Crunchy Chewy Granola Bars (vegan and gluten free)

 It’s back to school time and the scramble to find healthy unprocessed snacks can be frustrating.  With many protein and granola bars containing refined sugars and a long list of processed and questionable ingredients, these homemade bars are both adult and kid approved.  They are protein packed, delicious and a perfect any time snack.  Proof that “unrefined can taste so fine”…….and even great!   Enjoy!

Ingredients:

3 cups of rolled oats (not quick cooking) (i use GF Bob’s Red Mill)

3 cups of GF Brown Rice Crisps cereal

4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) of Earth Balance spread

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 cup of unsalted crunchy almond butter (can substitute sun butter  made from sunflower seeds if allergic to nuts or a different nut butter if allergic to almonds)

1 cup (measured after mashing) of Medjool dates

1/4 cup chia seeds

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt 

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Spread out the rolled oats and toast them in the oven fora out 5 minutes, shaking the pan once.  This will add great flavor verses skipping this step, which is fine if you are in a rush! After oats smell and look toasty, remove the cookie sheet from oven and let cool.

In a small pot, combine the earth balance and maple syrup and crunchy unsalted almond butter and heat until it thickens.  Keep an eye on this and stir frequently.   While this is happening, soak the dates in warm water.   About 14 large dates.   After a minute they should be soft.  Discard the soaking water.  Take the pits out and any hard stems off.  In a small bowl mash the dates.  Hand mashing them works best.  This should measure to about one packed measuring cup’s worth, more or less.  

Next mix this ball of mashed dates into the now simmering mixture of earth balance and maple syrup in the pot on the stove.   Add the Tablespoon of vanilla into this mixture too.  Stir it all together until the mixture is well combined.  Remove pot from stove top and let cool for a few minutes.   

In a big mixing bowl,  combine all the rest of the ingredients:  the oven toasted oats, the puffed brown rice, chia, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. At this point, you can stir in half a cup of any one or more additions if you want.  Some suggestions are: unsweetened shredded coconut, slivered toasted almonds or walnuts, dried cranberries, raisins or dark chocolate chips. 

Now it’s time to pour that maple syrup mixture into this big bowl of dry ingredients  ( make sure the mixture of the maple syru has cooled down before adding it to the dry ingredients, especially if you are adding chocolate chips so they don’t melt.  That would not be the worst thing but would just be very gooey, in a chocolatey sort of way.  

Use dampened hands to mix all this in the bowl.   You may have to dampen your hands a few times in between mixing until it all comes together in a sticky ball.  It’s fun, really!

Using that same cookie sheet you used to toast the oats, spray the parchment paper lightly  that was already on the cookie sheet and used for the oat toasting. ( I use an organic olive oil mist or coconut oil mist)   Spread the granola bar mixture evenly on the sheet.  Press down to make it uniform and so it will hold together after baking.   I use the back  of the measuring cup to help press it all down. Bake in the oven for up to 20 minutes.  Check it after 10 minutes and turn the tray.  When you see it browning along edges, take it out.  All ovens vary so between 15 to 20 minutes 

Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Try to wait an hour before cutting into  desired sizes.   

I store them in the freezer.  They defrost within a minute and stay freshest that way.

Happy Crunching!