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Homemade Granola Bars

11 Apr

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If I were to tell you straight off the bat that these granola bars were made of whole grains, dried fruit, healthy nuts, and no added sugar or sweeteners, you would probably roll your eyes at me and then refuse a taste of what could only be an exercise of virtuous, boring, tasteless snacking. This would be a mistake, of course, because refusing a taste of one of these delicious granola bars is akin to refusing yourself a…well, a taste of a delicious granola bar. A really, really delicious granola bar.

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I am aware that most people do not give one hoot about what goes into a granola bar, and I understand why. Granola bars are not particularly exciting, and being readily available at any number of stores only adds to the banal nature of their status. But, if you are like me, and you like snacking, and you like your snacking to do as little damage to yourself as possible, you start to actually get interested in granola bars and the elements that make a fine granola bar what it is.

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As with energy bars, I tend to think that a granola bar should not be simply a disguised candy bar or a cookie. If you’re going to eat a candy bar or a cookie, just eat a candy bar or a cookie. Conversely, if you’re going to reach for a seemingly healthy granola bar, it should be all that its reputation advertises. Sweetened with pulverized dates and a hit of fresh, unfiltered apple cider (which is merely unfiltered apple juice, for all you Europeans out there), there is nary an extra sweetener included in these fellows. What is included in these granola bars, however, is a whole lot of stuff that is very good for you, and also has the added benefit of tasting good. It’s not all that often that you can find a place where those two distinctions overlap. Take advantage of that knowledge and put these to work right away.

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Another take on homemade granola bars (although a thicker, sweeter, heartier option) can be found here

Last Year: Cider-Braised Greens and Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Tarragon Aioli

Homemade Granola Bars

2 cups oats (not quick-cooking oats)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup roughly chopped nuts or seeds of your choice (I used almonds, pepitas, and sunflower seeds)

½ cup dried fruit of your choice, roughly chopped to be of similar size to the nuts (I used chopped dried apricots, but raisins, dried cherries, or dried blueberries would also be good)

1 cup pitted whole dates (plain, with no added sugar)

¼ cup unfiltered apple cider (also called unfiltered apple juice)

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” by 13” baking pan with a sling of parchment paper, then slightly spray or brush the pan and paper with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, sea salt, nuts, and dried fruit. Toss to combine.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the pitted dates and apple cider. Pulse until the mixture forms a thick paste, with some visible chunks of date still remaining.

In a medium bowl, combine date and cider mixture with almond butter, vanilla, and vegetable oil, then whisk to combine. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your hands, then pat the mixture into the pan, pressing it down into the edges and corners. The mixture will really, really want to stick to your hands, so keep rewetting your hands as necessary until you’ve flattened the mixture completely into the pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. I baked the batch pictured above for far too long, so it is overly darkened at the edges. Don’t make the same mistake.

Allow the bars to cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut them. Cutting with a large serrated knife (like a bread knife) works best for these. The granola bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, but they will keep indefinitely if kept in an airtight container in the freezer.

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Homemade Energy Bars

24 Jan

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When my son was in kindergarten, the head of his school sent a very polite note to all the parents asking that they please not pack energy bars in their children’s lunches. Energy bars, she explained, are little more than candy bars packaged as a healthy food, and they’re not the type of thing that five year-olds need to have powering them during school. When I read this note, I was sort of flabbergasted. Not because the head of my son’s school was asking that kids not eat energy bars while at school, but because, up until that point, I realized that I had no idea what an energy bar actually was. I thought it was, like, a granola bar with more nuts in it, or maybe a tightly packed rectangle of muesli. Energy bars have added sugar in them? They contain chocolate? Who knew?

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Well, as it turns out, everybody in the entire world, aside from me, knew that. Not to keep feeding the myth of my own Luddite tendencies, but, look, I have never actually eaten an energy bar, nor have I ever seen one out of its package. If you’ve never been in close proximity of an energy bar, one would logically think that, hey, if this food is supposed to keep people energized while doing physical activity, it must be packed with lots of protein, a good dose of fruit, and maybe some grains. In reality, energy bars are basically cookies. Sure, they can be organic, cane juice (read: sugar) sweetened, oatmeal cookies, but they are still cookies. Sometimes they’re even just straight-up brownies. Now, it should be obvious to everyone here that I have absolutely no problem with cookies and other sweets, but I tend to think that if you’re going to make something that is labeled as being healthy or good for a kid, that thing should actually live up to its name.

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This is all a long-winded way to tell you all that, look, I, the person who has never actually seen an energy bar, have made you some energy bars. Actually, what I have made is not so much an energy bar, as it is what I think an energy bar should be. It is packed with protein, filled with fruit, and it contains no gluten or grains (not because I don’t eat gluten or grains, but because I thought people might like having the option of an energy bar without those things in it). It is just about as friendly and harmless a snack as anyone could ever wish for, only these suckers are also super delicious. Like, almost dangerously so. I’ve taken to eating one just about every other waking hour, which means that I am going to have to start preparing for some hiking or power-biking pretty soon, lest I waste the virtues of these energy bars on my current low energy activities of sitting, typing, and reading. Although, sometimes I do get up and stretch in between prolonged bursts of frantic typing, which means that, hmmmm, maybe I might need another energy bar to help my body power up for more stretching. You wait here while I go get one. I’ll lead some stretches when I get back.

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Last Year: Yard Long Beans with Chile Oil and Garlic Bits and Ponzu-Marinated Flank Steak

Homemade Energy Bars

These little bars are basically little more than a collection of fruits and nuts all ground together and then baked a bit to keep their shape. The recipe below was based on whatever seeds, nuts and dried fruits I had sitting around in the house, but I’d encourage you to use whatever combination of flavors you think would be good. I think dried, unsweetened coconut would be great in here, as would dried apricots, dried apples, or dried, unsweetened cherries.

¼ unfiltered apple cider

½ cup whole Medjool dates, cut into quarters, seeds removed

½ cup dried mangoes

½ cup dried pears

1 cup whole raw almonds

¼ cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

¼ cup raw sunflower seeds

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine apple cider, dates, dried mangoes, and dried pears. Toss to combine, then allow to sit and soak for a bit while you gather the remaining ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine soaked dried fruits (along with any apple cider remaining in the bowl) and almonds. Pulse 5 or 6 times to coarsely chop everything. Add the pepitas, sunflower seeds, and salt, then pulse half a dozen more times until the mixture sticks together and begins to clump up. There should still be big chunks of seeds and nuts visible.

Turn mixture out on to a large sheet of wax paper. Wet your hands with water (to prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands too much), then shape the mixture into a 12” by 6” rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 8 bars that are roughly 6” by 1.5” a piece. Using a flexible spatula, transfer bars to parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in center of oven for 10 minutes, then carefully turn each bar over and continue to bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. The bars should be slightly golden, but the nuts should not be singed or burned.

Remove from oven, and allow bars to cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or just eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and never find it necessary to store them anywhere for any prolonged period of time.

Crispy Roasted Masala Chickpeas

26 Nov

We’re entering into that glorious time of the year when the celebrations are plentiful, the lights forever twinkly, and the snacks are everywhere, all of the time, no matter where you look. For a dedicated snacker (as I happen to be), this truly is the most wonderful time of the year. In her cookbook Super Natural Everyday Heidi Swanson notes that her day’s consumption of food goes something like “meal-snack-meal-snack-snack-meal,” a series of events that I can only describe as being somewhat blissful in its rhythm. Swanson, of course, makes the most of those meals and snacks, indulging in supremely healthful foods that provide the most punch as possible, both in terms of flavor and nutrition.

I wish I could say that I am always that dedicated to eating healthfully. Certainly a lot of people would look at my meals and snacks throughout the day and declare me to nothing short of a Pollyanna when it comes to food (I don’t drink sweet beverages at all, I eat very little meat, I don’t buy junk food), but one can certainly find a lot of room for improvement when it comes to my snack choices during the holidays. Whereas I ordinarily find much satisfaction in eating a few nuts or an apple for a standard snack, the holidays inevitably turn me in an entirely different direction, snack-wise. Things just seem to appear in our house, and then those things inevitably end up in my mouth. The chocolate covered nuts, the containers of homemade cookies—bless them all, but, my lord, I lose my mind when those things are sitting around and looking at me with their luscious, chocolaty, buttery eyes.

Perhaps this year I will be able to keep a stash of more sensible snacks around, so that I can maintain my normally reasonable and pleasurable way of eating. These crispy, spicy chickpeas will be a good start. They take absolutely no time to throw together, and they make a wonderful snack, garnish, or added protein, whether I am looking for something snacky or something to plump up a meal. My current favorite way to eat them (aside from just eating them as they are, which is simply wonderful) is to throw them on a pile of quinoa, chopped raw spinach, and avocado, then drizzle everything with a touch of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The spices are just perfect and the tiny kick of heat makes for a nice surprise. All in all, these little chickpeas are a welcome addition to the day, no matter the season.

Last Year: Slow-Cooked Beans and Huevos Rancheros

Crispy Roasted Masala Chickpeas Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups cooked, drained chickpeas

2 teaspoons garam masala (a commonly found Indian spice blend)

¼ teaspoon chili powder (or cayenne pepper, if you want things a little spicier)

salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add olive oil, then add drained chickpeas. Sprinkle over garam masala and cayenne pepper, and stir to combine. Sauté the chickpeas and spices, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, then place the skillet in the heated oven. Roast the chickpeas in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Taste for seasoning, and add a bit of salt and pepper if you think it is necessary (garam masala spice blends contain different levels of salt, so it is important to hold off on adding more salt until after the chickpeas have been roasted).

Eat the chickpeas as is, or add to salads or soups.

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