Sweet Cherry Nice Cream

My little family and I returned from a trip to Michigan a few weeks ago and the boys developed colds just a few days later.  I know from growing up in The Mitten that the weather patterns can be unpredictable, but I truly didn’t expect snow in the middle of May.  🙂

Nolan, like many little ones, I assume, is not one for much eating when he isn’t feeling well, especially if he’s complaining of a sore throat.  I didn’t have to think too long about a special treat that I knew would cheer him up and provide him essential nutrients:  nice cream!

My nice cream formula is easy to make if you have some frozen bananas on hand, which I typically always do.  In a recent Bountiful Basket, we ordered thirty-eight pounds of bananas, most of which we peeled, chunked, and froze.  I’m ready to whip up nice cream at a moment’s notice!

I decided to make this batch using cherries, for a few reasons.  First of all, cherries are in season now.  I wish I could have brought some back from Michigan—the United States capital of cherries, if you didn’t already know—but my family spoiled my boys with nearly more gifts than I could transport back to Arizona, so I bought some here instead.  🙂  Secondly, cherries are loaded with antioxidants and known to aid with sleep, which the boys tend to get less of when they aren’t feeling well.  This nice cream was bound to be a win-win before the fruit hit the blender.  Lastly, I missed cherries!  Haven’t done much with them since my first-ever pie from scratch.  We were overdue for more cherry deliciousness.

I topped Nolan’s nice cream with vegan whipped cream—made from coconut milk—but you could opt out to save on the sugar.  The splurge—which also included a melted dark chocolate bar drizzle and mini-chocolate chips—was totally worth it to see my sick babe smile.

FORMULA BASE:  NICE CREAM

Serves 3-4

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ¾-1 cup specialty ingredients –> I’m using 1 cup of pitted sweet cherries.
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –> I’m using ¼ tsp almond.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m not using any.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with just a splash) –> I’m using a touch of almond.
  • ¼ cup extras for mixing in by hand (optional) – think nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc. –> I’m topping my nice cream with mini-semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan).

If you plan to make whipped cream to accompany your nice cream, place a mixing bowl in the fridge to chill while you prepare the other components.  Start by pitting your cherries.  This device saves some time, but your hands will do just fine.

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Combine all ingredients (except the extras) in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Scoop the mixture into a bowl and fold in any extras you are using by hand. Cover and place in the freezer while you prepare your toppings (if any).

Whipped coconut cream:

  • 1 can coconut cream or full fat coconut milk
  • Powdered sweetener to taste (start with ¼ cup) –> I’m using a heaping ¼ cup of powdered turbinado. You can easily make powdered sugar out of higher quality vegan sugars by using the dry blade on your Vitamix or other high powered blender.  (Remember, white, refined sugar lacks nutrients and flavor and tumbles with bone char to achieve its color.  Definitely not vegan.)
  • ¼-½ tsp extract (depending on flavor intensity) (optional) –> I’m using ½ tsp vanilla.
  • 1 pinch-¼ tsp spices (optional) –> I’m not using any.

Chill your can of coconut cream/milk in the fridge overnight. After your nice cream is tucked away in the freezer, prepare your powdered sugar and remove your chilled mixing bowl from the fridge.

Empty the can into the bowl and whip with a hand or stand mixer until smooth and creamy, about a minute. Add sweetener (and extract and spices, if using) and continue whipping until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. This whipped cream will not quite achieve the height and stiffness of dairy whipped cream, but it will become a bit fluffy nonetheless. Store any extras in the fridge.

Assemble your nice cream sundae and absolutely, enjoy!

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Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo

When I first developed my creamy vegetable sauce formula, I had only tried it out with eggplant and wasn’t sure it how it would work with other veggies.  Since then, every vegetable I’ve used—butternut squash, pumpkin, and now cauliflower—has been a success.  Today’s version with one of my favorite cruciferous vegetables redefines alfredo sauce.

In addition to looking the part of a traditional alfredo, cauliflower makes for a super creamy puree when doctored up with some of my favorite flavors.  On another note, you learned about the health benefits of romanesco—brother to cauliflower—in my wonton post, so you already know that including this family of vegetables in your diet is a must.

Cauliflower

Make a batch of this sauce to throw over pasta or my ridiculously easy zucchini noodles, or get adventurous and trying serving cold as a veggie dip (maybe toss with some fresh dill?  I’ll have to try it out…).  Top with fresh veggies or herbs and serve.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE PASTA SAUCE

Yields sauce for one box of pasta

  • 2 cups coarsely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using cauliflower.
  • ½ cup cashew cream (soak raw cashews overnight, drain, and blend with just enough water to form a thick cream)
  • 2 tbsps nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp acid (i.e. vinegar, mustard, citrus juice, etc.) –> I’m using white whole grain mustard.
  • ¼-1 tsp seasoning (i.e. fresh/dried herbs, spices, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp ground nutmeg.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste –> I’m using approximately ½ tsp salt and several turns of pepper.

Peel (if necessary) and chop your vegetables. Steam, roast, or boil (I’m steaming) to cook.

While your vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare your pasta of choice. When the vegetables are finished, combine with all other ingredients (except the pasta, of course!) in a blender and puree until smooth and creamy.

Pour atop your pasta (or use in another application) and enjoy immediately for most desirable consistency. It will keep just fine in the fridge, but will dry out a bit.

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Meaty Black Bean Burgers with Simple Avocado Sauce

If you’re a former meat eater or simply trying to consume less meat, you may find that transitioning into a vegan or vegetarian can be difficult when you’re missing comforting flavors and textures. Over four years into following a plant-based lifestyle, I now very rarely miss meat, but there are moments that the thought of something I used to eat gets my mouth watering.

I never ate much red meat in the past, but like many Americans, I did enjoy the occasional juicy hamburger. In Michigan, where I grew up, other than out at restaurants, we didn’t really eat burgers unless the weather was warm enough to grill outside. Thus, hamburgers were generally a spring/summer treat and one that I looked forward to in attending backyard barbeques.

Today’s recipe is an adaptation of my veggie burger formula that is the closest I have come so far to the taste of an all-beef patty. The combination of black beans, kaniwa, and mushrooms not only creates a beef-like appearance (you could eliminate the corn for an even more authentic look), but their marriage of flavors turned out rich and meaty, too. I made one patty to cook on the stovetop in a hot pan with a drizzle of oil and turned the rest of the burger mixture into mini-patties that I baked. Both were dense, yet easily pliable. The char I achieved on the stovetop version yielded the more meat-like flavor, if that’s what you’re going for.

Travis whipped up a simple avocado dipping sauce—which could also serve as a condiment for large patties or even a salad dressing for a side dish you’re making—for the mini-patties that really completed the dish. We were certainly satiated and had leftovers, too. For the record, after making these burgers, I didn’t miss the beef variety for a second. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  VEGGIE BURGERS

Yields 6 patties (or a varying number of bites)

  • 2 cups finely chopped or shredded raw vegetables  –>  I’m using ¼ of a large white onion, ½ cup corn, and 1 cup button mushrooms.*
  • 1 cup cooked whole grains  –>  I’m using kaniwa, cooked in water.
  • 2 cups** cooked beans or lentils  –>  I’m using canned, sodium-free black beans.  (Remember, cooking dried beans is ALWAYS healthier, but for some reason, those do not agree with my system.)
  • ¼ cup+ liquid for pureeing beans/lentils (i.e. homemade veggie stock, citrus juice, water, unsweetened and unflavored plant milk, oil, etc.)  –>  I’m using grapefruit juice. (‘Tis the season in Arizona!)
  • 1 “egg” (1 tbsp chia or flax seeds + 3 tbsps hot water)  –>  I’m using flax.
  • 2-4 cloves raw garlic  –>  I’m using 2.
  • 2 tsps herbs and spices –>  I’m using 1 tsp nutritional yeast and 1 tsp chili powder.
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  –>  I’m using ¼ tsp salt.

*Save your mushroom stems for a richer homemade veggie stock.

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**Today, I was a tad short on beans, so I added some breadcrumbs to ensure that the burgers would be hearty enough and hold together. The beauty of the Fresh Formula concept is that my formulas are super adaptable. 🙂

If you need to, cook your grains, beans, and/or lentils first.  Once they are finished, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Puree the cooked beans/lentils with the garlic until smooth.  Finely chop or shred your vegetables (peel first if necessary). I don’t typically precook the veggies, but I knew that the mushrooms would change in size and texture dramatically and didn’t think baking alone would achieve a meaty consistency. So, I sautéed them in a pan before combining with the other ingredients.

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Use a wooden spoon to combine all ingredients except the egg. Massage the egg in with your hands.  A thick dough will form.  It should be sticky enough that all ingredients remain together, but not so sticky that your hands are pulling it apart in trying to form shapes. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with a silicone pad and assemble patties and/or bites.

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Cook times will vary depending on shape and thickness.  It took these 40 minutes to cook through without flipping (I have found that I don’t need to flip when I use a silicone baking pad).  Set a timer for twenty minutes to start, check back often, and flip as necessary until your burgers or bites are of a cooked and palatable consistency.

These burgers are so dense and filling that I eat them bun-less, but you can certainly serve them with your bread of choice. If you’re serving bites, consider this flavorful dipper:

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 2 tbsps citrus juice -> I would typically use lime, but have tons of grapefruits on hand from our winter harvest.
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (Would make for an awesome fresh veggie, dip, too!)

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Wontons to the Rescue!

If you’re a fruit and vegetable junkie like me, and/or you subscribe to a service like Bountiful Baskets where you are surprised with a random assortment of produce at each pickup, your fridge is likely stocked with a variety of items that may not seem to go together. I am typically pretty creative when it comes to combining unlikely pairs (check out my bean salad, for instance), but when I stared into my fridge last night faced with romanesco, green bell pepper, baby carrots, and red onion, I wanted to push myself to try something new.

A few weeks back in our BB, we ordered wonton wrappers (vegan – no egg) in bulk and have been putting off doing something with them simply because prep and assembly of these adorable appetizers can be a bit laborious. I decided to take the chance and somehow incorporate my random assortment of veggies into a yummy filling that would finally use up the wrappers.

Before I get to the process, you may be unfamiliar with romanesco. Its unusual appearance resembles that of cauliflower and broccoli combined, although to me, it tastes just like cauliflower in both flavor and texture. It is similar to cauliflower in its vitamin and mineral content and is notably a low-calorie source of potassium. I generally prefer bananas myself, but romanesco/cauliflower is another healthy and delicious potassium option.

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Ok, back to the wontons. First of all, how do you flavor them? You could keep it simple with a little soy sauce or inject some deeper flavors with another sauce or marinade. I’m using the same sauce that I use in my lettuce wraps. The concept of flavorful, finely chopped veggies is the same in both applications; it’s simply the vessel that is different.

Secondly, should the filling be cooked or raw? This is a matter of personal preference. Since I aim for a solid 70%+ raw plant foods daily and happen to prefer the crunch and freshness of raw vegetables, I am leaving my veggies raw. I found that even after cooking the whole wontons, the veggies inside remained raw and crunchy since the cook time was so short. If you’d prefer your vegetables on the softer side, you can sauté your filling prior to assembling the wontons.

Thirdly, how do you cook them? Your healthiest option is to steam the wontons. Your least healthy option is to deep fry them. I love the texture of a crunchy-bottom wonton (often referred to as a pot sticker), so I’m going to lightly sauté and then steam. Keep in mind that if you deep fry and have leftovers that they aren’t likely to be as crispy the next day. Should you opt for a bubbling wonton oil bath, I would recommend peanut oil.

Lastly, how do you serve them? I see wontons typically served as an appetizer, but when you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet, the traditional expectations for what constitutes a first course, main course, or side dish seem to go out the window. What is a meat-eater’s side dish, for instance, might be my main event. With that said, I make a MEAL out of these wontons, dipping them in leftover marinade.

Once covered in my lettuce wrap sauce, the seemingly atypical combination of pepper, romanesco, carrot, and onion tasted like those veggies were meant to be together, making for a delicious evening meal. If you want to get fancy in sealing up your wontons, these would certainly make for a pretty party dish, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: WONTONS

Yields approximately 10-12 large wontons or 16-18 small

  • 10-12 large vegan wonton wrappers or 16-18 small* –> I’m using large.
  • 3 cups of finely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using 1 small head of romanesco, 1 green bell pepper, ¼ of a red onion, and 10 baby carrots.
  • 1 ½ cups sauce or marinade of choice –> I’m using my lettuce wrap marinade.
  • Oil as needed for frying/sautéing –> I’m using peanut.

*Read the ingredient label on your wonton wrappers. Some doughs are made with egg.

Prepare your sauce/marinade.

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Finely chop your vegetables.

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Mix together and sauté lightly (if you wish) or leave raw. Pour approximately half of your sauce/marinade over the veggies and stir to coat. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for roughly 30 minutes.

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While you’re waiting for the flavors of your filling to develop, decide on a cooking method. If you are steaming, prepare a double boiler. If you are deep-frying, assemble your deep fryer according to manufacturer’s instructions. I will be executing a sauté-then-steam method, with directions provided below.

Have a skillet with a lid ready on the stovetop with your oil of choice sitting beside it. Lay out your wonton wrappers, open, ready to receive filling. Have a small dish with water (for sealing the wrappers) nearby. After the 30-minute marinade period as passed, begin spooning filling into each wonton wrapper. I am using large wrappers, which can hold roughly two heaping tablespoons worth of filling apiece. Make sure there is a large enough border around the filling that the wonton can eventually be closed.

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Closing the wonton wrapper can be as fancy—or not—as you’d like. I often see them in a sack/purse shape like this.

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Simply grab the corners of the wonton wrapper, bring them into the middle, and twist them shut. You may or may not need to lightly glaze different sections with water in order for the wrapper to remain sealed. No matter the closure technique or style, the wonton should be completely sealed so that filling does not leak out.

Put approximately 2 tbsps of oil in your skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, place your wontons in for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and add a few tablespoons of water. Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the wontons to steam for 2-3 minutes. Most—if not all—of the water should be absorbed. **BE CAREFUL OF ANY SPUTTERING THAT MIGHT OCCUR WHEN ADDING THE WATER INTO THE HOT OIL.**

Remove the cooked wontons and continue the cooking process for as many batches as you need or want. Serve with remaining sauce/marinade as a dip, or simply with soy sauce. Travis said that the wontons were actually tastier the next day, which I did not at all expect! 🙂

One-Ingredient Zucchini Pasta

Way back when, I thought that my salsa formula was my simplest at just a handful of ingredients, but with only one ingredient required in today’s recipe, I’ve outdone myself!

By now, you’ve probably seen home cooks and bloggers getting creative with alternatives to traditional, flour-based pasta. Sometimes, I’ve just gotta have a big, warm bowl of old school pasta drowning in my marinara or cream sauce. Lately, however, I’ve been making an effort to get back into working out and toning my post-baby body, so I’m not gorging on Italy’s favorite as much as I normally would.

Zucchini, when run through a spiralizer to resemble the shape of spaghetti, makes for a filling and nutritious “pasta” that can hold up to sauces and toppings just as well. Zucchini is a rich source of vitamin C, manganese for healthy bone tissue development, and lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote healthy eyesight. Why not eat more of it, right?!

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I personally love zucchini raw, in which case this pasta dish can serve as a slaw. Travis prefers it cooked, so we compromised with al dente zucchini noodles, topped with sauteed onions, garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the “sundried” tomatoes I made in my food dehydrator (check out my pizza bread!).

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Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: VEGETABLE NOODLES

Serves 2 as a light meal

2 medium to large zucchinis or yellow squashes –> I’m using zucchini.

Wash zucchini/squash and cut off the ends. Using a spiralizer or mandolin, cut zucchini/squash into noodles. Dress and consume raw if you wish, or bring a pot of water to boil.

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Place noodles in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and eat, or top with the sauce, toppings, or condiments of your choice.

Nolan’s Birthday Cupcakes

Yesterday, my first-born son turned three years old! I cannot believe how fast the time has flown.

 

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Two days ago, I posted a picture of the cupcakes I made him in the cooling process and received many inquiries for the recipe, so here it is!

These cupcakes are just sweet enough and super fluffy. They are delicious on their own or topped with your frosting or icing of choice. My cake formula is also easily adaptable, should the recipient have special dietary needs or preferences, as was the case at Nolan’s daycare (one little one couldn’t have peanuts). Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CAKE

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 8 x 8 square or round cake

  • 1 cup flour –> I’m using whole wheat.
  • 1-1 ½ cups (depending on the flour) unsweetened, unflavored plant milk –> I’m using 1 cup cashew.
  • ¾ cup sweetener –> I’m using turbinado sugar.
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • ¼ cup oil –> I’m using melted coconut.
  • 1 vegan “egg” substitute (i.e. mashed banana, applesauce, etc.) –> I’m using 1 small banana.
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum (a binding agent, if using gluten-free flour) –> I’m not using it.
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½-1 tsp extract (depending on the flavor intensity) –> I’m using 1 tsp vanilla.
  • ¼ tsp salt –> I’m using pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Up to ½ cup specialty ingredients (chopped nuts, dried fruit, shredded coconut, cocoa powder, citrus juice/zest, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using nearly ½ cup chopped raw walnuts and ½ tsp ground cinnamon.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your “egg,” whether that involves scooping, mashing, combining, etc. in a large mixing bowl.   Mix together all of your wet ingredients in the same bowl. Separately mix all dry ingredients. Using a whisk or wooden spoon, slowly incorporate the dry into the wet until a smooth, pourable batter forms. Stir in any specialty ingredients, if using.

Pour the cake batter into a greased square 8 x 8 baking dish or round baking dish, or evenly into 12 lined muffin cups. Place the cake/cupcakes in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. My mom always told me that it’s better to over bake a cake (and under bake a brownie); nothing worse than goopy batter in the middle!

 

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Set your cake on a cooling rack for an hour or two. Speed the process by placing it uncovered in the fridge. When your cake (or cupcakes) is cool, frost and decorate (if you want), and dig in!

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Pizza Bread

I have recently acquired two kitchen appliances that I’m obsessed with: an automatic bread maker and a food dehydrator. As you know, I like to bake my own bread. While the bread maker actually takes longer from start to finish than it takes me to crank out a loaf manually, I like being able to dump in my ingredients, push Start, and forget about it. My bread maker came with a recipe book that has inspired many variations on my standard bread formula.

Today’s variation incorporates tomatoes that I dehydrated with my other favorite new appliance, my dehydrator. I asked for one for Christmas mainly to make my own dried fruit. Buying it premade often means signing up for excess added sugar, oil, or salt. I’m happy that I can now control those ingredients myself. The dehydrator also makes veggie chips, all-natural fruit rollups, and all kinds of other yumminess!

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Ok, back to the bread. I played around with my bread formula to come up with a loaf that incorporates all of the flavors of pizza without the cheese. This rendition incorporates a bit of nutritional yeast flakes (also found in my last post, nacho “cheese”) that really do add that much-sought-after cheesy flavor.

You’ll notice that I’ve included the directions for making the bread by hand, should you not own a bread maker. Otherwise, follow the instructors on your appliance. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: YEAST BREAD

Makes 1 standard size loaf

  • 3-4 cups of flour, plus more for dusting your workspace–> I’m using 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1 ¾ cups bread flour, and ¼ cup nutritional yeast (nooch is not flour, but has a similar dry consistency).
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed –> I’m using hulled hemp seeds instead.
  • ½ tsp salt –> I’m using pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 1 tbsp oil –> I’m using some of the extra virgin olive oil that my sundried tomatoes are packed in.
  • 1 ¾ cups very warm water (hot, but touchable) –> My bread machine requires less water, so I’m using only 1 ¼ cups, but I would maintain this amount for a manual loaf.
  • Up to ½ cup specialty ingredients (optional) –> I’m using nearly ½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes + 1 tsp turbinado sugar, ½ tsp dried basil, and ½ tsp dried oregano.

Attach a dough hook to your stand mixer (you can make the bread entirely by hand, but it will be a little workout!). Thoroughly clean and dry your countertop and sprinkle with flour. Have any specialty ingredients of choice nearby to eventually knead into your bread dough. Lightly oil a large bowl and a loaf pan.

Combine 3 cups of flour (including nooch, in my case), salt, and yeast in the mixer on low. Add any additional spices or sweeteners, if using. Add the water and oil to the dry ingredients and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl before starting the mixer. Start on low speed and increase the speed as the dry ingredients become incorporated into the wet.

Add all of the flaxseed (hemp seeds in my case) and then, additional flour gradually until your dough forms a minimally sticky ball on high speed. I can tell that the dough is ready for kneading if it is still somewhat sticky to the touch, but does not stick to the mixing bowl itself when whipping around on a high speed.

Flour your hands, remove the dough, and place the dough onto your floured countertop. Knead the dough, adding small amounts of flour as necessary, until it makes a smooth ball. If you are adding ingredients like sundried tomatoes, stretch the dough open 3 times throughout the kneading process to sprinkle in ingredients before folding over the dough and kneading again. Knead for 5-7 minutes total and then place the ball into your oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

This is what my assembly looks like just before starting the bread machine:

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After 45 minutes, punch down the dough, reform into a loaf shape, and transfer it into your oiled loaf pan. Cover the dough and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In the time that it takes the oven to preheat, your dough will rise again and then be ready for baking. Bake for 35 minutes. The bread should come out of the loaf pan fairly easily and onto a wire rack to cool.

Need more pictures of the bread making process? Check out my original bread post!

Guiltless Nacho Cheese

No, the title of this post is not a mistake: You CAN load up your nachos with gobs of ooey-gooeyness and NOT stress about what you’re eating. What is this orange slime that I poured all over my nachos? What is it made out of? How is it that orange? How much salt is in this? Those days are done.

I have concocted a number of formulas for vegan alternatives that are just as satisfying as dairy: creamy pasta sauce, mousse, frosting, whipped cream, etc. I have never, however, claimed that they are the same; vegan cheese just isn’t cheese. Period. What matters to me is that my vegan rendition is delicious, nutritious, and an adequate—if not superior—substitute for the real deal.

Today, I’m walking you through a vegan nacho cheese that is seriously going to blow your mind. The color is the same, the texture is the same, and the flavor is on point, as spicy as you’d like to make it. The best part? No guilt: This cheese sauce is potato-based. Who knew “nacho cheese” could be healthy?! (Remember, when not slathered with greasy, cholesterol-laden dairy products, potatoes—even white—are an extremely healthy source of fiber and vitamin C.)

Many of my formula ideas come from Instagram. I follow some amazing vegan bloggers that post a wide variety of sweet and savory drool-worthy pictures and recipes. Every time I’ve seen nacho cheese come up, I’ve scrolled past. There’s no way it’s anything like nacho cheese, I thought. I finally decided to match a batch and I was dead wrong. (Big thanks to @bestofvegan and @silviaryan for the inspiration!)

Travis is always skeptical when I create a formula that is meant to replace a perfectly palatable animal-based version. He figures, why not just eat real cheese if that’s what you’re craving, but at the same time, realizes that doing so is not the most sensible choice for the body. Thus, he keeps an open mind. I can say with confidence that Travis’s perspective on nacho cheese is now forever changed – he said that all my vegan rendition needed was a pinch of salt and it was legit. He can be quite critical (in a helpful way), so if he approved, it’s gotta be good.

Some tips: The type of potato/carrot you use will certainly influence the flavor and color of your nacho cheese. Point being, I wouldn’t use purple. 🙂 The sweetness from either a yam, sweet potato, or carrot balances out the spices…or extreme spiciness if you like it hot. I have only made this cheese with a russet and carrot combo and the sauce was not at all sweet. It would certainly be a bit sweeter with a sweet potato or yam, but even then, I don’t foresee this sauce tasting even close to dessert-like. Finally, you can easily transform this into a queso dip by adding fresh diced tomatoes and peppers.

I promise that you won’t be disappointed with this formula. Pour this nacho cheese over organic, all-natural, low-sodium chips or layer in a burrito bowl and dig in. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: NACHO CHEESE

  • 1 medium potato (or the equivalent in fingerlings or another small potato variety) OR 1 large sweet potato or yam –> I’m using 1 russet.
  • 1 large carrot (if you’re NOT using sweet potato/yam) –> I’m using it.
  • 1 cup unsweetened, unflavored plant milk –> I’m using almond.
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • Salt and Cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste –> I’m using about ½ tsp pink Himalayan sea salt and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Put your cashews in water and soak for at least four hours (I usually do overnight).

Peel your potato(es) and carrot, if using. Cook using the method of your choice (steam, boil, bake, etc.).

Drain and rinse your cashews. Place in a blender with cooked potato(es) and carrot (if using) and all remaining ingredients. If necessary, add more milk until you’ve reach the desired consistency, keeping in mind that you then may need to adjust your seasonings to prevent the sauce from becoming bland.

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Use immediately or store in the fridge (does keep well!). May require more milk when reheating.

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Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Power Bars

Nolan has decided that his favorite food is chocolate. “Chocolate is a good snack, Mom.” Nolan wants chocolate on or with almost everything he eats. Thankfully, his mama is hip to the word on dark chocolate, which is all he’s ever had. Like a lot of people, I grew up on milk chocolate, which I think most would agree is richer and more palatable. Dark chocolate is an acquired taste, but now that it’s all I eat, the rare instances when I have milk, my tastes buds are blown away by how cloyingly sweet it is.

Why make the switch from milk to dark? Many milk chocolate treats contain sugar and milk as their primary ingredients when it is the cacao bean that contains the powerhouse nutrients. Once you get past the slightly bitter and certainly less sweet taste of dark, you can now consume chocolate that provides true health benefits. Dark chocolate that is 72% cacoa or greater is jam-packed with protein, fiber, and antioxidants. It is heart healthy and can boost brain power, too. YUM!

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Of course, like all sweets, we can’t overdo it with even dark chocolate. Cacoa does contain fat and when made into a chocolate bar, for instance, also contains added sugar. Point is, a little bit of dark chocolate every day—yes, I eat it every day folks!—is not only not going to hurt you, but will provide you with powerful nutrients. Opt for fair trade whenever possible.

What do I say when Nolan wants chocolate? I give it to him. Not in unlimited quantities and only after or in conjunction with another snack or meal, but like me, he eats it every day. (For the parents out there who may be wondering about amount, if the average dark chocolate bar is three ounces, he has half an ounce or less in a day. Hopefully that helps you to visualize the quantity!)

Today’s rendition of my power bars also incorporates a touch of pink Himalayan sea salt, which is loaded with minerals. A little bit is ok. 🙂 If I didn’t sell you enough on giving dark chocolate a try, Travis said that these power bars are one of the best things I’ve ever made. So, there’s that. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: POWER BARS

Yields 9 square bars*

For the dough:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole grains –> I’m using ¾ cup wheat berries (learn about wheat berries by checking out my multi-grain salad formula) and ¼ cup ground flaxseed.**
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried fruit (without added oil) –> I’m using pitted medjool dates.
  • ½ cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –> I’m using sunflower.
  • 2 tbsps natural liquid sweetener –> I’m using agave syrup.
  • Extract and/or spices to taste (optional) –> I’m using 1/8 teaspoon pink Himalayan sea salt.

Garnish ideas (up to ½ cup):

  • Raw seeds
  • Raw finely chopped nuts
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Melted dark chocolate to pour over the top (which will re-solidify after chilling) –> I’m using 3 ounces of 72% cacoa + a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt.

*Double the recipe to make double the bars, or, to achieve thicker bars.

**Yes, I know that flaxseed is not a whole grain. Just wanted to add a little texture and different nutrients to the bars today. 🙂

Turn your whole grains into flour using your food processor or blender (my Vitamix has a dry blade pitcher).

Then, combine the flour and your remaining ingredients, except the garnish. Run until a thick, pliable dough forms. You will probably have to scrape down the sides of the processor with a spatula at least once.

Turn the dough out into a mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine half of your garnish (unless it’s melted chocolate) and to break up any clumps of dried fruit and/or butter. Firmly press the dough into an 8 x 8 pan lined with wax paper.

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Evenly distribute the remaining garnish, pressing into/pouring onto the top of the bars.

To melt dark chocolate: Use a double boiler (not the microwave). Fill a sauce pan with about an inch of water and turn it up to medium high heat. Place a glass bowl containing your chocolate on top of the pan. Stir chocolate occasionally until it completely melts. BE CAREFUL OF ANY STEAM COMING UP FROM THE SAUCE PAN.

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Chill the bars for at least 2 hours before cutting into the desired size and shape. Store in the refrigerator.

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Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

I love barbecue. I realize that seems awkward, coming from a mostly vegan. What use could I possibly have for BBQ sauce if I’m not slathering it on ribs or chicken? While I think that BBQ sauce has many applications, it is one of my favorite pizza sauces. Back in my meat-eating days, BBQ chicken pizza was one of my favs. Now, I sub tofu for chicken and forgo the cheese and am still completely satisfied…

…especially now that I’ve developed my own sauce! Store-bought BBQ sauces certainly promise flavor, but they are overloaded with sugar and salt. My version includes very little added sweetener and is so robust, doesn’t even need much salt.

The key to creating a sauce that outdoes the premade versions is using fresh ingredients. My BBQ sauce comes together with whole plump tomatoes and sweet golden pineapple. That’s right: pineapple is my not-so-secret-anymore ingredient. I’ve seen it used for natural sweetness in teriyaki, so I thought I’d give it a try in another sauce. Depending on how sweet, tangy, and/or spicy you like your BBQ sauce, you may not even need any added sweetener after the addition of the pineapple. Taste as you go!

(SIDE NOTE: If you don’t have one of these handy kitchen scales, I would highly recommend buying one.)

So, I realize that some of you are, in fact, going to use this deliciousness to coat an animal carcass. I’m happy to get you one step closer to living a healthier life by forgoing that bottle in the grocery store. No matter what, do, absolutely, use this sauce to make my pizza some time. 🙂 Enjoy!

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FORMULA BASE: BARBECUE SAUCE

  • 1 pound tomatoes –> I’m using romas.
  • ½ pound ripe pineapple
  • ½ of a small onion –> I’m using yellow.
  • 2-3 cloves garlic –> I’m using 2.
  • ¼ cup acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) –> I’m using whole grain mustard.
  • ¼ cup + 1/8 cup sweetener –> I’m using ¼ cup unsulfured molasses and 1/8 cup agave syrup.
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using 4 grounds of fresh black pepper and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste (optional) –> Definitely not for this wimp. 🙂

Coarsely chop your tomatoes, pineapple, and onion into large chunks. Place in a blender with your garlic cloves (peeled and whole). Puree until smooth.

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Pour into a sauce pan and add all other ingredients. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until sauce has reached desired consistency. Use immediately or store in the fridge.

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