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These homemade Nutty Coconut Granola Bars are a solid portable snack

Something about summer screams snacks.

Between the road-tripping and the beach afternoons and the longer days, you need some portable nourishment. Enter the granola bar.

Granola bars are something I am always leery of in the grocery store, the prepackaged variety usually loaded with unnecessary sugar and oils. I get it. The point of a granola bar is convenience. But if you have about 30 minutes on a weekend, I think you can do better.

My favorite kind of homemade granola bars have the essence of a baked good but are not quite as indulgent, often made with nut butters that add some fat and protein to the mix, nuts and dried fruits.

Let's start with oats. Look for old-fashioned rolled oats, which are whole, unlike some instant oats, which are cut into smaller pieces.

The base for any good homemade granola bar is oats, followed closely by nuts — almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios or some combination. Make sure to toast all of these ingredients, as it will really bring out a deeper flavor that goes a long way to make your bars taste better.

Oil is also a crucial component, and I like to get that from olive oil. Coconut oil would be a great substitute, too.

Your binder comes in the form of nut butters: peanut butter, almond butter, even tahini. This is where the bulk of the flavor comes from, and in no-bake granola bars, nut butters really help to hold everything together.

I opted for a baked bar in the recipe below. Baked bars are a little more sturdy than some of the no-baked varieties. This is a combination of a couple of different recipes, made with all of the things I liked about various bars: toasted nuts, shredded coconut, peanut butter and dates.

The dates, which have a natural sweetness and a distinct texture, get blended into a smooth paste of sorts before being added to the oat mixture here.

These bake into a slightly chewy, slightly sweet granola square that you can cut into the size of your choice. They're a good alternative to store-bought bars and will keep for a week or two in an airtight container, so you can take them on the go when you need them.

They will be slightly crumbly when you cut them, but that's okay: The crumbs are essentially little bits of granola that you can sprinkle atop yogurt, fruit or ice cream.

Nutty Coconut Granola Bars

½ cup raw almonds, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons flaxseeds

2 cups rolled oats

¼ cup olive oil, plus more for the pan

½ cup medjool dates, pitted

½ cup flaked coconut

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

¼ cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the almonds, flaxseeds and oats in a bowl and toss with the oil until thoroughly coated. Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment and spread the oats in an even layer on the parchment. Place in the oven and toast for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the grains are lightly toasted. They should have darkened slightly and should smell toasty.

Meanwhile, process the dates in a food processor until they become a ball.

Remove oat mixture from the oven, return to the bowl and add the coconut, spices and salt. Stir together.

Add dates to bowl. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.

Place the peanut butter, honey and vanilla in a saucepan and melt over low heat. Pour over the oat mixture. Stir until the oat mixture is evenly coated and dates are thoroughly incorporated. Add cranberries or other dried fruit and stir.

Oil a 9- by 13- by 2-inch pan and line with parchment. Oil the parchment. Scrape the granola mixture into the pan and spread in an even layer. Place in the oven for 25 minutes, until just golden. Do not allow to become too brown or the bars will be too hard. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely, then cut into 2-inch squares. Some of the mixture may crumble when you do this, but that's okay. Store in a tin or container.

Makes 8 to 10 bars.

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times