Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Real Food: Fruit and Nut Bars

A few weeks ago, I ran across this Dr. Oz recipe for a raisin-based brownie and thought, "Oh, I see.  They're using raisins as a binder and sweetener just like Larabars use dates."  

Then I thought, "WHY AM I BUYING LARABARS?!??  I could totally make them myself!"

Larabars, if you don't know, are insane-delicious fruit and nut bars made with very basic ingredients.  There are usually between 2 to 5 ingredients in each bar, and they are grain-free. Kids, adults- everyone loves them.  They're a nice shot of good fat, fiber, protein, and natural sugar.

  I've been known to shove them into the hands of my friends and force them to try one on the spot.  Dates are always the base, adding moisture, texture, and sweetness, taking on the flavors of the nuts, fruits, and spices they are paired with.

My favorites are the Peanut Butter Cookie, Banana Bread, Apple Pie, Pecan Pie, Cherry Pie, Ginger Snap, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and Chocolate Chip Brownie.  (I realized as I was typing this that I have...a lot of favorites.)

Larabars are typically around 200 calories each.  One does not simply eat three of these in a row.  But, they are a smart and sweet treat, and very nice to keep in your bag for emergencies. My favorite way to eat them is in the afternoon with some french press.

These are so simple to make, and I feel like such an idiot for not realizing I could do it sooner.  In creating these, I hoped to capture the flavors, but in a smaller portion; something we could have as a treat without so many calories packed in.  These are great for lunchboxes, too.

Once I decided to make my own, I did a Google search and of course there are tons of Larabar recipes out there.  These, however, are my own recipes inspired by my favorite flavors.  I didn't even read anyone else's.  I have an independent spirit like that.

Be sure to purchase unsweetened, pitted dates.  You should be able to find these with the raisins and other dried fruits at your grocery store.  When you measure the dates, don't pack them in; just pour them in to the top of the measuring cup.  Also, be sure to purchase unsalted nuts, unless otherwise noted.  Toasting the nuts beforehand is optional.  I used raw nuts in all of my batches (except for the peanut batch.)  Experiment, experiment, experiment!  It's hard to go wrong with these.

Basic Technique for Homemade Fruit and Nut Bars:

1.  Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your food processor.

2.  Process until the entire mixture binds, about 2-3 minutes.  For quite some time, the mixture will be chopped up, but not bound.  It will resemble the look of wet sand.  Keep processing until the moment when the entire mixture starts to get lumpy, then binds together into one giant ball, similar to cookie dough in a mixing bowl.  Trust the process.  You'll feel like it will never happen, but, it will!

3. Line an 8x8 pan with non-stick foil or parchment, using enough to hang over the edge for easy removal later.  Place the fruit and nut mixture into the pan and press evenly to the edges, smoothing the top.  If the mixture is sticky, use a rubber spatula sprayed with cooking spray.

4.  Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.  Lift on the foil or parchment to remove from pan and invert onto a cutting board.  Using a sharp knife sprayed with cooking spray, cut the square first in half, then quarters, then rotate pan and cut the opposite way into thirds (making 12 even bars.)

5.  Store between sheets of wax paper or parchment.  These will freeze wonderfully, minding that they are tightly wrapped.

Peanut Butter Cookie

2 C  dates
1/2 C  Dry Roasted Peanuts, Salted with Sea Salt

87 Calories Each

Cherry Pie

1/2 C  Dates
1 1/2 C  Dried Unsweetened Cherries
1/4 C  Almonds

100 Calories Each

Pecan Pie

2 C  Dates
1/2 C  Pecans
1/8 C  Almonds

100 Calories Each

Banana Bread

2 C Dates
1/4 C Ripe Banana
1/2 C Almonds
1/2 C  Walnuts

123 Calories Each

Apple Pie

1 C Dates
1/2 C  Dried Apples
1/2 C  Almonds
1/2 C  Walnuts
1/4 C  Golden Raisins
1/2 t  Cinnamon

111 Calories Each

Ginger Snap

2 C  Dates
1/2 C  Almonds
1/4 C  Walnuts
1/4 C  Pecans
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and quartered
1/2 t  Cinnamon
 1/8 t  Cloves

124 Calories Each

Chocolate Brownie

2 C Dates
1 C  Walnuts
1t  Cocoa Powder
6 pieces Green & Blacks Chocolate, any flavor
Dash Sea Salt

124 Calories Each

P.S.:  Have you ever noticed that the Peanut Butter and Jelly Larabars taste like a Twin Bing?  If you sandwich half a cherry bar between two halves of a Peanut Butter Cookie bar... same thing.  (It's regional; you might not understand.)

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