Seed, nut and fruit energy bars

fruit and nut bar

Erik is going off to the Heirloom Festival tomorrow, leaving me to helm the Root Simple empire while he brushes up on his clogging and squash ogling. Today he asked me if I would make him some energy bars as road food. I was happy to, as this is the easiest thing to do in the world. These date-based, no-bake bars are all the thing in the raw vegan precincts of the Internet (or maybe rather they were all the thing c.2009) but it just occurred to me that maybe not everyone has encountered them yet.

As fast snacks go, these are better than 99% of commercial energy bars, and far better than truck stop donuts. They’re all fruit and protein and good fats. They one downside is that they’re pretty sugary, but all the sugar is from dried fruit. The trick is not to eat these in quantity–they’re as packed with calories as they are with nutrition. One little square should hold you over ’til your next meal.

DIY Larabars

I first started making these when I wanted a DIY version of a Larabar. If you’ve ever had a Larabar and looked at the ingredients list, you’ve seen that the ingredients are dried fruit and nuts, period. Which is great–I don’t like soy and added sugar and wheat filler material in my snacks–but Larabars are pricey for something so simple and replicable at home. Admittedly, dried fruit and nuts are pricey too, but you’re still going to come out ahead if you make your own.

A Not-Recipe

Now, the problem with this post is that I don’t have a recipe for these. It’s too simple a process to warrant a recipe.

Anyway, it strikes me that about half of any group of recipe readers has no intention whatsoever of following the directions, so this should make you gonzo types happy. As for you folks who yen for structure, trust me. You don’t need a recipe for mud pies, do you? (By the way, have you seen this piece on The Toast on recipe comments?)

All you have to is mix roughly 50% dried fruit with 50% seeds and nuts of your choice in a food processor until it forms a dough which will hold shape. If necessary, add more fruit or nuts until you reach this consistency. This stuff is very forgiving–you have a lot of leeway. How much should I usee, you ask? 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of each  is enough to start with.

(Yes, you do need a food processor, though I suppose you could cowboy this whole thing using a mortar and pestle and a strong arm.)

Press this blob into a pan, in a flat layer–you don’t even have to grease the pan–and chill for a couple of hours, then cut into bars. Or you can roll it into bite sized balls and chill those. It’s best to keep your bars or balls in the fridge, though you can wrap them up in wax paper and take them to go.

See? It’s easy.

The bars Erik is taking with him tomorrow contain dates, raisins walnuts, pistachios, chia seeds, ground flax seed, wild sedge seed (gathered while foraging) and Erik’s favorite part–cacao nibs. I used these ingredient because they were in my cupboard. It turned out good. The thing is, these always turn out good.

Some fussy details:

1)  It’s all about the dates!

The dates should be Medjool dates, the soft, sticky kind, for both their sweetness and their binding properties. If you want to use another dried fruit in the mix, I’d recommend you still use dates for at least half the fruit component, just because they are so much the foundation of this recipe.

If you can’t find soft sticky Medjool dates, and have to use the lesser, drier kind, try soaking them in water first until they soften up. I’ve heard this works, but haven’t done it myself.

Other fruits to consider would include anything sticky, like raisins, dried cherries, dried figs and dried plums. Dried apples, for instance, are not sticky, so can’t help bind the mix. You could use chopped dried apples, but count them more like a dry ingredient.

2) For extra flavor, you can add all sorts of things, like a pinch of sea salt, spices, vanilla extract, coconut flakes, even honey if you have a very sweet tooth.  Most importantly, you can add chocolate: cacao nibs, a few spoonfuls of good quality cocoa powder or raw cacao powder, or heck, a handful of chocolate chips. I’d add the cocoa sparingly, tasting as you go, to make sure it doesn’t get too chalky. The sweetness of the dates and other fruits usually does a fine job of balancing bitter cocoa flavors, but of course you can add sweetners if necessary.

3) These bars are a good chance to use seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses, but sometimes hard to figure out how to use. Substitute some of the nut volume with seeds–and it’s okay to go over a little, to be more like 60% nuts and seeds. Consider using chia, hemp, flax, poppy, sunflower and sesame seeds. There are also lots of wild seeds that you’ll know about if you forage, and foraged seeds are often dull, so this is a good use for them.

4) Walnuts are a great choice for a base ingredient in any energy bar. They  just have a nice consistency, and I’d recommend they have a place in almost any batch. A simple bar that’s half dates and half walnuts is classic and delicious.But almonds, pistachios, pecans–well, heck, I really can’t imagine any nut that would not work well.  You can use nut butters too, but they are wet, so you’ll have to play with the ingredients a bit– or maybe add something starchy like oats to balance it out.

5) I’d recommend adding a spoonful of coconut oil toward the end of processing, if you have it on hand. It just makes everything a little smoother and better looking.

Some mixing advice

Mix up the nuts and seeds and any flavorings, like salt, first, before adding the dried fruit, just to make sure they’re evenly distributed before things get sticky.

It’s a good idea to hold back some of the nuts for two reasons. First, so you can add some bigger pieces back into the finished product, so you have some visual interest and crunch. Second, so you have spare ingredients if you need to adjust the mix.

For the same reason, hold back some dried fruit so you can make the mix stickier if need be.

The dough–or paste?–or whatever you call it–will look loose and sandy when you first process it, but go ahead and reach in there and squeeze a little ball together. It should hold shape. If it doesn’t, and it seems too dry, you need more dried fruit. If it’s crazy sticky or goopy, you need more nuts and seeds.

Keep your hands wet when working with the mix to avoid sticky fingers.

Enjoy!

Stern Sprouted Wheat Vegan Cookie or Health Bar Type Things

sprouted grain bars

The holidays are over. Repentance begins.

I’m going to share with you a recipe for some ridiculously healthy cookie-type things. Despite their minimalist, uber-healthy ingredients, they’re pretty tasty, being nutty and somewhat sweet, even though they contain no added sugar. I’m not going to lie and say these will replace brownies in my heart, but they’re a solid, guilt-free snack. And anyway, they’re the closest I’m going to get to dessert for a while.

The recipe comes from the book, From the Wood-Fired Oven by Richard Miscovich, where the recipe is used as an example of what you can cook in a bread oven which has almost cooled off,  because these bake at very low temps. Actually, they’d be good candidates for a solar oven. Or even dashboard cooking in the summer!

There are four ingredients: sprouted wheat, raw almonds, dried fruit and a pinch of salt. There’s simply no room for sin.

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Delicious Cauliflower

cauliflowr

For me, cauliflower is a vegetable which eludes inspiration. I eat it raw. I roast it. I’ve made soup with it once or twice. That’s about the sum of my historic use of cauliflower. Now, everything has changed. I’ve found a recipe for cauliflower which I love.

It comes from a book called Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a good, reliable book. Lately I’ve been on a deep Middle Eastern jag, cooking out of this book every day. Erik is in hog heaven, because he hasn’t had to cook in weeks. I’m in heaven because I’m eating exactly what I’m craving.

Anyway, back to the cauliflower. It’s an easy recipe that comes from north-west Syria, where, according to the author, it is considered a regional specialty. It has a lovely, rich flavor. I never knew tomatoes and cauliflower could be such good friends. The ingredients are pretty basic. And we all have a lonely can of tomato paste on the shelf that needs to be used, don’t we?

We’ve been eating it hippie style, over brown rice, but it would be more elegant over an herbed pilaf, or it could be used as a side dish. I suspect it would be good cold, too, but we’ve never had leftovers.

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce (Kharnabit Emforakeh)

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 6-8 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 green/spring onions, sliced thin (I’m sure you could sub. regular onion for this)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • juice of one lemon  (maybe 2 tablespoons–to taste)
  • parsley for garnish

Wash, core and break up the cauliflower into bite sized florets.

Steam, boil or elsewise cook the cauliflower until it is just tender. Don’t overcook, because it will receive some more cooking down the line. Drain if necessary.

Add the 6-8 T of oil to a big frying pan. My favorite cast iron pan is 10 inches and it’s crowded for this, but it works. Heat the oil and add the cooked cauliflower. Fry over med-high heat, turning carefully with a spatula, until the cauliflower is kissed with little brown marks.

Remove the cauliflower from the pan at this point and set aside. Add the green onions and pressed or smashed garlic to that same frying pan. Add a splash more oil if it seems dry, and cook these for just 2 minutes or so. Don’t let the garlic burn.  Then add the tomato paste and the water, which thins it, as well as the salt and pepper, and let that all cook for another couple of minutes.

Next, return the cauliflower to the pan and toss it with the sauce. Let it cook a few minutes more until it’s nice and hot and the sauce has a chance to sink in.

Just before you take it off the heat, sprinkle the lemon juice over the cauliflower. The author calls for the juice of 1 lemon, which is a very imprecise quantity–basically, this is very much a “to taste” thing. I find 2 tablespoons works for me.

Garnish with parsley and serve.

Serves 4

Variant: I really like tomato paste. I sneak it straight off the spoon. If you’re like me, you can up the amount of tomato paste in the recipe–double it, say. This results in a thicker, redder sauce and much more pronounced tomato sauce flavor. The original version is subtler, more classy.

Roasted Asparagus

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetopolita, where she'll tell you how to make it.

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetapolita, where she’ll tell you how to make it.

Erik’s aunt just called to ask me how I cook my asparagus, because she wants to make it for company tonight. It’s so easy to make perfect cooked asparagus that I forget that some people find it intimidating. Maybe that’s because of those dedicated asparagus cookers they sell, and associations with silver tongs and Hollandaise sauce and hotel brunches. Yet the truth is all you have to do is roast it.

Here’s a universal rule: everything tastes better roasted. Even vegetables. I can’t think of one vegetable that doesn’t roast nicely, and asparagus is one of my favorites. All vegetables are roasted the same way, basically, but here’s an asparagus specific recipe.

Roasted Asparagus

Pre-heat your oven to 400F (is that 200C?)

Trim the pale, woody ends off of the asparagus. Lay the asparagi down on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish–or hey, even a roasting pan!  Somewhere they can spread out in a single layer. Drizzle them with lots of olive oil, then get in there with your hands and toss and massage that oil in, so all the stalks are completely coated. Lay them back down in a single layer. Give them a generous salting and a grind of pepper and chuck the pan in the oven.

Roast for about 30 minutes at 400F until tender but still retaining a bit of spine. Fat stalks might take longer, skinny, less long.

  • You may like to push the time in the oven until the asparagus browns, if you like that roasty, almost-burnt flavor, like I do.
  • You can roast them with lemon slices on top, too, if you swing that way.
  • While they’re good hot, they’re also fine at room temperature, or even cold out of the fridge in salad-like applications.

Citified Parched Corn

parched corn

Dried corn on the left, parched corn with peas and blueberries on right

I was thinking about trail food, and wishing for a portable snack which was not based on nuts and chocolate chips (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) or too sugary, like dried fruit or energy bars. Then I recalled parched corn.

Parched corn–dried corn which has been roasted–is one of those legendary Native American foods, like pemmican, which you hear about but don’t necessarily ever get to try. Parched corn is a lightweight, long-keeping, high-energy trail food. It can also be ground into flour and used in cooking. I have vague elementary school memories of claims that a warrior* could walk a whole day nourished on just a handful of parched corn.

(They did not mention that the warrior might be cranky at the end of the day–which I suspected might be the case. I’ve heard similar claims about Roman soldiers marching on handfuls of barley. Poor guys. But now that I’ve tried parched corn, I must admit that it is strangely filling. I managed to spoil my supper by doing too much tasting as I roasted the corn. So maybe the claim are real and–geek alert!– parched corn is our homegrown Lembas bread.)

Parched corn, being tasty and useful, was widely adopted by the Europeans who arrived here. So it was turned out to be the Official Snack Food of wagon trains and trappers and the like.

I went looking for a recipe and found my idea was hardly original. Preppers and outdoorstypes love their parched corn and there are plenty of recipes and tips out there. The only thing that I have to offer that is different is that this is a rather sissified, citified, consumerist version of parched corn.  And it is delicious. Chewy, sweet, a little salty… and most of all, corny.

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Nasturtium Leaf Pesto

nasturtium flower pesto

Chicago artist and permaculturalist Nancy Klehm gave me this idea. Funny how it takes an out of town visitor to make you aware of a resource at your own home–right now our yard is choked with nasturtium and I’ve never made good use of the leaves. I have used the flowers for a pesto, but it’s kinda labor intensive. Nancy made a pesto with the leaves and I had to try my own version:

Nasturtium leaf pesto

2 fistfuls of nasturtium leaves
1 fistful of nuts–pistachios preferred but any will do
a half fistful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
olive oil
salt
pepper

Roast nuts in a pan. Let them cool and add to a food processor with the nasturtium leaves, cheese, salt and pepper. Add olive oil as you pulse the processor. Process until smooth. Add to your favorite pasta or use as a dip. Garnish with a nasturtium flower.

How to Cook Perfect Scrambled Eggs

How do you make perfect scrambled eggs? Two words for you: double boiler. It’s a method I learned from a book I had out from the library, Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto. I can’t say that I read the rest of the book, but the double boiler egg method sure works well.

You melt some butter in a double boiler first to help keep the eggs from sticking. You can also use a pan held over (but not in) a pot of boiling water if you don’t have a double boiler (and I don’t have a double boiler). It takes longer to cook eggs this way, of course, but you get nice soft and fluffy scrambled eggs. You do have to clean the pan immediately or you will invoke the wrath of your spouse when it comes time to do the dishes. I don’t think I’ll go back to scrambling eggs in a pan ever again.

How To Roast Coffee in a Hot Air Popcorn Popper

UPDATE 12/17/2012: My hot air popper died on me. See my new blog post on coffee roasting.

Roasting my own coffee has been one of the most satisfying and easy homesteading projects I’ve ever taken on. I look forward to my delicious, freshly roasted coffee every morning. Roasting your own coffee is so simple, I can’t believe that more people don’t do it.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Every couple of months I order green beans from Sweet Maria’s in Oakland. I’m particularly found of their eight pound sample pack. They choose the varieties–usually from multiple continents, carefully sourced and half the price of what they would cost roasted (if you could even find these interesting coffees). One of these days I’ll find a local source for green beans, but until that time I’m very happy with Sweet Maria’s.

2. I roast a couple of days supply of coffee maybe twice a week. I do it with a West Bend Air Crazy popcorn popper. Note that not all hot air poppers will work. Sweet Maria’s has a complete list of the right kind of hot air poppers here. One drawback is that you can only roast a small amount at a time–no more than a half cup. It takes about 6 minutes for the roast that I like. I keep the kitchen doors closed to prevent the smoke alarm in the hallway from going off. You would probably better get better results with a manual, hand-cranked popcorn popper such as the Jiffy Pop popcorn popper, but I like the convenience of the air popper. I just dump the beans in and in a few minutes I’m done. One drawback is that the West Bend popper is poorly constructed. Repeated use has sort of melted the top a bit. If you roast coffee with and air popper and have a better suggestion for a popper brand, please leave a comment. Despite the slightly deformed shape of my West Bend, it still works fine.

3. Once the roast is complete I dump the beans into a metal colander to cool them off. The beans out-gas CO2 for a few hours so after they cool they go into a 75¢ foil valve bag that Sweet Maria’s sells. I roast in the evening before going to bed. By morning the coffee is ready to use.

4. I make my coffee in a stainless steel French press. And, while I enjoy my fresh roasted coffee I’m also aware that it’s a bad habit. From a prepping perspective it would be much better not to be addicted to caffeine. But it sure is tasty!