Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pumpkin-Apple Granola Bars with Chocolate Chips

I'm currently sitting on a train through the lovely snow-covered Hudson Valley, headed to Toronto for a weekend conference. One of my big worries leading up to this trip has been about food. This is the first traveling I've done since instituting my low cholesterol diet. To top it off, I'm not eating meat right now either. While a twelve-hour train ride is otherwise a rather enjoyable way to travel, I worried that the cafe car offerings would not work for me.

My solution was to bring a cooler bag full of food. I packed myself a chickpea and spinach salad for lunch. I brought a large chunk of the tasty focaccia I made the other day. I made some buttermilk ranch popcorn and a batch of these awesome granola bars. I was going to pack some clementines, and then I remembered the last time I took this trip, when customs officials confiscated the orange of the man sitting in front of me (don't try to bring citrus fruits across the border - it's not worth it). Now I sit on the train in comfort, worry-free. I will buy a cafe car salad for lunch, while they're still stocked (last time they ran out of substantial food by dinnertime), then eat the rest of my stash in comfort as the day goes on. Tricky diet + travel = no problem.

The granola bars are definitely the most important item in my cooler bag. Not only are they healthy and filling, but they keep really well. Most of my food won't last past today (the popcorn could, but it tends to get stale quickly), but these granola bars will keep me happy all weekend long. Besides binding things together, the applesauce keeps them nice and chewy. I think my homemade applesauce is really the key to these. I canned a big batch using tart Stayman Winesap apples from Terhune Orchards in October. The tartness and the fresh apple flavor are shine through more strongly than the pumpkin in these bars (my homemade pumpkin puree is also a bit weak). I don't think store-bought applesauce would pack the same punch.

I don't mean to deter you, of course, from trying this recipe with store-bought ingredients! I have made these with store-bought pumpkin as well and gotten a stronger pumpkiny flavor. They will be a delicious snack whatever your ingredients - I just get the added bonus of autumn memories with mine!

Now that we've passed through Albany and are heading down the Erie Canal, I think it's high time for my snack. Excuse me while I enjoy a chewy, spicy, appley, chocolatey granola bar and enjoy the view.

Pumpkin-Apple Granola Bars with Chocolate Chips
Slightly adapted from Comfort of Cooking.

3 1/4 c rolled oats
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c light brown sugar
1/2 c pumpkin puree
1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with baking spray.

Whisk oats, spices and salt together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl (or Pyrex measuring cup), combine the sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, honey and vanilla. Pour over oat mixture and stir well until all the oats are coated. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. (If your 8 x 8 pan is in use, like mine was, you can use a portion of a larger pan. The mixture stays where you put it.) Press the granola together firmly, or it will crumble when you try to cut it later! (I actually liked using a big pan for this very reason - it allowed me to pack everything together more tightly. I still had some bars fall apart as I cut them, but not as many as last time.)

Bake for 30-35 minutes(around 40 if you use a glass baking dish), until golden brown and set. Let cool completely before cutting.

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