Thursday, April 20, 2017

Homemade Snack Bars

They are the perfect in-between food. In the mid-afternoon when you need a little something to hold you over until dinner, or when lunch is still a ways off and you’re dying of hunger, or maybe you need a little energy during or after a workout. That’s where snack bars come in handy.

And there are so many to choose from, aren’t there? Heavens, it’s kind of overwhelming. But if you’re the label reader I am, you hesitate to buy most of them because nearly every one of them has something in there that you really shouldn’t be eating. Here are some of them:

Soy Protein Isolate

This is, unfortunately, one of the most prevalent protein sources you’ll find in protein bars, especially those marketed to women. The marketing would have you believe that soy is an excellent protein source for women because of the isoflavones found in it. In reality, studies have indicated that these soy isoflavones can actually be toxic because of how the soy is processed (fermented soy products such as tofu and miso are fine, just fyi).

In addition, it was actually considered a waste product in soy processing until recently, when it was discovered that money could be made by passing it off as a protein source. It’s cheap and definitely NOT a high-quality protein. It should be avoided.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is an easy one.....the adverse health effects of HFCS are well-documented (contrary to what the commercials from the Corn Growers Association claim). It’s one of the WORST things you can eat and yet there are still bars that use it as a primary ingredient.

Palm Kernel Oil

Palm Kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat. Unlike plain palm oil, palm kernel oil can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. The fractioned form is the most processed...if you see this in the ingredients, definitely avoid it.

Sugar Alcohols

This includes ingredients like maltitol syrup, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and erythritol.  Sugar alcohols are included in bars for sweetness, especially in those that are “carb controlled”. Sugar alcohols don’t impact blood sugar as much as regular sugar because they are not well absorbed in the digestive tract...and when things aren’t well absorbed in the digestive tract, you get gas, abdominal cramping and bloating. In small amounts, they aren’t a big problem, but if you start getting into the double digits of grams of sugar alcohol (and many low-carb bars are in the 20 gram range) then you can start to see unpleasant digestive issues.

Artificial Sweeteners

These include saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal). We pretty much know by now that these are unhealthy and should be avoided.

So, what’s out there that we can safely eat?

Well, there are more and more good ones coming out, thankfully. A relatively new one on the market is from Rx and is marketed as a Paleo bar, and they are “ok” but I don’t love them. My favorite bars for many years now have been those from Larabar. They used to be marketed as being raw, but their website once explained that since the term “raw” means so many different things to different people, they decided to remove the term from their packaging. But in my opinion, they are raw, and thankfully gluten-free and best of all, made with a minimal and simple ingredient list.

But buying a bunch of them can get pricey and if you have a household to feed, it’s cheaper to make them yourself. One of my favorites is their Coconut Cream Larabars.

Coconut Cream Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12-15 Medjool dates, pitted
2 T coconut oil
2 T coconut milk

Mix the nuts together in a food processor until finely ground. Then add the coconut and pulse once or twice. Add the dates, oil and milk and pulse just until a dough forms.

Ground nuts with the coconut
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper, leaving enough room for some to come up and over the sides. That way the bars will be easy to remove and cut with a long knife or better yet, a pizza cutter. Press down the dough so that it is packed well and place in the fridge to set for an hour or 2. Slice and eat. Alternately, you could form the dough into balls and roll them in more shredded coconut. This way they can be stored together without sticking together. They should be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. They do taste best at room temperature, though, so get them out a little before you want to eat them.

Press into a pan

Apparently their Key Lime Larabars are really popular, although I have only tried the Lemon. I’m going to make these next:

Key Lime Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12 Medjool dates, pitted
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 T of water if needed

Process the nuts and coconut until finely ground. Then add the dates and lime juice until a dough forms. Follow the rest of the instructions above.

Pecan Pie Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
12 Medjool dates

Same process as above.

For alternative flavors, try experimenting: adding mini chocolate chips, dried cranberries, cherries or other dried fruit, seeds, spices, whatever floats your boat. Add these to the “dough” of crushed nuts and coconut after processing, but before pressing into the pan.

They are super delicious, 100% natural, raw, gluten-free, vegan, and sugar-free. You can eat these with a good conscience!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Seared Ahi Tuna with a killer Ginger Lime Vinaigrette

Did you know that there are over 60 kinds of tuna fish in the sea, but only about 14 of them are well known to us?

The 4 most common tuna fishes we see, at least here in the Western U.S., are bluefin, yellowtail, albacore, and skipjack. What you want for this dish is “sushi-grade” ahi tuna. Ask your fishmonger if you don’t know which one that is.

I’ve previously blogged about yellowfin and how it’s an excellent replacement for the albacore tuna that we usually use for tuna fish sandwiches.  You know, the stuff we usually get in a can? Yellowfin is a very delicate and delicious fish and is also known as ahi. And ahi makes for some very nice eating. Something that you see a lot of in restaurants is seared ahi, which means that the outside is quickly seared (cooked) while the inside will remain uncooked.

Seared Ahi with Sesame Crust

Until recently, I was never a fan of raw fish and avoided sushi and seared ahi for that reason. Even though seared ahi isn’t completely raw, it mostly is, so it wasn’t something I was going out of my way to make. But the thing about ahi is this: it doesn’t taste as good when fully cooked. It’s tough and chewy, but when it’s only just seared on the outside, the meat is tender and melts like butter on your tongue.

Tyler Florence
Recently I sent my husband out to get some fresh fish for dinner and he came home with ahi. A little disappointed, and not having made it for quite some time, I had to look up a recipe for it. I wasn’t going to overcook it again because I remembered how tough it was last time I did this, so I was going to have to get over this raw fish phobia and pretty quick! I decided to go with a recipe I found on the Food Network from cutie Tyler Florence. I mean, with a face like that, how can you not but trust him? While the fish is certainly the centerpiece, I have to say that the sauce he makes for it is even better! It really is “to die for”.

Start making the sauce as soon as you get home. Let the flavors blend for as long as you can. Then, get the fish out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes to an hour before you want to cook it. Here’s why. Since you aren’t cooking it through all the way, if it’s not brought to room temperature before you prepare it, the fish will be ice cold in the middle and that’s no good.

Because the sauce is super flavorful, what you want to do is season the fish very conservatively. All you need is salt and pepper. Start with some coconut oil on your cooking surface (I used the griddle down the center of my new stove, but you can use any good sauté pan or skillet that you have). You could use your grill, but you’ve got to stay with it because this takes only a matter of a few minutes and if you walk away from it, it’s toast. Frankly, I don’t recommend the grill for this.

Get the cooking surface very hot and then lay the tuna on it, cooking it until you see a layer about 1/16" or 1/8” deep turn white. Flip it over and do the same on the other side. Go a little more if you must, but don’t overdo it! That’s it, take it off. Spoon over some sauce, and the sliced avocado, serve it with some rice if you like, place some steamed bok choy along side it (make sure to spoon some sauce over that as well) and go to town. You’ve got a restaurant-quality dinner right there!

Here is the link to the recipe. The only substitution I made is that I used coconut aminos because I avoid soy sauce.

I have made this ahi a few times now and really enjoy it. Needless to say, I seem to have gotten over my fear of raw fish and have even ventured out into the world of sushi! If you’re still on the fence about raw fish, this is a good dish to start with. Or, you can just make the sauce and serve it over vegetables. I especially love it on the steamed baby bok choy.  Add tofu and turn any veggie dish into an Asian-inspired affair.

Tyler’s killer Seared Ahi Tuna

I hope you try it. It’s such a quick dinner to make on a week night. It literally takes less than 15 minutes to make the sauce and sear the fish. If you do make it, I’d love to know what you think.

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