Thursday, May 22, 2014

Breakfast Cookie

I spent a good part of my late high school/early college years dieting.  Not only do I enjoy eating, but I tend to have an issue with emotional eating, although it's certainly gotten better these past few years.  On top of that, I've always struggled with my body image.  Put those two factors together in a teenage girl and she's bound to diet.  So I know what it's like to feel restricted.  Most sweets, like cookies and ice cream, were just off-limits at some point or another.  Unfortunately, depriving yourself makes you more prone to binge later, which is why the vicious cycle of 'dieting' just kept continuing.

Imagine how sweet life got when I started eating real foods, and I realized that you don't have to count calories or deprive yourself.  Now, as opposed to banning sweets, I make (most of) my desserts from scratch, and am able to eat desserts regularly without feeling an ounce of guilt.  As Michael Pollen wrote (to paraphrase), you can eat whatever treat you want as long as you make it from scratch [with real ingredients!].

Despite my new lifestyle and new mindset, it still feels sneaky to have a cookie for breakfast.  That's why they're so fun!  But these cookies contain no added sugar and are loaded with goodness.  Nut or seed butter (assuming it's all natural, with just nuts/seeds and salt - no added sugars or oils) are loaded with healthy fats which are important for your body to digest fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E, & K, plus are full of protein.  Bananas are full of potassium and fiber, regulate your blood sugar, aid in digestion, and can help fight depression.  On top of being packed with fiber, flax seeds are full of omega-3 fatty acids which most Americans don't get nearly enough of.  Depending on the add-ins you choose, you're just adding another layer of nutrition with dried fruit or nuts.

 Breakfast Cookie
 Recipe adapted from The Detoxinista
1/2 cup nut or seed butter (I used combination of natural PB, tahini, and almond butter, but I wouldn't use more than 2-3Tb tahini or it won't be sweet enough)
1 very ripe banana, mashed (~1/2 cup)
3 Tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/4 cup add-ins (I used raisins, but try craisins, walnuts, pecans, or even chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350F.  Mix all ingredients together.  Let mixture sit for 10 minutes so the flax seed can bind the batter. I've even mixed it up the night before, then threw it in the fridge so I could bake them fresh the next morning.
Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop cookies onto greased cookie sheet or parchment paper.  Bake for 10 minutes at 350F.  Let the cookies cool for several minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack.  Or do as Charlotte did, and eat them straight from the tray. 
Makes 1 dozen cookies.  Lasts for a few days in a sealed container on the counter or the fridge.  They also store nicely in the freezer.  If you don't eat them all first :)

Super moist and delicious.  I honestly had to portion half the batch away because I was looking for an excuse not to make breakfast tomorrow too.  But then I snuck 1 out of the bag while Charlotte wasn't looking.  Opps! Guess I'll have to have one of my sesame seed bars from the freezer to make up for the lost cookie.  It was worth it though.  Make a batch today. On second thought, just double the batch.  You can thank me later :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Black Bean Pineapple Salsa

We don't eat a lot of meat in our house.  I read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell a few years back, which talks about the connection between nutrition and heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  More specifically, he emphasizes the importance of a plant-based diet.  At that point, I started playing around with a vegan lifestyle and dramatically cut back on meat and dairy.

When I started thinking about baby #2, I read a lot about Weston A. Price and the benefit of traditional diets ( which contain a lot of animal protein and fat, among other things, because of the huge vitamin supplies they give to the developing fetus.  Since that time, I've started eating more grass-fed meat and lots of pastured eggs from my sweet little egg lady who lives down the street. 

When you read all kinds of different nutrition 'styles', it can be hard to discern what's the real truth, even when choosing between two seemingly very healthy lifestyles which both are based on research and their version of facts.  Do I follow a plant-based diet or do I aim for the huge amounts of vitamin A, D, & K that are in animal proteins?

So, I live a little bit in the middle.  My take on meat is this: I try to avoid factory-farmed meats and dairy products whenever possible.  If you ever read up on factory-farming, you would be truly disgusted to know what you're consuming by eating the boneless skinless chicken breast or the package of ground beef that you got on sale at Meijer.  They are full of steroids (to make the animals grow as fast as possible), antibiotics (because all the animals are penned up so closely together in such unbearable living situations that they are guaranteed to get sick.  So the solution is to preemptively give all of the animals antibiotics regularly, whether they are sick or not), and genetically modified corn and soy (cows, chickens, pigs, etc are not meant to eat corn and soy, yet that's the majority of their diets because it's cheap because of government subsidies to corn and soy farmers).  I'd prefer not to feed my unborn fetus antibiotics and steroids.  To be honest, I don't want that crap either.  So when at all possible, I buy grass-fed organic meat, preferably from local farmers. But when all else fails, I shop in the organic section at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or Kroger.

Problem is that organic grass-fed meat and dairy is expensive.  So I can pretend that my motives are entirely wholesome and ethical, but to be honest, a big reason why we don't eat a lot of meat is because it's just too darn expensive. 

So how do we get our protein? Beans! Beans are super cheap and full of protein, fiber, vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and more without all the fat from the animal products. Some easy way to add beans into your diet include:
  • Load up your chili with beans! This is an easy one. When I make chili, I use 3 or 4 different kinds of beans with no meat whatsoever. If you add enough flavor, it's tasty and hearty enough that no one will be the wiser.
  • How about a cheap weeknight spaghetti dinner? I always throw in a cup or two of white beans when I make pasta.  They add such a creaminess to the dish and pack a punch of protein for just pennies.
  • HUMMUS! Or any kind of bean dip (think outside of the box beyond taco dips - the possibilities are endless!). I love making bean-based dips to dunk veggies in for a super healthy and hearty lunch. Plus I always double my batch and freeze some for when I'm feeling lazy later.
  • Try a bean burger (and not one from the freezer section of the store which are filled with all sorts of chemicals and nasty ingredients).  There are a million recipes on the internet for bean burgers of any kind.  Again, as long as you flavor it enough and add enough fixings (avocado anyone?), it still gives you the joy of grilling for a fraction of the cost.
  • I make a pretty scrumptious 'meat' loaf made of lentils and veggies. It's super moist and really flavorful.  Another alternative that I tried just yesterday was meatballs made of lentils and mushrooms.  Baked in the oven to crisp perfection and slathered with tomato basil sauce... they were delicious!
  • Use beans to make tacos instead of beef. Heat them up in the pan, then cook them with seasoning just like you would the taco meat. My husband loves tacos (and he's a meat kind of guy), and he says he's just as happy with our bean tacos as anyone else's meat filled tacos.
  • In fact, any kind of Mexican meal can be made with beans instead of meat.  Quesadillas, taco dips, enchiladas, and nachos are all easy candidates for a bean-based meal.  On that note, check out my recipe for Black Bean Pineapple Salsa below :)
Money Saving Tip:
You thought beans were cheap. I can make them even cheaper.  Dried beans.  They're even cheaper than canned beans, which are more expensive, can contain BPA because anything in aluminum cans do, and unfortunately sometimes have added high fructose corn syrup or other chemicals in it.  I'd rather eat straight, whole beans without any of the extra junk.  And I'm ALWAYS up for saving money. 

But who has time for dried beans? You do.  This is where my secret comes in: Mr. Crockpot! It's sooo easy. Here's what I do:
Charlotte helping to sift through the beans. Hello sensory play!
  1. Dump your beans in the crockpot the night before and sift through for little pebbles (seriously, don't skip this step. It's creepy the amount of rocks I've found in my bags of beans).
  2. Fill the pot with water overnight, covering the beans by at least an inch of water.
  3. The next morning, drain the water and rinse the beans in a colander.
  4. Dump beans back in the crockpot and fill with enough water to cover beans by at least an inch.
  5. Turn on crockpot!
The first time you make the beans will be a learning experiment.  First you need to figure out how many pounds of beans will fit in your crockpot.  My 6 quart crockpot holds 3 pounds of beans, so that's what I always shoot for because I'd rather get the most out of my time.  Plus you will need to be available to check on your beans to see how long it really needs to cook. I've found that cooking 3# of beans on high for 4ish hours tends to do it for me.  But there have been times that I've cooked them too long and they got mushy.  It ended up being fine because I just used those beans for dips instead of a recipe that needed a whole pretty bean.  So it will take a little bit of practice to figure out the cook time just right, especially because different beans need more cooking time.  But once you've figured it out, it will save you a TON of money and lots of time!

After the beans are done cooking, I dump them into a colander and let them sit on the counter for an hour or so until they cool off. Then I put them into bags to freeze.  I store 1 cup of beans in a snack-sized ziplock bag and 2 cups of beans (which is a little more than a can of beans) in a sandwich-sized ziplock bag.   That's it!  Then when I need some beans, I either let it thaw in the fridge the night before I need them or take them out of the bag (don't microwave your plastic bag!!) and zap them in the microwave. Easy peezy.

3 pounds of dried white beans for $4 got me 10 cans worth of beans

So what should you do with your beans this week? How about some Black Bean Pineapple Salsa! I looove homemade salsa in the summer, made with good ol' tomatoes. But when our garden isn't overflowing with tomatoes, it can actually be cheaper to make your salsa with pineapple instead of fresh tomatoes.  It's sweet from the pineapple with a little heat from the pepper. And it's so versatile! On the first day that I made it, we just had chips and salsa for dinner.  I then turned the leftovers into enchiladas, which were equally delicious.  But you could use it for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or it would even go nicely dolloped on some fish or chicken.  I love its' versatility!

Black Bean Pineapple Salsa
1/2 - 3/4 fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 cups (or 1 can) of black beans, rinsed and drained
A large bunch of cilantro, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded (unless you like the heat, then leave the seeds) and chopped (I omitted this because Charlotte isn't a fan)
Combine all together, then taste.  Depending on the size of your pineapple or the juiciness of your lime, you may want more of any particular ingredient.  Just add whatever your taste buds call for!  If you made it last minute, you can certainly eat it right away.  But if you have the time, let it sit in your fridge for a couple hours so all of the yummy flavors can blend together for an even tastier bite.  If you have leftovers, you may need to add extra lime, as that flavor tends to dissipate after a few days.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Bars

My daughter has had some intestinal issues for awhile, and I've been doing sort of a reverse elimination diet to see what may be bothering her, considering she's still too young to tell me what's wrong.  We're currently gluten-free, dairy-free, tomato-free, and oatmeal-free.  Plus now I'm thinking of removing all grains, because although her symptoms are resolving, they still aren't what I imagine is 'normal'.  It's been quite a challenge coming up with a variety of healthy meals that appeal to both a toddler and a pregnant momma who doesn't tolerate cooked veggies very well.

Coconut flour.  That's my latest challenge.  When you eliminate grains, there aren't too many things left to bake with except coconut flour, almond flour (expensive), and garbanzo bean flour.  And I can't eliminate baking, because it's too convenient for me to have a bag of muffins or breakfast bars in the freezer to pull out when I'm feeling lazy or tired.  And since coconut flour was only $4 per pound in the bulk bins at Whole Foods (compared to almond flour's $7 per pound), that's what I bought.

The challenging part about coconut flour is that it is super absorptive.  Meaning I have to use half a carton of eggs for every recipe it calls for, because if you add more water or liquid, it won't bind together once cooked.  I tried making coconut pumpkin muffins (not very good) and coconut pancakes (too egg-y for me. Tasted too much like French toast, and if I wanted French toast, I would have made French toast).  I had an open container of pumpkin puree and figured I would try one more recipe before I froze what was left.  And am I glad I did, because these Coconut Flour Pumpkin Bars were deee-licious.

I found the recipe here: and adapted it to my needs, like always.  I swear, I can't stick to a recipe if I tried.  There is always something that I want to tweak to our family's preferences. 

Pumpkin Pie Bars
15 oz. pumpkin puree (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup coconut flour
 A ripe banana, mashed up + enough raw honey or maple syrup added to it to make 3/4 cup
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, preferably pastured
Grease an 8x8 pan with coconut oil or butter. Combine all of the ingredients, and mix until smooth.  Bonus points if you bring your kid in the kitchen to help.  Double bonus points if your kid is old enough to do it themselves, and you can watch from the kitchen table while drinking a cup of tea.  Dump into pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.  Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until the edges are golden and the middle is firm.  Cool completely, then cut into 16 pieces.  Store them in the fridge for up to a week.  They freeze nicely if you want to keep them longer.
I have never been a big fan of pumpkin pie, but these were delicious! Moist, flavorful, and full of nutrients.  Pumpkin is packed full of the antioxidant vitamins A, C, & E, plus the B-complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, and much more.  Plus, even without much added sugar, it's just sweet enough because of the ripe banana. 
This is what happens when you try to take pictures with a hungry toddler in the room.

"Just one Mommy? Please?"

I know people are most likely to think about pumpkin during the fall, but I try to eat a little pumpkin all year.  When cans of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix, which is loaded with sugar) go on sale in the fall, I stock up so that I can use them for the next several months.

After I open a can for a recipe and end up having leftovers, I usually freeze my puree into silicone molds that I bought at Meijer which hold 1oz or 2 Tb per square.  Then when I know I'm going to be baking the next morning, I pop exactly what I need in the fridge the night before, and it's thawed and ready for me in the morning.  I also put the frozen cubes of leftover pumpkin puree into smoothies, soups or sauces (it hides especially well in macaroni and cheese or tomato soup), or my homemade food processor ice cream (more on that later).
Frozen pumpkin and frozen applesauce cubes
I use this freezing tip with all sorts of purees, like applesauce.  Sometimes I make my own purees by steaming broccoli or cauliflower and pureeing it with my immersion blender (and sometimes a touch of water if it's too thick), just so I can have some on hand in the freezer.  Then I can throw some extra nutrients into any ordinary meal or snack!


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sesame Seed Bars and My Stance on Sugar

I have a pretty definitive view on sugar.  While I grew up on sweet treats and really struggle visiting my parents without at least 1 bowl of ice cream, I try to avoid it at our house.  Sugar causes inflammation in the body, which causes everything from a cold to heart disease and cancer. (Here is good article on the topic for more information:

Loving broccoli at 7 months

On top of that, I am a firm believer that what Charlotte eats now will affect her palate for years to come.  Therefore, we rarely give her sugar, and when I do make her muffins or cookies, I add as little sugar as possible in them while still making them tasty. 

We completely avoid processed sugar in my house, opting instead for natural sweeteners like bananas, dates, and raisins if possible.  When I bake, as I love to do, sometimes you need some real sugar, and then I choose between maple syrup, raw honey, and coconut sugar.  These less processed sugars are a little tamer on the body and retain their vitamins and minerals because of the way they are processed without high heat.  But, in the end, sugar is sugar, and I usually keep it to a minimum in my cooking and baking.

Unfortunately, our entire house is sick with some sort of upper respiratory bug. While that means backing off on sugar even more, it also means favoring one kind in particular: raw honey.  I've never been one for over-the-counter medicine, unless I truly need it, and that's especially true for pregnant-Amy and little Charlotte.  So as soon as the tissues started filling the trash can, I bumped up our intake of all of Mother Nature's best remedies: raw honey, raw apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger, and lots of garlic and onion. 

I'm not talking the cheap honey you buy at the store.  75% of regular honey has had the pollen removed, which is the most beneficial part of honey itself (eye-opening read:  Raw honey hasn't been pastured, filtered, or heated to high temperatures so it has all of its vitamins, minerals, and pollen in tact.  It is an incredible antibiotic and has more benefits than I could even type here without your eyes glazing over.  For a really interesting read on the healing powers of honey, check out this article from Food Matters:

As this bug of ours continues to drag on after more than a week, I've been searching for some sort of recipe with a high honey content that's raw, meaning I don't have to bake it and destroy all of its' healthy goodness.  I came across this raw sesame seed bar recipe from The Rawtarian, and it was exactly what I was looking for.  Plus it was a one bowl recipe, which is always nice because pregnant-Amy's energy levels come and go, so avoiding washing the food processor or baking dishes is a huge plus.

Check out the recipe here:  I substituted raw honey for the maple syrup, adding some craisins in with the raisins, and added chia seeds and sunflower seeds for a quarter of the sesame seeds because I just ran out of sesame seeds. Normally I would have tried decreasing the honey to 1/4 cup, but the whole point was to bump up my raw honey, so I gave into the sweetness. 

They firmed up nicely in the freezer and should be stored there. The sesame seeds give them a really nice crunch, and they are definitely sweet.  Did I mention they are super healthy?  Sesame seeds/tahini, coconut oil/shredded unsweetened coconut, and raw honey are all fantastic for you, plus raisins and vanilla have their own health benefits.  I love eating foods where every single ingredient is healthful!  I had at least 3 for lunch, and this was after licking the bowl clean.  They will make a tasty snack and even a breakfast when I'm feeling lazy.  And most importantly, they were Charlotte approved :)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Let's Begin with Chocolate: Homemade Chococolate Chunks

I don’t get much me time anymore.  When I do, I always find myself in the kitchen, even though I’ve probably already spent a third of the day there and it inevitably means there will be another sink full of dishes (sorry honey).  I love cooking, baking, and eating (not necessarily in that order).   Sometimes I am really proud of something I make.  Sometimes I am really excited by a recipe that I found in the blog world that I feel such an urge to share it.  Sometimes I take a pretty cool food picture that I just want to do something with.  Mostly, I just want to do something for myself.  I’m not too concerned whether anyone reads this or not.  I just want an outlet that allows me to connect what I love with the ability to tune out the rest of the world, if only until the next cry of ‘Mommmmmy’.

 So let's begin with chocolate :) I have been itching to make homemade chocolate chips for months now.  I can control the amount of caffeine I use (as I'm not too fond of giving Charlotte or baby caffeine).  Bonus.  Plus it allows me to control the amount of sugar I use.  Double Bonus.  I used 2 tablespoons of sugar to yield 1 cup of chunks. With rough calculations, a smaller than 1 cup portion of Enjoy Life chips uses 7 tablespoons.  Granted, mine are certainly more of a 'dark chocolate', but I didn't hear Jerry or Charlotte complain.
There are a ton of recipes out there for homemade chocolate chips.  I took them all and played around with them to fit my needs.  The end result looked like this:
And this is how I got there:
Homemade Chocolate Chunks
Yields 1 cup
1/2 cup cocoa butter (Feel free to sub coconut oil - I prefer unrefined)
1/4 cup cocoa powder of some sort (I used 75% carob powder, which has a chocolate-like taste, but is caffeine free, and 25% raw cacao powder. You could also use regular cocoa powder)
2 Tbsp liquid sweetener (I used 1/2 raw honey, 1/2 maple syrup)
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Mix the ingredients over very low heat.  The reason this took me 3 attempts is because I kept heating my oil too much, which caused the oil to never mix with the solid ingredients.  One my 3rd attempt, I set up a double boiler, got the water underneath boiling, then turned the heat off before even adding my cocoa butter. Everything melted just fine, and it finally all came together!  Keep stirring until everything melts and combines.

What you do next depends on what your goal was with the chocolate.  To make chocolate chunks, just spread everything into an 8x8 baking dish and freeze for an hour until it hardens.  Parchment paper would help with easy removal, but parchment paper and I don't have a good relationship, so I just used the back of a spatula to get all the chocolate out of the pan.  Then cut into whatever size chunks you'd like.  It does need to be stored in the freezer, because it will eventually melt at room temperature (especially if you made it with coconut oil). 

Other Alternatives: 

You could spoon the chocolate into molds to make little chocolate pieces.  You could mix dried fruit or nuts (or even peanut butter for that matter) into the chocolate before spreading onto the sheet.  You could dip frozen bananas into it or drizzle over granola bars or cookies.  You could use immediately for a homemade chocolate sauce.  You could pipe into a bag with a teeny tiny opening and actually make pretty chocolate chips.... the possibilities are endless!  Personally, I'm saving them for when I finally get to the store to buy an ice cream maker so I can make some homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream :)