Tom’s Cookbook Library: Teens find a spot in the kitchen

Though only 15 years old, twin sisters Emily and Lyla Allen already have made a name for themselves as accomplished cooks. Their blog ( and newly published cookbook – "The Teen Kitchen" (Ten Speed Press) – underscore the girls' enthusiasm for cooking.

Their book, chock full of 75-plus recipes, has something to offer kitchen novices and experienced budding young chefs. The Allens share what they have learned at home and on “The Rachael Ray Show.”

Brief chapters cover basic tools for young chefs, knife skills and straightforward instructions. Recipes run the gamut from snacks and soup, salads and sides to entrees and desserts. Examples include Pumpkin Wonton Raviolis; Blue Cheese Turkey Burgers; and Maple Corn Bisque, among others.

Check out the Chocolate Cranberry Almond Bars (recipe follows). The twins categorize the bars as a snack “somewhere between a dessert and a health food.”

In addition, most recipes include vegetarian and/or gluten-free or dairy-free options.

Journalist Tom Witom, who lives in Elgin, has written extensively for years about food and the food industry. Feedback on the column can be sent to

Chocolate Cranberry Almond Bars

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Makes 12 to 16 bars

1 egg

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup smooth, unsweetened applesauce

3/4 cup creamy, unsweetened almond butter

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line an 8½-inch square metal pan with parchment paper.

Using a stand or hand mixer, mix the egg, vanilla and granulated and brown sugars until they are an even consistency.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Add the melted coconut oil, applesauce and almond butter and mix until combined. Add the cranberries, chocolate chips and sliced almonds and mix well.

Transfer to the pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes and cut into squares before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for two days or in the fridge for five days.

Twin tip: The almond butter we buy has a lot of oil at the top that needs to be mixed in. When we do this, we put the container in a baggie or on a paper towel because the oil tends to spill out and over.