2-to-1 Copycat Larabars

Let me start by saying that I think Larabars are absolutely fantastic.  I love the company’s transparency with ingredients and even better, I love how simple the ingredients are.  The truth of the matter is, to buy quick and easy snacks made with natural, whole foods and no preservatives is NOT cheap.  So, true to my Fresh Formula concept, I make my own.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still somewhat expensive to make Larabars at home, but you save in not paying for packaging and you can tailor the formula to what is on sale in bulk (which is how I purchase all of my nuts and seeds for trail mix and more).  More importantly, you can customize the ingredients to perfect an already pretty darn delicious model.  Of course, I’ve created an easily adaptable formula that works with both nuts and seeds, if you’re concerned about any allergies.

In today’s rendition, I’m using a variety of raw nuts and pepitas.  The pepita is the kernel of the pumpkin seed, which you can see below.  If you checked out my original power bar recipe, you know that pepitas are a powerhouse of nutrition.  I put them in recipes like today’s and throw them atop salads, too.

pepitas

As far as the dried fruit in my Larabar formula is concerned, you’re going to get your easiest process with medjool dates.  When they are fresh, they are soft, creamy, and easy to blend.  Other dried fruits will do just fine, but you may need more of them to achieve the same effect as the dates.

My son (well, my whole family really!) LOVES these.  I pack them in his lunch for school and you can cut them into any shapes you want for your littles.  No added sugar, salt, or oil = delicious and nutritious.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  COPYCAT LARABAR

Makes 16-18 bars

  • 2 cups unsweetened dried fruit –>  I’m using pitted medjool dates.
  • 1 cup raw nuts and/or seeds –>  I’m using a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pepitas.

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until a thick, pliable dough forms.

dough

Press into an 8 x 8 pan lined with wax paper.  Flatten with your hands.  Cover the dough with an additional piece of wax paper and smooth out the dough (it need not be perfect).

pan

Let chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before cutting.  Store in the fridge for a firmer consistency.

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Back-to-School Power Balls

Truthfully, these are anytime super food snacks, but I made them specifically to send Nolan off to summer camp at his new school, so alas, the title of this post.  If you’ve already tried making them, you know that my power balls are filling enough that two or three make for a solid snack, and sweet enough (but not too sweet) that they could practically pass for healthy truffles.  They are the ultimate school snack and one that I’m sure Nolan’s friends will have their eyes on.

There’s nothing unusual or new to report with this version, as these power balls include all ingredients you’ve seen in my previous posts.  The star today is sunflower butter—which made its first appearance in my dark chocolate sea salt power bars—since it is nut-allergy friendly.  Many schools have strict rules about peanuts on campus, making sunflower seeds an excellent alternative.

Using a melon baller, I made these power balls extra small so that they are bite-size for Nolan and easy to snack on between activities.  I’ll admit, whipping these up takes a lot more time than picking up a box of fruit snacks at the grocery store, but it’s well worth providing my kids the best nutrition possible to get through their busy days.

Looking for a different shape and slightly different formula?  Check out my power bars!

FORMULA BASE:  POWER BALLS

Makes 12-14 small balls (or 20-ish mini-balls)

For the dough:

  • 1 cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –>  I’m using sunflower.
  • 1 cup uncooked whole grains –>  I’m using rolled oats.
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit (without added oil) –>  I’m using 6 small pitted medjool dates.
  • 2 tbsps natural liquid sweetener –>  I’m using 1 tbsp agave syrup.*
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Garnish ideas (approximately 4 tbsps):

  • Raw seeds -> I’m using 2 tbsps of ground flaxseed.
  • Raw finely chopped nuts
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes -> I’m using 2 tbsps of unsweetened, desiccated coconut.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Finely chopped unsweetened dried fruit bits (without added oil)
  • Melted dark chocolate (which will re-solidify after dipping)

*I cut 1 tbsp of sweetener because the sun butter I happen to be using was pre-sweetened.  I never buy nut or seed butters that contain added salt, oil, or sugar, but the lady that used to watch my kids had an excess of sun butter that she was concerned would go to waste.  I’m not going to pass up free plant-based butters (which can be quite expensive), so I needed to adjust my formula today.  🙂

Turn your whole grains into flour using your food processor or blender. You could also use rolled oats as is. The texture of the balls will be different, but rolled oats are one of few grains soft enough to be palatable without becoming flour.

Combine the flour and your remaining ingredients in a food processor. 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.

Shape the dough into 1-1 ½ inch balls and roll in garnish.

garnish

Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge.

power balls

Cheesecake Fail Turned Happy Accident

As I mentioned in my nice cream post, cheesecake is a popular dessert among vegan cooks, chefs, and bloggers right now. Many that I follow are experimenting with recipes to create a dairy-free version of this classic dessert and are taking it up a notch by making it no-bake and sometimes, raw, too.

Turns out, a successful vegan cheesecake is not easy, and I have yet to join the ranks of those who have successfully gone before me, despite seemingly knowing my stuff. When I develop a new Fresh Formula, I do so through either through experimentation in my own kitchen, research among other vegan cooks, or a combination of both. From those that I follow, I learned that the “cheese” in such a vegan concoction is made possible with cashews and sometimes, coconut cream, two ingredients that I’ve been obsessed with of late (see my potato salad and nice cream formulas).

I developed a formula that I saw as the right balance between sweet, creamy, and decadent without going overboard in any one flavor profile. I tasted the filling as I went, making adjustments as necessary, and came up with a final product that I was sure was the cheesecake winner.

Well, everything was fine until I went to thaw my mini-cheesecakes (all of the recipes I researched stressed the need to freeze and then thaw them to secure the desired shape) and they melted. 😦 Somehow, other vegan cooks have figured out how to make these beauties hold their shape, just like a dairy cheesecake. I, however, have to yet to find success in form. What did happen, though, was amazingly delicious: mousse!

As you know, I already have one mousse formula that is tofu-based. This is a trusty standby for me as it holds its shape well and is jam-packed with protein. I’m not doing away with that mousse rendition; now, I just have more options! And, as far as protein content is concerned, nuts can hold their own, too, so I’m not “missing out” with my new formula.

This mousse formula—which I’m calling “Fruit Mousse,” as the other one is chocolate-based—does, however, contain more fat and sugar. These are natural, cholesterol-free fats and sugars, but two ingredients I try to use sparingly nonetheless. Point is, make this as a special treat and serve it at a party where you will no doubt impress the omnivores in attendance, too (that’s what I did and it was a huge hit…more to follow on that). I would recommend serving in individual containers since this mousse won’t keep its shape when sliced as a pie.

A quick note about citrus zest…You’ll notice that I’m using lemon zest in today’s mousse, in addition to lemon juice. Isn’t the juice enough? The zest packs a ton of added flavor and to me, is actually even more flavorful than the juice. Plus, I’m a huge fan of using as much of the fruit as possible, so there’s that. Finally, lemon zest, in particular, contains five to ten times more nutrients than the juice of the fruit, providing health benefits, too. Be careful when you zest not to grate your citrus fruit down to the white pith, which is bitter.

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All-in-all, while I don’t have a cheesecake in my fridge (I will keep trying!), I’m pretty happy with how my unexpected mousse turned out. One person’s fail is another person’s victory?! In this case, both of those people were me. J Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: FRUIT MOUSSE

Makes 24 mini-cups

For the crust (optional):

  • ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit (no added oil) –> I’m using 5 pitted medjool dates.
  • ¼ cup raw, unsalted nuts/seeds –> I’m using pecans.
  • 1 ½ tbsps oil or nut/seed butter –> I’m using coconut oil.
  • ¼-½ tsp seasoning (spices, salt, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ tsp cinnamon and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

For the filling:

  • 1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight
  • 1 cup raw fruit –> I’m using ¾ cup raspberries and the juice of 2 lemons.
  • ½ cup coconut cream
  • ½ cup liquid sweetener –> I’m using raw agave syrup.
  • 1 tbsp oil* –> I’m using coconut.
  • ½-1 tbsp combination of spices, extracts, fresh herbs, etc. (optional) –> I’m using the zest of my 2 lemons and a quick splash of almond extract.
  • 2-4 tbsps garnish (raw seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, citrus zest, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc.) (optional) –> I’m using mini-semisweet chocolate chips (vegan).

*I only used oil because all of the cheesecake recipes I researched called for some oil. I don’t know that it is essential to mousse, so you may be able to opt out of it. I won’t know until I try making this again at some point!

If using, put all of the ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until well-combined, but sticky. Press into your individual serving vessels of choice. I originally planned to make these in a mini-muffin pan and pop them out frozen to thaw, thus why you see them that way here. Later, when I realized that the mousse would not maintain a mini-pie shape after being popped out of the pan, I transferred each mousse to an individual plastic cup, which is where I would have started my crust to begin with, had I known what was going to happen. 🙂  Place crusts in the freezer to firm up.

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Drain and rinse your cashews. Put all of your filling ingredients (except the garnish, if using) in a blender and puree until silky smooth. Pour over prepared crusts, garnish, and place in the fridge to chill. Again, knowing what I know now, I would not use the mini-muffin pan! Make sure your individual mousse cups are in a container that you can put a lid on. Remove from the fridge when you’re ready to serve.

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I’m Pregnant, and I want PB&J!

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If you haven’t heard via one of my social media accounts (follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jackiewitzke or on Tumblr, TheFreshFormula), I am pregnant with baby #2! We have lovingly named our mini-us Baby Dos, since we aren’t finding out the sex until birth. I’m happy to report that I’ve been feeling well overall, especially now that the exhaustion of the first trimester has passed.

When I was pregnant with Nolan, I craved macaroni and cheese, which doesn’t exactly bode well for my plant-based lifestyle. This pregnancy, I’m thankful to be craving something animal-free: good ‘ole peanut butter and jelly! So long as jelly doesn’t contain gelatin, it is naturally vegan. I buy nut butters containing only nuts, so they’re as natural as you can get, too. And as you know, I also make my own bread, so PB&J is generally a pretty healthy snack for me…

…except for the excess of sugar found in some jelly brands. I’ve handled this a couple of ways. If I purchase premade jelly, I look for all-natural varieties that do not contain high fructose corn syrup. Travis and I have also made our own jellies and jams in the past, allowing us to control the amount and quality of sweetener that goes in.

Regardless of how well I shop or prepare homemade jellies and jams, sugar is sugar. Not only does the average person need to avoid consuming an excess, but certainly a pregnant woman should. I have solved this problem by turning to an old standby: my dessert smoothie formula.

Yes, it’s here: the no-sugar-added PB&J smoothie! I derive all of the sweetness in this treat from raw fruit and medjool dates (as needed). But wait, doesn’t fruit contain sugar? Yes – thankfully, it is coupled with fiber to slow the body’s absorption and prevent the conversion to fat. A dietician that I follow (as mentioned in this previous post) eats primarily raw fruit in her vegan diet and claims that you cannot consume too much of natural sugar in this form (juice, of course, is another story, which I wrote about in the same post). So, not to worry PB&J lovers!

My favorite jelly is that of raspberries, which I’m including in today’s formula adaptation. Raspberries (as with many other berries) happen to be low in sugar, for those concerned, and contain more fiber than any other fruit. Pretty awesome, huh?!  These pictured below are frozen, not moldy.  🙂

DSC_2033Like my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie, you can enjoy this one for dessert, but it would make for a well-balanced breakfast or snack, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: DESSERT SMOOTHIE

Serves 2-3

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients –> I’m using ¾ cup frozen raspberries and ¼ cup peanut butter.*
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –> I’m not using any.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m not using any.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with 4 oz) –> I’m using almond.

*You could use any combination of berries and nut/seed butter.  🙂

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, adjusting specialty ingredients as necessary.

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Make Smart Substitutions

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I am excited to share with you that I completed my first Fresh Formula publication outside of my blog.  🙂  I completed an article for the Adjunct Faculty Association spring newsletter, The Connection, and was among only five adjuncts selected to write in the health and wellness section.  Today, I thought I’d share that article with you.

If you’re a regular subscriber of The Fresh Formula, some of the article’s content won’t be new information, but a refresher never hurts.  I also included the recipe for my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie, which was one of my first blog posts.  Click the link above to see the original article or read the text below:

On my plant-based living blog, The Fresh Formula, I share information and recipes for healthy eating.  One of the easiest changes we can make to our diets is to consider healthier substitutes for the items that we are using regularly.  Below, I have listed some examples of substitutions that I have made in my own kitchen:

  • White flour –> Whole wheat flour, spelt flour, graham flour
  • White granulated sugar –> Turbinado sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, medjool dates
  • Iodized table salt –> Pink Himalayan sea salt

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  • Nut butters with additives –> Nuts-only nut butters
  • Eggs –> Chia seeds or ground flaxseed (mixed with water), bananas, steamed apple puree
  • Dairy milk –> Unsweetened almond, cashew, coconut, grain, and hemp milks
  • Canned beans –> Dry beans or unsalted canned beans (beans only)
  • White rice –> Brown rice, farro, quinoa, wheat berries, cracked wheat, barley
  • Prepackaged popcorn –> Bulk popping corn (made on the stovetop)

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  • Vegetable or canola oil –> Coconut, avocado, sesame, peanut, and olive oils
  • Boxed/canned stock/broth –> Unsalted homemade stock (can also be used as a flavorful substitute for water when cooking whole grains)

While many of these substitutions are more expensive, some are cheaper than their preservative-laden brethren; I believe that the health benefits are worth it either way.  I adopted a plant-based lifestyle because I had high cholesterol, so eggs, for example, were one of the first items to cross off of my shopping list.  Chia seeds, by contrast, are cholesterol-free sources of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and calcium.

I have included my irresistible chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie recipe incorporating many of the aforementioned substitutions.  It is so decadent, it can serve as dessert, but is a healthy option for a meal or snack, too!

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BANANA SMOOTHIE

Serves 2-3

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and a few ice cubes)
  • ½ cup peanut butter (nuts only)
  • 1 heaping tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 2 pitted medjool dates
  • Unsweetened almond milk to achieve desired consistency (start with ½ cup)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until silky smooth.

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For more valuable health tips, information on plant-based living and eating, and tons of delicious recipes, visit thefreshformula.com and subscribe for regular updates.  Cheers to good health!

“Yogurt” with a Twist

DSC_1748Tofu: a protein-packed animal product alternative made from soybean curds. In my years of living a plant-based lifestyle, I’ve come across vegan/vegetarian chefs that put the stuff in everything and others that won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. The reality is that tofu is just soybeans. You can buy it already processed or even make it yourself.

DSC_1745 Some cooks don’t like it because it is processed (although you can find many varieties that contain only soybeans and water) and others don’t like it because it is composed of soy, which has questionable health risks. The jury is still on out on whether or not soy products can really cause serious health problems, particularly for women, but from what I’ve researched, it is fine in moderation for just about anyone. Another concern about soy is that it is often grouped with other foods likely to result in allergies (i.e. nuts, fish, dairy milk, etc.), but I suppose, as with any food, if you ate it and were allergic, you’d know pretty quickly.

At the end of the day, I am willing to consume a little soy and so are Travis and Nolan. I absolutely can’t go to sushi without ordering edamame as an appetizer and I love to crumble and sauté tofu to make ground “chicken” tacos or barbeque “chicken” pizza. Like the meats that tofu is often substituted for, soybeans are loaded with protein and can be prepared in a number of ways that make them truly delicious.

One of my favorite ways to prepare silken/soft tofu, in particular, is to make it into togurt. Yup, just like yogurt, but without dairy, which I avoid because of its lactose and cholesterol and quite frankly, because I’ve read and seen some disturbing things about how the cows that produce our dairy are treated. I’ll let you read up on it on your own. 🙂

Anyway, my version of “yogurt” has a similar texture and flavor to the traditional variety, sans high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial coloring. If you have a block of silken/soft tofu, fruit, and plant milk, you’re ready to make togurt. Nolan loves it, too, and it pairs nicely with fruit or granola. Be advised that when you puree it initially, it will be a bit thinner than what it will become when sitting in the fridge. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: TOGURT

Serves 6-8

  • 1 block (14 oz) silken tofu
  • 1 ½-2 cups fresh or steamed fruit (depending on the fruit) –> I’m using almost 2 cups of raw strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  • ½-¾ cup plant milk –> I’m using ½ cup almond.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m using 3.
  • Spices/extracts as needed or preferred –> I’m using 1 tsp vanilla extract.

If necessary, peel and/or steam your fruit. I would leave citrus fruits, berries, and tropical fruits, for example, raw, but would steam hard fruits like pears or apples. Combine all ingredients in a blender.

DSC_1746Blend, taste, and adjust ingredients as necessary for your taste preferences. The air bubbles are normal and will never completely dissipate.

DSC_1747Store in the fridge for up to a week. Stir before eating if the water and solids separate a bit. 🙂

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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!