Bird Bars.

This recipe is for my Mother.  If there is one other person in the world who really "gets" my occasional food obsessions, it's her.  We have so much in common this way; we happily will trade ideas and variations on themes, morphing ideas of what we should be eating with attempts at reducing our collective sweet tooth. 

bird bar.

When she was in town briefly last week, we stopped at my food co-op and she excitedly grabbed a couple of their house made Birdy Bars.  I had never tried them, already being a devotee of their Little Oaties (more than one pregnant trip was made especially to pick up a soft oatmeal cookie sandwich to devour in the car... true story), which is dangerous enough.  But my Mom lives 3 1/2 hours away, so she said before she left, "You have to figure out how to make those, okay?"

So here you go, Mom:  this is my version of the Birdy Bar.  I was surprised that I got it in one try, but having already mastered a number of vegan truffles/energy bars based on nuts, seeds, and the like I had a pretty good working knowledge of what it takes to make a seedy bar stick together.  And, I had saved the ingredient label from the original.  Hopefully, Outpost will forgive my treasonous homemade version - especially since I purchased all my bulk ingredients from them!

bird bar.

The only thing I didn't do this time and would do next time is completely melt the peanut butter and honey and bring it to a just simmer in a small pot.  I had a few dry pockets of seeds, and I think this would make for a more homogenized bar.  That being said, I certainly don't mind the little messy bits:  it gives me the excuse I need to eat the errant snippets on plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream, or even gingery butternut squash soup as seen below...  Substitute almond butter for the peanut butter to make it paleo, and agave for the honey for a vegan option.

Bird Bars (Inspired by Outpost Food Co-op)
yields 9 smaller bars, or 4 "Outpost-sized" bars
  • 1 c. raw sesame seeds
  • 1/2 c. raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 c. sultanas (golden raisins)
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (natural, just peanuts and salt)
  • 1/4 c. honey
Preheat the oven to 325.  Line a 8x8 square pan with parchment paper.

Basically, just mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl until well blended.  As I mentioned in the note above, you could melt the peanut butter and honey together in a small saucepan and then pour over the seedy ingredients to ensure a better mixture.

Press the whole lot into the prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes until the seeds around the edges are just starting to look a little golden.  Cool completely in the pan before removing to a cutting board and portioning into bars.  Wrap them individually, and hide half so you don't grab them all right away.

bird bar.
butternut squash soup.

The original version has almonds and dried cranberries, and I'd imagine you could doctor these with just about anything, so long as you don't stray too much from the ratio.  Upping the "wet" ingredients just a little bit might allow for a completely raw bar too - if you're into that sort of thing, but I like the soft set texture of the baked version.

Sesame seeds are actually a good source of calcium, but the unhulled seeds contain far more (like 90-95% more) than the hulled counterparts.  That's something to consider as you add them to your diet for that reason.  I like trying to include more of them in my food because they have anti-inflammatory properties and help with regulating cholesterol, not to mention they are just downright tasty in large quantities.  Recently I made myself a batch of simple granola that was surprisingly great.  You wouldn't think so few ingredients would be so delicious, and really highlight the unique flavor of sesame!

bird bar.

And while I'm talking about granolas, the one on the left in the picture above is what is left from a truly amazing Gingersnap Granola I snagged from the Bojon Gourmet last Friday.  That is another recipe I know my Mom will absolutely love... and I was trying hard to not mention it because I know if I surprised her with a jar of it on our next visit she would be as crazy for it as I am!

It does seem like I have a lot of bird food going on over here as I finally sit to think about what I've made in the past week or so.  I suppose I have enough real food to fill in the gaps, but just what is it about snack foods that are so appealing?

(Paleo and/or Gluten-Free) Strawberry-Rhubarb "Bars".

It is no secret that I have a wicked sweet tooth.  I have made great strides in consuming less sugar, specifically less desserts, but lately?  Man.  I am really craving the sweet stuff.  I'll go ahead and blame the pregnancy hormones, which is fun and easy to do - but so far, I'm doing a pretty good job of not giving in to overly refined sweets.  Part of the reason is that I'm finding naturally sweetened things to help me out.  The post-suppertime call of dessert is after all a part of my genetic make up, and who am I to buck the mold and abstain?

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

I will also publicly confess that I don't think I should be eating rhubarb.  This kills me, because rhubarb is one of my most favorite things - especially during this time of the year when you can't barely log onto your computer without finding a half dozen stellar looking rhubarby treats.  Rhubarb is part of the nightshade family, and one of the foods that I've self-diagnosed as a trigger for my skin problems.  Last spring, I may have overdosed on the kuchens and jams... and my hands really paid the price.  But this week there was one last bag of frozen, chopped rhubarb from last year in my deep freeze, and after this gorgeous post by Alanna at the Bojon Gourmet I figured I'd risk the minor skin irritations and come up with a no-refined sugar dessert for myself.  (Even though I'll likely have to make Alanna's version when the new crop rhubarb finally gets here!)

I suppose this dessert is mostly paleo friendly;  it's definitely gluten-free and refined sugar free.  It's also very much on the not-too-sweet side, leaving just enough room for a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, though I've been just as happy having a generous spoonful of full-fat plain Greek yogurt on top. To coerce my son into having some, I just added an extra drizzle of maple syrup over the top which made it plenty sweet enough to convince him that he might just like rhubarb after all.

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

If you use frozen rhubarb and strawberries, there is no need to defrost them first.  I think the flavor of the dessert is better the next day, after it has fully chilled and had a chance to "set up".  These are the type of bars that require eating with a fork, unless you are very cautious and eat over the sink.

Strawberry Rhubarb Bars
  • 2 c. chopped rhubarb (frozen is fine)
  • 1-2 c. sliced strawberries (frozen are fine)
  • 1 T. rapadura
  • 1 T. maple syrup
  • 1 T. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 10 dates
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. sprouted almonds (50 g.) ground into a meal
  • 1/2 c. (50 g.) unsweetened, dried coconut
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 T. rapadura
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat oven to 350.  Butter a 9x9 glass baking dish and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, 1 T. rapadura, 1 T. maple syrup, and cornstarch and stir well to combine.  Pour into prepared baking dish.
Using a blender, blend the eggs and dates until they are fully blended.  Pour over the rhubarb and strawberry mixture.

In a small bowl (or the same bowl you used to mix up the rhubarb and strawberries) combine the almond meal, coconut, salt, rapadura, oil, and butter and mix with your fingertips until you reach a good crumbly consistency.  Spread evenly over the top of the dessert.

Bake until puffed and lightly browned across the top, and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean - about 1 hour.  Cool completely to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.  Serve with an extra splash of maple syrup, vanilla ice cream, and/or plain Greek yogurt.

gf coconut topping

Spring in Wisconsin is off to a slow start - which is really excellent news for maple syruping, but not so good news for us sun-starved northerners.  In many places around the country, the rhubarb is already up and ready to cut, but we're still waiting for a bit more warmth here to be so lucky.  Then, I'll replenish my frozen stores and continue to repress my physical sensitivities to this most wonderful marker of spring.  I'm sure I'll be figuring out a few more ways to enjoy rhubarb without so much sugar!

rhubarb strawberry bars, gluten-free

(Magic) Bars. And Paleo Diet.

My state is known as the drunkest state.  It's a fact that I'm not so proud of, and certainly one that bears no bragging rights in my opinion.   My city is founded on capitalizing breweries and brewers, Eastern European immigrants taking advantage of our excellent water resources and creating an environment where it's pretty easy to find a good beer, if not a few too many good beers.

Perhaps working in tandem with the drunkest state moniker are the  numerous corner bars dotting the city.  They give us the feeling of a being larger city than we are, and if you are not participating in the binge culture, there is also a sense of civic pride in our hand-craftiness.  Good things are indeed made in Wisconsin.

Not the least of which are bars of another sort, the cookie type hastily pressed into pans to avoid the more time consuming labors of shoveling drop cookies into and out of the oven every 12-15 minutes.  I assume it's a trend passed down by the same ingenious Midwestern predecessors, that at every church potluck and every summer picnic someone brings a pan of bars.  I think I took this for granted (or maybe didn't even acknowledge it) until a dear out-of-town friend visited years ago with her boyfriend at the time.  He had never been to the Midwest, and it was he who first mentioned the connection about bars and the Midwest to me.  And, wouldn't you know, my mother-in-law came over that very afternoon with a delicious pan of "Hello Dollys", a classic bar cookie for me to serve to my company...  I remember he was thrilled.

Paleo magic bars.

In my own kitchen, where I can't really spend too much time, cookie baking usually rules outright.  But cookies also run the risk of being too easily snatched and hastily eaten by yours truly.  They also have a lot of sugar, usually both white and brown to tame the tenderness issues often plaguing them.  I'm still dutifully trying not to give in to sugary temptations, and this results in not baking so many cookies anymore.  And then there is the business of all that grain...

I am endlessly interested in health as it pertains to staying out of the mainstream medical system.  That is probably the most driving force in my personal sugar reduction:  I know that nothing good can come from sugar.  Lately I see an increasing interest in the Paleo diet, or other similar diets that preach the exclusion of glutenous grains, adopting a more primal way of eating.  In general, I'm never going to subscribe heart and soul to a diet that leaves me devoid of all carbohydrates, especially when I am a baker at heart.  But more and more I can really see the appeal and benefit of these diets to mainstream America.  It's good to spread the gospel of heavy helpings of fruits and vegetables, and it's good to demonize the processed food industry.

So many people are so much busier than I am, and have far less time to soak, sprout, and obsess over what kinds of grain should be eaten.  In these cases, perhaps it is better just to cut grain out altogether?  Most people can benefit from eating more vegetables, and even more quality (well raised and sourced) meats too.  After all, paleo diets really are just whole food diets that focus on raw materials and not packaged cheats - and that is what is most important.  I'll support that type of diet!

Aside from health issues, I find it a great challenge to bake healthy, low or no-sugar desserts that satisfy both my need to bake and my desire for sweets.  I'm finding that desserts labeled "Paleo" fit that bill nicely.  One of my best recent finds has been a Facebook link called Just Eat Real Food.  It is exactly what it purports to be, real food links from across the Internet where it seems I'm spending less and less time.  It's nice to have a resource of links like that, one where I found this recipe for Paleo Magic Bars the other day.  Last night after supper I mixed them up and baked them, and I could barely get the kiddo out the door to school fast enough this morning to finish them up.  Our stormy morning was good for cracking a few more of the in-the-shell pecans my neighbor gave me anyway.

Paleo magic bars

For the date or date/fig paste called for in this recipe, I used leftover from the raw/vegan fig bars I made recently.  To make it, soak dates (and/or figs) in boiling hot water for about a half hour, then run them through a food mill or food pro with a bit of the soaking water until they have a jammy consistency.  I would think a half cup of dried fruit would give you more than enough paste for this recipe.  Also, make sure that your honey is "runny" and not crystallized and you will have an easier time of things.

Paleo Magic Bars (barely adapted from the Healthy Foodie)
makes 1 9x9 inch pan

bottom layer:
  • 1/3 cup date (or date/fig) paste(see note above)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T. raw honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 T. coconut flour
  • heaping 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • handful (50 g. as the Healthy Foodie suggested) sprouted almonds, medium chopped
top layer:
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 T. melted coconut oil
  • 2 T. softened coconut "manna" or butter (like this, or make your own)
  • 1 T. raw honey
  •  2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks in a medium sized bowl
chocolate drizzle:
  • 1 T. melted coconut oil
  • 1 heaping T. cocoa powder
  • 1 T. raw honey
  • handful of toasted and chopped pecans for garnish
Preheat the oven to 365.  Brush a 9x9 glass pan with coconut oil, and line with crisscrossing sheets of parchment paper.  (This aids in removing from the pan later.)

In a food pro, combine the date paste, avocado, 3 eggs, honey, and vanilla.  Process until very well blended, about 30-60 seconds.  In a small bowl, mix coconut flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt with a fork until well blended.  Add to the contents of the food pro, and pulse just until combined, about 5 good pulses.  Spread the bottom layer into the prepared pan, taking care to smooth into the corners.

Rinse the food pro container out well, and add the coconut, coconut oil, coconut manna, and honey and process until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add this mixture to the soft peaked egg whites, and fold in gently until well combined.  Spread this mixture carefully in an even layer over the chocolate layer.

Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes until lightly browned across the top.  Cool on a rack for an hour (until room temperature) then refrigerate overnight or until well chilled (about 6 hours).

When chilled, make the chocolate drizzle by combining the coconut oil, cocoa powder and honey in a small bowl.  Add a little extra coconut oil if it seems too thick, you are looking for a thin drizzle consistency.  Drizzle across the top of the bars, and sprinkle with the pecans.  Store in the fridge, in part so you don't eat them all right away.

Paleo magic bars

These bars are much less sweet than traditional sweetened condensed milk versions of magic bars... but they still really satisfy.  I won't claim that they satisfy as much as a giant wedge of traditional magic bar, but they do not leave you feeling guilty and with a "why-did-I-just-eat-that-whole-thing" kind of feeling.  And, they are made entirely with real, whole foods.  I especially like that my picky kid liked them, and that they sneak in avocado, which is tremendously underused in chocolate bakery...

Paleo magic bars.

So what about you?  Are you also seeing a shift to more healthful, whole foods with less refined carbohydrate emphasis?  I think the Paleo trend is here to stay for awhile, and I am kind of glad.  I'm not about restriction and arguing over the color of my potato (though for the record, I do prefer sweet potatoes), but there are a lot of valid ideas surrounding this more natural way of eating and viewing food.

Vegan Monday part one: Raw Vegan Bars

raw vegan bars, originally uploaded by Rcakewalk.

When I got a friendly email last week mentioning raw vegan recipes, I realized that while I've made quite a few vegan things, I was really pretty clueless about raw vegan "cooking". I do come across many delectable looking raw vegan recipes, especially when I'm specifically looking for them, and decided that I am going to challenge myself to a month of Mondays of raw vegan recipes.

My clarifier here, is that it may not be a whole meal or something that I can convince my Husband (or that picky picky Boy-O) to eat, but it will be something that I eat, and hopefully will love.

It may seem that I started out pretty easy for week one: these fruit and nut bars from That Vegan Blog. But we are in Wisconsin, the state that may have invented the "Bar". Until I had friends visiting once from the East Coast, I never really knew that the rest of the country didn't make a big deal out of bars. It is a Midwestern privilege, and it's really a shame more states don't follow our lead since there are so many good ones out there worthy of bragging over.

These were everything they promised to be, and got me out of my Fudge Baby rut. The inclusion of raisins actually tempers the extreme sweetness of the dates, and makes these nearly irresistible.

Picky Boy-O loved these as much as I did, which wasn't really a surprise, and also means that they will go on the healthy snacks list that he can help me with. Call me crazy, but I may try these with the addition of some cacao nibs on my next run, as if they could be improved upon...

So there you go! Now my brain is properly reset for the Raw Vegan experience, I hope to find some killer things to experiment with before next Monday. See you then!

Oh, Canada: Nanaimo Bars! January 2010 Daring Baker Challenge

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

I had never heard of Nanaimo bars, or even of Nanaimo, BC Canada. I also was unaware that some people actually detest these bars and even chose to sit this month out. Being from the Midwest, where bar-making is somehow an inherent gene, I was more than excited to make them. I pretended to not be so excited to eat them, since there was well over a half pound of butter in one 9x9 baking dish... but they were delicious, and completely worth the splurge. (It also helps that I was able to give half the pan to Maeckel, and that they freeze like a miracle!)

I actually
did this challenge on the 8th of the month, instead of waiting until the last second - which has sadly become my usual habit. Though Lauren chose to use gluten-free ingredients (her recipe is here), I opted to use my pantry staples. As I grow in experimentation of the gluten-free universe, I may try these graham crackers again using rice flour and the like. But for this challenge, I used the 101 Cookbooks recipe which is actually Nancy Silverton's.

I adore Nancy Silverton, and credit her for my original love of baking bread. Though, I don't follow her rather labor intensive approach, reading all about her method a few years ago was fascinating, and obviously the stuff of passion that is absolutely infectious. You can tell that dough runs in her veins. Ordinarily, I wouldn't even consider altering a proportional baking recipe of hers, such as this one for graham crackers, but I did - since I wanted to use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose.

I did use the food pro to mix everything up, and since I used the wheat flours, I knew I would need more liquid. Fortunately, there were verbal clues as to how this dough should feel: very soft and sticky. I simply added a splash of half and half and pulsed until the dough looked appropriate enough to me. Then I dutifully stashed it in plastic and placed it under cold storage for 2 hours as recommended. When it came to the rolling, however, I did not refrigerate the cut crackers for 30 minutes prior to baking as recommended. I simply don't have space in my fridge for half-sheet pans unless it is completely empty. Happily, it worked just fine!

Whole Wheat Graham Crackers (by way of 101 Cookbooks, Nancy Silverton and Rebecca Gagnon)
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur Flour)
  • 1 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour (KAF)
  • 1 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 7 T. butter, cut into 1 inch slices and frozen
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 5 T. milk (I used the 1% I had on hand)
  • 2 T. vanilla extract (this is the main flavor component, so try not to skimp!)

Combine flour, sugar, soda and salt in a food pro - or a stand mixer with paddle attachment. (If using the stand mixer, I'd probably cut my pieces of butter a bit smaller before freezing them.) Pulse (or mix, if using the stand mixer) to blend, and then add frozen butter. Pulse or mix until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Mix honey, milk and vanilla and add at once to the dry mixture. Pulse or mix until a dough comes together, using a couple of T.'s more of milk or half and half to make the dough feel soft and somewhat sticky.

Form into a disk about an inch thick and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Divide dough in two halves, and roll out to about 1/8 of an inch, and cut into squares using a pizza roller or fluted pastry wheel. Gather scraps and set aside. Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment and bake 12-15 minutes until browned. They will continue to harden as they cool. (I actually re-baked some of my first batch when they were not crisp enough after cooling, and it worked fine.) Re-roll any scraps and cut into squares or use cutters to make shapes. If you prefer crackers with a cinnamon sugar topping, sprinkle the mixture on the crackers prior to baking... you may use the proportion 1 t. cinnamon to 3 T. granulated sugar.

I omitted the cinnamon sugar topping, since I knew there would be plenty of sugar in my finished product. The square crackers above were the first rolling, using plenty of AP flour to prevent sticking. Don't be shy with the flour either, since it is extremely sticky, especially since I did the additional liquid by feel. I made a second batch of crackers later in the month, complete with cinnamon sugar dusting, and didn't add quite as much additional milk. Still sticky! Fortunately, the texture is the only thing that changes with additional rollings and additional flour on the board. I like them both ways equally.

The stars were the very last rolling, scraps really, and were probably my favorites since they were nice and crisp. Graham crackers have officially made the list of things I'll never buy again.

No complaints from my taste tester, either. We now have a graham cracker spread with peanut butter nearly every day for a snack. One day, I had some leftover MonkeyShake (bananas, milk, honey and cocoa powder), and happened to eat a graham cracker spread with peanut butter while I was drinking it... I don't even need to tell you how good that was!

The second batch later in the month. I need to invest in a fluted pastry wheel, since I used a fluted french fry cutter, and it wasn't working so well.

So, now on to the actual bars! As if the graham crackers alone aren't worth their weight in gold for this month's challenge, I now knew that bars made with them had to be wonderful. You can, of course, make them using regular store-bought graham cracker crumbs, but what fun would that be? The Nainaimo link above has the recipe.

When I began my melting of a whole stick of butter together with sugar and cocoa powder, I knew that I was going to be in for something special. Everything is heated in the top of a double boiler, and when hot and melted, an egg is added. It's startling to see how thick the hot mixture becomes. It is then added to a mixture of unsweetened coconut, ground almonds and a cup and a half of fresh graham cracker crumbs and pressed into a baking dish.

I chilled it well at this point, before adding my other two layers. After an hour or so, I mixed up the mostly butter "frosting" layer for the middle.

After sitting another hour or so, I melted the now small amount of butter - 2 T. - with 1 oz. of bittersweet chocolate for the ganache top. I had to spread quickly since I had such a firm and cold base, and the chocolate was cooling very fast.

My only mistake was trying to cut the bars too soon out of the fridge. I was eager, after all, to taste these. They were ragged and tasty, though not nearly as professional and texturally pleasing as the ones I cut after sitting at room temperature for 30 minutes. All of the butter in the middle layer became infinitely more palatable, and the whole bar tasted like the most amazing and luxurious candy bar you've ever had. These are rich, and one bar certainly will hold you for a while.

I was secretly glad my Husband knew there was coconut in them and wouldn't even take a bite... he dislikes it except for, strangely enough, in curry. I served them when Maeckel came for dinner, and then sent some along with him. The rest popped into the deep freeze. I have only 2 left, that I'm still saving for some dessertless occasion. One bar on the counter at room temperature thaws in about 3o minutes - not a bad wait for bar perfection!

Thank you to Lauren for this month's challenge! I'm glad to know of Nainamo, BC Canada, and of these bars of legend. This challenge did make me stop and think a bit more about food allergy. I am becoming increasingly perplexed with the amount of food allergy in the world, and secretly wonder if all this genetic modification and chemical application in our agriculture is partially to blame. I am thankful that should food allergy arise, there are inspired people working on ways to make an "eggless" egg so to speak, and the creative abilities of trial and error home cooks out there are astounding. Whatever your allergy or food preference, you can rest assured that a baker somewhere is tirelessly at work so that you can enjoy something sweet on occasion. What a comforting thought that is!