Monthly Archives: April 2012

Homemade Fruit & Nut Bars

So you’ve started eating a Paleo-style diet and now you can’t eat Clif Bars anymore. (Thank goodness…who truly likes them anyway?!)

Many endurance athletes—particularly in the cycling camp—rely on some form of energy bar at some point or another in their training / racing / recreational endeavors. Unfortunately, most bars are highly processed and contain grains, excess sugar, preservatives, etc. I challenge you to go into your local market and find a bar that is Paleo-friendly and most likely, you’ll only find Lara bars. Built around a base of ground dates and nuts with other ingredients to customize the flavors, these are definitely packed with sugar from the dates and dried fruit they contain but don’t have any other funky stuff. My beef with them is that they are pretty pricey…Trader Joe’s sells (a limited variety of) them for about $1 and they go upwards from there. (Aside: If you’ve been purchasing them over the years, is it me or have they seemed to have gotten smaller?! What the heck?)

Homemade Fruit & Nut Bars | stupideasypaleo.com

Luckily, these are really to make on your own, come out tasting just as good and are less expensive when you do it yourself. The caveat is that this job can’t be done without a food processor because you need to be able to chop the dates and nuts down well. After a quick press into a dish, the mixture can be cut into bars as big or small as you like, and wrapped in plastic wrap for individual storage.

If you do a quick Google search, there are scores of variations for homemade Lara bars. The two varieties I made are from Everyday Paleo and of the types I’ve tried to make myself, hers are the most authentic as far as my taste buds are concerned. Once you get the hang of it, try substituting in your own favorites dried fruits, spices or nuts to customize. My best unique creation was a Coconut Key Lime Pie flavored bar that I made with real lime zest and juice…yum!

[Bonus considerations for more experienced Paleo eaters: Just a word of caution...as with any dried fruits, the sugar content can be quite high so I personally save them for a intra-/post-workout snack. Just because you're eating Paleo doesn't mean you get a free ticket to crack out on sugar every single day even thought it's from fruit! Also, fruit (with its high fructose content) is not as preferable as a post-workout carb replacement as say, starchy tubers such as yam / sweet potato. You may try varying the nuts used in this recipe to include varieties that tend more to the monounsaturated fats—such as macadamia or hazelnuts—and away from nuts with more polyunsaturated fats—such as almonds and walnuts. Also keep in mind that nuts tend to be heavy on the pro-inflammatory Omega-6 end of the spectrum.]

Recipe for Homemade Fruit & Nut Bars (Mixed Berry)

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 12 Medjool dates
  • 1 cup dried berries and / or cherries
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon melted coconut oil

Directions for Homemade Fruit & Nut Bars:

  1. Line an 8″ x 8″ baking dish with plastic wrap or wax paper. Set aside.
  2. Add the nuts to the food processor and pulse down until they become small, crumbly bits. Don’t let it go too long or it will become nut butter—er, not that there’s anything wrong with that but it won’t help this recipe. Some pieces may be a bit bigger and some might be tiny. That’s okay. Pour the nuts in a large bowl.
  3. Now, pit the dates and put them in the food processor with the dried fruit, shredded coconut oil and sea salt. Pulse until it comes together in a ball.
  4. Now, with clean hands: add the dried fruit to the nuts and combine both together. You’ll have to knead pretty well but keep at it.
  5. Once all the nuts are blended in, you’ll take the lump of deliciousness and put it in the baking dish. Press the mixture into the dish until it’s packed down and smooth.
  6. Freeze for 20 minutes until firm.
  7. Turn out the mixture onto a cutting board and chop into pieces as big or small as you’d like. I usually make 12 bars from one dish.
  8. I individually wrap them. They can be frozen for a couple months if packed to withstand freezer burn. If not, store in the fridge for short term use.

Weekly Food Prep Tips

One of the smartest things I ever started doing was devoting one afternoon each week to food prep: a few hours to get a big chunk of the week’s cooking out of the way ahead of time. Let’s face it…

we are each granted 24 hours in the day to use as we see fit, but when people say things like, “I don’t have time to cook healthy” I often wonder if there are ways they could buy themselves more time (less social networking maybe?). Ultimately, if it’s important to you and you’re serious about your health, you’ll find the time.

I think part of what intimidates people about cooking – at least when they’re starting out with a new way of eating (seriously, can we stop using the term “diet” for Paleo?!) – is that they think they must cook 21 times a week…B-L-D x 7! If you’re opposed to eating leftovers but are super busy and want to eat healthier, the only thing I can say is that you have to get over it. Work smarter, not harder.

Here’s part of my weekly prep day:

  • Hard boil a dozen eggs.
  • Steam 2 bags of kale.
  • Saute one head of chopped cabbage in coconut oil.
  • Roast diced squash.
  • Roast 6-12 sweet potatoes/yams.
  • Saute 2# of ground meat (beef, turkey, pork etc)
  • Slow cook 2-3# of chicken breasts or pork loin in the crockpot with sliced onion and peppers, a can of diced tomato and spices. Shred the meat when it’s done cooking.

Here are some suggestions for making cooking and food prep less painful:

  • Cook in a couple big batches. I do one big cooking day on Sunday and another small one during the week. The rest is heat and eat.
  • Make staple items like cooked veggies and meats which you dress up with different seasonings and spices.
  • Invest in an army of proper storage containers. It will keep food fresher longer than flimsy plastic wrap on top of a bowl! My favorite is Glasslock Snapware (online here or at Costco). It does NOT leak, and I prefer the idea of heating up glass better than plastic.
  • Wash and prep produce as soon as you get it home from the market (ex: slice or dice peppers, dice onions, etc) and store in individual containers. Check out how Jessica Camacho does it!
  • Portion out all lunches, for example, for the week at one time.
  • Freeze extra portions if you make too much (works especially well for crock pot or casserole type recipes).
  • Keep a running shopping list on your phone so you can easily edit.
  • This sounds obvious, but don’t do a task twice if you don’t have to. Go through 6 hard boiled eggs a week? Do it all at once instead of 3 now and 3 mid-week. Learn what quantities work best for you and stick to them so you can go on autopilot at the market.

There are so many other clever suggestions that I’m sure folks are doing right now to make their lives easier and ways of eating much healthier. Try some of these if you’re feeling stuck in a rut! What do you do to save time in the kitchen (and calling for takeout doesn’t count!)?

Paleo Beef Jerky

Paleo Beef Jerky…salty, meaty and chewy.

It’s beef jerky, of course, and we all seem to love it. What I don’t love is 1) the price and 2) all the other chemicals and crap they put in it. With that in mind, I did a little research and made this simple recipe (and if you were wondering, it is Whole30-approved).

The coconut aminos really are the key to the flavor (plus, it’s not soy-based and has a lot less sodium than soy sauce and is devoid of gluten unlike tamari).

You can certainly use a dehydrator (like this one) to make your jerky, but you can still make it in the oven if you don’t have one. Directions are below.

Paleo Beef Jerky | stupideasypaleo.com

 

Ingredients for Paleo Beef Jerky

  • 1 lb (500 g) lean London broil or top sirloin (grass-fed if you can find it)
  • 1 bottle coconut aminos (I used ~half the bottle or 4 oz, found in the vinegar section of the market)

Equipment to Make Paleo Beef Jerky

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Directions for Paleo Beef Jerky

1. Trim all visible fat from the meat. Throw the whole steak in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. You want to firm up the meat (ha!) before you slice it.

2. Remove from the freezer and use a sharp knife to cut the steak against the grain (so it’s not as tough) and on the bias (diagonally, so you get wider pieces). You want the pieces to be less than 1/8″ thickness and as consistent as possible.

3. Throw the pieces in a large plastic bag and pour about 1/3-1/2 cup of the coconut aminos into the bag.

4. BE PATIENT and let marinate it for a few hours (or overnight). Trust me…it’ll taste better.

5. To dehydrate (jerkify), set your oven to 200 degrees. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Place the racks on top (again, you want to leave the jerky exposed to air on both sides). I used cooling racks intended for baking.

6. Place jerky on the racks, leaving a little space between.

7. Bake for at least two 2 hours (checking frequently) or until it is, well, jerky-like! You want it to be dry.

8. Store in an airtight container. I put mine in the fridge so it’ll keep even longer.

So, as you can see, stupid-easy…you just need some patience. It may not taste like the overly salty jerky you are used to, but I promise it’s so much better (and cheaper!). You could definitely mix it up by adding some chopped jalapenos, garlic, or crushed black pepper into the marinade to. Check out this version from The Food Lovers Kitchen (with garlic and smoky chipotle) and this one from my good pal Jen’s Gone Paleo (with a hint of sweetness from apple juice). Enjoy!

3 Favorite Kitchen Gadgets

A couple weeks about, my Twitter pal @XFPH asked, “What are your 3 favorite kitchen gadgets?” to which I immediately responded “knife, cast iron skillet and Crock Pot!”

Seriously folks, it’s important to have kitchen tools and gadgets that help make your life easier and cooking more enjoyable. Would you use a hammer to put a screw into wood? I think not. I’m not saying you have to spend your life savings on every gimmicky gadget out there but with some good quality basic supplies, cooking will not be as much of a struggle.

First up…a knife. DON’T BE CHEAP! You don’t need a 15 piece knife set to start out. My blade of choice is a 7″ JA Henckels santoku knife. It does a majority of the chopping/slicing/prep work that I need in the kitchen. Find a knife handle that fits comfortably in your hand and has good weight. While you’re at it, pick up a steel or sharpening stone and learn how to use it. Here’s a video link of Gordon Ramsey demonstrating how it’s done…because he’s bloody sarcastic and I love him. Dull knives suck…and are dangerous. Click here to see the one I showed in the video. $40-$70 will give you a good range to shop from.

Next…cast iron skillet. No icky, weird non-stick coating to flake up and you can use metal utensils. The iron will heat up evenly and goes easily from stove top to oven (just beware of hot handles). Plus, you can do bicep curls with it! Kidding…sort of. $20 or so will get you a decent-sized skillet.

And last but certainly not least…Crock Pot. Can’t say enough about this bad boy: it’s the epitome of lazy cooking. Throw in your ingredients, set it and forget it (did anyone flash back to Ron Popeil of infomercial fame there?!). Spend the extra $5-$10 and get one with a digital timer and auto-shut off so you can truly walk away. Keep your eye out at Target, etc and you can find them on sale. The crock (ceramic) part of mine recently broke and couldn’t be replaced so I picked up a new one for $29.99 on sale. Check out my free Crock Pot recipe guide here.

What are your 3 favorite kitchen gadgets?

(and p.s. If I could pick a 4th, it would be my Vitamix!)

Ceviche

I’m not sure how authentic this ceviche is, and frankly all that matters to me is that it’s delicious and simple to make. With warmer weather coming up soon, this cool seafood-based dish is a nice addition to those spring-summer favorites that you may already keep on hand.

Ceviche uses citrus juices (acids) to “cook” the seafood and render it incredibly yummy with a melange of flavors that will stomp up and down on your tongue and demand your attention. See what I did there…just hit you with some good ol’ chemistry (okay folks…the seafood is really not being cooked here using heat…instead the proteins are being denatured–unraveled–by the acids rendering them opaque. SCIENCE)!

In some areas, ceviche is traditionally served with tortilla chips for scooping up every last delicious bite but since corn isn’t part of a paleo diet, you could substitute in jicama slices (yeah! crunchy goodness!), butter lettuce leaves or even just eat it straight out of a bowl. If you aren’t sure you want as large of a batch, cut the quantities in half. Besides being paleo, this dish is packed with protein and yummy veg. Enjoy!

Ingredients for Ceviche

  • 2 lb. seafood (shrimp, bay scallops, catfish or other firm-fleshed white fish, etc)
  • 1 large red grapefruit
  • 4-6 limes
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 ripe tomato
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions for Ceviche

1. Wash citrus fruit. Using a microplane or fine grater, remove the zest (but not the bitter white pith underneath) and place in a gallon-sized zip top bag or a large glass bowl.

2. Juice the grapefruit and limes. You want about 1 cup of juice total (slightly less or more is ok). Strain the juice if you think pulp is weird :) and add to zip top bag.

3. Clean and chop the seafood into small bite-sized pieces. Add to the juice, zip bag to remove most of the air and place in the fridge.

4. Wait. Seriously, you need to wait at LEAST 4 hours, preferably 6+ for the citrus to do it’s magic. You can turn the bag every hour or two to insure even “cooking”.

5. Meanwhile you can prep the veggies: dice the onion, tomato (remove seeds and guts), avocado and jalapeño (remove as much of the seeds and pith as you want to control the heat…for very mild, you’d remove all the white pith and seeds). Slice the garlic cloves thinly. Chop the cilantro leaves.

6. Combine all the veg into another bowl and add a few pinches of salt.

7. After the seafood has completed its “cooking”, pour it all (juice too!!) into the bowl with the veg and stir. For best flavor, let this tasty union co-mingle for another 30 minutes or so before eating…if you can wait that long!

Spices! Stop Eating Boring Food!

If salt is your idea of spicing up your food, there’s a whole world of flavor that you’re missing out on! Stop eating boring food! Changing up your spices can help you globe-trot without having to leave your kitchen. For many, the idea of buying/using spices (besides the normal black pepper, garlic powder and dried parsley) can be daunting. Here are some tips:

Many health food stores offer spices in bulk food containers so you can buy as little or as much as you like. This is a great way to try a small quantity of a spice to see if you’ll like it without having to shell out and then be disappointed later. Also, check the store or your farmer’s market for locally produced brands, which can be less expensive.

One of the beautiful spices vendors at the Ubud public market in Bali on my trip last year. Seeing this picture makes me think of galangal, turmeric and delicious vanilla beans!

Invest in a good spice rack, and keep it in plain sight. This will encourage you to keep everything organized and also be a constant reminder to use your spices! If you clutter them away in the dark recesses of your pantry you’ll be less likely to remember them!

Make your own spice blends. This gives you more variety from the basic ingredients you have on hand (think of mixing and matching in different combinations) and allows you to make just enough so you’re always using fresh spices. (Hint: Ground spices have a shorter shelf life than whole seeds.) My favorite cookbook, Well Fed by Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make the Girl, has some awesome spice blends: sausage seasoning, Rogan Josh seasoning and Ras El Hanout. If you make the blends ahead of time, you’ll always have them on hand to toss into your favorite crock pot creation or on top of meats and veggies.

My top 3 most-used spices: cumin, smoked paprika and cinnamon!

What are yours?

Do I Have to Eat Grass-Fed Meat?

Well folks, this could very well be an ethical question for you…or one based on finances/budget or even availability. If you are relatively new to this paleo journey and are still trying to wrap your head around what to eat and how, considering the level of meat that you’re buying may be too much to think about right now. Whatever the case, it’s still best to do grass-fed if you can (for a primer on all things grass-fed including buzz terms like Omega 3 and CLA–conjugated linoleic acid–click here). But if the issue of grass-fed (or even organic) meats is keeping you from doing paleo at all or making your wallet hurt, here are some tips that can help:

  • Avoid fatty cuts of meat (think Porterhouse steaks, etc) and stick to leaner cuts (sirloin, tenderloin, round)
  • Trim all visible fat
  • For lean, tougher cuts (like stew meat), choose a “low and slow” cooking method such as slow cooking or braising
And tips for affording higher quality while on a budget:
  • If organic is available but not grass-fed, it might be a better choice
  • Visit your local farmer’s market and make friends with the vendors!!! Support local!
  • Online vendors like US Wellness Meats will sometimes run coupon codes…stock up!
  • Check for sales on grass-fed meats from stores like Whole Foods, buy in bulk and freeze

One last thing…my FAVORITE recipe using stew meat from Melissa Joulwan (aka The Clothes Make the Girl…aka my paleo-cook-crush): Rogan Josh!

Paleo Pantry and Fridge…Take a Look!

Stupid Easy Paleo is back after a 4 month hiatus! I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath. But really. Took some time off of blogging to train (besides working full time and having other responsibilities) but now the season is over–albeit prematurely due to injury—so I’m resurrecting the blog with a new twist: that’s right, lots of me on camera. So many chances for self-depricating humor and sneaking in Chem 101 when I can…muahaha! If there’s something Paleo-related you’d like me to do a short segment about, put it in the comments here, and I’ll take a crack at it. And please, be kind…I’m not a professional actor, TV personality or video editor. You may laugh, you may even cringe…but you’ll definitely learn about how to cook Paleo, the simple way.

So to kick things off, I decided to open my pantry and fridge to all of the universe my 3 followers! Now you have a chance to see what it looks like to keep Paleo supplies on hand. I swear none of my pantry items were rearranged, and I didn’t clean up my fridge. Truth. And for those of you who prefer to read what I keep on hand (or can’t watch because you’re reading blogs while at work), here’s a list of my staples:

Pantry:

Fridge:

  • Fresh veggies (duh!) and occasional fresh fruit (I just don’t love it so I don’t buy much)
  • Lean meats and seafood
  • Sometimes HIGH quality bacon (think organic at minimum)
  • Eggs (I keep at least 2 dozen on hand at one time)
  • Condiments: fish sauce, mustard (no sugar added), fresh sauerkraut, etc.

So that’s that!! Hope I charmed the pants off ya and that it gives some of you a jumping off point for your journey with Paleo (or some new ideas for you seasoned pros)!! Stay tuned for another video coming soon…a recipe for ceviche!