cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

If you’re like me, you still have some Easter candy floating around aimlessly in your kitchen, your living room, maybe also in your pockets and in your car. This Easter candy is begging to be finished, but there is just so much of it that it is difficult to finish. Especially when there are other delicious things like Gushers getting in the way during afternoon snack time.

So last weekend, on a whim when prepping foodstuffs for an epic end-of-winter hike, I decided to turn some already delicious raw energy balls into not-raw, much deliciouser energy balls, or bites, as I’ll classily refer to them here. I make many versions of these, often with cocoa powder, often with various dried fruits, and always with a base of dates and nuts.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

The addition of Cadbury Mini Eggs is a genius move, because it gives the energy bites a crunchy crackly texture that is terribly fun to eat – I imagine that to be the energy flowing straight into me, and down towards my legs to give them strength for the last few miles of the day.  What’s more, Cadbury recently unveiled ‘Royal Dark’ Mini Eggs, which are leaps and bounds more delicious than the original milk chocolate variety. That is what I used here, and I highly recommend it.

If you happen to have various other Easter candies looking for a home, I think many things would work well in these. Jordan almonds would work. Malted milk balls would work. Fun-sized Easter candy bars would work. Perhaps even jelly beans would work! …although that’s a bit too wacky for me.

gulf hagas

I referred to our hike as epic. It was only 9.7 miles, but the going was rrrrrrrough. First off, let me say that I don’t yet own waterproof boots. As a forester, that is probably something that I shouldn’t admit – ask me next week, and I’ll probably be able to saw “Pshaw I have waterproof boots!” and then I’ll quietly mumble something about “purchasingthemlastweekend.”

Luckily, someone had been on a good portion of the trail at some point over the winter, so the snow that is often still above-my-knees deep was reduced to the perfect depth for trodding upon. The trail we hiked was at Gulf Hagas, known as the Grand Canyon of Maine. Take that as you will – – it was definitely no Grand canyon, but it was a Lovely canyon and a Stunning canyon nonetheless. Given the canyon nature of the hike, there was a quite a bit of micro-rocky terrain, which turned out to be covered in sheer ice during our visit. It’s safe to say I did my share of slipping and sliding.

The loop hike that we did took us on a section of the Appalachian Trail as well, which we realized we hadn’t set foot on since 2011, at Grayson Highlands in Virginia. The AT hadn’t seen any footprints all winter other than moose and deer, so while being just a short section, it was sort of tiring. Remember that part about the not-waterproof boots? Remember that other part about the snow above-my-knees deep? Connect those two dots right thurr.

But jeebus, what a beautiful hike. I can’t wait for the snow to fully recede, and for weekend after weekend of glorious hiking adventures this summer. Bring it on, I say (nay, I plead)!

KI roadgulf hagasgulf hagascar camping

Perfect for bringing along on hikes, this recipe will give you a boost with healthy walnuts, hazelnuts, and dates, as well as a peppy sugar rush from the chocolate. Use up that Easter candy!

Cranberry and Cadbury Mini Egg Energy Bites

{recipe by myself – very approximate, but very adaptable}

Makes 12-15

++Ingredients:++

3 handfuls walnuts (or your nut of choice)
1 handful hazelnuts
2 handfuls dates
pinch of salt
1 handful dried cranberries
2 handfuls Cadbury Royal Dark Mini Eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp maple syrup

++Directions:++

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients, and pulse until mixed. If the mixture is overly wet, add another handful of nuts. If the mixture is dry, add some more maple syrup, or a teaspoon of water. Shape mixture into balls, and place on a tray. Freeze for at least an hour. Enjoy chilled if possible.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

cashew quinoa energy bars

Several moons ago, I began dabbling in the art of the Wayfaring Chocolate ‘raw balls‘ recipes. Never before had I harbored any sort of interest in raw food, let alone things labeled near-vegan or no-bake. But I found myself hooked by these simple recipes, and the endless possibilities out there for combining nuts, dates, and other such tasties.

More recently, I’ve been fascinated by the nutritional research and dietary changes made by my blog pal Sarah and her family. The idea that overconsumption of grains is unhealthy had never occurred to me, perhaps because I love to eat gigantic bowls of pasta every chance I get. But now (although I still eat plenty of grains), I’m trying to work more grain alternatives into my diet, such as quinoa and chia seeds. Thank you, Sarah, for changing my outlook on nutrition.

Most recently, I went for another hike in Baxter State Park. I didn’t bring my camera with me this time, but I brought an idea. The night before hiking, I woke from a dream in which I combined cashews and quinoa into some sort of delicious ‘raw ball’ treat. The idea stuck with me, and I made sure to stock up on dates and cashews so that I could experiment.

These are not raw. I ended up baking them because I wanted to go with a looser ‘dough,’ if you will, one that would benefit from a crisp-up in the oven. That way, they’re kind of like a grainless granola bar. They are crunchy, nutty, and make for a wonderful midday snack. I recommend keeping them in the fridge for extra crispness.

 

So, last weekend’s hike. It was a hot and sunny day, and the bugs were much less bothersome than last time around. Our hike du jour was a 7.3 mile jaunt along the Fowler Brook and Middle Fowler Pond Trails, plus a quick .6 up and down Barrel Ridge, and also a roughly 2-mile triangulated bushwhack up and down the trail-less Bald Mountain, making for a total of nearly ten miles.

It was a 6.5 hour endeavor, and due to the bushwhacking I accumulated 49 scrapes on my arms and legs, and one puncture wound from a perilously large branch. It was all in good fun, although, yes, we ran out of water again. This cycle of abuse needs to stop.

Here are a few photos from last year [although the computer claims they were taken on May 28th, 1956, at 1:36am] on the nearby Traveler loop. The Traveler is much higher in elevation than we were this past weekend, but it is adjacent to where we were hiking – to give you an idea of the scenic beauty near Baxter’s South Branch Pond campground.

On to that energy bar recipe – perfect to bring along on hikes, if you remember to wrap the semi-sticky bars in wax paper beforehand. Also perfect to eat mid-afternoon, after a day spent lazing about in the yard, getting sunburnt.

Cashew Quinoa Energy Bars

A recipe created by my brain during REM sleep

++Ingredients:++

1/2 c. cashews, soaked in water 1 hour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c. quinoa, cooked and cooled
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. almonds
1 2/3 c. dates
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp vanilla

++Directions:++

Preheat over to 350 F. In a food processor, pulse the softened cashews and salt. Add quinoa, additional cashews, almonds,  dates, honey and vanilla, and pulse until combined.

Butter or spray a loaf pan (I used a 9 x 5″ pan), and press mixture into pan. Bake for 15-22 minutes, until edges are crispy and center of pan appears to be somewhat thickened. Remove from oven. Score lines into the pan; I created 14 rectangles that were each roughly 1 x 2″. Cool, remove from pan, and store covered in the refrigerator.

Variations: Next time I will try not soaking the cashews, and will see if there is enough liquid without doing so to bind with the quinoa and make no-bake balls. I also may add a small amount of almond extract, in place of, or in addition to, the vanilla.

spicing up spring’s delayed arrival

Last Friday, we received a record snowfall. Our poisson d’avril. And by April 2nd, Bangor had welcomed 14.4 inches of snow onto the ground, on my roof, and in trees that couldn’t stand the weight. It was wet, wet snow.

We had been away in Vermont for the week, and chose to prolong our time away to avoid the snow. It worked – by the time we came back to town, much of this wet, wet snow had melt, melted away. And following yesterday’s substantial rainfall, the lawn is once again down to the grass. The crocuses, snowdrops, and Scilla siberica that were crushed by the snow have been newly exposed to light and are again growing upright. The first leaves of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other such creatures have begun to venture above the soil. And every day, watching these changes, I am filled with delight.

I don’t mind if it snows, rains or suns, because with each type of weather comes a fresh wave of inspiration that I appropriate for baking. This past weekend found me in a post-snowfall mood, looking to use up some apples.

These weren’t just any apples. They were apples that I scored a sweet deal on, thanks to the nearby grocery store’s dedication to maintaining a discounted produce section. Unblemished tomatoes, near-rotting strawberries, an unripened pear, perfect looking tomatillos – all of these, and much more, have found their way into my shopping bag, and nothing has cost over $1.50.  The apples were another such find: 6 for $1.30, or some such nonsense. And while they had a few bruises, they looked just right for a spiced apple bundt cake.

I considered a few recipes. My cake pan selection is limited, and I therefore like to gauge my recipe choice based on what pan I can fit my batter into (without much left over). My choices are: two 9″ round pans, one 10″ round with removable bottom pan, one 8″ convertible pan that leaks, one Bûche de Noël pan, or my lovely 10-cup Nordic Ware Platinum Cathedral Bundt Pan.

I was about to abandon existing recipes in favor of making up my own, when I stumbled across David Lebovitz’s reprint of Maria Helm Sinskey’s recipe for spiced apple cake. Originally created for a 12-cup bundt pan, David found success despite his meager 10-cup pan. This sounded right up my alley, so Maria’s recipe it was.

As with my previous tea cake, this one tasted better a day or two after baking. The cake was really nicely spiced, with a hefty amount of fresh-grated nutmeg, as well as a generous portion of cinnamon, and lesser doses of cloves, and allspice (my addition). I used less nutmeg than the recipe originally called for, because 1/2 of a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg is a heck of a lot of flavor. I didn’t measure the amount that I used, as I grated straight into my flour bowl, but it was likely closer to 1/4 of a teaspoon.

To get back on track with the recipe, I stuck with the (optional) ingredient addition of chopped dates. I had an aging tub of Deglet Noors that were looking for some love, so they got the heave-ho into the batter. I’m not a huge fan of Deglet Noor dates. I suppose they are okay, but I know that there are much better varieties out there. If only I had thought to go looking for them while I was most recently in Boston.

David’s tasting notes were that the cake was not very sweet, but I would disagree with that. I can only think that the apples I used were not as tart as his. He suggested a glaze or cream cheese frosting for those feeling the need for MORE SUGAR!, but I was as content as he was with a dusting of powdered sugar.

I thought this was a really excellent cake. If a mixed-media, fun-shaped, enticingly-pleasant-smelling treasure trove of flavor is something that calls your name (shortly after record-breaking snowfalls, perhaps?), then this cake is for you.

Spiced Apple Bundt Cake {recipe adapted from Maria Helm Sinskey, as presented by David Lebovitz}

Makes 1 bundt cake

*Note:* This recipe calls for a 12-cup bundt pan. I successfully used a 10-c. pan without any overflow, but I did place a sheet pan underneath the bundt pan in the chance that it would, indeed, grow too tall for its bundt-based britches.

++Ingredients:++

2 tbsp. butter
4 firm (or not) medium-size baking apples, peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 tbsp. sugar
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 c. sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. pitted, chopped dates
3 c. flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 c. buttermilk (or plain yogurt)

Powdered sugar, for dusting

++Directions:++

Melt 2 tbsp. of butter in a large skillet and sauté the apples over medium-high heat until the turn golden brown, stirring them as little as possible as they cook.

Once cooked through, add the 2 tbsp. of sugar and cook until the apples cubes are nicely glazed. (In the original recipe, Maria mentioned to cook them until all the liquid had evaporated. I didn’t have any liquid to speak of, so it depends on your apples. Listen to your apples.) When glazed to perfection, transfer apples to a plate and cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter+flour a 12-c. or 10-c. bundt pan, tapping out any excess flour.

Beat the 12 tbsp. of unsalted butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla.

In a small bowl, toss the dates, if using, with about a tablespoon of the flour to separate them.

In a medium bowl, sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Stir half of the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture, then mix in the buttermilk (or yogurt). Stir in the remaining dry ingredients until almost completely mixed.

Fold in the cooked apples, and dates. Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes (or 60 minutes at 10 degrees higher than suggested if your oven is as offbeat as mine), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean (keeping in mind that you may come across some apple or date chunks).

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a cooling rack. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Bon appetit!