Friday, July 1, 2011

The Yummy, and the Ain't Shitty for You

  One of the big things I miss about living stateside is Costco.  I worked there and for a while I was on the front-end, loading and unloading the mountainous, Jenga-like stacks of food and wares of the wild-eyed, egocentric mothers and their shitty, demanding kids.  In the rush of these efforts, dodging the swinging fists of toddlers and babies in their basket seats (Never put your produce there, folks), I seldom had the ease of mind to focus on the contents of each customer cart, but some things would catch my eye and I would keep them in mind for later.  Thankfully, the Costco Gods smiled upon me, and for most of the time I was employed, I very happily worked as a Bakery Assistant.  Overall, I had a blast working there, and met a lot of good people I consider great friends.  It didn't hurt that shopping there was blissful, but really only in the first couple opening hours on an odd Tuesday morning.  

  This is how I happened upon one of my very favorite snacks, Mrs. May's Crunch Snacks. A pretty cool co-worker had purchased a large bag of these treats and took them up to the break room for her mid-shift snack.  I could smell their fruity flavor from across the table and she generously offered me a handful once she realized I was staring a little too longingly in her direction.  I'm sure the pooling puddle of saliva added to my inconspicuous state.  I was grateful enough for the offer since I was so hungry (forgot my effing lunch) but I was pluckily surprised!  They were so crunchy, sweet, roasty, and filling!  It amazed me that these square-cut treats made of fruit and nuts were so satisfying.  Many a handful of trail mix, not a far cry from this product, hath left me unsatisfied and munching waaay too much than I should be.  Not to mention, most commercial trail mixes provide too little actual nutrients, too much refined sugar (chocolate pieces, dehydrated and coated fruit) and they're packed with a crapload of sodium.  And I'm not sorry that because of this, I would choose a bag of Peanut M&Ms over a trail mix any day!  That might be because I come from a family where M&Ms MUST contain a peanut to even be considered worthy! No Plain Ms need apply! 

  I just can't say a bad thing about these because they're So Freaking Good and good for you.  Well, maybe the only bad thing would be that if you're hungry enough, you could scarf too many.  And unfortunately, the only cost-effective way to buy Enough of them to last, is to buy a pack at Costco, because they're a fairly frequent provider.  Of course, there Used to be a Costco here (which could have provided a transferable position for me) in Guam, but because the local population (aside from military) could not sustain enough revenue, it closed a while back and is now the island-wide Department of Revenue/Motor Vehicles.  Go figure.  The only place I have located them here is the Mobil station down the road (Yay!) and they carry several flavors regularly, but the amount is very small and the price (because Guam is SO EFFING EXPENSIVE) is $6+ on a good day (FML).

  Now, in the way of problems, this is stupid.  It does not rank with anything even mildly serious, but when you relocate somewhere so far away from what you know and love...well, finding those little things you love provide comfort and allow you some sense of normalcy and the chance to adjust to life-as-you're-getting-to-know-it.

  Having provided all of this seemingly insignificant information, this is why it is significant... As much as I LOVE me some Mrs. May's, I obviously cannot afford to buy as much of this healthy treat as I would like, let alone a bag just every now and then.  So I compromised and decided to make my own.  Well, at least something like it...

  In doing this, I also could not afford to just run out and buy all of these desired ingredients at once.  I put my Big Girl Panties on and added 1-2 ingredients to my bi-monthly grocery trip.  I already had a few of these on-hand, thankfully, so it only took about a month (PSH, Only...) to collect everything I needed/wanted in my experiment.  I knew I wanted the result to be crunchy, maybe a bit chewy, with some sweet and a little savory/salty flavor (I said a Little, because savory items can lend the illusion of a salty flavor).  The result needed to be satisfying as a snack-y treat without the accessibility of becoming over-consumed (it's texture and taste had to be complex enough that it makes your mouth work to enjoy it but not overwhelm it, i.e. Potato Chips, Caramels).  Plus, it had to be versatile...what kind of a damn Gemini am I, if I can't make food that's just as versatile as my personality?!

  So here we go...

Chocolate, I Can See Your Berry Nuts

preheat the oven to 350 

2 cups dry roasted peanuts 
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup ground pistachios
1/2 cup shelled, whole pistachios
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup dried pomegranate 
1/2 dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened flake coconut
2 cups frozen blackberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk 
1 tbsp agave nectar

  • Line a 9x13" baking pan with parchment, set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine the blackberries, vanilla, corn starch, sweetened condensed milk, and agave over medium-low heat. Mix well and remove from heat after 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Pulse coconut in processor or coarsely chop.  Combine this with all nuts and spread on a cookie sheet. 
  • Roast the pan of nuts and coconut in the oven for 5-10 mins, keeping a close eye on them...don't want them too roasted.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before combining with dark chocolate chips, pomegranate, and blackberry syrup in a large bowl. 
  • Mix it well, the chocolate should have melted a bit.  Spoon into the four corners of your parchment-lined dish and spread it firmly and evenly.
  • Put it in the freezer for about an hour.  Lift the bars out by the parchment and use a large knife to cut into the smaller sizes you want.  I cut mine into 1" squares to maximize use and even out portion size.
  • Pluck your snack pieces from the paper and toss 'em in freezer bag.  They'll stay formed, crunchy, chewy, and fresh in the freezer.
  I described some ingredients in bold because I don't  want these items to be underestimated  Buy the frozen fruit to save your money and get the same nutrients and flavor.  It doesn't matter what kind of berry you use, but there definitely needs to be some berries here.  Do not, I REPEAT, Do Not get the Fat Free Sweetened Condensed Milk!  I used to buy this thinking I was all fat-conscious....sigh...if you buy this fat-free version, you'll be substituting Way more sugar, so what's the point?  I bought the Craisins brand of dried pomegranate to save some moola, and I don't feel like I lost out at all, they're just as yummy.  I keep a bag of ground pistachios in my freezer to add as a savory filler in quite a few dishes, saving myself calories and adding protein/good fats without employing the crunch of a whole pistachio.  In this case, we want all the crunch we can get, so that's why I had to make the distinction.  And lastly, I splurged on a $5, 16 oz. bag of Bob's Red Mill Unsweetened Flake Coconut for added fiber, flavor, and no sugar added, in place of the too-sweet Baker's coconut.  I encourage you to experiment with the frozen and dried fruit, the kind of nuts you use (so long as some of them are ground-up for binding) and the accompaniments like the coconut and chocolate.  If you experiment, please let me know what delicious combinations you end-up with!

  The beauty of this savory sweet confection (because it really does taste and feel like a treat to me) is that it fulfilled that versatility I was looking for.  Not only have I cut these into a snacking size for the random handful I'll grab on the go, but they will accompany my ice cream and popcorn.  Because they contain such a large amount of protein and fiber, they are the perfect answer to my before/after workout energy boost, and they'll be the pleasantly small, nutritious snack that will tide me over 'til an actual meal is needed.  Pretty excited to keep these on hand for when I need a little chocolate fix...which is often enough...what can I say, my husband  prefers me Sane... o.0  

  I don't think I've created anything that will indefinitely replace my love of Mrs. May's, but I am happy to have created a more reasonably priced, just-as-tasty replacement for the time day in the future, I will be grateful to enjoy both nutritious in the pantry, one in the freezer!  (And I'll have a deeper appreciation for places like Costco too, despite the crowds of crazy peeps.)

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