Flourless Peanut Butter Coconut Cake

Flourless Peanut Butter Coconut Cake

This gluten free flourless peanut butter coconut cake couldn't be easier! It's perfectly moist and sweetened with pure maple syrup! Super easy to make and not to sweet, so it's perfect for snacking or dessert! You could also make this with almond butter or cashew butter! 

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Gluten Free Carrot-Pecan Muffins

Alternate title: Life Changing Muffins.

This is no exaggeration friends. These bad boys are made with a combination of whole grains and almond meal and naturally sweetened with only dates, banana and shredded carrots. Although they're not cakey like store bought muffins, they're hearty and dense - a stick to your rib type of muffin.

I adapted this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories, and since then, I've adapted it many more times. Just keep the basic dry and wet mixtures the same, then swap in different shredded fruit, vegetables and nuts. You could also swap apple sauce for mashed banana if you like, but add a few extra dates to compensate for the sweetness. Although these muffins are gluten free, you could also make them gluten full by swapping whole wheat flour or spelt flour.


Gluten Free Carrot-Pecan Muffins

Makes 12

To make these vegan, use plant yogurt and swap 3 tablespoons ground chia seed mixed with 9 tablespoons water.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 2/3 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 roughly chopped carrots, about 1 cup
  • 6 dates, pitted
  • 2 medium bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place oats in a food processor and blend until they form a flour. Pour out into a large bowl. Add almond meal, buckwheat flour, tapicoa starch, baking powder, baking soda, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and whisk to combine.
  3. Place carrots in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to dry mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Add dates to the flood processor and blend until roughly chopped. Add bananas, eggs, yogurt, coconut oil, and ginger and blend until pureed. Stir wet ingredients into dry until fully combined. Stir in pecans.
  5. Divide batter evenly between the wells of a lined 12 cup muffin tin. Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Store covered at room temperature and transfer to the refrigerator after a couple days.

Dark Chocolate Dipped Chai Almond Cookies

Lightly sweetened and made with whole grains, these dark chocolate dipped chai almond cookies are the perfect addition to your holiday baking! 

It's the most wonderful time of the year - Christmas cookie time!

Ever since I was a kid and would count down the days until snow covered oreos were available, Christmas cookies have made me crazy happy. Although who are we kidding, cookies make me crazy happy year round! Candy and cakes do nothing for me, but cookies are everything.

When it comes to holiday baking, I tend to get delusions of grandeur. I think I've read too many issues of Southern Living, because I dream of making all my friends pretty little boxes filled with homemade and healthy holiday cookies. I pulled it off one year for my coworkers and it quickly turned into an all night affair! Maybe I'll attempt again when I retire :)

This year I wanted to whip up a batch of cookies to bring to a holiday lunch with my officemates. These were very loosely inspired by my memories of an Italian bakery we used to go to growing up in New York. I would stare into the glass case filled with dozens of kinds of cookies and basically turn into Veruca Salt, begging my parents 'I want them ALL!'

(Timeout. Just as I was writing this, Scott walked in the door with a box of Christmas cookies from a coworker. Universe, sometimes you are awesome).

Anyway, I remember this one buttery, crumbly, barely sweet almond cookie that was dusted with powdered sugar. Another one I loved was this sweet butter cookie dunked in chocolate. This is kind of a hybrid of the two. I don't remember anything with chai tea, but I like chai tea, so lets just throw it in there for giggles. 

What are your favorite Christmas cookies? Leave a comment or a link below! 

Dark Chocolate Dipped Chai Almond Cookies

makes about 30

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup turbinado or brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk (or dairy of choice)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • The contents of 2 chai tea bags, finely ground (you could use a coffee grinder)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In the bowl of a large standing mixer, mix coconut oil and sugar on high speed until fluffy and fully combined, about 1-2 minutes. Add egg, almond milk, vanilla extract and blend until combined, scraping down sides if needed. Slowly mix in whole wheat flour, almond meal, chai tea powder and salt while mixer is running on medium-high speed, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Add chopped almonds, mix on medium-high speed until combined, then set aside.
  3. Using a tablespoon measure, form balls of dough. Place evenly on a large, greased cookie sheet (they won't spread much) and press down lightly to flatten. Bake 20 minutes until lightly browned.
  4. Remove cookies from oven and let cool. Once cool, heat chocolate chips and oil in the microwave in 15 second intervals, stopping to stir between each interval, until smooth. Dip cookies in chocolate, then place on a sheet of parchment paper over. Carefully place cookies and parchment paper in the refrigerator to harden. When chocolate is firm, store cookies in a container with a lid in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

More holiday baking inspiration: 

Gluten Free Everything But The Kitchen Sink Cookies
Gluten Free Everything But The Kitchen Sink Cookies
Gluten Free Nutella Blondies
Gluten Free Nutella Blondies
No Added Sugar Cinnamon Raisin Spice Cookies
No Added Sugar Cinnamon Raisin Spice Cookies

Gluten Free Nutella Blondies

You'll never guess the secret ingredient in these moist and dense gluten free nutella blondies!

Clemson football is a fall tradition in our house. The hubs and I both graduated from Clemson, and Scott's actually a third generation grad. We used to get season tickets, right up on the 40 yard line, but we stopped a couple years ago because with travel, we were missing all the big games. Still, whenever we can, which is most home games, we make it back to our 'happy place' to see friends, family, and cheer on our Tigers.

This year is a little sad because the way our schedule has worked out, I'm not going to make it to a game until November. We missed a couple games for weddings, a couple more when we go to Vietnam, and FNCE (our national dietitians conference) is scheduled when we play Notre Dame for the first time since the 70s. Seriously Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, why didn't you consult me?

While watching the game on TV with friends this past week, I realized how much I missed Clemson tailgating. I miss having all my friends together in one place. I miss driving through downtown Clemson. I miss post game beers at the Esso. I miss having happy college memories flood back to me as we walk around campus. And I miss these incredible gluten free blondies my friend makes for tailgates (hi Tara!).

It's been a couple years since I had them, but I do remember two things. One, they were gluten free. Two, they were the best blondies I've ever had. Ever. And I've been around the block a time or two with blondies.

When I decided to create my own version, I remembered how my absolute favorite brownies are made with black beans. If you haven't done much gluten free baking, it probably sounds absolutely nuts, but trust me, it does not taste like you're biting into a bean burrito. You barely get the flavor at all and the pureed beans provides a moist and dense texture. For blondies, it seemed natural to try with garbanzo beans.

The nutella spin was a happy accident when I realized I was out of almond meal and didn't feel like running to the store. Since I had a bag of hazelnuts on hand, I pulsed them in the food processor to create a flour. Really, you could use any type of nut flour and you wouldn't go wrong!

After baking, store these brownies in the refrigerator, since the beans will cause them to spoil at room temperature. The hubs learned that one the hard way.

Gluten Free Nutella Blondies

Makes 12.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted

  • 1 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or other unrefined sugar, like turbinado)

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Place toasted hazelnuts in a clean dish towel and rub together to loosen the skins. Place 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts (leaving the skins behind) in a food processor and blend until they are a flour consistency.

  3. Add chickpeas, coconut sugar, eggs, coconut oil, and salt to the food processor. Process until blended together. Roughly chop the remaining half cup of toasted hazelnuts and stir that in along with the chocolate chips.

  4. Line a large loaf pan with parchment paper or grease generously with coconut oil. Scrape batter inside and spread the top even with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes until edges are golden and the middle is firm. Remove from oven and set aside to cool room temperature before cutting into 12 squares.

More gluten free baked goods:

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Cookies

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Cookies

Almond Trail Mix Cookies

Almond Trail Mix Cookies

Banana Oat Bites with Peanut Butter and Chocolate

Banana Oat Bites with Peanut Butter and Chocolate

Roasted Peaches and Figs with Mascarpone and Almonds

Celebrate the start of fall by savoring every last bit of summer produce. My roasted peaches and figs with mascarpone is perfect for snack or a simple dessert for entertaining. 

Columbia friends, wasn’t yesterday a gorgeous day?? At 78 degrees, I was able to go out for a midday run and not keel over from heat exhaustion. It was fabulous. That breeze felt so good. But it was also a stark reminder that winter, I mean fall, is coming. Sorry, couldn’t help the Game of Thrones reference...

When it comes to the weather, I’m ready for fall. Or at least, ready to wear my hair straight again, as summer humidity doesn’t exactly love my hair. The one thing I’m not ready for? The end of summer produce. Wah!

I enjoy pumpkin, I do, but summer produce is really my favorite. There’s just nothing like a backyard summer tomato or a fragrant ripe melon. This weekend, I was making a recipe that called for two tomatoes. I sliced open one from our local market and another from the regular grocery store. It was like night and day. Or more specifically, white with a slight tinge of red and vibrant Crayola red. I realized pretty soon, all the tomatoes will be mealy and tasteless and white. Tear.

FYI: In case your wondering, I made that recipe with just one tomato. I'll leave it to you to guess which one.

So, let’s squeeze in ALL the summer produce while we still can, starting with these roasted peach, fig and mascarpone bowls. I’ve been really into roasting fruit this year. It's probably wrong, because when fruit is perfectly ripe, why do anything to it at all? Still, I love that caramelized flavor fruit gets after a quick trip to the oven.

Have you tried mascarpone cheese before? I’ve had it in cannoli before, but I don’t know that I’ve eaten it plain. Y’all, it’s kind of like heaven. It’s sooo dreamy, creamy and rich with a hint of sweetness. It has the texture of cream cheese but without the tart flavor. Mmm. Note to self: get more mascarpone in my life.

If you can’t find mascarpone or are just looking for something a little lighter, feel free to swap plain Greek yogurt or ricotta cheese. Or, if you can find coconut butter, I bet a dollop of it would be beautiful here too!

To sweeten this, I used maguey sap, an unrefined sweetener made from the maguey plant, which grows in the highlands of Mexico. I had never heard of it before, so I was excited to try when Villa de Patos reached out to see if I’d like to try a sample. Not only does it taste delicious, with a mild flavor unlike honey or maple syrup, but it also packs a nice dose of prebiotic fiber, which helps nourish the healthy bacteria in your gut!

Roasted Peaches and Figs with Mascarpone

Serves:6

Ingredients

  • 5 peaches, quartered

  • 20 fresh figs, halved

  • 1-2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted

  • ¾ cup mascarpone cheese

  • 6 tablespoons chopped almonds, toasted

  • Honey, pure maple syrup or maguey sap, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Spread peaches evenly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1/2-1 teaspoon coconut oil and roast 25 minutes until tender and lightly caramelized. Toss figs with 1/2-1 teaspoon coconut oil, spread evenly on a separate baking sheet and bake 15 minutes until golden.

  3. Set fruit aside to cool slightly. Once warm or at room temperature, divide between 6 pretty glasses. Dollop each with 2 tablespoons of mascarpone, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon chopped almonds and drizzle with 1/2-1 teaspoon sweetener of choice.

More Summer Produce:

Zucchini Chickpea Balls with Chopped Greek Salad

Zucchini Chickpea Balls with Chopped Greek Salad

Balsamic Roasted Peach and Fig Salad with Almonds, Blue Cheese and Bacon

Balsamic Roasted Peach and Fig Salad with Almonds, Blue Cheese and Bacon

Grilled Pork Tacos with Charred Eggplant and Tomatoes

Grilled Pork Tacos with Charred Eggplant and Tomatoes

Formula Meal: Freezer Smoothie Bags

Formula Meal: Freezer Smoothie Bags

Learn my trick for making a smoothie in less than 2 minutes! Freezer smoothie bags are perfect for a quick breakfast, snack or post-workout replenishment. Make a few different ones and store in the freezer so you've got tons of options for different flavors. 

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Endlessly Adaptable Energy Bars

Packed with healthy fats and whole grains, these endlessly adaptable energy bars make a filling grab and go snack or light breakfast! Sweetened with just a hint of maple syrup. 

When have you ever felt truly satiated or nourished from an energy bar? Back when I was in college, I lived off cookie dough flavored Slim Fast bars for breakfast. At the time, I thought of it as a 'healthy' way to have cookie dough for breakfast. My diet food-philic taste buds actually believed they tasted like real cookie dough. They do not. If only I paid attention to how they made my body feel...and how hungry I was before my second class!

I get the convenience of energy bars, I really do. There are even a few brands that taste good and are pretty satisfying - because I know you'll ask, I like Lara BarsKIND bars and Health Warrior Chia Bars.

Mostly, I make my own. It's cheaper, you have control over the ingredients, and it tastes a whole lot better. And you know what? Homemade bars are actually filling! Like, I could eat one of these for breakfast and okay, I would be hungry for a snack by 10 am, but I'm always hungry for a snack then.

As with most of my cooking, I take a 'throw in a bunch of crap I have laying around and hope it comes out' approach. This recipe is endlessly adaptable based on whatever staples you have on hand. It's a great way to use up extra grains, dried fruit and nuts you have on hand.

Endlessly Adaptable Energy Bars

Makes 12

For the pictured recipe, I used quinoa, a mixture of sunflower seeds, walnuts and pecans, honey, and dried plums.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats, old fashioned oats or quick cook steel cut oats (the latter will yield a crunchier, but slightly harder to cut bar)
  • 1 cup quinoa, millet, oats, teff or amaranth
  • 1 cup chopped nuts of choice, or a mixture
  • 1/2 cup chopped unsweetened dried fruit
  • 1/3 cup honey or pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup nut butter of choice
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, olive oil, peanut oil or avocado oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place oats, grains, and nuts in a large skillet on medium heat. Cook, stirring every so often, until they smell toasty. Remove from heat and carefully pour into a large bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, combine honey/syrup, nut butter, oil, vanilla extract and salt in a small pot on medium heat. Cook, stirring to whisk, until melted and well combined. Pour over the oat mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Line a rectangle baking dish with aluminum foil or parchment paper so that some is coming out from the edges. This makes it easier to remove the bars after cooking. Pour the oat mixture in to the baking dish and press down to even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until browned around the edges. Remove and set aside to cool.
  5. Once at room temperature, place it in the fridge to chill, which makes it easier to cut. Once cold, cut into bars and store in the fridge until ready to eat.

More energy bars: 

Almond Trail Mix Cookies
Almond Trail Mix Cookies
Chocolate Hazelnut Chia Bars
Chocolate Hazelnut Chia Bars
Quinoa Tahini Bar
Quinoa Tahini Bar

Gluten Free Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Cupcakes

Made with pumpkin seed meal, these gluten free chocolate pumpkin seed cupcakes with ganache are worth creating something to celebrate. 

Happy National Cupcake Day!

Kidding! I just wanted an excuse to share these rich, chocolatey, gluten free cupcakes with you all. But then I realized you never need an excuse to do that!

Plus, National Cupcake Day is December 15th. Mark your calendars now :)

I had a little happy moment while making these. I woke up, had a great run followed by (well, a shower first) an initial client meeting which went incredibly well. After our meeting, I checked my inbox to find a super sweet email from an old client sharing his progress and another email booking a corporate event. After responding, I went to the kitchen, turned on Parts Unknown, and pulled out the ingredients to spend the rest of my morning making these cupcakes.

Like a ton of bricks (or a pound of dark chocolate), it hit me. Life is pretty good :)

Last week, I had a conversation with this guy (not a client) who was, well, frankly a little cray cray. He made a lot of comments that were more than a little off the wall, but he did say something that when I thought about it later, was actually quite profound. He said "I believe if you can envision it, you can manifest it."

For years, I was stuck in a job that I liked, but it was difficult to help people reach their true potential (or reach my professional potential) because of the bureaucracy of the system. I dreamt of starting a private practice, but I didn't identify as someone with the skills to run a business. Because that was my identity, I stayed stuck.

Even after making the crazy leap into starting my private practice, I still held on to that identity. When I struggled, it was proof of my identity (a failure, supposedly), not the normal trials and tribulations that come with doing something new for the first time.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to change my perspective and view myself as success. The more I viewed myself as a success, the more success came my way. I envisioned it, therefore I manifested it.

I see the same thing with many of my clients. Those who struggle the most to change their identity also struggle the most to change their behaviors. If you think of yourself as someone who doesn’t have any control around food, why wouldn't you give in to an emotional craving or order pizza instead of cooking dinner? On the other hand, those who are able to imagine themselves as the person they want to be, or even identify as a work in progress, are those ones who constantly surprise themselves by achieving new goals.

Wow, so that was a major tangent from pretend cupcake day! Let's take this full circle. Since now you will start viewing yourself as a healthy and successful person, you should probably go ahead and make these cupcakes to celebrate!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Seed Cupcakes With Chocolate Ganache

Makes 12

Adapted from The Homemade Flour Cookbook.

Ingredients

Cupcake:

  • 2 cups pumpkin seeds

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey

  • 1/4 cup walnut oil, melted coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil

Ganache: 

  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk or coconut cream

  • 1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

  2. Place pumpkin seeds in a food processor. Blend into a meal/flour, about 4-6 minutes. Be careful not to overblend or it will form a butter.

  3. Scrape pumpkin seed meal into a large bowl. Whisk in cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, and oil. Mix wet ingredients into dry.

  4. Divide batter evenly between the wells, filling about 2/3s of the way full. Place in the oven and bake 16-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aisde to a wire rack to cool.

  5. While cupcakes are cooling, mix chocolate and coconut milk/cream in a microwave safe bowl. Heat 30 seconds, stir, then in 10 second intervals until chocolate is melted and smooth.

  6. When cupcakes are cool, spoon ganache over the top. Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Try these other gluten free baked goods: 

Almond Trail Mix Cookies

Almond Trail Mix Cookies

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Cupcakes

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Cupcakes

No Added Sugar Cinnamon Raisin Spice Cookies

No Added Sugar Cinnamon Raisin Spice Cookies

Honey Kefir and Coconut Ice Cream

Cool, creamy and tangy, this honey kefir and coconut ice cream garnished with fresh berries, is the perfect treat for a hot day!

I've hurt myself in some pretty embarrassing ways. There was the time in elementary school when I tore the water cap behind my knee while pretending to be injured. It was all a ruse so I didn't have to go to the pool with my neighbor. I ended up on crutches for 2 weeks. Then there was the time slipped on the wet marble floor outside my sophomore literature class in front of, oh, maybe 100 or so people. I fell on my butt, and bruised it so badly I could barely sit for the next week. And of course, we can't forget the three scars on my face from two separate dog bites...in the same week (not from our fluffies of course). The next week I had to go to the Bahamas with stitches all over my face, somewhat traumatizing for a middle schooler already deep into her awkward phase.

This ice cream may be responsible for one of the most embarrassing injuries of my life. Yes, ice cream actually caused me bodily harm and I'm not talking about my arteries.

Scott and I were lounging on the couch watching a really intelligent and deep documentary. Okay, I lied. We were watching The Bachelorette. Anyway, I had just made this frozen kefir the night before and decided to store it still in the ice cream maker in our overpacked freezer. Bad idea.

It was stuck under the ice maker, so I gave it a hard tug. Maybe a little too hard. It came flying out of the freezer and on to my foot.

I let out a loud scream and Scott came running (after hitting pause on The Bachelorette, of course). Woah, it hurt! The pain shot up from my ankle all the way to my knee. Luckily, it hit my foot and not my toes, cause there's no way they would have survived that unbroken.

The next day as I was limping around with my leg wrapped, everyone kept asking me what happened. How awkward to have to say, "Umm, ice cream." I think I was judged. Especially when I was at a student's nutrition presentation where I had served as the outside expert.

Clearly, me and this ice cream didn't get off to a very good start. I could hold that against it, but it's so tasty I quickly forgot about my injury. Especially as I ate a bowl of it curled up on the couch with the cold bowl balanced on my hurt ankle. Multitasking!

If you struggle with mindlessly eating ice cream when a big batch is around (I do!), then you'll love this single serving ice cream maker. We got it as a wedding present and use it all the time in the summer to make mini-batches of ice cream. You can always keep the unfrozen ice cream mix in the fridge and enjoy it freshly made, which tastes best! After dropping my gallon ice cream maker on my foot, I really wish this was the one I used :(

Kefir Ice Cream

Makes 6 cups

Definitely use full fat kefir and coconut for this ice cream, as the higher water content in lower fat dairy will make it icy. You could also swap plain yogurt or buttermilk for the kefir. The vodka helps it keep a better consistency when frozen.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 1/2 cup honey

  • 1 can full fat coconut milk

  • 2 1/4 cups plain organic kefir, preferably full fat

  • 2 teaspoons vodka

  • Fresh berries, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and honey together until well combined.

  2. In a medium pot, heat the coconut milk and 1 1/4 cups kefir over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. When the mixture reaches about 150 degrees on a candy thermometer (very hot with steam forming, but not boiling or simmering), remove from heat and pour slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

  3. When ready to make, pour the remaining cup of kefir and vodka into the mixture and stir to combine. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to instructions. When the ice cream is very thick, scoop out into a container, placing a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface, and freeze at least 2 hours.

  4. Before serving, let the ice cream sit on the counter 10 minutes to soften.

Whole Grain Peanut Butter Jelly Muffins

Make it peanut butter jelly time, ALL the time! These whole grain peanut butter jelly muffins filled with chia seed jam are perfect for breakfast, snacking or a sweet treat. 

This post is sponsored by Crazy Richards peanut butter. I was provided with samples and compensated for this post. As always, thoughts and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that align my Avocado A Day Nutrition values and make this blog possible! 

Like all couples, Scott and I have silly things that we argue about. Whose turn it is to do the dishes (Scotts). How many zucchinis plants is a reasonable number to plant in the garden (less than the 14 we currently have growing). Should we spend more money on the man cave (no).

Our most frequent petty argument? Peanut butter. Scott eats it all before I get a chance. I drive him nuts with my inability to put lid on correctly. Clearly, in our house, emotions run high when it comes to peanut butter.

So when Crazy Richards, makers of a peanut butter ranked best in taste by The New York Times, Cooking Light and Prevention, reached out to see if I’d like to try a sample, you can guess what my answer was.

I've always bought peanut butter made with one ingredient: peanuts. It’s the only ingredient in Crazy Richards as well. For something made with the same ingredients, I really didn’t think there could be that big of a taste difference. Let me just say, I don’t know what other peanut butters were in competition, but I can assure you Crazy Richards deserved to win. Holy smokes it’s delicious! It’s got a deep, rich, toasted peanutty flavor with just a hint of natural sweetness. Defintely something you’ll want to eat by the spoonful!

You might not think of peanut butter as a health food, probably because of it’s association with kids food (usually a safe assumption). But peanut butter is actually packed with nutrition. Here’s a look at some of the benefits:

HEART HEALTH // Peanuts are rich in nutrients that promote heart health. We all know of monounsaturated fats, the same type of cholesterol lowering fat found in avocados and extra virgin olive oil. It's also the predominant fat in peanuts and peanut butter. Peanut butter also contains vitamin E, folate and even small amounts of resveratrol, the phytonutrient found in the skin of grapes and red wine.

BIOTIN // Peanuts are the best food source of biotin, a B vitamin that plays and important role in metabolism of fat and carbohydrates. A deficiency in biotin can also affect skin. That's why biotin is often contained in many hair and skin supplements. There’s no research showing a benefit to supplements, but there’s no harm including biotin rich foods in your diet.

COPPER // Peanuts are a good source of copper with almost 50% your daily needs in one serving. Copper plays many important roles in the body, in bone and tissue health, cholesterol regulation (it targets the same enzyme as most cholesterol medications), and in the formation of an antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase.

So what makes Crazy Richards better than the rest? You know, besides the fact that it tastes pretty darn close to heaven (OMG on a spoon with dark chocolate chips!). Crazy Richards uses no added sugar, salt and only the natural oil from the peanuts. Many other natural brands use palm oil to prevent the oil and nuts from separating. It's fine for health, but the production of palm oil has a devastating effect on the environment. 

Now, on to these muffins. WhenI first learned to cook healthfully, I started making these peanut butter and jelly muffins for breakfast. I was pretty excited about them, but inhindsight, they were pretty horrid and dry. What's the use of making something healthy if it doesn't taste great? Still, I kind of love the idea and I've been meaning to revamp my recipe so it doesn't taste like peanut butter smothered cardboard. This new version, lightly sweetened with coconut sugar and stuffed with a tart raspberry chia jam is pretty fantastic if I do say so myself. Perfect for breakfast or for snacking! Pro tip: double up the batch and freeze for later!

One lucky winner will receive a gift pack filled with Crazy Richard's products, including their obsessively delicious peanut butter! To win, simply leave a comment on this blog post with your favorite way to enjoy peanut butter. Deadline to win is 12 pm EST on 5/20/15 when I'll randomly pick a winner! 


Whole Grain Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

Makes: 12 muffins

Ingredients

Chia Jam: 

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

Muffins:

  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup Crazy Richard's peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, blend raspberries, water and chia seeds. Let sit 10-15 minutes to thicken while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking powder, salt and coconut sugar. In another bowl, whisk together almond milk, coconut oil, peanut butter, vanilla, and egg. Whisk wet ingredients into dry.
  4. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners or spray with oil. Divide half the batter between the tins. Place a small 2 teaspoon scoop of jam in the middle of the batter, pressing down lightly. Top with the remaining batter.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

More peanut butter recipes: 

Vegetable and Soba Noodle Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
Vegetable and Soba Noodle Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Bites
Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Bites
Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups
Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups

Almond Trail Cookies

Gluten free and vegan, these lightly sweetened, whole grain almond trail mix cookies are the perfect snack to fuel your hike.

I was asked to participate in the “#CrunchOn ” campaign as a member of the Healthy Aperture Blogger Network. I was compensated for my time and also received free samples for recipe testing.

To me, food is one of the most important parts of travel. Before we take a trip, even a quick weekend jaunt within the South, I'll spend hours online, learning local specialties, researching the best restaurants and figuring out how to work in as many tasty yums as possible. There are few things in life that make me more sad than a subpar meal while on vacation.

Scott and I love camping, but that type of vacation doesn't exactly lend itself to good eats. We've taken a few camping trips in the last couple years, and in each case, crappy food was pretty unavoidable. Even if a can of beanie weenies was the panacea of health, you still wouldn't catch me eating it. I have no problem not showering or peeing in the woods, but eating rehydrated food for dinner? NOPE.

When we decided to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains for my birthday, I planned ahead to ensure the weekend was filled with deliciousness. I prepared a gourmet meal of potatoes, grilled vegetables and halloumi cheese with smoked paprika, cooked over an open fire. We packed a nice bottle of wine, which I think we were judged for by the, um, mountain folk at the campsite next to us. The second night, we drove into Asheville for dinner at my favorite brewery and birthday cake from my favorite chocolatier (Asheville has all my favorites!). And lastly, I made sure to pack plenty of tasty snacks to fuel our hikes - olive oil popcorn from Trader Joes, honeycrisp apples, wasabi peas and these trail cookies, stuffed with all sorts of almond goodness.

Y'all, these are kind of the perfect trail food. I get pretty hungry when I'm hiking, which isn't that different from my usual state of being, but of course when hiking, there's no refrigerator nearby. Portable, compact, full of healthy fats, protein and a boost of energy from honey, these were perfect for munching on while we stopped to rest our legs. Sure, we could have just packed an energy bar, but I mean, cookies.

These cookies incorporate almonds in four different ways:

WHOLE ALMONDS // For satiating crunch!

ALMOND MEAL // My favorite gluten free flour for baking, it adds a nice crumbly texture and nutty flavor.

ALMOND BUTTER // Used instead of butter and other added fats.

ALMOND MILK // Mix 3 tablespoons almond milk with 1 tablespoon chia seeds to make a vegan egg for baking.

Besides the obvious fact that they taste amazing, there's a lot to love about almonds:

  • Almonds are a rich source of monounsaturated fat, the type found in extra-virgin olive oil and avocados, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol.
  • With 1/4 cup providing 40% your daily needs of vitamin E, almonds are the best nut source of the fat soluble vitamin. The antioxidant vitamin helps protect against heart disease and protects fats in the brain against oxidative damage and inflammation.
  • Almonds also top all other nuts in calcium content, one of the reasons (besides it's creamy deliciousness) that I love homemade almond milk so much!
  • Some people still avoid almonds because of their fat content, but study after study have shown them to be beneficial for weight management. And not that I recommend calorie counting, but recent studies with more accurate methods of measuring calories, have shown an ounce of almonds contain only 130 calories versus the previous count of 160.
  • With 6 grams of protein in each ounce, a serving of nuts is one of my favorite post-workout snacks.
  • Snacking on crunchy food like almonds can actually help combat stress!

Feel free to mix in your favorite trail mix ingredients. I like using freeze dried fruit, which is less sweet than dried fruit, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Dark chocolate chips never hurt anything. Because these are vegan, you can always skip the whole baking step, roll into balls and enjoy like cookie dough!

Almond Trail Mix Cookies

Makes 20 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 3 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 cup freeze dried blueberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix almond milk and chia. Let sit 10 minutes or so to gel.
  2. In a large bowl, mix chia "egg," almond butter, coconut oil, honey and vanilla with an electric beater. In another medium bowl, whisk together oat flour, almond meal, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Using electric beater, mix wet ingredients into dry. Stir in oats, blueberries and almonds. Cover dough with saran wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 325.
  4. Scoop tablespoon sized balls of dough onto an oiled baking sheet. Press down lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten. Bake for 16-18 minutes until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Strawberry Crepes with Honeyed Cashew Cream

I've been on a crepe kick for the past couple weeks, and this was one of the sweet creations I came up with. Perfectly ripe, in-season strawberries are so delicious, I didn’t want to cover their flavor up by doing too much to them. A little honey and creamy pureed cashews is enough to enhance their tart flavor. I prefer stuffing the sliced strawberries into the crepes, where they mingle with the honeyed cashew cream, but they look picture perfect sprinkled over the top.

To make these gluten free, try buckwheat flour or oat flour. Fresh crepes always taste best, but for me, convenience wins and I just cook all the crepes at once and refrigerate. You could always keep the batter in the fridge a couple of days, stored in the blender. Before making the crepes, give it a quick whir to blend. Since out of season strawberries are pretty awful, I suggest making these when strawberries are in season, or using frozen strawberries and chia to make a quick chia jam by blending frozen strawberries with a little sugar and a tablespoon or two of chia seeds, then letting it sit to gel for 10 minutes.

Easy strawberry crepes with honeyed cashew cream! #vegan #vegetarian #crepes #strawberry #spring #dessert #dairyfree

Strawberry Crepes with Honeyed Cashew Cream

Makes 14-16

Ingredients

  • Crepes:

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (the kind in a carton)

  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour

  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • Pinch of salt

  • Honeyed Cashew Cream:

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked at least 2 hours

  • 1/4 cup unsweetned coconut milk

  • 3 tablespoons honey

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Pinch of salt

  • To assemble:

  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

Directions

  1. Place the ingredients for the crepes (eggs, coconut milk, flour, coconut oil, vanilla, and salt) in a blender. Blend until combined. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes so the bubbles subside (this keeps the crepes from breaking).

  2. While the batter is chilling, make the cream. Drain cashews and place in a food processor with coconut milk, honey, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Blend, scraping down sides, until creamy, about five minutes total. Remove to a bowl and set aside until ready to use.

  3. When ready to make the crepes, heat a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Using a quarter cup measure, pour a scant quarter cup into the hot skillet. Lift the skillet off the heat and quickly swirl the batter, helping it spread thin. Place back on the stovetop and cook about 30 seconds - you should see little bubbles forming. Carefully flip and cook another 10 seconds. Remove with a spatula and set aside on a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, stacking the crepes on top of each other.

  4. When ready to eat, spread a little cashew cream down the center of each crepe (about 2 tablespoons), top with strawberries and fold the sides over.


More strawberry recipes:

Breakfast Strawberry Shortcake

Breakfast Strawberry Shortcake

Balsamic Macerated Strawberry Yogurt Cups

Balsamic Macerated Strawberry Yogurt Cups

Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast Crumble

Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast Crumble


Easy strawberry crepes with honeyed cashew cream! #vegan #vegetarian #crepes #strawberry #spring #dessert #dairyfree

Flourless Sticky Chocolate Plum Cake

This gluten free and vegan flourless sticky chocolate plum cake is naturally sweetened with California dried plums. Perfect for dessert or snacking alongside a cup of coffee.

“By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by California Dried Plum Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

Before this recipe contest, I hadn't had a dried plum since I was, oh, 5 years old maybe. In my mind, I remembered them tasting...well, not that great. But, we all know taste buds change so I when a pack of dried plums arrived on my doorstep, I was curious to see what they actually tasted like. Seriously, I can't believe I was missing out for so long. Hands down, favorite dried fruit and maybe even snack food in general. Since creating this recipe, we've already gone through two bags. I think I may need an intervention....

I'd heard dried plums could be used in place of butter and sugar in baked goods, but it always seemed a bit retro to me. Like something you'd see in a 1970s issue of Good Housekeeping alongside jello salad. No thanks.

But after trying my first dried plum in 25 odd years, I got it. The fruity and slightly tart flavor would pair perfectly with chocolate. The sticky texture seemed just right for a dense, flourless cake. Plus, I've been baking with other dried fruit pastes for awhile now, so it didn't seem that weird anymore.

When it comes to cake, I'm kind of a snob. I pass on anything described as light and fluffy. I much prefer cakes that are rich, dense and could be accurately described with that 'm-word' we all hate so much. That's exactly what this cake is. Especially the m-word.

Before we get to the recipe, lets talk dried plums, or as I like to call them, the artist formerly known as prunes.

May is National Osteoporosis Month, so it seems a good time to highlight dried plums role in supporting bone health. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become weak and porous, causing them to break more easily. Although it mainly affects elderly women, especially those on the thinner side, men (even larger men) are susceptible, especially with our modern American diet that's low in bone building nutrients. It's also very serious. You might not think of a broken bone as being that big of a deal, but as you get older, it can seriously impact your quality of life and ability to do the things you love.

When you think bone health, you probably think calcium, vitamin D and of course, dairy. However, there are many other bone building nutrients, and research is even beginning to show dairy may not play as big of a role in bone health as we once thought. Other nutrients, like vitamin K, phosphorus, boron, copper, magnesium, and potassium, are just as important as calcium and vitamin D. And guess what? Dried plums are a great source of these nutrients! Dried plums are actually the best fruit source of vitamin K, a vitamin which increases bone mineral density. In fact, studies have found that 1-2 servings of dried plums a day increases bone mineral density and markers of bone formation, even in people who already have osteoporosis.

Other health benefits:

DIGESTIVE HEALTH // Dried plums are not only high in fiber, but also in naturally occurring sorbitol. This sugar alcohol isn't fully digested, so it pulls fluids into the gut, helping to promote regularity.

HEART HEALTH // Animal studies on prunes have found they may be effective in both lowering cholesterol and reducing atherosclerotic plaques in blood vessels.

ANTIOXIDANTS // Dried plums are a rich source of antioxidants, mainly phenols, which seem to be especially beneficial for heart health. Dried plums are also a good source of vitamin C, another antioxidant vitamin.

Now, back to the recipe. I've never been into the whole cup of coffee and a baked good thing, but if I were, I imagine this would be exactly what I'd want next to my cup o' Joe. It's not too sweet, so if you prefer it more dessert-like, feel free to increase the honey to 3 or 4 tablespoons. The rich cake would also be delicious served with whipped coconut cream. Because it's so dense and sticky, the old stick a knife in the center of the cake thing doesn't work here. Just eyeball it, you'll begin to see when it's beginning to puff around the edges. It's pretty forgiving, so no worries if you over or undercook it a bit.

Sticky Chocolate Plum Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chia seds
  • 6 tablespoons almond milk
  • 3/4 cup California dried plums
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together chia seeds and almond milk. Let sit to gel for 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. In a food processor, blend dried plums into a puree. Add chia gel, honey, almond butter, and vanilla and blend again until combined. Add almond meal and cocoa powder to the food processor and blend again until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Line a loaf pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper with some hanging over the sides then cover generously with oil. This makes it easier to remove. Scrape in batter and spread even with a spatula. Bake for 35 minutes, sprinkling with coconut halfway through cooking.
  5. Remove from oven, let cool in the pan. When ready to serve, lift out by pulling on the foil or parchement paper and cut into thin slices before serving. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Chocolate Chia Avocado Mousse

Chocolate chia avocado mousse is a decadent, vegan treat, made without dairy or refined sugar. 

So, I've got good news and I've got bad news.

The bad news is that Recipe Redux falls on a Sunday this month, so I don't have your regularly scheduled Sunday Paper.

The good news is that this month's Recipe Redux theme is chocolate pairings, so I'm pretty sure all is forgiven :)

Personally, I think chocolate pairs well with everything. Almonds, figs, quinoa, cayenne, and even kale have all cozied up with chocolate on my blog, so I knew I had to think outside of the box with this Redux.

If there's one food I love more than chocolate, it's avocado, so why not mix the two together! It sounds unlikely, but avocado has a creamy texture and mild flavor that can easily go sweet rather than savory.

A few years ago, I learned how to make chocolate mousse with avocado and cocoa powder. I've made a few variations, but for the most part, every recipe calls for a couple avocados blended with cocoa powder and some type of sweetener, usually honey or dates. It's incredibly tasty, but I wanted a more mousse-like texture.

Enter chia seeds. Chia seeds swell up in liquid to create a tapioca-like pudding (great for breakfast, btw!). Blending chia pudding in the food processor creates a fluffy, whipped mousse. So, I soaked a few tablespoons of chia seeds in almond milk, then it blended it with the rest of the mousse ingredients - the result was delicious!

If you're like me, eating chocolate makes you happy. Sure, it tastes great, but on a biological level, chocolate actually promotes happiness! Eating chocolate causes the body to release endorphins, a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of pleasure and happiness, while decreasing levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Flavanols, a compound in chocolate, improves blood flow to the brain, which may improve cognition. Chocolate is also a natural source of caffeine, which can improve mental alertness.

So what are you waiting for? Whip up a creamy bowl of happiness!

Chocolate Chia Avocado Mousse

Serves:6-8

I served this with a quick coconut whipped cream. To make it, refrigerate a can of coconut cream. Open the can and scoop out the cream, which will have separated from the water. Using a hand blender, whip the cream on high speed for a few minutes with a tablespoon or two of honey or coconut sugar to sweeten.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 2 large avocados
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Shredded, unsweetened coconut, for serving
  • Coconut whipped cream, for serving

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the almond milk and chia seeds. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to gel.
  2. Place dates in a food processor and process until chopped small.
  3. Add avocado flesh, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla and chia gel to the food processor. Blend 3-4 minutes, scraping down sides as needed, until creamy and pureed.
  4. Serve garnished with shredded coconut and whipped cream.

Homemade Nut Butter, Three Ways

Homemade nut butter allows you to experiment with different flavor combinations. Try my recipes for vanilla almond sun butter, spicy cinnamon peanut butter and coconut macadamia butter. 

With homemade nut butter, the flavor combinations are endless. Pistachio butter? Why not. Superfood butter? You can do that too. Have an itching desire to make bacon peanut butter? Well, it's a thing. A weird thing, yes, but you can do it.

Other than a food processor, homemade nut butter doesn't take any special equipment. I'm sure a Vitamix would be nice (hint hint), but it's not necessary. Plus, it takes less than five minutes to make with ingredients you more than likely have on hand.

Best of all, you won't feel guilty after eating it by the spoonful because it cost $10 a jar.

Still feeling guilty for the calories? Don't. Despite the calories and fat, study after study has linked nuts to weight loss rather than weight gain. The combo of fat, fiber and protein keeps you satisfied, helping to prevent overeating. Other health benefits of nuts:

UNSATURATED FATS // The unsaturated fats found in nuts helps lower cholesterol, reducing your risk for heart disease.

PROTEIN // Nuts are a plant based source of protein. Swap an ounce of nuts for meat or cheese on a salad or one of these nut butters for deli meat on a sandwich.

VITAMIN E // Mostly known for it's cardiovascular benefits, vitamin E's antioxidant effect plays an important role in brain health

STRESS RELIEF // Crunchy foods have been shown to help relieve stress. Although these nut butters lack crunch, a handful of nuts would be preferable to a bag of chips as a way to deal with anxiety :)

PLANT STEROLS // Plant sterols are often added to foods like orange juice and margarine to help lower cholesterol. However nuts, especially peanuts, are a natural source.

Because I've got a serious case of indecision, I'm sharing not one, but three recipes for homemade nut butter. You are welcome! I love to have nut butter and fruit as a snack, but these also make a mean sandwich on sprouted grain bread with slices of apple or pear. Or, your know, grab a spoon and enjoy!

Vanilla Almond Sun Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

You could also roast the nuts first in a 300 degree oven for 12-14 minutes as the original recipe calls for. I skipped this step out of laziness but I'm sure it would enhance the flavor even more. Adapted from Edible Perspective.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or muscovado sugar
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil, avocado oil or other neutral flavored oil

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. When smooth and spreadable, scrape into a plastic container or mason jar and refrigerate for 1-3 months.
Vanilla Almond Sun Butter
Vanilla Almond Sun Butter

Spicy Cinnamon Peanut Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsalted, roasted peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil or avocado oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and spreadable.
  2. Scrape into a plastic container or mason jar and refrigerate 1-3 months.

Coconut-Macadamia Nut Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

This one is quite thin and drippy - in a good way!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.
  2. Store in a plastic container or mason jar in the refrigerator 1-3 months.

Sexy Strawberry Cream Vegan Milkshakes

Wanna guess my favorite kind of smoothie? One that's really actually a milkshake.

What, did you think I was going to say a kale smoothie?? Pffffttt!

But before we get to this amazingly creamy, dreamy milkshake/smoothie hybrid, I should probably explain why I'm sharing this luxurious treat when everyone in the world is searching for salads and green smoothies. Today, the Miyagi of the dietitian blogger world, Regan Jones (of Healthy Aperture, Blog Brulee, RDs for Disclosure and Recipe Redux fame) turns forty. She has done so much for her fellow dietitian bloggers, and in the process, gaining the respect and admiration of her colleagues. And for that, a whopping forty of us got together to throw her a virtual birthday party by sharing healthy cocktails or gluten free desserts in her honor!

Cue the confetti and champagne toast!

I've said it before, but one of the best things about becoming a blogger was  joining this incredible community. It would be easy for us to view each other as competition, bash and belittle each other, but instead we support, uplift and help each other grow and succeed. Regan is a huge reason for this, really setting the standard for how to treat others within our community. She works with brand contacts to create sponsorship opportunities for us smaller bloggers. She's developed an entire recipe sharing network through Healthy Aperture to highlight the healthy food blogger. She spent an entire year organizing Blog Brulee, an inspiring blogging conference that we all agreed, did so much more than teach us about photography and search engine optimization (although it did that too!). Regan is funny, bossy (in a good way!), motivated, enthusiastic, creative and talented...it's no wonder we all love her so!

Plus, she even shared one of my all-time favorite blogging tips - how to make food look sexy, hence the title.

Regan, wishing you the happiest of birthdays! Thank you so much for all your support and for welcoming me into this community with open arms! The inspiration I gained at Blog Brulee helped make 2014 the best year yet, and I wish the same for you in your fortieth!

Now, on to this milkshake. Err, smoothie. Because ingredient-wise, it has absolutely nothing in common with a milkshake. However if you factor taste and creaminess, it's got everything in common with a milkshake.

Frozen bananas are the secret to getting that milkshake consistency. The creamy, sugar dense fruit not only sweetens the smoothie, but makes it thick and creamy. I added macadamia nuts for even more creamy, fatty mouthfeel. Plus, I love the rich flavor it gives along with the coconut milk.

I used unsweetened coconut milk, the thinner kind they sell by the soy and almond milks. You could use canned coconut milk, which would make it pretty thick, but hey, when has anyone complained about their milkshake being too thick?? Considering the amount of coconut used in the recipe, canned coconut milk would make it a bit of a calorie bomb. A delicious whole food calorie-bomb...but a calorie bomb nonetheless.

To save time, you could skip making the strawberry sauce and blend frozen strawberries into it. But, we know how Regan likes her food sexy, and what's hotter than swirls of bright red, vanilla-scented strawberry bits running through a creamy, white base? Not much. Not much at all.

Sexy Strawberry Cream Vegan Milkshakes

2 servings

Ingredients

Strawberry Sauce:

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon honey

    Shake:

  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk

  • 2 medium frozen bananas

  • 1/4 cup macadamia nuts

Instructions

  1. Place strawberries, vanilla and honey in a small pot on medium heat. Bring to a simmer. mashing with a potato masher or the back of a spoon as the juices release. Simmer for 10 minutes until thickened. Remove and set aside to cool.

  2. Add coconut milk, bananas and macadamia nuts to a blender. Blend until smooth.

  3. Divide strawberry sauce between two glasses, Top with milkshake. Swirl together a bit with a spoon and enjoy!

Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes with Maple-Cashew Cream

Alas, my fall pumpkin contribution to the food blogging world. Light and fluffy coconut flour pancakes, packed with filling protein. Dollop with a creamy cashew cream lightly sweetened with maple syrup for a low sugar topping.

Now, before you ask, no, I have not gone paleo. What I have done though, is have a ton of fun learning to cook with coconut flour, the newest grain-free flour on the block. Made from dried, defatted coconut meat, this grain-free flour has become popular with paleo and low carb dieters.

My food philosophy focuses on food rather than nutrients. In the case of carbohydrates, I encourage my clients to focus on higher fiber carbohydrate foods. Still, there are some people, like some of my clients with difficult to control diabetes, who benefit from eating a lower (not no) carbohydrate diet. It's easy to makeover most dishes to have less carbs - in most cases I just up the veggies and swap in some filling, healthy fats. But where I really struggled was baked goods - even keeping the portion size small, swapping in whole grain flour and using a small amount of sweetener, it would still spike their blood sugar more than I'd like. I've got a few cookie recipes in my arsenal using almond meal, another a nutritious low carb flour, but nothing that could replicate light and fluffy consistencies.

Then I discovered coconut flour.

Now, please be warned, coconut flour is a bit difficult to work with. My first time cooking with it was an epic fail. Probably the greatest fail of my entire cooking career, beating out the time I substituted cayenne for chili powder and my sweet potato gnocchi that liquified in the pot. Yes, my coconut flour biscuits were worse than tongue-scorching tortilla soup and a pot full of orange sludge. Because coconut flour has a high ratio of fiber to carbohydrate, it needs lots of liquid. So, I probably should have known better than to substitute 1:1 coconut flour for whole wheat flour without any adjustments. The resulting biscuit was so dry and crumbly, just one bite literally sucked all the moisture out of my mouth. I literally had to stop and chug a glass of water!

I hope I didn't scare you away, because once you get it right, coconut flour is a wonderful, grain-free alternative! Actually, I think baked goods (made correctly!) with coconut flour taste the most like white flour. Since it doesn't have a strong flavor, like bean or nut flours, coconut flour blends seamlessly into the baked good without overwhelming.

These pancakes aren't just for paleo dieters or people watching their carbs. High in protein and fiber, these pancakes won't leave you with the midmorning slump like other pancakes high in sugar and refined flour. They're also gluten free, perfect for anyone with celiac, gluten sensitivities or following a low FODMAPS diet for IBS. Even if you aim for a plant-based diet like me, these really aren't all that animal heavy protein heavy, with the equivalent of one egg per serving. The rest of the ingredients are all vegan!

Now, I have to mention this maple-cashew cream. Because it's so delicious and I know you'll want to dip apples into it, spoon it over yogurt or just eat it by the spoonful, this recipe makes about double what you'll need. Or, and I just got this amazing idea, you could stack these pancakes into a "cake" and layer it with cashew cream instead of frosting. Ohh! Even better - alternate layers with blueberry chia seed jam for a little fruity flavor! Okay, I need to stop myself before a run to the kitchen and make a giant pancake cake!

I should note, since we're going with the lower sugar theme and all, I wouldn't add maple syrup. You really don't need it - the maple cashew cream is sweet enough. That last picture, the maple syrup was added for prettiness. Speaking of which, funny story about it. I tried to get that lovely shot action shot of maple syrup pouring over the pancakes. Apparently that requires more hand-eye coordination than I have, because I ended up just pouring maple syrup all over the table! Not even close!

Have you cooked with coconut flour before? 

Paleo Pumpkin Pancakes with Maple-Cashew Cream

Makes 12, serves 6; with leftover cream

Serve leftover cream as a dipping sauce for fresh fruit or spooned into oatmeal.

Ingredients

Pancakes:

  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 3 tablespoons coconut sugar (or other unrefined sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 eggs, preferably organic and free range
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple Cashew Cream:

  • 1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 2 hours in water
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus extra if needed
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together coconut flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin puree, almond milk, oil and vanilla extract. Mix wet ingredients into the dry until well combined.
  2. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Spray with a little olive oil or coconut oil. When hot, add scant 1/4 cups of batter and cook until set on one side, about 3 minutes, then carefully flip and cook the other side about a minute until golden. Set aside on a plate or keep warm in a 200 degree oven while cooking the remaining pancakes.
  3. While the pancakes are cooking, place cashews, almond milk, maple syrup and vanilla in a food processor. Blend 3-4 minutes until creamy.
  4. Serve 2 pancakes dolloped with maple cashew cream.

You might also like: 

Sriracha Lime Tofu and Cauliflower Rice Bowl 

Sriracha Lime Tofu and Cauliflower Rice Bowl 

Multigrain Blueberry Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Multigrain Blueberry Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Multigrain Pancake Muffins 

Multigrain Pancake Muffins 

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Coconut Cupcakes

In the mood for a little chocolatey treat? These gluten free mini chocolate quinoa coconut cupcakes are perfect for snacking! 

One of my favorite parts about my last job working as the outpatient dietitian at a local hospital was getting to work with a lot of people who were very different than me, namely, lots of 60-70 year old men. Being in South Carolina, most had been raised in more rural, agricultural areas. I, on the other hand, grew up in Brooklyn. And of course, I am a 30 year old woman, not a middle aged male. But as a whole, I really enjoyed getting to create working relationships with people who I otherwise wouldn't meet. I found the key to doing that was finding something in common, which as I learned, you can do with anyone.

Of course, sometimes that was easier than with others. I remember one man in particular, who made it pretty clear early on in our appointment that he had absolutely no desire to be told what to eat, especially by "a scrawny little yankee." Gulp. This might be a long hour.

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Cupcakes

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Cupcakes

Never one to give up, as we discussed his eating habits, I desperately searched for any little thing I could use. When he mentioned he was an avid gardener and spent his summers canning food, I knew I found my in. Although I've killed every plant I've put in the ground and am way too scared of botulism to can my own food, I'm endlessly fascinated by these skills and uber-jealous of those who possess them. So, I enthusiastically told him that.

He squinted, looked me up and down, slowly reformulating his opinion of me and finally, he cracked a smile. I found my in!

Maybe I got a little too far in because for the next thirty minutes, he excitedly shared with me how he was using these skills to prepare for the upcoming apocalypse. Yup, he was a doomsday prepper. In the hour we spent together, I learned which MRE's taste best (apparently, vegetarian ones taste better), the importance of owning a gas mask and finally, the nutritional benefits of milling your own flour.

I took two things away from our conversation. First, as someone who lives in the city, doesn't know how to shoot a gun and refuses to leave her dogs behind, I'm basically screwed in any doomsday scenario.

Second, I realized I was actually kind of intrigued by the idea of grinding my own flour.

I ran back to my office, quickly did some research and found out that yes, there actually is a difference in store-bought and homemade flour. Although the whole grain flour you buy in the store is perfectly nutritious, because antioxidants and perishable oils in whole grains break down soon after milling, the fresher the flour is, the more nutrients it will contain. Since it's near impossible to know how long the flour in the grocery store has been sitting there, making it at home is a great way to ensure freshness.

But, despite my excitement, I realized it wasn't exactly a practical hobby and I quickly forgot about my brief flirtation with being a survivalist.

Then my mom gifted with The Homemade Flour Cookbook (thanks mom!), and my excitement for grain milling was reignited. Suddenly, a grain mill seems as essential as a good kitchen knife. Even better, I learned that many homemade flours can be made with equipment I already have on hand - a coffee grinder, food processor and even a spice grinder can blend lighter flours, like quinoa, amaranth, oats and nuts. My cuisinart has turned out to be a pretty handy. And for those lucky folks with a high powered blender like a vitamix, you can make flour out of just about anything - lentils, beans, and wheat berries are all easily pulverized.

These mini cupcakes are my first foray into quinoa flour, which I made in my food processor. Technically a grain-like seed, quinoa is higher in fat than other whole grains, which can go rancid, so it's a smart one to make fresh. I love the dense texture it gives these cupcakes. These cupcakes are the perfectly little chocolatey bite with just a hint of sweetness. Keep extra in the freezer and microwave a few seconds to warm up.

Mini Chocolate Quinoa Coconut Cupcakes

Makes 24

To make quinoa flour, blend quinoa in a food processor about 5-7 minutes until a powder forms. You can also purchase quinoa flour at most health food stores or order online. I enjoyed these plain, but feel free to top with coconut whipped cream or a little bit of lightly sweetened mascarpone.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup quinoa flour

  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar

  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2/3 cup light coconut milk

  • 1 egg

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil

  • 1/2 cup toasted shredded unsweetened coconut

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Set oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini-muffin tin with olive oil or coconut oil, or line with mini-muffin papers.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together quinoa flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk coconut milk, egg, and vanilla extract. Mix wet into the dry until well combined. Stir in coconut oil. Fold in the coconut and chocolate chips. Divide batter among the muffin tins. Bake 15-18 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Quinoa Tahini Bar

Anyone who has lived with me, worked with me, or just spent the day with me, is well aware of my reliance on snacks.When I come to work each morning, it’s never without the world’s largest lunch box filled to the brim with random containers of food. What can I say, I like to eat. I eat my snacks right on the dot, at 10 am and 3:30 pm. If I go more than 30 minutes past my scheduled snack time, I’m stricken with a major case of hanger (hungry-anger for those of you not familiar with the term).

I like to treat snacks as mini-meals, full of nutritious, whole foods that will satisfy until mealtime. My secret to a filling and nutritious snack? Pair one serving of a high fiber carb food with another serving of a food that contains fat and/or protein. The high fiber carb keeps blood sugar levels stable and the fat/protein keeps you satiated until your next meal.

The easy version – just eat one serving of food from two different food groups.  You'll almost always end up with the right combination.

Some of my favorites:

  • Slices of avocado on ak-mak or wasa crackers drizzled with sriracha (or hot sauce if you forgot to hoard it for the impending sriracha shortage)
  • Tortilla chips topped with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese, microwaved for a minute and served with salsa
  • A baggie of unsweetened whole grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit
  • Popcorn drizzled with a little honey or maple syrup and tossed with toasted walnuts, almonds or coconut flakes
  • Sardines (yup!) on rye crackers
  • Plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit or all-fruitjam
  • Microwaved baked potato chips with yogurt dip
  • Celery sticks spread with cream cheese and chopped black olives (fancy pants ants on a log)
  • Homemade tuna or salmon salad in whole wheat mini-pitas
  • Fresh fruit with peanut or almond butter
  • My favorite snack - leftovers!

Lately, I’ve been really into homemade energy bars, which are generally simple to make and portable. I used to think I hated granola bars because all the store-bought versions I tried were so syrupy sweet.  Since starting to make my own, I've changed my mind. 

The quinoa bars I'm sharing with you today are just lightly sweetened with dried dates, my favorite new sweetener to cook with. Dates impart a rich, caramely flavor, but are a rich source of fiber, iron, potassium, selenium, and vitamin A.

You could boost the nutrition of these bars even more with all sorts of healthy add-ins – cacao powder, maca powder, flax seeds or chia seeds would all work beautifully.

Quinoa Tahini Bar

Makes 10

Adapted from Peru Delights.

Ingredients

  • 12 chopped dates
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup almonds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ cup cooked quinoa

Instructions

  1. Add first five ingredients to a food processor. Blend until you have a mostly smooth paste. Add the quinoa and blend until just combined.
  2. Scoop paste out of the food processor and into a medium baking dish. Press down with wet hands to spread it out evenly and smooth the top. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Once firmed, cut the bars into rectangles and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.