Pretzel Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars.

That title is a mouthful

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of delicious.

Sometimes, I expect myself to give lengthy, eloquent blog posts. Here’s a story, let’s have a laugh or poignant moment, now let me tie it into a baked good and tell you why you should bake and then consume it.

By “sometimes”, I mean “usually.” And by “usually,” I mean “always.”

I’ve never been very succinct.

I’m giving myself a break, a mental break. I know that if you’ve stumbled down the page this far, you’ll probably like the recipe. These bars are dense, thick, satisfying, comforting. Let them be a rainy-day treat, enjoyed with a cup of tea by an open window, or a sweet square to slow down your crazy mornings.

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Pretzel Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars
Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction
Makes an 8×8 pan

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup mini pretzels

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the brown sugar and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla.
  3. Mix in flour, oats, salt, and baking soda. As the dough begins to come together, slowly add the milk and mix until the dough forms.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Press into the prepared baking dish. Arrange the pretzels on top of the dough, pressing in lightly. Bake for about 17-20 minutes, until edges are brown. Cool completely and cut into squares. Devour.

Apple Strawberry Nut Baked Oatmeal.

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My mom’s birthday was last weekend, so I promised to make her some sort of breakfast. Unfortunately, we left early that morning for the Windy City, and that didn’t allow for time to actually make anything decent beyond “here, I poured you a birthday bowl of cereal!”. Thus it was decided we’d have a nice breakfast/brunch on the 4th of July when we’d all be home and not rushing about.

Baked oatmeal seems to be quite the thing nowadays, something I’ve never gotten around to making since all the members of my family are never in the house at breakfast time. Plus, I’m usually so impatient in the mornings to eat, any attempt at making something taking more than 10 minutes might send me into a grumpy-morning rage.

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Anyways. Baked oatmeal is incredibly easy, especially if you’re using pre-cut/dried fruit, and incredibly versatile. And incredibly delicious. Still discernibly oatmeal, yes, but definitely different from instant or stove-top. It’s almost like a breakfast cake (real cake for breakfast is better, of course, but not every morning. A sugar crash during the middle of the work day would not be very profitable) – a little crunchy on the top, soft and warm in the middle.

Before this, I had no idea how you actually made baked oatmeal – clearly, putting something in the oven was involved, but beyond that, je ne savais pas. Upon finding a recipe, I really liked layering some fruit at the bottom, covering it with oats, and pouring the milk on top. I’m such a child – drizzling the milk was my favorite part.

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Can you blame me?

Another funny thing: I had no idea what cutting apples “crosswise” meant, so I just sliced them up like that. Unfortunately, crosswise is a lot prettier than slicing.

This is a great dish for breakfast or brunch, and as previously mentioned, super versatile. If you don’t have (or want) strawberries, replace them with other fresh or frozen berries, bananas, other fruits, dried fruits. Any nut works well, too – I’m just partial to whole almonds, and walnuts are my mom’s favorite. Do yourself a favor and toast the nuts!

Wonderful warm from the oven and topped with more milk or yogurt.

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I accidentally asked my mom if she wanted ice cream on hers.

(I meant yogurt, I swear.)

Apple Strawberry Nut Baked Oatmeal (printable recipe here!)
slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2013/01/03/apple-cinnamon-raisin-walnut-baked-oatmeal/)

[NOTE: to toast nuts, spread them evenly on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring at least twice, until nuts are brown and fragrant.]

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted (chopped, slivered, or whole)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large Gala apple, cored and cut crosswise
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced and divided

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 baking dish and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together oats, ¼ cup of the walnuts, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together milk, maple syrup, egg, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and vanilla extract.
  4. Arrange sliced apples in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle 1 cup of the strawberries over the apples. Pour the oat mixture on top of the fruit, spreading with a spoon to ensure the fruit is evenly covered.
  5. Drizzle milk mixture over the top of the oats. Sprinkle remaining walnuts, almonds, and strawberries on top.
  6. Bake for 37 to 45 minutes, until top is golden brown and oatmeal is set. Remove from oven and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon (or more, if desired) of melted butter on top. Devour. (Can be reheated and devoured another day! Or for lunch.)

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Crispy Oatmeal Pecan Butterscotch Chip Cookies.

[Alternately, Crispy Oatmeal Pecan Triple Chip Cookies.

Or Half-Burned Oatmeal Pecan Triple Chip Cookies.]

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Do you ever have those times when you think you’re doing something very, very well, which makes you proud of yourself and suddenly you feel invincible…only to find out later that you weren’t as great as you thought you were?

…that’s what happened with the photographs I took of these cookies. Oh, and the fact that I burned half of them. Oh, and the fact that most of them hopelessly stuck to the bottom of the pans.

Sigh.

It could be worse. It could’ve been a thesis or a big project at work. I could’ve broken one of my great-great-great-grandmother’s vases. I could’ve accidentally bought a plethora of items I thought were on sale but weren’t. I mean, that still doesn’t erase the let-down, but I do feel a little better about myself.

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Thankfully, the recipient of these semi-disastrous cookies was none other than my father, the man who has never once refused a baked good from me. With a smile on his face and suddenly a possessor of infinite patience, he would eat anything I made for him without a complaint or critique – whether it was an ice cream “sundae” doused in sprinkles, stale cookies, and weird, edible, red gel, or a burnt, soggy pie. I know I’ve disappointed him in many ways, but my cooking has never been one of them.

Butterscotch cookies, or oatmeal scotchies, are one of his favorite foods. Not just any oatmeal scotchies, though – crisp, crunchy ones. In all my nineteen years of living, I’ve heard hundreds of variations on a phrase he always says: “Cookies are meant to be crunchy, cake is supposed to be soft.” Soft cookies bought from the store are always met with an eye-rolling; cookies in the windows of bakeries are always ignored for their lack of crispy edges.

With Father’s Day weekend here and a small amount of butterscotch chips remaining in the cupboard, I decided to make these for the man who would eat anything I presented him from the heart.

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Since I didn’t have enough butterscotch chips left, I added in some white and semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with a few pecans for extra flavor. More granulated sugar and less brown sugar is one of the secrets of making these crispy.

My final product wasn’t perfect. No, they’re nowhere near perfect, considering a fourth of them have (nearly) black bottoms and another fourth are crumbs. But you know what? It doesn’t really matter that much, because my dad had two of them before the second batch was even out of the oven. Then he told me, with excitement in his eyes, they were fantastic and had another one. With praise like that, who needs perfection?

Whether your dad likes soft or crunchy cookies, brownies or blondies, cake or pie, do something special for him. Appreciate him. Go out of your way to love him.

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Even if things fall apart a little.

Crispy Oatmeal Pecan Butterscotch Chip Cookies
adapted from Nestle

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups flour (I used a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 2/3 cups butterscotch chips OR 1 cup butterscotch chips + 2/3 cup other chips (I used white and semi-sweet)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and extracts; set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add flour to the creamed mixture and stir until well combined.
  4. Stir in oats, chips, and pecans.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoonful onto baking sheets.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Devour.

Overnight Oats.

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I am a breakfast-lover. In grade school, I was that kid who always enthusiastically answered, “Yes!” when the teacher asked if anyone had eaten breakfast. In high school, I barely made it to lunch if I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. I am also a creature of habit, and I don’t mind. In the four weeks I’ve been home, my breakfasts have basically been the same: a bowl of mixed cereal with fruit and soy milk with a cup of green tea (sometimes Greek yogurt instead of the milk). Occasionally, my stomach will demand something else, but usually I give into my easy bowl of cereal because I’m usually starving when I wake up in the morning.

So I’ve decided enough was enough: it was time to break out of my boring morning food routine. As much as I like oatmeal, it’s a pain to stand by the stove for 15 minutes stirring it in 80 degree heat and ridiculous humidity. And considering I’m going to be waking up at 5 every morning during the week for the rest of the summer to go to work, I sure as heck aren’t going to have a smidgen of time to waste on making breakfast.

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Enter overnight oats. All you need is a jar, oatmeal, milk, and whatever else you’d like to mix into said oats (mostly in the sweetener, nut, and dried fruit categories). Pour them in previously mentioned jar, shake like a maraca, stick it in the fridge, and 8 hours later…breakfast, edible and perfect cold, at room temperature, or steaming hot.

This isn’t so much of a recipe as a guideline. It’s really flexible – there are just a few things you need to keep in mind, and you can adjust the amount of add-ins to your liking. Open up the jar when you wake up, and breakfast is served! Which gives you more time to read the paper, dress your kids, clean the carpets, meditate, mentally prepare yourself to seize the day. Then you’re that much closer to a happy morning.

Well, perhaps a bearable morning.

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Overnight Oats
from The Oatmeal Artist

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel-cut oats if you’re feeling adventurous)
  • 1/2 cup milk (cow’s, soy, almond, coconut, etc.)
  • sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
  • flax seed
  • cinnamon/other spices
  • coconut
  • nuts & seeds, whole or chopped
  • fruit (dry, frozen, or fresh)*
  • whatever else you’d like to add

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in a jar. Seal tight; shake vigorously until all ingredients are mixed. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Devour cold or warm in the microwave first.

*NOTE: Any fruit may be added the night before or in the morning, depending on your preference.

Honey Oatmeal Flax Bread.

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Fair warning: this bread is a bit of a challenge, but nothing you can’t handle. Yeast is definitely intimidating, not to mention a little mysterious – it’s a living thing that you put in baked goods that doesn’t completely destroy them! What?

Don’t let the microorganisms scare you. They’re here to help.

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I wish you could smell this bread right now! It isn’t just any awkward, boring homemade bread. Oats that have softened but not quite cooked in a warm butter-milk-honey mixture lend a chewy, hearty taste and texture. The middle is soft but my favorite part is the flax seeds. I’ve always been a sucker for bread with nuts and seeds, little bits of the unexpected in an otherwise unassuming loaf.

Loaf One

I’ve made two loaves of this bread within the past week. (As you can probably tell, I took pictures on two separate days with two separate loaves at two different times of day. It was interesting to look through my folders and see the contrast and differences between the two sets.) Loaf one didn’t have any whole wheat flour, as I had just finished up a bag and hadn’t gotten around to buying a new one, definitely had more yeast than necessary, and seemed a little bit undercooked. Nevertheless, it was still delicious – soft, oat-y, fantastic when toasted.

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Take two was even better. I reduced the yeast by 1/3 to eliminate the excessive yeast-y taste in the previous loaf and upped the baking time to from 30 to 32 minutes. The lack of whole wheat flour was remedied by slicing open a brand new bag as fast as I could get my hands on it.

Ding ding ding, we have a winner! This bread is fantastic, as previously mentioned – soft, hearty, subtly flavored and incredibly delicious. Whole wheat flour aids the flax seed in creating a nutty taste, and that makes the sweetness of the honey sing – especially straight from the oven. A little slice of happiness in an otherwise hectic world.

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Before you begin, let me point out this recipe makes two loaves. So if you have a small household, or only one loaf pan available for use, make sure to halve it – and don’t worry, it still works out fine.

Honey Oatmeal Flax Bread
from http://tastykitchen.com/recipes/breads/oatmeal-flax-honey-wheat-bread/

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 tsp active dry yeast (2 packages)
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided into 1 cup portions
  • 1/2 cup flax seed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten + a splash of water (for egg wash)

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the milk to nearly boiling (make sure it doesn’t boil!). Add the oats, butter, and all but one teaspoon of honey. Stir and remove from heat to cool until warm, about 105 degrees F.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together the warm water, the teaspoon of reserved honey, and yeast. Allow it to proof (let stand) for about 5 minutes until foamy.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, flax seed, and salt.
  4. Stir the proofed yeast into the warm milk mixture; pour the liquid into the flour.
  5. Using a mixer with dough hook(s) attached, mix on low until flour is incorporated. Turn mixer up to medium, scraping the sides of the bowl when necessary. If dough is sticky and not coming into a ball, add 1/2 cup of the remaining all-purpose flour. If, after mixing, it is not in a ball, add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.
  6. Stop mixing as soon as the dough comes into a ball away from the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and a towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise until dough has doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  7. After dough has risen: grease 2 loaf pans and set aside.
  8. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface; knead several times to remove the air.
  9. Divide dough in half; shape each half into a loaf and place into a loaf pan, seam side down. Cover the pans with the towel and allow dough to rise again until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  10. When the dough is almost finished rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  11. To create an egg wash, beat the egg and add a splash of water. Lightly brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with rolled oats, if desired.
  12. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until tops are golden. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove the loaves from the pans and cool completely on a rack. Store in an airtight container. Will keep for up to a week (maybe more) if kept in the refrigerator. Devour.

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Incredibly Versatile Granola Bars.

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Waiting for a call to schedule a job interview is probably one of the more stressful waiting games I’ve played. Last week, the manager of the bakery (yes, bakery!) I applied to told me he’d call me back yesterday. Yesterday, I missed his call because I was driving and couldn’t call him back until a few hours later. When I finally called him back that evening, he wasn’t there. After waiting all morning and part of the early afternoon to see if he’d return my message, I called him instead, and left another message. Needless to say, I’m a little stressed. Especially because I hate talking on the telephone.

Stressful situations call for stress-baking.

There’s something comforting about nearly upsetting everything in my cupboards as I root around for measuring cups and mixing bowls. The familiar rhythm of pouring and stirring is comparable to giving a fussing child his favorite pacifier. It’s a sort of sedative, which is why I instinctively reach for a cook book in times of anxiety.

Enter the glorious homemade granola bar.

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Quaker Chewy granola bars have never been my favorite. I know, I know, I must have malformed tastebuds or something. Honestly, they’re not as flavorful or satisfying as, say, a Kashi bar. Maybe that’s the health freak in me preferring whole almonds over weird crispy things (what ingredients make up a Chewy bar, anyways?), but I honestly think it’s just the fact I prefer my granola bars to be…well, chewy. For real chewy. With identifiable ingredients.

The great thing about homemade granola bars is that you can add basically anything you want – different types of dried fruit, nuts and seeds (pecans, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds…the list goes on, and on, and on), flavorings and spices, nut butter, honey or maple syrup…it goes on forever. If it’s small enough to mix in, go for it.

The cinnamon comes through perfectly, and for once, I can say that I wouldn’t add any more. Unless you prefer to up the cinnamon. The more, the merrier.

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Perfect for breakfast (I’ve been crumbling mine up like cereal & eating it with milk), snack, post-workout, whatever. The world is your…granola bar.

Homemade Granola Bars
Based off this recipe
Makes 12-16, depending on the size you cut them

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup dried fruit of your choosing (I used golden raisins and mixed berries)
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut, optional
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips, optional
  • 3/4 cup nuts and seeds (I used pecans and almonds)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 1/2 x 11 baking dish with parchment paper or grease it. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar together until creamy. Add egg and beat well. Stir in flax and honey.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, cinnamon, and baking soda; stir into creamed mixture until just blended.
  4. Stir in fruit, nuts, and other add-ins.
  5. Press firmly into the baking dish. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until middle is set and edges are lightly browned.
  6. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Devour.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

Hello. It’s been far too long. Life is so crazy. Can you ever forgive me?

Here, I brought you some incredibly delicious banana bread to make it better.

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Or banana mush. Or banana muffins. Or banana cookies.

Or whatever form fits your fancy.

I must first add a brief disclaimer: the oatmeal must first be ground in some sort of food-processing device before adding the rest of the ingredients. If your kitchen just happens to be lacking in a food processor, place the oatmeal in a large plastic bag and use a meat mallet (or some other utensil to that effect) to grind it up to a meal-like consistency.

Second disclaimer: your batter may not make it into the pan. Really, there would have been more of the final product had I possessed enough self-control to keep my fingers out of the mixing bowl.

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Whoops.

However, there is no worry of potential acquisition of salmonella; this is an eggless recipe! Which means no stray eggshells will end up in your bread (also, I originally typed “beard” instead of “bread”. Probably a sign I should drink something caffeinated).

How many times have I already raved about peanut butter? Or peanut butter and chocolate? Or peanut butter and banana? Or…peanut butter? Probably enough for you to remember that I really, really love peanut butter.

And this recipe combines many of my favorite things: bananas, chocolate, peanut butter, and oatmeal. Oatmeal is one of my favorite baking ingredients; not only does it add a beautifully chewy texture and substance, but it also adds a distinct, nutty flavor. Oats are intrinsically satisfying.

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Aren’t they cute?

Despite the simple ingredients, the taste is sublime. With nothing added in excess, the flavors are complementary: just enough brown sugar to subtly emphasize the cinnamon, enough peanut butter to notice but not overpower, and a perfect amount of oats to lend their chewiness but not dominate.

Why can’t people work together so harmoniously like that?

No matter. Maybe this bread will bring about world peace.

The active time of this recipe is not consuming. After you have measured out the oats and blended them, simply add the rest of the ingredients, mix, and bake. Or, if you prefer, omit the baking powder and simply eat the batter straight. Yes, it’s that good.

If you prefer muffins, mini or standard or enormous, or a cake-pan sized loaf, or some other manifestation, I’m sure those will work just as well. Just be aware of the potential time adjustment.

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Oh, and feel free to add more chocolate chips.

Easy Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (Egg-free!…and with no-bake option!)
Slightly adapted from Baker Bettie
Makes 1 loaf pan or about 6 mini loaves Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups oatmeal (old-fashioned)
  • 3-4 medium mashed ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chips)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease the loaf pan(s) and set aside.
  2. Measure oatmeal into blender or food processor and pulse until powder or meal consistency, or little less fine if desired.
  3. Combine oatmeal and remaining ingredients, except for chocolate chips, to a mixing bowl. Stir until combined.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips.
  5. Pour batter into prepare pan(s). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until edges are browned and toothpick in center comes out clean. Devour.

No-bake option: Omit the baking powder and add up to an extra cup of oatmeal (not ground). Spoon mixture onto yogurt/etc., or eat straight from the bowl.