Apricot and Oatmeal Fruit Bars

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I sent another care package to campus this week. Inside, I carefully tucked some dried fruit, a couple of containers of soup, a bag of granola, and a few homemade Apricot and Oatmeal Fruit Bars.
While I’ve had this recipe for a while, I have never really made this particular bar before. It’s adapted from the original that is printed on the inside of the Solo fruit filling label. When I recently stumbled across the recipe in my kitchen file, I realized that it was a much simpler version as compared to my traditional fruit bar recipe that I make with my homemade Concord Grape Jam.
Talking with my daughter this week, she thanked me for the package and disclosed that she had shared the bars with two of her good friends. I was given a big “thumbs up” as they both thought the bars were delicious. I was thrilled to hear that one of M’s friends requested the recipe and that’s exactly why I am posting it today. I originally started this blog to be used to share cherished recipes with family and friends and this is the perfect way to do just that.

Apricot and Oatmeal Fruit Bars

1 package yellow cake mix
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cups butter or margarine, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 (12 oz) can Solo Cake & Pastry Filling, apricot or your favorite flavor
Topping: 2 tablespoons cinnamon and brown sugar instant oatmeal mix.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13×9″ pan. Combine cake mix, and oats. Add margarine and egg. Mix until moist and crumbly. With damp fingers, evenly press half of the mixture into the baking pan. Carefully top this layer with the apricot filling; spreading over entire surface. Finally, top with remaining oat mixture. Sprinkle with instant oatmeal topping. Bake 22-26 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

Whole Grain Blueberry and Banana Bites

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For the past several weeks, the market has been filled with a great selection of berries at reasonably low prices. The produce section displays an assortment of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. It’s hard for me to walk by the berry aisle without filling my cart with several containers of the tasty little gems. The perfectly packed, sweet treats sit conveniently on the fridge shelf for a grab and go snack. Every morning, just before work, I slip open a container and grab a handful before heading out the door. Occasionally, I have a few berries left over at the end of the week, so I often take inventory to see what fruits I have available to throw into a muffin recipe. This week, I found two sad, overly-ripened bananas and a layer of blueberries left for my Saturday morning baking. This is the recipe I chose to assemble…

Whole Grain Blueberry and Banana Bites

1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 bananas, mashed
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
Instant oatmeal topping, brown sugar and cinnamon flavor (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with paper liners or silicone cups. In a bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt and wheat germ. In a large bowl, beat margarine and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, almond milk and extracts; beat well. Mix in the bananas.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture, mix just until combined. Fold in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle the muffins with a handful of instant oatmeal, any flavor. (Optional)
Bake for 20-25 minutes (12-15 minutes for mini muffins) or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Pineapple Sheet Cake

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I had high hopes for baking one of my husband’s favorite cakes for Valentine’s Day. Pineapple Upside Down Cake is rumored to be at the top of his list. But, as fate would have it, the weather outside today is horrible and we are currently under a blizzard warning. Getting out to the grocery store to pick up maraschino cherries and pineapple rings just wasn’t going to happen today.
So, I searched through the pantry for the can of crushed pineapple that I had purchased last week and remembered my recipe for Pineapple Sheet Cake that would surely act as a close second to the highly favored upside down cake. While this cake is delightfully simple to assemble, over-mixing can make the cake a bit rubbery, so take care to use a spatula to combine all ingredients completely without over doing it. A light, homemade cream cheese frosting usually completes this cake. Today’s bake is topped with a canned version of the original. Once again, the weather conditions would hold me back and I had to settle for ingredients that I had on hand.
I nibbled a sliver of the cake just before plating it, and to my delight, it turned out wonderful. Not too bland, not too sweet…just wonderful. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!

Pineapple Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13×9″ baking pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, mix until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan, spread evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until center springs back to the touch. Cool completely. Frost cake with cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle chopped or ground walnuts over the frosting. Optional: Omit the frosting and lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Plain Jane Blondies

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My daughter called last week and asked if I still had this simple blondie recipe in my kitchen library. It had been so long since I had made them, I had to search through some of my old magazine clippings to find the recipe she was referring to. It’s modeled after the recipe used in the Nancy Drew Movie about the teenage detective in the series of mystery novels that we often read as a child. In the movie, Nancy used these treats as a tool of bribery to gain information and solve her latest mystery. When the Nancy Drew movie came out, my youngest daughter became so enamored with the young mystery sleuth that she asked me to make the popular Nancy Drew shoulder bag with lots of room for gadgets and note taking materials specifically selected for her make believe adventures. She took the bag everywhere. She especially enjoyed showing off all of the clever gadgets tucked neatly inside the mystery solving bag. A couple of years ago, I donated it to Good Will Industries, but now I am wishing that I would have kept it for future generations of mystery sleuths.
The original “Nancy Drew Blondies” were much thicker so I’m assuming her recipe was baked in a 9X9″ pan. In the movie, Nancy entices others when she opens a cute, round, stainless steel tin and inside sits a perfectly shaped, moist and scrumptious looking blondie. Well, my recipe isn’t quite as famous, but we sure enjoy the taste. That’s why I have named my recipe…Plain Jane Blondies.

Plain Jane Blondies

2 /14 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ pan.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugars, egg and vanilla until smooth.
Stir in the flour mixture and the nuts until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Bake 35-45 minutes. Cool completely and cut into bars with a sharp knife.

Hand Made Friendship Hearts

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Years ago, as I was rummaging through the craft section of a local area garage sale, I stumbled upon a box of beads, sequins, golden threads, and patterns. I scooped it up and asked the owner how much was needed for the treasure. To my delight, she said $1.00 would fit the bill. I gathered up a few more crafting trinkets (some sewing and embroidery supplies) along with the box of sequined treasures, paid the kind lady, and I was on my way.
Shortly after arriving home, I took out a heart shaped cookie cutter and traced several small hearts on a light gray felt square. I carefully cut the heart shapes out and stitched on enough sequins and beads to cover the entire surface of one heart shape. On another heart shaped felt piece, I secured a pin back so that eventually, my project would become a pin. I then used a tiny blanket stitch (gray thread or monofilament) to sew the two felt heart shapes, wrong sides together, leaving a small opening to stuff in a bit of batting. After closing up the opening, I would plump up the heart shape by using my fingers to evenly distribute the batting tucked inside. Voila, the pin is complete!
I then used printable business cards to create a message, printed a sheet and punched two holes in each card to secure the pin back. I used small cellophane bags to envelope the pin/card and tied a bow for a sweet finish.
I have given these pins out at weddings, for Valentine’s Day, and for Mother’s Day. They are quick and simple and require very few supplies. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Nutella Granola Bars

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Last weekend, we visited campus to attend the swim team’s final home meet for the season. Before leaving for our trip, I went through my treasured recipes to prepare a few baked favorites for all three children. M’s favorite is a no-brainier… She loves Old Fashioned Baked Oatmeal. I usually make her a 9×13″ pan, cut into squares and packaged in an airtight container. I’m told she usually skips the dorm breakfast and opts for a big bowl of plain yogurt paired with a crumbled square of my baked oatmeal.
P is more of a junk food kinda kid. He loves plain ole’ chocolate chip cookies. I usually make Chocolate Chip Cake Mix Cookies. I’m told he shares them with floor mates and friends so I usually try to make a rather large batch for sharing. Who can resist a batch of freshly baked cookies?
K is a mix between the two when it comes to choosing a favorite baked item. Her care package contained a batch of Nutella Granola bars. For this easy bar, all of the ingredients are combined and pressed into a 13×9″ baking dish. They are then sliced and wrapped individually for freshness and portability. The bars are full of good hearty carbs and are sweetened by combining Nutella with peanut butter and honey. This is a great no-bake recipe that can be prepared in a jiffy. Make sure to individually wrap the bars to keep them fresh and pliable.

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Nutella Granola Bars

3/4 cup lightly salted dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup sunflower kernels
1/2 cup honey or light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 400°. In a jelly roll pan, pour oats, peanuts, wheat germ and sunflower kernels. Mix thoroughly and bake for 8-12 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar and butter. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat; stir in peanut butter and Nutella until blended.
Add the warm honey mixture to the dry, toasted ingredients and toss to coat. Press into a greased 13×9″ pan. Cool. Cut into bars. Wrap individually with plastic wrap. Store in an air-tight container.

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Ginger and Spice Biscotti

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Over the holidays, we spent a few days in downtown Chicago where we visited a charming little store called Teavana. Housed in Water Tower Place, this was our first visit to the store. As we headed into the cozy shop, we were encouraged to taste-test a variety of deliciously fruity tea samples and admired all of the containers of loose leaf tea stacked high on tidy shelves lining the store walls.
Well, after spending over $100.00 in purchases, we headed out the door with several pounds of tea, and a few Teavana trinkets that we convinced ourselves we absolutely needed.
Arriving home, M and I decided to make a batch of Ginger and Spice Biscotti cookies to have on hand during our evening ritual (enjoying a cup of piping hot tea and watching the Hallmark Channel).
…And there’s nothing like a warm cup of tea and a spiced cookie during the cold winter months living in the Midwest.

Ginger and Spice Biscotti

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
3/4 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground oatmeal (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray, with cooking spray, a cookie sheet.
In a large bowl, mix together oil, sugar, eggs, and molasses. In another bowl, combine flour, wheat flour, baking powder, and remaining spices. Mix into the wet ingredients to form a stiff dough.
Divide dough in half, form each piece into a roll about as long as your cookie sheet. Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle with ground oatmeal. (Optional)
Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool 5-10 minutes.
Cut into 1/2″ thick diagonal slices. Place sliced biscotti on cookie sheet, and bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes on each side. Cool, store in airtight container.