Simple Gluten-Free, Vegan Blueberry Muffins

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Greetings! It’s been over a week since I’ve last posted mainly because I’ve been busy and I couldn’t really think of anything blog-worthy to write about…until this morning when I was craving a muffin. Lately my breakfast has either been fresh fruit or a smoothie/juice, but I had a hankering and when a craving for a healthy baked-good beckons, I happily oblige. The recipe I’m sharing today is really simple and is sans gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, and most importantly, it’s tasty! If you don’t have all the flours used, be creative and use a different flour. I have a few friends who are on a restricted diet (hence the lack of gluten, soy, dairy, etc.) but feel free to use whatever whole grain flours you like.
Ingredients (makes up to 12 muffins, depending on the size of your muffin tin):

  • 1 cup almond meal (found at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  • 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • coconut water to make the mixture more liquid, if needed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1.5 cups blueberries
  • brown sugar for topping

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large bowl, measure and combine flours, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar.
  • Create a well in the dry ingredients, and add apple sauce, vanilla, and sprinkle cinnamon
  • Determine if more liquid is needed. I like my muffin batter to be a little thinner than cookie dough batter, but not liquid like a pancake batter. If needed, add some coconut water by the spoon-full
  • Add the blueberries and mix gently
  • Using an ice-cream scoop or a large spoon, spoon the batter into greased muffin tins, or paper-foils.
  • Top each muffin with a little brown sugar
  • Place in the oven for 25 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and enjoy!

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Remember, sharing is caring, so share your baked goods with friends or family! 🙂

-Jess

Raw Vegan Blueberry Almond Balls

The combination of almonds plus dried fruit is one that I always gravitate towards. As I wrote in a previous post, I love larabars, which are my go-to energy bar for when I don’t have time to sit down for a meal or snack. I decided to make my own version of a larabar, in “ball” form (instead of a bar). After experimenting with a few different combinations of dried fruit to nut ratios, and looking at a few recipes online (specifically, I mainly adapted Angela Liddon’s dark chocolate cherry bite recipe found here), I made the final product which I really enjoyed! Here it is:

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Ingredients:

  • 8 medjool dates, pits removed
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries (found at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2-3 large prunes, pits removed
  • a dash of salt

 

Directions:

  • Process almonds and dates in a food processor, until fine chunks appear
  • add the dried blueberries, salt, and prunes
  • remove from the food processor and with your hands, mold into ball-shapes. Enjoy, or save for later by covering and storing in the refrigerator.

 

-Jess

Wrap it up: Tofu Salad!

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Tofu is probably one of the most versatile plant proteins to cook with. One of my favorite ways to eat tofu is in an egg-salad-like dish (sans eggs). This dish can be eaten in a wrap, a sandwich, on crackers, or on its own. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients (serves four or more)

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  • 1/2 a package of firm tofu, drained
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dill
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric (optional, used for color)
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 3 tbsp. vegan mayonaise
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tbsp. tahini sauce (optional)

Directions

Drain the tofu and press out remaining water using paper towels. Chop the tofu into small pieces.photo 2-8

Chop the onions, carrot, and celery.photo 5

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, and add mustard, vegan mayo, soy sauce, and tahini. Add spices (pepper, turmeric, dill). Mix together and add to your favorite slice of bread, salad, or wrap.

I added salsa and spinach leaves to my finished product. Yum!

I added salsa and spinach leaves to my finished product. Yum!

Enjoy!

-Jess

How to Make the Best Choices at the Salad Bar

My dad and I dined at my favorite salad bar (I discuss that below). In my container: kale, falafel, beets, and numerous other veggies!

My dad and I dined at my favorite salad bar (I discuss that below). In my container: kale, falafel, beets, and numerous other veggies!

If you’re like me, you love the freedom that making your own salad/assortment of hot foods involves. Depending on where you’re dining, salad bars may offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy options, and it can be tempting to load up on those comfort food options (I think everyone can agree that french fries and mashed potatoes look so good!) How can you make the wisest choices when you have so many less healthy choices available? Here are some tips for navigating the self-service food set-up:

  • If available, choose a smaller size plate. Studies have shown that the size of your plate or bowl influences how much you’ll eat. Eating off a larger plate can lead to eating larger portions of food, and consuming more calories.
  • Make at least half of your plate greens. In general, the darker the green veggie, the more nutritious it is. Spinach, romaine, and kale, are all good choices. If possible opt for these over iceberg lettuce, which is all water and little nutrients.
  • Make your plate or container look appetizing by adding colorful veggies. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, baby corn, are usually some common options offered.
  • Add a protein component. Some healthy options include beans and tofu. Try to keep the portion size to the size of deck of cards (about a half cup).
  • For dressing, your best bet is oil and vinegar. Although oil is high in calories, usually the oil provided will be olive oil, which has healthy fats that will help absorb the fat soluble vitamins in vegetables, such as vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin A.
  • Since there will probably be less healthy options available, choose this item last and stick to a 1/4 cup portion.

I personally love dining at salad bars/hot food bars. In fact, I rarely go out to eat and instead I insist that my friends and family meet me at Whole Foods Market Salad Bar when they decide to treat me! What I love about Whole Foods Market Salad Bar are the many vegan options, which of course you’d expect at a salad bar because of the vegetables, but Whole Foods takes it a step further by offering different bean salads, grain salads, different types of tofu, and so much more. If you live near a Whole Foods Market, I encourage you to pick up a tray and make yourself a meal!

What are your strategies to navigating self-serve food bars? If you have a favorite salad bar restaurant or food place, do share by leaving a reply!

-Jess

My Favorite “Energy” Bars

Several varieties of Larabars

Several varieties of Larabars

In a few posts back, I wrote about how I don’t like to depend on pre-packaged foods and how the best diet is one that is based on fresh produce. I’m a big fan of eating whole foods, and I’ve found that I feel better when I don’t eat food that has processed forms of protein (whey protein, soy protein isolate, etc.) especially when it comes to energy bars. Energy bars, or any kind of packaged “bar”-type foods have become increasingly popular in the last decade or so, with good reason. Many of us are so busy that these packaged bars provide a quick solution to hunger. I used to be a huge fan of Luna Bars, but I realized they were so sweet that I was tempted to eat many of them in a sitting (which I often did!). That was a red flag to me, along with the fact that a lot of the ingredients don’t agree with my stomach (more than one Luna Bar in a sitting results in stomach pains for me) and are highly processed.

For the past few years, my go-to “energy” bars have been Larabars. I love these little rectangles of goodness because the ingredients are so simple and healthy. Each bar contains dates, and usually nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, etc. Some of the varieties also contain additional dried fruit, like dried blueberries, dried apples, dried cherries, etc. and spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves. A few of the flavors also contain chocolate chips (the ones Larabar uses appear to be vegan). What I love about these bars are that not only are they really simple and healthy, they’re much more satisfying than a processed food bar. The fat content is higher in Larabars (compared to other bars) due to the nuts, which makes it a little more filling and satisfying than a lower-fat bar. These bars are also gluten-free, which makes them appropriate for anyone with Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance.

Because they are so easy to make, if you wish to make your own version of Larabars, simply use a food processor to blend together dates (pits removed), nuts, and any other dried fruit of your liking. I haven’t yet created my own fruit and nut bar, so if you try this on your own, you might have to experiment with the ratio of fruits:nuts. If you haven’t tried Larabars, they’re available in most health food stores. I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or Fairway (a northeast supermarket chain) and you can also order them online. Feel free to share your favorite flavor Larabar by leaving a reply.

 

Note- This post, and any other post based on a particular product, is not a paid endorsement. I truly love Larabars and bought all of the above varieties for $1.49 each.

 

-Jess

Oat-rageous Oatmeal Ideas

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Have you grown tired of eating your oatmeal with brown sugar? Well, prepare to be amazed with some delicious oatmeal ideas.

Before I get to that, let’s discuss how healthy oats actually are! Oatmeal has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), decrease overall inflammation in the body, decrease blood pressure, and keep you full for a long time. When choosing an oatmeal variety, stick to the old-fashioned kind and not the instant one-minute kind and try to stay away from any with added sugars or fake dried fruit in the ingredients.

Here are some delicious, nutritious oatmeal ideas for your eating pleasure:

  • Cook oatmeal according to the directions on the box. Then chop an apple and add to the bowl. Top with 1-2 tbsp. of peanut butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. You can also slice a banana in addition or in place of an apple.

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

  • Prepare the oats, and blend berries in a blender. Mix the berries in with the oats and not only do you get a huge amount of nutrients in that bowl, you also get a beautifully colored masterpiece. Top with other fruit, such as an orange and coconut flakes for a nice finish. To add some healthy fats, you can also add almond butter or mixed nuts.photo-13
  • Cook oats, and add in canned pumpkin and top with raisins and cinnamon.
  • Use oats in a savory dish by replacing them in any recipe that calls for rice, quinoa, barley, or any other grain. Oats have a mild flavor, and when seasoned correctly can be done right in savory dishes.
  • Add a fiber-full  dry cereal to your oats, if you want some extra fiber!
  • Add oats to your favorite cookie or muffin recipe for some fiber. You may have to increase the amount of oil or liquid ingredients, but unlike flour, oats will not immediately soak up the liquid ingredients so play around with the recipe you’re using.

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

  • Eat oats for dessert! Cook oats, and then add 1 tbsp. of cocoa powder (I like 100% cacao, unsweetened). Add a tbsp. of brown sugar, some cinnamon, almond or peanut butter, and your favorite fruit.photo 5

 

Those are my favorite ways to use oats. What are some of your favorites? Feel free to post a comment if you’d like to share, and don’t forget to visit and like my new Facebook page for Vitamin Valentine for additional daily nutrition, motivation, and health news and updates.

 

-Jess

A Very Happy Valentine’s Day, the Vitamin Valentine Way!

If you were wondering about the name of this blog, my last name is Valentine, so I’m obligated to love Valentine’s Day. In my experience, the best way to show someone you care is to make them something special (this is also a great way to save money). I made two delicious, easy, vegan fudge recipes that are super-rich and flavorful.

Dark Chocolate Banana Fudge

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1/2 cup coconut butter (to soften, you can heat it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, you don’t want it melted)

1 ripe banana

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp salt

2 tbsp. maple syrup

3 tbsp. cacoa powder (I used 100% cacao, unsweetened)

Blend ingredients using an electric mixer until everything is homogenized and there’s no huge particles of any one ingredient. Refrigerate over night, or freeze for 15-30 minutes and cut into the desired shape. Feel free to cut into heart-shapes for this holiday.

Peanut Butter Coconut Fudge

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1/2 cup coconut oil

1 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, but if you like chunky or natural style, or whatever else, feel free to substitute. Almond butter might also work in this recipe)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 ripe banana

1 tsp. cinnamon

dash of salt

1 and 1/2 cups coconut flakes

In a glass dish/bowl, spread a thin layer of coconut flakes so that the bottom of the dish is covered. Don’t use the entire 1.5 cups. Set aside.

Combine all the other ingredients (minus the coconut flakes in the dish and the remaining coconut flakes set aside) and blend well until everything is mixed. Spread the mixture on top of the layer of coconut flakes. Then, use the remaining coconut and top the mixture creating a layer of coconut on top of the fudge. Refrigerate overnight or freeze for 15-30 minutes. Cut into desired shape & enjoy.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

xo,

-Jess

Breaking Out of the Skipping-Breakfast Habit

How many people have time to eat breakfast in the morning? Mornings can be a hectic time for most, and hunger often goes unnoticed until later in the day. Unfortunately, hunger only builds and skipping breakfast can lead to excessive consumption of calories at lunch, snack times, and dinner (oh, and at “fourthmeal”, thank you Taco Bell for coining that term).

Eating breakfast is a simple favor you can do for yourself that can benefit you in the long run. Perhaps you’re not in the habit of eating breakfast because you just don’t have an appetite upon waking up? One solution is to wake up 10-15 minutes earlier and go through your normal morning routine of getting ready for work, school, etc. When you’re done, you may actually have small twinges of hunger that you didn’t notice before, if not, something like a smoothie or juice may be appropriate so that you’re not uncomfortably full. Allowing yourself that extra 10-15 minutes at the end of your normal morning routine enables you to prepare something to eat without feeling rushed for time.

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A whole-grain pumpkin spice muffin (recipe to come soon!) and a green smoothie (recipe suggestion listed below). These foods make a healthy breakfast and provide energy throughout the morning.

Listed below are some other recipes and suggestions for a quick, easy, healthy first meal of the day!

  • When picking a cereal, look for whole grains. Avoid sugary, processed cereals that will cause you to crash mid-morning. Some of my favorite cereals are by the company Nature’s Path, which uses organic ingredients and can be found in health food stores (and in the health food aisle of conventional supermarkets).
  • Find yourself a blender and hop on the green-smoothie train. Use 1 banana (fresh or frozen), 1-2 cups baby spinach, kale, or other green, leafy vegetable.  Add a liquid component. You can use almond milk, soymilk, etc. You may want to add frozen or fresh berries for a fruity sweetness. Blend well!
  • Oatmeal is a great way to start your day. Cook old-fashioned oats in the microwave for 3 minutes (keep an eye on the bowl though, as sometimes it can overflow). You can add nuts, fresh or dried fruit, peanut or almond butter, or coconut flakes with banana and mango for a tropical treat!
  • Soy yogurt  with granola and berries is also a flavorful way to get in some healthy goodness in the A.M. Look for granola with at least 3 grams of fiber and watch out for added sugars. Bear Naked brand makes an excellent granola, and if you’re watching your calories, try to halve the portion size and increase the amount of berries in this breakfast
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Whole grain cereal (here I used brown rice crisps with added raisins (adds a few grams of fiber) and half a banana with Trader Joe’s dairy free coconut yogurt. Quick and easy!

There are many other ways to enjoy a healthy breakfast. Keep reading my blog and I’ll post some muffin recipes that are surprisingly nutritious while sinfully delicious.