Food inspiration can come from anywhere. In the case of these Fruit and Nut Granola Bars, I was inspired by 5 Second Rule's post about her Larabar copycats, her Goji Nibby Nuggets. Chances are you've already heard of and read the work of the witty and wonderful Cheryl Sternman, but in case you haven't, you are missing out big time, and should go to her blog right away. After you finish this post.
I like to make food from scratch whenever possible, and have wanted to try granola bars for a long time. After reading about 5 Second Rule's Goji Nibby Nuggets, I took the plunge and went after the Clif bars my husband used to buy. To get a starting point, first thing I did was look at the ingredient list, then after a few fails I eventually had a great recipe. These bars are packed with all kinds of goodness, and make a perfect grab-and-go breakfast or snack that keeps you satisfied for a surprisingly long time. We go through them pretty fast so I keep them in my pantry, but for longer storage you can keep them in the fridge or freezer (just don't try to eat them straight from the fridge, it's like trying to bite into a rock).
Something different about these granola bars is they are dairy free (which, now that I think about it, might also make them vegan). Many (many) commercial granola bars have whey in them for added protein. Extra protein is great, but if you need a dairy-free diet, you are left with few options in the granola bar aisle. I didn't realize I had created a dairy-free granola bar (or the significance of this) until I was talking about them with a very good friend who has a daughter on a dairy-free diet. She couldn't wait to make them for her daughter, and I was super excited when her daughter gave them a big thumbs-up. Awesome!
The fruit, seeds, and nuts for this recipe come from a great trail mix I get at my local grocery store. It's a Kroger brand trail mix called Cranberry Delight, a mix of dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, almonds, golden raisins, and pepitas. If you can't find a similar mix or don't like what's in this one, you can use any trail mix you want, the bars will still be awesome.
One of my goals with these granola bars was to not use corn syrup as a sweetener. My first couple of batches I used all honey but the finished bars tasted too much of honey. A friend suggested I try brown rice syrup. I'd never heard of brown rice syrup and when I looked it up, sure enough, it's often used to sweeten organic and higher-end granola bars. It was a little tricky to find in my area, but I finally found it at a grocery store called Harmon's. If your grocery store has an organic section, you'll probably find it there (Or you can order it from Amazon). As far as cost goes, at about $5 a jar, it is more expensive than corn syrup, but since I can get 5 batches out of a jar, it's worth it to me to not be using corn syrup.
Cranberry-Almond Granola Bars
2 cups fruit and nut trail mix of your choice
1 cup crispy rice cereal
3 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Heat your oven to 325. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, having two sides extend up and over the edges of the pan. I've found that using clothes pins to hold the parchment paper to the pan keeps it from slipping all over when you're spreading the granola bar mixture around.
2. Combine the trail mix, crispy rice cereal, and oats in a medium bowl.
3. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine the honey, brown rice syrup, and peanut butter. Heat it in the microwave for 1 minute on high and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Add the honey mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until everything is evenly coated (be patient, this can take a fair amount of stirring).
4. Transfer the granola bar mixture to the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Tear a sheet of plastic wrap, place it directly on the mixture, and press down with only hand pressure (hand pressure = just the pressure you can get with your hands, not leaning in with your body; the plastic wrap keeps it from sticking to your hands).
5. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars. To cut, use the parchment paper to lift the slab out of the pan, place on a cutting board, and cut using a sharp knife. They will be very soft, even after they cool. They will firm up (but won't get crunchy) after they cure for several hours, so resist any urge to press down on them again.
Makes 16 bars. Weight Watchers PointPlus: 5 points