Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Raw Energy Bars

Did we eat as many snacks as our kids do? I can't imagine. Although writing that, I just remembered plopping down in front of Little House on the Prairie with a bag of Fritos and a tub of sour cream. Those were the days; my arteries are probably still recovering. And I suppose if I were willing to send the kids to school with Fritos and sour cream, then life would be fairly simple. But nooooo. I insist on nutrient density!
And so, these whole-foods fruit-and-nut energy bars: perfect portable, junk-free, delicious and wildly wholesome snacking. Minimal packaging, maximum energy, and quick and easy to make. I actually developed this recipe for FamilyFun Magazine, and it's in this month's issue, along with a way better photograph than any of mine here (Does theirs look like a turd? No. No it does not.) But for me, it's kind of like the no-knead bread or the granola: a recipe that could totally revolutionize some aspect of your life. In this case, the snack aspect of your life. They're loosely modeled after Lara Bars, but they're so much cheaper, they're fully customizable, and their sized just right for kids, i.e. they're small. Which is good because they are pure food and so quite filling.
As you'll see in the recipe below, you can make them with any combination of raw nuts and dried fruits, tailoring to the tastes of your family. But here's what I recommend: make two batches at a time. That way, you maximize the dirtying of your food processor (this is nearly an obsession of mine--the way I avoid it, you'd think that washing it was rocket science crossed with being on hold with customer service representatives) and also you provide variety and make enough for two school weeks, assuming that you have two children and commit to giving them a different snack one day a week (hello, popcorn!). You'll see, though: they're incredibly easy to make, and I actually kind of like squeezing the mixture to form the bars, though I apologize about this step: believe me, I wanted to be able to tell you that you could press them into a pan and cut them, like a normal person, but I just don't find that this works. I'm thinking, too, that you could avoid wrapping them individually: just shape them, store them in a large container, and then pop them into small containers for transporting. But the wax paper makes my kids feel like they're getting an actual snack bar. I can't explain the psychology, but it works.
Raw Energy Bars (basic recipe)
Makes 8 bars
Total time: 15 minutes

1/2 cup of raw nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, coconut, cashews) or roasted peanuts
1/2 cup of pitted dates
1/2 cup of another dried fruit (apples, apricots, cherries, pineapple, or more dates)

Shown here:
Pina Colada Bars (5 dates, 5 torn-up pineapple rings, 1/4 cup each almonds and coconut)
Chocolate Cherry Macaroon Bars (5 dates, heaping 1/4 cup cherries, 1/4 cup each walnuts and coconut, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder)

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, grind the nuts fine, then tip them into a bowl. Now grind the fruit until it turns into small clumps, then add the nuts back in and process again until a small handful of the mixture holds together when you squeeze it. (If this never happens, then add in a few more dates; conversely, if the mixture seems too damp, add a few more nuts.)

Tear off four squares of wax paper, then tear them in half to make 8 rectangles. Divide the mixture into 8 parts by picking up handfuls and squeezing. Squeeze and press some more to form each lump into a rough rectangle, then wrap in the wax paper. I do this the way I would make a burrito: I lay the bar near and parallel to a short side of the rectangle, then fold the long sides in, then roll it all up. Store them in air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Follow the basic 2 to 1 ratio of dried fruit to nuts and create your own flavors. But these are some of our favorites:

Cherry Tart: walnuts, almonds, dates, cherries
Peanut Butter Snap: peanuts, dates, dash of vanilla, sprinkle of salt
Apricot Muffin: almonds, dates, apricots
Apple Brown Betty: pecans, dates, apples, pinch of cinnamon
Key Lime Pie: coconut, pecans, dates, apples, finely grated lime zest

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