Some food, some drink.
Spring Break Cooking for the Kids: Trail Mix and Cereal Breakfast Bars.
It's spring break, and my first grade son is climbing the walls looking for things to do that don't involve the humdrum of the daily school ritual. After flipping to the crafts section in his new issue of Big Backyard, the boy brought a recipe for cereal breakfast bars to my attention from his favorite periodical, and I couldn't say no. These homemade cereal breakfast bars carry the theme of that classic trail mix trinity of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms, and bind it together with the perfectly sweet combination of peanut butter and honey.
These come together so quick and easy that a video seemed appropriate. Be sure to scope my the companion video published with The Hays Daily News to see me throw this recipe together in darn near real time!
In an age where everyone's picking up Kindles and iPads to do their reading, I still think that there's a place for the print magazine, specifically where my kids are concerned (anyone who's wiped peanut butter and jelly fingerprints off their tablet can attest to this). My son has a dead tree subscription to the World Wildlife Federation's Big Backyard Magazine, and it always gets read cover to cover. While my son was flipping thru a recent addition, he found a recipe in the craft section for a peanut butter breakfast bar. As you could probably guess. I was immediately met with queries as when we were gonna make these. Being spring break for my son, coupled with the fact that peanut butter is an outlawed food in his school (I have a very libertarian-esque opinion on that; don't get me started), I couldn't help but wanna whip up a batch for the little guy.
The recipe as wrote was pretty lean on details, but as I've made no-bake granola bars before, modifications and substitutions are a no-brainer. Because the recipe in the magazine doesn't make reference to any specific cereals, fruits, or nuts, I'm taking the opportunity to nail those down. Growing up, just about every snack/trail mix I ever ate was guaranteed to have raisins, peanuts and M&Ms. It's a cheap and solid combination, so I figured why not run with it?
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
In a microwave-safe container, nuke the butter, and peanut butter for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted. Stir in the honey, and fold the hot mess into the cereal. Once integrated, mix in the nuts and raisins, and then press into an 8 inch square baking dish fitted with a parchment sling. Top with the mini M&Ms and press them into the top with a bit of parchment. Take the pan to the freezer for about 15 minutes or until the bars are set. De-pan and cut into desired portions. Store in the fridge until ready to eat.
- I know this recipe came out of a kid's magazine, but for crying out loud, let's have some supervision here. We're talking about a slurry of hot fat and sugar coming out of the microwave; and while I'd gladly let my kids choose ingredients and measure, dad's handling the hot stuff.
- If you make a lot of brownies, then you know how handy it can be to lay down a parchment sling in your pan before you get started. A spritz of cooking spray will keep it in place, and also allow you to de-pan and re-pan as needed.
- A piece of parchment will also help to press the M&Ms into the warm pan o' bars. Or you cold simply mix the candies in if you're not a stickler for presentation (like yours truly).
- Because the majority of the sugar in these comes from honey, this is a bar that doesn't do so well as it warms up. Plan to keep anything that doesn't get eaten in the fridge. If you want something a bit more durable, I bet a 50/50 mix of honey and sugar would get you a little more stability out of the fridge, and I think if I made it again, I'd go thataway.
- At first glance I could tell that there wasn't enough mix-in goodies in this recipe. I upped the proportions from a quarter to a third cup, and if you like 'em crazy full of stuff, then you could probably even go half cups of peanuts and raisins each with little degradation in structural integrity.
- While a pizza wheel will suffice, if you want uniformly cut bars, you're gonna need a big ol' knife. The secret to making straight cuts is to make as few as possible. Case in point: across an 8 inch square pan, my 10 inch chef's knife (much like this one) has blade to spare. Just make sure to pull the bars from the pan before cutting. The sound of a sharp knife clinking across the bottom of a Pyrex baking dish is not a happy sound.
This is a recipe where flexibility rules that day. With vague ingredient listings of "cereal", "dried fruit", and "nuts" in the original recipe, there's a lot of latitude for creativity. As far as taste goes, unique sweetness of the honey always pairs great with peanut butter, and I'm personally a big fan of chocolate and raisins (Chunky bar, anyone?). And while the recipe was probably written with kids in mind, I caught my peanut butter and chocolate-smitten significant other sneaking bars out of the fridge on more than one occasion.
If I had one gripe about these breakfast bars, it'd be how fast the fall apart after they come out of the fridge; but don't let that stop you from trying them. When made ahead of time, they make for a super-quick breakfast when paired with a smoothie, and they'd also work great as an after-school snack.