June 30, 2013

Cereal Bars

Cereal bars, look better than they taste

I know, a bit blurry, but here you see them in all their gooey glory



I let Mr. Duds sniff them from outside, and he seemed to think they were just fine.

It has been so long. I'm really sorry about that. Let's catch up. Oh fine. You're right. How could I be so lazy and neglectful? I know, I know, my last post was March.  Since March, I got caught up on work.  Rather, the last two months of the semester steam rolled me into the ground and left me drying on the asphalt. Work. Sigh. Love it. Hate it. As soon as my semester wrapped up, and not a minute later, I boarded a plane and went on a 3 week long holiday. My god it felt good. More on that later.

Today is all about cereal bars. I never blog the recipes that turn out awful (you are so welcome), but I think it's good to remember that recipes fail dozens of time. Even when they fail, I'll still consume the outcome. Sometimes the recipe is just wrong. Other times, I didn't have the correct ingredients and substituted an ingredient because I was too lazy to go to the store to buy it. Honestly, I cannot fathom driving to the store for a single recipe. It is just not how I roll.

I have a coworker that teaches sports nutrition. She had her students bring in power bars, and snacks, that fit the nutrition bill and that were still made up of real food. I imagine as a sports nutritionist, one would constantly deal with questions about maxing out protein, and which whey powder is recommended. Yesterday, I was eating my plain toasted oats cereal when I turned the box over and read a recipe for cereal bars. I had all the ingredients: dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter, brown sugar, toasted oats plain cereal. However, there was one ingredient that I was a bit iffy on: corn syrup.

The recipe for cereal bars is quite simple. You add the dry ingredients to a bowl, and then you boil together the wet ingredients. Once the wet ingredients are hot and mixed, you pour them over the dry ingredients, stir everything together, and then press them in a 8x8 greased pan. You let them cool, and once cool, you can cut them into small squares. This sounded like a good alternative to granola bars.

I made a few adaptations. I used pistachios instead of peanuts. I used dried plums instead of apricots, and I used brown sugar, peanut butter, and molasses. I added coconut flakes.  I even had corn syrup, but I couldn't bring myself to add it. I'm no brown sugar advocate, but to me, corn syrup is...is....there it is. I couldn't figure out why nutritionally corn syrup had been brandished to the "it's not real food" pile. It's broken down and absorbed similarly to glucose and fructose. But then it's also obtained through a complex multi-organic-chemistry process that makes it seem much more notorious than blackstrap molasses, or brown sugar. Corn production is heavily subsidized as an agricultural commodity which makes corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup the cheapest sweeteners to make. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are found in foods that I would categorize as unhealthy: sugar-sweetened beverages, sodas, sweets and other shelf-stable baked goods, fake syrups, fruit-flavored yogurt masquerading as healthy food, some baked bread products. The list could go on. I want to note that other sugars could be just as notorious, so I'm not trying to single out corn syrup. But I did want to talk about why I immediately felt hesitation when I saw it as an ingredient.

So I tried to simmer together brown sugar, peanut butter, and molasses. It quickly became clear that this concoction would not work as the glue that I was supposed to be making. So, I added the corn syrup. The result: a super sweet, not-so-bad, cereal bar if you want your cereal to taste like cookies with plums, peanut butter, and pistachios. Now, I finally understand why granola bars have about 5 types of added sugar. Next time you crack open a granola bar, take a look at the ingredients list. The following are all types of added sugars: brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice crystals.

I think I'll avoid granola bars, and also cereal bars for the foreseeable future. I will stick to my stick-to-my-ribs oatmeal which is made by heating up plain oatmeal, adding fruit, milk (or soy milk), nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes honey or brown sugar (1 tsp at the max). Adding that much sugar to make something which is supposed to be healthy (breakfast or a snack) is just plain wrong.

Now if you want to improve, suggest upon, or build a better version here is the basics recipe:

(Not so good) Cereal Bars
Recipe from Target's Market Pantry Toasted Oats 
Yield: Almost 2 dozen 1.5" by 1.5" squares.

4 cups toasted oats cereal
1 cup dried apricots, chopped (sub in any kind of dried fruit
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup peanut butter (can sub in crunchy or smooth peanut butter)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar (can sub in crunchy or smooth peanut butter
Optional add ins:
A few tbsps of different kinds of nuts, flax seeds, or coconut flakes.

1. Spray an 8" by 8" pan with a little oil.
2. Stir together the dry ingredients
3. Stir together the wet ingredients in a small saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat, and combine until boiling. I would make sure and cover the pan so you don't get hit with any spurts out of the pan. Let it simmer for 1 minute and then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir everything together and press into the pan. Let it cool completely before cutting. If you cannot wait like me, then at least put the knife in a little bit of oil to let it cut smoothly.

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