Recently, I found myself at a crossroads where I was begrudgingly eating a lot of packaged foods. I was busy at work and in life and cooking, which is usually what keeps me sane, took a backseat. A Vita-muffin for breakfast, a purchased salad or Campbell’s soup for lunch and whatever I could get my hands on for dinner (hummus, crackers, I’m looking at you).
On days that go to the gym straight from work in the evening, I typically eat a snack around 4 or 5pm. I do it not so much out of hunger, but as a preventative measure lest I find myself gnawing on my sleeve on the elliptical trainer two hours later. When I plan in advance, I bring snacks like yogurt and low-fat granola, fresh fruit, whole almonds. When I don’t plan in advance, as I hadn’t been for the past few weeks, I would find myself eating store-bought granola bars.
There really is something to be said about the convenience of packaged foods, namely snacks, that can lure in even the most stubborn self-proclaimed food snob. They are easy, they are everywhere and they come neatly wrapped with calorie counts labeled clearly on the side of the package.
What the side of the package doesn’t say is that they really don’t taste that good. They coat your mouth with sugar so you’re fooled into thinking that they were tasty but they don’t leave you satisfied. I see their purpose, because people are busy and it’s easy to tear open a wrapper and, well, it’s better than a candy bar. There are some that I like more than others, but even the brands that offer some nutritional value don’t offer what you could have if you made your own from scratch.
Come on…you knew that’s where I was taking this, right? Inspired by Smitten Kitchen (because where else do I glean my inspiration?) I made homemade granola bars and as I said when I made tomato sauce and hummus from scratch, I will never look back.
(Yes, you see butter and white sugar on the ingredient list. But I have a gut feeling that a little bit of butter and sugar is better for you than sodium phosphates and or sodium hexametaphosphate. I did a rough estimate and the bars have about 250-ish calories per serving).
Thick, Chewy Granola Bars
Yield: 15 bars
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruits and nuts*
1/3 cup almond butter (peanut butter would work, too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (see Note above)
1 tablespoon water
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with parchment paper, allowing the sides to hang over the edges. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan with a non-stick spray.
2. Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients (including nut butter) with the dry until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
3. Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. They’ll might appear soft and underbaked when you press into the center of the pan but will set completely once completely cool.
4. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. (Alternately, after about 20 minutes you can use your parchment to lift and remove the bars, and place them in their paper on the rack to cool the rest of the way (as I did, pictured above). Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares.
*My combination was 1/2 cup each dried cranberries, raisins, chopped dates, dried cherries and pecans. I highly recommend it, though you can use any combination of your favorite dried fruit and nuts.
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