Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Things I'll Never Buy Again- Part I: Granola Bars!

Completely ignore my previous granola bar recipe.  I have discovered one that is so versatile, so healthy, so wholesome and delicious that I will never buy packaged granola bars again.  Now some of you will balk at my expensive ingredients and the time investment of providing my family with a steady supply of these treats, but all of this is well worth it when considering the benefits.

The more I read and learn about how whole foods fuel the body and how artificial ingredients and unnecessary additives adversely affect it, the more I just give in and make my own.  Now before you decide that I've gone off the deep end and foresee me selling everything and living an entirely product free lifestyle on an organic farm somewhere, bare-footed, no make-up, free of all contemporary evils, I want to assure you that I am remaining somewhat balanced and logical although admittedly a little crazy with regards to healthy eating.  As I always say, everyone has a little crazy.  You just have to point your crazy in the right direction, and I choose to point mine on food.

So back to the granola bar story...  I gave up on the previously mentioned granola bar recipe that I adapted from Whole Grain Gourmet because I wasn't getting a consistent texture and ended up wasting some batches that stubbornly refused to release themselves from the pan.  So after a little searching, I ended up trying Alton Brown's recipe.  What I love about this recipe is that it is already full of healthy ingredients and I really didn't have to do a lot of substituting.  Conversely, the potential substitutions are actually what make this recipe outstanding.  I bake these pretty much every week and every batch has been different depending on which nuts, seeds, fruits, and extracts I choose to use.  The family favorite so far has been almonds-sunflower seeds-chia seeds-apricots-almond extract, but to be honest, they have loved every single combination.  Following the recipe, I will list some of the combinations I have tried, but use your own ideas and see what deliciousness you can create.  For my next batch, I plan on experimenting with some spices like cinnamon and clove. 

Regarding the expense, I did the math and using all the best ingredients I can find (natural, organic, raw, no added sugars, etc.) each bar costs about 75 cents to make.  Yes, you could buy a package of six granola bars in the store for $2.99 but they are not going to taste nearly as good and they are going to have processed, modified ingredients that your body definitely does not need.  Each square pan yields sixteen bars and I put each in a snack size Ziploc bag so we can take them to work or school.  I also like to crumble one into my Greek yogurt.  Yum!  Again, a time investment, but well worth it.

Maria's Granola Bars
(Based on Alton Brown's)
2 cups rolled oats (NOT quick oats.  I use Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup wheat germ (substitutions:  wheat bran, oat bran, unsweetened coconut)
1 cup chopped unsalted nuts (I mostly use almonds, but I have used cashews, peanuts, a mixture of nuts, etc.  They can be roasted or raw- you are going to toast them in the oven anyway)
1/2 cup seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax, etc.  I usually use 1/4 cup of the bigger seeds like sesame, and 1/4 cup of the tiny seeds like chia)
Mix all the above ingredients and spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet.  Toast at 350 until lightly browned, stirring occasionally (and carefully!)
Meanwhile, heat the following in a large saucepan over medium heat:
1/2 cup raw organic honey (or raw organic blue agave or pure maple syrup or other natural liquid sweetener)
1/4 cup coconut crystals (or organic raw brown sugar or other solid natural sweetener.  Remember, the coconut crystals do not taste like coconut!  They just come from the coconut plant and are similar to brown sugar)
2 T organic extra virgin coconut oil (I have used unsalted butter as in the original recipe, but recently switched to the coconut oil.  You can also use another healthful oil like a nut oil.)
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I have used 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp rum extract, both with great results.)
Cook until sugars are melted and mixture is smooth.  Add toasted oat and nut mixture to saucepan and stir until combined. 
Now for the fruit.  Try to find a dried fruit with little or no added sugars.  Our favorites have been-  mission figs, apricots, tart cherries, and dates.  You can definitely combine as well!  You'll need 6 1/2 oz. of chopped dried fruit.  Stir them in.
Spread the mixture in a buttered (or oiled) square pan and pat the top with a spatula, pressing down.  Bake at 300 degrees for about 30-35 minutes.  Cool in pan.  Score while still warm, and press down again.  Cut and remove when completely cooled.

Some of our favorite combinations:
almonds-coconut-sunflower seeds-chia seeds-apricot-vanilla/almond extract
cashews-pumpkin seeds-figs-vanilla
peanuts-cherries- dark chocolate (I added the chocolate in combination with the dried fruit and it melted!  I thought it would be a disaster, but it was actually delicious).