My friend Margo is one of those amazing bakers who can actually create her own recipes.  Anytime I try something new and want to figure out how to bake it, I go to her.  I can improvise fairly well when I’m cooking, but I respect baking as an exact science so I get a little nervous about changing ratios, etc.  Here is Margo’s recipe for crispy brown rice bars. I love being able to make this sort of thing for myself because 1) the cost for wholesome little snacks like these can equal the size of a mortgage payment over the course of a year 2) I just cringe every time I open one of the wrappers and know that most are headed for the land-fill 3) these are void of any preservatives that still come with many ‘natural’ and/or organic varieties.  

I’ve already praised the benefits of almonds and dried fruits (See the post with the recipe for date balls.), but these also contain one of my favorite ‘sneak-in’ ingredients: hemp seed.  I order mine in 5 lb. bags from Nutiva (www.nutiva.com).  It is easily stored in the refrigerator and is a great addition to smoothies and salads.  For baby food or salad dressing, try adding their hemp oil.  Hemp seed contains the perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids.  For a quick synopsis, here’s a quick read from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp_oil

In addition to being gluten-free, I also like that this recipe calls for brown rice syrup and honey rather than white or brown sugar or agave nectar. I’m certainly not an expert on sugars and I don’t mind a little agave now and then, but I do believe that sugar is not as innocuous as the marketing companies whose clients include children’s cereal manufacturers, ketchup manufacturers and ‘whole wheat’ bread manufacturers would like you to believe.  It wreaks havoc on our immune and digestive systems and everything else in between.  More on that later.

Brown rice syrup is a polysaccharide (or ‘complex sugar’) rather than a monosaccharide (or ‘simple sugar’).  It’s still a sweetener so it should be used in moderation, but because of its structure, the body breaks it down more slowly so you don’t get the crazy spike in blood glucose levels that occurs with simple sugars.  It also means that the body can utilize it for energy rather than storing it as fat.   Honey is also a natural sweetener but, unlike processed sugar (e.g. white sugar), it retains its own natural digestive enzymes and nutrients.  I don’t know much about it, but raw honey is a very popular choice because it is completely unprocessed and, as a result, retains all of its natural nutritional benefits. Apparently it is good for allergies and as a natural antibiotic.

A note about gluten free: Thanks Joan, who wrote in to ask about brown rice syrup being gluten free.  I’ve now specified in Margo’s recipe to use Lundberg Farms because both their organic and eco-farmed versions are gluten free.  That’s the only brand I have used so I mistakenly assumed all varieties are gluten free…not so.  I checked http://www.glutenfreeliving.com and they indicate that it’s actually the fermentation process that determines the distinction.  If the brown rice is fermented with barley enzymes, the result is NOT gluten free.  If fungal enzymes are used, the resulting rice syrup IS gluten free.  If eating gluten free is not important to you, then obviously use whatever brand of brown rice syrup you prefer.  

Enjoy the recipe that follows…thanks Margo!

My kids are obsessed with these organic crispy brown rice bars – but we go through a case of them in a matter of weeks.  When I complained about it, BethAnn said what she always says to me about pre-packaged snack food:  “Couldn’t you make those?”  And I responded the way I always do:  (apologetic grimace) “Yeah probably, but I never will.”  So tackled the brown rice bars and came up with this versatile recipe that I hope will become as popular in your house.  My kids like to help make them too.

Crispy Rice Bars

3 cups organic brown crisp rice cereal (I like Barbara’s brand)

¼ cup raw almonds

¼ cup raw cashews

¼ cup shelled hemp seeds

½ cup raisins (or other small dried fruit; add enough to suit your taste)

1/3 cup smooth nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, tahini, hazelnut would all work well, as would a combination)

¼ cup Lundberg Farms Gluten free brown rice syrup

¼ cup honey

Preheat oven to 350.

Grind nuts and seeds in a spice mill to coarse consistency.

Add these and raisins or other dried fruit to brown rice cereal.

Bring nut butter, honey and brown rice syrup to a boil in a small pot, and allow the mixture to bubble for about one minute (do not let it burn).

Pour nut butter mixture over rice mixture and stir thoroughly.

Turn out onto a greased 9×9 metal cake pan and press down with greased fingers.

Bake for about 10 minutes, just until edges begin to brown.

Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

Store in layers separated by parchment in an airtight container.