Nut-Free Energy Bars

I love to pack things like these to my kid’s lunch box. They are full of healthy ingredients and right calories. It is a bit of pain to find something similar in stores. There are plenty of energy bars, but nut-free ones are rare. So, I make them myself. It almost doesn’t take any time at all. Fruits, seeds, and cereal can be varied to suit any personal taste or budget. If the nut allergy is luckily not your problem, the bars can be made with any nut butter you prefer.

There’s one thing I want to point out. If you are making the bars for a nut allergy sufferer, make sure to read the ingredient list on a sunflower butter jar carefully. There are a few manufacturers who make this particular kind of butter in nut-free facilities. The most common brand, as I notice, makes all kinds of nut/seed butter together at one place, and probably uses the same mill for grinding.

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Ultimate Mexican Brownies

Generously spiced with cinnamon and cayenne, filled with ancho and fig puree, and glazed with cinnamon ganache, aren’t they truly the ultimate Mexican?

I’m craving the sun, heat, sandy beaches, and another Mexican vacation. Sadly, this vacation, although very much needed during the grey rainy Vancouver’s winter, will remain only a dream at least until next year… These super-fudgy brownies do have some healing, soothing power; could be an alternative to Prozac… Please, someone, take them away from me, must… stop… eating!

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What’s in a Nanaimo Bar?…

Nanaimo bars

Strippers and drunks.

I wonder how many other fellow bloggers used this old joke as a title to this month Daring Bakers’ challenge post. The host – Lauren of Celiac Teen chose gluten-free graham wafers and Nanaimo bars as the January challenge. She based her recipe on the 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca. With the Olympics so close, her choice seems thoughtful and sweet (literally, as well :)

I made a very much original version here. Since, frankly, flavored differently these bars wouldn’t be quite Nanaimo anymore. They still would be bars, and Canadians have probably about hundred of different kinds (I know for sure, being a Vancouverite myself). Anyway, these are traditional Nanaimo bars, loved by so many Canadians.

Although, I would still like to say a word about one particular ingredient – Bird’s custard powder. Available not everywhere, it might seem mysterious and maybe even magical. But it is not. It consists of cornstarch, food color (artificial), and flavor (artificial as well). The Bird’s custard powder can be entirely and successfully omitted. You don’t need any additional cornstarch (there’s plenty of it in the confectioners’ sugar already). Just add about a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract to the buttercream mixture. If you are after a yellowish tint, I recommend adding a drop of natural food color.

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Pomegranate Ice Cream and Cocoa Nib Brownie Sandwiches

I know, the photo turned out a bit scary looking. There was no way to fix it since the rest of the batch was eaten earlier. Oh boy, were they good!

I guess there’s no need to tell you about the antioxidant properties and all other health-benefits of the pomegranate juice – everyone is amazingly educated these days. But if you find juicing of fresh fruit somewhat labor-intensive (honestly, I do) or simply can’t find fresh pomegranate (they are seasonal), there’s a blessed product – POM Wonderful – natural juice which is available year round in any well-stocked grocery store.

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Pine Nut Honey Squares (Rectangles)

I don’t just love the flavor of these nuts, I also respect their softness, their slicing cooperativeness. And there’s a significant benefit from the waste-free cutting – the less trimmings and shattered pieces you have, the slimmer you are (well, I’m speaking for myself here; I do suffer from the incurable form of the C.E.T.D. (Compulsive Eating of Trimmings Disorder).

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Honigkuchenwürfel (Honey Cake Squares)

Thanksgiving is finally over everywhere and now I can return to my cookies, this time – very christmasy ones. I’ve been willing to share this recipe for a while but it didn’t seem quite appropriate back then. This is a traditional German lebkuchen sandwiched with a moist and flavorful filling of apricot jam, raisins, candied orange peel, and toasted almonds. The dough is a variation of the well known in North America gingerbread, but the taste here is far more complex and interesting. The honey takes place over the molasses, and the spices differ, with the cardamom playing the first role. The cake is intensely spiced, sweet, moist, and although it’s very good freshly made; the flavor and texture are getting even better over time. So, it’s best to bake the lebkuchen right now and keep them until around Christmas. I baked the first trial batch about two weeks ago, and by this time the squares (well, a couple of survivors) have turned into the moist (not wet or soggy) delectable confection-like treat, so perfect with a cup of coffee or strong tea.

The recipe is adapted from an old charming book “Festive Baking – holiday classics in the Swiss, German, and Austrian traditions” by Sarah Kelly Iaia.

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