Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chewy Chocolate Coconut & Almond Granola Bars

It's not even midway through January and I've already heard the words detox, juice and cleanse too many times. Don't even get me started on chia seeds. For real.

I respect a solid new year's resolution. But, if getting healthier, living better and sustaining your future is one of them then drinking green juice 5 times a day is not the way to do that. How about a bit of exercise a few times a week? Walk the dog a bit faster, or walk him 10 minutes longer. 

Resist the escalator and/or elevator! I know it looks so good and everyone is doing it, but try and make friends with stairs! They'll grown on you. How about flexing your abs while you review the minutes from last week's meeting? It all counts. Just try not to make weird faces while you're doing it. 

But lemon water with spinach puree and carrot juice isn't going to last. Haven't you seen that episode of Modern Family? It will only make you angry and you will definitely be hungry! You might get really emotional and start to cry when your paper gets jammed in the photocopier, or when you see a small puppy trying to climb up the stairs. You'll probably drink more coffee to keep you going, and we all know we don't need any more of that. 

I'm not going to cleanse anything except maybe my pile of hand-washable laundry that I've been avoiding for three and a half weeks. I'll get to that tomorrow, I promise. 

Maybe I'll just bake some cookies and only eat one instead of four. That's reasonable and something that I can get used to. (Maybe. I'll do it. I'll try. We'll see...)

So please don't offer me green juice, unless there's gin and lime in it.

I'm being real because this is real life, and real life calls for cookies...or granola bars in this case.

These are a treat and they're packed with fiber. Eat one in the morning and you'll know what I mean. Oats contain loads of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan and a high intake of soluble fiber has heaps of health benefits, including reducing blood cholesterol. True story!

Chocolate flava makes an appearance in two forms.

First cocoa powder is mixed with the oats, almonds and coconut.

Then there is chopped chocolate. I used a mix of dark and milk just for a bit of variation. All dark would work wonderfully. That's a lot of w's.

A bit of honey and melted butter makes sure you still feel like you're having a treat without feeling like your whole healthy lifestyle resolution just went off the rails. I want to keep you on track - I'm not here to sabotage you (just don't check next week's might have a weeee bit more butter than this).

We combine this butter, brown sugar, honey, espresso and salt in a saucepan and bring it just to a boil. Let it cool slightly and then stir this mixture into the oats and others until you get an evenly coated sticky mixture like this.

A half spoon of espresso coffee gives these a roasted note and even intensifies the chocolatyness.

Now we can fold in the chocolate. Some of it will melt and some will stay in bits as long as you don't over-mix. It's nice to come across a blob of chocolate every once in a while when you bite into one of these babies.

Turn this stickiness out into a baking pan and press it down firmly. Make sure to pack it down so that it all holds together and behaves well when you slice it into bars.

Bake them up in a moderate oven so that they hold together.

Now these babies are done like dinner....or dessert! There's not much science involved with making granola bars - I thought we'd start the year off easy. Just getting the right proportion of dry oats to sticky stuff (like honey) to hold it together is important. Some of the soluble fiber from the oats will leach out during baking and help hold the lot together as well.

These make a great breakfast and killer snack. I know you'll be into them.

Chewy Chocolate Coconut & Almond Granola Bars
Makes 12 bars

100 g (1 cup) flaked blanched almonds
200 g (2 cups) rolled oats
75 g (1 cup) shredded desiccated coconut
24 g (4 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
75 ml (1/3 cup) honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
56 g (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp espresso coffee granules
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
100 g dark or milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 10x7-inch rectangular baking pan with parchment paper, letting it come up the sides.

In a large frying pan over low heat, spread out the flaked almonds and cook until lightly toasted and fragrant, being sure to toss them frequently to brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl toss together oats, coconut, cooled almonds and sifted cocoa powder until evenly combined; set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine honey, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon and salt and stir until melted and smooth. Bring the mixture just to a boil and then remove from heat. Let it cool for about 5 or 10 minutes. Add this mixture to the oat mixture and toss to coat evenly so that the whole mixture is sticky. Add the chopped chocolate and fold it in – some of the chocolate will melt and some will stay in smaller chunks. The melted chocolate will help to hold the bars together a bit better.

Turn the mixture out onto your prepared pan and press it in firmly so that it is evenly spread out. Bake for 20-25 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut with a sharp knife. Don’t fret if it crumbles a bit because those are just snacking pieces.

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