M and I chopped off all of our hair today. Or rather, I chopped my hair and he buzzed his off. It is hot here. If it isn’t humid and blazing sunshine, it is pouring rain. And summer camp starts in ten days. Yes, camp, that stretch of July when all our time and energy is funneled into the herds of students gathering to learn choreography, diction, improvisation, film acting, and getting said herds of children to all of these activities at Point A, Point B, Point C…
I love camp. I really do, but it is also all-consuming. What free time I do have is usually spent catching up on sleep. Every year, I have disappeared during camp season. I plan to, as always, do my best to post something. I have weekly pot-lucks that allow me to feed everyone and test out recipes on a crowd, so hopefully I will have enough inspiration to prompt a few posts during the crazy weeks.
In the meantime, it is now crunch-time for lunch prep. If I can get my act together, I would like to make a huge batch of my meatballs that featured in my Swedish Meatball recipe. I plan on adding a little oregano to a big batch, and then cooking them all off in the oven. I’ll make a batch of gravy and a batch of marinara sauce and package it all up into lunch size portions. If I am really productive, I’d like to make a batch of Asian potstickers as well. It has been ages since I made them, but making the filling, then the dough, and wrapping up all of the dumpling parcels is even more time-consuming than the meatballs. We will also stock-up on some individual mac and cheese, miso soup, and asian noodle packs in case of extremely time-crunched mornings that necessitate tossing a package into a lunchbox and heading out the door.
My meal plans will focus on dinners with a quick turn-around time and the option to keep as leftovers for lunch the next day. In past years, I have seriously under-utilized my crockpot, so perhaps I can make up some freezer packs. After M and I successfully made sushi a few weeks ago, I know I can wrap up a few rolls using cooked fish or vegetables–a smoked salmon philly roll or a shrimp salad roll–without too much trouble. M definitely prefers a “hot lunch” or, at least a lunch that feels more like dinner, rather than a sandwich. Usually, it works in our favor, since I will make dinner to feed four people and pack up half for lunch the next day. Throughout the year, I typically aim to cook for three so that I have leftovers, since I bring my lunch every day and eat while working at my desk. M sometimes has the time to come home for lunch, and does go out with the crew occasionally. When summer rolls around, it isn’t that hard to up each portion of ingredients to serve the pair of us twice over.
As mentioned, we have a weekly potluck for staff that is always exciting. I’ve had some fun challenges given the wide variety of dietary needs and inclinations of our staff: gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, dairy-free, depending on the week and on the dish. It certainly keeps me on my toes! We rotate courses, so over the summer, I will bring a main dish, a side dish, and appetizer, and a dessert. These simple, unassuming-but-delicious caramel bars just might make it onto the potluck table, or I might try substituting ingredients to make them vegan and nut-free. The chewy caramel sandwiched between crunchy oatmeal crusts is just too perfect. I have to share it! I’ve already used the same crust to make some rhubarb bars, that will also be appearing shortly.
Do you have any ideas for packed (gluten-free) lunches? I do have access to a microwave, luckily!
(Salted) Caramel-Oat Cookie Bars
Serves: 15-24, depending on cut size | Prep: 20 min. | Cook: 30 min.
For the Base:
- 2 c. rolled oats
- 1/2 c. oat flour
- 1/2 c. brown rice flour
- 1/2 c/ tapioca starch
- 1/4 c. ground flax seed
- 1 c. light brown sugar (not packed)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbsp. butter (1 stick)
- 4 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 1/2 c. chopped nuts, optional
For The Caramel
- 3/4 c. white sugar
- 3/4 c. brown sugar (not packed)
- 1/2 c. honey or maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt*
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 8 Tbsp. salted butter*
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
*If you use unsalted butter, add up to 1/4 tsp. additional sea salt.
Make the Crust Base
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk together oats, flours, starches, flax, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until the thoroughly combined. Melt the butter and oil, then add to the dry mixture. Stir until the liquid in mixed evenly throughout (sometimes it’s easier to mix with your hands). The mixture should be crumbly and clumping. Reserve one heaping cup of the mixture and press the remainder into a 9″ x 13″ pan. Bake the bottom crust for 10 minutes. If adding chopped nuts, mix into reserved crumb topping.
Make the Caramel
Please note: you will need a candy thermometer or an instant-read meat thermometer.
Dice the butter into small cubes. Mix the vanilla and salt with the cream. Add both sugars and honey to a deep pot. (When adding the butter and cream, the mixture will boil up. Please use a pot (like you would for boiling water) rather than a shallow sauce or frying pan.) If using a candy thermometer, clip to pan now and make sure it is not making contact with the bottom of the pan, but that the end is submerged in the sugar-honey mixture. (If using an instant-read thermometer, wait until later!) Cook sugar and honey over medium heat. Whisk constantly. The sugar will begin to melt. If it gets clumpy, turn the heat lower and whisk slower. Continue whisking as sugar liquifies, until mixture begins to boil. Stop whisking. Do not stir the mixture, but allow it to cook over medium heat until it turns copper-brown. Once you stop whisking, this is when you begin to watch the thermometer. If you are using an instant-read, submerge the end into the liquid, but be sure to keep it from touching the bottom of the pan. When the temperature read 245 degrees, remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in butter, one piece at a time. After all butter is melt, whisk in cream mixture. The mixture will bubble with the addition of butter and cream. Continue whisking until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Assemble and bake the bars
Remove the par-baked bottom crust from the oven. Carefully pour warm caramel over the crust. Crumble reserved topping evenly over caramel. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Before completely cooled, cut bars. Cool completely before serving. Store in a tightly-sealed container for up to one week.