Thursday, December 30, 2010

All-Natural Snack Bars

Munching on granola bars has practically replaced baseball as America's favorite pastime. Ok, not quite. But they are a popular snack. Many people reach for a bar (or two) in the morning, or during the mid-afternoon crash. I kept a box of Fiber One bars in my desk at school for several years.

Today I don't typically go for the granola bar. Why? The everday granola bar contains too few calories for a sustaining breakfast or snack, too much simple sugar, the wrong kinds of fat, and not enough fiber. If the granola bar claims to compensate for any of these problems, it probably does so artificially. If you eat a granola bar, you'll end up feeling hungry and tired, and you'll probably grab a second one. Additionally, most 'sport' granola bars have vitamins and minerals that are added chemically, instead of occurring naturally in the ingredients of the bar. Check out a PowerBar or Luna Bar label sometime.

There are also suspect ingredients in most commercialy-produced bars. Three examples:

Quaker Granola Bar: High fructose corn syrup free. That's good, right? includes regular corn syrup. It also has the preservative BHT(1).

Special K Chocolate Delight Protein Snack Bar: Contains partially hydrogenated oils and the preservative TBHQ (2).

Hint: If an ingredient is an acronym, it's probably not naturally occuring and it probably isn't good for you.

Fiber One Chocolate Chip Snack Bar: Its 22-ingredient recipe contains high maltose corn syrup, caramel color and mixed tocopherols "to retain freshness" (3).

There are some naturally commercially produced bars that offer a change of pace, like Larabar. The bars come in unique flavors, and, because they contain all-natural ingredients, are a great blend of protein, fiber and carbohydrates. I like the "Apple Pie" bar, which contains the following ingredients: dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon. That's it!

I returned home from the 2008 Austin Marathon convention with my runner's bag full of tiny Larabar samples. While munching on some savory flavors, I began to wonder if I could recreate the Larabar experience in my own kitchen. You can buy all the ingredents at the store, after all. So, I set out to make my own all-natural snack bar.

Warning: This is a pretty horrible recipe as far as measurement and technique go,even though the final result tastes great. Making it is kind of like working with adult Play-Dough. I just kind of winged it. Wunged it. Whatever.


6 Cups dried Dates, pitted
3 Cups dried Apricots
2 Cups dried Figs
2-3 Cups Nuts of your choice (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.)
1.5 Cups Oats, Toasted
Olive Oil

Wooden Spoon
Flat Baking Sheet, preferably 1/2 inch deep
Large Pot
Knife and Cutting Board
Wax Paper
Tupperware Containers or Ziploc Bags

1. Chop up the dried fruit and the nuts and place in separate bowls. (I like fruits and nuts coarsely chopped, but you could also find a machine or take the time and finely chop the ingredients.)
2. Add about 3T olive oil to a large pot and place it on the stove over medium temperature. Dump the dried fruit into the pot. Heat it until the fruit softens and becomes sticky, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
3. When the fruit is very soft and sticky, gradually stir in the nuts and oats into the mixture. Mix until fruit, nuts and oats are evenly distributed. (You might consider adding a tidbit of molasses if the dry ingredients refuse to stick with the fruit.
4. Turn off stove and transfer mixture from pot onto cookie sheet. It will be hot! Using your hands and the wooden spoon, spread the mixture evenly across the baking sheet until the entire sheet is covered. Leave mixture to cool in the baking sheet.
5. After several hours, cut your fruit bars in the desired size, and transfer them into plastic bags or a tupperware container. Since the bars will be slightly sticky, make sure stored bars are separated with wax paper.
6. Enjoy for breakfast or snack! And share. (I think this recipe made about 60 bars.)



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