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Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Grab-worthy" granola bars! New recipe!

I don’t know who invented the term “lazy days of summer,” but it certainly doesn’t apply in our house!  Having the kids around more is great, but we’re all just so busy.  I can’t remember being this busy growing up, but I guess I was once I hit the teenage years.  Work and friends and running around – there aren’t enough hours in these long, hot days!

The other thing there isn’t enough of, apparently, is food in the house.  I feel like all I do is grocery shop.  And I’m going broke with the ever-growing price of groceries.  I had just returned from the store and was putting away the groceries when….

Courtney: “I’m hungry.”
Me: “The pantry and fridge are full!  Make yourself a snack.”
Courtney: “But what is there?  I don’t know what to have.”
Taylor (walking in the door from work): “We need ‘grab food.’”

Grab food.  Hmmmm.  I guess my suggestions to “cook a chicken breast, boil an egg or make a salad” weren’t quite what they were expecting.  So I perused the overflowing pantry in search of “grab food.”   Turns out they’re right….sort of.  I’m always in favor of self-sufficiency, so I don’t take well to blank stares or “I don’t know how,” when I suggest making a sandwich or cutting up an apple.  However, I do appreciate that sometimes you just want something you can grab and eat on the run, throw in your purse, etc.

Granola bars!  They’re supposed to be healthy, right?  I can just keep a bunch of granola bars on hand and they can pair it with fruit for a healthy snack.  That will be our “grab food” for these types of emergency appetite flare-ups.  Back to the store I went.

I could not believe it.  $5.49 for a box of 6 tiny granola bars.  SIX.  Six will last a day in our house.  The grocery budget I try to live by isn’t going to support this “grab food” habit, I can tell already.  Well at least they’re healthy, right?  I try to ignore for a second that they’re covered in chocolate as I turn the box around…fiber, a little bit of protein, not too high calories….some brands pretty high in sugar….an ingredient list a mile long, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated stuff.  Urg.  And they’re $5.49 for SIX!  And the “healthier” they get, the more expensive they get.  Guess this will be my next challenge!

I set out to create a granola bar that’s tasty, filling and wholesome.  I wanted to make it from whole grains and include some sources of protein and fiber.  Here we go.

Me: “I made homemade granola bars!  Try them!”
Keith: “They’re missing something.”
Me: “I know.  Taste.”
Keith: “Well, they’re perfect for dieters.  No one will be tempted to eat two!”

OK then.  I’m now on experiment recipe number four, and I’m happy to say that we have a winner!  These granola bars taste just like banana bread – seriously!  Here are the stats: 125 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 3.5 grams of protein and only 8.5 grams of sugar (and nearly 1/3 of that is from fruit and rolled oats).  AND, they’re only $0.25 each -- roughly $2.00 for the whole batch of EIGHT!

I’ll be experimenting with these!  I can’t wait to try pumpkin instead of banana, add some natural peanut butter or throw in some mini-chocolate chips or chopped nuts.  The possibilities are endless, so I’ll let you know what I come up with.  In the meantime, try these.  So easy, so healthy, so affordable – so “grab-worthy!”

TSG Banana Bread Granola bars...grab this!
“Banana Bread” Granola Bars
Makes 8 bars

1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp honey
1 egg white
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Splenda brown sugar blend (divided)
2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp milled flax seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients through brown sugar, saving 1 tsp of brown sugar for the top.  Mix oats and flax seed in a separate bowl, then add to liquids.  Stir well to combine, then press into small baking pan with sides (misted with cooking spray) or simply form into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle on a cookie sheet (also misted with cooking spray) -- it will hold its shape.  Sprinkle with remaining brown sugar and bake for 30 minutes.  Invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing. 

Give ‘em a whirl and let me know what you think!  Also, if you have more ideas for healthy “grab food,” I’m all ears!

The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.  I challenge you to eat with me for a month – you’ll love the results!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TSG on HealthDecide -- "Healthy tips for making it through the summer without packing on the pounds!"

I was honored to be asked to author a post for Health Decide, part of Orca Health and provide some healthy tips for how to avoid extra pounds this summer.  Enjoy!

Ah, summer. Rocking on the porch swing, lazing by the pool, sipping lemonade….sound familiar? It doesn’t? Not to me, either!
Nope, my summer is spent frantically running between work and play, desperately trying to keep everyone cool, fed and entertained. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint. My summer is jam packed with mini adventures, boating, and the sea breeze to keep us cool. Unfortunately, it also ends up packed with junk food. Consequently, my shorts end up packed with me. Ugh.
Why is it that the hottest months of the year – the ones in which we are wearing the least – are the ones we end up eating the most? For the picnics, parties and vacations we need ice cream, fried chicken (I live in the South!) and beer. I don’t eat like this the rest of the year, why now? Because everything is a special occasion. That’s my justification and I’m sticking to it. Or rather, it’s sticking to me.
I’m definitely in once-in-a-while denial. In the summer, my special occasions happen all too often. Fried chicken on the boat isn’t a big deal if it’s really once-in-a-while. But we use the boat every weekend. That means fried chicken every weekend. And all the “grab food” that goes with it – potato chips, carby corn on the cob, high calorie drinks, boiled peanuts (again, I live in the South!). You get the idea. Your “special occasion” food might be a bit different than mine, but I bet it follows the same lines. With summer comes socializing and with socializing comes eating. It’s the American way!
In our house, I’m the CFO – Chief Food Officer. Therefore, it’s my job to plan ahead and make sure that everyone is fed. Coming up with easy and healthy take-along “grab food” is tough, especially when we’re always in a hurry. I’ve devised a couple tips that I may not always follow, but I try to make the norm. This way, the special occasions really are special and my pants still fit.
  • The next time you grill chicken (boneless, skinless breasts, of course!), make extra. The next day, slice it up and take it with you. No need to reheat – cold grilled chicken is delicious, easy to eat, full of healthy protein and NOT FRIED.
  • Stick to the veggie tray like white on rice (basmati rice, of course – as low as brown rice on the glycemic index!). Heading to a party? Not sure if there will be a veggie tray? Bring one. Summer party hosts often request that their guests bring a dish, so I always volunteer for the veggie tray. That way, I don’t have to worry about what I’ll fill up on.
  • There’s no scarcity of fresh produce around this time of year, so use that to your advantage. Instead of filling your beach bag with chips and cheese puffs, opt for cut up fruits. Trust me, the kids will devour those cherries, grapes and hunks of watermelon and you won’t have to feel the least bit of guilt.
  • Pot luck? Sunday dinner at your house? Try this recipe. It’s comfort food at its best, but with a secret ingredient that makes this version guilt-free. With only 195 calories in ¾-cup (that’s a big helping!), this version has a fraction of the fat and calories you’ll find in most traditional recipes. Enjoy!
The Svelte Gourmet Macaroni & Cheese 
Serves 8

7 oz elbow or shell pasta (NOT whole wheat)
4 cups cauliflower florets, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups lowfat (2%) shredded sharp cheddar or cheese blend
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

2/3 cup 2% milk (skim would make the fat and calories even lower!)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp butter, melted 
2 tbsp panko bread crumbs
butter spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain well. Steam cauliflower florets until very soft, drain well. Let pasta and cauliflower cool a bit while you prepare the other ingredients. Shred the cheese if it’s not pre-shredded. Beat the milk, egg and salt together in a small bowl. Mix the melted butter with the panko in another bowl.
Mash the cauliflower with a potato masher, a whisk, or whatever you have handy. Mix it with the pasta until well combined, being careful not to break up the noodles. Take a pinch of each of the cheeses and toss them with the panko/butter. Set aside. Combine the rest of the cheese with the pasta and cauliflower. Spray the bottom and sides of your casserole dish lightly with spray butter, then spread the mixture evenly in your casserole dish. Pour the milk/egg/salt mixture over the top. With your mixing spoon, carefully stir and fold until the milk mixture is combined with the pasta/cauliflower. Sprinkle with the panko/butter/cheese mixture and bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until the top just starts to brown. Voila!
Thanks for reading and enjoy your summer! For more healthy tips and tricks or to purchase The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses cookbook, visit www.thesveltegourmet.blogspot.com.