Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chocolate Turtles

I love how shiny the chocolate is!
(I set it on top of my organizer, so ignore the sorry background!)

Here is another recipe from Stephanie Tourles’ book, Raw Energy. This is a reworking of a classic chocolate treat, turtles, which combines chocolate, caramel and nuts. People have reworked turtles, but never like this! I have successfully enjoyed this treat and didn’t feel guilty one bit. Now that’s what I’m talking about! Have a sweet treat, don’t deprive yourself, and don’t feel bad about it either!

To demonstrate how much better this recipe is in terms of ingredients, I thought I’d compare it to a recipe for regular chocolate turtles. I went to because it had an actual recipe for chocolate turtles. Other places had recipes for chocolate turtle pie, cheesecake, brownies. Not exactly what I was looking for. (Did I mention people had reworked the turtle recipe? Wow!) Anyway, I found a recipe that seemed simple and was the classic chocolate turtle treat with nuts, caramel and chocolate. You can click here to go to the recipe I found, but the ingredient list includes caramels, evaporated milk, pecans, butter, chocolate chips and vegetable oil.

The caramels are cooked butter and sugar, the evaporated milk is processed, cooked and canned, the pecans are, well, pecans, the butter is probably pasteurized, and the chocolate chips are full of sugar and processed chocolate. And, most likely the vegetable oil is probably soy, which I choose to avoid. (To find out why, see this post.)

Now, compare all those processed, sugary ingredients with the ingredients for Ms. Tourles’ turtles: raw almond butter, raw cocoa (cacao) powder, raw agave nectar, raw pecan halves. Four ingredients with no butter and no extra sugar. Granted, there’s no caramel substitute. But, believe me, once you try it, you won’t care that there’s no caramel. If you like chocolate and nuts, you’ll love this version. And, it is so easy!

Basically, the recipe is equal parts almond butter and cocoa powder, with half the amount of agave nectar. For example, if you use ½ cup almond butter, you’ll use ½ cup cocoa powder and ¼ cup agave nectar. Put these three ingredients in a bowl and slowly stir together. You have to go slow because the cocoa powder is so loose and light. Eventually, you’ll see it mixing and becoming a dark chocolate mass. Once it is all incorporated, pinch off small pieces and roll them into balls, placing the balls on wax paper. Gently press your chosen nut, whether that is classic pecans or what-I-have-on-hand almonds, onto the top of each ball. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Ms. Tourles recommends an 8-inch pan, but I just lined a large rectangular tupperware with wax paper. This was very convenient for covering, chilling and storing. Ms. Tourles also says she likes to store them in the freezer (for up to 3 months), where they “become quite firm but still chewy”. Mine were a little too hard when coming out of the freezer, so I prefer to keep them in the fridge, where they can be stored in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

So, I’ve included a picture of my almond-topped turtles. I love how easy this recipe is, and they really are delicious. The almond butter gives you good fats, and if you make it yourself, you know there are no preservatives or additives. The agave nectar is a wonderful sweetener that won’t give you a sugar rush or crash later. And, of course, the almonds are full of fiber, good fats, protein and all kinds of good stuff. The cacao powder – well, that’s up for some debate. I suppose chocolate is still chocolate. But, I for one am happy to have a yummy alternative to a chocolate treat loaded with sugar and butter.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cashew Oat Squares

Based on the "Cashew Maple Oatmeal Squares" recipe from Raw Energy: 124 Raw Food Recipes for Energy Bars, Smoothies, and Other Snacks to Supercharge Your Body by Stephanie Tourles

I decided to try this recipe because my hubby loves cookie dough, and in the recipe description, Ms. Tourles says, "These sticky and chewy treats will remind you of chilled oatmeal cookie dough." Oh, and the recipe does not require a dehydrator, which I still do not have, but am seriously considering.

These squares were delicious. It was hard to stop – we could have finished off the first batch entirely before dinner. I did alter her recipe, mostly because I had to substitute ingredients for what is available and cost effective for me. What follows is her recipe from the book, with my alterations in parentheses.

Cashew Maple Oatmeal Squares, by Stephanie Tourles

10 Medjool dates, pitted and chopped, about 1 cup (I used Deglet dates)
1 cup raw cashews (I germinated the cashews although she doesn’t say to do so)
½ cup raw oats
¼ cup maple syrup (I used agave syrup)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
coconut oil, raw and unrefined, for greasing pan (I just used wax paper instead)

1. Put the dates, cashews, oats, syrup, cinnamon and salt in a food processor. Blend until a cohesive, sticky cookie dough forms, about 30 seconds. It will look and taste similar to oatmeal cookie dough.

2. Coat the bottom of an 8-inch square pan with coconut oil or line with waxed paper. Spread the mixture in the pan to an approximate thickness of ½ inch. If your fingers get too sticky, dampen them to help pat the dough into the pan.

3. Cover and freeze for 4 hours, until the dough is relatively firm. Remove from the freezer and cut into 1-½ inch squares.

4. Store the squares in a tightly sealed container in the freezer for up to 2 months. They will have a nice, stiff “chew” when eaten directly from the freezer, so don’t worry about breaking your teeth. If allowed to thaw, they will become too soft and sticky.

Yield: About 24 squares

I will definitely be making these again and again. They were a delicious snack or dessert, and are full of good stuff. No flour or white sugar and no empty calories to give you a false energy rush then crash. And they were so easy to prepare! It’s almost sinful how easy they are and how delicious! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pei Wei Asian Diner

7th Avenue & McDowell location

various locations

“Eat in Five Languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese”

Pei Wei is casual dining mixed with fast food, the type of restaurant where you seat yourself (unless it’s really crowded), order at the counter and get your own drink. But, they will bring your delicious food to you, and the interior is decorated nicely. So, it’s a step above fast food joints. A small, nicely decorated step, but a step above nonetheless.

The menu is varied, obviously, if you can "eat in five languages". They offer many menu items as vegetarian, and even offer a Gluten-Free menu. There are only 3 salads on their Salad menu, but I’ve never thought of Asian food as having a lot of salads anyway. The stars of the show are the Noodle/Rice Bowls and Signature Dishes, which have many options. You pick your base dish and choose your protein source (chicken, beef, pork or shrimp, or veggies).

I’ve been to Pei Wei several times, to several different locations here in Phoenix, and only had a few dishes. I found a dish I love (Pad Thai) and tend to order that each time. Call me boring - I know what I like! My hubby is a little more adventurous and has tried several dishes, one of which (Dan Dan Noodles) we started making at home – well, his own version – since he liked it so much and it seemed really simple to do a semi-raw version. The last few times I’ve been to Pei Wei, the atmosphere was loud and annoying. It would be less annoying if we weren’t there at the same time as everyone else. We were attempting to beat the lunch crowd by meeting at 11:30, but it seems we were not the only ones with that idea, and we found ourselves right smack dab in the middle of the lunch crowd. Line out the door, music and chatting noises increasing in volume with each minute. Not my idea of a pleasant, relaxing lunch.

Some people love Pei Wei and others think it’s nothing to write home about. It probably depends largely on what you have. I would say Pei Wei is good Asian food, and it is kind of cool to go to one restaurant and be able to try a Japanese dish, or a Thai dish. If you have limited lunch time, it can also be very fast. But, if you, like me, want to enjoy your lunch break, I would not recommend going to Pei Wei between 11:30 and 1pm. It is too loud to enjoy any conversation with your lunch companions. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit and enjoy my meal when there’s a line of people staring at our table to see how soon we might be leaving so that they might grab it. Of course, you could always call ahead or even order online now and just pick it up and go. Go to a nice, quiet place away from work where you can really enjoy the taste of the food. Soon it will be such nice weather here in Phoenix that I would love to eat lunch outside, maybe at a park with some water so I can watch the birds!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mostly Raw milkshakes

My dad is a huge ice cream fan, and he passed that love to me. Recently, when Dairy Queen was celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Blizzard, I recalled the first time I had one, just after they came out. At that time, the commercials showed the Blizzard being held upside down without spilling a drop. This - I suppose - was to demonstrate how thick and chock-full of yummy stuff it was, as opposed to those runny regular ice cream shakes. My dad and I went to the Dairy Queen drive-through, and when we got to the pick-up window, we asked the employee if they could really hold it upside down without anything falling out. The employee did so, and we were supremely impressed! The Blizzard was also very delicious, thick and chock-full of yummy stuff, much cooler than those runny regular ice cream shakes.

And, my love of milkshakes that are so thick with ice cream that I have to eat them with a spoon was born!

There is raw ice cream in the world. Check out Sweetly Raw for some tantalizing raw ice cream cakes. Since I am just at baby-steps with eating raw (less than a year now), I have not attempted to make raw ice cream. Luckily for me, I can have a mostly raw milkshake. It is easy and delicious, and has been a regular treat during this warm summer. Sometimes, it has even been dinner!
Banana shake - thick and creamy
The key is the frozen bananas. They absolutely make the consistency very much like ice cream. And, it is different than a smoothie, although more so in consistency than in ingredients. The ingredients are very simple: 1 frozen banana, 1 fresh banana, ¼ teaspoon vanilla, and about ¼ cup of milk. Blend it all up and you have a delicious treat. If the bananas are too ripe, the banana taste can be strong.

It is very helpful to break the banana into small pieces before freezing. At least, our blender can handle it better!
Adding ingredients
Strawberry-banana milkshakes are the same, just add about 3 frozen strawberries to the mix.

Keep in mind that although this is mostly raw, that does not mean it is mostly calorie-free. One medium sized banana is about 100 calories, and I use 2 in this recipe. But, you are getting about 2 to 3 servings of the recommended 3 to 4 fruit servings per day.

Pouring it to serve - how yummy!

Of course, I could add nut milk or fresh, unpasteurized dairy milk to make it 100% raw. I checked out Almond Milk sold in a carton at the grocery stores, and there were additives in them – all the brands – that I did not want. And, I am not close to a dairy farm where I reside, and don’t even know if it’s legal to sell unpasteurized milk here in AZ. My best bet is to make my own nut milk, which sounds rather simple. Right now, I do not have a nut milk bag to begin making my own nut milks. But, I would like to try it sometime.

Any suggestions on making my own nut milk without a proper nut milk bag?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pugzie’s Restaurant

4700 N. 16th Street (Northwest corner of 16th Street and Highland)
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Open only for lunch (10-4 Monday through Friday), Pugzie’s makes sandwiches like I’d make at home, only better! Everything seems to be extra fresh. The bread is soft, the tomatoes tasty, and the lettuce leaves whole. The dill pickle, chips and cookie served alongside give me a feeling reminiscent of when my mom packed a lunch for me in elementary school. Pugzie’s is like that, like a Working Mom: supremely busy all the time, but they still try to make you feel like you’re at home. Two sisters own it, Lynn Pugliano and Lisa Pugliano-Wright, and, according to their website, their goal “was to provide fresh, healthy lunches with friendly, fast service.”

The restaurant is hard to miss, painted turquoise, with a yellow toucan up high. What the apparent loudness of the exterior hides is a quiet interior grassy courtyard. There are chairs and tables with umbrellas out on a concrete patio area to sit out and enjoy the weather (when it’s nice here in Phoenix, that is). If it’s too hot (or cold, I suppose), there are chairs inside that face the wall of windows which look out to the courtyard. It’s all very pleasant, and a nice change of pace from the bustle of the Camelback Corridor and the movers and shakers that do business there.

Other than being a nice little escape in the middle of a workday, Pugzie’s food is great, too. They offer classic sandwiches, like Oven-Roasted Turkey (my personal fave), Roast Beef, and Chicken Salad that they proclaim is a “Favorite on the menu!” They also offer the always wonderful combo of a half-sandwich with a choice of soup, chili, or a salad. The salads are varied, ranging from pasta salad to potato salad and even fruit salad. All are served in good portions that are surprisingly filling. And, the soup is really delicious, too, with offerings like Cheese Broccoli (my other personal fave), Tomato Basil and Clam Chowder.
Pugzie’s has vegetarian options and gluten-free menu items as well. And, the prices are very reasonable, given the quality of food and the location.

I would say the Pugliano sisters have succeeded in reaching their goal!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eating out

I’ll just come right out and say it: We’ve been eating out a lot lately. A LOT. So, I have quite a few restaurants to write about.

There are a lot of different restaurants here in the greater Phoenix Metropolitan area, and I always enjoy eating out and trying new dishes and foods. I am happy to say that there are only two chain restaurants out of the ten I will be writing about. (Told ya it was a lot!) I like to eat at non-chain restaurants because I feel like I’m helping a fellow small business owner out in their fight against the big guys, with all their advertising dollars behind them.

So, how can I keep my diet mostly raw if I’m eating out all the time? We try and eat at least two raw meals every day, leaving one cooked meal a day. And, to be honest, if I had a huge cooked lunch, for dinner I may just have some fruit, a few veggies thrown together in a salad or nothing at all. Every morning we have the “Best Breakfast Ever” and tea or coffee. Lunch and dinner are more free form, depending on our schedule for that day. If we were out and about at lunchtime, we have eaten out and made that our cooked meal for the day. If we were home at lunchtime, then we’d eat a raw lunch, like a salad or a veggie sandwich on Ezekiel bread. Dinner depends on what we feel like eating. If it’s been two raw meals that day, dinner could be raw veggies and a cooked portion, like pasta or potatoes, or black beans.

Basically, we do feel much better eating mostly raw. But, we still like cooked food. And, we give ourselves permission to eat what sounds good to us. Of course, I keep in mind things that I don’t want to eat, like soy and artificial sweeteners, and try to avoid that as much as possible.

I have never believed in deprivation as a good strategy for eating. Depriving myself of something I want just makes me feel resentful and angry. I do strongly believe in moderation however. My food vice is chips and dip. Now, I do not buy chips and dip and have them in my house. That’s just too much temptation. However, if I am at a party and there’s chips and dip, why should I torture myself and avoid having any? I should not and I do not. But, I do not sit at the table and finish the whole bag of chips! I grab a handful of chips and enjoy it – really enjoy it – with the dip. Then, I grab some fruit or veggies to enjoy. If I am done with the fruit or veggies and I still want chips, I grab another handful. And, I pay attention to when I feel full. When I am full, I stop eating. Then, I am happy because I have not deprived myself, and I have eaten in moderation.

Life is too short. Enjoy it, I say!


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