Apricot Quinoa Bars – Grain, Dairy, and Egg free!

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I have been wanting to make some granola-type bars so that I can have a snack during the day, though I don’t really care for the recipes that I have tried so far. I have a gigantic bag of dried apricots from Costco that have been begging to be used, and I have a new-found love for quinoa (as mentioned before). Out of the darkness bloomed this beauty of a recipe, providing natural sugars, protein, fiber, and amino acids. 

Apricot Quinoa Bars
Makes 9 bars

1 C mixed nuts and seeds
1 C cooked quinoa
2 C dried apricots
splash vanilla extract
splash almond extract
2-4 Tbs honey (adjust sweetness to taste. I used about 2 Tbs)
2 pinches of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 

Begin by coarsely chopping nut and seed mixture in a food processor. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand – I used remnants from my dried bulk collection, which included almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, and shredded coconut. 

Add apricots to food processor and pulse until apricots are chopped into small pieces and mixed well with the nuts. Add extracts and salt, then quinoa. I took a portion of the mixture out before adding the quinoa to make sure I didn’t put too much in the processor, and then mixed that it by hand. Pulse mixture until quinoa is evenly mixed in. Feel free to play around with the dried fruit used – you could use figs, dates, or a combination of a bunch of dried fruits. 

Prepare a 9 x 9 pan with parchment paper drapped over both sides (this step makes it SO easy to lift from the pan in one piece). Dump mixture into pan and press down firmly. My bars were pretty thin – less than an inch. If you’d like them thicker, you could place them in a smaller pan. This will change the length of time needed in the oven, and perhaps the temperature used. 

Cook in preheated oven for 30 minutes or edges are golden and top is no longer sticky to the light touch. Let cool for 10 minutes, then lift from pan and cut into 9 bars (or more if you desire). 

NOTE: My bars are firm but fairly soft. If you’d like a crunchier bar, you could put the bars back into the oven after cutting, spread on a cookie sheet. Alternatively, you could lower the temperature and cook them for longer. 

 

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Tomato Parmesan Quinoa

I was craving a simple, healthy lunch last week, and goodness did I have one. I bought a giant clamshell of sungold snacking tomatoes that I needed to go through, and a bag of royal quinoa (mixed red, white, and black quinoa!) was sitting untouched in my cupboard. In went my good intentions, and out poured this amazing pilaf-like quinoa dish. Tomato Parmesan Quinoa

Tomato Parmesan Quinoa

Makes 2-3 servings

1/2 C quinoa, rinsed until water runs clear (very important!)
1 C water
3/4 C grape tomatoes (I used the golden variety)
3 garlic cloves (if you’re not crazy about garlic, you may want to use less)
dash of dried basil
dash of dried oregano
pinch of sea salt
splash of white wine (2-4 Tbs)
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese

1. It is critical to wash your quinoa until the water runs clear. The seeds have a coating called saponin that tastes bitter to protect it from being eaten by birds. Much of this is washed off when the quinoa is prepared for packaging, but it will taste much better if you rinse it yourself. I used to greatly dislike quinoa until I started rinsing mine diligently. Sometimes it can take a while – especially if you don’t have a fine mesh strainer and use a french press instead! 🙂

2. Place quinoa and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. When boiling, turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

3. While quinoa is cooking, chop tomatoes and garlic into a paste. I have a ninja chopper, and just put both ingredients in at the same time. If you don’t have one, you could use a blender or food processor. You could chop by hand, but the reason for using the chopper is to save all of the tomato juices to be reduced into a delicious sauce.

4. Heat a small or medium saucepan over medium heat with a tiny splash of olive oil. When heated, pour in tomato-garlic sauce. Mine was a little frothy from the blender, which is totally fine.

5. Add basil, oregano, and salt while mixture is cooking. Cook over medium heat until nearly all of the tomato juice is gone.

6. Add white wine and cook again until liquid is reduced. Take off heat and stir in parmesan. Stir mixture into cooked quinoa.

There you have it! Very easy and quick. I had some leftover shrimp fra diavolo that I served over this quinoa and it was DIVINE. Seriously. Go make it, right now.

Green Mango Power Smoothie

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I start every morning with a protein smoothie. What I put in it depends on what I have in the kitchen. However, there are main staples that I put in there every day. These are Sun Warrior protein powder, maca powder, and greens. I love this protein powder because it is vegan and gluten free, which is awesome for my sensitive tummy. It is made from a blend of pea, hemp, and cranberry proteins, and sweetened with a touch of stevia. Maca powder is made from a root that the Incas use for vitality, endurance, endocrine function, and its wonderful complex of amino acids. Greens are something that I have just started putting in my smoothies in the last month, but I put them in every day. A large handful of baby kale yields over 100% of my daily intake of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and many other essential nutrients. A great way to start the day! Other additions that I commonly use are fresh mint, fresh lime juice (bought a giant bag of limes from Costco for cheap!), Matcha (powdered green tea – high in antioxidants and a nice caffeine boost), chia/hemp/flax seeds, and coconut or fish oil. This ensures my breakfast is a fantastic balance of protein, carbs, fats, and nutrients. I made this smoothie recently, throwing in this and that and it was AMAZING. Seriously – make it. If you don’t have all the ingredients, don’t fret! I’ve had smoothies every morning for breakfast for years now. Experiment!

Green Mango Power Smoothie
Serves 1

8 oz water, milk, or chilled tea
1 large handful of greens such as kale, spinach, or chard
1/5 of an english cucumber, with peel
fresh mint leaves (I use 5-10 leaves)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp matcha powder
1 tsp maca powder
1 scoop protein powder
1/2 to 1 C frozen or fresh mango
1/4 C coconut or dairy yogurt

Place ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add more liquid if desired. NOTE: if you have an average kitchen blender like myself, it may help to blend just the greens and liquid first. This is especially true with tougher greens like kale. I blend it up until smooth, then add everything else and blend until smooth again.

Do you make smoothies? What are your favorite additions?

Spring is for Self-Improvement

Spring has arrived! Here in Montana, we get snow through June sometimes. It snowed this week in my hometown! Regardless, once the temperature reaches 50 degrees, everyone immediately dons shorts and t-shirts and soak in the stranger we call the Sun. With Spring comes the need to cleanse ourselves and our homes, an influx of fresh fruits and veggies, and the shedding of baggy winter clothes. The time has come for some new goals. I was reading through my old blogs as I was re-vamping the site and came across my keys to weight loss. I have gained half the weight back in the last 2 years, and am struggling with the motivation to change. Discovering my food allergies actually added weight because I stopped eating a balanced diet and instead began treating myself to every allergy-friendly snack I could find. It has been a mental struggle, to say the least. So the time has come to make new goals! I can’t believe I forgot how much the goals I made before helped me through. I made three big goals last time, and met and exceeded each. I know that I can do this again – anything can be achieved with dedication.

1. Lose 10 pounds by September 1st. This will place me back at the weight I was after losing 30 pounds. 

2. Complete 150 miles worth of cardio by September 1st. This can be completed by running, elliptical, stairmaster, biking, etc. I set a 600 mile goal for 9 months previously, which I exceeded.

3. Lose 1-2 pant sizes, so I can comfortably fit back into those jeans I bought 2 years ago!

4. DO NOT CONSUME the foods that I am allergic to through September 1st. This starts TODAY, not tomorrow, not Monday. Of course, I’d like to continue that further, however setting a time limit will help with motivation. My hope is that after 3 months allergy-free, I won’t crave them like I do now. This has been the biggest struggle for me in 2013…

Inquiring minds want to know…what is your favorite part of Spring? Do you struggle with motivation to live a healthy lifestyle? What goals are you working towards?

Banana Coconut Chai Muffins

As my first experimental gluten-free baking adventure, I’m proud to say the results are DELICIOUS! I present to you gluten, dairy, and egg free muffins, sweetened with honey and flavored with the subtle melodies of banana, coconut, and chai tea.

Banana – Coconut – Chai Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 Tbs coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs canola oil
1/2 C honey diluted with enough hot water to make 1 C total
2 Chai tea bags (conveniently, I had coconut chai tea on hand)
1.5 C mashed banana (I used 3 frozen)
2 T lemon juice
2 tsp Chai Spice
3/4 C ground flax seed
2.5 C all-purpose gluten free flour
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line muffin pan with papers.

Steep tea bags in hot water/honey mixture for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, mix honey/water with melted coconut oil and canola oil in stand mixer for 20 seconds. Add mashed banana, lemon juice, chai spice, and flax seed, then mix for 30 seconds.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to wet mixture, mix until just combined. Fold in the pecans, then fill muffin papers. The papers will be really full, so don’t be worried. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Garden Slaw

August – what a beautiful month to live in Montana. Besides the many beautiful places to go and fun activities to do, August brings the most yield from home gardens. Fresh veggies are worlds apart from store bought when you can pluck them at their peak. Here’s a recipe that I created to showcase your garden’s harvest, but can also be made year round. Feel free to play with the ingredients.

Garden Slaw

1 zucchini
3 small carrots (1 large store bought carrot would be equivalent)
1 small-medium chiogga (candy striped) or golden beet (these varieties are milder and less earthy)
1 pink lady apple
1 Serrano pepper
A small handful of green beans
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh cracked black pepper

•Grate all veggies and apple. It may be easier to finely chop the beans and pepper, they didn’t grate very well for me. Toss with lime juice and pepper.

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Chocolate Avocado Pudding – Breakfast of Champions!

Alas, I can’t seem to get a steady flow of posts going. Lately it seems I’ve been posting once every 6 months – yikes! Here I am, to make another attempt. Short story news: off thyroid meds, apparently didn’t need them at all, and I feel much better since (dumb doctor, glad I got a second opinion). Next, I stopped eating gluten a couple months ago, since I still wasn’t feeling top-notch, and I do feel much better now. My battle with resisting pizza has ended – the last time I ate a piece (maybe a month after going gluten-free), I thought I was going to die. Maybe not that extreme….but my stomach hurt, badly. Not going to make that mistake again any time soon. I’m feeling much healthier these days, and my body seems to be functioning more normally that I can remember in years. Feelin’ pretty good 🙂

I recently discovered the bliss of a new recipe – and it involves CHOCOLATE! And, of course, it’s allergy friendly. It’s full of healthy fats and doesn’t have any refined sugars, and you add protein via the almond butter.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

1 ripe avocado (very ripe is good)
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/4 C agave, maple, or honey (I used grade B maple – rich and tasty)
6 Tbs milk of your choice (I used unsweetened coconut milk, which is my favorite for pretty much everything)
almond butter to taste and consistency (I only used a spoonful)
a dash of cinnamon (optional)

Throw it all in a blender, and enjoy! I mixed in sliced banana and strawberries right before eating, which was delightful for taste and texture. For those of you that are nervous about the avocado – don’t be. You can’t taste it, and it stands as the rich, creamy base for the delightful chocolate.

I have been enjoying my days off with this beautiful weather – canoeing yesterday, hiking today. Are you doing anything fun outdoors?