Category Archives: Baking

Gluten-free for me!

annie’s granola bars with a kick

So today I went and had a body composition analysis performed at my gym. Hydrate well the day before, neither eat nor drink several hours beforehand, take off all your jewelry (yes Annie, including your nose stud), and stand barefoot on this funky platform and hold these bizarre metal handles and poof. Your percent lean body mass for each limb and your trunk. Your ratio of extracellular water to total body water. Your percentage of body fat. Oh my.

Upon receiving my results I, a woman of action, immediately signed up for my favorite trainer’s “boot camp.” (Thankfully, she hates that term, too.) Which happened to start 45 minutes later. But there I was, in sweatpants and without any food or water on board. Could I make it?

My gym is 12 minutes from home. I could run home and change into workout clothes quickly, but what about fuel? What I could eat that would sustain me without making me puke halfway through the workout? Fortunately I had a fridge full of these bad boys. I hit home, changed, grabbed one of these and popped a Nuun tablet in a bottle of water. I munched en route and got there just in time to run up and down stairs sideways, do lots of side plank, and throw medicine balls at my husband’s boss’s daughter’s chest.

That last one was a bit unexpected.

Anyway. The bars.

My mom and step-dad want the recipe. My coworkers sniff with envy when I break one out. Jesse said they’re the “treat” of his lunchbox! That made me feel very good about myself.

These granola bars were born out of a desire to replace the Zone bars we’d been buying with something cheaper and a little less artificial. I’ve tried a bunch of no-bake recipes popular now on the Internet but they all seemed to crumble, or leave me wanting more protein. I’ve made granola bars in the past, but they were complex and a little too righteous. I needed something hearty, easy to throw together while multitasking, and good enough that I actually look forward to eating. I use high-quality but accessible ingredients here–the packages of soy flour and coconut flour last for many batches, and I can even find these at my Albertson’s. Nuts and chocolate you can buy in bulk. I get giant containers of Craisins and peanut butter from Costco, and that shit never goes bad.

holy peanut butter batman

Oh my god, that’s a lot of peanut butter. Shown with a normal jar for scale.

Anyway, this recipe is more of a guideline (have I ever really written a *recipe* recipe, though?)–each batch I’ve made has been slightly different than the last, and sometimes that’s just because I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. Oops. The last batch I made, for instance, had almost a cup of coconut flour rather than the half cup I’m calling for here, and I had to add another egg to account for the extra dry volume.

So mess around. Here’s the principle you want to keep in mind: mix your dry ingredients with enough sticky stuff to hold it all together. Simple enough! If you added so many chunks of things or flours that it’s not holding together with the wet ingredients listed here, add an overripe banana or another egg or something. Don’t worry.

Annie’s Granola Bars with a Kick

Ingredients

  • 1 cup gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill FTW)
  • 1/2 cup soy flour (that shit is 35% protein!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour (high in fiber)
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts of any kind–hazelnuts are my favorite so far
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or other sweet dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chunky natural peanut butter (the runny stuff made only of peanuts and salt)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 to 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne (I have a problem, I know)
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt

Optional add-ins:

  • crystallized ginger
  • chocolate-covered espresso beans
  • more dried fruit
  • more nuts
  • Rice Krispies or other cereal (as this adds significantly to the dry volume, either plan to decrease the volume of flours you use, or add an extra egg)
  • al dente quinoa

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together your dry ingredients in a large bowl–everything from the oats to the chocolate and any add-ins you fancy.

dry

In a medium bowl, mix your wet ingredients and your spices with a silicone spatula.

wet

Pour your wet ingredients into the dry and stir and mix and smoosh everything together like crazy. The dough should juuuust stick together if you press the spatula into it pretty hard.

gimme some dough

Line a 9×9 glass baking dish with a sheet of parchment paper. Dump in your dough and work it into the corners with your spatula. Smoosh the dough into a uniform layer, pressing hard to create the densest brick possible.

they're starting to smell goooood

Pop the bars into the oven for 25-30 minutes. The edges will tell you when you’re done–the top does become a little toasty golden, but the edges are your limiting factor as they tend to burn. Allow to cool and then use a big chef’s knife cut the mass into whatever size bars you desire. We usually end up getting about 10 bars out of each batch. Well, 9, because we immediately split one. For quality control.

wait til they cool

These keep me going during a long shift, or on a long hike. They help prevent homicidal ideation while running errands. And, as my step-dad observed, the cayenne leaves just enough of a burn on your lips to remind you that you had something special.

Enjoy! And tell me what you do to make them your own.

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goodbye dollies

Yesterday was my last day at a particularly wonderful hospital with particularly wonderful people. I left because of the less-than-wonderful commute. I get 6 hours of my life back per week now. I’ll be working at a hospital that I could see from my bedroom window, were there a forest fire.

That’s hyperbole, but just barely.

So I brought in a treat for each of my last three shifts. I have been informed that I really nailed it with the treats I brought in yesterday, so I’m going to tell you about them.

I don’t do a lot of baking–I’m by no means a bad baker, but sometimes I just choose the wrong recipe or sub in the wrong gluten-free flour, and I end up haunted by some funny aftertaste. This time, I wanted there to be no potential for misunderstanding: these treats needed to say “I like you guys and am going to miss you so much that I want to give you diabetes.” So a treat that I could assemble from ingredients that already were delicious on their own was the way to go.

Enter the Hello Dolly.

The song was stuck in my head. That’s why I thought of them. It’s a little ironic. “Dolly will never go away again!” goes the lyric.

JUST KIDDING! DOLLY AIN’T NEVER COMIN’ BACK!

Anyway. The bars. Inspiration came from these two, and then I made them my own a little bit. Here we go:

Goodbye Dollies

Ingredients

  • 3 cups coarsely crushed GF cookies–I used a cup of Mi-Del Oreo knockoffs, a cup of Pamela’s Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies, and a cup of homemade gingersnaps that I found in the back of the freezer. Mi-Del gingersnaps would work here, too. Yes, you just spent $15 on GF cookies. I didn’t say this was cheap. Your coworkers are worth it, and you’ll have some left over. It’s your last day. (To crush, I threw whole cookies in a plastic bag and wailed on them with the bottom of a saucepan for a while.)
  • 1.25 cups of softened butter (don’t cry)
  • 1 12 oz bag chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz bag white chocolate chips (mine was actually 11 ounces and it didn’t matter)
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans, almonds, peanuts, or other tasty nuts (or a mix!!), roasted–roasted and salted would be AWESOME
  • 2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk

Instructions

Grease a 9×13 baking pan. Line it with two strips of parchment paper and let the ends hang over the sides. Grease the paper, too. Cooking spray is fine for this. Preheat the oven to 350.

Mix the crushed cookies with the softened butter in a large bowl. Spread this mixture on the bottom of the baking pan–it’s your base layer. Cover every square millimeter or you’ll have a hell of a time getting these off the parchment.

Next, throw down all the chocolate chips. Then the white chocolate chips. Then the coconut. Then the nuts.

THEN, POUR BOTH CANS OF SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK EVENLY ALL OVER THE TOP.

Pop the pan into the oven for 25 minutes, or until the sweetened condensed milk is bubbling and caramelizing all over. While you’re waiting, score yourself some insulin.

Here’s the hard part: bring the pan out of the oven and let the whole mess cool COMPLETELY. Trying to cut this slab into bars before it’s completely cool will result in molten ooze and the stickiest mess you can imagine. After the mass had mostly cooled, Jesse helped me pull it out of the pan using the parchment paper overhangs and placed the beast on a cooling rack, which I managed to fit into the refrigerator. After 45 minutes or so, the mega-bar had cooled enough that we could cut into it just enough to test a corner, but it still wasn’t cool enough to cut into squares. I left it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it was ready.

thing of beauty

I cut the treats into squares and replaced the whole mess (minus several for Jesse) into the pan. Discussing it with my coworkers later, I realized that this is technically a “no-sugar-added” dessert. Very wholesome.

layers of goodness

As for my last day? It was pretty sweet, too. Everyone was very, very nice to me. I had relatively stable patients. Nothing terrible happened. I had time to say goodbye. I have lots and lots of gratitude.

It’ll take a while to sink in. Change always does, for me.

I might need to make another batch.

mythical GF granola bars

I’ve had a series of little health-related wake-up calls in the last few months. And no, this isn’t a New Year’s resolution post! It’s all a normal part of having a body, to be sure. I completed the inaugural half-marathon event of the Portland Marathon on 10/10/10 (I hit the 10-mile mark at 10 AM, by the way) and THEN decided it was time to clean up my act. Kind of a bizarre order of events, but it’s true. I discovered that somehow, I’ve added a small but significant amount of poundage onto my frame since starting nursing school in 2008. Granted, between then and now I also successfully and healthily completed 2 triathlons, a duathlon, and a half-marathon. So a lot of that is slow-twitch endurance muscle, I’d like to think. But some of it isn’t. Some of it is a direct result of the carnitas craved after a 4-hour brick workout. Some of it is a result of, well, a stressful 16-month nursing program and a move and a wedding. I’m gorgeous the way I am, to be sure (and modest to boot). I’d just like to do what I can to stay healthy for the long haul.

In order to do so in a smart, body-positive way, I’m being mindful about what I do with my body and what I put in it. I joined a yoga studio and I’m keeping a food journal. I visited my NP and had some basic bloodwork done, which showed an LDL cholesterol level that was a meager 2 or 3 points into the range that makes said NP talk to people about eating more oatmeal and cutting back on solid fats. And since I’m a self-motivated take-charge sort of person (on good days), I’m now on a mission. So it’s time to highlight some recipes and dishes that make the most of flavor, texture, and color without relying on brown butter or (sigh) bacon fat for oomph. Don’t worry. Those two won’t go away entirely.

So. Naturally, I’m on the hunt for a gluten-free baked good I can enjoy regularly that supports these lovely goals I’ve got.

I’m not asking for much here. Just a breakfast/snack bar that’s gluten-free, low-fat, low sugar, low-calorie, tasty, and will contribute to the betterment of my cholesterol numbers (which are fine but could be better).

Yup. Not asking for much at all.

Let’s think about this for a moment. Pulling together such a recipe would be akin to finding and subsequently catching a unicorn in the back yard (though I remain convinced there’s one in the stream running through the little valley behind the house). A lot of gluten-free baked goods remain higher in fats or calories relative to their gluten-full cognates due to the necessary omission of healthfood’s darling, whole wheat flour. In order to mimic the high-protein glutenny antics of ol’ whole wheat, we use almond flour, soy flour, sorghum flour. We use buckwheat and teff. We use an extra egg or two. We use potato starch and tapioca flour to add lightness and lift. We add a little more butter or oil to keep things moist and airy. High-nutrition though they are, put a few of those ingredients together and compare what you’ve got in your mixing bowl with the mixing bowl of a non-GF health junkie and she, with her whole wheat and vital wheat gluten and her egg whites and applesauce, is going to come out ahead on the caloric front. It’s also why I roll my eyes when people find out I’m gluten-free and say, “Oh! I want to try that! I bet I’d lose so much weight!” No, honey. You’d eat a lot more nuts and cheese. Out the window would got that nice little high-fiber low-fat granola bar.

Not that I’m complaining. I’ll skip the heartburn and the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics that go along with gluten consumption and take an extra few pounds any day.

But I digress.

The recipe hunt. Basically, I’m going to try to combine my whole grain GF nutritional powerhouses in a way that capitalizes on their nutty goodness without involving a cup each of honey and coconut oil. I’ve already got the specialized palette of the crunchy hippie food lover. And at this point, I’m willing to pay almost any price for any ingredient I can easily source. Which means I have to be able to find said ingredient in a nearby grocery store. And I want to put this thing together with tools I already have–the most complex of which should be the 11-cup food processor. (Those of you without access to such a robot should just stop reading. In my pre-processor days, these kind of posts made me really sad.)

Trials #1-3 have included the following ingredients:

  • 2c gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats, toasted briefly under the broiler
  • 2c gluten-free brown rice puff cereal (GF hippie Rice Krispies–found mine at Market of Choice in West Linn)
  • 1/2 c rice bran
  • 1/2 c quinoa flakes (Market of Choice, again)
  • 1/4 c almond meal flour (Bob’s Red Mill stuff)
  • 3/4 c water OR light almond milk OR OMG SOME UBER-STEEPED CHAI WITH ALMOND MILK
  • 1 1/4 c pitted dates
  • 1/2 c craisins
  • 1/8 c chia seeds (found mine at Haggen in Oregon City)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fresh-grated nutmeg

Basically, I plopped the first 4 ingredients together in a big mixing bowl and tossed the last 8 ingredients in the food processor and pulsed like crazy. And then I mixed the two together, spread in a glass 9×13″ baking dish coated with coconut oil, and baked at 350° F for 25-30 min. Look: no sugar! No honey! No agave syrup! No stevia or xylitol or Splenda or  maple syrup or molasses. No added oils or fats. Not even an egg. The combination of chia seeds, the liquid of choice, dates, and almond meal serves to bind everything into bar form. The dates, craisins, and spices contribute to the significant sweetness.

The result? A good place to start, I think. The finished product has a subtle sweetness, a toasty smell, and a deep nutty flavor. And a crapload of fiber (pun very clearly intended) and iron and calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re very chewy–in a good way, I think. If you want, you could even turn this into straight granola instead of bars: crumble the mixture onto greased baking sheets and pop them in the oven. Watch closely; they’ll need more like 10-15 minutes to reach their peak in that form. Mix into Greek yogurt and feel better than everyone else.

I had also initially intended to include some puffed corn as well. But the bag of the pre-puffed hull-free stuff I bought at the grocery store met its end on the kitchen floor, nommed open by our dear old grandpa-dog, Cutter. So, determined to get my corny fix, I decided to attempt to pop corn in a paper bag in the nuker. No oil, just popcorn. Lots of people say they’ve done this before. So if your average Internet surfer can make popcorn in the microwave safely, I figured, I should have no trouble.

Wrong!

I was lucky to pull the bag out of the microwave and fling it into the sink before it burst into flames.

What I’m trying to say is, I flung the bag into the sink and THEN IT BURST INTO FLAMES. Little ones, easily doused by the sink’s extendo-faucet. (The fire extinguisher lives only a foot away, anyhow.) What would a kitchen experiment be without a little sink fire?

Just because I’m getting healthy doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time.