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Upon arriving in Chicago, I was met by my friend T in her red convertible (top up, of course).  She welcomed me with a big hug and a bag of her homemade granola bars, guessing that I might be a little hungry from my flight.  She was so right!  I happily munched on these crunchy and slightly chewy bars,  full of almonds, cranberries and coconut flakes , throughout our ride back to her house.  It was hard for me to just eat one bar because these are so good. Luckily, the recipe comes from a cookbook I happen to own so I knew I’d have to make a batch up myself once I got back home.   Since I’m now back in Southern California,  here they are.   This recipe comes from Ina Garten’s Back To Basics cookbook.  I added whole almonds, dried figs, dried prunes, golden raisins and cranberries.  Get as creative as you’d like. Maybe you can even add some mini chocolate chip morsels, or throw in some macadamia nuts or cashews instead of the almonds.  And don’t forget to make a double batch!

Homemade Granola Bars ( adapted from  Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup sliced almonds (I used whole almonds)

1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed (I left this out because I couldn’t find this at the grocery store but I recommend adding it)

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup honey

1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup dried, chopped figs

1/2 cup dried, chopped prunes

1/2 cup golden raisins

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Butter an 8×12 inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut (if using) together on a sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture.  Add the dried fruits and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly brown.  Cool for at least 2-3 hours before cutting into squares.  Serve at room temperature. Enjoy and share some with your lucky friends!