Last week, an Onion article popped up all over my Facebook wall. Embarrassingly enough, it resonates with me and it has bled over to this blog. Never having been a runner, I never had to deal with the filter that should be applied when discussing something so personal and important to me and something so unimportant and inane to someone else. I have to deal with and improve that, but indulge me this one time (hopefully). You see, I can not stand fitness food. Unfortunately, I have had to start with the gels on my long runs as the digestive ramifications of eating dried fruit an hour into a three hour run was too much to bear. I do not eat granola bars nor power bars, CLIF bars or any other “bar”. I find them far too sweet.
I thought of a few adaptations to the standard granola bar that might make them more agreeable to my palate and after a few go arounds with similar themes, I found a combination that I really like. By now, you should know me well enough to know that meat would likely become involved at some level. Over the past six months, I have been experimenting with savory oatmeal and this was just a riff on that theme. As it stood, I was lucky enough to have a good bit of leftover smoked porchetta di testa from an early July BBQ that was securely waiting in my freezer. That would be a good start.
Next, I knew that I would need fuel for running. This typically is accomplished through honey or other sweet things, but as mentioned, I wanted to steer away from such things, so tasty, but overly sweet things like raisins and dates were out. Apples were perfect though and what goes better with a pork face than the apple so often pictured in the pigs’ mouth. I also knew that I wanted to keep moisture down, so I opted for the dried version of apples.
Finally, as the stereotype goes – as goes granola, so goes nuts and seeds. I added just a bit of sunflower seeds for texture after having a batch of these taste off while including pepitas, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds. Simpler proved to be better once again. For nuts, I went big. Black walnuts. With an earthy, almost boozy flavor to them, black walnuts bring a complexity to the granola bars that pair especially well with the sweet aspect of the dried apples.
As alluded to, the process of refining these granola bars was an almost painful one. As I tweaked each recipe, I found something that needed to be fixed. It ended up that without major boosts in flavoring agents (in this case pork and apple), the rolled oats do not taste like much, so as I was reluctant to make the bars more about apple and pork, I really needed to bring much more of them to the bar. Otherwise the lack of flavor in oats would overwhelm the entire granola bar experience. Once I got the ratio to where I liked it, the spice mix was an easy fix. Clove and fennel were both flavors that went exceeding well with apples and pork.
After baking, I knew that I was not going to be getting a crunchy granola bar without adding sugar and sweetness, so I was pleased that some of the oats and pork had crisped up adding to the texture. My original thought was to bake, then cut into pieces and then bake more, like biscotti, but after trying that method, I did not get much in the way of crispness, so getting a little textural contrast was just enough.
At a little before six this morning, I sampled the goods before a seventeen mile run. I will spare you the details, but I finished the run with enough energy to head over to Chinatown for a little recon work and then to Butcher and Larder for some bacon slicing. That can only be a good sign.
Smoked Porchetta di Testa & Apple Granola Bars
150 grams rolled oats
120 grams smoked porchetta di testa [choose your favorite smoked pork product]
90 grams dried apple
60 grams chopped black walnuts [choose your favorite nut]
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds [choose your favorite seed]
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
4 cloves, ground
1 1/4 cups whole milk
Step one: Preheat oven to 350*. Mix all ingredients.
Step two: Pour into a 9×9 baking dish lined with parchment.
Step three: Bake for 45 minutes. Cut into servings.