Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baking 2014: Protein-packed granola bars

At the start of the new year, ideas of healthy eating and daily exercise work their way into our daily thoughts.  We think about all of the egg nog we drank, the pie we consumed and the amount of time spent on the couch relaxing with Netflix or a good read.  And we collectively decide "2014 is it; the year I get healthy and treat my body with respect!"

Health wise it's been one of my best years.  During my tween-teen years I got away with eating complete junk (and a lot of it) on a regular basis and managed to not gain a pound. But now that I've reached my 20s and my metabolism slowed significantly, I had to start paying more attention to how I was treating my body.  After 2 years of a physical activity hiatus I decided it was time to learn how to use a treadmill and the weight equipment in the gym.  Thankfully I started to love it after I got over the initial agonizing pain in my muscles, but, like usual, I began Christmas break 2012 and hit another fitness slump.  When I don't treat my body with care, I feel down in the dumps; I lack motivation, positivity, energy and my usual cheerful attitude.  I take advantage of the surplus amount of free time pn break and allow my body's normal functions to become zombic robot-like (I think I just made up that word).

This past year and a half I learned how physical activity and healthy eating really DO make you feel better.  As much as it pains you to crawl out of bed at 7 in the morning to do a work out before the gym, at the end of the day you notice how pushing yourself to get in some cardio naturally fuels your body for the rest of the day and actually makes you crave apples and oranges (I swear by this...)

Now to the point of this post: Because morning workouts are best before taking a shower and heading to work/school, sometimes it's easy to forget to eat breakfast on your way to the gym.  If you're like me and intentionally sleep in your work-out gear so you can roll out of the bed and be on your way, having something to eat on the walk or drive is essential.  I found 2 protein-packed granola bar recipes to give you the energy to kick start the day; it's delicious, easy to make, full of nutrients and lacks all of the nasty store-bought preservatives.

Granola bars are one of those recipes you can self-create along the way and exchange this ingredient for that ingredient (which is perfect for those who are selective about their fruit/nuts).  In the first recipe, I added peanuts and dried apricots and in the second, I added peanuts and peanut butter. Both turned out great and I can't wait to eat them in the next couple of weeks!

Honey Fruit & Nut Granola bars

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups steel-cut whole grain oats
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 cup coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

Heat the oven to 350 F, line a 9x9 inch pan with aluminum foil.

Toast the nuts and oats on a baking sheet for 5-10 minutes then transfer to a large bowl.

Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract and the salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pour butter mixture into the bowl with the oats and nuts, stirring until everything is coated.  Add the chopped dried fruit and half of the chocolate chips.

Spread the mixture into the pan and press down with your hands (the harder you press, the more likely your bars will keep their shape and not become crumbly granola).  Sprinkle the top of the bars with the remaining chocolate chips and lightly press down.  Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours until firm enough to cut.  Bars will keep up to 1 week in an air-tight container.

Nature Valley Peanut Butter Copy-Cat Granola Bars

1 cup steel-cut whole grain oats
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats 
1/4 cup Rice Crispies cereal
1/4 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
3 tbsp cornmeal
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/6 cup honey
1/6 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons canola oil or coconut oil
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a 9x9 inch pan with parchment paper.

Combine oats, nuts, cereal, cornmeal, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl.

Heat the honey, peanut butter, canola oil, vanilla extract and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  

Transfer the butter mixture to the mixing bowl and combine until completely coated.

Bake 20-25 minutes.  Let cool 10-15 minutes before cutting into rectangles.


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