Thanks to the leap year, this February has been longer than usual, and summertime is looking awfully far away. So why not add a little sunshine to the middle of your workday by packing yourself a vibrant and fortifying lunch? Spend a little time in the kitchen on Sunday, and you could have the supplies for a week's worth of mouth-watering lunches. Throw in a bright salad and a home-spun sweet, and you've got this one in the bag.
My friend Sara is a great cook, and she's forever amazing me with her deftness at making something transcendent out of a few simple ingredients. She doesn't tend to favor elaborate, cloying desserts -- more than once she's ended a dinner party with a plate of her homemade "granola bars." They're chewy and rich, a jumble of nuts, cereal, seeds and dried fruit barely held together with almond butter and honey (no baking involved). She's not shy with the salt, which I think really sets these bars apart. Last week, she shared the recipe with me, and now I'm sharing it with you. These are great to have around, as a dessert or a snack. - Merrill
Makes about 30 2-inch bars
1 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw sunflower seeds 1 cup raw sliced almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3 cups brown rice crispies (you can substitute regular rice crispies or puffed rice)
1 cup dried apricots, sliced thinly
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup almond butter
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds. (Sara recommends toasting them all separately because of different burn rates -- I found that the pumpkin seeds took the least amount of time, at 7 minutes, and the sunflower seeds the most, at about 15 minutes.)
2. When all the items are sufficiently toasted, toss them with the brown rice crispies, sliced apricot and cranberries in a large bowl.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the almond butter and honey just to get melty, not cooked. (This is your glue and if it boils or even comes close, it gets hard and yucky.) Stir in the salt and cinnamon, then pour over the oat and nut mixture and stir. You want to get everything incorporated and 'glued' together without crushing the tender crispies.
4. Turn into a 9x13 baking dish lined with parchment and press the mixture evenly and firmly -- again, try not crush the crispies too much. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. Cut into 2-inch squares before serving.
We know what you're thinking: a pita chip is a pita chip, right? Wrong. Machef's recipe is neither fussy nor overwrought, but it stands out for a couple of reasons. First, the chips are spread with both butter and honey before they're baked, making them extra rich and ever-so-slightly sweet. Second (and here we took a cue from the photo), the chips are dusted generously with dried herbs, which takes them from merely aromatic to downright fragrant (even more so after a day or two). Machef's suggestion of pairing these with cheese is one we wholeheartedly endorse -- although they're just as addictive on their own. - Amanda & Merrill
The figs and olives strike a lovely balance of savory and sweet, with the balsamic vinegar adding twang and the rosemary anchoring the spread with its woodsy scent. We made ours in a food processor and loved the fine texture, but chop it all rustic-like if you prefer. Crackers or crostini are a must, but serve it with fresh goat cheese (or parmesan, or blue) for even more party karma. - Amanda & Merrill
A dip that could also serve as a hearty side or a fortifying soup, safenervine's dish is full of happy surprises. We love the technique of skimming the coconut butter from the top of the coconut milk to sauté the onions, garlic and ginger, and the hot spice oil adds a vibrant finish. Don't be alarmed when your "red" lentils melt into a buttery yellow mass -- the cilantro brings a welcome hit of green, as well as an element of freshness. The second time around, we added a spritz of lemon juice to finish the dip and really liked the results. - Amanda & Merrill
This salad is all about tang and fragrance. It's one of those dishes that really wakes up your tongue: the garlic keeps on giving (in the best possible way); the harissa lends both sweetness and heat (you can control the latter by choosing a milder or more spicy harissa); and the perfume of the preserved lemon lingers after each bite. We love the plump little rounds of carrot, which grab onto just the right amount of dressing. And yes, it is even better the next day. - Amanda & Merrill
This is nursery food with a twist, and it truly tastes like Nutella -- only better. We couldn't resist stealing pinches of the vanilla milk-soaked hazelnuts after we strained them from the base, and we highly suggest you do the same. - Amanda & Merrill