I have a thing for bars. Not the kind you step up to an order a drink from but the kind you eat. I know that a lot of them are crap. They are full of sugar and stuff you cannot really pronounce, but I still am on a search to find the perfect bar. I guess the closest bar to perfection might be a Lara Bar due to the minimalist approach in ingredients an pure taste. But the flavor of the original bars is a bit flat for me. It is sweet piled upon sweet, and there is little layering of flavors. Don't me wrong - I think the bars are great, but they are missing something for me. I also want a bar with a bit more protein than the Lara Bar has. I am a huge fan of a sweet/salty combination, so in search for a perfect bar I thought I might throw something together in the depths of our kitchen. I had the read the ingredients on the Lara Bar wrapper several times, and I was incredibly inspired by the recipe to recreate the bar. This happens to be quite easy here in Abu Dhabi due to the variety and quantity of dates and nuts.
I am sorry to say that I do not really measure this recipe out when making it. I make it to taste, and I fully recognize that my tastes might not be the same as yours. There is a great deal of freedom here, and you should take full liberty to change/edit/play with your own recipe. Change the nuts, the chocolate, the ratio of ingredients to your own liking, and you might and probably will come up with something even better! ADVISORY: these are completely addictive... it is very hard to only have one piece...
Dark Chocolate Dark Bars
Makes 2 dozen
Need: 1 8x8 brownie or square cake pan
2 cups of pitted dates (I used segai or khidri dates - try not to use mejdool as they are too soft)
1/3 C dark cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp pink sea salt
1/3 C almond butter
2 C raw unsalted almonds
2 scoops Spiru-tein Chocolate protein powder (substitute another kind of protein powder if you have one on hand you prefer or if you want to make this vegan)
50 grams dark chocolate (65-72%)
Place the dates in a food processor and blend until they form a ball. Add in the nut butter and cocoa powder. Blend again for a few minutes. You might need to turn the food processor off and pull the date mixture apart as it tends to clump into pieces quite easily. Add in the protein powder and almonds. Mix again until it turns into a sand-like consistency. Add in the chocolate and salt and pulse a few times until everything is combined.
Take the mixture and press it into the 8x8 pan. Cover the top with plastic wrap and place in fridge to set for a few hours or overnight. Cut into 2 inch squares (or more depending on your mood).
I love the flavors of sweet and savory together particularly when it comes to dessert. In particulate I am drawn to dark chocolate with a hint of sea salt. As a child chocolate covered pretzels were always a favorite, and this is still the case. When I want desert it tends to be dark chocolate. Not an entire bar, just a small piece - it is after all good for your heart and all good stuff. One or two small squares and I am pretty much satisfied.
However, we recently came back from Vietnam where we took several cooking classes. In both classes (in two separate parts of Vietnam) it was explained that each dish contains sweet, savoury, silky, crunchy, and sour elements. By having all of these elements in a single dish, you are left satiated at the end of the meal. After spending two weeks in Vietnam, I have to say that this notion held true for me. Sure, it could also have to do with being somewhere other than home, but since each meal had so many flavors and textures, by the end you really are satisfied. Sure, there were the nights when I looked for chocolate - almost craved it - but if I recall correctly, those nights were in Cambodia, where the food (in my opinion) could not begin to compare to its Vietnamese counterpart.
Since we returned from our vacation I started to notice entirely too much chocolate just sitting around the kitchen. Typically this would not be a problem, but since my parents are coming to visit and bringing about 6kg of chocolate with them, I started to realize I was going to have a serious problem on my hands if I did not do something with the random bars laying around - and do something fast. Sure, eating it was one option, but for some reason the bars had little appeal to me. A single piece of chocolate "as is" just did not appeal. I wanted something more, and that is when I decided to mix the chocolate with the random nuts and seeds and dried fruit that were also sitting around. To make the whole thing just "pop" I sprinkled it with pink salt flakes.
One bite into the treat, and it held all of the components that we learned about in Vietnam - sweetness from the chocolate, savory from the salt, silky from the sweetened dried prunes, sour from the dried cherries, and crunchy from the nuts and seeds. It is an ideal dessert.
The measurements are pretty relaxed... I used what I had on hand. Adjust to suit your needs and desires...
12 oz of dark good quality dark chocolate (60-75%)
1 C of mixed seeds/chopped nuts (I used slivered almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
1/2 C diced prunes and dried cherries
1 pinch of sea salt
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. Once the chocolate has melted, pour about 2/3 of it onto a larged piece of parchment paper, which should be on top of a baking sheet that can fit in your fridge. Let sit for about a minute and then add 1/2 of the nut/seed/fruit mixture.
Allow this to sit for about another minute, and then add the remaining chocolate and nut/seed/fruit mixture. Finally, sprinkle the salt on top.
Put the chocolate (while still on the paper and tray) into the fridge for about an hour or two to cool and set. Once the chocolate is fully cooled, peel back the parchment paper from the chocolate and break it into pieces accordingly.
ENJOY THE SWEETNESS!
Traveling has consumed our lives for the past two months - Nepal, India, Vietnam, and Cambodia are now safely stamped into our passports and leave amazing memories. Living in Abu Dhabi has opened up a whole new part of the world (literally) that seemd so foreign and distant when we lived in Boston. Most places in Asia, Africa, and Europe are within 7 hrs. Considering it takes almost 15 hours to fly back to Boston, 7 hours seems like nothing.
Each time we travel we learn about the culture through the food - the flavors, smells, and textures of the food take us deeper into the culture than any history book could. Often when talking about food a culture's history and people's personal stories are also discussed. It has become an amazing way to learn about the world.
On our most recent adventure - to Vietnam and Cambodia - we signed up for two cooking classes: one in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hoi An. I have always gravitated towards Vietnamese food, as it tends to be light, fresh, and full of flavor. But I had little idea about all the elements that made the food so exceptional. The time and care that is put into the food and the presentation was more than inspiring. While the food was not complicated to prepare, each bite include sweet, sour, and savory elements. Recipes will follow for sure, as we both need some time on the ground for a bit, but for now, I thought I would share some of dishes we made...
November... for me it is truly the sign of the holiday season. Apples, pumpkins, foliage, and the scent of winter in the air. Oh, and my birthday. My birthday is in November as well. Since we moved to the Middle East fall is different. Instead of getting mentally prepared to spend the coming months inside, we start opening the windows and spending more time outside. The cooler weather (the days are around 80F instead of 120F) means longer walks outside, dinners by the water with cool Gulf breezes, and a break from the sweltering months of the summer. All of that aside, it is still November. While we might not have the threat of snow or frost in Abu Dhabi, in my kitchen I can still pretend that I am back in New Engand.
Cinnamon is one of my go-to spices when I think of fall and comfort cooking. It is a perfect complement to apples, especially when they are cooked. While the outside temperatures in the evening still hover around 70F, warm spiced apples remind me of home. This recipes is perfect eaten as is, with plain yogurt, or added as an ingredient in quick breads.
Fall Spiced Apples:
7 medium gala apples (I like the skins on, but feel free to remove)
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 C water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Wash and cut the apples into 1 inch pieces. Put the water, lemon juice, and apples in a large pot, and cook over medium heat for about 45 minutes. You will want to check on the apples from time to time to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pot or burn. You can always turn the stove down. If the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the apples are soft enought to smash up with a wooden spoon, add in the cinnamon and vanilla. Allow to cook a few minutes longer, remove from the heat, and cover. Allow to cool for about 10 -15 minutes. Serve immediately, or allow the apples to cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.