‘Tis the Season to be… Active

January 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Happy new year! 2011 – so futuristic, right? The silence at Cakesnail for these past few weeks should not be taken as any indication that things have been quiet on the eating front. Quite the opposite, although I enjoyed being cooked for as much as cooking this year which, frankly, was really rather lovely. I hope your festivities were filled with equal amounts of friends, family and deliciousness. That said, it’s now January: the twinkly lights are down and street corners are filling with the sad sight of naked Christmas trees. But, no need to dwell on what has been: instead it’s time for some routine, some down-time and, above all, a month or so of concentrated nutrition and exercise. To be frank, I’m ready for it, and hopefully I have a recipe that will give you a little boost of enthusiasm for health too.

For me, the tipping point happened late last week. My body gave up the good fight and pleaded with me: maybe just a few earlier, champagne-free nights, and just perhaps a handful of green things in each meal? Is that really asking too much? I actually like hitting rock bottom when it comes to feeling unhealthy: I usually need that to break the late night-too much coffee-even later night cycle and to get something of a new regime underway. As I imagine many of you are in the same boat and kicking off the new year with new, good intentions, my 2011 gift to you is a recipe for a really nutritious and delicious snack bar to help you fuel up for those early morning runs, lunchtime gym fixes, or evening yoga practices. The bars, which are packed with oats, dried fruits, nuts and honey, are so tasty that you might even find yourself exercising just to have an excuse to eat one. Really.

The bars are incredibly easy to make, so long as you have a food processor, which you do need to blend the dates through the oats thoroughly enough to give the bars the sticky moisture that helps keep them together. I followed the recipe (which comes from the excellent Sunset magazine) pretty much to the letter, using the suggested combination of dried apples and cranberries on the fruit side and flaked almonds and pecans for the nuts, but you could definitely play around with substitutions on top of the oat and date base. I can imagine some candied ginger combining well with dried pears and I might try out a version with more of a seed fix to it – pumpkin, sesame and poppy seeds alongside some plump raisins, for example. I feel healthier already just thinking about them.

Chewy Fruit and Nut Bars
Adapted from the January 2011 issue of Sunset

Yields 12-16 Bars

1/3 cup/40g chopped almonds
1/3 cup/50g chopped pecans
1/2 cup/110ml honey
3/4 cup/150g Medjool dates*, pitted
1 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 cups/300g rolled oats
1/2 cup/60g dried cranberries
1/2 cup/35g chopped dried apples

*Medjool dates are specifically recommended for their moisture content and chewiness which the bars need to hold them together.

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes – until light golden (alternatively you can toast them on the stove top in a skillet or dry frying pan).

Warm the honey in a microwave until the consistency of a thin syrup. In a food processor, pulse the honey, dates, cinnamon and oats until the oats are coarsely chopped and the dates well distributed through the mixture.

Scrape this oat mixture into a medium bowl and, if needed, chop any remaining large chunks of dates. Stir in the toasted nuts, cranberries, and apples, making sure they are as evenly distributed through the oat mix as possible – this will help when you come to roll out the bars shortly. Squeeze the mixture into a ball. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly oil the foil to prevent the bars sticking. Dampen your hands and firmly pat the mixture onto the foil into a compact rectangle of about 6 by 12 inches. You might find it slightly crumbly in places but just press any loose parts into the rectangle and they will firm up at the next stage.

Place the sheet into the freezer for about 20 minutes, at which point it should be firm enough to cut into bars. Depending on the size you want, you will end up with about 12-16 bars. Wrap these individually and ideally leave overnight, during which time they will get moister and chewier. They will keep for at least a week in the fridge or about a month in the freezer.

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