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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Granola Bars

It's 2016, a new year for the new you!

America's twitter feeds have been trending with #NewYearNewYou and #NewYearNewMe, respectively. There are some that have even taken it so far as to proclaim they'll go entirely vegan for the month of January in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. I'll be the first to admit that Veganism, while there have been studies done that say it's more harmful to the environment that one might think, is a good thing to try. My own mother went Vegan for a year when she was diagnosed with Cancer and she'll be five years Cancer-free come November 2016.

I personally think that everything should go with moderation. I'm all for Meatless Monday and rotational diets are honestly one of the better ways to stay healthy nowadays. Keeping a variety in your foods will keep those fun little bacteria in your guts healthy, happy, and strong(from all of the work they get to do). Perhaps have a Vegan Weekend, or a gluten-free week, or an entire month where you only eat seafood? You could also try cutting out carbs from your diet for a month, or just cut out soda for a month for water or tea, and record the results.

Dieting can be fun if done in the right way, and opening your eyes to a new kind of cuisine may be the key to the "new you" that you've been searching for. I remember taking my World Cuisine class in Culinary school and being absolutely floored by how much I just loved North African food. No, really!

The soup is "harira", the fish in the back is marinated with chili oil and harissa, and at the back-right is
chicken with cous cous!

Harissa, tajine, cous cous and yummy date bars...I was shocked at how much I loved a food I had literally never heard of before school. Not pictured are the fabulous Medjool date bars, which were super tasty. My point is that you never know what you'll love until you try it, and trying all of those different foods kept me healthy enough to power through working a full-time job during full-time college.

What can be done about keeping healthy, but watching your wallet? Making your own (X), of course!

I have (admittedly) covered a lot about cake and very little about eating healthy, though I'll rant and rave for days about how America is so unhealthy. Well, shucks, it doesn't do much good if I'm willing to rant but not willing to do anything about it, does it? What's even sicker about that entire thing is that I don't even want to diet because I want to be healthier; I just want to remain a size 8 because I've been (essentially) the same size since high school and I really don't want to buy new clothes. I hate buying clothes and I hate having to try on clothes because I don't know what size I am...I'm a size 8 and I'm staying a size 8, not for my well-being or vanity, but for my sanity when shopping.

Anyway, my wonderful boyfriend has a bit of an addiction to granola bars and will often take them with him to work. I think his granola bars are too sweet to be a "healthy" snack, so I eat them when I am feeling too lazy to bake cookies. He's getting on in his age, too, and since we're both pushing 30, I figured I would save us both some money and make granola bars at home. It's shockingly easy, and it costs about $0.03 per bar versus $0.60 per bar you'll pay for a similar one at the grocery store. Then again, that's math for a recipe that will yield 16 granola bars versus 5-per-box...so you would pay something like $9 for the same amount of granola bars that this one recipe would cost you, which is somewhere close to a dollar per recipe. You do the math.

Favorite Granola Bars
(Adapted from/Inspired by Alton Brown's recipe on "Good Eats")

  • 12 oz rolled oats(you can find these at the bulk section of most markets)
  • 2 oz slivered almonds(can be substituted for pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 oz chopped pistachios(can be substituted for sunflower seeds)
  • 4 oz local honey
  • 2 oz organic fruit preserves(I use a blackberry jam that I make myself)
  • 2 tsp flavoring(vanilla, almond, whatever)
  • 1.5 oz butter( 3 Tbsp) or coconut oil(the fat should be solid at room temperature)
  • 2.5 oz brown sugar
  • 3 oz dried cranberries
  • 6 oz dried banana chips
  • 3.5 oz chocolate chips/chopped baking chocolate/carob chips
Start by measuring your dry ingredients(oats, nuts, seeds, etc.) onto a sheet tray that's big enough to comfortably toast all of that goodness and park it in a 350 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure an even cook. You're toasting these to both get rid of moisture(which is the enemy if you want to keep your bars preserved well) and to add depth of flavor. You can use just about any mix of stuff you want, so long as it is mostly the oats and the total weight for your dry ingredients is a pound(16 oz). 

Measure your honey, preserves, flavoring, butter, and sugar into a medium saucepot and set on a low and gentle heat. You're wanting to heat it until the butter melts and sugar dissolves. Remove your freshly-toasted crunchies from the oven and pop into your pan, along with your fruit of choice. I pounded the banana chips using a mortar & pestle to make them a more uniform size with the dried cranberries. Remember, you want every bite to be(relatively) the same. If you have dried apricots going with dried blueberries, remember to dice them into small cubes so that it's all the same size. Add the chocolate/carob chips at the very end and stir.

When your stuff is properly mixed up, all nice and gooey in the pot, spread onto a buttered/oiled sheet pan of your choosing(I used a cookie sheet, but you can use a standard 13 x 9 glass pan, or even two 9" pie tins) and bake for approximately 17 minutes at 300 degrees F. 

When done, let cool before flipping upside down onto a cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut into squares, wedges, any shape of your choosing. It does help to have it at least mildly warm, for cleaner(and easier) cuts, but it certainly won't hurt it if it gets cool enough to break into shards for a snack. You can also break this stuff up in to chunks/clusters to keep in a jar and add to your yogurt in the morning.

If you want an extra bit of luxury, melt baker's chocolate in the microwave(I like the dark kind) and drizzle across each bar using a pastry bag (or a ziploc bag with the corner cut out) in zig-zag patterns. Each bar is roughly 120-130 calories and have a good bit of fiber in them. The sodium content is so low that it's practically nonexistent at a mere 40 mg per serving, if that. The sugar may be on the higher side, but it's still better than your run-of-the-mill granola bar that has who-knows-what in it. There's really no reason for you to not start making these yourself and become a better you by doing it. I've already saved money by making these, and where my darling lover would go through a box per week, this will last us twice as long at a fraction of the cost. That being said, I sell them at Pistachio Bakehouse, my pop-up bakery concept, if you want to eat healthier snacks but just don't want to make the bars.

These can be kept in the freezer for about 3 months, or in the cabinet in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks. To be honest, though, they won't last that long. 

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