High energy hits

Sat, Mar 14, 2009, 00:00

Rewarding yourself with a sweet treat doesn’t have to mean overloading on fats and sugar, writes DOMINI KEMP.

GUIDE BOOKS ARE handy tools, and in Ireland, there’s a good selection to choose from, including the Georgina Campbell guides and my personal favourites, the Bridgestone guides by John and Sally McKenna.

Because I regularly have to drive down to Cork, I’m often looking for a clean pit-stop, en route. The Cashel House Hotel, which is just over half-way, is perfect for soup, sambos, tea, scones and a quick stroll around the garden. Plus, their loos are immaculate. Other than that, there is a real lack of places to stop, even for plain old petrol. The new roads are great, but sometimes I think the guidebooks should incorporate a chapter entitled, “Safe places to pee when travelling around Ireland”, because some of these roadside cafes and petrol stations are grim, to say the least.

On my last trip, I was about to run out of petrol when neon signs proudly displaying prices per litre finally appeared on the horizon. I must have hit the worst petrol station shop in the world, because I kid you not, the healthiest food you could buy were highly processed “snack foods” or “breakfast bars”. There were no pieces of fruit, packets of nuts or dried fruit. The sad thing is that many of these so-called “healthy” cereal bars are full of high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, yet they market themselves as healthy alternatives.

I know it’s foolishly naive to imagine you could ever get something decent to eat in a petrol station, which is why I have become one of those annoying people who always packs dried fruit, water, oatcakes and fresh fruit for car or plane journeys. When you run out of your own stash, you are faced with the prospect of buying monstrous rubbish at exorbitant prices. The same goes for the cinemas. Why, oh why, can’t they get with the programme? Most of us do not want to eat slushy drinks that look like anti-freeze, or eat popcorn that is full of bad fats and up to 1,500 calories per large portion. Giant packs of cheap sweets that cost a fortune are unacceptable as the only sweet-toothed option. I feel like a real scrooge smuggling in my own food, but it makes me depressed that there’s no alternative, (although the Lighthouse and IFI cinemas are noteworthy exceptions to this rule of thumb).

With this in mind, I have a really good recipe for granola bars that are made with olive oil instead of butter and are wheat-free, for coeliacs, who are often neglected. The other recipe is for scones. Mary, our super head chef in Cork, who has just had a baby boy, will have me shot if I publish her carefully guarded scone recipe, so here’s a safe alternative.

Granola bars

Don’t worry if you have to substitute one type of nut for another. You can also change the dried fruit.

45g pecan nuts

45g dried apricots, finely chopped

100g figs, finely chopped

45g dried sour cherries (or cranberries)

45g pumpkin seeds

30g sesame seeds

30g ground almonds

200g oats

a good pinch of cinnamon

100ml olive oil

4 tbsp honey

75g demerara sugar

Preheat an oven to 140 degrees/gas mark one. Lightly toast the pecan nuts for five to 10 minutes on a baking tray in the oven. Soak the apricots, figs and cherries in a small amount of boiling water for five minutes, then drain. Roughly chop the pecan nuts and then mix with all the other nuts, cinnamon and chopped fruit.

Heat the olive oil, honey and sugar in a small saucepan till the sugar dissolves, then mix with the fruit and nuts. Mix well and then line a tin with parchment paper (mine is a rectangular tin that measures 20cm in length). Using a wet spatula, pack the granola mix into the tin and smooth the top. Keep dipping the spatula into some water as this helps smooth it down without sticking. Bake for 25 minutes or until it is starting to go golden brown. Allow to cool fully, then remove from the tin and cut into bars. Wrap well in cling film and freeze, or keep in the fridge.

Raisin scones

Most scone recipes just use cream flour. This one is a little different, but does produce about 12 nice scones. Serve straight away with clotted cream and jam.

115g raisins

1 cup of black tea

270g cream flour

90g strong flour

4 tsp baking powder

100g unsalted butter, softened

100g caster sugar

2 large eggs

100ml milk

a splash of cream

a pinch of sugar

Soak the raisins in the tea for 10 minutes, then strain. Sift the flours and baking powder into a bowl. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs gradually, then add the milk slowly. Don’t fret if it curdles. Fold in the flours and raisins. Mix well, then dump on to a sheet of cling film, wrap up well and refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees/gas six. Roll out the dough to two fingers thick and cut out scones with a cutter. Re-roll the scraps, and keep going till you have nothing left. Chill again, if you have the time, then glaze with a little cream mixed with the sugar. Bake for 15 minutes until the scones are golden brown.