Well my friends, it’s been a quite a long time since my last blog post. Life has been crazy and hectic and fun all at the same time…and these last few months have brought lots of challenging yet wonderful changes for me ranging from career shifts to location changes to even relationship choices. Unfortunately in all this tumult, blogging was the one thing that had to take a back seat during this time….did I mention how much I missed it 🙂
I have to admit, although I’ve been preoccupied with life, the one constant in my life has always been food and cooking! It’s was drives me creatively and is something that I can always turn to when things get chaotic. And let’s just say that during these last few months I’ve been cooking up a storm!!!!
So here I am, back in full force, and stocked with more wonderfully delicious and nutritious recipes to share with you all 🙂
This latest creation is actually one of my favorites! These All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars were adapted from my very popular Whey Protein Puffed Grain Bars that I sell in my personal chef business, The Leaner Approach. This new version does not contain any whey protein; however, it’s packed with tons of all-natural nut protein, vitamins and minerals that will give you the energy that you need and will satisfy even the “sweetest” of sweet tooths – I know from personal experience 🙂
The first thing that you will notice when you bite into these mouthwateringly healthy treats is the unmistakeable nutty taste of the roasted almonds, sunflowers and pecans. They are the costar, along with the puffed grains, in this recipe and the main producer of the crunchy texture of the bars. Because the nuts are roasted in the oven, their flavor is greatly enhanced which, as a result, adds a delightful warmth and coziness to the recipe. I chose to incorporate nuts into these All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars not only for their taste and texture but also for the amazing nutritional content that they contain. As mentioned before, nuts are a wonderful source of protein, making them a great choice for vegans and vegetarians alike. Nuts are also a great source for omega-3’s and fiber. To further bump up the “healthy factor” in this snack, I also add chia seeds to the recipe – also another great texture creator!
The second important ingredient which helps to make these All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars so incredibly healthy is the use of organic unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil. This is an ingredient that I LOVE to use in both cooking and baking. Extra-virgin coconut oil, as we all know, is a very healthy saturated fat that has countless benefits such as supporting heart and brain health, promoting cellular health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s, aiding in nutrient absorption and digestion, improving thyroid function, improving skin, reducing the risk for Type-2 diabetes, as well as many more. What makes coconut oil so great? The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) contained within the coconut oil.
To give a little science background, coconut oil consists of both long-chain saturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides; however, it’s the medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, that we are so interested in! Coconut oil contains a large percentage of MCTs, around 62-65%. What makes MCTs unique is that they’re metabolized differently than other fats. Instead of having to be manipulated by the body and absorbed by the lymphatic system the way long-chain fatty acids are, MCTs bypass all that and are shuttled directly through the portal artery to the liver, where they produce a thermogenic reaction while being metabolized. The result of this accelerated metabolic conversion is that instead of being stored as fat, the calories contained in MCTs are very efficiently converted into fuel for immediate use by organs and muscles.
Now that brings me to the MCT oil in the recipe! Companies in the fitness and health field have honed in on this and produced an oil, naturally sourced from coconuts, that is essentially stripped of all but the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). It is highly praised by athletes and even used by some bodybuilders as an energy and nutrient source during competition training when their diets are severely limited. Basically MCT oil is a coconut oil that has been broken up, with only the medium-chain triglycerides taken and used to create a “purer” oil that only gets delivered directly to the liver where its MCTs are turned into ketones and used for energy – exactly what you need in competition training when you’re looking to lose fat and can’t eat a lot of carbs but need to acquire energy (calories) from another source.
Even better, lauric, caprylic and capric acid, which are all medium-chain triglycerides, are found to have antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties. Lauric acid, which makes up 50 percent of the MCTs found in coconut oil, also aids in skin health and lowers the risk for heart disease!
One important thing to note is that although coconut oil has many healthful benefits, it does contain long-chain saturated fats and is still calorically dense so please use it in moderation – 1-2 tablespoons per day for one person is plenty!
Should you choose, the MCT oil can be replaced with coconut oil. For this recipe I would swap 1 tablespoon MCT oil for 1 tablespoon coconut oil.
OK health science class is over…now back to these delicious All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars… 🙂
To help incorporate more substance and create a more complex flavor profile I use puffed kamut and puffed rice in this recipe. I call these grains the costars to the nuts because they, along with the nuts, help to add heft and create an interesting chewy texture to the bars. However, unlike the nuts, puffed grains contain very little caloric and fat content so they’re a wonderful compliment to a denser ingredient.
Lastly, organic dark amber honey and sour cherries are used to add a floral sweetness and tangy bite to these delectable snacks…cause everybody needs a little sweetness in their lives 🙂
Once you try these All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars you won’t be able to get enough!
To make these incredibly tasty All-Natural Puffed Grain Nutrition Bars you will need puffed kamut, puffed rice, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, sour cherries, chia seeds, coconut oil, MCT oil (found in health food stores or amazon), water, brown sugar, dark amber honey, kosher salt, vanilla extract, and natural cocoa powder.
The first thing that you have to do is to toast the nuts and puffed grains. This is an important step that will liven and enhance their flavors tremendously!
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the measured nuts and puffed grains on a large baking sheet lined with foil and toast in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Make sure to keep a close watch since nuts can go from beautifully roasted to burnt in seconds – again…personal experience 🙂
Once the nuts and puffed grains have toasted, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool. Take the coconut flakes, place them on a small sheet tray and toast them for 4-6 minutes until golden. These can burn quickly as well so keep one eye out.
Chop the sour cherries up into smaller bits then add the nuts, puffed grains, coconut flakes, sour cherries and chia seeds to the mixing bowl of an electric mixture. This recipe can also be easily mixed by hand or with a hand held mixer – I just like to use any excuse to play with my electric mixer 🙂
Turn the oven heat down to 300 F.
In a 2 quart saucepan, combine the coconut oil, MCT oil, water, brown sugar, dark amber honey, kosher salt, vanilla extract and cocoa powder while on medium heat then bring to a boil while whisking constantly for 30-60 seconds. Remove from heat and pour the sauce over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.
Mix the combined ingredients on low speed until the dry ingredients are evenly coated by the sauce.
Line a quarter sheet pan (9×13) with parchment paper and scrape the mixture onto the pan. Using slightly damp hands, flatten the mixture into an even layer, making sure to extend the batter all the way to the edges of the baking sheet.
Place the sheet pan into the oven – which should be heated to 300 F – and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove promptly and set aside (uncovered) to cool directly in the baking sheet pan for at least 1 hour. This will allow the ingredients to firm up and set. It’s a crucial step!!!
Once cooled, use a sharp knife to cut into bars.
One of my favorite ways to store these nutrition bars is to individually wrap each bar in seran wrap and store in the freezer. They thaw beautifully in a matter of minutes and because they’re individually wrapped, they make the perfect grab and go snack!!!
- 1 cups puffed kamut (brand: Arrowhead)
- 1½ cups puffed rice (brand: Arrowhead)
- 1 cup whole almonds
- ¼ cup chopped pecans
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup coconut flakes (brand: Lets Do...Organic)
- 2 ounces dried sour cherries, chopped
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon MCT oil (can substitute with additional 1 tablespoon coconut oil)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons organic dark amber honey
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (brand: Nielson-Massey Madagascar)
- 1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder (brand: Hershey's)
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Place the nuts and puffed grains on a large baking sheet lined with foil and toast in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Remove and set aside to cool.
- Place the coconut flakes on a small sheet tray and toasted them for 4-6 minutes until golden.
- Chop the sour cherries up into smaller bits then add the nuts, puffed grains, coconut flakes, sour cherries and chia seeds to the mixing bowl of an electric mixture. This recipe can also be easily mixed by hand or with a hand held mixer.
- Turn oven heat down to 300 F.
- In a 2 quart saucepan, combine the coconut oil, MCT oil, water, brown sugar, dark amber honey, kosher salt, vanilla extract and cocoa powder while on medium heat then bring to a boil while whisking constantly for 30-60 seconds.
- Remove from heat and pour the sauce over the dry ingredients.
- Mix the ingredients together on low speed until evenly combined and the dry ingredient are evenly coated by the sauce.
- Line a quarter sheet pan (9x13) with parchment paper and scrape the mixture onto the pan. Dampen your hands and flatten the mixture into an even layer, making sure to extend the dough all the way to the edges of the baking sheet.
- Place the sheet pan into the oven - which should be heated to 300 F - and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove promptly and set aside (uncovered) to cool directly in the baking sheet pan for at least 1 hour, which will allow the ingredients to firm up and set.
- Once cooled, use a sharp knife to cut into desired bars.
- Store individually wrapped in saran wrap at room temperature for short term storage or in the freezer for longer term storage.