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chewy chocolaty peanut-buttery protein bars

010I’m really not sure why I’ve always been so intimidated by baking, but I have. And while I fully believe in conquering the things in life that hold us back, for some reason I haven’t felt the need to apply that notion to this area of my life yet. Maybe it’s because, well, not to down-play it or anything, but it’s just baking. Just baking?! I don’t think I really mean that. After all, what could be better than a fresh, buttery croissant right out of the oven… or a slice of indulgently rich chocolate cake… or heck, even a hot and gooey glazed donut? There clearly is something magical that happens when flour is mixed with some combination of sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. The joy is most certainly not lost on me.

This does seem like something I need to tackle at some point. If for no other reason than to open up an entirely new world of food, which sounds quite motivating. I just haven’t ventured there yet. One step at a time I suppose. And while I’m openly sharing my apparent struggle over this issue, I may as well get to the heart of the matter. I think I carry the belief that baked goods, as delicious as they may be, just aren’t as healthy. I also know that I can’t resist breads, cookies, or sweets in general with much discipline (if there’s chocolate involved, it’s just over), so making them is almost like setting a diet trap for myself. But I think that’s being pretty small minded, not something I aspire to be. So rather than close myself off to an entire method of cooking, and basically an entire food group, maybe it’s time I prove myself wrong and find a way to make healthy versions.

Consider these no-bake protein bars my very first step into the world of baking – irony intended – but hey, I used flour; it’s a start. The hemp seeds were a bit of a splurge, but they are loaded with healthy fats, fiber, and protein, and give a nice nutty flavor and texture. Sunflower seeds would probably work just as well, and save a few bucks. The bars are really everything you could want… chewy, crunchy, salty-sweet, additive-free and packed with protein. Let’s just say, I made them last night, and I’m down to one. I’ll be sad to see it go.

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(Recipe adapted from oh she glows)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole grain oat flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)

1/2 cup Garden of Life RAW protein powder (or powder of your choosing, unflavored is best)

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp chocolate covered hemp seeds (or plain hemp seeds for vegan)

1/2 cup rice based cereal (I used Nature’s Path Sunrise Crunchy Vanilla and crushed up into pieces)

1/2 cup all natural peanut butter

1/2 cup agave syrup sweetener

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp mini dark chocolate morsels (for vegan, use vegan brand chocolate)

1 tbsp coconut oil

Steps:

1. Use an 8 x 8 pan, lined with parchment paper

2. Mix together dry ingredients in a bowl:  flour, protein powder, 1/4 cup hemp seeds, cereal, and salt

3. Add in peanut butter, agave syrup, and vanilla, mix to combine – can splash in a little water or almond milk if too dry

4. Press down into pan then put in freezer

5. Melt chocolate chips with coconut oil in small sauce pan over low heat, careful not to burn

6. Cut frozen dough into bars, drizzle with melted chocolate and top with remaining hemp seeds

7. Place back in freezer to set, keep stored in freezer (bars soften as they get warmer)

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the best kale salad ever

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No offense to collard greens, black eyed peas and cornbread, but after this recipe I’m starting my own New Year’s meal tradition. I may have even just found my favorite recipe for 2015. Seems a little early to be making that call… but I really don’t care. This is SO. GOOD.

If nothing else, this is definitely my new favorite way to eat kale. Ever had a tired jaw from chewing… and chewing… and chewing raw kale? I have. Well fear not. This dressing tenderizes the leaves giving them the perfect texture (slightly crisp but not soggy), and an amazing tangy-sweet-garlicky flavor. Yum. Combine that with savory roasted sweet potatoes, toasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds, spicy garlic roasted chick peas, and the subtle sweetness of pears, and you’ll be trading in the collard greens too.

I’m sure there’s another reason this recipe tastes so good; my body has been craving this food. After weeks of being out of my normal routine… traveling to see family for Christmas, flying to see friends for New Year’s, sleeping in different places, eating foods I don’t normally eat (and more than I normally eat), getting less exercise than usual… oh yes, this meal was right on time. Yesterday was the first day I’ve spent at home in a couple weeks. I slept in, then immediately went to the grocery store and bought every vegetable I could fit in my cart. After getting home (and sleeping some more), I chopped and roasted and toasted until I felt right again.

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I added roasted mushrooms, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts… just for good measure.

 

Although I’m starting the new year feeling totally spent (with jeans that are a tad snug), I wouldn’t trade the past few weeks for anything. It’s the best time I’ve ever had during the holidays. For one thing, I got to see my little sister and brother-in-law who live in Germany, and it’s been over two years since we were all together. I’ll keep this brief so I don’t cry (well too late), but being so far away from them for so long is tough. They are so much fun to be around, and my sis is my best friend. We get each other in that way sisters do, and it meant so much to me to feel that instant bond with her as soon as we laid eyes on each other. I really needed that, and I’m so grateful for the time we had. Especially for the night my brother, sister and I all cooked dinner together, just us three. It was pretty dang special.

Another highlight was staying up late watching House of Cards on Netflix with my mom and brother, all curled up in her king size bed in our PJs, eating my brother’s homemade cheesecake with cool whip and spoons. Yeah, that happened. A couple days later my dad and I went for a long run on the Riverwalk. I felt like that kind of made up for the cheesecake incident, but more importantly it was good “dad time,” and I always love that. The week was topped off with an annual brunch with my oldest and best friends from back home. This year we had a couple of cute little additions, which made it feel different, but even better.

For New Year’s I flew to Austin to visit my old stomping grounds and see some of my favorite people. On New Year’s Eve, a friend suggested that we each recognize something that had meant a lot to us that year. When it was my turn, I said that I’ve grown in appreciation. I feel a much deeper gratitude for people and experiences in my life. I know this because there was a time I didn’t feel it much, when I didn’t feel much of anything. Now when I’m with the people who mean the most to me, I feel our connection in my heart, and I’m so thankful to have it. It reminds me that my heart is open now, and it motivates me to keep it that way.

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year. If anything meaningful from last year jumps out in your mind please share with us. I usually try not to make resolutions… but I think I’m gonna make one (oh geez), and that is to post more often. It makes my heart happy to share.

On to the “best kale salad ever”…

Ingredients:

1. 1 bunch of organic kale, washed, leaves removed from stems.

2. 1 medium sweet potato, sliced into wedges

3. 1 pear, sliced

4. 1/2 cup raw walnuts

5. 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds

6. 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and patted dry

7. Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

8. olive oil

For the dressing:

2 Tb olive oil

1 Tb apple cider vinegar

1 Tb balsamic vinegar

1 tsp agave syrup

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tsp lemon juice

Steps:

  • preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper
  • whisk together dressing ingredients in a bowl
  • chop kale leaves until finely shredded in very small pieces
  • pour dressing over kale in large bowl, use hands to coat well and massage into leaves
  • coat sweet potato wedges lightly in olive oil, spread evenly on baking sheet
  • coat chick peas lightly in olive oil and Sriracha hot sauce, add to pan with sweet potatoes, roast for about 20 minutes, until potatoes slightly browned
  • in medium sauce pan, toast walnuts and pumpkin seeds in 1 Tb olive oil for 5-10 minutes, careful not to burn
  • Toss roasted sweet potato, chick peas, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pear with kale and serve

Makes enough for 4-6 people

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cauliflower crust pizza

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If there’s one thing I love about cooking, it’s that the possibilities are endless. Case in point: a crust made out of cauliflower. I love pizza, love it, but there is something a little off-putting about greasy fingers and blotting your food with a paper towel. If this is you, this recipe is for you! Not that cauliflower can in any way claim to be like bread… it is a vegetable after all… but I was really blown away by how well this turned out. The crust holds together very well, you can pick it up with your hands (no falling apart), and the edges were even a little crispy. Most importantly, it’s easy to make, quite tasty, and very healthy. Win!

(note: you will need a cheesecloth, I got one at the grocery store for $3).

Ingredients:

  • 1 small-medium size head of raw cauliflower, washed and broken up into florets
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (you could use any kind of soft or shredded cheese, but I really think this was the secret ingredient)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Italian seasoning and salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese for topping (I used a mozzarella/parmesan blend)
  • your favorite toppings (I used mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet onion, and chives)

Steps:

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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2. Grate cauliflower florets into a bowl using a cheese grater (could also blend in a food processor but I don’t have one) to make little flakes.

3. Spread cauliflower flakes evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. (I filled a 9 x 13 inch pan, there was leftover cauliflower that I didn’t use, about enough for a second smaller crust).

4. Remove cauliflower from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then scoop batches into a cheesecloth and squeeze out water into a bowl. (This takes a little muscle, but the more water removed the better). Scrape cauliflower “pulp” into another bowl.

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5. Beat 1 egg into cauliflower “dough”, mix in goat cheese, garlic, and seasonings.

6. Place dough back on baking sheet (I used a new piece of parchment paper), and press into desired crust shape, about 1/2 inch thick. I made the edges a little thicker.

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7. Bake crust for about 20 minutes, until it starts to brown a little. Meanwhile, chop up your toppings.

8. Remove crust from oven, spread pizza sauce, sprinkle cheese, and toppings evenly across, and bake another 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees.

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I’m a huge fan of cauliflower so I love the taste and texture, but mixing in cheese and an egg really does give it an awesome “doughy” consistency, and the garlic and seasonings give amazing flavor. To make this vegan, substitute vegan cheese (still trying to find one I like – any recommendations?), and vegan eggs (can make by mixing 1 Tb ground chia or flax seeds in 3 Tb water – whisk together, becomes gooey like an egg). Hope you enjoy!


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tofu pizza stuffed portobellos

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This recipe was inspired by my brother, Alex. He suggested we make stuffed Portobello mushrooms… I had tofu, veggies, and marinara sauce on hand… and voila! These were some of the best stuffed mushrooms I’ve ever had, I think Alex agreed. And just to note, I have the coolest little brother ever. Well, he’s not little… I have to reach up to hug him, and I can basically fit both of my feet in one of his shoes. He’s seven years younger than me, which should mean he still seems like a baby, but he doesn’t. He’s a full grown dude, sings bass, and is kicking butt in his second year of veterinary school at UGA, where he also serves as president of the vet school fraternity. He’s about the most genuine, fun to be around, laid-back person you could ever hope to meet. I pretty much adore him, if you can’t tell. And for the first time in our adult lives, we actually live in the same town and make time to hang out on a regular basis.

So, you can imagine my sheer delight when he suggested a weekly sibling dinner party night… he even requested vegetarian meals. We’ve cooked dinner every Tuesday since I moved back. It’s been a blast testing my recipes on him. I mean, I know I love to eat plant-based, but seeing my brother, with his man appetite, feel full and satisfied on veggie dishes gives me a huge feeling of accomplishment. Each week it seems like the recipes get better and better, this week was no exception. These were so good (and easy) it actually blew my mind.

Ingredients:

6 medium sized Portobello mushrooms (remove and chop stems to use in sauté)

2 Tb balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

1 package extra-firm tofu, crumbled

1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced

4-5 green onions, chopped

1/4 red onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jar marinara sauce (My favorite is Newman’s Own Sockarooni)

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes to taste

Steps:

1. Drain tofu, slice into smaller pieces and press with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Repeat several times with dry paper towels, the more water removed the better tofu cooks. (I usually let it sit wrapped in paper towels with heavy book on top for an hour before cooking it).

2. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

3. Rinse mushrooms and pat dry, spread evenly on baking sheet cap side down, and drizzle balsamic vinegar on each.

4. Bake mushrooms for 5 minutes and remove from oven.

5. Meanwhile spray non-stick skillet with cooking spray and turn to medium-high heat.

6. Sauté onions, garlic, bell pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes about 5 minutes.

7. Crumble tofu and stir in, let cook until tofu slightly browned, about 5-10 minutes, add Italian seasoning and red pepper to taste.

8. Stir in jar of marinara sauce and let simmer on low a few more minutes.

9. Spoon tofu mixture into mushroom caps, sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and bake another 5-10 minutes or until cheese slightly browned.

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Recipes from previous veggie cooking nights:

week 1: homestyle quinoa veggie burgers on pita with hummus, and sautéed zucchini and sweet potato fries

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week 2: paella primavera, similar to this paella recipe but with different vegetables and without the tempeh

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week 3: creamy cauliflower alfredo

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week 4: spaghetti squash spaghetti

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