Saturday, November 12, 2016

Simple Trail Mix Recipe

As a chef, it always concerns me when people buy simple foods that they could make for pennies on the dollar, foods such as trail mix. As a hiker, it often amuses me what passes for commercial trail mix. Clearly some people making trail mix have never considered what happens to chocolate when it gets warm.

Simple 6-Ingredient Trail Mix
Trail mix is not necessarily about being healthy; it's about providing fuel that is part instantaneous and part long-term to keep you going on the trail. If you've ever bonked after three or four miles of tough trail because of insufficient fuel, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The following recipe delivers simple sugars and carbs, complex carbs (bonus: plenty of fiber), and lots of salt to keep you going. It's not what your cardiologist or dietician will recommend, but when you're burning 4-5000 calories on a hike, you need lots of easy-to-ingest fuel.

Here's a really simple 6-item trail mix recipe that takes just a few minutes of active work and can be prepared from ingredients readily found in your grocery store.

Simple Six-Ingredient Trail Mix Recipe

4 cups/12 ounces high quality rolled oats (that is, not Quaker and not steel cut)
2 cups/7 ounces slivered almonds
1/2 cup/4 fluid ounces amber (grade B) maple syrup
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 cups/8 ounces dried sweetened cranberries (or other fruit of your choice)
2 cups/11 ounces peanut M&Ms

Yield: 2-1/2 pounds trail mix

You'll need a half sheet tray or other rimmed cookie sheet, preferably with a silicone mat to keep clean up a breeze. And you'll need a big bowl to mix everything in.

Start by preheating your oven to about 350F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, almonds, maple syrup, and salt. This quantity of salt will make it taste very salty. When you're out on the trail sweating away, you're going to want this salt. You'll crave it with every fiber in your being. Trust me on this. Too salty when you're not exercising is just right.

Spread the oat mix on a sheet tray (and silicone mat if you have one) and place it in the oven. It's going to take about 30 minutes to get to a consistent golden brown. The oats will brown from the outside of the pan to the middle, so you want to mix it periodically for even browning. I stir it after 10 minutes, again after 10 more minutes, and finally after 5 more minutes.

Bake to Golden Brown, About 30 Minutes
Remove from the oven once it is evenly golden brown and let cool thoroughly, at least 30 minutes and preferably longer. You want all the remaining moisture to evaporate so that mold is not an issue. Pour the oats, cranberries, and M&Ms into a gallon seal-top bag, seal it with plenty of air space inside, and shuffle it about in your hands to mix the contents well.

Lay the bag flat, press out all the excess air, and re-seal for storage. Ann and I repackage it into smaller bags for each hike.

A word or two on ingredients:

Oats. If you don't already know, Quaker rolled oats suck. (Indra Nooyi, call me. I'll tell you just how bad.) High dollar steel cut oats have to be cooked to be edible. Buy the best quality rolled oats you can find. I get mine in bulk from my dry goods supplier.

Maple Syrup. Chefs and pastry chefs use grade B and leave grade A for the tourists. Grade B is cheaper, darker, and more flavorful. Mine comes from Highland County, Virginia.

Salt. It's always Morton's Kosher for me and my restaurant kitchen. Always reliable. If you use another salt with a different crystal size, you may have to adjust the quantity of salt in the recipe.

Peanut M&Ms. I rarely ever use pre-prepared foods. I want really salty peanuts and chocolate in my trail mix. If you've ever rolled your own with chunks of chocolate, you know why Mars has made a fortune telling you "melts in your mouth and not in your hands." Just don't turn the bag over and read the ingredients. Be bad. You're burning a ton of calories on the trail.

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