Thursday, January 12, 2012

Granola...........Wait for it........BARS!

It's a mountain of nutrition!
I love discovering a recipe for something I would have never even thought of making. Of course it make sense, granola bars are just oats and whatever else you wanna toss in there. Problem is when you buy them at the store they are often filled with chemical junk and HFCS. But who doesn't want a delicious granola bar in the morning or in the afternoon for an energy pick me up? Well fret no more dear readers, you can make obscenely nutritious granola bars that taste better than any store bought variety.

First just look at the ingredient list. Talk about your nutrition powerhouse. Lets start with Oats: they are full of fiber, and specifically a type of fiber called betaglucan that is proven to help lower cholesterol. Studies have also proven that it may help lower heart disease. Oats are a whole grain so they are filling and nutritious, a great breakfast food, and/or snack to have on the move.

Then there is wheat germ. I know, why am I telling you to eat something with germ in the title? Trust me it's great for you. When wheat is hulled it's separated into parts and the wheat germ is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel. In fact the germ is the embroyo of the wheat plant that will eventually be used to nourish the new wheat plant. And the germ is also completely removed when they process white flour which is why white flour has so little nutriuents. Interesting right?!  Wheat germ is known most for being super high in B vitamins and fiber.
Important note: I bought UNTOASTED wheat germ, but many grocery stores only offer toasted. Be sure to notice which kind you are buying so you don't toast already toasted wheat germ, or vise versa forget to toast untoasted germ.

Chia Seeds are something I am making a big effort to use more in cooking, because they are tiny little nutrtion powerhouses. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 7 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of omega 3's. They are also rich in calcium, iron and magnesium. Chia seeds are tiny, flavorless and can be added to oatmeal, cookies, or even just water for a filling drink. I throw them in my smoothies and plan on increasing my use of chia gel as an egg or butter alternative in baking.

Almonds are full of healthy fats and also proven to help lower cholestrol and the risk of heart disease. They are one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. Prunes are full of vitamin A and beta carotene, basically these granola bars are squares of nutriet rich goodness.

Best of all they are easy as pie to make. Though that saying "easy as pie" is fairly annoying given pie can be pretty darn time consuming to make. It should be easy as scrambled eggs, or easy as ordering a pizza. Those things are easy, pie is not.

I made these adorable bars on Sunday and am still currently enjoying them as I sit here and write this. The fruit is chewy, the bar is flavorful but not sugary and the almonds add a lovely crunch. They get better after a day or two, so make them on the weekend and have a week of healthy bars to enjoy and share with friends.
And for any mom's out there, they have been kid tested and approved aka were even used to bribe kids to eat more vegetables. Muahahahahaha little do they know the bars are healthy for them! This also works on adults :) Seriously yall, makes these bars. I've heard many people preaching, promising, and just plain complaining about the desire eat healthier this year. Yours Truly included. Well, make these treats, and you'll be one step closer.
Oats, Sunflower seeds, Germ, and Almonds: toast them up
Place you butter sugar honey mixture in a pan
Melt it up
Throw everything in a bowl and stir 
Spread it on a pan. Parchment Paper is ESSENTIAL! (not pictured, doh moment)
Fruit and Nut Granola Bars
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa as well as Alton Brown's Granola Bars

Feel free to use any dried fruit you like, any combination that equals 1 1/2 cups. If you don't like sunflower seeds, coconut works as well. DO NOT forget to well grease your pan and use parchment paper. I forgot and spent a lot of time getting these bad boys out of the pan.

The Goods: Makes 20-24 bars
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup prunes, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries

The Deal: 
1. Butter a 9 x 9 baking dish, and line with parchment paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oats, sunflower seeds, almonds, and wheat germ (unless already toasted, check your package) on a large baking sheet. Place in the oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until lightly browned.

2. Once your sheet of oat mixture is ready, place toasted ingredients in large bowl. Lower oven temperature to 300. Heat the honey, sugar, butter, vanilla and salt in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook until all the brown sugar dissolves. Remove pot from heat and immediately pour into the bowl of oat mixture. Add chia seeds, dried fruit and stir to combine.

3. Pour mixture onto the prepare baking dish, being sure to evenly distribute the oat mixture. Water your hands and light press the mixture into the pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

These can be kept in a airtight container for up to a week. They actually taste better a day after they are made.

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