Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Make Your Own Almond Butter

Do you have two cups of almonds, a food processor or high speed blender and about 20 to 30 minutes to spare?

If so, you can easily make your own almond butter using simple steps and ingredients that you can count on one hand.

I buy the three-pound bag of whole almonds at Costco, which equals out to be about nine cups per bag. I took two cups of almonds, lightly roasted them in the toaster oven and then switched them over to my food processor with a pinch of sea salt and a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon, stood by, scrapped down the sides of the container and watched my whole almonds turn into all-natural, preservative-free creamy almond butter.

By lightly roasting your almonds, they break down a little quicker in the food processor because they're already warm. You will have to stand by the food processor with a spoon or a spatula and scrape down the sides of the bowl, but it's totally worth it! The sea salt and cinnamon help bring out the flavor of this simple almond butter.

Make the recipe your own by adding a mixture of nuts, raw cacao nibs or maple syrup. I added maple syrup to my last batch and it turned out great, but I had to mix it in the food processor a little bit longer to get the almond butter back to a really creamy consistency.

Here's my recipe for Three Ingredient Almond Butter. Enjoy!

Three Ingredient Almond Butter
(makes about 10 to 12 oz. of creamy almond butter)

• 2 cups whole almonds, lightly roasted
• a pinch of sea salt
• a sprinkle of cinnamon

- Lightly roast your almonds in the toaster oven or the oven for about 4 minutes, until just lightly browned.

- Place the almonds, a pinch of sea salt and the cinnamon in the bowl of your food processor or high speed blender and turn on your machine. Depending on what food processor or blender you're using, it can take anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes for the almonds to break down and turn into a smooth mixture. If you have a high speed blender, like a Vitamix, it probably won't take as long.

- Store the almond butter in a sealed container at room temperature, but not for too long because this delicious mixture is free of preservatives. Your almond butter might harden up some if you place it in the fridge. I store my almond butter in an 8 oz. mason jar! Mason jars make everything look better (and cute).

Use on an almond butter and banana sandwich, on top of your morning bowl of oatmeal, add a spoonful to your smoothie or enjoy right out of the jar.

Check back later this week to see what else to do with your home made almond butter, maybe something like a healthy dessert!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Making something into something else A.K.A. Potluck Burritos

Oh my gosh, where have the past two weeks gone? Work is getting busier and busier and time seems to  be flying by, even though the daylight hours are slowly getting longer and longer (thank goodness)!

Tonight I wanted to do a quick post about how to make one thing into another, which I know a lot of us try to do with leftovers or that poor half-eaten cucumber or head of lettuce sitting in the refrigerator. That is a "cheese stands alone" scenario if I've ever seen one. Burritos, wraps, salads and sandwiches are ALL easy options to turn one leftover meal here and a half-eaten vegetable there into one meal that is all that and the kitchen sink.

Yesterday I tasted some of the best guacamole that I've ever had the pleasure of snacking on. It was at a baby shower and this guacamole was more thin than chunky, which I really don't do when I make my own, but it had the best combination of lime juice, heat, onions, cilantro and avocados. It was green heaven on a crispy corn tortilla. I took some of that magical guacamole home with me and with some extra veggies made a taco salad. It was a pretty decent taco salad in flavor, color and size, enough that I had leftover salad as well. That's when I decided to go out and buy some tortillas tonight along with one of my go-to favorite non-dairy cheese substitutes, Wayfare We Can't Say It's Cheese spread in the Mexi Cheddar flavor. The local grocery store in West Yellowstone carries a variety of Wayfare products and the company is based just 90 miles down the road in Bozeman, Montana. I love supporting Made in Montana companies as well as the great message their company promotes to the rest of the world swirled in with that lovely soy-free vegan cheesy goodness in the We Can't Say It's Cheese spread! I took my Mexi Cheddar spread, some salsa, leftover black beans from one of last week's taco nights at another friend's house, my taco salad and guacamole and some sweet & spicy banana pepper rings and rolled up a Potluck Burrito for dinner.

The Potluck Burrito could easily translate into Potluck Quesadillas, Potluck Tacos, Potluck Sandwiches or Potluck Salad. The recipe is pretty easy – Take what you have in the kitchen or the leftover fragments of taco night (or Greek night, or Italian night) and place them in a tortilla, between two pieces of bread, on a bed of green spinach or even into a mystery casserole or quiche, toast, cook, grill, bake or toss and enjoy!

Made right here in Montana

Bright, fresh taco salad topped with a generous spoonful of guac!

You don't need to be going to a social gathering for an excuse to have a potluck for one! I try to waste as little food as possible and in turn have many potlucks for dinner. As we get closer and closer to summer and more work paired with more play, it is a good idea to even make yourself a list of meal options that you can make out of similar ingredients. This can help your budget from a monetary standpoint as well as your limited amount of time because sometimes we don't want to be in the kitchen cooking when we could be outside hiking, biking, running or lounging on a blanket in the sun. Like I said, these past two weeks have flown by and I can already tell that May is going to be another busy month of work and play.

It is pretty easy to master the art of making something into something else. So don't forget to ask yourself, "What's in my fridge that I can save from throwing away?"

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

Go Green this Earth Day with a Green Smoothie!

Try mixing your favorite fresh and frozen fruits, almond milk or water, a handful of greens and maybe a few ice cubes and a dash of cinnamon in a blender. Start your day with all natural energy, vitamins, healthy fats and antioxidants!

You can also find out ways to volunteer or help out in your area for Earth Day. Or, keep it simple by taking a shorter shower, turning off the lights when you leave a room and remembering the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Mother Earth does so much for us that we can give back in small ways today and every other day to say, "Thanks!"

Take a moment to take in the world around!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don't fear the Green Smoothie

Smoothies and fresh juices have been popular beverages to help you get in your daily servings of fruits and veggies and I can see why! They are delicious, nutritious and pretty quick to make. Recipe ideas and concoction combinations are endless and please, feel free to use your imagination to come up with your own unique smoothie.

I recently purchased a large bag (1.5 lbs. to be exact) of organic baby kale on my last Costco run. Kale is an amazing superfood high in vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin C. A nice, inviting smoothie recipe on the back of the bag has been grabbing my attention for the last week and I decided to give it a try after my refrigerator was replenished with fresh fruits and veggies with yesterday’s Bountiful Basket delivery.
Organic Baby Kale!

I veganized the above recipe.

I adapted my Berry Green Smoothie to fit with what I have in my fridge and to be dairy-free & vegan-friendly – It turned out to be pretty tasty. Now, you could probably drink the entire smoothie in one serving, but I broke mine up into two servings because this makes a generous amount of healthy greens, berries, fresh fruit and almond milk all blended together into one tasty package. There’s also something about drinking a smoothie out of a Mason jar that makes it feel more fun.

I often freeze my ripe bananas to use in “banana soft serve” or just to eat the slices as a ready healthy frozen treat with almond milk or mixed with granola and other fresh fruit. I froze some of my fresh blackberries and Murcott oranges for the smoothie to add in antioxidants, Vitamin C and fresh flavors. Freezing your own fruit can be a money-saving way to have fresh foods on hand and ready to use. I set aside a few of the frozen blackberries to top the smoothie with along with a generous spoonful of chia seeds, which add in more fiber and omega-3 fatty acids! The Berry Green Smoothie really is a meal in a jar!

Now, this isn’t my first attempt at making smoothies, but I’ve admittedly tried and failed a few times when adding in greens, like spinach to my fruity smoothie concoctions. Those worries will be cleared up in no time once you read through Kathy Patalsky’s smoothie tips! She gives you 20 tips to blend like a pro. I can't wait to check out her new book, "365 Vegan Smoothies," that's set to come out later this year!

I used her recommended procedure in tip #4 and added my liquid and frozen fruits to the blender first and did some pre-blending of those ingredients. Next came the baby kale and spinach along with some more almond milk to get the mixture moving in my blender. Did you know spinach is high in iron! I blended these ingredients for a good two minutes to make sure the leafy greens were broken down really well. As per Kathy’s recommendation, I threw in the fresh ingredients last with my chunks of Asian pear and cucumber, with the seeds removed. I gave the blender another whirl for about 30 seconds, poured the smoothie into two mason jars. I reserved one for the fridge and drank the other one topped with a generous spoonful of chia seeds and my freshly frozen blackberries.

This smoothie ends up being a funky indigo/blue/slightly green color when it’s all mixed up and ready to drink and I honestly could barely taste the baby kale and spinach! I’ve seen some photos of bright green smoothies and juices and they can look a little scary, especially when you’re supposed to drink them. But, this recipe put an end to my lingering fear of the green concoctions. I bet you could trick a few friends into getting more greens in their diets if you gave them a sample of this smoothie. It was slightly sweet and fresh tasting without being overly sweet, which I thought was another plus!

Berry Green Smoothie

• 1 to 1 ½ cup unsweetened plain almond milk
• 1 medium banana, peeled, sliced into chunks and frozen
• 1 cup frozen blackberries, reserve a few to garnish the top of your smoothie.
• 2 Murcott oranges, peeled, divided into segments and frozen (You can use tangerines, fresh mandarin oranges or cuties too.)
• 1 handful baby kale
• 1 handful fresh spinach

• 1/4 of an Asian Pear (Or use fresh pear or apple slices if you don’t have an Asian pear on hand.)
• half of a small cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into chunks
• a generous spoonful of chia seeds to top the smoothie

- Add the almond milk and frozen blackberries, Murcott orange segments and banana chunks to a blender and blend until the mixture starts to smooth out.
- Add the baby kale and spinach to the blender and blend for about two minutes until everything is smooth. Add more almond milk 1/4 cup at a time if the smoothie mixture is too thick (It helps to push the greens down toward the bottom of the blender so they mix with the liquid and blend up easier.)
- Throw in the fresh ingredients, like the Asian pear and cucumber chunks, last and give the blender another whirl for about 30 seconds until everything is nice and combined.
- Pour into a mug, jar or pint glass, top with a generous spoonful of chia seeds and a few more frozen blackberries and enjoy!

I like to sip mine with a straw!

Mason jars are more fun.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Fruit Medley Baked Oatmeal

Sunday has kind of inadvertently turned into a brunch day for me. For the past month or so, it seems like it’s already lunchtime when I get around to thinking about what to eat, but I’m still in the mood for breakfast fair. Thank goodness for whoever invented brunch!

I bought old fashioned rolled oats in bulk several months ago and I’m always finding ways to spruce up the typical bowl of oatmeal. I turn to baked oatmeal as a quick and easy dish to throw together with a variety of ingredients. Today’s Fruit Medley Baked Oatmeal features fresh red strawberries, chunks of Fuji apple and chewy sweet raisins. Unsweetened applesauce and an egg substitute mixture of chia seeds and flax seeds mixed with water help bind everything together. The end result is a slightly sweet, fresh-tasting and cinnamon spiced dish that can feed the entire family, or be cut into slices and enjoyed throughout the week. You can use fruits you have on hand or go along with the mix. I'm also a fan of baked oatmeal with dried cranberries and almonds, berry mixtures, and peaches and walnuts are a good mix too. Keep it simple with classic apple cinnamon or throw in macadamia nuts and dried papaya for a tropical twist.

Not your old bowl of oatmeal!
You can prepare all the ingredients and transfer them to the glass baking dish and bake right away, or cover and stick it in the fridge overnight and pop it in the oven in the morning!

We’re still having chilly mornings and nights here in southwestern Montana and this warm, hearty oatmeal is filling, but still bright, fresh and colorful enough to remind us that warmer weather is (hopefully) just around the corner.

Oats, chia seeds and flax are packed with fiber. Strawberries highlight antioxidants and vitamin C and the optional addition of peanut butter throws in some extra protein.

It’s easier than you think to give that boring, bland old bowl of oatmeal a bright, fresh and healthy makeover!

Fruit Medley Baked Oatmeal
(makes 6 to 8 servings)

• 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
• 1/4 cup stevia (I prefer Stevia in the Raw for baking. OR you can use brown sugar
• 2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
• a pinch of ginger and pumpkin pie spice, optional
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt, I’d suggest leaving this out if you go ahead and add in the peanut butter.
• 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, or non-dairy milk of your choice like soy, coconut, flax, etc.
• egg substitute- 1 tablespoon chia seeds mixed with 1 tablespoon ground flax seed and 1/2 cup water
• 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon peanut butter, optional
• 1 cup strawberries, sliced thinly
• 1 medium apple, cut up into small chunks
• 1/2-1 cup raisins, depending on how many raisins you like in your oatmeal
Prepare and bake right away or refrigerate & pop it in the oven the next morning.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9X9 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, mix the ingredients for the chia seed/flax seed egg substitute together and set in the refrigerator to gel.

chia seed/flax seed "egg"
- Mix the dry ingredients and spices together in a large bowl.
- Mix the applesauce and stevia together and add to the dry ingredients. Mix in the rest of the wet ingredients including the almond milk and vanilla extract and add the chia seed/flax egg mixture last and stir all the ingredients until combined.
-Next fold in the apples, strawberries and raisins.
- Transfer the oatmeal mixture evenly into the glass baking dish and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. If you would like the dish a bit more browned around the edges, bake for 3 to 5 more minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

Enjoy drizzled with maple syrup, some almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Zucchini Inspiration

Last weekend’s Bountiful Baskets delivery was filled with bright green zucchinis and cucumbers and plump Roma tomatoes and I’ve been spending way too much time during the evenings this week perusing through cookbooks and surfing the Internet looking for a recipe that catches my eye.
Fresh produce!
I didn’t want something baked. I’m trying to stay away from desserts for a few days after enjoying my fair share of Chewy Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies this week. That’s when I decided to search The Lunchbox Bunch blog and discovered Kathy Patalsky’s Summer Green Zucchini Guacamole recipe! Her blog is packed with great, nutritious vegan-friendly recipes and information along with cute photos of her cat!

This is a light, cool and tasty recipe that I easily whipped up after work this afternoon and I’m letting it sit in the fridge overnight for the flavors to really come to life. I wanted to make something colorful and springy again this weekend (even though we had a wicked spring snow storm here in West Yellowstone today) for my good friend Giselle’s baby shower tomorrow afternoon. She is having a girl at the end of May and it’s been wonderful seeing her shine and progress throughout her pregnancy.

Here’s my rendition, which I’ve decided to call Zucchini Guacamole Salad adapted from and inspired by Kathy's recipe.

I think it’s best enjoyed with yellow corn tortilla chips!

Zucchini Guacamole Salad
(vegan, gluten-free, no dairy or eggs)

• 1 large avocado, diced
• 2 cups raw zucchini, diced into small cubes
• 1 tbsp olive oil – for sautéing the zucchini
• 1 tbsp minced or chopped garlic
• sea salt and pepper to taste
• a pinch of garlic salt
• 1 cucumber, peeled and diced into small chunks
• 1/2 orange bell pepper, diced into small chunks
• 1 Roma tomato, diced into small chunks
• 1/2 cup white onion and leeks, diced
• 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
• juice from 1/2 a large lemon
• a squeeze of lime juice
• 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• a dash of cayenne pepper

- Peel and dice all of your vegetables and the cilantro and place everything except the zucchini in a large bowl and mix together gently. You don't want to accidentally mash your avocado chunks.
- Heat up the olive oil in a skillet and add the garlic and zucchini. Saute for just a couple minutes. (Kathy notes that it’s just to caramelize the edges of the zucchini.)

- Remove from heat and season the zucchini with salt and pepper. Let the zucchini cool off for a few minutes.
- Squeeze the lemon and lime juice over the bowl of vegetables. Add in the red wine vinegar, garlic salt and cayenne pepper.
- Add the zucchini and garlic to the bowl and any oil that was left in the skillet and gently mix everything together. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if you wish.
- Cover the mixture in a sealed container or with plastic wrap and set in the fridge to cool and marinate.
- Gently stir the mixture before serving and serve with yellow corn tortilla chips or tortilla chips of your choice and enjoy!