One-Week Raw Food Challenge

As expected, this week, I plateaued on my weight loss journey. After I gave birth to Nolan, the last four pounds were the toughest to lose and it looks like that is going to be the case again. While I didn’t gain any weight over the past week—plant-based eating works wonders for maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of the intensity or amount of exercise—I didn’t lose any either and I’m not seeing any differences in my appearance.

So, it’s time to take it up a notch. As of Sunday, it’s been four weeks since Oliver was born and I feel mostly healed from childbirth. I’m ready to make my daily walk at least a partial jog. My in-laws hooked us up with a brand new B.O.B. jogging stroller that can hold a child up to seventy pounds, so Oliver—or Nolan even—will be accompanying me for my runs for years to come.

While exercise is important and essential for heart health and weight loss, it is my belief that diet is even more so. As you know, I follow a mostly vegan plant-based lifestyle composed of 60-70% raw plants and 30-40% cooked. Since I have reached a plateau, to accompany gradual changes in exercise, I’m doing a one-week raw foods challenge where I’ll be upping my raw plant intake to 90%.

Eating raw plants is extremely healthy and in many cases, preferred to cooked plants. Most raw plants contain more nutrients than if they were cooked and cooked plants also contain more calories than raw. What?! I’m not a scientist, but in simple terms, according to what I’ve read, when a plant is cooked, it is injected with energy (heat). Since calories = energy, increasing the “energy” in a food is also increasing its calories. Point being, while I don’t count my energy molecules, I don’t need as many of them if I’m trying to lose weight. 🙂 All the more reason to go raw.

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Because I am used to eating mostly raw plants anyway, I am not concerned about feeling satisfied by even more of the raw stuff and less of the cooked. I don’t think I could sustain a 90% raw diet in the long-term because there are so many cooked plant foods that I can’t live without (potatoes, beans, whole grains, etc.), but I know I can do it for a week and expect to see a few more pounds drop as a result.

What are you going to eat? Where do you get your protein?

Some of you are thinking it, so here are the answers:

I’m going to consume a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, and plant milks as they are or in easy-to-combine dishes like smoothies or salads. I’ll incorporate grains by putting them dry and uncooked into the Vitamix and turning them into flour. I can use this flour in power balls or bars, for instance, and obtain the nutrients in fewer calories.

There is some level of protein in virtually all plants, but especially high levels in nuts and seeds. I’m not worried about getting enough protein—I never am—and I’m not a bodybuilder, so I just need to make sure to eat an adequate amount for my body type and physical activity level. Protein is nothing to stress about, despite getting this question often. A dietician I follow has written numerous times about how most Americans (even vegans!) eat way too much protein…I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave it at that.

Part of staying full and satiated, for me, anyway, is grazing. The pics in this post exhibit snacks I eat all day long in lieu of three traditionally large meals. Just an idea if you’re not sure how you could make this work. 🙂 Check in next week to see how my raw food challenge went!

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No-Bake Power Bars

Love my power balls formula? I think you’ll like my power bars even more! While I believe you could take the power ball dough and spread it into a pan to make bars, I decided to develop a formula that was even more specific to this alternative shape.

Additionally, personally, I’m looking for something different in the way of texture in a ball versus a bar. I enjoy the power balls with a softer, creamier center, like a truffle. I think that the bars are best with a crunch. Of course, with Fresh Formulas, there are no prescriptions—just guidelines—so it’s up to you to play around with the flavor and texture combinations that you enjoy best.

Today’s power bars will combine crunch and more fall flavors: cranberries and pumpkin seeds, to be precise. Surely you’ve heard that the cranberry does wonders for the urinary tract system and it is loaded with antioxidants, plus vitamin C and fiber. Pumpkin seeds are a less well-known super food, often in the shadows of flax, chia, and hemp seeds. These super seeds, however, contain an even higher protein content than the more talked-about seeds and are also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals…too many to list even! ‘Tis the season to find these amazing little nutrient powerhouses in abundance.

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After carving our Halloween pumpkins, Travis immediately took to roasting the seeds (which can also be eaten raw). We put them in an airtight container in the pantry and he’s been eating a few here and there. I’ve found that I cannot digest whole (chewed, obviously) pumpkin seeds, so I am trying processing them into a flour to see if I have better luck. They are just too darn good for your not to get creative.

One other tidbit… This formula calls for unsweetened dried fruit (I would like to control the sweetener used in the bars), but my dried cranberries are sweetened. Unless you dry them yourself (I’m in the market for a fruit dehydrator, if anyone can recommend one!), you aren’t likely to find these sour mini-fruits unsweetened. So, I’m improvising and cutting out the two tablespoons of added liquid sweetener. I recommend tasting the bar dough as you go to ensure that it is palatable. We aren’t going for dessert, but some sweetness is part of what makes similar premade bars delicious enough to spend $3+ for just one. 🙂

Save money and control quality by making power bars yourself. From gathering ingredients to cutting the bars (not including chill time), it took me less than twenty minutes to make these while attending to the needs of two boys under the age of three. You can do it! Enjoy.

FORMULA BASE: POWER BARS

Yields 9 square bars*

For the dough:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole grains –> I’m using rolled oats.
  • 1 cup unsweetened dried fruit (without added oil) –> I’m using cranberries.
  • ½ cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –> I’m using peanut.
  • 2 tbsps natural liquid sweetener –> I’m not using any.
  • Extract and/or spices to taste (optional) –> I’m not using any

Garnish ideas (up to ½ cup):

  • Raw seeds –> I’m using 1/8 cup roasted pumpkin (roasted only because Travis roasted them before I had this idea!) and 1/8 cup hulled hemp seeds.
  • Raw finely chopped nuts –> I’m using ¼ cup almonds.
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Melted dark chocolate to pour over the top (which will re-solidify after chilling)

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

Turn your whole grains (and in my case, the pumpkin seeds) into flour using your food processor or blender. 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. Evenly distribute the remaining garnish, pressing into/pouring onto the top of the bars.

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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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Protein-Packed Cookie Dough Truffles

Alright guys, today’s formula is something you need to taste to believe. I’m making cookie dough truffles that contain no eggs, no oil, and no flour, and that do contain garbanzo beans. What?! I know, I was skeptical, too, but these are seriously delicious and have the same texture as a traditional cookie dough. Just how does this work?!

First of all, let me start by saying that in my opinion, eating cookie dough is sometimes more satisfying than eating the baked cookies themselves. I know you were thinking the same thing, so I’m glad we got that covered. 🙂

I found this idea for a bean-based cookie dough on Instagram (@bestofvegan, @chiacathy), where I follow a number of vegan cooks, chefs, and bloggers. I immediately captured a screen shot so that I could easily come back to the idea when I was ready to incorporate beans into a dessert. Gotta wrap your head around that one…

Having heard of bakers sneaking black beans into brownies pretty well unnoticeably, I thought that this idea definitely held some merit. With thousands of likes on the picture (which looked just like cookie dough) and the recipe, I just knew that these had to be good. On top of looking and tasting delicious, loaded with beans and nuts, these truffles are a protein-packed sweet snack that is waaaaaaay better for you than that dough that comes in a log in the refrigerated section.

Due to their nutritional benefits and simplicity, these truffles remind me a lot of my power balls, which are always a success. I’ve now mastered many a flourless dough that yields a not-too-sweet, perfectly shaped little bite that pleases my whole family, satisfying their sweet teeth and providing them with a valuable source of protein at the same time.

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So, I took the recipe I found on Instagram and made it my own, into a Fresh Formula of course! I had Travis taste the first truffle and he said he would have liked it to be a tad sweeter, so you’ll see that reflected in the ingredients below. Since I opted for semi-sweet chocolate chips, the sweetness level was perfect for me, but certainly the type of chip you select will make a big difference.

Travis’s overall reaction to the garbanzo bean cookie dough bites? “I am kind of in shock.” He couldn’t believe how yummy such an unexpected combination of ingredients could be. Having made traditional chocolate chip now, I am already fantasizing about chocolate mint, lemon almond, and whole host of other cookie dough flavors. Give these little delights a try!

FORMULA BASE: COOKIE DOUGH TRUFFLES

Yields 16-20 balls

  • 1 ½ cups cooked white beans (e.g. garbanzo, great northern, cannellini, etc.) –> I’m using garbanzo.
  • ½ cup seed or nut butter (nuts/seeds ONLY) –> I’m using peanut.
  • 1/8 cup+ liquid sweetener (e.g. agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.) –> I’m using agave.
  • ½-1 tsp extract (amount depends on flavor intensity) –> I’m using homemade vanilla.
  • Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt (optional) –> I’m opting out.
  • ½ cup chips (e.g. chocolate, dried fruit, chopped nuts, etc.) –> I’m using mini-semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan).

Combine all ingredients—except the chips—in a food processor and run until smooth. Transfer dough into a bowl and stir in chips.

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Using a melon baller or teaspoon, form into balls and roll in your hands until smooth.

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Ready to eat immediately! 🙂 Store leftovers in the fridge.

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Fill-in-the-Blank Salad Sandwich

Chicken, tuna, egg, etc. + mayo = a salad sandwich. These popular combinations make for easy sandwich building, as the protein, produce, and condiments are prepared in one mixture. I have found that you either love or hate a salad sandwich, likely due to your feelings about mayo. Travis detests mayo, so he would only even consider one of these sandwiches if it were practically dry.

I, personally, love the creamy consistency and convenience of a salad sandwich, pending it isn’t soupy or drippy (soggy bread: no no no). Since I no longer eat mayo and don’t like to buy processed, vegan mayo substitutes, I had to get creative. Having already experimented with making my own creamy dressing, pesto, and potato salad, I knew that I really just needed to come up with a suitable protein base.

I have found that beans or lentils + raw fruits and vegetables work best for the ideal texture, but you could also use tofu. Since tofu has so much water in it, you would want to dehydrate it in the oven or on the stovetop first. This will result in a consistency similar to chicken, without the extra moisture to water down the creamy element of your filling.

Today, I’ve featured one of my favorite small kitchen appliances: the panini press. Travis and I received this one as a wedding gift over four years ago and it’s still going strong. I love that the plates are nonstick, so coating bread with butter or oil isn’t necessary. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m making my curry salad sandwich (chickpea base) into a panini on sourdough bread, fresh from San Francisco.

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All in all, this formula is pretty simple and keeps well in the fridge for days. You could easily make a big batch to have on hand for sandwiches or wraps all week long and opt either to mix your produce right in or keep it separate (which is what I like to do). This way, you can change up the combinations from sandwich to sandwich to suit the taste preferences of different household members. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: SALAD SANDWICH

Makes 4 sandwiches

  • 1 ½ cups cooked protein (beans or lentils, or chopped, dehydrated extra firm tofu) –> I’m using chickpeas.
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion –> I’m using green.
  • ¼ cup mayo substitute (seed/nut butter, vegan pesto, pureed avocado, etc.) –> I’m using tahini + a few tablespoons of water.
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ¼ cup “crunch” (chopped raw nuts/seeds, unsweetened dried fruit, etc.) (optional) –> I’m not using any.
  • Spices, fresh/dried herbs, salt, and pepper to taste (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp each cumin and garam masala, ½ tsp turmeric, and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Additional raw fruits/vegetables to mix in or for garnishing –> I’m topping with my salad with a few thin slices of roma tomato and green pepper, and slathering my bread with whole grain mustard.

Coarsely smash your beans/lentils, if using.

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Combine all ingredients.

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Assemble with additional produce on bread or in a wrap, if desired.

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I’m running my sandwich through a panini press before consuming. 🙂

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Protein-Packed Comfort Food

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Of all of the vegan dishes that I make, of this one, I am exceptionally proud. For me, it ticks so many boxes, from nutritional value to great leftovers to toddler likability. It isn’t easy to reinvent classic comfort foods—many of which are comforting as a result of fat, sugar, or salt—but I’ve managed to do it with my take on the classic, Chicken Divan.

CD is a chicken and broccoli casserole with a creamy sauce. As much as it is delicious, it is loaded with fat and cholesterol, two no-no’s in my world. My recipes are certainly not all fat free (you will see there is a little bit in today’s concoction), but most are low in fat and definitely don’t contain cholesterol, which only exists in animal products. A positive of the original CD is the protein found in chicken. Thankfully, protein can be found in tons of plants, and often, in much greater quantities per serving.

Today, CD becomes TD: Tofu Divan. Yea, tofu (and all soybean products) should be consumed sparingly, according to some research. But then, I visit Japan, with its ultra-healthy, lean population, and see tofu everywhere. So, who knows!  Tofu is an EXCELLENT source of protein that is low in fat, free of cholesterol, and adaptable into both savory and sweet applications. (Check out my togurt and chocolate mousse formulas for more tofu ideas!) I eat tofu in some capacity once or twice a month…nothing to worry about.

Side note: My TD utilizes a block of silken (or soft) and half a block extra firm. What am I going to do with the other half? Since Nolan was just beyond pureed baby food, I’ve been cutting it into cubes, and tossing it with just a splash of amino acids or soy sauce and a little bit of agave syrup. He’s been popping the cubes for over a year and a half now and couldn’t be happier with this easy and baby-friendly snack. He even learned how to use a fork with these tofu cubes.

DSC_2113Ok, back to the TD. I’m using broccolini, or baby broccoli, but you could really use any vegetable you’d like. You can also use any grains you’d like. This is a Fresh Formula, after all. 🙂 Tradition CD doesn’t contain grains, but if I’m going to make a cooked dish, I like to include them, since the bulk of what I eat is typically raw.

DSC_2100My grain of choice today is primarily wheat berries, with a little bit of quinoa I had left over from making Nolan his favorite breakfast: my quinoa muffins. When Travis and I selected our Bountiful Basket offerings last week, we added twenty-five pounds of wheat berries. They aren’t as easy to find as other grains and I love the crunch that they maintain, even after cooked. Now, I just need to find some ways to use them, which is one of my goals today! I first introduced you to wheat berries in my multi-grain salad formula, another one of my go-to favorites.

DSC_2095 DSC_2096The nutrients derived from the produce, grains, and tofu in my TD are unmatched by its animal-based cousin, CD. This dish is delicious right out of the oven and also makes for satisfying leftovers. Mostly importantly, my two-year-old loves it. Still not keen on many veggies as is (although he’ll eat them all day in smoothies), TD is a great way for me to “hide” finely chopped vegetables that he eats without question.

Finally, you’ll see that the casserole is topped with breadcrumbs. Typically, I’d use some of my own freshly baked bread, but with none on hand at the moment, I’m getting creative and using rice cakes! I love this brand. They make for a great snack as is, or smothered in peanut butter and jam. Yum-o!

DSC_2101Bear in mind that making tofu divan takes about ninety minutes, start to finish, depending on what type of grains you use. While brown rice can cook in about thirty minutes, wheat berries need an hour. Just FYI if you’re in a hurry. 🙂 Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: TOFU DIVAN

Serves 6-8 

  • 5-6 cups homemade veggie stock
  • 3 cups uncooked grains –>  I’m using 2 cups wheat berries and 1 cup white quinoa.
  • 2 cups finely chopped vegetables –>  I’m using broccolini
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs –>  I’m using two tamari and flax seed rice cakes.
  • 1 block silken tofu
  • ½ block of extra firm tofu
  • ½ cup liquid to blend with silken tofu (more veggie stock, water, plant milk, etc.) –>  I’m using unsweetened, unflavored almond milk.
  • ½ of a small onion –>  I’m using yellow.
  • 2-4 cloves garlic –> The more the merrier in my book. 🙂
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp oil –> I’m using olive.
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried minced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground black pepper in both the sauce and in the sauté pan.

Thoroughly rinse your grains before cooking. Add to a rice cooker or stovetop pot with veggie stock. If you’re using a variety of different grains, stagger their addition to the cooker/pot based on cook times. Wheat berries, for instance, need much longer to cook than quinoa.

While the grains are cooking, put the silken tofu in a blender with your liquid of choice and puree until smooth. Put in a small sauce pan on medium low heat with all spices, the bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Leave the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick (should be thicker than milk, but thinner than a milkshake), thin out with water, plant milk, or veggie stock.

DSC_2104Heat up a sauté pan on medium high heat with ½ tbsp of the oil. Dice your onion, mince your garlic, crumble your extra firm tofu, and sauté until the onions are almost translucent and the tofu is slightly browned. If you have a starchy vegetable, such as carrots, throw them into the sauté pan, too. Otherwise, finely chopping and adding to the casserole mix before it goes into the often should suffice.

DSC_2112Finally, pulse your bread, crackers, etc. in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.

DSC_2102The grains should have absorbed all of the liquid by the time they are cooked, but drain them if they haven’t. In a large mixing bowl, combine grains, onion, garlic, tofu, vegetables, and silken tofu sauce, sans bay leaf. I am strategic about how I do this. The veggies go on the bottom if they have not been precooked, topped next by the hot grains, which will par-cook the vegetables for me, finishing them off in the oven.

Mix your breadcrumbs with nutritional yeast and the other ½ tbsp oil. Once the other ingredients are combined and spread in a 9 X 13 baking dish, top with breadcrumbs. Put under the broiler on low for 4-5 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

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Feel the No-Bake Power!

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When it comes to natural sources of protein and energy, the health-conscious are turning to homemade bars, balls, and bites. From what I’ve seen, creators are calling on dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and grains to put them together. My power ball formula also includes a classic crowd pleaser, chocolate!

I am not a fan of or advocate for protein powders or shakes. They are expensive, overly processed, and while some taste decent, many have a chalky aftertaste. I follow a blogger that is a dietician by day and athlete by night. She follows a mostly raw vegan diet, is totally opposed to powders and shakes, and is able to gain plenty of lean muscle mass (if that’s what you’re going for) using plant-based sources of protein and energy.

Her posts and my commitment to a minimally-processed, DIY plant-based lifestyle inspired me to create a power ball that my whole family will eat. Because they are dense, rich in flavor and consistency, and somewhat expensive to make, I only eat one or two a day when I have them in my fridge.

The base of any solid bar, ball, or bite is whole grains (often oats) and something sticky and gooey to hold the whole thing together. Creating the dough is quick and easy; rolling it into easy-to-grab-and-eat balls is a little more time-consuming, but yields you the perfect portion.

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Pop a power ball as a snack, eat one or two with fresh fruit for breakfast, or treat yourself to a super healthy mock dessert. You could even serve them at a party because they are just so darn cute…power lollipop anyone?! 🙂 In general, these remind me of truffles, without the animal fat, cholesterol, and excessive sugar. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: POWER BALLS

Makes 12-14 small balls

For the dough:

  • 1 cup nut or seed butter (nuts/seeds only) –>  I’m using peanut.
  • 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 pure maple syrup.
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Garnish ideas (approximately 4 tbsps):

  • Raw seeds*
  • Raw finely chopped nuts
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Finely chopped unsweetened dried fruit bits (without added oil)
  • Melted dark chocolate (which will re-solidify after dipping)

*Today, I’m using a combo of sunflower, chia, and hulled hemp.

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.

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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.

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

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Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge.

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