Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crunchy Nut Bars

In my post on Coconut Granola Bars, I mentioned that I've been looking for the perfect bar recipe for ages with very little success.  Well, in a stroke of really good luck, it seems like I've found two great recipes in just a few short weeks!  One of the blogs I follow is called Enlightened Cooking, and cookbook author Camilla has tons of bar recipes, many of which look great, but use nut butters or dates (which I don't much care for), or lots of sugar to stick together.  But recently she posted recipes for replicas of TRIO and KIND bars.  I had no idea what these were until I happened to be given a free sample of an almond coconut KIND bar, which turned out to be delicious.  I went back to check out the recipe more carefully and found out that this recipe meets pretty much all of my criteria - wholesome ingredients, no nut butters or dates, moderate sugar, and a simple process.  Could this be for real?

I tested it out, and sure enough these bars were not only easy to make, but they tasted great!  Light, crunchy, and a little bit sweet.  I even brought a few to a friend with a new baby, and she immediately asked me for the recipe (for when the baby is not so new anymore of course :).  So while I am a big fan of the taste of the Coconut Granola Bars, I am completely sold on the simplicity of these bars.  I just made batch #4 today and love having these around to snack on!  I made a few tweaks to the recipe to suit my taste, so definitely check back to the original post for more ideas for including dried fruits, seeds, etc.

Almond Coconut Bars

Walnut Coconut Bars

Crunchy Nut Bars
adapted from Enlightened Cooking

2 1/2 cups roughly chopped almonds or walnuts (measured before chopping)
2/3 cup unsweetened dried coconut (shaved or shredded)
2/3 cup crisp brown rice cereal
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup honey or brown rice syrup

Toast the nuts by placing in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking every couple of minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment paper, letting the paper come up on two sides to form "handles".  (Alternatively, line with foil AND spray with oil.)

In a medium bowl, add the coconut, rice cereal, and salt.  By this point the nuts should be toasty enough; add them to the bowl and mix.  (Note, if you are using large shavings of coconut, you might want to keep it aside and throw it in the hot pan for a minute or 2 after the nuts are done toasting to highlight the coconut taste).

Add the honey or brown rice syrup and mix until all ingredients are well coated.  Transfer to prepared pan, spread as best you can using a spoon, and then use a piece of parchment paper or sprayed foil to push down the mixture evenly throughout the pan.

Bake for 18 minutes and remove to a rack (the bars will still seem really soft, but they are ready to come out!).  Cool for 10 minutes, until the bars are set enough to remove from pan but still warm, and use the parchment or foil handles to transfer to a cutting board.  Cut into your desired number of bars and cool completely.  If you are using foil, the bars may stick until they are 100% cool but they should release easily at that point!  If you still have trouble, place bars in the freezer for a little bit and then try again.

Bars will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature, or can be frozen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guest Blog

Hi everyone!  I usually stick to recipes and their stories on this blog, but in addition to cooking, I spend tons of time reading, thinking, and talking about the best ways to feed kids.  This week, my friend Laura Cipullo at Whole Nutrition Services asked me to guest blog about how I feed my kids on her new blog, Mom Dishes it Out.  Here's the link if you're interested!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coconut Granola Bars

Most of you are probably unaware, but I have been obsessively making various kinds of granola and protein bars for months. I have a serious addiction to NuGo Organic Double Dark Chocolate protein bars, which I have been trying to break for ages. Not only are they expensive and loaded with sugar, but I hate eating so much processed soy, and the ingredient list, despite being organic, is a mile long. But after searching and searching, and trying recipe after recipe, I could not find a single one worthy of sharing. It has been a frustrating endeavor to say the least! The problem, I think, is that I have an unrealistic set of expectations here - I am looking for a bar that tastes good, isn't too annoying to make, includes lots of wholesome ingredients, and isn't too high in sugar. And did I mention I'm not a fan of the fruit and nut style bar (like Lara bars), and that I don't really like nut butters either? This is a problem in bar making because apparently the most popular binders are some form of sugar in large quantities (brown rice syrup, honey, etc), peanut butter, and dates, all of which I've pretty much eliminated. I started thinking that my perfect home made replacement was a pipe dream, unless, of course, I relaxed my standards a bit!

In a stroke of good luck, just as I was finishing the last NuGo bar in the box I swore was going to be the last, Martha Rose Shulman posted some recipes in the NY Times on healthy snacks for teenagers. Among them was a coconut granola bar recipe that actually had what I'd consider a reasonable amount of sugar for a bar! Unfortunately it requires a lot of steps, but in the interest of being open-minded, I decided to give it a try to see if the effort was even worth it. As it turns out, these are the best bars I have made yet! They do not crumble, aren't bland, don't have a weird taste from a weird ingredient (black bean chocolate protein bars anyone??), and even resemble real granola bars! In fact, they taste just like the Nature Valley Oats 'n Honey bars - crunchy, toasty, and sweet. I'd love to reduce the sugar a bit, but I think they probably won't hang together. In the mean time, they are a nice afternoon treat when I am wanting something sweet that also has some wholesome ingredients to tide me over until my next meal!

Coconut Granola Bars
adapted from NY Times

1/4 cup canola oil, plus additional for the pan and for your hands
2 cups rolled oats
1 heaping cup flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts (or nut of your choice), coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the 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.

While the oats are toasting, add the coconut, spices, salt and nuts to the bowl. Add the oats when they are done and mix. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.

Place the honey and vanilla in a saucepan that can accommodate at least three times the volume of the honey, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour over the oat mixture. Stir until the oat mixture is evenly coated with honey.

Oil a 9x13 pan, line with parchment so that parchment sticks up on the sides, and then oil the parchment. Scrape the granola mixture into the pan and spread in an even layer, using a piece of parchment to spread it out. 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 for about 10-15 minutes, until still warm but set enough not to crumble when you pick them up on the parchment. Place on a cutting board and cut into your desired shape, and then allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, or freeze.