Sunday, August 31, 2008

Caroline's Recent Faves

As part of my new Sunday Feature format, I'll devote an occasional post to product reviews. As far as I can tell, blog readers are divided on these reviews: either they can't get enough product recommendations, or they have become entirely bored by them. To satisfy both camps, I'll give my opinion on select food products only sporadically. Enjoy!

This past week I have been favoring a few products: Clif Z Bars, Futter's Nut Butters, and a new kind of hummus.

Clif Z Bars
If you read food blogs at all, then you have likely seen these familiar blue wrappers before. While they are marketed toward schoolage children, my fellow bloggers and I have found them extremely convenient for on-the-go snacking, although I've been known to eat them even when I'm lounging at home.

Z Bars are certified organic with generally nutritious ingredients, including oats and flaxseed. There are a lot of added sugars (evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup), which contribute to the 10-12 grams of sugar per bar. In addition to the ingredients already mentioned, Clif also includes a vitamin/mineral blend. I find this addition helpful to vegans and non-vegans alike, because a single bar provides 30% of your RDA for calcium, 10% for iron, and 10% for B12, all nutrients that may be elusive to some. All this for 120-140 kcalories and 2-5 grams of fat. Not bad.

Current flavors available include
Peanut Butter, Honey Graham, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Brownie, Apple Cinnamon, and Blueberry. I have yet to try the Honey Graham, Apple Cinnamon, and Peanut Butter varieties (don't worry--it's on my to-do list).

-Thus far, my favorite is the Chocolate Brownie--it really does taste like a brownie. I bet warming it up and enjoying it with a glass of milk (soy or cow's!) would enhance its "browniness."
-The chocolate chip was decent, although I much prefer the regular Clif version of this flavor.
-The Blueberry made for a nice change of pace--it's not your typical snack bar flavor. It mimics a blueberry crisp in taste, which would make it ideal for a portable breakfast. It makes a great pre-workout snack as well.

Another plus (especially for poor college kids like me): only 69 cents at Trader Joe's! At Whole Foods they are still a reasonable 99 cents.

Futter's Nut Butters
I would never have discovered these nut butters had it not been for VeggieGirl. In my search for hazelnut butter, I had asked her what brand she used, and she provided this link. One visit to their site, and you'll soon realize that if there's a nut (or seed) out there, Futter's likely makes a nut butter out of it. Think: pistachio butter, pumpkin seed butter, Brazil nut butter...the possibilities are endless. Anyway, as I do not live near any of the locations that sell Futter's, I ordered some as a treat for myself.

Perhaps one of the best things about these butters is the fact that they are
just nuts. No palm oil, no salt, no sugar--just ground up nuttiness. While its simple composition is ideal for overall health, spreadability can be a problem. I recommend using it as a dip for sliced bananas or apples, or you can warm it up a bit to use it as a spread on toast.

The nutritional information varies according to the nut used.. kcalories and fat are not listed on the website, but they do arrive with the nut butters once ordered. Generally speaking, a two tablespoon serving may contain 160-220 kcalories and 15-20 grams of fat, plus a host of vital nutrients such as vitamin E and magnesium. Don't be scared of the fat--it is health-promoting fat, which may help reduce cholesterol.

Futter's Nut Butters are pricey, but if used in moderation, one tiny jar may last for a few weeks or more (depending on your nut butter addiction).

Also, if you're interested, Futter's also sells dried fruits and nuts.

What you see below is Brazil Nut butter, almond butter, and hazelnut butter. I can't wait to try the other flavors!
Market Pantry Hummus
Imagine this scene: thousands of parents and students scrambling to SuperTarget over a single weekend. With list in hand, I search for that ever-so-versatile spread, hummus. I find Sabra in the produce section and cringe a little upon seeing the price. The hummus gods smiled upon me and showed me a better alternative in the deli section, the Market Pantry (aka Target house brand) hummus.

With stats almost identical to those of
Sabra hummus, I decided it was worth a try. I first tried it in a hummus sandwich last week and was surprised at the depth of flavor and richness it provided. Then I remembered that each serving has 6 grams of fat. Fat is an amazing thing when it comes to flavor. Ideally, I would prefer a lower fat hummus, considering I usually use more than the prescribed two tablespoon serving. Also, I wish there were more protein per serving as well--2 grams seems a bit paltry for a meat alternative in sandwiches.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this much cheaper hummus, especially due to its addition of caramelized onions.
I am not certain as to the price, but I think it was within the vicinity of $2-3 for an 8 oz. container.

I've spent a lot of time evaluating hummus. For more information, read my article here.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Getting Creative

You all will be happy to know that I have been trying some new dishes these past few days. I tried out a few of your suggestions from my last post, but I also did a little experimentation of my own the kitchen. Did you know that cooking is an excellent mode of procrastination? Food is much more of a priority than homework, in my opinion...

A few of you mentioned that you like to combine broken up Clif Z bars into Greek yogurt as a quick and tasty snack/breakfast. Well, I improvised a similar snack on Wednesday evening with the items I had on hand: cottage cheese, sliced apple, and (a very old) Nature's Path Optimum Energy bar crumbled on top. I like this bar+yogurt/cottage cheese idea, because you can change it up so many different ways.
Again, taking cues from your comments, I tried a new breakfast: toast with tahini and agave. Thanks, for the inspiration, Kimberly--it was fabulous! I also had some more blueberries with wheat germ.
My snack before my run consisted of a Cinnamon Raisin Gnu bar and a small apple. Something about this combination totally worked--my average pace was 45 seconds faster than the day before!
I needed a quick lunch afterward, because I had a meeting to attend. I stopped by a campus eatery and grabbed a House Salad: Romaine, carrots, tomatoes, red onion, cranberries, and walnuts. I added my own tofu and dressed it with Bragg's.
After the meeting was out, I was starving--so I needed something quick that wouldn't ruin my dinner: banana with Futter's Almond Butter.
Dinner was entirely spontaneous. First, I sauteed some farmers' market bell peppers in a pan with garlic and chili powder. I also mashed some leftover kidney beans and plopped them onto a halved pita (I don't have any tortillas at the moment). Add some salsa, and you've got a makeshift taco! Plain yogurt with cashew butter made a great sweet ending to the meal.
Every semester I schedule my classes such that I have one weekday off; this way I can actually get laundry and grocery shopping done with some regularity. Anyway, this semester, I have Fridays free. I seized the opportunity to sleep in, squeeze in a morning workout, and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. I just can't get enough scrambled tofu. This one had tahini, Bragg's, and ground ginger. I also had some (slightly overdone) toast and a sliced Granny Smith apple. Top it off with a perusal of The Chronicle, and I'd call it a perfect morning meal.
After multiple trips to Whole Foods (read: forgotten bag of dried cranberries at the cash register...), I was ready for some fuel. When my stomach calls, my creativity goes out the window. So, I just mashed some chickpeas with Nayonaise and Grey Poupon and plopped them onto Ak Maks. Broccoli, almonds, and local white peach finished it off.
I had plans to dine out last night, but we wouldn't be leaving until later in the evening, so I made a quick snack beforehand: plain yogurt with dried cranberries (yes, the forgotten ones) and pistachios.
For dinner, we went to The Cheesecake Factory. Honestly, the best part about CF is its wonderful brown bread. I wish I could buy this stuff in bulk and eat it all the time--it's slightly sweet, and I love the oat topping. I probably ate half the basket...For my entree I ordered a Vegetable Chopped Salad with Romaine, radicchio, edamame, beets, asparagus, and crisp apples. It was on the "small salad" menu, so I asked if they could make it full size, but they couldn't. I don't really understand that--they obviously have the ingredients on hand; can't they just bulk up the portion and charge me more? Sheesh. I was left hungry, so we all ordered dessert. My smoothie obsession took charge because I ordered the Tropical Smoothie, which included pineapple, passionfruit, and coconut. Delish.
After dinner and a movie, I returned to the apartment in need of a bedtime snack. It's probably more habit than anything else, but I must have something in stomach just before sleeping. Last night I chose whole grain graham crackers with cashew butter and a glass of soymilk. Put me right to sleep:)
Well, I am off to run errands and maybe do some homework. Be back tomorrow with a feature post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Snack Bar Bounty

I am a little embarrassed to admit how many snack bars I have been consuming in the past few days. They're just so darn portable! As much as I would like to have toast with jam or agave as my pre-run snack every day, toting around a toaster with me to class might prove difficult. Plus, I have quite a stash of these various snack bars--imagine a gallon-size Ziploc brimming with the likes of Clif Z, Gnu, and Larabars. What are your favorite (portable) snacks? I need inspiration!

Lucky for you, snack bars are not the only thing I have been consuming lately.

As is typical, my sweet tooth came on full-force Monday evening. So...I tried another Clif Z bar. This time it was the chocolate chip variety. I won't say much about it until my product review, but for now, let's just say that the regular Clif chocolate chip is superior, in my opinion.
I also made a smoothie that night (like I said, I just can't get enough sweet!). This one was a new combo for me because I combined strawberries with chocolate HempShake and soymilk. I'm not the biggest fan of fruit with chocolate, so this was an experiment for me (that, and I didn't have any of the berry HempShake left...). The verdict: success! It tasted like a chocolate-covered strawberry. Imagine that.
One of the things I didn't like about living in a dorm last year was that I couldn't have a toaster--how's a girl supposed to enjoy her frozen waffles without a toaster?! (I tried microwaving them--it's not the same). I didn't hesitate to take advantage of my new-found toaster access yesterday morning: GoLean waffles with mashed banana/cashew butter and plain organic yogurt. Love it.
My pre-run snack was a Carrot Raisin Odwalla bar and an apple. You may remember these bars from earlier posts. I ran about 4 miles on the track again; I followed that with some arm strength work.
Afterward, I grabbed one of my favorite on-campus salads, a Greek salad with Romaine, artichoke hearts, olives, feta, and sundried tomatoes...I never seem to tire of it.
By the time dinner rolled around, I was famished, but I had no idea what to make. It was one of those "maybe staring into the cupboards will give me inspiration" moments. I finally just started throwing things into the pan: leftover kidney beans, tofu, salsa, chili powder, and garlic salt. I stuffed it into a pita and served it alongside a salad and a few almonds. This was so tasty! Sometimes the best dishes are the spontaneous ones.
I needed something fast this morning, so I made a breakfast mound of deliciousness: Fiber One cereal, Corn Bran, almonds, fresh blueberries, wheat germ, and soymilk. This took a lot of chewing, but it was worth the effort.
Snack today was great: blueberry Clif Z bar and a banana. Blueberries and banana were meant to be together.
I picked up another favorite campus specialty today for lunch: Bean Taco Salad from the 'Dillo, which consists of a few tortilla chips, lettuce, tomatoes, pineapple salsa, traditional (cooked) salsa, and raw salsa. I added guacamole, which is quite possibly the best add-on ever--fresh taste and only 30 cents!
I spent dinner this evening with the dining committee for a casual get-together at Baba Ghannouj. I ordered the Baba Ghannouj Veggie Platter, which comes with falafel, baba ghannouj, hummus, tzaziki, pita, Greek salad, and stuffed grape leaves. The dips were awesome, but the falafel was bit too hard for my taste.

Before I go, I wanted to request some more meal suggestions: quick breakfasts. I am getting bored with my morning meals, so I am looking to expand my repertoire. If you have a favorite, I'd be delighted if you would share it with me.

PS Happy Birthday to my sister Lea!