Nuggets on a Budget

My name is Jessie Valentine and I have a confession to make:  I am completely obsessed with the soy nuggets at Whole Foods Market!  I first found these delicious little meatless nuggets of bliss a few years ago while circling ’round the salad bar and since then I’ve been hooked.  Unfortunately for my wallet, a 1 lb. container of soy nuggets typically cost about $10, and as someone who is on a food budget, I wanted to find a way to make my own (similar) type of soy nugget.

The consistency of the soy nuggets at WFM are like a less chewy/spongy version of seitan.  If you’ve never tried seitan, it’s a meat replacement made up of wheat gluten and typically seasoned with soy sauce or some kind of vegetable broth base.  For my version of soy nuggets, I used soy flour along with vital wheat gluten.  You can buy vital wheat gluten and soy flour at any health food store.  It’s typically found in the baking/flour section.  I used Bob’s Red Mill brand for both.

For flavor, I used three different marinades, thus making three different flavors of these nuggets.  Feel free to use whatever you have available or if you have a certain flavor in mind (spicy, teriyaki, bbq, etc.) use dressings/sauces/seasonings that you prefer.

I hope you try this recipe and feel inspired to make your own homemade versions of your favorite foods. 

Protein-Packed Vegan Nuggets (serves 4)

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I served mine with some brown rice, beans, and veggies. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 cup soy flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • seasonings- (choose whatever you want).  I made three varieties-  a teriyaki/seseame flavor (teriyaki sauce + sesame seeds), a buffalo sauce flavored variety (I used buffalo sauce marinade) and a spicy variety (I mixed taco seasoning + hot sauce.  Caution: muy caliente).
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Three varieties fresh from the oven

Directions

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine wheat gluten, soy flour, and water.  This combination will create a dough.  Knead and stretch the dough for a minute or so.
  • Cut the dough into small, bite-size pieces (nuggets)
  • Boil water in a large pot.  When the water comes to a boil, drop the nuggets into the dough, piece-by-piece
  • Lower the water to a simmer (it should not be boiling as the nuggets cook).  If the water is boiling, the nuggets will come out chewy and rubbery.
  • Allow the nuggets to simmer in water for 1 hour
  • Remove from heat and drain using a colander.  The nuggets should have expanded.  Allow to cool a bit.
  • Now, for the flavoring-  in a ziplock bag, allow the nuggets to marinate in whatever sauce/seasoning you choose for 1 hour-overnight (your choice).
  • After the nuggets have marinated to your liking, preheat the oven to 350°F
  • Spray cooking spray on a cookie tin or baking pan (both will work) and place the nuggets on the pan.  If you’d like, you can add more sauce at this point, as some will evaporate as the nuggets bake in the oven
  • Bake the nuggets for 20-30 minutes
  • Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and enjoy

 

-Jess

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In Summer: Frozen-Inspired Treats

one of my frozen-inspired treats (recipe below)

one of my frozen-inspired treats (recipe below)

 

Here in New York, the weather is getting warmer, which means it’s time to think of healthy frozen treats to cool down with! In addition to summer approaching, I was inspired to create some frozen recipes because I recently saw the movie “Frozen” and I am totally obsessed! I love everything about the movie and I can personally relate to Princess Anna’s character, so this movie particularly resonated with me. If you haven’t seen “Frozen”, you should, as it differs from most Disney movies and doesn’t really stick to the princess + prince charming = true love forever equation that’s typical of fairytales but I won’t give too much away in case you haven’t seen it.

 

Getting back to my frozen treats, there’s nothing greater than indulging in a cold dessert on a hot summer day, but ice cream, frozen yogurt, and gelato can be high in calories and make you feel tired if you’ve had too much. Instead, today I made 2 different “ice creams” using a few very simple ingredients. The base for both of these recipes is just a few frozen bananas and almond or coconut milk. Both recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and won’t make you feel guilty or weighed down afterwards.

 

Peanut butter-Banana-Chip Dream Cream (serves 2)

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 frozen bananas (freeze for at least 5 hours). Peel before freezing, and you may also want to cut into smaller pieces and place into a zip lock bag.
  • ¼ cup almond milk (I used an unsweetened vanilla variety)
  • 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter (I used a creamy, salted variety)
  • 1-2 tbsp. dark chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Place cut frozen bananas in a blender, add ¼ cup almond milk, 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter, and chocolate chips, and blend on high. If the mixture becomes too liquid-y, simply place in the freezer for a few minutes, or you can freeze the entire mixture for about an hour in a non-stick container and then re-blend to create an ice cream texture.
  • Serve in a glass or bowl and top with a few chocolate chips. Enjoy!

 

 

Cashew Coconut Banana Cream (serves 2)

photo 2-4

 

Ingredients

  • 1.5 frozen bananas (frozen for at least 5 hours). Peel before freezing, and you may want to cut into smaller pieces (like in the previous recipe
  • ¼ cup almond milk (I used an unsweetened vanilla variety)
  • a handful of raw, unsalted cashews
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup coconut flakes

Directions

  • Place cut frozen bananas in a blender, add ¼ cup almond milk, a handful of raw cashews, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and coconut flakes. Blend on high. If mixture is too liquid-y, use the same method as in the previous recipe, and either freeze for a few minutes, or freeze for an extended period of time in a nonstick bowl and re-blend to get an ice cream consistency.
  • Serve in a glass or bowl and top with additional coconut flakes. Enjoy!

 

Stay cool!

 

-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

Are Superfoods Superior?

If you read health articles, chances are you’ve come across the term “superfood”, but are these foods superior to others? Lets start with the basics. A “superfood” can be defined as any food that is nutritionally rich in a particular vitamin, mineral, or other substance that is beneficial to one’s health.  In recent years, the rise of health gurus advocating for the consumption of “superfoods” has increased and it can be difficult to distinguish whether someone is actually knowledgeable about nutrition, or if they are trying to sell you something that you might not need.

Can a cookie really be "super" in the health sense? I'm not sure, so I'll just assume they mean super-delicious!

Can a cookie really be “super” in the health sense? I’m not sure, so I’ll just assume they mean super-delicious!

The marketing of specially-formulated powders and supplements, even when they only contain “natural” ingredients, is something I’ve noticed recently, and it’s alarming, because something can be natural, and organic, but not necessarily healthy or essential for the body. Another thing I’ve noticed is just how many packaged items appear to be “superfoods”, when in reality, the most superior of foods are the ones you can find in a farm stand.  Fresh, seasonal produce is the definition of a “superfood” to me, especially if it is grown in nutrient-rich soil and doesn’t need to be imported or shipped from many miles away. The longer a food item is in transit, the more nutrients it loses. Comparing locally-grown blueberries to Amazonian-harvested açaí berries (a so-called “superfood”), it’s actually better to eat the local blueberries because not only will you get vitamins and antioxidants, you’ll be supporting local agriculture, instead of consuming an overpriced, nutritionally-similar açaí berry which must travel a great distance to get to your health food store. Of course, if you have the means to buy more expensive and exotic ingredients, be my guest, but if you’re looking for a nutritious, native source of antioxidants on the cheap, your local farmers market has a plethora of options.

In my opinion, there are no perfect foods. We need a balanced diet, and perfection isn't the goal.

In my opinion, there are no perfect foods.

So, besides supplements and açaí berries, what are some other so-called “superfoods”? Alternative-health experts will tell you to buy goji berries, maca, cacoa, among others, and while these foods definitely have benefits, you shouldn’t feel any less healthy by not buying into the hype. One does not need to have a diet full of “superfoods” to be super-healthy! Fresh berries, greens and other fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy (if you tolerate it), and healthy fats are the things to focus on. My take is that a balanced diet based on whole foods is far superior than one based on supplements or packaged foods claiming to be “super”.

My idea of a meal full of "superfoods" is one rich in brightly colored, locally-grown vegetables.

My idea of a meal full of “superfoods” is one rich in brightly colored, locally-grown vegetables.

-Jess