Friday, May 10, 2013

0 Popcorn Snack Bars

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What?! A candy-coated popcorn snack bar that's actually GOOD for you?! Are you kidding me?! Does such a thing even exist? Yep. :)

Salty and sweet, and yes, healthy, this snack covers all of the bases. It's got all-natural carbs, healthy fats, and protein, Omega-3's and -6's, etc., is an abundant source of energy, and heck, it even fights germs (i.e., the honey, walnut oil, walnuts, almonds, and cashews). It's sort of like Cracker Jack's healthier, badass cousin. :)

Unlike other kinds of candy-coated popcorns, this one doesn't have tons of refined sugar, artificial ingredients, or boatloads of saturated fat. For example, if you read the label on a box of Cracker Jack, you'll see the following ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, popcorn, peanuts, molasses, salt, corn &/or soybean oil, and soy lecithin. Note that popcorn is listed third, after sugar and corn syrup (!). Or, check out the label on a can of Poppycock, another candy-coated popcorn that tastes very similar: Mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews), corn syrup, sugar, butter (cream, salt), popcorn, brown sugar, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, soybean oil, or soy lecithin. Popcorn isn't even one of the top ingredients. It's listed fifth, after mixed nuts, corn syrup, sugar, and butter. Wow, that's a real eye-opener, eh?

These popcorn bars are really easy to make, so why not make a healthier version and enjoy a guilt-free snack instead? :) Plus, it also makes a great gift for the holidays or other special occasions!

Popcorn Snack Bars

8 c. plain, freshly air-popped popcorn (about 3 Tbsp. popping corn kernels)
1/3 c. raw, unsalted almonds
1/3 c. raw, unsalted cashews
1/3 c. raw, unsalted pecan halves
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. walnut oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat toaster oven to 350ºF. Pour plain, freshly air-popped popcorn into a large heat-proof bowl. Pick out and discard any unpopped kernels. (After all, you don't want people to swallow whole kernels or break their teeth!) Set aside. Spread almonds onto an aluminium-foil covered toaster oven tray and bake in the toaster oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes, opening the oven after the first 5 minutes to stir them a bit. (Nuts burn easily, so watch them carefully as they toast.) Transfer the nuts to a separate heat-proof bowl and let them cool for about 5-10 minutes.

While nuts are cooling, preheat (a regular) oven to 350ºF. Then, add honey, maple syrup, and salt, to a large sauce pot, stirring once to combine, and then simmer, undisturbed, over low heat. (Watch it carefully so that it doesn't boil over.) Cook until honey dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir in the walnut oil in the last 30 seconds. Remove from heat, then stir in the vanilla and baking soda, the latter of which will cause the mixture to foam. Quickly add nuts and stir until fully coated with syrup. Then, using a heat-proof spatula, immediately transfer nuts and any remaining syrup to the bowl with the popcorn and mix together rapidly until the popcorn and nuts are completely covered in syrup. Then swiftly transfer the mixture to 9" x 13" baking tray lined with parchment paper. Using the heat-proof spatula, firmly press the mixture into the baking tray, evenly distributing it across the tray. Make sure there are no gaps anywhere and that the mixture is of a uniform thickness. Bake in oven for 7-8 minutes, or until bars have solidified and become golden brown. Let the bars fully cool, then refrigerate for 1 hour to further solidify. Cut into 10 uniformly sized bars, slicing once lengthwise (down the center of the 13" side), and then four times crosswise (equidistantly down the 9" side). Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 10 (2 3/5" x 4 1/2") bars.

Chef's Notes: It's best to consume these snack bars within 1-2 days of making them. Otherwise, they'll become sticky and will crumble fairly easily while you're eating them. And that'll make for some very messy eating. More popcorn will probably hit the floor than your mouth. :) If you're not going to eat them right away, then be sure to store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh.

After the syrup has finished cooking, do not delay any of the steps immediately following, from the moment you remove it from the stove top up until the instant after you've just pressed the syrup-coated popcorn and nuts into the baking tray. Otherwise, the syrup will begin to harden and will make the popcorn and nut mixture difficult to handle.

0 Recipe 361: Za'atar Crackers with Sesame, Cumin, Caraway, & Nigella Seeds

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This is a super-easy and delicious high-protein snack that goes well with all sorts of condiments, particularly hummus. The various types of seeds, plus the homemade za'atar, which is made with fresh herbs as opposed to dried, is what gives this recipe a particularly vibrant flavor.

I brought these into my kung fu class, and they disappeared pretty quickly. I even saw some people go back for seconds. :)

This is yet another recipe from The Athlete's Cookbook. Not only is this recipe rich in protein, but it's packed with antioxidants as well. Since it's important to get protein into your system within 15 minutes of finishing a workout, it also makes a great post-exercise recovery snack too. Just be sure to ingest some carbs along with it, (in a 4:1 carb to protein ratio), to replenish your depleted glycogen stores.

Included at the bottom of this recipe are vegan and Paleo adaptations of this snack as well.

Nothing like fresh, warm crackers straight out of the oven. CRUNCH! :)


Za'atar Crackers with Sesame, Cumin, Caraway, & Nigella Seeds

Cracker Dough Ingredients:
1 c. almond meal
1 large egg
1/4 c. ground flaxseed, plus another 1/8 - 1/4 c. for dusting
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 c. brown or white sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. nigella seeds
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
1/2 Tbsp. cumin seeds

Za’atar Spice Mix:
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, finely minced and then densely packed
1 Tbsp. ground sumac
salt, to taste (omit if the sumac you purchased already contains salt)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Place all za'atar ingredients and all dough ingredients, minus the whole (sesame, nigella, caraway and cumin) seeds, into a food processor and pulse until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated and form a dough ball. Add whole seeds and pulse until just combined. Remove dough ball from the food processor and place onto a flat, clean surface that’s been covered in parchment. Place another piece of parchment on top of the dough and press down on top of it with a rolling pin until flattened. Then proceed to roll out the dough with the rolling pin until it’s 1/8” thick. Peel off top sheet of parchment paper and cut into 1 - 1 1/2” wide strips. (If you’ve rolled out particularly long strips, it’s a good idea to also make a horizontal cut across the center of the flattened dough, so that the dough strips aren’t too long and unwieldy to transfer to the baking tray.) Line a 11” x 17” metal baking tray with parchment, then dust it with 1/4 c. ground flaxseed. Slide a long spatula underneath each strip of dough and transfer it to the baking tray, spacing them evenly apart. (Depending upon how you’ve rolled out the dough, you may have to bake them in batches or use two baking trays.) Place the crackers into oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: About 30 (1 1/2” x 4 1/2”) crackers.

Chef’s Notes: You can also prep the dough in advance and either chill or freeze it until you’re ready to make the crackers. Also, please note that za'atar typically contains sesame seeds. However, since I've already included them as a cracker dough ingredient, and didn't want them to be pulsed into oblivion along with the fresh herbs in the za'atar, this is why the sesame seeds are supposed to be added later as a separate entity, along with the other seeds.

Adaptations: To make this recipe vegan, either use an egg substitute like Ener-G Egg Replacer or prepare the following homemade egg substitute: Pour 1 Tbsp. flaxseed into a small bowl, add 2-3 Tbsp. water, and stir until well-combined. Allow mixture to sit for about 10 minutes or so, or until it puffs up a bit and forms a gel. This mixture will take the place of the egg as the binding agent for the crackers.

To make this recipe Paleo, simply omit the salt and the baking soda. Your crackers will be a bit flatter without the baking soda, but if you'd prefer your crackers to be a bit thicker, then roll them out to the desired thickness, which after baking, will remain about the same.

3 Recipe #360: Festive, Italian-Style Shrimp & Red Bell Peppers in Garlic Sauce

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Out of all of the seafood on the planet, shrimp definitely has to be one of the most popular. It's also cooks fast, so it's perfect for those times when you're in a rush but still want to make a decent, healthy meal. And when I say fast, this dish can be made in under 20 minutes flat, and that counts kitchen prep and cooking time. (Yes, it's really that quick, especially if you're a fast chopper like me. :-D If you're a bit pokier &/or are a bit challenged in the knife skills department, then maybe add another 5-10 minutes to the process. Lol.)

When I send Erik on grocery runs, it appears that all he can find around here are pre-cooked, cocktail-style shrimp, at least in generic grocery stores. Next time, I'll have to send him to Grand Mart, an international grocery store which has all kinds of fresh seafood. And I'm almost positive, they'd have fresh, raw shrimp. Anyhow, if you're in a pinch (like us), you can certainly use pre-cooked shrimp, which'll make this recipe even quicker to prepare. That way, then all you have to do is warm them through. So, this is why my recipe lists pre-cooked shrimp. :) However, feel free to use raw shrimp, if it's available to you. (This is frequently more challenging to do if you live in a land-locked area). You lucky people who live in coastal areas, not only can you get shrimp so fresh that it's literally straight off the shrimp boats, but you also don't have to pay an arm and leg for seafood like the rest of us. :)

Some of you who follow my Twitter account and Facebook pages may've noticed that I haven't been very active on social media lately. That's because I'm trying to meet an impending book deadline. :) And of course, it's also why I don't have time for the usual flowery preambles to my recipes on this blog. So, in the interest of saving time, let's just skip straight to the recipe, shall we? :)

Festive, Italian-Style Shrimp & Red Bell Peppers in Garlic Sauce

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. red onion, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled and finely minced (about 2 cloves)
1 c. red bell pepper, diced
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) pre-cooked shrimp (or use raw, if it's available to you)
1/4 c. scallions, cut crosswise into 1/4"-thick rounds
1/4 c. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced

Marinade Ingredients:
1/8 c. (2 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil
1/8 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 c. fresh thyme leaves

Directions: Whisk together marinade ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Place shrimp into a resealable, zip-top plastic bag, then pour in marinade. Seal bag and massage the marinade into the shrimp from the outside of the bag. Set aside. Then, heat 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil in a large (12-13") sauté pan until it glistens and sizzles. Then reduce heat to low, add onion, garlic, and red bell pepper, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add marinated shrimp and cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Stir in scallions and parsley cook for 5 more minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 2 servings.

Monday, May 6, 2013

0 Recipe #359: Baked Egg in an Avocado Topped with Homemade Pico de Gallo

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This was today's breakfast, although it could also be served for lunch or dinner, or even as a snack. Of course, this recipe is yet another selection from The Athlete's Cookbook. You'll probably notice that there have been a plethora of avocado recipes here lately. That's no coincidence. It's been an avocado kind of week. :)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you've probably already seen 5 zillion articles plastered all over the web (and other forms of media) about how the avocado is one of the world's most amazing superfoods. :) Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin A, both of which have a myriad number of health benefits, many of which are of particular use of athletes. For starters, Vitamin A supports muscle tissue growth by helping to create essential proteins in the body. It also helps boost testosterone, which plays a key role in increasing muscle mass and bone density. Vitamin A also has another athletic benefit: it helps oxygenate your blood by supporting red blood cell formation and transporting iron to your red blood cells. And of course, if you're trying to improve your VO2 max (how much oxygen your body is able to consume and use while exercising), you'll want to take full advantage of this benefit.

And here's another major health benefit: Avocado oil significantly boosts the absorption of beta-carotene and lycopene, two very important carotenoids (i.e., one of the major classes of phytonutrients) containing high levels of antioxidants, both of which are not-so-coincidentally found in copious amounts in this recipe. :) (If you need a hint as to exactly where these carotenoids are located, then check out the ingredients in the homemade pico de gallo. :-D For example, tomatoes, for one, are rich in both lycopene and beta-carotene.)

So how does this carotenoid absorption process work, exactly? Well, one notable distinction of carotenoids is that they are fat soluble (i.e., they can be dissolved in fats). This is important because, when fat-soluble nutrients are dissolved, this make it easier for them to be stored in the liver and fatty tissues of your body and then utilized for various life-critical functions.

In a study done by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the carotenoid bioavailability of salad, (which consisted of romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and carrots -- all high in carotenoids), was shown to be significantly higher (by 200-400%!) when ingested with full-fat, as opposed to reduced-fat, dressing. So, in other words, in order to reap their full benefits, it's best to eat carotenoid rich foods with a bit of fat, particularly healthy, full-fat selections like avocados or olive oil. And it doesn't take a lot of fat either; as little as 3-5 grams of fat will do the trick.

Thus ends today's mini nutrition lesson. :) And now onto the recipe.... Enjoy!

Baked Egg in an Avocado Topped with Homemade Pico de Gallo

General Ingredients:
1 Haas avocado, pitted, peeled, and halved
2 large eggs, at room temperature
salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Pico de Gallo Ingredients:
1 c. vine-ripened tomatoes, diced and drained of liquid (about 1 extra large tomato)
1/8 c. scallions (about 1 large scallion)
1 Tbsp. jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (or for less heat, 1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño or 1 Tbsp. green bell pepper)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. (mild) Mexican chili powder
1/16 tsp. (dash) salt
1/16 tsp. (dash) ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely minced

Directions: Preheat oven to 425°F. Using a spoon, scoop out a small amount of avocado from each avocado half. Nestle the avocado halves into a small baking dish so that they stay upright. Crack an egg into each avocado half, then season with salt and pepper, to taste. Place the baking dish into the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked as desired. While eggs are baking, make the pico de gallo. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. (Or, for faster prep, do this step in advance and then refrigerate mixture in a covered container until serving time.) Remove baking dish from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Top each half with pico de gallo and serve.

Yield: 1-2 servings, depending upon appetite. :)

Chef's Notes: IMPORTANT: Do not cook the avocado in the oven for longer than 25 minutes, or else it will taste bitter. You could say that the egg baking on top of the avocado acts as a kind of "heat shield." :) Haas avocados are one of the few kinds of avocados that can be cooked for a short time without being rendered inedible, so be sure to specifically use Haas avocados in this recipe.

Alternate Preparation: This dish could also be made in a toaster oven. To make this recipe Paleo, simply omit the salt.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2 Recipe #358: Shrimp & Avocado Salad

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This recipe has a distinctly American flair (all 15 pieces - lol), and was inspired by summers spent in New England. It's an ideal dish for picnics, BBQs, or festive summer parties. This is the type of recipe that makes me want to throw an outdoor dinner party. :) I'm picturing Japanese lanterns strung across the deck, glowing through the dusk just as the sun's beginning to set, with a table full of fresh and brightly colored summertime foods, and maybe a grill going in the background. Now, add a sangria in one hand and a plate of shrimp and avocado salad in the other, and you're all set. :)

Since I'm in a rush to get out the door (yes, yet again), I'm going to have to curtail the usual detailed exposition, and cut straight to the recipe. Hopefully, things will slow down a bit after The Athlete's Cookbook wraps, allowing me to compose posts in a less hurried fashion. (OK, who am I kidding, right?! Smoothies for Athletes is due in July. Lol.) Anyhow, enjoy!

Shrimp & Avocado Salad

Salad Ingredients:
1 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 26-30 large shrimp)
1/2 c. red bell peppers, diced
1/2 c. orange bell peppers, diced
1/2 c. yellow bell peppers, diced
1 c. cucumbers, peeled and diced
1/2 c. scallions, (white and green parts), sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds (about 4 large scallions)
1/4 c. celery, finely diced
1/4 c. cornichons, finely diced (these are the sour mini pickles, not the sweet kind, i.e., gherkins)
1 c. avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 Haas avocado)

Marinade Ingredients:
1/4 c. nonfat plain Greek yoghurt
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh dill (fronds only), finely minced and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced and densely packed
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Directions: In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly combine all marinade ingredients. Set aside. Next, add all of the salad ingredients, minus the avocados, and toss until all salad ingredients have been coated with dressing. Add avocados, and gently combine until coated. Cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Yield: 4-6 servings as a main course and 8-10 as a side salad.

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