Healthy Date/Apricot Bars

date/apricot bars

Here is a receipt for a great date/apricot bar, sweetened with a monk fruit sweetener; it is complete with information on this great alternative sweetener.  This makes a healthy breakfast bar.  The recipe is another one of my sister’s notes of grandeur, derived by her ingenious cooking skills, which she originally made with sugar.  Today, however, her cooking is inspired by the keto diet (therefore this bar no longer fits in her diet plan).

Recently I have begun investigating this keto way of eating for myself, which promotes a diet of high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrates.  I am looking to it for its over-all health benefits, rather than for weight loss.  The more I read, the more convinced I am that the avoidance of sugars, as well as a high intake of the right kind of fat calories, is beneficial for our bodies both to maintain health and loose weight, but it is essential that they be the right kind of fats.

Dr. Don Colbert has an excellent plan, the keto-zone diet, in which you bring your bodies into a state of ketosis, burning fat for energy, rather than glucose (sugar), by using premium fats for 70% of your daily caloric intake.  Presently I am exploring in depth his teachings on the multi-health benefits of his diet.  Not needing to loose weight, I don’t restrict my carbohydrates quite as strictly as his diet requires-until I learn otherwise.  Therefore I partake in this bar, which is made with organic whole wheat pastry flour, oats, butter, and monk fruit sweetener.

Indeed, high quality fats (avocado, olive oil, grass-fed ghee, MCT oil, krill oil) are important also for those of us who aren’t in need of shedding pounds,.  Rather we have a need to take in enough calories to maintain weight and acquire optimum health.  Consuming lots of rich desserts and empty starch calories to keep weight can lead to diabetes among other serious conditions.  1

The use of good alternative sweeteners is equally important, as eating the right kind of fats; these bars are made with butter and Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, which is available at Costco.  Monk fruit sweeteners are typically a mixture of monk fruit extract and other natural products such as inulin or erythritol;.  This Costco product is a blend of erythritol-the first ingredient-and monk fruit, also known as lo han guo, or Swingle fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii), which is a small round fruit, native to southern China.  2

Costco’s Monkfruit has a sweetness equal to sugar, though other blends may have a sweetness ranging from 100-250 times greater than table sugar.  The intensity of sweetness depends on the amount of mogrosides present.  Mogrosides are the compound-a unique antioxidant-in monk fruit extract, which are separated from the fresh-pressed juice of this Asian monk fruit during processing.  When separated they are free of calories; these sweet-flavored antioxidants-mogrosides-are mainly responsible for the sweetness of this fruit, rather than its other natural sugars, fructose and glucose.  Fructose and glucose are actually totally removed during the processing of this extract.  3

Though more research is needed to verify the health benefits of mogroside extracts from monk fruit, there is some evidence that they may have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as possibly having positive effects on cancer and diabetes.  Current studies, however, use much higher doses of monk fruit extract than that consumed in this sweetening product.  4

We find the satisfying of our need for pleasure is much needed in healthy eating, but how this calls for balance.  Indeed, balance is a key to all that concerns us about food, and it is imperative that we make the effort to discover what works best for us individually.  Our bodies are unique and complex.  Food can work as a medicine, as well as be a rich blessing to our souls, when consumed properly.

Eating with an attitude of reverence is a key to tapping into gastronomic pleasure.  One simple tool in reaching this goal is to focus on that childhood instruction “chew carefully”.  In order to do this, it’s imperative to slow down.

We find the need to slow down and “chew carefully” is present in all of life’s endeavors, in order to reap the maximum goodness promised; as the old adage goes “slow down and smell the roses”.

To achieve this, it is important to give thanks to our Creator for our food, as well as for all the daily blessings and trials that come our way.  Such insures our joy.  We apply this gratitude to the not-so-good, not for the trouble itself, but rather for our resultant growth that develops out of overcoming hardship.  Such a heart bent on thanksgiving pleases our God immensely; it guarantees a prosperous life.  (For more on heightened pleasures of proper eating, see Parmesan Dover Sole, 2017/04/10.)

Enjoy this delightful recipe!

References:

  1. https://drcolbert.com/7-healthy-fats-to-help-you-burn-belly-flab/
  2. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-monk-fruit-sweeteners/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/monk-fruit-sweetener
  4. Ibid.

finished product

Healthy Date/Apricot Bars  Yields: 2 dozen.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 50 min.

2 c pitted dates, packed down firmly, chopped  (I suggest taking a measuring cup to the store, thus pre-measuring fruit, as you buy in bulk).

2/3 c dried apricots, cut small

1 1/3 c butter, softened  (Plus several additional tbsp, as needed for moistening last of crumbs.)

1 c Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetner, cane sugar, or coconut sugar  (This Monkfruit is available at Costco.)

1 2/3 c old-fashioned oats (Organic is only slightly more expensive in bulk; available at most grocery stores.)

3 c flour (Organic whole wheat pastry flour is best.)

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.99/5 lbs.)

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is preferable for quality and taste.)

  1. thickened fruit-sauce

    Beat 1 1/3 c butter in a large bowl; blend in Monkfruit sweetner or sugar, beating until light.  Set aside.

  2. Measure dates in a measuring cup, packing down firmly; with a chef’s knife, chop into small pieces.  Repeat these steps with the apricots.
  3. “sifting” in sealed plastic bag

    Place fruit in a medium saucepan.  Add 2 1/4 c of water, cover, and bring to a boil over med/high heat.

  4. Remove lid, lower temperature and boil softly, uncovered, until a thick sauce is formed.  Be sure to stir about every 5 minutes.  Watch fruit carefully as it thickens, so as not to burn (see photo above).
  5. mealy crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  6. In a plastic sealed storage bag, place flour, oats, and salt.  Close the seal and shake vigorously (see above photo).
  7. Blend flour mixture into butter, until mealy; see photo.
  8. Place 3/5 of flour/butter mixture in bottom of a 9” x 13” pan, which has been lightly sprayed with oil.  Pack down evenly with hand, being sure to pat edges and corners really well.
  9. initial baking of crust

    Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes (see photo).

  10. Remove from oven and gently spread thickened fruit-sauce over top of crust.  Then, taking the rest of the flour/butter mixture, firmly pat rounds of dough between your two hands, placing these solid masses on top of date/apricots, until all is covered.  (May add a little additional soft butter to dry crumbs in the bottom of bowl, to moisten them and facilitate the last of the forming.)  See photo below.
  11. forming of top crust

    Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more, or until golden brown; see photo at top of recipe.

  12. Cut into bars, while still warm.  May freeze part of batch to have on hand for a nutritious breakfast bars.

Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley and burghul salad)

tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is the second in this series of three recipes, coming from my 1980’s cooking class on Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our 21st century food processor affords an easy preparation of this healthy, traditional taste-treat, a recurrent dish in my kitchen.

For all 32 years I have lived in Oregon, I have been indulging in this treasured salad at the Mediterranean establishment Nicholas’, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.  Presently it has three locations in our metropolitan area, with my current choice being the upscale version on N.E. Broadway, with its comfortable decor.

Nicholas’ original place on Grand Ave-Portland’s first Middle Eastern restaurant-was, however, a mere hole in the wall until the late-nineties when it was first remodeled.  The owners opened its two other locations in 2003 and 2010, with the exact same menus and prices, but with much more modern, “posh” environments.

When I started going to the original eatery on Grand, before its remodel, I would be instantly transplanted back to the romance of the small cafes I knew in impoverished Peru-there I had the opportunity to study Peruvian food for three weeks in 1985 to augment my food history business (see Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco, 2016/11/28).  Even though I like more comfort now, it was actually this original Nicholas’ restaurant on Grand that thrilled my heart the most, with its quaint poverty contrasted by incredible food-oh the glorious, abundant food!

Back then, with pride in my city, I always took my out-of-town visitors to my three favorite restaurants: Bread and Ink, The Original Pancake House (listed as one of James Beard’s top ten in the nation in the 70’s), and finally Nicolas’-all of these have been serving great food since my 1986 arrival.  Hands down, my guests always proclaimed the exquisite, poorer Nicholas’ as by far the best.

In those early days, our order always remained the same: humus, tabbouleh, and falafels, all of which came with their ever-present, gigantic, hot-from-the-oven pita bread, crowding the entire center of the table.  Though only consisting of three individual servings, this elegant, vegetarian repast was so abundant that if there were less than four of us, we took leftovers home-all for a pittance.  My guests marveled at the quality of both the food and experience, for it was definitely like being transported to a Third World country.

Age has mellowed me some, for today I love to frequent the more dignified Nicolas’ on N.E. Broadway.  Still wowing my guests with its exceptional food, I now order their incredible chicken kabobs, humus, and tabbouleth, of course, while ending with their exceptional baklava.  This amply pleases my friend’s great expectations, which I have encouraged, for there is great romance here-though perhaps not as pronounced as that of their captivating 1980’s café.

Tabbouleh is mostly widely known as a Lebanese recipe, though it is popular throughout the Levant, the large area east of the Mediterranean Sea, including such countries as Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, present-day Israel, etc.  The Levantine Arabic word tabbule is derived from tabil, which means “seasoning”; its literal translation is “dip”.  This salad is traditionally a part of the mezze, or first course of appetizers; it originated in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, where they have favored qadb, or edible herbs, in their diet since the Middle Ages.

One of tabbouleh’s main ingredients is burghul, or bulgur, an ancient preparation of wheat-usually durum; it is made by partially cooking wheat berries, then drying them, producing a glassy hard interior.  Next, they are moistened again to toughen the outer bran area; then, ground into large chunks, removing the bran and germ in the process, while leaving the endosperm.   These pieces are then sifted and classified according to grade.  Coarse burghul (to 3.5 mm across) is commonly used in pilafs and salads, while a fine burghul (o.5 mm) is utilized in making sweets, such as puddings.  This particular wheat product is most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.  It has both long-shelf life and a quick-cooking features, thus making it is an ideal, basic ingredient for this time-tested salad.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/bulgur

http://cobornsdeliversblog.com/2015/02/03/demystifying-ancient-grains-bulgur/

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 468.

finished product

Tabbouleh (Lebanese burghul and parsley salad)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 35 min plus 1 hr for chilling.

3/4 c burghul, bulgur wheat  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or organic burghul may be found at the national upscale New Season’s.)

2 c chopped curly parsley, 1 lg bunch  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive.)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2 firm, ripe med tomatoes  (May use organic Roma tomatoes, which are relatively inexpensive.)

Scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed.)

1/4 c olive oil  (Avocado oil will also work; good olive oil, however, is more flavorful and really healthy when not heated to high temperatures, which makes it carcinogenic.)

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint, or to taste.)

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

  1. juicing lemons the easy way

    Boil 1 1/2 c water, stir in burghul, set aside to cool.

  2. Clean parsley, onions, and tomatoes with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes; then, rinse well in a sink full of water three times.
  3. Juice lemons, by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand, to loosen meat; extract juices; set aside. (See above photo of easy hand-held juicer, available at our local Bob’s Red Mill.)
  4. Break stems off parsley and place in a food processor.  Chop small, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button-this may also be done with a knife, which is more laborious.  Place in a large bowl.
  5. Chop green onions (may include the green part, in addition); add to bowl.
  6. For ease in slicing, cut tomatoes with the skin side down (see photo below).  Mix in with parsley and onions.
  7. chopping tomatoes so to conserve juices

    Place lemon juice in a glass 1-c measuring cup (should be a scant 1/4 c); fill the rest with olive oil to measure 1/2 c.  Add mint, salt, and pepper; beat well with a fork.

  8. Drain burghul when cool, add to vegetables, pour beaten dressing over top, and blend well.  Chill for 1 hour before serving (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  This is so healthy and good!

Holiday Dips

cottage cheese/apricot/green onion dip

Let healthy, creative dips enhance your holiday entertaining; two of my favorites are made in just minutes, using protein-rich cottage cheese for a base.  One, which only adds salsa, dates back to my profound, childhood experience at a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona (see “About”).  The other was inspired by my recent need for additional potassium in my diet; thus, dried apricots, rich in this element, and green onions make another pleasing combination for this dairy product.

When I lived in Switzerland briefly in the 1970’s, I was captivated by their cottage cheese, which to my amazement was without the coagulated lumps that we are used to in the U.S.  Their smooth, thick, creamy substance was more like our cream cheese, though not as stiff.  These soft, uniform curds were excellent with muesli, fruits, raw vegetables, crackers, breads, and more.  (Some European cottage cheese is dry and salty, not so with my rhapsodic Swiss cottage cheese.)

In trying to learn more about this blessing from Europe, I discovered a good source for making one’s own; this site provides a recipe that produces either the creamy smooth or dry salty versions, simply by adjusting the heating time.  Access this incredible treat, which can’t be found in any U.S. grocery store, at: https://cheese.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-your-own-cottage-cheese-european-way-352742/

Different textured and flavored cheeses are produced by variations in the temperature the milk is heated to, the diverse procedures of draining and pressing the resultant curds, and aging.  For instance, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses are often categorized according to their moisture content, which is determined by whether they are pressed or not, and if so, the pressure with which the cheese is packed in molds, as well as upon aging.

“Fresh cheeses” are the most simple of all, in which milk is curdled and drained, with little other processing.  Among these “acid-set cheeses”, cottage cheese, cream cheese, fromage blanc, and curd cheese (also known as quark) are not pressed; when fresh cheese is pressed, it becomes the malleable, solid pot cheese; even further pressing makes a drier, more crumbly farmer’s cheese, paneer, and goat’s milk chevre, for instance.  All are easy to spread, velvety, and mild-flavored.

The unpressed quark/curd cheese is common in the German-speaking countries and those of northern Europe, the Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Albania, Israel, Romania, as well as with the Slavic peoples.  It is also found in some parts of the United States and Canada.

Quark is usually synonymous with cottage cheese in Eastern Europe, though these differ in America and Germany, where cottage cheese has lumps (the flavor of German cottage cheese is much more sour than ours).  Curd cheese or quark is similar to French fromage blanc, Indian paneer, Spanish queso blanco, as well as the yogurt cheeses of south and central Asia and parts of the Arab world.

These (fresh) acid-set cheeses are coagulated milk, which has been soured naturally, or by the addition of lactic acid bacteria; this in turn is heated to a 20-27 degrees C, or until the desired curdling is met; then, the curds are drained, but not pressed, such as in the link above.

In America, quark, which is always smooth, differs from our cottage cheese, which has curdled chunks in it.  These lumps are large in the low-acid variant, which uses rennet in coagulating the milk, or small in the high-acid form, without any rennet. In Germany, Sauermilchkase (sour milk cheese) applies to ripened (aged) acid-set cheeses only, not to fresh ones-such as their cottage cheese, which is called Huttenkase.

The world of cheese is a complex one:  I have vivid memories of this smooth European cottage cheese, from my time in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, which has left me with a love for this dairy product.  To this day I frequently employ its American version in my diet.  Enjoy these quick dips!

References:

https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-pot-cheese-591193

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(dairy_product)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottage_cheese

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_milk_cheese

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_cheese#Fresh.2C_whey.2C_and_stretched_curd_cheeses

https://cheese.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-your-own-cottage-cheese-european-way-352742/

Salsa and Cottage Cheese Dip  Yields: about 1 1/2 pint.  Total prep time: 5 min.

1 pint cottage cheese  (Whole milk is best for your health; Trader Joe’s brand is hormone and additive free.)

1/2 c salsa  (Trader’s Pineapple Salsa is superb here.)

Tortilla chips  (Que Pasa makes an organic red chip, colored with beet dye, available in nutrition center at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-

ingredients for salsa dip

stores.)

  1. Mix cottage cheese and salsa in a bowl.
  2. Serve with chips.  (Keeps well in refrigerator.)

ingredients for apricot dip

Cottage Cheese, Apricots, and Green Onion Dip  Yields: about 1 3/4 pints.  Total prep time: 15 min.  Note: may choose to refrigerate for at least 8 hr for ideal flavor and texture.

1 pint cottage cheese

1/2 c dried apricots, minced

1 c green onion, including green part, chopped

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt, pink salt, is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

  1. Mix the above together in a bowl.
  2. Serve with a high quality cracker.  (May use immediately, but this is much better when refrigerated for at least 8 hours-the flavors not only meld, but the excess moisture in the cottage cheese is absorbed by the dried apricots, producing superb texture and taste!)