Friday, August 29, 2014

Amazing Turkey Lasagna

I just made the yummiest lasagna!  So I had to share it with you right away so you can make it too! Everyone seems to have their favorite lasagna recipe, but I promise you, this one is truly special.  It is from Ina Garten, and I rarely ever go wrong with her recipes!  First of all, she uses turkey Italian sausage, so you can feel very proud of your healthy dinner and just forget about all of that cheese, okay?  I mean, surely the use of turkey instead of pork sausage outweighs some of that yummy cheese??  Honestly, I think what makes this lasagna so delicious is the addition of some creamy goat cheese in the middle.  Mmmm.  And there is a whole new brilliant way of "cooking" the noodles that is so easy!  Ready to hear more?  Read on!

The sauce for this lasagna incorporates the turkey sausage, instead of using sauce and then layering the sausage on the cheese or something.  Smart, I think.  I think next time I might even use more sausage, just to boost the meaty/protein element of this lasagna.

Are you ready for how to cook the noodles?  It is brilliant and it WORKS, I tell you.  Instead of dumping the noodles into boiling water and trying to get them out at that perfect al-dente texture and then dumping them into a colander to cool without breaking them all to pieces, this recipe has a smart new way.  Find a large bowl.  I used the biggest mixing bowl I have and next time I might just use my big broiling pan so the noodles can lay flat.  You fill that bowl with the hottest TAP water you can.  Then add the noodles to the bowl and let them sit in the water for 20 minutes.  Done.  My noodles had troubles being totally submerged in my large mixing bowl (it just wasn't quite wide enough).  If this happens to you, no worries.  Place something heavy on the top of the noodles to hold them down.  I used a glass jar filled with my pie weights.  After about 10 minutes, I removed the jar and gently flipped the noodles around, so the ones that were on top were now on the bottom of the bowl, and then put the jar back on top.  After 20 minutes, the noodles were still fairly stiff but softened the right amount.  I will NEVER cook lasagna noodles in boiling water again!  Or use the "no bake" ones!  This is easy!

I prepared the lasagna in the morning and just threw it in the oven for dinner!  Easy.  And I have to say that this recipe is pretty forgiving, as at SOME UNKNOWN POINT during the baking of the lasagna, the clever boy stood up at the stove and TURNED OFF the heat.  He is totally fascinated by the oven/stove right now and those knobs are right in his reach when he stands up.  I need to figure out how to prevent this from happening again!  Anyway, when my timer went off, I realized that the lasagna was not only not bubbling, but that the oven didn't seem very hot.  Ugh.  So I turned the oven back on and let it cook for a bit more.  I had no idea how long it needed to go, but it worked!  Phew!  Dinner was delayed a bit but it was still delicious! 

Are you ready for the entire recipe?  Here you go!

Turkey Lasagna
adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled apart
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 400F.  Get out a 9x12x2-inch rectangular baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding the sausage.  Break up the sausage into small chunks, and cook until the sausage is not pink, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 TB parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.  Allow to simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.  The sauce will thicken.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl or pan with the hottest tap water.  Submerge the noodles and let them soak for 20 minutes.  Drain.

Combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup Parmesan, egg, remaining 2 TB parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish, spreading it all over the bottom of the dish and into the corners.  Start to layer the lasagna:  1/2 of the noodles, 1/2 of the mozzerella slices, 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, and 1/3 of the sauce.  Repeat the layering, ending with the sauce.  Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.
Printable Recipe


I am honestly not sure I'll make another lasagna again.  You can definitely adapt this recipe however you want.  You could remove the sausage and use some portobello mushrooms for a vegetarian option.  And add lots of different veggies in the layering if you wanted.  I would probably cook the veggies a little first, as this lasagna only cooks for 30 minutes so you might want to give the veggies a head start.  I would not change the cheese though.  Fresh mozzerella and goat cheese with ricotta and Parmesan?  That is some yummy, creamy, cheesy goodness right there!  This recipe was a huge hit!  Even as leftovers!  My family will definitely be seeing this again!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Another playsuit!

I know, I know.  I promised this playsuit a long long time ago.  What can I say other than time really got away from me this summer?  However, better late than never, I say.  Plus, this pattern can also make a playsuit with LONG pants, so you know the clever boy will be wearing some of those whenever the weather actually gets cooler!  So whether you are looking for a shortie playsuit or a long one, this pattern is what you need.

And I really do mean that literally.  The pattern is from the Children's Corner, and is called the "Johnny".  Appropriate, isn't it?  In fact, if you go to this link, and scroll down to pattern # 260, there it is.  Go ahead and buy it, as this is truly an awesome pattern.  When I searched for playsuit patterns, I'd say that 95% of the blogs I visited used this pattern.  Here is why.... IT IS PERFECT.  It is that simple John-John pattern that I was searching for.  Plus it is lined, which is nice.  No seams to rub against your sweet baby's skin.  The only tricky part is sewing the lining to the leg holes, for which the Children's Corner even created this great video to help you out!  The pattern pieces are easy to cut and the pattern sews together really quickly.  Can I say more things to convince you to purchase this pattern?  I don't get anything from the Children's Corner for suggesting their pattern, I just want to share my great find!

The pattern comes with a pocket you can put on the front, and an applique for a dog or something.  I prefer to make my own applique so I can't say anything about the applique in the pattern.  I find my applique patterns by searching "coloring book" images at Google Images.  I actually found the guitar a while back, when I made this Jiggle Jam dress for the clever girl.   I reduced the size of the guitar and used it again for the clever boy's playsuit.  There was an ulterior motive here... He wore this playsuit to the Jiggle Jam in May! 

The guitar applique was sewn to the main fabric (grey with dots) before the playsuit was sewn together.  The front two pieces were together, but the side seams were not sewn, and the lining was not attached.  This way the stitching from the applique ends up under the lining so it won't scratch the little man's skin.  When I applique, I create a backing from "Steam-a Seam Lite" (which I cannot find in stores anymore, boo!) or Wonder Under, so I can adhere the fabric applique (in this case the guitar) to the base outfit (in this case the playsuit) before sewing.  Then I iron some freezer paper on the WRONG side of the playsuit, to create a nice stiff surface for stitching.  Iron the freezer paper with the shiny side against the fabric, putting a warm iron on the dull side to stick it own.  Then do the applique stitch (a zig-zag in this case).  I painted the black details with a freezer paper template that I ironed over the top of the sewn guitar.  I used black fabric paint.  After it dried, I peeled away the freezer paper behind the applique and admired my work!  If you aren't painting anything on the applique, you can remove the backing freezer paper once the applique is sewn.  Since I was painting, I kept it there for extra protection (though didn't actually need it).  This sounds WAY more complicated than it really is. 

I made only one adaptation to this pattern:  It calls for 2 small buttons on each shoulder, and I used 1 big button on each shoulder. 

Another great thing I learned when making this playsuit, is the beauty of the snap setter!  Oh, heavens, why did I make other playsuits without this amazing tool?  The one I have is made by "Snap Source"  and I purchased it online from Joanns.  It is simple to use, just needs the snaps, a nice hard surface and a hammer.  I actually brought mine outside and used it on the driveway!  You could probably use any hard table in your house, but I had a sleeping boy at the time, so hammering is better done outside than in.  These snaps work great!  They look just like the ones you will see on store-bought clothes, and work the same way.  This tool is WORTH IT!



I  liked this pattern so much that I made one for my friend, who had a baby soon after the clever boy was born.  Wasn't that convenient?  I love a friend who enters the world of pregnancy with me, so we could go through it together!  In fact we went through it together with our first kids as well.  That is what great friends we are!  Or maybe, that is really how nature worked it for us, to be honest!   Regardless, it was great to have a friend along in the pregnancy adventure both times!  My friend likes to sail, so I created this cutie-pie applique for the front.  It was actually hard to give this playsuit away.  It would look precious on my little man, and I SO love the rick-rack water!  Alas, I did gift the playsuit and it quickly became a favorite for my friend! 


A playsuit in action!  Yes, indeed, the clever girl is wearing a matching outfit....  You can read all about that in another post! 

I highly recommend this pattern!  You too can make awesome outfits for you kiddo that look like you purchased them from a fancy boutique!  I envision a Christmas playsuit in the clever boy's future...


Friday, August 22, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Baking Powder Biscuits

My apologies for being so dreadfully late with this post.  I honestly thought I'd be EARLY, but ahhh, best laid plans.  I got my weeks mixed up and thought that our TWD week was the previous week, so I made these biscuits and was all proud of myself and then realized my date error.  No big deal though, now I'd have time to get the post done and up in advance, right?  Well, evidently not!  Where is that free time I sometimes have to create my posts?  It seems to have gotten lost, so if you happen to find my free time, would you please send it back?  It is sorely missed. 

I did try to get sort of scientific about this recipe.  Indeed, it is a very simple recipe, involving only 5 ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt, white shortening, and milk.  But while I was getting out those ingredients, I thought, "why shortening?  Why not butter?"  So when I made my biscuits, I made some with white shortening, and some with butter.

I made a half batch of the butter ones, as really, how many biscuits does one family need?  Oh, and I used frozen butter to ensure I'd have some nice fluffy layers....

When Mr. Clever Mom came home, I asked him to taste one biscuit from each pan and tell me what he thought.  Note that the pans are now switched, sorry, but the shortening ones are on the left and the butter on the right.  He said that he thought that the LEFT biscuits were more BUTTERY, but the RIGHT biscuits have a nicer TEXTURE.  Huh.  Super confusing, considering the fact that the LEFT biscuits are the shortening biscuits!  (I asked him to eat another to verify his analysis.)

Looking at the photos above, you can see that the butter-made biscuits spread a bit, while the shortening ones did not.  Neither batch rose how I thought they should, though.  And I used a brand new container of baking powder...

Since I made these in advance, I decided to give the recipe another shot.  This time I used 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter in the recipe.

Good, but I thought that the texture wasn't as good as either of the first two batches.  On this batch, I did not put them into the pan touching, to see if maybe that had anything to do with them not rising much.  Obviously, that did not make a difference. 

So why didn't they rise as much as they theoretically should have risen?  The photo in the book shows puffy, tall biscuits.  I was SUPER careful to use a very light hand and stop mixing before it was over done, only kneaded the dough the suggested 10 times, etc.  I did mix the dough with my hands, could my body heat have anything to do with it?

I did not twist the biscuit cutter after using, I lifted straight up.  But I didn't flour it each time, so maybe it stuck to the edges a bit, preventing them from rising up.  Or maybe my biscuit cutter is too old, so the edge has gotten dull, so it squishes the edges together when it cuts, again preventing the rising.   Hmmph.  Any thoughts?  I would love a big fluffy biscuit.

But here is another question.  Why do people make baking powder biscuits instead of buttermilk ones?  Could I use buttermilk in this recipe instead of the milk??  That might be worth a try...

The recipe can be found here, or on pages 211-212 of Baking with Julia.

So, I know this post is dreadfully late, but I hope some of my TWD bakers will let me know their thoughts.  I want to perfect the biscuit!



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pistachio Ice Cream

It's here, as I promised.  In case you missed out, I made baklava and pistachio ice cream for a little get together with a couple of my neighbors recently.  Both turned out quite well, I must admit. 

I am really enjoying my DIY ice cream adventure this summer.  Besides being delicious, it is fun to try different things and see what recipes are out there.  The one thing that has been true for all of my homemade ice creams, is that you have to take it out of the freezer a bit before you actually want to scoop it.  Since we do not have a commercial ice cream maker, we don't incorporate as much air into the ice cream, thus it freezes a bit more solid.  If you want ice cream right away, you will need a chisel!  (Not as pretty but still delicious!)

I found this recipe on Epicurious.  It is very straight forward and didn't incorporate green food coloring, as I found in other recipes.  YUCK.  Why do you need to add food coloring?  I did not alter the settings of my camera or do any fancy photoshop technique and as you can see, the ice cream does actually have a natural green color.  No food coloring necessary, to get that not truly natural color of pistachio ice cream you might find at the grocery store.  Not that I am anti-food coloring in general, trust me.  Did you see my rainbow cake?  Yep, lots of food coloring there.  But let's save it for applications that actually NEED food coloring, okay?  

Oh, one thing to note:  The recipe calls for unsalted shelled pistachios.  I actually bought salted pistachios on accident, so I gently rinsed the pistachios in a colander and then spread them out on a sheet pan and put them in a very low oven (around 200F) to dry them out.  It seemed to work.  Still some salt but the ice cream was tasty so it didn't matter!

Anyway, here is the recipe I used for this truly amazing pistachio ice cream:

Pistachio Ice Cream
adapted from Epicurious
makes about 1 quart

Ingredients
1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios (I used salted and tried to get some of the salt off... )
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 large egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, toasted, coarsely chopped

Directions
Put 1 cup pistachios and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor and finely grind.  Heat the milk and pistachio/sugar mixture to a boil in a heavy saucepan.  Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract.

Whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl.  Slowly ladle the hot pistachio/milk mixture into the yolks, while whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the saucepan and gently heat on low until the custard thickens.  When the mixture leaves a trail on the back of a metal spoon when you run your finger down it, it is ready.  Ths takes about 10 minutes of constant stirring.  Do not allow the mixture to boil.  Strain into a large bowl and chill overnight (or at least 2 hours).

Stir in 1 cup of whipping cream.  Process in your ice cream maker according to it's instructions.  When it is at the correct consistency, stir in the 1/2 cup pistachios by hand.  Transfer to an air-tight container and freeze overnight.
Printable Recipe

If you are a pistachio fan, go for this ice cream.  Yum.  There really is nothing like homemade ice cream!
  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lemon Buttermillk Rhubarb Bundt Cake

The town where I grew up has been all over the news lately.  And not for a good reason at all.  I grew up in Ferguson, MO.  Until recently, you might not have ever heard of the place.  It's a northern suburb of St. Louis, sort of near the airport.  And if you still haven't heard of Ferguson, well, that is awesome.  Do no further research and just know that town produced the baker/sewer/knitter/crafter/clever person whose blog you are reading right this minute.  That is all you need to know.  Because the news is just awful.

As an aside, I find that most news in general is just awful.  Something isn't "news" anymore, it seems, unless it is just outrageous in some way, usually in a not so pleasant way.  Why is that?  Why can't super-awesome things be newsworthy?  Or just regularly-occurring good things?  *sigh*  Probably for the same reason that there is all sorts of trash "reality" television out there.  Outrageous sells. 

Anyway, here is the deal:  A young man was shot and killed by a police officer in my home town.  The race of the individuals in question really should not matter.  Someone was killed.  That is horrible.  A human life ended.  His family and friends will grieve him for the rest of their lives.  Another human being shot and killed that young man.  Yes, police officers are trained for this type of thing but regardless, it awful for anyone to live with.  That police officer will carry this with him forever.  And people around the location where this happened saw someone get shot and killed.  To actually see something like that would be horrifying, and not something you would ever forget.  It is a tragedy all of the way around.  The circumstances surrounding the incident do not change the fact that this is an awful tragedy.

But then random people seemed to go crazy.  There was all sorts of rioting/fires/looting/insanity going on.  Why?  What is the purpose of this?  I just don't understand the mentality of why people think this might be an appropriate response to a tragedy.

Here is what I think...  I think those angry rioters need to stay home and eat a piece of cake.  Cake makes you happy!  And while they eat that cake, maybe their brains would get in a better place and they could re-evaluate their decisions!  Don't we all need moments like this?  When we are fed up and wound up and about to blow up?  We need someone to say, "here, sit down and have a piece of cake" so we can decompress a little bit.

And if you are going to do that, you might as well eat this beautiful Lemon Buttermilk Rhubarb Bundt Cake.  I am certain it will put a smile on your face!


I mean, look at it.  First of all, I (of course) used my super-favorite new bundt cake pan, which is so beautiful it always makes me smile!  And do you see the white glaze dripping down the sides?  That's a lemon glaze.  Mmmm-hmmm.  Now, do you see the red dots and spots inside the cake?  That would be the rhubarb.  Rhubarb is a vegetable, so now you can proudly tell your momma that you ate your vegetables today.  She'll be proud.  Now you might think that rhubarb is tart enough already, why would you add lemon to that?  I'll tell you why - because it is delicious, that's why!  This cake is a delightful mixture of sweet and tart at the same time.  It is super moist, and almost custard-y in those places where the pieces of rhubarb are hanging out.  Add this soft texture to the zip of the lemon glaze and it is just blissful.  This cake makes your taste buds sing. 

And how can you go out and do angry things when your taste buds are singing?  You can't!  See?  Problem solved.

Lemon Buttermilk Rhubarb Bundt Cake
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts

Ingredients
Cake:
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (for rhubarb pieces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 3/4 cups sugar
zest of one lemon
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon oil (I used lemon extract)
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 lb rhubarb, trimmed and thinly sliced, making 3 cups

Glaze:
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
juice of 1-2 lemons (to taste)

1 TB softened unsalted butter

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350F and thoroughly butter a 10-cup Bundt pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.  Cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest together in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, until the mixture is light and fluffy.  This will take about 4 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl between each.  Stir in the lemon oil/extract.  Mix in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk.  Start and end with the flour.  This batter will be thick!  Toss the rhubarb slices with 2 TB flour until all pieces are well coated.  This helps prevent them from all falling to the bottom (or top since this is a Bundt pan) of the cake.

Bake for 30 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake for 30 more minutes, until it is golden brown on the edges and the top springs back when gently pressed.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove from the pan and continue cooling on the wire rack.

Glaze:
Whisk the powdered sugar, lemon juice and butter together in a medium bowl.  Place a piece of waxed paper under the cooling rack that holds your Bundt.  Drizzle the glaze over the cake.  
Printable Recipe

Relax and eat some cake.  Place your anger aside for a bit and decompress with some yummy-goodness.  Now, isn't this a much better alternative??

Note:  My parents are fine.  Yes, they still live there, but they are in a different area and are staying away from the drama.  They are really saddened by the situation and the dreadful news reports that are linked to their town.  It is hard for any town to recover from this type of bad news.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Baklava! Opa!

When we moved into our new house a year ago, we had no idea the blessing that we were being given.   You never know what you'll get when it comes to neighbors, and we really lucked out by having two neighbors that are really super.  We have started having dinners together periodically, so we can have the chance to chat more than the wave from the driveway, the "hey, can I borrow X" text, etc.  It's awesome.  We are so lucky!  So when our neighbor decided to have Greek food for our dinner recently, I decided to bring Baklava to share!  I also brought homemade pistachio ice cream, which will be described in another post!

This was my first endeavor into Baklava, and though I had some phyllo-fear going into the experience, it was not that bad at all!  Yes, you have to take some precautions when it comes to phyllo, and you have to be super gentle, but it wasn't so bad!

I found the recipe on allrecies.com, and of the over 1800 reviews, 1600 love it, so I figured that was a good sign.  Crazy, right?  I read SOME of those reviews (a very small percentage, considering) and took a couple of suggestions that were made.

Baklava
adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients:
1 16oz. box phyllo dough, containing 2 packages/rolls of dough
1 pound chopped nuts (I used pistachios)
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange
3/4 cup honey

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325F.  Butter a 9x13 inch pan and set it aside.

Make the sauce:   Boil the water and sugar until the sugar melts.  Add the vanilla, zest and honey, and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool and then set it in the refrigerator while the baklava bakes.

Chop the nuts and toss with cinnamon.  Set this aside.  Melt the butter in a separate bowl and set this aside as well, with a pastry brush nearby.  You are creating an assembly line for when you start! If your box of phyllo dough came did not come with two rolls, unroll the one roll and cut it in half so the sheets will fit in your pan.  Cover the phyllo with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent the dough from drying out as you work.  (The towel keeps it moist, the plastic keeps it from sticking to the towel!) 

Place two sheets of phyllo in the dish, and brush with melted butter.  Repeat this until there are 8 pieces of phyllo in the dish.  Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the nut mixture on top of the butter.  Top with 2 sheets of dough, butter, nuts, and repeat this process until you are about out of nuts.  You want to have 6-8 sheets of dough left for the top, which you will butter between every two sheets, just like the bottom.  Butter the very top sheet of phyllo. 

Using a sharp knife, cut the uncooked baklava into diamond or square shapes, STOPPING about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the pan in each slice.  This helps so the bottom doesn't get as soggy.  Bake for about 50 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy.

Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the COOL sauce over the top.  Let it cool completely, then cut the slices through the rest of the way.  Serve in cupcake wrappers. 

You can freeze leftovers.  Or put it in your refrigerator uncovered (again, to prevent sogginess). 
Printable Recipe

This tasted just like the baklava we get at a local Greek restaurant!  Delish.  Don't fear the phyllo!  It really isn't so bad, especially since you can get it in the boxes with two rolls so you don't even have to cut it! 

My neighbors know I'll always show up with dessert.  It works out for all of us!  I get to try out  new recipes and they get to enjoy a great (hopefully!) dessert.  Win - win! 

Thank goodness for great neighbors.  What would we do without them??


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Finally! Crunchy Granola Bars!

 
This was supposed to be a week that I do a Tuesday's with Dorie post, but I just couldn't make it happen this time.  We've been on vacation and to be honest, the recipe for the group didn't excite me enough to make it happen way in advance so I could post about it on time.  I am interested to see what other bakers thought of the recipe - maybe they'll encourage me to give it a shot!  Who knows?

Instead, I bring you crunchy granola bars.  I have been searching for a crunchy granola bar recipe for approximately forever.  I have tried recipe after recipe, and ended up with either chewy bars or very crumbly bars, not the crunchy bar that I wanted.  Enter, Nigella's Breakfast Bars.  I will admit, I was VERY skeptical about the recipe.  Would it REALLY make crunchy bars?  The reviews all seemed to agree that it would.  However one of the ingredients really threw me - sweetened condensed milk!  When I think of sweetened condensed milk, I think of super sweet, cloyingly sweet, instantaneous cavity-producing sweet.  I was extremely skeptical that the granola bars would actually taste good and not make my teeth hurt, but I decided to give it a try anyway.  And boy am I glad I did! 

I am not sure how it works, but the sweetened condensed milk does NOT make these granola bars horribly sweet.  In fact they are just the right amount of sweet, actually.  It is magical!  And the bars are very easy to make and completely adaptable to your own personal tastes.  I will give you Nigella's recipe and the ingredients that I chose, to give you a jumping off point!

Crunchy Granola Bars
adapted from Nigella Lawson
makes approx. 16 bars

Ingredients
1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup dried cranberries (I used cherries)
1 cup mixed seeds (My pantry was low, I only used sunflower)
1 cup natural unsalted peanuts (I used blanched slivered almonds)

Optional supply:  disposable rubber gloves

Directions
Preheat the oven to 250F.  Spray a 9x13inch baking dish with cooking spray, or, better yet, line the pan with parchment.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a microwavable dish and warm it a bit.  It doesn't need to be very hot, just warmed up a bit.  You could also do this on the stove.

Mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl.  Fold in the warmed sweetened condensed milk with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.  Put on your disposable rubber gloves and press down on the mixture, pushing it out into the corners and making the surface even.  You can also do this with your spatula or wooden spoon.  I would not suggest using your bare hands.  Even if they are dampened, the condensed milk makes this one sticky mixture and you may end up with more on your hands than in the pan!

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  I used a metal 9x13 pan and should have baked for a little less time, so start checking the time at 45 minutes.  You want the bars to be nice and golden on top.  Remove from the oven and let it cool in the pan on a rack.  After 15 minutes, cut into bars, then allow to cool completely.  If you used parchment, you can easily lift the bars out of the pan and onto the rack with the excess parchment on the edges.  Easy cleanup and no sticking! Store in an airtight container.

Just don't think about the sweetened condensed milk.  These granola bars are so easy, and so versatile, I foresee having some version of them in my house in regular rotation.  What a great breakfast or mid-day snack!  What a find.  My search is over!