Apparently this week I’m talking all about being hungry. Monday I wrote about being hungry in the afternoon and today I’m talking about the morning. I don’t know if it’s pathetic or funny that I’m apparently hungry like ALL day. Most people probably spend their days thinking about how to better the world. Not me. Nope. No way. I think about my next meal!! I wake up starving every day. It doesn’t matter if I had a light salad or a giant piece of beef for dinner, I’m famished at 6:00 a.m. If I don’t eat something for breakfast I will be nauseous and dizzy all morning. And I totally feel like a hobbit because I want “second breakfast” like an hour or two later. I’m just one of those hungry people. And no, I don’t have a fast metabolism…a glimpse at my growing self is a clear indication of that. Also, I crave protein a lot. My mom used to reheat leftover chicken for me for breakfast when I was younger and I spent most of my college years eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the morning. Actually, that’s still my favorite breakfast food. But lately I’ve started the day with yogurt and when I’m hungry again at 8:30 or 9:00 I eat a homemade granola bar.
I love granola bars and used to buy them at the grocery store for afternoon snacks. I’ve always wanted a hearty breakfast bar and recently went searching for one at the store. I grabbed a box of some sort of oatmeal packed bars and threw them in cart. As I waited for Craig to choose which pork loin to buy (which takes like an hour!), I picked up the box of breakfast bars and gave the ingredients a peek. What a shock! First of all the list was long, like really long, and I couldn’t even pronounce over half the words. And oh how much sugar they contained! Why in the world would a simple oatmeal-based granola bar need that much sugar? I showed Craig the list and he was appalled as well. We are trying to make conscious decisions about what we eat and these bars were definitely a red flag. I put them back on the shelf and decided I would just start making my own granola bars. That way I could put whole and natural foods in them and pack them with the protein I need for a good start to the day.
I found a few recipes on the net (like at Smitten Kitchen) and a few in cookbooks I own, so I decided to take those ideas and incorporate a few of my own. Now I have the perfect chewy granola bar that is packed with fiber and protein, and even keeps me full until lunch…or at least until 11:30…just in time for elevenses. Okay, okay, enough with the hobbit references!
This recipe is very adaptable and I even make the whole thing in one bowl. I throw in a little bit of cinnamon, but that is totally optional. I may even try using pumpkin spice at some point to give them a hint of autumn. I’ve decided to cut out refined sugar by using honey or agave nectar and the dried fruit’s natural sugar for sweetness. Agave nectar comes in two varieties: light and amber. In my everyday cooking, I use the light nectar as a swap for granulated white sugar or light corn syrup, and the amber instead of honey or dark corn syrup. The nectar adds a touch of sweetness, but also acts as a binder for the other ingredients. If you’d rather not use agave or don’t have access to it, swap in honey or corn syrup instead. And if you really want a sweeter, stickier granola bar then add more syrup/honey. Depending on what goes into the granola bars, sometimes they end up a bit crumbly. In your dried fruit/nut mix, try to use a good proportion of small ingredients to larger ones. You’re going to use about 2-3 cups of dried ingredients (nuts, seeds, fruit, etc). My current favorite combination is ½ cup wheat germ, 1 cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup flax seeds, and 1 cup mixed pecans & almonds (slightly chopped). Experiment with all different kinds of dried ingredients until you find your favorite combination.
Here are some suggestions for your dried mix: wheat germ, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pepitas, unsweetened coconut, walnuts, pecans, almonds, puffed rice, dried fruit, yogurt chips, and chocolate chips.
1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
1/3 cup oat flour (made by pulsing 1/3 cup oats in food processor until fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 to 3 cups dried fruit and nut mix
1/3 cup organic peanut butter or other organic nut butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup agave nectar (or honey or corn syrup)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the rolled oats, oat flour, salt, cinnamon, and dried fruit/nut mix. Add the organic peanut butter, vanilla extract, water, and agave nectar. Stir with a spatula until the entire mixture is well combined. This takes some muscle.
Spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray and line with parchment in one direction. The parchment should extend over the sides of the pan to help you lift the bars out of the pan once they have cooled.
Pour the granola bar mix into the pan using the spatula to get every last crumb. Now, this is an important step. You need to really press the mixture into the pan so it will bind together while cooking. Using the spatula, your hands or a piece of plastic wrap, press the granola into the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges have browned. Allow the bars to cool in the pan for a few minutes and then slowly remove the bars using the parchment overhang. Let them cool on a rack for about 30 minutes and then place them in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two. I have found (and have seen others on the net) that using this technique will help stabilize the bars and hopefully avoid crumbling. Once the bars have cooled in the refrigerator, set them on a cutting board, and using a large serrated knife, cut them to the size you like. I like big bars because I eat them for breakfast, so I tend to get nine out of one batch. The bars will last for a while in an air tight container in the fridge (I keep mine in there for about two weeks) and can be frozen for a later snacking date.