Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls with Cashew Dipping Sauce

Lunch. Fast food. Food on the go. Grabbing a bite. Sometimes, it's not all that easy. I'm learning to get creative. I do happen to have the benefit of having a fridge and microwave at school during the lunch break, so I've got a significant advantage over a lot of individuals that work or go to school without these perks. And I take full of advantage of them when I can—without a doubt! But for those of you who don't have those options or would love to have some variety or would just love to have something quick and portable like a nice sandwich, well a sandwich or wrap can be hard to beat. There's a reason sandwiches are such an important mainstay in the SAD (Standard American Diet)—they're nifty little creations! Quick, endless possibilities that are easily thrown together, are quite portable and taste delicious. Now I'm not big on substitutions (almond flour bread, anyone? UGH! I think we've already covered my almond flour disgust here). But I will say that coming up with a different way of serving a traditional item can sometimes work out wonderfully. It just takes a little bit of ingenuity on occasion.

Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls with Cashew Dipping Sauce
Cooked chicken or other meat of choice
Fresh veggies of choice, shredded or sliced into sticks
Vietnamese rice paper wraps
Cashew Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

These are the basic ingredients. Now let me elaborate:
—Chicken or meat: I cooked up a batch of chicken strips in my wok in some coconut oil. But this is a very versatile recipe. I've seen a lot of individuals on Instagram who buy whole rotisserie chickens and eat off the bird throughout the week just using the chicken in different dishes (on top of green salads, chicken salads, soups, etc). Love this idea and it works here. Any leftover meats? Sure, use that instead. I prefer chicken or shrimp in this dish because they taste the best without reheating, but if you aren't picky about that—use what you like.
—Veggies: I specifically used carrot sticks, cucumber, avocado, Napa cabbage, romaine lettuce, and sliced cherry tomatoes. But the possibilities are endless. Don't care for avocado? Take it out. Purple or regular green cabbage also does well in this dish. There are also great pickled radishes at Asian groceries to try too. Broccoli or other mixed greens? Go with what you like!
—Vietnamese rice papers: I've found these at World Market or occasionally Target. I prefer the ones that are simply rice flour and water. Simplest ingredients. If you're really lucky or in a good location with a great mix of cultures: ALWAYS shop Asian grocery. I've found such fantastic prices on certain goods; sometimes up to 3-4 times cheaper!

To assemble your spring roll: Prep all your meat and veggies into strips and matchsticks if you haven't already. When all the ingredients have been prepped, take one of the rice paper wraps out of the packaging and soak in warm water for 15-20 seconds until it softens. Lay on a cutting board or plate and dab off any excess moisture with a paper towel. It will start to get a little sticky. Fill your ingredients to the desired amount in the middle. Think of this like a burrito. Fold the top over the fillings, fold the two sides over the top to create an envelope-type shape. Roll the rest of the way closed. The rice papers are a little bit more delicate than say a flour or corn tortilla, but it's pretty much the same concept if you're gentle. And the best part is the rice pretty much sticks to itself so it's actually a little bit easier. Make as many rolls as you'd like and serve with the cashew dipping sauce!

Cashew Dipping Sauce
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews
½-1 cup canned coconut milk (yes, it must be canned!)
3 tsp lime juice
2 tsp unseasoned rice vinegar
3-4 tsp fish sauce
2 large cloves garlic
1 tsp ginger
Dash or two of cayenne pepper (to taste)

In a food processor, blend cashews until fine. Add a rough tablespoon of coconut milk and continue to blend. Slowly add more coconut milk in small amounts and blend as you go until the mixture is still thick but dip-like. Add remaining ingredients (except for remaining coconut milk) and blend thoroughly. Taste and make adjustments if necessary: fish sauce for more salt (this replaces the soy sauce so it's soy and wheat free), lime juice for more tang, cayenne pepper for more spice. Blend again if needed. Slowly add small amounts of coconut milk to the dip until it reaches your desired consistency. More for a runny sauce; less for a dip. Keep in mind that refrigerating the dip will make it thicker so go a little bit runnier if you plan to refrigerate before serving. Check taste again and adjust any other spices as necessary. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tostones & Guac (AIP)

Let's face it: there are certain sacrifices we make when choosing to follow ancestral nutrition guidelines. And yep, most of the time it's worth it. But it still doesn't change the fact that occasionally we crave some of the more traditional foods from our old SAD. And honestly, there just aren't a whole lot of foods that satisfy that need to really crunch into something delicious like chips or crackers. Sure, I could always have a splurge day, but why tempt myself when I can find an equally delicious and much healthier option? Plantains have been a fantastic discovery for me. Except that plantain chips at the store are always fried in bad oils and to my taste preference—they are always prepared much too thin. I've made my own plantain chips before, and I can't lie, they're pretty good. But I'd like a bigger chip on occasion. Enter tostones! They are by far the best replacement I have found for tortilla chips and a still fairly easy way to prepare plantains. These have a little bit of crunch but are still thick enough to act as a nice conveyer for dip delivery.

Tostones & Guac (for one!)
1-2 green or yellow plantains, peeled and cut into thirds
Coconut oil (for frying)
Salt (season to taste)
Garlic powder (season to taste)
1 fresh Hass avocado, halved with skin and pit removed
1-2 tsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped or minced
1-2 tsp lime juice
2 tbsp EVOO
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
Dash or two of onion powder
Dash or two of garlic powder
Black pepper, to taste (omit for AIP)

Heat enough coconut oil in a medium frying pan(I've also used a wok with excellent results!). With heat on medium-low, fry the plantains about 3 minutes on each side until a light golden brown. Remove from pan. One by one, place between a folded piece of parchment paper (like a tower, not on its side) and use a glass or mason jar to smash the plantains flat. When all plantains are flattened, return pan to medium heat and fry the plantains in small batches until crispy on both sides.* Remove from pan (drain on paper towel if desired, but it's not really necessary). Sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. In a small to medium bowl, mash the avocado to desired consistency. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Dip plantains and enjoy!

*At this stage, you could also batch cook and place all the flattened plantains onto a parchment lined cookie sheet for freezing. Once frozen, place them all in a baggy and then pull them out individually to fry when needed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Paleo ER Bars

Paleos don't snack, right? Not really. And that's exactly why these aren't snack bars. These are paleo ER bars. Why? For those moments when you're starting to drag and the mental energy is draining and there are simply no paleo/primal-approved options around. Or you're on the run, and you know that a quick bite will really tide you over until a better meal comes along. Sure, there's always IF (intermittent fasting, for those who are just getting started). But IF isn't always for everyone nor is it always for every time. Sometimes you just have to have something on standby. And usually for me, it's got to be something that's going to prevent me from making a bad decision.

Enter the Paleo ER Bars! A little bit of fruit for a touch of sweetness and energy and then add a whole lot of protein and some fat to keep you going and safely tide you over until later. Pretty simple to make and just keep on hand in the freezer.

Paleo ER Bars*
1 ripe banana, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 cup almond butter (bring to room temp if you store in the fridge)
4.5 oz prunes, chopped (feel free to sub other dried fruits here)
½ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
10 oz. roasted, unsalted almonds, roughly chopped (larger for more chunk factor)
4 tbsp coconut flour
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp honey, optional
Handful dark chocolate chips, optional
coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt 1-2 tbsp coconut oil and use to grease two 8x11" pans. In a large bowl, mix banana, eggs, 1 tbsp melted coconut oil, and almond butter (microwave briefly to soften if needed for better spreading and mixing). Add prunes, coconut flakes, almonds, flour, and salt (add honey here if using). Mix well to combine. If using chocolate chips, toss these in now and mix thoroughly or spread half the mixture into the first pan about 1 in. thick and mix a small handful of chocolate chips into the second pan batch only. Bake for about 15 min. The bars should rise slightly and will very lightly turn golden. The top will feel lightly crispy to touch. Let cool a few minutes. Loosen edges if necessary and cut bars into desired size and let finish cooling to room temp. Flip pan carefully to remove. I packaged mine by wrapping in wax paper like a candy bar and placing in a snack-sized baggy. Store in freezer. Pull out the day of to pack for ER situations and eat when needed (they defrost pretty quickly) or even enjoy frozen!

*Please ignore my fancy paper plate in the photo! I was in the middle of doing dishes. lol.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Insalata Caprese Burgers

I am a huge fan of Italian food. I mean, what's not to like? All the tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, the cheeses and meats—pure heaven! Sadly, most of the traditional Italian food we see here in the states (and even some parts of Italy) is pretty much pure gluten. So I've given up a lot of them except for the occasional rice pasta dish. Even then, I try not to go overboard because I know there are tons of healthier options. So sometimes, if you want to enjoy some traditional tastes, you just have to get a little creative with the preparation. I absolutely adore Caprese Salad. It's just pure heaven in my opinion. I love that it's pretty much a healthy option on it's own, but I was trying to jazz it up a little bit and incorporate some meat. Instead of making it a side dish or appetizer, I went ahead and went full entre√®!

On a side note, I'm still trying to work out a schedule to post more consistently, and my aim is to try for at least once a week to get me back on track.

Insalata Caprese Burgers
Two raw burger patties (whatever size you prefer; recommend 80/20 or 85/15)
Grape, cherry, or Roma tomatoes, sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced (preferably full fat)
Fresh basil leaves, chopped
Balsamic vinegar
Steak or burger seasonings

Prepare the burger patties by flattening with your palm and creating a well in the middle for the toppings. Fill the middle of the bottom patty with the desired amount of tomatoes, cheese, and basil. Add a couple dashes (or a few more!) of balsamic vinegar. Top with other patty, pinch sides together, and reform if necessary. Season outside of patty with desired seasonings. I prefer a light seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Grill or heat up a small amount of fat or oil and cook on the stove. If using a stove top, you may want to sear both sides and then use a lid to cook the insides if the burger is too thick. If you really enjoy balsamic vinegar as much as I do, drizzle a little bit more over the top before serving. If you're looking to incorporate more veggies, this would be great served on top of a bed of lettuce and even a few more tomatoes.

The idea behind this recipe can originally be found here. I simply made a few changes to make it more to my preferences and of course, skipped the bun!