce of course, and David Lebovitz too. The one book I didn’t really need per se I brought for one particular recipe, the one that I flip to once every two weeks, whenever I see my supply of granola bars has dwindled down to a few crumbs. It’s the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, not because only one recipe is worthy of attention (I love many of Deb’s recipes, as this second ode to her work demonstrates), but because I could easily get through the summer relying only upon her blog if it weren’t for the absence of these bars on the site.
I’m talking about Deb’s Almond Date Breakfast Bars of course. They are full of things I love: almonds, oats, dates, and a kiss of orange at the end, and they are perfect for mid-morning office hunger pangs, which are in my case inevitable. They are also just right if you, like me at the current moment, have ZERO counters in your kitchen. That’s right. Somehow, this little kitchen-recluse picked herself a kitchenette for the summer.
I decided to face the situation as a challenge to my culinary and organizational skills, which when surmounted, would mean I could cook anywhere, with anything- just like Tom Hanks after he finally strikes up a fire in Castaway, except with a diet hopefully more interesting than raw coconuts and the occasional shellfish. This recipe needs one cutting board and one bowl, and maybe a cup to mix up your wet ingredients. Most importantly over here, it can be accomplished by balancing said cutting board over two “OFF” burners on your gas stove and using it as a provisional tabletop after cutting up your dates and almonds on it. See how exciting this is for a culinary minimalist!?? Ok maybe that’s just me, but it does leave one with a few less dirty dishes, which is something to hold on to when in counter-less peril, as Samwise Gamgee might say.
Without further ado: the granola bars that kept me fueled through moving and many an 11 am office lull.
Almond Date Breakfast Bars
from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
1 cup chopped and pitted medjool dates
1 1/4 cups rolled oats (I use 1 cup rolled oats with 1/4 cup quinoa flakes for nuttiness)
3 Tbsp barley or whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds (I roast mine whole in the oven and roughly chop them)
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup olive oil (I prefer coconut oil’s toasty flavor and higher smoke point)
1/4 cup honey (I am sadly always out of honey, but maple syrup makes a lovely substitute)
1/4 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1/4 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8x2-inch pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing the paper to go up the opposing sides. Do the same in the opposite direction. This parchment “sling” makes it easy to remove the bars from the pan in one piece.
Stir together the dates, oats, flour, wheat germ, almonds, salt, and cinnamon in the bottom of a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey, orange zest, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture, and stir them together until the dry ingredients are evenly coated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, pressing the mixture firmly onto the bottom, edges, and corners to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
Bake the bars for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are brown around the edges – don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost under baked when you press into the center of the pan, but do not worry – they’ll set once completely cool.
Cool the bars in their pan placed on a cooling rack or in the fridge.
Once they’re cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. If bars seem crumbly, chill them further in the fridge for 30 minutes, which will fully set the “glue,” then cut them cold.