I learned a long time ago that swigging a bottle of ice cold diet soda may quench my thirst on a hot day, but it won't help my energy level.
I usually avoid store-bought power and granola bars to rev up my system. They are expensive and I don't think they taste particularly good.
I've seen recipes in the past for making your own granola or energy bars, but they've been complicated and required odd, sometimes expensive ingredients.
Food writer Jackie Burrell of the Contra Costa Times found a couple simple recipes in a new cookbook, Camilla V. Saulsbury's "Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook" (Lake Isle Press, $16.95, 152 pages). She called the bars highly addictive and good for you.
The appeal of these recipes is that you have control of it all: flavor, ingredients and what combination of fruits and nuts you want.
If you have kids playing sports this summer, or you're off for that hike in Colorado or a bike trip through Michigan, these bars are easy to pack, will keep the growlies away and give you a little extra energy. Both recipes will keep several days unrefrigerated. I'd freeze them, then pack them if you're taking an extended trip.
This first recipe is short on ingredients and long on flavor. Note: Do not substitute agave nectar, honey or maple syrup for the specified syrups in this recipe; they are essential for binding the ingredients.
1 1/2 cups chopped assorted raw or toasted nuts and/or seeds, such as cashews, sunflower seeds green pumpkin seeds, peanuts, pecans
1/3 cup crisp brown rice cereal
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, apricots, berries, dates
1/3 cup organic light corn syrup or brown rice syrup
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, optional
1. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, letting the ends protrude by a couple of inches. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts or seeds, cereal and dried fruit.
3. Add syrup and salt; stir until evenly coated.
4. Transfer mixture to prepared pan. Place a large piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap (coated with cooking spray) atop bar mixture; use it to spread, flatten and very firmly compact the mixture in the pan. Discard the paper.
5. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, or until slightly browned at the edges, but still somewhat soft at the center. Cool 20 minutes in pan on a rack.
6. Lift mixture from pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 10 bars. Cool completely. Tightly wrap the bars individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 3 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.
Variations: For Apple Pecan Bars, use chopped dried apples and pecans; add 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon along with the syrup.
For Seeds of Friendship Bars, omit dried fruit; use 2 cups raw or toasted seeds (pepitas, sunflower, hemp, sesame) instead of nuts.
For Ginger Sesame Bars, use 1 cup almonds or cashews and 1/3 cup sesame seeds for the nuts and seeds, and chopped dates for the fruit. Add 1 teaspoon ground ginger along with the syrup. Makes 10 bars.
PALEO POWER PUCKS
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon honey, agave nectar or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds
1/2 cup seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin, hemp hearts
1/3 cup chopped dried fruit, such as dates, prunes, apricots
1. Line 10 cups of a muffin pan with paper or foil liners. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a bowl, whisk egg white, honey, cinnamon and salt until blended. Add nuts, seeds and dried fruit, stirring until completely combined.
3. Divide mixture among the muffin cups. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Tightly wrap pucks individually in plastic wrap. Keeps 5 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks refrigerated and up to 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container.
Variations: For Tropical Paleo Pucks, add 2 teaspoons grated lime zest to the egg white mixture and substitute ground ginger for the cinnamon. Replace the dried fruit with 1/2 cup unsweetened flake or shredded coconut.
For Chocolate Paleo Pucks, omit the cinnamon; add 2 teaspoons natural, unsweetened cocoa powder to the egg white mixture. Replace the dried fruit with 1/4 cup finely chopped dates and 3 tablespoons cacao nibs or min chocolate chips.
Keeping the kitchen cool
A reader asked for a stovetop mostaccioli recipe, which wasn't as easy to find as the baked ones. I think the dish when prepared in the oven has a richer flavor from the blending of ingredients. This recipe is more than acceptable if you don't want to turn on the oven this summer.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 pound bulk Italian sausage (ground beef can be subbed)
4 (16-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes*
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound package mostaccioli pasta
1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and the red pepper, and cook until they are limp about 5 minutes. Add the pork sausage, cook and stir until the sausage is crumbly and browned, about 10 minutes. Drain and discard any excess fat, then stir in the tomatoes, the seasonings and the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta, then toss with the red sauce and the Italian cheese blend. Stir until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. Serves 8.
*If you prefer tomato sauce, use two 26-ounce jars of your favorite brand, or homemade, or do half and half.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.