Archive | October, 2012

Tasty Tropical Breakfast Bars (vegan and gluten-free)

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with making breakfast bars. They’re just so dang simple and quick to make, they’re delicious, and they’re a fabulously healthy treat to have hanging around for those times when you need to a meal-on-the-go, be it around breakfast time or anytime, really. And they save you a lot of money too since they’re way less expensive than store-bought breakfast bars. Thanks to the addition of almond butter (which is one of the greatest super foods around – almonds lower bad cholesterol and they’re packed with protein and calcium), dried fruits, nuts, and crunchy granola, these bars really do deliver a nice boost of energy and nutrition, so they’re fantastic as sports bars, too. If ‘almond butter’ sounds bizarre to you, don’t worry – it’s just super finely ground toasted almonds; it has about the same smoothness and texture as peanut butter.

I decided to chef up a breakfast bar with a totally different consistency and flavor than the last energy bar recipe I posted – this one is denser, not-so-sticky, has a nice crunch, travels really well and features the delicious flavors of the tropics: pineapple, mango, ginger, coconut and cashews. Yum! In honor of my neighbor friend Jamie who is experiencing her first week of college (and her first taste of homesickness), I created this gluten-free, vegan Tasty Tropical Breakfast/Energy Bar recipe.  I know she’ll love them, especially in contrast to nasty dorm food, and I bet you will, too. According to Jamie’s mom, who taste-tested these bars for me: “Wow, these could be sold in stores!” Pretty nice endorsement! 🙂 John also loves, loves, loves these bars, so much so that he has requested that they become his breakfast staple every day of the week.

Special thanks to Rhonda for convincing me to try brown rice syrup as the sweetener and binding agent for these bars – it works like a charm and it’s really healthy, too! Hurray! Brown rice syrup is a far better sweetener than table sugar, and even honey, since it’s a complex carbohydrate and has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar. It also tastes delicious, especially in these bars, since they add a caramely hint. Give them a try – I know you’ll like them!

Tasty Tropical Breakfast/Sports Bars

Servings: 25 bars
Prep time: 25 minutes
Chill/set time: at least 3 hours

1.5 cups dried tropical fruits, finely chopped (I recommend a combination of pineapple, mango and a little bit of unsweetened coconut)
1  cup roasted unsalted cashews, chopped
4 cups granola clusters cereal (I used Trader Joe’s “Just the Clusters with ginger, almond and cashew granola”)
a handful of crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)
3/4 cup almond butter
1/3 maple syrup
1/3 cup brown rice syrup

Heat oven to 350. Lightly spray a 9″ square baking pan with olive oil.

Blend together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then, in a saucepan over medium high heat, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup and brown rice syrup, stirring constantly. When it begins to bubble, stir it as fast as you can and when it thickens, remove from heat and dump it in the bowl with the dry ingredients. Immediately mix it thoroughly. Scoop into your prepared pan. Press it down firmly with the back of a spatula – really put your weight into it to squish it down.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges become golden. Remove from oven and once again, press it down firmly with the back of a spatula.  Refrigerate it for at least 3 hours to allow it to fully firm up before you cut it. Once ready, turn it over onto a cutting board and with a sharp knife, chop into 24 bars. Enjoy!

This is what it looks like when you pop your breakfast bar concoction out of the pan. If you press it really well, yours will come out perfectly!

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Delicious Balsamic Peach-Blueberry Compote with Crispy, Sweet Tortillas Tricks the Carnivore

Have you ever seen the TV show “Chopped?” The host gives the chefs a mystery basket filled with a random assortment of oddities and they compete to see who can make the most delicious and creative dish. “Chefs, your mystery basket contains leftover pizza, pickle juice, bitter melon and an old shoe – you must use all these ingredients to create a stunning dessert.” I’m still not sure if I love the show because it’s hysterical to see the look of absolute horror on the chefs’ faces, or because they inspire me with their insane creativity. Either way, that show motivated me to create a pretty awesome “make it work” moment last night, which helped me trick my converting-carnivore husband into eating (and enjoying!) a non-dairy ice cream and a few servings of fruit – that’s a huge feat!

So my mystery basket (otherwise known as my fridge) contained: extremely stale low-fat tortillas, blueberries, pomegranate balsamic vinegar, peaches and Coconut Bliss non-dairy ice cream. The challenge: get John to eat fruit and fool him into thinking he was eating real ice cream (so he wouldn’t give me “the face.”)  Not an easy challenge! But I’m happy to report that the resulting concoction was spectacularly delicious and had a nice little surprise that kept my carnivore (and me) coming back for more.

In typical Cimeron fashion, this dish is super quick and easy to make. (John and I have several “I’m so hungry I’m going to start gnawing on the couch” moments each week, so I often have to cook fast and simple dishes or else risk having teeth marks on my arm).  And this dessert packs a nice punch of flavors and has some really beautiful texture combinations. There are two ‘wow’ elements in this dessert: one is the luscious balsamic peach-blueberry compote with blueberry syrup – the fruit is enhanced by a touch of balsamic vinegar, which adds just the right amount of acidity to balance out the sweetness of the dessert, and the flavor is simply addictive. The other is the crispy, cinnamon-and-sugar baked tortilla triangles, which miraculously stay super crunchy even when soaking in the blueberry sauce! That was a lucky surprise. John loved breaking up the triangles and using the pieces to scoop up the “ice cream” and fruit compote, and I just couldn’t get enough of the lovely crunchiness of it. While we were licking our plates, John turned to me and said: “You have not been Chopped! Oh, and can I have more please?”  High praise indeed.

Balsamic Peach-Blueberry Surprise
(with blueberry syrup and crispy cinnamon-and-sugar tortilla triangles)

Serves: 4
Active prep time: 6 minutes
From fridge to table: 30 minutes

3 tortillas, cut into triangles
2 large peaches, sliced
2 1/2 cups blueberries
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (note: I used a divine pomegranate balsamic from 11Olives.com and it was fantastic in this dish. But plain balsamic will work well too)
2 tbsp sugar
Cinnamon and sugar for sprinkling on the tortillas
Olive oil

Non-dairy ice cream (optional)

Heat oven to 350. Lay out the tortilla triangles on a baking dish. Spray with olive oil, or if you don’t have spray, lightly brush it on. Sprinkle each triangle with a little cinnamon and sugar. Bake until they are crispy and starting to brown, about 15 minutes. (Note: some may puff up while baking, which I think makes for an even prettier dessert!)

Meanwhile, slice up the peaches. Place them in a large bowl along with 1.5 cups of blueberries.

In a saucepan, combine the remaining 1 cup of blueberries with the 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp sugar. While stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Cook until a nice syrup starts to form and about half of the fruit has broken down,  about 1-3 minutes or so. Pour the hot syrup mixture over the fresh peaches and blueberries and stir well. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice while it’s sitting.

Arrange a couple baked tortilla triangles on a plate and put a generous scoop of non-dairy ice cream in the middle. Top with big spoonfuls of the peach-blueberry compote and syrup. For a pretty presentation, take a baked tortilla triangle and plant it like a flag on top of the ice cream. Then watch it all disappear in an insant!