Baby’s Banana Muffins

I have many readers that have shared with me that my super food muffins are among the first solids (after purees, of course) that they try with their babies.  (I’m flattered, amazing readers! <3)  I imagine this is because in addition to being loaded with super foods, they are easy to tear into small pieces and turn into mush in the mouth similarly to bread.  I typically make the muffins with a little bit of texture—shredded veggies or nuts, for example—but for all of the babies out there that might just be getting used to solids, I whipped up a batch that contains mashed banana as the star.

Don’t get me wrong, these are delicious and nutritious for anyone, and you could always throw in some chopped walnuts if you’re looking for a bit more texture yourself.  I’ve also played around with this formula and made some adjustments to reflect more experimentation in the kitchen.  If you have my original formula memorized like I do, you’ll notice the tweaks below.  🙂

A final note…

Ingredients like nuts, depending on whom you talk to, are not necessarily recommended for little ones.  I’ve read no nuts until age two.  I’ve also read eighteen months, and I’ve read that it might not even matter at all.  If you’re concerned about your baby consuming nuts, seeds, or plant milks made from such ingredients, always ask your child’s pediatrician first.  Then, enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  SUPER FOOD MUFFINS

Makes 12 regular sized muffins

  • 1 cup flour –> I’m using whole wheat.
  • 1 cup cooked small grains (e.g. quinoa, kaniwa, millet, etc.) –>  I’m using millet.
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup sweetener –>  I’m using light agave syrup.
  • 1/8 cup oil –>  I’m using coconut.
  • 1 cup raw (fresh or frozen) fruit or veggie –>  I’m using mashed banana.
  • 1-1 ¼ cups plant milk –>  I’m using almond.
  • 3 tbsps seeds (e.g. chia, hemp, poppy, flax, etc.) –>  I’m 1 tbsp each chia, hulled hemp, and ground flax.
  • ½-1 tsp extract (amount will depend on flavor intensity) –>  I’m using 1 tsp homemade vanilla.
  • ½-1 tsp spices –>  I’m using ½ tsp ground cinnamon.
  • ½ tsp salt (optional) –>  I’m not using any.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Separately combine all of the dry ingredients and all of the wet ingredients (include the mashed banana in the wet).

muffin batter

Pour the wet into the dry and mix with a wooden spoon. The batter will be thick and lumpy, but you can always add more plant milk if it seems too dry or dough-like. Spoon the batter into a lined or greased cupcake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Use the toothpick test! Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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.

cherry pitter

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!

sundae

We All Scream for Nice Cream!

So, I thought I was the only vegan/almost-vegan/vegetarian blogger obsessed with making dessert right now, but I have come to realize that with the heat of summer, I am not alone. I follow many plant-based dieters on social media and I see two popular desserts surfacing over and over again: cheesecake and ice cream.

Obviously, these traditional dessert names can be deceiving as there is no cheese in a vegan cheesecake and no cream in vegan ice cream, but you get the idea. Those in the plant-based world are finding healthy, natural, and creative ways to mimic the qualities we have come to love in dairy products. This is not to say that the flavors and the textures are exactly like those of the animal-based variety; they are, however, rich, decadent, just as a satisfying, and most importantly, much healthier.

Have a sweet tooth? Hot? Pregnant? Frustrated with pregnant partner? Bad day at work? Need a special treat for a party or group of kids? Love ice cream, but watching your figure? All of the above? It’s time to make vegan ice cream! I see vegan bloggers typically use two titles to describe their plant-based freezer creations: nice cream or nana ice cream. I’m going with nice cream because I am an English instructor by day and puns are the jam. 🙂

The second mock ice cream title does appeal to me, however, in its description of the ice cream base: bananas. That’s right: our nice cream gets its creamy consistency from frozen bananas. Good news is if you’ve mastered my dessert smoothie formula (this one is very similar), you’re ready to make nice cream! Less liquid + more chunky ingredients topped with chocolate sauce and whipped coconut cream will allow for more of a sundae experience, whereas the smoothie mimics a milkshake.

In order to be ready to make nice cream (or dessert smoothies) any time, I peel and chunk ripe or overripe bananas to keep in the freezer. I would highly recommend having a couple chilling at all times, but this is a great strategy if you have a few bananas that are on their way out and you don’t think you’ll eat them in time. (If I don’t pop overripe bananas in the freezer, I quickly whip them up into a batch of my super food muffins).

DSC_2289The banana is an amazing potassium-loaded, naturally sweet and creamy, and inexpensive fruit that has endless uses. Making a batch of nice cream will not only change the way that you view dessert, but it is so much easier to make that dairy-based ice cream, which often involves a machine and lots of waiting. As of late, when I want dessert, I want it now. 🙂

Today’s rendition features one of my favorite nuts: the pistachio. It’s amazing green color not only represents so much of what I stand for in life (plant-based living and the Michigan State Spartans, to name a couple!), but it signifies that pistachios are loaded with antioxidants. They are also a rich source of fiber, vitamin B6, copper, and manganese. Nuts are among my favorite super foods!

DSC_2288If you’ve got a blender or food processor and some bananas on hand, and you’re comfortable with my dessert smoothie formula, you’re ready to scream for nice cream. Here we go…

FORMULA BASE: NICE CREAM

Serves 3-4

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ¾-1 cup specialty ingredients –> I’m using ¾ cup unsalted pistachio meats + ¼ tsp cinnamon.
  • 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 using 2.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with just a splash) –> I’m using almond.
  • ¼ cup extras for mixing in by hand (optional) – think nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc. –> I’m using more unsalted pistachios, finely chopped.

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.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).  Your nice cream base will thicken in the freezer.

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Chocolate sauce*:

  • ½ cup plant milk –> I’m using almond.
  • 3-4 pitted mejool dates (depending on size) –> I’m using 4.
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

*Chocolate not your thing? You could also make caramel or melt nut butter to top your nice cream. 🙂

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pour into a sauce pan on the stovetop over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer for about five minutes until sauce has thickened slightly. Cool to a palatable temperature before serving.

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Leftovers? Store in a glass container in the fridge. Heat and add additional plant milk (if necessary) to thin out when using again.

Whipped coconut cream:

  • 1 can coconut cream or full fat coconut milk –> I’m using cream.
  • Powdered sweetener to taste (start with ¼ cup) –> I’m using ¼ + 1/8 cups powdered turbinado sugar.
  • ¼-½ tsp extract (depending on flavor intensity) (optional) –> I’m using ¼ tsp vanilla.
  • 1 pinch-¼ tsp spices (optional) –> I’m using a healthy pinch of cinnamon.

Chill your can of coconut cream/milk in the fridge overnight. After your nice cream is tucked away in the freezer and your sauce is cooling, 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.

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Assemble your nice cream sundae and absolutely, enjoy!  Take it from Nolan:  “It’s so good!”

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Dessert for Breakfast? Yes, Please!

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Today, I made my favorite dessert smoothie for breakfast. Above, you can see the finished product, ready for consumption by one busy mommy and on-the-go toddler.  While you’ll love this sweet treat in a traditional post-meal capacity, it can serve as a decadent start to your day, too. Jam-packed with protein and calcium, it puts many other breakfast options to shame.

A few words about some of the ingredients (pictured below) in this chocolate peanut butter banana concoction…

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First, we have cocoa power. To keep the sugar content low, it is imperative that it be unsweetened. Cocoa powder, which contains powerful antioxidants, has numerous health benefits, so it may be tempting to add a lot, but its flavor is quite intense. Start with a tablespoon and slowly add more if you want your smoothie extra chocolaty.

Secondly, seek out a peanuts-only peanut butter. Many peanut butters contain added sugar, oil, and salt, which may result in you initially finding a simpler peanut butter bland. The purer taste, however, will grow on you over time; I now find myself off-put by peanut butter with unnecessary additives.

Lastly, because the cocoa power, peanut butter, and almond milk in this recipe are all unsweetened, you have only the bananas to rely on to give this smoothie a dessert-like quality. Riper bananas will be sweeter, but if even that is not enough for you, add medjool dates–which are rich in fiber and vitamins–for a little something extra. As you can see in the photo, they do contain pits, which can be easily removed by splitting the dates in half with your thumbs. Medjool dates are very soft, easy to work with, and blend well, if you have a high quality blender.

That leads me to my blender: the Ninja, which includes pitchers in two different sizes. The most basic model will run you about $100, where the more advanced models with more equipment will be over $300. While I would love someday to own one of the hailed Vitamix or Blendtec processors, for a little less coin, I’m happy with the Ninja for now. If you do not own a blender with advanced capabilities and fear that the less-than-perfect puree of the dates would result in an unappealing texture, you could substitute another sweetener of your choice.

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Overall, this smoothie blends up nicely, with the exception of the chia seeds, which I’m not sure would completely puree in any blender. Their texture reminds me of the tiny seeds on strawberries or in kiwis and does not bother me, but you can eliminate them if you so choose. I have chia seeds in many of my formulas/recipes, as they are a super food loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, fiber, and protein.

But the seeds and peanut butter are fattening, right? Yes, they are. I’m happy to report, however, that seeds and nuts contain cholesterol-free fats. If you’re following a fairly strict plant-based diet, seeds and nuts are among the only sources of fat that you will ingest. Think about that squishy, white-ish edge of a pork chop or the grease that floats on top of a cheesy pizza and you will celebrate the addition, in moderation, of a different kind of fat to your diet. Also, this smoothie need not be your everyday breakfast (I make it once or twice a week) – check out my fruit and veggie smoothie formula, too.

With that said, on to dessert!

FORMULA BASE:  DESSERT SMOOTHIE

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients –>  I’m using ½ cup peanut butter and 1 heaping tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –>  I’m using no extract in this recipe.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness  –>  I’m using 2.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with 4 oz)  –>  I’m using unsweetened almond milk.

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Combine all ingredients in a blender. Taste and adjust specialty ingredients as necessary.  Enjoy!