Monday, September 09, 2013

Guest Post: Stellar Review (by my Wife) for Power Hungry Energy Bar Cookbook

[Full disclosure: Was provided with a free copy from the publisher]
Last year at this time, I had about six dozen protein enriched muffins in five varieties sitting in my freezer, ready for school lunch distribution. I was feeling confident, prepared, and pleased that my kids would be eating home-made, nutritionally sound, protein hearty snacks that would keep them satiated and energized for the long days filled with school and various after school activities. My sense of triumph was quickly shattered by rejection in the form of half eaten (at best) muffins returning in the lunch boxes. Sadly, much of the remaining few dozen muffins ended up in my stomach rather than my kids’ who quickly grew tired of the repetition.

Fast forward to August 2013. Just as I am heading into “back to school” mode and the dreary task of packing nutritious lunches for the kids (and the hubby) begins to loom, Power Hungry, The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook by Camilla Salsbury, lands on my kitchen counter. Bars. Yes!

With 44 individual recipes plus variations for just about each one bringing that number to over 200 recipes, I am once again feeling confident and prepared. Immediately I pull in my kids, showing them the eye-pleasing photos that accompany each recipe, asking them each to choose one to try. We begin with Nick Bars in the section entitled “Super Natural Knock Offs”. The original recipe, comparable to Clif Bars, leaves you with numerous options even without the following page that gives you 8 bar variations to change it up (from Chocolate Almond Fudge Bars to Gingerbread Bars). In order to make them school safe, we opt for sunflower seeds and sunflower seed butter (a variety of seeds and nuts/seed and nut butters are listed as options in the recipe). With dates acting as the glue in this recipe, two of my kids devour them, while the third finds it a bit too sweet for her liking. All in all, we are off to a good start.

From the same section of the book, we try Moonbeam Bars (a knock off of Luna Bars). Again, we opt for Sunflower seed butter to make it school safe. The recipe calls for orange zest, but we have no oranges, only lemons. My eldest daughter is a big fan of lemons, so we swap it in, although my gut is telling me that zest of any citrus may not play well with this recipe…and as it turns out, my gut, about the lemon zest at the very least, was right. Moonbeam bars as is not such a hit. It is disappointing in that this was a recipe that had over 6g of protein and less than 200 calories per bar. That said, removing the zest would have likely been a success, so we will definitely be trying these again.

Next, we move to the Protein Bars section of the book where we find Banana Blondie Protein Pucks. These look delicious, and with 11g of protein and only 128 calories per serving, they seem perfect for our next experiment. Well, almost perfect. They call for ground almonds, making them anything but school safe. For after school snacks, however, they work just fine for our family. Sadly, but for the child who chose and helped to make these pucks, no one else wanted to eat more than a bite or two. They were dry and fairly bland. Not sure that these can be saved, even with mini chocolate chips sprinkled on top.

Finally, we head back to the first section of the book to try out their Power Grab Protein Bars (comparable to Powerbar Protein Plus Bars or Promax Bars). Not surprisingly, the recipe calls for protein powder, but it is vegan protein powder, which unbeknownst to me is not used equally to whey powder in recipes. Thankfully the author is mindful in adding a “Bar Tips” section for each recipe, where in this one she explains how to use whey protein in lieu of vegan. While the measurements were off (following her instructions for whey protein, I needed to add about an extra 1/3 cup of milk to the recipe to make it work), with a bit of tinkering these turned out AWESOME!!! The kind of awesome that has me handing out these bars to family and friends and making a second batch (the first was with natural peanut butter, the second with soynut butter) to keep in my freezer for the kids and adults in our family. The kind of awesome that will never have me purchasing another protein bar SO LONG AS I LIVE. Seriously. Awesome.

Overall, this is a recipe book worth having. I love how many recipes/variations there are to try. I love that it has the nutritional breakdown for each recipe (although I am not sure how she has calculated some of them where there are a variety of options that vary from nut/seed butters to actual nuts/seeds, to maple syrup/honey/agave nectar, to a variety of dried fruit options). I love that she has a “bar tips” section for each recipe as well as instructions on how to store the finished products. I love the section at the beginning of the book entitled “Power Hungry Pantry” where the author lists the ingredients you will need for most recipes in the book (which I took with me to my local bulk store before I began making any of the recipes in the book). And I especially love the photos – they make choosing recipes with my kids so much more appealing!

So here are the two things I had issues with in this book. First, a number of recipes called for nuts (not school safe). While the author gave alternatives (seeds/seed butters) for some recipes, they certainly weren’t suggested for all of them. Second, and my bigger issue, many of the recipes are terribly high in sugar, averaging 12.7g per bar with numbers as high as 23.2 grams (that’s roughly 5.5 tsp of sugar!). While compared to store bought bars, I’ve no doubt that the ingredients used in these recipes are superior in that they are mainly raw ingredients (ie. whole grains and in their natural state), but let’s face it, sugar is sugar, and whether it is processed (white and powdery) or “natural” (it comes from a tree or a bee), the body processes it pretty much the same way. You know there is too much of it when your kids are complaining that the product is too sweet (is there such a thing??). While the author does mention Stevia early on in the book, it scarcely makes an appearance in the recipes themselves. That said, I am all about experimenting, so am looking forward to making many more of the book’s bars while trying to reduce the sugar. Somebody warn the guinea pigs: this is the year of the bar.

[As always for positive reviews, here's an Amazon Associates link for you to pick up the book - and thanks to my fantastic wife for the review and for the bars!]