Tangy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

My neighbor brought over a pint of strawberries the other day that were way on sale at our local grocer, presumably because they had less than a day left in their natural life before going mushy. Since I happened to have picked up a pint of my own from the same grocer that same morning, I decided to use them for a little treat for our two households to share, and I came up with these bars.

Typically, oatmeal bars are made with jams instead of fresh fruit. They are also often very sweet, but I cut about half the sugar that is recommended in other recipes and topped the bars with a drizzle of yogurt glaze. The result is a mildly sweet and tangy oatmeal bar that won the hearts in our homes that night.

2 cups rolled oats
1  c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/4 c. jam (I used a homemade cranberry jam with a very nice tang, but raspberry or strawberry would be fine)
sprinkling of sugar (optional)
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/8 to 1/4 c. powder sugar, to taste
1 t. vanilla

Pre-heat your oven to 375° F. Using the butter wrappers, grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a knife, your fingers, or the pastry blade on a food processor, cut or rub the butter into the oat mixture until a coarse mix is formed that will stick together, but is not over-blended. Press two-thirds of the oat mixture evenly into the bottom of your greased dish and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the sliced strawberries with about a teaspoon of sugar, just to get the juices flowing. Then add the jam and stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Spread the strawberries evenly over the half-baked crust, then sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over the top. Return the dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes more, until the filling is bubbly and the top is browned. While hot, drizzle the yogurt mixture over the top of the bars with a spoon or small piping bag – you may not use it all, so reserve the rest to eat over granola or fresh fruit.  Allow to cool completely before cutting and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Homemade Jam

Since we discussed peanut butter earlier, (and what’s PB without the J?) I think it only fair to include a small piece on the topic of homemade jam. I know, I know…..it’s much easier to pick up a bottle of jam or preserves at the grocery store than it is to make your own. Or is it? Honestly, it’s not so hard. And there’s nothing more divine than biting into a PB&J sandwich with homemade summer strawberry jam! If you are lucky enough to have a farmer’s market near your home during the summer months, pick up some fruit of your choice, and just see how easy it is to make your own jam. Jam lasts for about six monthsin the refrigerator, so once you’ve made it, you will be set for a while. (That is, unless your family consumes copious amounts of jam!)  

**Of course, since we’re now in the thick of dreary winter, and that summer strawberry seems like a distant memory, there is always the option to use frozen fruit instead. Most grocery stores carry a wide variety of different fruit. If you are planning on using frozen fruit, first let it thaw out. You also will not have to cook it as long as you would if you were using fresh fruit.**

My favorite jams to make are strawberry, apricot, and fig. The beauty about making jam is that you really don’t have to measure anything accurately. Before you go to bed, cut up your fruit, put it in a heavy bottomed pan, add a splash or two of whiskey (you can omit this if you like), some sugar, and then cover the lid.

Depending on the sweetness of the fruit, either add more or less sugar to your liking. For example, if I use a pint of strawberries, which is 2 cups, I would add 1-1 ½ cups of sugar. However, if I am making apricot jam, I would add at least 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups apricots. It truly depends on your palate. I don’t like jam that is too sweet because, in my opinion, I lose the flavor of the fruit.

In the morning, you will see that the fruit will have released a majority of its liquid. Place the pan onto a stove burner and turn the heat to high. Keep a close eye on your liquid to make sure it doesn’t boil too long, resulting in a super sticky burned bottom, which is practically impossible to scrub clean. (Obviously I am trying to teach from my own mistakes!) When the jam begins to thicken, turn off the heat. Allow to cool and place in a clean glass jar. Voilá! C’est magnifique! You will now know exactly what ingredients are being consumed by your family. And it feels great to be able to boast to your children that they are consuming PB&J sandwiches with their mother’s homemade jam!