Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cave Rave Trail Bars

Confession: I never thought I'd be writing a post like this, but then again, I never thought I'd run a mile continuously, let alone 5k, 10k, and so forth. But I started running 10 months ago, fell head-over-blistered-heels in love with it, and haven't stopped yet. Well, you know, figuratively speaking. So here we are.

Two weeks ago I began my half-marathon training. As part of my program, I decided to pay attention to the way I was eating. Fortunately, I'm a pretty good eater, so I didn't have to make any drastic lifestyle changes. But viewing my food objectively as fuel (instead of fun) did inspire me to shake up my perspective and make some adjustments. For one thing ~ and this is huge ~ I haven't had a bowl of cereal in well over a week. (Cereal being something I can happily consume for all three meals a day.) I've been eating a lot more leafy greens, lean meats, and nut butters than ever before too. And I'm pretty happy, and a little amazed, to report that my run-times have improved and I almost never get that "I'm so desperately hungry I could cold-cock a stranger for the half-eaten doughnut in his hand" feeling that would hit me right around lunchtime or any other time my blood sugar would take a dip.

I gotta say, I like this. I like being satisfied and filled but not stuffed. I like eating tasty things for meals and snacks and feeling virtuous about it. I love having energy and stamina for a workout and not worrying about a finger-shaking, knee-weakening blood-sugar crash an hour later. And I love not having to feel deprived of anything I really enjoy eating. Because after all, I am a pastry chef. And that would just be silly.
I've been following a version of the paleo/primal diet for athletes. I'm no nutritionist (see above: "pastry chef," hello??) but I do know a couple and I've done enough asking and reading to feel pretty good about this meal plan so far. I do eat dairy (I have no intolerance for it and I find that cottage cheese and yogurt help me meet my protein goals) and I don't eat tons and tons of red meat. In fact, the bulk of my protein probably comes from seafood/fish, nuts, and eggs. It's not for everyone, and it wasn't for me before I started putting in the miles, but for now, at least, it's what works. But here, as in other areas of my life, I'm not legalistic, so don't expect to see me change careers anytime soon.

One of the first paleo/primal recipes I developed was a cookie. And you can find that recipe here. But I needed something way more substantial, a snacks that was capable of carrying me (and my athletic teens, for that matter) from one meal to the next. So I modified a recipe I found on a cool blog called Daisy Janie and came up with this: the Cave Rave Trail Bar, perfect for a protein-filled snack or even a light breakfast. Unlike regular granola bars, they won't leave you starving in half an hour. There's plenty of good stuff in here, and you can customize them by adding or substituting different nuts, dried fruits, etc.

So, what's in a name? The "Cave" part is a nod to the fact that this bar is a perfect fit for those on the paleo/primal diet. Nothing agricultural in here, so go to town, my cavemen and -women culinarians. And the "Rave" part? That's from the name of my soon-to-launch running blog ~ Road Rave ~ which is all about the awesomest sport of long-distance running. (Yeah, I know, I never thought those words would have anything to do with me either.)


And as a bonus, this recipe happens to be gluten-free (no grains), dairy-free (no milk or milk products), and loaded with protein and other good muscle-building and repairing stuff. Sweet!

The consistency of these is like that of a chewy granola bar. You can crunchify them by returning them to the oven (at 350 degrees F) on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes after you've cut and separated them by about an inch. (Watch them carefully so they don't burn.)
Cave Rave Trail Bars
    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 13 x 9-inch Pyrex baking dish with aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick baking spray or brush lightly with grapeseed oil; set aside.
    2. Combine nuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times until you have a fine meal. (Be careful not to overdo it or you'll end up with nut butter.) Empty nut meal into a large mixing bowl. Add pepitas, sunflower seeds, cherries or raisins, and coconut; toss to mix well. 
    3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, egg white, and salt just until blended. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and use a spatula to mix until everything is uniformly moist.
    4. Transfer nut mixture to prepared pan. Use a bowl scraper (my preference) or an offset spatula to smooth the surface and pack the mixture down firmly into the pan. Don't be shy about it ~ if you don't do a good job of packing, your trail bars will crumble when you cut them. If you'd rather use your hands, go right ahead, just as long as you get in there and pack that stuff down.
    5. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking dish halfway through. Ideally, you'd like to see a nice deep golden color to the finished bars. If the edges are browning prematurely, fold over your foil sling to shield them (if you can), or just loosely cover the entire pan with a sheet of foil.
    6. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. When it has cooled, lift the whole thing out by pulling up on the short sides of the foil. Lay it down on a cutting board big enough to accommodate the entire thing. Use a long, sharp knife to cut the sheet into bars. Wrap bars individually in plastic wrap and store at room temp for up to three 3 days. For longer storage, keep wrapped bars in the freezer, defrosting a few as needed.
    Makes 20 to 24 bars 

    Recipe Notes:
    • Unless you're allergic, or vegan, I wouldn't omit the egg white ~ it's part of the magic that keeps this thing together before it's served. But if you insist, you can do without it, just expect more crumbling.

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