Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The S-word

Last season my son's soccer team sent out an email snack roster only milliseconds after the schedule was announced. A flurry of "reply-to-alls" ensued. It didn't take long for the kids to figure out that snack time was more important than the actual game. There were half-time snacks (did they run around for all of 10 minutes?) and end-of-game snacks. Crack-of-dawn or 4:30pm; Gatorade, Mini Oreos, cupcakes, Gold Fish, and fruit snacks were doled out to players and siblings alike. God forbid if the snack person forgot! Soon my son started begging me to bring "good" snacks, which meant that they had to be individually packaged and bought in the "snack" isle of the supermarket like everyone else.

Snacks. The cornerstone of the food pyramid. Snacks infuriate me. Just hearing the word makes me run screaming. Snacks come with a constant negotiation of how much, what kind and when. The measuring of hunger against nutritional value, time vs. need, sugar vs. protein, marketing vs. homemade. I am exhausted by snacks.

Don't get me wrong, I do buy some snacks. Triscuits, pretzels, and Honey Nut O's flow like water around my house. Occasionally I will splurge on Newman's Own brand Fig Newmans or Alphabet Cookies, but they are expensive and still give me the overly processed heeby-jeebies. For the most part, I make snacks. Healthed-up cookies and breads work well, and the ever popular 'Mama Bars'.

'Mama Bars' where born while toying with granola bar recipes with ingredients that I could pronounce. As far as store bought granola bars go, my kids love the chewy Kashi TLC Bars and Z-Bars. Both good options if you need a reasonably healthy and nearly heat resistant snack. However, they can be pricey and I knew I could make a tasty alternative for less.

The recipe is based on this one, but tweaked to impart more of the qualities of store-bought bars. My kids love them and they can be infinitely varied. Cut into bar shapes, this recipe makes 32 or so bars which fit easily into snack-sized Ziplocs in the fridge. Now they are pre-packaged and ready to go into backpacks in a jiffy! Of course, when I made them for soccer most kids looked at me like I had three heads. Tough crowd.

Mama Bars
1 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 cups mix of: granola mix, unsweetened puffed rice and quick oats
1 cup flake coconut
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup nuts
6oz (1/2 bag) of mini chocolate chips
Parchment paper

Combine brown sugar, honey, vanilla and butter in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Lower heat to just boiling and simmer, constantly stirring, 3-4 minutes.

While butter is melting, combine everything else, except for the chocolate in a big glass bowl.

Cut Parchment paper to make sleeve for a 9x13inch pan (or grease, if you don't have parchment). When brown sugar mixture is done, pour it immediately onto your granola mixture and mix carefully.

Pour half of mixture into your pan, spreading it around to cover the bottom roughly. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top and pour the remaining granola mixture on top, spreading it to cover the chocolate chips. Press down firmly with the bottom of a glass to compress the mixture evenly. Refrigerate 2 hours or until completely cooled.

Lift the parchment out of the pan and cut bars. Keep refrigerated.

Recipe Notes:
Here are some of the ingredients I use for this recipe. The granola mix called for isn't granola cereal, but just the oats and grains without added sugar. In my grocery store, I can only find one, Bob's Red Mill 5 Grain Mix. 2 cups granola, 2 cups quick oats and 2 cups unsweetened puffed rice makes a bar with good heft, but also tender. Today I am going to make Chocolate-Cherry Bars. Other variations that are popular are Raisin, Chocolate-Double Nut, and Apricot-Almond. Use what you have and what you like. If you are going to use chocolate chips, mini ones sandwiched in the middle make a nice layer that melts slightly. Less chocolaty fingers and car seats!

Careful to use a bigger pan than you think to cook the syrup. It boils up considerably. On my stove (heat ratings from 10 to 1) I bring the mixture to a boil on 7 and then turn it down to 4 for the simmer. How long you boil the syrup determines how chewy (3 minutes) to crunchy(4 minutes) it will be.

Cut a piece of Parchment bigger than your pan. Pushing it into the corners, cut down each corner to the bottom of the pan so that the cut edges overlap. Parchment makes it a snap to get the bars out of the pan for cutting. Also, you won't have to wash the pan!

When the bars are completely cool, just pull the parchment out of the pan and slice with a sharp knife. If bars are very hard, heat the knife under hot water. Cut into 32 bars for a 9x13 pan.

Individually packaged in snack-sized Ziplocs! Store in the fridge or freezer.