Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Power Bars

Nolan has decided that his favorite food is chocolate. “Chocolate is a good snack, Mom.” Nolan wants chocolate on or with almost everything he eats. Thankfully, his mama is hip to the word on dark chocolate, which is all he’s ever had. Like a lot of people, I grew up on milk chocolate, which I think most would agree is richer and more palatable. Dark chocolate is an acquired taste, but now that it’s all I eat, the rare instances when I have milk, my tastes buds are blown away by how cloyingly sweet it is.

Why make the switch from milk to dark? Many milk chocolate treats contain sugar and milk as their primary ingredients when it is the cacao bean that contains the powerhouse nutrients. Once you get past the slightly bitter and certainly less sweet taste of dark, you can now consume chocolate that provides true health benefits. Dark chocolate that is 72% cacoa or greater is jam-packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants. It is heart healthy and can boost brain power, too. YUM!

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Of course, like all sweets, we can’t overdo it with even dark chocolate. Cacoa does contain fat and when made into a chocolate bar, for instance, also contains added sugar. Point is, a little bit of dark chocolate every day—yes, I eat it every day folks!—is not only not going to hurt you, but will provide you with powerful nutrients. Opt for fair trade whenever possible.

What do I say when Nolan wants chocolate? I give it to him. Not in unlimited quantities and only after or in conjunction with another snack or meal, but like me, he eats it every day. (For the parents out there who may be wondering about amount, if the average dark chocolate bar is three ounces, he has half an ounce or less in a day. Hopefully that helps you to visualize the quantity!)

Today’s rendition of my power bars also incorporates a touch of pink Himalayan sea salt, which is loaded with minerals. A little bit is ok. 🙂 If I didn’t sell you enough on giving dark chocolate a try, Travis said that these power bars are one of the best things I’ve ever made. So, there’s that. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: POWER BARS

Yields 9 square bars*

For the dough:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole grains –> I’m using ¾ cup wheat berries (learn about wheat berries by checking out my multi-grain salad formula) and ¼ cup ground flaxseed.**
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried fruit (without added oil) –> I’m using pitted medjool dates.
  • ½ cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –> I’m using sunflower.
  • 2 tbsps natural liquid sweetener –> I’m using agave syrup.
  • Extract and/or spices to taste (optional) –> I’m using 1/8 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt.

Garnish ideas (up to ½ cup):

  • Raw seeds
  • Raw finely chopped nuts
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Melted dark chocolate to pour over the top (which will re-solidify after chilling) –> I’m using 3 ounces of 72% cacoa + a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt.

*Double the recipe to make double the bars, or, to achieve thicker bars.

**Yes, I know that flaxseed is not a whole grain. Just wanted to add a little texture and different nutrients to the bars today. 🙂

Turn your whole grains into flour using your food processor or blender (my Vitamix has a dry blade pitcher).

Then, combine the flour and your remaining ingredients, except the garnish. Run until a thick, pliable dough forms. You will probably have to scrape down the sides of the processor with a spatula at least once.

Turn the dough out into a mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine half of your garnish (unless it’s melted chocolate) and to break up any clumps of dried fruit and/or butter. Firmly press the dough into an 8 x 8 pan lined with wax paper.

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Evenly distribute the remaining garnish, pressing into/pouring onto the top of the bars.

To melt dark chocolate: Use a double boiler (not the microwave). Fill a sauce pan with about an inch of water and turn it up to medium high heat. Place a glass bowl containing your chocolate on top of the pan. Stir chocolate occasionally until it completely melts. BE CAREFUL OF ANY STEAM COMING UP FROM THE SAUCE PAN.

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Chill the bars for at least 2 hours before cutting into the desired size and shape. Store in the refrigerator.

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Protein-Packed Comfort Food

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Of all of the vegan dishes that I make, of this one, I am exceptionally proud. For me, it ticks so many boxes, from nutritional value to great leftovers to toddler likability. It isn’t easy to reinvent classic comfort foods—many of which are comforting as a result of fat, sugar, or salt—but I’ve managed to do it with my take on the classic, Chicken Divan.

CD is a chicken and broccoli casserole with a creamy sauce. As much as it is delicious, it is loaded with fat and cholesterol, two no-no’s in my world. My recipes are certainly not all fat free (you will see there is a little bit in today’s concoction), but most are low in fat and definitely don’t contain cholesterol, which only exists in animal products. A positive of the original CD is the protein found in chicken. Thankfully, protein can be found in tons of plants, and often, in much greater quantities per serving.

Today, CD becomes TD: Tofu Divan. Yea, tofu (and all soybean products) should be consumed sparingly, according to some research. But then, I visit Japan, with its ultra-healthy, lean population, and see tofu everywhere. So, who knows!  Tofu is an EXCELLENT source of protein that is low in fat, free of cholesterol, and adaptable into both savory and sweet applications. (Check out my togurt and chocolate mousse formulas for more tofu ideas!) I eat tofu in some capacity once or twice a month…nothing to worry about.

Side note: My TD utilizes a block of silken (or soft) and half a block extra firm. What am I going to do with the other half? Since Nolan was just beyond pureed baby food, I’ve been cutting it into cubes, and tossing it with just a splash of amino acids or soy sauce and a little bit of agave syrup. He’s been popping the cubes for over a year and a half now and couldn’t be happier with this easy and baby-friendly snack. He even learned how to use a fork with these tofu cubes.

DSC_2113Ok, back to the TD. I’m using broccolini, or baby broccoli, but you could really use any vegetable you’d like. You can also use any grains you’d like. This is a Fresh Formula, after all. 🙂 Tradition CD doesn’t contain grains, but if I’m going to make a cooked dish, I like to include them, since the bulk of what I eat is typically raw.

DSC_2100My grain of choice today is primarily wheat berries, with a little bit of quinoa I had left over from making Nolan his favorite breakfast: my quinoa muffins. When Travis and I selected our Bountiful Basket offerings last week, we added twenty-five pounds of wheat berries. They aren’t as easy to find as other grains and I love the crunch that they maintain, even after cooked. Now, I just need to find some ways to use them, which is one of my goals today! I first introduced you to wheat berries in my multi-grain salad formula, another one of my go-to favorites.

DSC_2095 DSC_2096The nutrients derived from the produce, grains, and tofu in my TD are unmatched by its animal-based cousin, CD. This dish is delicious right out of the oven and also makes for satisfying leftovers. Mostly importantly, my two-year-old loves it. Still not keen on many veggies as is (although he’ll eat them all day in smoothies), TD is a great way for me to “hide” finely chopped vegetables that he eats without question.

Finally, you’ll see that the casserole is topped with breadcrumbs. Typically, I’d use some of my own freshly baked bread, but with none on hand at the moment, I’m getting creative and using rice cakes! I love this brand. They make for a great snack as is, or smothered in peanut butter and jam. Yum-o!

DSC_2101Bear in mind that making tofu divan takes about ninety minutes, start to finish, depending on what type of grains you use. While brown rice can cook in about thirty minutes, wheat berries need an hour. Just FYI if you’re in a hurry. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: TOFU DIVAN

Serves 6-8 

  • 5-6 cups homemade veggie stock
  • 3 cups uncooked grains –>  I’m using 2 cups wheat berries and 1 cup white quinoa.
  • 2 cups finely chopped vegetables –>  I’m using broccolini
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs –>  I’m using two tamari and flax seed rice cakes.
  • 1 block silken tofu
  • ½ block of extra firm tofu
  • ½ cup liquid to blend with silken tofu (more veggie stock, water, plant milk, etc.) –>  I’m using unsweetened, unflavored almond milk.
  • ½ of a small onion –>  I’m using yellow.
  • 2-4 cloves garlic –> The more the merrier in my book. 🙂
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp oil –> I’m using olive.
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground black pepper in both the sauce and in the sauté pan.

Thoroughly rinse your grains before cooking. Add to a rice cooker or stovetop pot with veggie stock. If you’re using a variety of different grains, stagger their addition to the cooker/pot based on cook times. Wheat berries, for instance, need much longer to cook than quinoa.

While the grains are cooking, put the silken tofu in a blender with your liquid of choice and puree until smooth. Put in a small sauce pan on medium low heat with all spices, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Leave the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick (should be thicker than milk, but thinner than a milkshake), thin out with water, plant milk, or veggie stock.

DSC_2104Heat up a sauté pan on medium high heat with ½ tbsp of the oil. Dice your onion, mince your garlic, crumble your extra firm tofu, and sauté until the onions are almost translucent and the tofu is slightly browned. If you have a starchy vegetable, such as carrots, throw them into the sauté pan, too. Otherwise, finely chopping and adding to the casserole mix before it goes into the often should suffice.

DSC_2112Finally, pulse your bread, crackers, etc. in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.

DSC_2102The grains should have absorbed all of the liquid by the time they are cooked, but drain them if they haven’t. In a large mixing bowl, combine grains, onion, garlic, tofu, vegetables, and silken tofu sauce, sans bay leaf. I am strategic about how I do this. The veggies go on the bottom if they have not been precooked, topped next by the hot grains, which will par-cook the vegetables for me, finishing them off in the oven.

Mix your breadcrumbs with nutritional yeast and the other ½ tbsp oil. Once the other ingredients are combined and spread in a 9 X 13 baking dish, top with breadcrumbs. Put under the broiler on low for 4-5 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

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New Formula: Multi-Grain Salad

DSC_1635Remember that DIY veggie stock I made a few days back? Today, I’m putting it to good use making a salad that I love. My multi-grain salad, now housed under Square Meal Formulas, is filling, nutritious, and an easy way to combine a variety of great-for-you grains.

Pictured below are the grains that I’m using for my salad this go-around, with descriptions to follow.

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Clockwise, starting in the upper left corner:

SHORT GRAIN BROWN RICE: As I’m sure you know, brown rice boasts far more nutrients than the white variety. Brown rice is rich in fiber and selenium and can even lower bad cholesterol.

QUINOA: Often referred to as a super food, quinoa is mega rich in fiber, protein, and iron, among other minerals. ‘Nough said.

FARRO: Farro is also rich in fiber and minerals and in my opinion, maintains an appealing semi-crunchy texture after cooking. It pairs nicely with softer grains like rice and quinoa.

WHEAT BERRIES: Finally, wheat berries, like farro, are crunchy, and high in fiber and micronutrients. Sprouting wheat berries will result in wheat grass, which I use in all of my super smoothies. So, there’s that, too.

A little off-topic, but a quick word about balsamic vinegar, since I’m using it in today’s recipe. When I’m not in the mood to use fresh citrus juice or don’t have any on hand, I turn to balsamic vinegar as a dressing base. Besides being loaded with potassium and calcium, balsamic vinegar can normalize blood pressure, stabilize cholesterol, steady glucose levels, and even aid in weight loss. To say the least, I adore it. J Thus, it is important to me to have a high-quality variety in my pantry. Pictured below is a brand that I like, with a middle-of-the-road price tag. The more you pay, the better vinegar you’ll get.

DSC_1631Ok, back to the grains! I pair my multi-grain salad with fresh produce. Having made this salad many times, I prefer it sweet and savory. I use strawberries for the sweet and cook the grains in veggie stock for the savory. Find a balance that works for your taste buds and, as always, enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: MULTI-GRAIN SALAD

  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock –> I’m using my homemade veggie stock.
  • 2 cups dry grains –> I’m using ½ cup each short grain brown rice, quinoa, farro, and wheat berries.
  • 2 cups chopped fruits and/or veggies –> I’m using nearly 1 lb of sliced strawberries.
  • Dressing of choice or a combination of herbs/spices and salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar, which pairs classically with strawberries. I’m also adding a splash of olive oil to prevent sticking, a tablespoon of dried basil, and a pinch each of pink Himalayan sea salt and black pepper.

Rinse your grains before cooking in order to remove any possible dirt or dust.

DSC_1623Because different grains have different cooking times, you may approach this in two ways: cook them all in the same pot, in stages, or cook them separately and combine them later. Having worked with my particular selection of grains before, I am opting for the former method. If you’re not sure about the grains you are using, research their cook times and even better, experiment in your kitchen. Or, make this salad with just one grain to start. Baby steps are a-ok.

I use a rice cooker because I find that it reduces sticking to the bottom of the pan with just a few occasional stirs, but you can certainly cook your grains in a pot on the stove top, stirring more regularly. First, add your veggie stock and wheat berries to kick off the cooking process. Wheat berries take longer to cook than any of the other grains I am using.

After 30 minutes, add your farro. 10 minutes later, add your rice. 10 minutes after that, add your final grain, quinoa, and cook for an additional 15-17 minutes, or until the last of your cooking liquid is absorbed. I usually leave the lid to my rice cooker off for the last few minutes to speed this process.

DSC_1627While your grains are cooking, chop your fruits/veggies and prepare your dressing and/or seasonings.

DSC_1626Cook your grains to completion and chill in your fridge, uncovered and stirring occasionally to allow heat to escape more easily, until at least room temperature (about 30 minutes). If the grains are hot, they will par-cook your produce, which we want to keep raw. When cool, combine the grains with your other ingredients. Consume cold and store in the fridge for 3-5 days, depending on the shelf life of the produce used.

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