Eating wholesome food might mean different things to different people, but I think everybody can agree that we could all do with less processed food in our diet.  The difficulty is that we so often find ourselves in situations where we need to eat on the run.  I almost always have a bag of dried apples and raw almonds in my purse so I can stave off hunger between meals, but sometimes you need a snack with a little more protein and substance... Enter, Quinoa Bars!

Now, you should all know that I haven't always ridden on board the quinoa train.  Maybe I had one too many sad, tasteless black bean and quinoa salads before I decided I didn't like it.  But since the humble grain, which isn't actually a grain at all, is not only wholesome but also happens to be something that grows really well in the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I decided to give it another go.

The important thing to know about cooking quinoa is:  rinse it!  The tiny seeds are coated with saponin, which not only gives it a bitter, soapy taste but makes the quinoa less digestible.  Even if you purchase the packaged, pre-rinsed stuff, I would recommend rinsing (because, well, it couldn't hurt!).  These bars are just-sweet, with a nice combination of crunch and chew, and they pretty much just taste like what's in 'em.  Go figure!  No over-processed flours or sugars necessary.  Each bar has about 180 calories, so enjoy them as a light snack between meals.

Quinoa, Apple and Almond Bars
makes 18

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/2 cup butter (or coconut oil)
1/3 cup honey
1 cup plus 1/2 cup almonds
4 oz dried apples (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 T salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Demerara sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small saucepan, cover quinoa with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the liquid has absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Set quinoa aside.

Meanwhile, brown your butter (skip this step if using coconut oil) - Melt in a small saucepan over medium heat until the foamy bubbles start to subside and the fat solids begin to brown and smell toasty, about 7 minutes.  Set butter aside.

In a food processor, add apples and 1 cup of the almonds and pulse until well chopped.  Add honey, cinnamon, both extracts and salt and mix until combined.  Add 1 cup of the cooked quinoa and pulse again until mixture comes together (this helps to absorb all the honey so the mixture will come clean out of the food processor).  In a large bowl, combine the remaining quinoa with the quinoa mixture and the remaining almonds, roughly chopped or slivered.  Add butter and eggs and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with a little cooking spray or butter.  Press quinoa mixture into the baking sheet and smooth the top with a spatula until even.  Sprinkle liberally with demerara sugar.  Bake until set, about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely before slicing into bars.