Vegan-licious

So I’m not becoming a vegan but dabbling in the movement couldn’t hurt, right?

In my quest to go meatless at least a few times a week, I ran into a problem: finding a variety of delicious vegetarian dishes sans dairy. FotoFlexer_Pesto

I started in December and found a few staple dishes that I love but many of the vegetarian meals I was finding online included milk or cheese.

Total buzz kill.

I know you’re probably thinking “Just leave the dairy out.” But it seemed dairy was the yum factor in so many of these meals and they just wouldn’t taste the same without it!

I’m technically not supposed to eat cheese at all (doctor’s orders) but I absolutely love it so instead, I give myself permission to eat it on “special occasions” or when a friend is cooking me a meal.

But for my everyday eating, I skip the dairy.

So with no dairy and no meat I figured I might as well start researching vegan meals to see what I could find.  I had to pick the right kind of meal that would also satisfy the husband who isn’t too keen on things like eggplant and butternut squash.

I found the perfect meal last night.

Check out this vegan, gluten-free creamy pesto pasta recipe from Vegan Chef Chloe Cascorelli as published in Self Magazine. It is absolutely to die for and healthy to boot!

I would venture to say it tastes richer than the heavy cream- and butter-filled pesto. Seriously, it’s insane!

It’s packed with anti-inflammatory basil and healthy  mono-unsaturated fats from the avocado and pinenuts.

Ingredients:

Two ripe avocados

A handful of organic basil leaves

1/2  cup pine nuts

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic (I used three because I LOVE garlic)

The juice from half a lemon.

Sea salt

Pepper

1 bag of brown rice pasta

Crushed red pepper (optional)

Directions:

Put all the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta according to the directions.

Toss the pasta with the pesto in a sauce pan over very low heat.

I added crushed red pepper for an extra kick and served it alongside oven-roasted asparagus and tomatoes. I think this dish would taste great with tomatoes and sauteed mushroom tossed in.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin time

Pumpkin time is what my husband and I call nap time.

We came up with this name because when I get super tired I “turn into a pumpkin” and get super grumpy.

Although I love the sweet Cinderella reference and the cute name, a more accurate description of what I turn into when I’m tired is probably something along the lines of “raging bitch”. But he just loves me too much to say so. 🙂

Anyway, every afternoon I feel the need to pumpkin. Sometimes it’s because my body just needs a break but most of the time it’s because I seriously just love naps.  I LOVE them.Tea

On days when I can’t take them like every Monday through Friday, right about the time I would be napping a majorly intense sweet tooth kicks in.

Here’s my calorie-free, sugar-free way to beat it.

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf African Sunrise Tea.

It tastes amazing hot or cold so need to reserve this stuff only for winter time. I think it’s the vanilla that makes it taste sort of dessert-like. And I have no idea “African honeybush” is but I think I love it.

Citrus and orange peel round out this smooth yummy tea. I highly recommend!

And although this has nothing to do with anything, it has the word “Africa” in it making slightly, very slightly, relevant. I’ve been waiting for a post I could sneak this little gem in because I laughed so hard the first time I saw it. Clever. Very clever.

Kansas

Resolution free

As I said last year, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I don’t intend to change my stance on this statement in 2013.

Part of the reason I don’t make them is because I can never seem to think of something that isn’t either a.) entirely too restrictive setting me up for definite failure or b.) something that is too easy I feel like I’m defying the purpose of making a resolution.

Also, they don’t work. Read any article on the subject and it will show that resolution are ridic (ulous).

Instead I make New Year’s additions; things to add to  my life to make it healthier, happier and more peaceful.

This year I even started making some of these additions in December so that come Jan. 1, I wasn’t trying to add too many things at once, which is also a quick route to  failure – overloading yourself with commitments!

Here’s what’s new in my routine these days.  I’ll report back in about a month to share the health benefits of these additions but in the short time I’ve been doing it, I can already tell they are winners.

Daily GGS: GGS stands for Glowing Green Smoothie and I’m completely addicted. Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder has created a fiber-rich smoothie that is yummy and so healthy. GGS

I eat it in the morning as breakfast but I wait until I’m REALLY hungry (one of her “rules” for healthy living). I admit, I was completely skeptical at first but this tastes great and is totally filling.  Find the recipe here. If you’re new to these types of drinks, she suggests going with half the recipe to start.

Probiotic supplements: I used to be really good about taking these but I stopped. I am reintroducing them and this time, really paying attention to how my body responds. I think I ate so crappy when I tried them the first time I didn’t notice much of a benefit.

Meatless Mondays, and Wednesdays and Fridays: I just can’t bring myself to ever be a full-blown vegetarian. I tried once after reading “Skinny Bitch” and it lasted about six months. That book will freak you out though, for real.

Then, I got a bite of a carnitas taco and I was back to meat lover.

What can I say? This girl loves her steak. And pork chops. And bacon.

But what I can do is compromise and stay away from the meat at least three days a week.  Animal proteins are tough for the body to digest so backing off from them a few days a week provides sweet relief for your system.  I’ve also resigned to eating meat only at night (another Kimberly Snyder rule).

So these are three I’m starting with. We’ll see how it goes from there.

I don’t plan to make any extreme changes to the exercise regime although there are some new classes I’m dying to try (aerial yoga, anyone?).

Here’s to 2013!

Andes brownies

AndesSo, my second job ever was at Olive Garden.

I started as a hostess and eventually became a server.

While most people rave on and on about the bread sticks (which I actually made one time when the bread lady had an emergency and yes, mine were crappy) that was not my favorite part of the menu.

My favorite part was what came after: the Andes mints.

Totally obsessed!

I freaking LOVE Andes mints.

I loved them so much I used to take handfuls, I mean honking huge handfuls, and fill my apron up just so I could pop one in my mouth during a busy shift.

I loved them so much that eventually the OG (this does not stand for original gangster) managers made the Andes mints box disappear behind the bar.

Servers could no longer have free access to the Andes mints.

They would now be rationed.

It was so harsh!

One per customer, none for the servers.

That was a dark and depressing day in my serving career.

Yes, it was my fault the mints were no longer a free-for-all in the server station.

No, I don’t think I was completely alone in causing the Andes mints stock to deplete so rapidly.

Anyway, I decided I wanted to make brownies out of them because I love them so much and because mint and chocolate is SO yum!

This is a recipe adapted from several places so I believe I changed enough things to call it my own. 🙂

They are not super strong in mint flavor since Andes mints are covered in chocolate and they taste reeeeeally good cold.

Andes mints brownies

1 package Andes mints

2 cup butter

4 cups sugar

6 eggs

6 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/3 cup cocoa powder

2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

  • Line a baking pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.
  • Pour half the batter into the bottom.
  • Lay the Andes mints on top of the batter. I reserved about 8 mints to chop and sprinkle on top.
  • Cover the mints with the rest of the batter.
  • Pop them into a 350 degree oven and bake for 45 minutes. I like brownies slightly underdone but if you don’t, check the consistency with a fork and bake until the fork comes out clean.

Truffled Peanut Butter Brownies

I have no idea where this recipe came from but it’s ridiculous.

I feel a little bad that I can’t share the origins of this delish brownie recipe but it’s too good not to write about.

While searching for something new to bake for a recent family gathering I came across this recipe for Truffled Peanut Butter Brownies in my cook book.

Rich brownies, topped with peanut butter creme then finished with a semi-sweet chocolate peanut butter ganache. Mmmmmm SO rich and creamy you don’t need very much to satisfy even the strongest sweet tooth.

I did make one mistake that I won’t make the next time:

The recipe calls for a 9X13 pan but I decided I wanted these brownies to be extra thick so I used an 8×8 pan and they turned out ginormous. WAY too big.  The thicker version does make for a fun photograph, though.

December is always my favorite month because there are so many parties and family gatherings that I get to try out many, many new baking recipes.

These recipes seem to culminate into a dessert tray I share with my family on Christmas Eve. Last year that tray consisted of dark chocolate fudge, salted chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel brownies and sugar cookies with royal icing.

This year, I’m going to be bringing something new and these brownies just may make the list.

Truffled Peanut Butter BrowniesTruffledBrownies

Makes 24 brownies

For the brownies:

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

2/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the peanut butter creme:

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

2 cups powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons milk (I used 3)

For the ganache:

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup butter

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

The brownies:

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Butter a 9×13 baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
  • In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter
  • Remove from heat and add sugar, stir until combined
  • Next add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined
  • Stir in the cocoa, baking powder and salt.
  • Fold in the flour and combine
  • Transfer to the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes

The filling

  • While the brownies are cooling, make the creme
  • Use a mixer and a paddle attachment
  • Combine all the ingredients and mix until smooth
  • Make sure the filling is spreadable
  • Spread evenly over the cooled brownies
  • Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

The ganache

  • Use a double broiler to melt the chocolate chips, butter, cream and peanut butter together
  • Mix until creamy
  • Spread over brownies and refrigerate until the topping hardens

Got a headache? Hit the gym

The last thing I wanted to do when I woke up Monday morning was go on a run.

That sounded utterly disgusting.

Mostly because I had an insane, throbbing headache when I woke up this morning but also partly because of the gluttony that ensued this holiday weekend, which has made me extra lethargic and hating anything with buttons and zippers.

But really, it was the headache that was stopping me.

So I decided to give it 10.

I would try to run for 10 minutes and if by the end of that 10 minutes I wanted to die, I would stop.

Funny enough, my headache went away.  And this was a headache that wasn’t even phased by Advil.

So I started looking up why this happens.

Here’s what I found …

We all know that exercise sends bursts of happy-inducing endorphins coursing through our body. Apparently those endorphins also act as natural pain killers. This may be one reason a headache seems to subside with physical activity.

Also, often time headaches are brought on because your blood vessels have restricted for whatever reason (and there are many). Exercising opens up these vessels and increases blood flow, thereby reducing the pressure and, hopefully, the headache.

Interesting.

So, even if you don’t feel like hitting the gym, give it 10 minutes.

Your body will tell you whether you really need to stop and if it is screaming at you, listen to it!

 

Sweet potato update

My brother is the ultimate judge of Mom’s Sweet Potatoes.

He could not care less about the turkey – just those sweet potatoes.

So, as Thanksgiving dinner was served I sat next to him to get the status on whether or not I delivered on my mom’s yummy recipe.

Apparently not.

But, hey, it wasn’t my fault.

“It tastes really orangey,” was the response I got.

Damn it! Where did I go wrong?

I actually thought it tasted really good and my husband thought I needed to dump in a little more O.J. to up the acidity of the dish.

My mom also gave me the thumbs up but, she’s my mom.

So I asked her, “Mom, you said 1/4 cup orange juice, why do mine taste more orangey?”

Her response, “Oh I did?  I forgot, it’s supposed to be 1/8 cup orange juice and 1/8 cup pineapple juice.”

Well…. OK then.

So, I wanted to send an update to the recipe. I quite enjoyed my version of my mom’s sweet potatoes but apparently the TRUE mom’s recipe has less O.J. and a little pineapple juice.

The good thing with this dish is you can add whatever your taste buds desire as those potatoes are being whipped so there is free range to add more spice, juice, butter, whatever.