I'm a firm believer in not feeling guilty about the foods we put into our body (global politics and food resources aside -- I'm talking about the 3:00 p.m. voice in your head that says, "I want a donut.") Women especially, but everyone our culture as a whole, are under considerable pressure to fit into tiny pants, and the resulting oceans of self-hatred that flood our communities makes me want to punch ad execs in the face. Screw that. Guilt is a waste of perfectly good time. If you want to eat cookies for breakfast, eat damn cookies for breakfast, and love your beautiful body just the way it is. Granted, you probably shouldn't eat cookies for breakfast everyday, and you should also fill up the rest of your menu with kale and chard and sweet potatoes and tempeh and other good things.
So, while you shouldn't hate yourself over what you put into your body, I do believe that you can really be happy about putting good things into your cookie hole. Strawberry-quinoa bars are my solution to wanting to eat cheesecake for breakfast everyday. Thanks to the genius of Joanne Stepaniak and her cashew and millet teascake (courtesy of Don't Get Mad, Get Vegan), now I can. I modified Joanne's recipe to combine the healthy fats in almonds with the complete protein of quinoa, while still giving you that satisfying, creamy tang. I used Millennium Restaurant's crust from their Chocolate Almond Midnight (only the best dessert ever), adding oats, again replacing cashews with almonds, and bumping the nutrition up even more with the omega-goodness of flax seeds. It won't fool you into thinking you're really eating a traditional, decadent cheesecake, but it's still remarkably delicious, and full of all sorts of nutritious things that will start your day off right.
There are quite a few steps that require a bit of multitasking, and a few more pieces of kitchen equipment than I'd like, but it's worth it in the end. You will need a high-speed blender with plunger or an immersion blender. (Or, try it in a regular blender or food processor and let me know how it turns out!) Don't fret if your filling doesn't get perfectly smooth; you won't notice once the bars are fully constructed.
Strawberry-quinoa bars, 9 servings
1 c. rolled oats
2 tbs. whole flax seeds
1/3 c. whole raw almonds
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbs. vegetable oil
2 tbs. maple syrup
1 tbs. water
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. quinoa
1 1/2 c. water
1/2 c. whole raw almonds
1/3 c. maple syrup
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. almond milk
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. agar powder
2 tsp. water
2 1/2 c. frozen strawberries
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 350F and line an 8x8 baking pan with foil (enough so it reaches up and over the sides, for easy removal). Combine the agar and 2 tsp. of water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a blender, combine 1/2 c. of the rolled oats and flax seeds. Blend until the oats and most of the flax are well ground. It should resemble whole wheat flour. Pour into a food processor with the 1/3 c. of almonds, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse until the almonds have broken down into a coarse meal.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the oil, syrup, water, and vanilla. Use a silicone spatula to stir in the remaining 1/2 c. of oats and the almond mixture. Stir until evenly moistened, then press into your prepared pan. The crust should just begin to come up the sides (about 1/4"). Bake for 18-20 minutes, just until the edges start to brown, then remove from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack.
In a sieve, rinse your quinoa well under running water. (Crucial step!) Transfer the quinoa to a small lidded pot, along with the 1 1/2 c. of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the quinoa is soft and the water has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, grind the almonds and maple syrup in a blender until it is as smooth as possible. Once the quinoa has finished cooking, add it to the blender, along with the milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. (I prefer to use alcohol-free extract, since this part will not be cooked.) Pause your blending and scrape the sides down frequently. If your crust has completely cooled, pour your filling into the crust and spread evenly. If it's not ready yet, scrape the filling into a bowl and set aside. Once it starts to cool and set, it's not very fun to try to remove it from the blender! You can leave everything on the counter at room temp until you've finished the final step.
In a small pot, combine the strawberries, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Simmer over medium heat just until some of the berries begin to soften (it's ok if some of the bigger ones are still a little frozen). Add the agar mixture and simmer for 5 more minutes. No agar granules should be visible. Use the back of a spoon to gently break down some of the bigger strawberries, if they haven't done it on their own already.
Let the strawberry mixture cool for 20-30 minutes, the pour it over your filled crust and spread evenly over the top of the bars. Let the bars cool completely before covering and refrigerating for at least 4-6 hours. Or leave them overnight and enjoy for breakfast the next day!