Month: December 2014

5-Minute Basil Walnut Pesto Sauce & Cucumber Bites {Paleo, Vegan, Dairy-Free}

If you are looking for ideas for a healthy New Year’s Eve appetizer recipe, look no further! After I shared this dish at a friend’s Christmas party and everyone devoured it, one of my friends there asked me for the recipe so she could make it for her family’s Christmas dinner. This is tried, tested, and approved 🙂 And you can whip it up in 5 minutes!

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The first time I shared this recipe was two weeks ago during my very first cooking class. I had so much fun teaching it and can’t wait to do more classes in 2015!

During the class, we focused on making recipes that “cool,” calm and nourish the body. One of those recipes was for an Italian favorite – pesto sauce.

pesto demo

Teaching everyone about the health benefits of basil!

pesto food processor

All of the ingredients in the food processor before they are blended together.

Traditional pesto sauce is made with either parmesan or romano cheese, and since I’m dairy-free, I wanted to come up with a recipe that I could eat.

Something I’ve learned over the past couple of years that was news to me is that conventional dairy products are pro-inflammatory.

They promote inflammation in our bodies – and show up in annoying symptoms like excess mucous production and congestion, and other digestive, sinus and respiratory issues. Many people find that ditching dairy helps them get rid of or reduce all of those symptoms.

I never would’ve thought it was possible that I could go through a winter without bronchitis or congestion, but I have now for 2 years in a row, so I can attest to the fact that going dairy-free works 🙂

After experimenting with about 5 different versions of this recipe for pesto sauce, I finally came up with one that I liked. The ingredients in it are amazing for our health because they are immune & beauty-boosting and inflammation-reducing.

plate of pesto

Inflammation is one of the main reasons most of us are carrying around extra weight and getting sick.

Fat tissue is often inflamed tissue, and as long as our bodies are inflamed, we will have trouble keeping off weight long-term.

Not only that, but inflammation is at the root of most major diseases from digestive issues like heartburn, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome to diabetes, heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, and arthritis. For many of us, it’s “silent” so we may not even know it’s happening. We want to eat foods that help us “cool” our body from the inside out, so we can be well.

Check out the amazing anti-inflammatory benefits of this pesto:

  • Garlic. Known as an “allium” vegetable (same family as onions, leeks, shallots, etc.), garlic is a potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial food. Two of garlic’s sulfur compounds inhibit the activity of inflammatory messenger molecules in our body, thereby reducing inflammation.
  • Walnuts. These brain-shaped nuts are an excellent source of an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fats also help keep our blood sugar levels regulated, which helps us avoid inflammatory spikes. Extra virgin olive oil, which is also used in this recipe, is another source of healthy omega-3 fats.
  • Basil. This green herb contains an oil that blocks harmful enzyme activity that promote inflammation in our body. It’s also rich in flavonoids (plant pigments found in high levels in deeply colored fruits and vegetables) and antioxidants, which help “cool” and calm our body.
  • Lemon. Citrus fruit high in flavonoids and antioxidants that combat harmful free radicals that damage our body and its cells and promote disease.

I served the pesto on cucumber slices and topped them with some shredded red cabbage. They are PERFECT for a holiday appetizer or just as a snack. Your guests will rave about them if you bring them to a party! 🙂

pesto bites

Ingredients

2 small cloves garlic, peeled (or 1 medium)
2 cups packed fresh basil (I bought one pack of organic basil from Trader Joe’s and it was the perfect amount!)
1/2 cup raw walnuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice (juice from about 1 1/2 lemons)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Few dashes black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cucumbers
Optional: shredded purple cabbage

Directions

  1. Process garlic cloves in the food processor until the garlic is minced.
  2. Add the basil, walnuts, lemon juice, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and nutritional yeast. Process until a uniform paste has formed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Turn on the food processor and drizzle in the olive oil in the top hole.
  4. Process until the pesto reaches your desired consistency, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if necessary.
  5. Cut ends off of cucumber and slice into 1/2 inch circles. Top each cucumber slice with 1 tablespoon of pesto. When I taught my cooking class last week, some of the attendees came up with the awesome idea of putting the crunchy purple cabbage (another super anti-inflammatory food) on top!

Chewy Cranberry Almond Butter Granola Bars {Gluten-Free, Vegan}

As I’ve grown “bolder” with creating my own recipes, I’ve gone back to some favorites and challenged myself to come up with ways to “reinvent” them (i.e., change up at least 4 ingredients to create a brand spankin’ new recipe!).

One recipe I’ve made before that I really liked was for peanut butter granola bars.

I’ve been on a cranberry kick lately, so I decided to use up my cranberries and make these bars for a friend’s cookie exchange party. I’m really happy with how they turned out!

cran bars

I made them for a second Christmas party and saved a few to have for a snack or as part of breakfast.

These bars are a better option than traditional store bought granola bars because they are full of healthy fats and protein from the almond butter and pumpkin seeds and fill-you-up fiber from the oats.

They’re chewy in the middle and a bit crunchier on the edges. Let me know if you try them 🙂

bars

Ingredients

  • ½ cup smooth almond butter
  • ÂĽ cup 100% pure maple syrup
  • ÂĽ cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups whole rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant – I buy a big bag of gluten-free oats at Trader Joe’s)
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with a 10-inch square of parchment paper.

2. In a small saucepan, mix together the almond butter, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup. Gently heat the mixture over low heat, just until it’s warm enough for the ingredients to incorporate and become smooth.

3. Remove saucepan from heat. Let the mixture cool a bit so that it’s still warm but not hot. Mix in the vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt then add the oats, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds, and mix very well.

4. Wet your hands and firmly press the oat mixture into the pan, pressing on the top and packing the bars as tightly as you can. Bake for 18-23 minutes, or until the sides of the bars are lightly browned. These will harden once they cool, so if they look a little soft when you first take them out, that’s okay!

5. Remove the pan from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes.

6. Lift bars out of pan by pulling up the edges of the parchment paper. Use a knife to slice the bars into squares or smaller rectangles.

7. Store bars in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

Mint Chocolate Brownie Bites {Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan, No-Bake}

From mint chocolate chip ice cream cake for my birthdays every year to Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, I’ve always loved the combo of chocolate and mint.

hemp truffles

Choco Mint Brownie Bites Rolled in Protein-Rich Hemp Seeds

The rich and slightly bitter taste of dark chocolate pairs perfectly with the cool and refreshing hint of mint. 

I found this recipe for chocolate mint truffles (AKA brownie bites) about a year ago on one of my favorite websites (MindBodyGreen), and I decided to make it again this year and pass it along to all of you!

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Two of the main ingredients in these brownie bites – raw cacao powder and hemp seeds – are super powered super foods.

Hemp seeds are full of heart and brain healthy fats and are an excellent source of protein. That combo makes them great for stabilizing our blood sugar, and when blood sugar is stable, so is our appetite and, ultimately, our weight. I add hemp seeds to smoothies and salad dressings, too. They’re great! (Please note, even those hemp seeds share a similar name to a familiar plant, these hemp seeds will NOT have any impact on drug testing.)

Raw cacao (pronounced ka-KOW) powder comes from the same place cocoa powder does (the cacao plant), BUT it’s not heated like cocoa powder, SO all of its anti-aging, antioxidant, anti-disease nutrients stay intact. Raw cacao powder is the MOST concentrated source of antioxidants AND it enhances the flow of happiness chemicals in our brain like serotonin and dopamine.

You know everything you’ve heard about chocolate being good for you? It’s this stuff they’re talking about. Cacao is health-promoting, mood-boosting chocolate 🙂

These healthy brownie bites come together in about 10 minutes, too, and you don’t even have to cook them. Easy peasy!

browniebites

Ingredients

Optional Coating

  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  • 2 tablespoons goji berries + 2 tablespoons hemp seeds (Grind up goji berries in a spice grinder and roll the truffles in a combo of goji berries and hemp seeds!)
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao powder
  • Candy canes made without high fructose corn syrup in your health food store (However, the recipe is NOT paleo if you use these. Try one of the other coating options first!)

**Click here for the full recipe from MindBodyGreen.

Looking for other healthier holiday treat recipes? Check out this post about 20 Holiday Treats to Knock Your Christmas Stockings Off!

cacao truffles

Cacao-dusted Choco Mint brownie bites!

 

The Secret Ornament: A 36-Year Christmas Tradition Lives On

I’ve always considered myself a sentimental and nostalgic person. 

Christmas is an especially memorable time for me. My parents have made a big deal out of it since I was a kid.

Christmas mornings as a kid were so special. I was ready to go in my first kitchen at a young age!

Christmas mornings as a kid were so special. I was ready to go in my first kitchen at a young age!

When I was little, my dad convinced my brother and me that my grandfather was a “personal friend” of Santa Claus.

We had no reason to doubt him.

We also had LOTS of Christmas traditions.

Each year, we would drive out to the “country” to cut down our Christmas tree.

Then, we’d come home and decorate it with dozens of ornaments – none of which matched – and strings of colorful lights.

tree

I spent the days leading up to Christmas baking cookies with my mom and packaging them in baggies to give to friends and neighbors.

My special job was to type up the little sheets of paper that would go into each bag to identify all of the treats.

cookies

My mom baking her sugar cookies…and my dad’s “ornament” – a replica of her famous Christmas cookie plate.

On Christmas Eve, we would go to church together and then have dinner at Burger King afterwards, mainly because that was one of the only places open on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve has another special memory for me. It’s something I look forward to every year.

Since 1979, my dad has made an ornament for my mom each year for Christmas and given it to her on Christmas Eve.

The ornament was always “top secret.”

My dad would spend hours in his workshop in our basement. From the time he started, the basement was off-limits.

“Dad, what are you making this year?” we would ask.

“You’ll see,” he would say.

We were never given so much as a hint. It was always a mystery.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, the time to unveil the ornament would come.

We waited with anticipation in the kitchen as my dad emerged from the basement, his creation in hand to share with my mom.

He gave my mom her first ornament in 1979. It was a manger.

Ornaments of the 80s (and the first one from 1979!)

Ornaments of the 80s (and the first one from 1979!)

But he didn’t have any straw.

So, on Christmas Eve, he went for a drive, and on the side of the road was a bale of hay. Mission accomplished.

When he was making what I think is the most incredible ornament – a replica of my parents’ house in 1981 – he didn’t have any gray clay to make the front steps.

Off he went to a hobby store.

All of the clay was gone…except for one opened package of gray clay.

house

My dad calls these finds “Christmas miracles.”

He usually uses scraps, so the ornaments only cost him a couple of dollars to make.

90s all

Ornaments of the 90s

Each ornament has some significance related to that year.

1984 – A mama and baby reindeer to commemorate my first Christmas.

1991 – A wreath with two hearts to mark the year my parents renewed their vows after a temporary separation.

1994 – A replica of our (then green) mantlepiece to include my one-year-old sister Jane’s stocking (all of our stockings were handmade by my grandmother!).

mantle

The past decade has been full of memories, too.

Each year, I’m reminded of them as I look at the ornaments.

2000s

2003 – My parents realized their dream of buying a home in The Adirondacks in Upstate New York. The ornament is a mini version of a larger sign that hangs at the house in NY.

2007 – A dolphin symbolizes the year our family went on a trip to the Bahamas and swam with the dolphins.

2013 – Our Godson, nephew, and my parents’ first grandson, Braxton, was born. The ornaments come full circle since my dad’s first cradle creation in 1979.

Tomorrow, we’ll witness the unveiling of this year’s “secret ornament.” I’m eager to see what my dad has created. As usual, I have no clue what to expect.

He always stumps us.

This year I decided to give my dad a special ornament. He has always called me “Peanut” since I was a baby, and I found a symbol that captures that nickname.

peanut

Bill and I have started our own Christmas traditions, one of which is giving each other an ornament each year that symbolizes something memorable about that year.

Now, I look forward to seeing my husband’s creativity come through as he thoughtfully picks out an ornament for me. I love that we’ve preserved the concept of one of the most special Christmas traditions in my life and made it our own.

Last year and this year, I’ve even taken a stab at making my own ornament for Bill, inspired by my dad and the incredible tradition he started 36 years ago.

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Traditions like this have a special way of nourishing us.

Each time we celebrate them, we’re reminded of something enduring, something that connects us to each other, something that makes our hearts happy and our souls smile.

What are your favorite Christmas or other holiday traditions?

My 5 Favorite Healthy Cookbooks…All Gluten-Free {And My Wish List!}

“The pictures looked so good online. I don’t know why it didn’t turn out that way when I made it!”

Entire articles are dedicated to capturing people’s Pinterest fails when it comes to attempting new recipe creations.

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It can be discouraging to put all of the effort into trying something new only to have it end up in the trash. It’s one of the reasons people don’t try new recipes.

“What if it doesn’t turn out right?”

“What if I ruin it?”

“I hate wasting food…and money on food.”

Yes, yes, yes! I’m with you on all three of those. I want my dishes to be tasty and delicious and to feel like buying the ingredients was money well spent.

One of the ways I’ve learned to give myself a better chance of making successful recipes over the years is using cookbooks. What I’ve found is if I like a few of someone’s recipes, I tend to be more confident that other dishes they’ve created will be good, too. And usually, I end up with a yummy meal.

Whether you’ve been cooking for years, are just getting started or are learning a new way to cook based on some health challenges or the way you want to feel, using a cookbook can be a great way to bring some excitement and variety to your kitchen.

Check out a few of my favorite go-to cookbooks when I’m feeling burnt out from Pinterest, am looking for inspiration, or just want to go old school and use an actual book instead of a website. I’ve also given you a list of the top cookbooks on my wish list. Any of these would make great Christmas gifts for yourself or the food lovers in your life!

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Nourishing Meals: Healthy Gluten-Free Recipes for the Whole Family by Alissa Segersten & Tom Malterre 

You know a book has good recipes when you have about 100 Post-it flags sticking out of it of all of the recipes you have made or plan to make. My nutritionist raves about Tom Malterre, the co-author of this cookbook, citing him as one of the best nutrition experts out there. He and his wife, Alissa, have 5 kids and are incredibly knowledgeable about how to eat for health AND make kid-friendly meals and snacks.

Favorite Recipes: Asian Chicken Salad, Apple Cider Baked Beans, Cajun Red Beans and Quinoa, Chipotle Yam Fries, Chana Masala, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and Peanut Butter Monster Cookies. I could go on forever! This is hands-down one of our favorites.

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten & Tom Malterre

In their newest cookbook, Alissa and Tom feature 300 Delicious, Whole Foods Recipes, including Gluten-free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, and Egg-Free Dishes. They don’t just share recipes for everything from smoothies and muffins to dressings, dips and desserts. They also teach some vital information about food sensitivities (we’re not just talkin’ peanuts), digestive health, how to stock your kitchen, and cooking techniques. Not only that, but the photos are stunning!

Favorite Recipes: Banana Almond Pancakes, Apple-Cranberry Oatmeal Muffins, Gingered Carrot Soup, Spiced Citrus Salmon, Superfood Fudge, and Chocolate-Raspberry Hazelnut Tart. Hungry yet?

3 Books

Clean Food by Terry Walters

Written by a graduate of my health coach training program, Clean Food, was a gift from my mother-in-law when I finished grad school. Chef Mario Batali said:

“Clean Food is the most exciting book based on fresh produce and simple produce I have used in years.”

He’s seen a lot of cookbooks, too! I love how Terry organizes the cookbook by season and promotes the use of whole, fresh ingredients. Also, for anyone who has food sensitivities or allergies to things like dairy and gluten, this cookbook will give you tons of new inspirations and alternatives, and you will not feel deprived or slighted in the least!

Favorite Recipes: Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette, Three-Bean Chili, Roasted Kabocha Squash, Ginger and Pear Crisp, and Banana Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Undiet by Meghan Telpner

I’ve spent the past three months boosting my culinary nutrition skills and knowledge and being entertained by Meghan as she has taught me and dozens of other students the keys to culinary nutrition. Her book, Undiet, includes practical tips and guidelines for how to get yourself off the “diet” train so you can enjoy life, eat amazingly delicious and nourishing food, and thrive! Any recipe Meghan puts out there, whether it’s in the CNE program, through her blog, or in this book is a winner. She’s releasing her first full cookbook in October 2015, so stay tuned for when that happens. I will definitely be talking about it!

Favorite Recipes: Yogi Tea, Lemon Lentil Vegetable Soup, Sundried Tomato & Bean Hummus, Life-Affirming Chili, Veggie Rice Wraps with Almond Dipping Sauce, and Almond Power Cookies

The Beauty Detox Foods by Kimberly Snyder

I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to buy this book, but I’m glad I did! I use this book not only for the recipes but also for the guide that it includes to highlight which foods are best for which beauty and body goals. I often give this book to brides-to-be as part of a shower gift to help them beautify their bodies before the big day! Because it’s more of a detox-focused book, it’s not something I use every day, but I have found some staple recipes and have learned a lot about different foods and their beauty benefits, which has made this book worth it for me!

Favorite Recipes: Creamy Dijon–Tahini Dressing, Raw Purple Cabbage Slaw, and Raw Gorilla Taco Wraps

And now for a few cookbooks on MY Wish List 🙂

ohsheglows

The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out by Angela Liddon

Don’t let the word “vegan” in this title scare you off. You’ll miss out if you do. One of the reasons I like vegan recipes is because they automatically nix dairy products (a trigger food for my history of health issues – and many other people’s as well!) and because they make plants the focal point of the dish. Most of us don’t eat enough plants, even though they are the most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods out there.

practical-paleo

Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health & A Whole-Foods Lifestyle by Danielle Sanfilippo

I’ve heard from multiple people that this book is a must-have for anyone living a dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free lifestyle. The cookbook includes 30-day meal plans, over 120 easy recipes, and even some handy tear-out guides.Danielle also writes for a paleo blog called Balanced Bites, which is definitely worth checking out!

blendergirl

The Blender Girl by Tess Masters

I’ve heard great things about this book (and the beautiful pictures in it) from one of my favorite people (and head of the CNE program I just finished), Meghan Telpner. She raved about this book, so I plan to get it! I’ve also checked out some recipes on Tess’s blog and love the variety, especially for smoothies. She even has a smoothie app now, too. The app lets you punch in what you feel (happy, sluggish, wired), need (a detox, to lose weight, to chill out), and crave (light and fruity, clean and green, an exotic ride) to find the right smoothie for that day.

make-ahead-paleo

Make-Ahead Paleo: Healthy Gluten-, Grain- & Dairy-Free Recipes Ready When & Where You Are by Tammy Credicott

I was not familiar with this book, but a classmate from the Culinary Nutrition program I just finished suggested it as one of her “go to” cookbooks, so I thought I would add it to my list! Bill and I meal plan most weeks (as often as we can!) to make it easier and more affordable to eat the way we do – fresh, whole, unprocessed. Just this past week, we thawed out a vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie we had made in October and enjoyed it again for a few lunches this week. It saves so much time to have meals made ahead of time.

bittman

How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman

As the title says, use this book as a guide to learn every basic (and not so basic) cooking technique you could ever imagine. Bittman explains in simple, how to steps with lots of pictures and has even given a really great TED Talk about food. I gave this book to one of my best friends, who doesn’t feel confident in her cooking skills, as part of her wedding gift this year. 

What are some of YOUR favorite cookbooks? Feel free to comment below!

Goodbye Plastic Baggies, Hello LunchSkins! {Perfect for Lunches & Snacks On the Go}

Whether you’ve been reading my blog for some time or are just stopping by, I want to take a second to let you know something about me as you read this post. One of the things I’m passionate about doing is helping people make upgrades to their lives to include more nourishing foods. The products I’m promoting in this post are being done purely because I think they’re super cool and make it easier to pack and eat healthy food, not because I am being paid by someone to promote them. I’m all about transparency!

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Lunchskins are the perfect way to transport snacks, like my homemade donut holes :)

LunchSkins are the perfect way to transport snacks, like my homemade donut holes

I first learned about these when I was at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore this fall. As a blogger, I had the opportunity to take part in an amazing event that showcased thousands of products, foods, supplements and other items in the natural foods industry and community.

It was like adult trick-or-treating…only healthier! I had SO MUCH FUN.

As my dad would say, I was as happy as a pig in slop 🙂

I learned about lots of new products while I was there – some that I never knew existed and others I had tried before but didn’t know much about.

The coolest part was meeting the people behind the brands – Brad from Brad’s Raw Kale Chips, Mamma Chia herself, the Nibmor girls (a fellow health coach!), and Brendan Brazier, a triathlete who wrote the book Thrive and is the face of Vega protein supplements.

expo east

One of the companies I learned about at the expo was 3GreenMoms. They’ve created a product called LunchSkins that basically gets rid of the need to use plastic baggies. They were inspired to create their products when they learned this staggering statistic:

Every day, more than 20 million sandwich bags from school lunches go into landfills in the U.S.

Their mission was to create a solution to that problem and to do so in a way that was “fresh” and “colorful.” Their bags are lined with European pastry bag material, which makes them eco-friendly, food-safe and dishwasher safe. They come in lots of cool colors and designs and even have a place to write your name, too 🙂

Sneaking a pic of the 3 green moms at the expo!

Sneaking a pic of the 3 green moms and their display at the expo!

lunchkins

I’m an advocate of living in a way that is as health-supportive as possible, and until recently, the impact my choices were having on the health of the environment wasn’t something I thought or cared about…at all.

I’ve used and tossed thousands of plastic baggies without thinking twice about it.

Over the past six months, Bill and I have switched from plastic containers to all glass or ceramic (Pyrex, mason jars, Corningware) and are in the process of making upgrades to other household products to make them safer (To learn more about why we did this, click here). 

Our latest upgrade has been using LunchSkins instead of plastic baggies. Bill uses them to take his lunch and snacks to school, and I use them in my lunchbag at work or when I’m on the road traveling to meetings. Not only are we saving money by not buying plastic baggies, but we don’t have to deal with that nasty plastic bag taste that has a way of seeping into whatever food is stored in the baggie.

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When I first learned about LunchSkins in September, I was trying to figure out the best time to share this information with you and thought the holiday season would be a great time to do it.

3GreenMoms make sandwich, snack, and sub bags as well as lunch bags and bibs. I just saw on their website that they have “wet and sweat” bags, which can be used at the gym or pool or for a baby and are meant to replace larger plastic bags.

Any of these would make a great stocking stuffer or holiday gift, especially for someone who has kids, brings lunch to work or likes to pack snacks! I plan to get some for some of the mamas in my life 🙂

Here’s the link to their website to check out their products. You can also buy LunchSkins on Amazon, and I even found some at a local store called Stebbins-Anderson and at Whole Foods.

Lunchskins are the perfect way to transport snacks, like my homemade donut holes :)

LunchSkins are the perfect way to transport snacks, like my homemade donut holes

 Oh, and by the way, here’s the recipe for these delicious donut holes. I just posted version 2 (Orange Cranberry Breakfast Bites) the other day, and they are also delicious! Both recipes are paleo, gluten-free and vegan and are amaaaazing 🙂

No-Bake Orange Cranberry Breakfast Bites {Paleo, Vegan, Gluten-Free}

I was inspired to make these when I was making a batch of healthy donut holes for a presentation last week.

Mmm delicious!

Mmm delicious!

I had some dried cranberries left over from another recipe for a grain-free apple tart that I made recently, and I had one or two oranges in my fridge.

Oranges and cranberries go well together, especially with a hint of ginger, so I did a little experimenting and ended up with these little hunks of yumminess!

orange slices

bitten bite

These are a quick and easy option for a grab-and-go breakfast, pre or post workout snack, afternoon snack, or even dessert, just like last week’s Paleo Pecan Pie Poppers!

These could also be called “Energy Bites” because of the combination of healthy fats and protein from the nuts and almond butter, fiber from the dates, and blood-sugar stabilizing cinnamon. The orange zest is also energizing and adds a little something special.

They are SO GOOD! There’s just enough orange flavor from the zest, and it pairs nicely with the tartness from the cranberries and mild bite from the ginger.

These little treats are addictive. You’ve been warned 🙂

OJ bites

bites cluster

Yield: 16-18 Bites

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts
  • 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (Try to use cranberries sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (Use a microplane or other fine grater to grate the skin of the orange…AKA the “zest”) OR 3 drops therapeutic grade Wild Orange essential oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup raw almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: shredded, unsweetened coconut

Directions

  1. In the food processor fitted with the “s” blade, grind the almonds and walnuts until finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, cranberries, spices, orange zest and salt and grind until blended.
  3. Add the almond butter and vanilla extract and process again until completely mixed.
  4. Form into balls about 1 inch in diameter, and, if you like coconut, roll in shredded coconut.

Rachel’s Healthy Holiday Gift Guide Part 2: Kitchen Gifts Under $20!

Bill and I finished up most of our Christmas shopping this weekend, which was a big relief! We have a few more things to do, including sending out our Christmas cards, but the end is in sight.

In case you missed my post a couple of weeks ago, I shared my budget-friendly favorites and seasonal splurges, which you could add to your wish list this year…or get for a friend or family members who likes to cook and spend time in the kitchen.

Today’s post is about some smaller gifts, many of which could make great stocking stuffers. Check out the info below about some of my favorite kitchen gifts under $20!

stocking stuffers

I wrote a post earlier this year about my favorite kitchen tools, and a few reappear on today’s post. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of those blog posts for the complete list. 

OXO Ice Cream/Muffin Scooper. So, we don’t just use this to scoop homemade ice cream. It’s also a GREAT way to ensure that you measure out evenly sized muffins or cupcakes.

Citrus Squeezer. I love lemons. They fight inflammation, detoxify or “clean out” the body, are anti-aging, anti-bacterial, and help fight infections and disease. For all of those reasons (and because they taste great!), we juice a lot of lemons throughout the week. This lemon squeezer makes it easier. I got this stainless steel one for my dad, and it’s even better than the one I have, but I recommend either one!

Stainless Steel Garlic Crusher. This is something everyone should have in their kitchen and is one of my favorite gadgets. Why? Well, it makes mincing garlic fun and simple AND it’s stainless steel. Just rub your fingers on the ends after you’re done mincing to get rid of the garlic smell! Trust me, it works 🙂

Switch It Spatula. So, this is one of my *new* favorites! One of the annoying things about the Vitamix is that the jar is REALLY tall, making it almost impossible to fit a normal sized spatula in it to reach the stuff at the bottom. This is important, especially when we’re making raw caramel apple dip or queso dip and don’t want to waste a bit of the deliciousness! The Switch It spatula is long enough to reach the bottom and also is super handy when you’re trying to get the remnants of almond butter or tahini out of a jar.

Avocado Cuber. Whenever I bring this to a cooking demo or workshop, people are always fascinated by it! You can easily score an avocado with a knife and then scoop or pop out the cubes, but this kitchen toy makes it more fun. My hubby got it for me as a stocking stuffer a few years ago, and I love it! Williams-Sonoma sells it.

Mason Jars. Over the past 4 months, as we’ve gotten rid of the plastic containers in our house to support our health, we’ve switched to mason jars. #1 – They’re cheaper than plastic containers; #2 – You can freeze stuff in them and still get them open (not something I could easily do with plastic lids); #3 – They rinse out much more easily than plastic and won’t stain. We have a variety of sizes. We bought some at Target, others at Michaels with a coupon, and larger ones at Home Goods.

Microplane Zester/Grater. We use this tool to grate ginger and turmeric root and to zest lemons, limes and oranges. We are thinking about getting these gloves because if you’re not careful with this thing you can definitely nick yourself!

Cookie Dough Baller. Whenever I make cookies or brownie bites, this little gadget ensures that I’ll have even sizes. It’s fun and simple to use.

What are your favorite healthy cooking gadgets and stocking stuffer ideas? Feel free to share below!

Paleo Pecan Pie Poppers {Vegan, Gluten-Free}

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “P.” 🙂

This recipe is great as a fueling pre or post workout snack or as a quick energy boost when you hit a morning or afternoon slump.

The SECRET to all-day energy is eating foods that contain a combo of healthy fats + protein + fiber, and these pecan pie poppers have all three!

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They also make a yummy dessert.

Caramel-ly, chewy dates + smooth and subtly salty almond butter + crunchy pecan = deeeelicious!

These poppers are super simple to make and require no cooking or fancy equipment. Just a knife, a bowl, and a spoon.

I made these at my inflammation-busting, energy-boosting cooking class last week, and everyone raved about them! One of my friends liked them so much that we packed extras for her to take to work as snacks.

Keep these on hand for a sweet, crunchy, and energizing on the go snack or sweet treat!

poppers date Collage

Ingredients

  • 12 Medjool dates
  • ÂĽ cup almond butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon 100% pure maple syrup (optional – adds a touch more sweetness & moisture if your almond butter is on the dry side)
  • pinch fine grain sea salt
  • 12 pecans

Directions

  1. Slice down the middle of each date on one side and remove pit.
  2. Stir almond butter, cinnamon, vanilla extract, maple syrup and sea salt together in a bowl.
  3. Using a spoon or knife, stuff each date with approximately 1 teaspoon of almond butter.
  4. Stuff 1 pecan into almond butter mixture in each date as shown in the picture above.

Then…stuff the whole thing in your face 🙂 Enjoy!

Chai-Spiced Yogi Tea: How to Make It Yourself (SO EASY!)

I love tea.

There’s something calming and comforting about wrapping your hands around a warm cup of herbal tea, especially chai tea.

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I used to get chai tea and chai tea lattes from Starbucks this time of year, but my recipe assignment last week for the culinary nutrition program I’m taking gave me a chance to make it myself!

All I can say is WOW.

I had never made my own tea before, but this recipe is definitely a game changer, AND it was super EASY!

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First of all, the recipe makes 8 cups of tea, which is enough for at least half of a week for me. Here are a few more reasons to try this recipe for yourself at home:

  • The spices in this recipe and the ginger are cleansing, healing, comforting, and warming to the body – perfect for this time of year! For more information about the incredible health benefits of the spices in this tea, click here.
  • Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves simmering on the stove smells AMAZING.
  • It’s cheaper than buying tea by the box!

If you’d like, you can also add in your favorite non-dairy milk, but I just drank it as is. Deeelicious!

I’ve already made it twice in two weeks and will be serving it t0 everyone attending my cooking class tonight.

Yogi Tea

Ingredients (8 cups)

  • 8 cups water
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds (pop them out of the pods for stronger flavor (that’s what I recommend) or use whole pods for a milder flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 2 inches fresh ginger root (sliced)
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
  • almond milk as desired

Here’s the full recipe from the awesome Meghan Telpner! Just make sure you strain it with a fine mesh strainer as shown above after simmering everything. We don’t want to be eating cinnamon sticks 🙂

*Helpful Hint: I buy my spices in the individual jars at MOMs Organic Market; you can also find them at Roots Market and other natural food stores. It’s MUCH cheaper than buying an entire jar of something when you only need 1 or 2 tablespoons or a few sticks. You can also order spices online, but a natural food store near you should have fresh spices in bulk if your grocery store doesn’t.

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