Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Creamiest, "Cheesiest" Vegan Alfredo Sauce I've Ever Eaten

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year, from the crisp air feel, to the changing leaves, though above anything I just can't get enough of the flavors of Autumn; the apples, the spices, but most of all I absolutely love the vegetables. As the air begins to chill I've been starting to crave a little more hearty of meals, and I've definitely been craving the complexity of flavors from a cooked meal which I haven't yet been able to achieve with entirely raw foods. So with that I decided to prepare one of my all time favorite vegetables, spaghetti squash. There are a million and one ways you can prepare this delectable vegetable, but the easiest, yet still my favorite, is to use this as a pasta replacement. You can top your spaghetti squash with any sauce of your choosing and it's bound to be absolutely scrumptious.

I've made a number of different vegan alfredo sauces over the past year or so, both raw and cooked, and while they were all good, none of them quite "hit the spot" the way you expect an alfredo sauce to do. So the last couple of times that I've made it I tried using past recipes as a baseline, and then tweaked them until I finally came to the recipe I have now. It's rich, oh so creamy, and full of complex, robust flavors. It is a cooked recipe, but I'm definitely going to be toying around with it to try and achieve a similar flavor in a raw sauce. 

To get a nice "cheesy" flavor I like to use nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast comes in both powdered or flake form, it's extremely versatile, and can be added to many different snacks and meals to add an extra punch of flavor and nutrition. Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids which our bodies are unable to produce on their own. It also contains the entire array of B vitamins, aside from naturally occurring B12. Though nutritional yeast can be a great source of B12 because it most often is fortified. Vitamin B12 is only naturally produced by bacteria, which means that wild grown yeast can contain this vital nutrient, though commercially produced yeast can not. Nutritional yeast also contains iron, potassium, and selenium, which really makes this a wonderfully healthful food to add in your arsenal.

Spaghetti Squash & Creamy Alfredo Sauce

Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
- 2 medium/large Spaghetti Squash
- 3/4 cup Cashews (soaked for 4-5 hours)
- 1 medium sweet onion
- 6 cloves Garlic
- 2 cups Vegetable Stock (not broth)
- 1/3 cup Nutritional Yeast
- 1 small Lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
- 3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper
- Coconut Oil
- Dried Parsley (optional)

Method:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees, place rack in the center of your oven.
- Slice spaghetti squash lengthwise and scoop out the inner seeds. Place cut side up in a pan, brush with coconut oil, and sprinkle with dried parsley.
- Bake for about 1 hour, or until the squash is fork tender, and ready to separate.




- Roughly slice or chop your garlic, it doesn't need to be particularly small.
- Place your garlic in a pan with about a tablespoon of coconut oil, and allow to brown just slightly, cooking for only a minute or two on low/medium heat.
- Slice your onion, and add them to your pan, allowing to cook for another few minutes, just until they start to become translucent.
- Add 1 cup of vegetable stock to your pan and allow to simmer down until there's no more liquid, and your onions appear almost creamy.




- Place your soaked cashews, onions and garlic, nutritional yeast, garlic and onion powder, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and 3/4 to 1 cup of stock (depending on how thick you want your sauce) into a blender.
- Start on a low speed, and increase up to high for one minute.
- Once cooked, take your spaghetti squash out of the oven and allow to cool just enough to be able to handle.
- Use a fork to scrape the spaghetti strands from the sides of the squash, and scoop it into bowls.
- Pour sauce over spaghetti, and enjoy!




Monday, September 15, 2014

Pad Thai (Raw/Vegan/Grain Free)

Thai food is one of my favorite types of cuisine, if not my favorite. The complexity of flavors, and the combinations of sweet and spicy are absolutely delectable in every way. Pad Thai is the pinnacle of Thai food for me, and mastering it is an art form. Traditionally Pad Thai is eaten as a street food, served sweet and slightly salty, and with only a touch of spice. It's made with soaked rice noodles which are stir fried with eggs, tofu, and tamarind paste, that's the basic gist, but there are other variations.

I actually wasn't intending to add this recipe to the blog quite yet, since I had been playing around with recipes for quite awhile. But I tweaked some of my old recipes, and made what I think is my best attempt yet, and so many people have already asked for it that I figured why not just write it up so anyone can try it? I do apologize because I only took one photo the night I made this, since I wasn't initially intending to post this recipe. I'll most likely be making this dish again very soon, so I will update with more photo's as soon as I do.


Pad Thai

Serves 1-2
Ingredients:
- 2 Zucchini
- 2 Carrots
- 1/2 small head Red Cabbage
- 6 stalks Scallions
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- 1/2 cup Alfalfa Sprouts (or whichever sprouts you prefer)
- 1/2 cup Raw Almond Butter (I prefer crunchy)
- 1 Orange
- 2 Limes
- 2 Tbsp. Raw Honey or Maple Syrup
- 1 Tbsp. minced fresh Ginger
- 2 Tbsp. Nama Shoyu, Coconut Aminos, or Tamari

Method:
- Spiralize, or Julienne your zucchini. Julienne carrots, dice bell pepper & scallions, thinly slice red cabbage, and set aside.
- Mince ginger.
- In a bowl mix together your almond butter, juice from orange and limes, Nama Shoyu, honey, and minced ginger.
- Toss all of your veggies and sprouts with your sauce, and serve.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quick & Easy Vegetable Nori Wraps

At this stage in life I find my days to be fairly chaotic most of the time, with running after a highly active two and a half year old, and trying to keep an eye on her while attempting to prepare healthful meals for the family, it can sometimes be really difficult to get a good meal on the table. I'm still new to the raw food lifestyle, and I'm constantly searching for delicious new dishes to try that are also not terribly complicated, or time consuming to make. There's definitely a bit of a learning curve when first starting out trying to incorporate more raw meals into each day, but there are a couple of tricks that I've learned to help make things a bit easier.


1. Meal Plan - Yes, it can seem a little daunting to begin. If you can take time one day each week I can promise you that not only will the rest of the week become less stressful, but you'll save money by only buying what you need, and you'll reduce waste. My new routine is to meal plan on Friday because I do all of my shopping on Saturday. One of our local farmers markets is just a few blocks away from the supermarket where I shop, MOM's Organic Market, so I head there first to buy as direct as I can, then I head over to the supermarket to fill in the gaps. To make life even easier, I recently began using Pepperplate, which is a meal planning website with an accompanying phone app, and it's free. You can add your own recipes, and it will take ingredients from your weekly meal plan and put them onto a shopping list for you.

2. Prep Veggies Ahead of Time - Now, you probably won't be able to prep all of your vegetables in advance, since some could definitely dry out, or get too soggy. But for vegetables like carrots, cabbage, peppers, and onion I chop, shred, or slice enough for most of the week so that I've got ingredients ready to go. You may not be able to prep enough for the entire week, because you do want to retain the freshness of your vegetables, but I can typically get 4 days worth of prepped foods. Just make sure to store everything in separate air tight containers, mason jars, or even ziplock bags would work.

3. Waste Not, Want Not - Don't let food go to waste, seems simple, but putting it into practice can actually be somewhat difficult when you're not used to it. What do I mean by this? Well if you're like me, and you're addicted to juicing, then save the pulp after you juice all of your veggies. The pulp is great to add on salads, or wraps, even raw desserts, and baked goods. Also, if you have produce which may go bad soon, and you can't seem to find a use for it, then either juice 'em or make a smoothie for a quick snack that's packed with nutrients.


I'm always looking for the most simple ideas for lunch, because I typically eat while my daughter is napping since it's the only meal that I can prepare without needing to focus on multiple things at once. As she gets older the naps get shorter, so the quicker I can prepare a meal and get to sit so I can actually eat it, the better. Prepping vegetables in advance, and saving the pulp from juicing have both helped tremendously with this. Typically I stick with a simple salad, but that can get a bit monotonous. I used to eat a lot of wraps and burritos made with the standard wheat flour, or sprouted flours, but I wanted to find something a bit healthier, and more nutritionally substantial. That's when I discovered that you can buy nori sheets.

Nori is a seaweed which is most commonly used in sushi. You can buy nori sheets both raw and roasted, so make sure to check the labels before you buy them. Seaweed is high in nutrients such as vitamin A, B6, C, as well as fiber, and iodine. The iodine contained in seaweed is beneficial for those that eat a lot of raw cruciferous vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Eating a large amount of these vegetables in their raw form has been shown to increase the risk of hypothyroidism. Though, making sure to eat enough iodine containing foods like seaweed, potatoes, navy beans, and seafood can help to counteract the affects cruciferous vegetables have on the thyroid.



Vegetable Nori Wraps

Makes 4 small wraps
Ingredients:
- 2 Raw Nori Sheets
- Sprouted Hummus (or any other spread or dip of choice)
- 2 handfuls Spinach
- 1 Yellow Bell Pepper
- 1 Carrot
- 1/4 small Red Cabbage
- Broccoli Sprouts (or other kind of sprouts)




Method:
- Julienne your carrot and bell pepper, and thinly slice your red cabbage.
- Lay your nori sheet on a flat surface, and spread desired amount of sprouted hummus on about three fourths of the sheet.
- Place a layer of spinach on top of the hummus, and then top with your Julienne vegetables, placing them lengthwise on one end of your nori sheet.
- Top with your red cabbage and sprouts, then roll your nori sheet around the vegetables, just like you would with a normal wrap.
- As you get to the end either dab your finger in water, or use a small bit of hummus to seal the end of the nori sheet closed.
- Slice diagonally down the center, and you're ready to eat!




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Zoodles with Sun Dried Tomato Marinara (Raw/Vegan)

Zoodles you say?
Yes zoodles, deliciously vibrant zoodles!
So... what are zoodles?

Well, zoodles are essentially spaghetti noodles which are made from zucchini. Simple enough concept so far. Now there are a few different methods for making zoodles, for starters you can serve them both cooked and raw, but I prefer raw because not only are you taking in the full nutrient content from the vegetable, but I also like that slight crunch that you get when you chow down on a zucchini noodle. So how do we achieve these thin, spaghetti-like strands from a solid veggie like zucchini? Well, you've got a few different options, and they each have their pro's and con's. I'm going to start with my least favorite method, and work my way up. 

3. Mandoline - Using a mandoline slicer is probably both the messiest, and most time consuming method, though it will certainly work to julienne your zucchini. Another downside, though really very small, is that you'll only be able to julienne your veggies using this method, so you won't be able to achieve the spaghetti-like curls, or spirals. If a mandoline was all I had to work with then I'd most definitely use it, because zoodles are just that fantastic, but this isn't the most ideal method for me personally. Though I do use my mandoline very frequently for many other dishes, you can find the one that I use here, they're typically anywhere between $15-25.

2. Julienne Peeler - A julienne peeler is great because it's quite small, and very easy to wash, making prep and cleanup an absolute breeze. You can also find really great ones for less than $10, and these guys will generally last a long while. You use this much the same way that you'd use any vegetable peeler, just hold your zucchini lengthwise and peel from end to end, making sure to flip the zucchini over once you hit its seeded center. Again, I really love this for it's ease of use, but you will only be able to achieve a julienne style noodle, so they'll be a bit shorter, and not curly.

1. Spiralizer - The down side to using a spiralizer is that you will have more parts to wash, but it's all pretty simple to clean, and I've never had anything get stuck in the blade. The upside is that you have three size options for your noodles, the smaller blade being about the size of spaghetti, and the largest being similar to a fettuccine style. This is also the only method where you'll be able to achieve noodle-like curls. For those reasons alone I think the two minute extra cleaning is worth it, and I honestly just think that the spiralizer is so much fun to use. Here is the one that I own, but if you're looking for something a little less expensive there are smaller handheld spiralizers for about half the price, though you won't have different size blades with these




Zoodles with Sun Dried Tomato Marinara

Makes about 2 servings
Ingredients:
- 2 large Zucchini
- 3 medium Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup Sun Dried Tomato
- 1/2 small Red Onion
- 1 clove Garlic
- large handful fresh Basil
- 1 tsp. Dried Oregano
- 2 Tbsp. cold pressed Olive Oil
- 1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp. Turmeric

I like to add turmeric because it has a very mild flavor, but has amazing nutritional qualities. Curcumin is the main active ingredient found in turmeric. Curcumin is a very potent antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. Chronic, low level inflammation is now believed to play a role in many debilitation illnesses including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer's (123). Studies are now finding that curcumin is such a strong anti-inflammatory that it's just as effective as many anti-inflammatory drugs, and also in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and even depression (4567). For some people it may be good to take a curcumin supplement, though it's important to first consult with your primary care provider because curcumin is such a potent compound, and can cause blood thinning when taken in high doses.



Method:
- If your sun dried tomatoes are not already packed in oil you can either allow them to sit in olive oil overnight to rehydrate them, or you can allow them to sit in a bowl of warm water for about an hour.
- Slice you onion, garlic, and tomatoes and place them into your blender with all other ingredients aside from zucchini, and blend until you reach the consistency that you like. You can add some of the water from your soaked sun dried tomatoes for a thinner, creamier consistency. I prefer mine a bit on the chunky side.
- Spiralize, or slice your zucchini and place onto a serving plate topped with your marinara sauce.

Unfortunately I didn't take very many photo's, and I made this a bit late in the evening. But I will post better photo's the next time that I make this dish.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Italian Dressing (Vegan & Paleo)

I need to start off by saying one thing, I love condiments, I really do. I was raised on condiments. As a young child I absolutely loved to slather my chicken nuggets in BBQ sauce, my burgers would overflow with mayonnaise, my potatoes were covered in mountains of sour cream, and if I had happened to have eaten any vegetables I can guarantee they were slathered in salad dressing. Of course this was just another factor which contributed to my sugar addiction, as virtually all  commercially made condiments contain large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, or other kinds of sweeteners.

Both corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are unhealthy for a number of reasons, one being that they are highly processed and contain many chemicals, including trace amounts of mercury. Most sugar is made up of both fructose and glucose, but high fructose corn syrup is chemically separated so that it contains just fructose. When eaten that fructose goes straight to our livers, and causes fat deposits, or fatty liver disease which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes.

Another good reason to avoid commercially made condiments is because they're most often made with unhealthy oils like canola, or vegetable oils. These oils are high in trans fat, which raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and lowers HDL (good cholesterol) levels. These oils are also what's known as hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils, which means that they've undergone a chemical process by which the oils are treated with hydrogen to break their natural chemical bonds. This makes the oils solid at room temperature, and thus more shelf stable, which is why processed foods last much longer than their more natural counterparts.

Healthy fats include coconut oil, grass fed ghee (clarified butter), and extra virgin olive oil; though each one of these fats is better suited for different kinds of food. All fats have what's known as a smoke point, or a point at which they begin to burn. Once an oil reaches its smoke point it becomes carcinogenic, and shouldn't be eaten. Olive oil has the lowest smoke point, at 320 degrees, and is best used for cold dishes and salad dressings, which is what I used for this dressing recipe.


Italian Dressing (Vegan & Paleo)

Makes about 1 cup
Ingredients:
-2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-1/4 cup raw Apple Cider Vinegar
-1 Tbsp Raw Honey or Maple Syrup (optional)

Seasonings:
-2 tsp Dried Oregano
-1/4 tsp dried Thyme
-1/2 tsp Dried Basil
-1/2 tsp Dried Parsley
-1 tsp Garlic Powder
-1 tsp Onion Powder
-1/4 tsp Dried Mustard
-1 1/2 tsp Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt
-1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper

 


Why Apple Cider Vinegar instead of regular white? Well, for a multitude of reasons. Raw apple cider vinegar is made by introducing yeast to crushed apples, which begins the fermentation process. Next, bacteria is added which helps convert alcohol into acetic acid, the main component in apple cider vinegar. ACV has been shown to be beneficial for diabetics in controlling blood sugar, raw ACV also contains the "mother," which are strands of proteins, enzymes, and probiotics which can aid digestion. Probiotics are also highly beneficial for those that suffer with mental disorders like anxiety, and depression. Here's a great article briefly describing how gut health plays a role in mental health, and here's the brand of raw ACV that I use, which you can buy at any health food store, I buy it at Whole Foods.

Method:
-Measure out your olive oil & apple cider vinegar into a bowl, and add all of your spices. Whisk together all of your ingredients. This dressing can be saved in the refrigerator up to 4-5 days.


Grain Free, Mostly Raw Pasta Salad

Growing up in an Italian family pasta was a staple in my diet, actually, grains in general were a huge part of my everyday life. Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and either pasta for dinner, or it was a meat heavy dish with lots of bread passed around the table. Up until about five years ago I hadn't realized the connection between my sugar addiction and my bread consumption, but anytime I had a severe sugar craving and couldn't get my hands on some sweets I always turned to refined grains. The reason for this is because refined grains are what's known as simple carbohydrates, which are carbohydrates that are made up of just one or two sugar molecules. Simple carbohydrates, or simple sugars, are digested very quickly by the body, and raise our blood glucose level higher faster, which means they're high on the glycemic index. Refined grains have been shown to greatly increase our risk for developing Diabetes, and contributes to obesity. Due to processing, refined grains also lack much of their natural fiber, and fiber slows down the absorption of other nutrients, including carbohydrates. This is why simple carbohydrates like fruit don't raise our blood glucose the same way that other simple carbohydrates do, because fruits contain plenty of fiber to help balance the sugar. (This is also why it's best to eat fruits in their whole form, or blend them, as opposed to juicing them. Juicing fruits removes their natural fiber.)

In general, there doesn't seem to be a solid consensus on grains, even whole, unrefined grains. It is known that grains contain Phytic Acid, which is a mineral blocker that can prevent the absorption of calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium (magnesium is critical for both mind & body, read why here). However, there is evidence to suggest that traditionally, grains were consumed after sprouting, which is a process by which the grain, or seed, is provided moisture and begins to germinate. Sprouting lessens the amount of Phytic Acid present in grains, and allows minerals and nutrients to become more bioavailable, or more easily absorbed. Personally, I'm comfortable eating small amounts of whole, unrefined grains, but I do prefer sprouted, and have found that it does help with my digestion. So I keep grains in general to a minimum, but I don't completely eliminate them. 

Since I bought a spiralizer I've been making lots of delicious raw "spaghetti" from vegetables, mainly zucchini. But I still enjoy a nice hearty pasta dish, and I typically buy sprouted grain pasta, but I very recently found a new brand which I've been hearing rave reviews about. It's entirely grain free, and contains just one ingredient, organic red lentils. They also have an organic black bean variety.


Beans and lentils also contain Phytic Acid, so I do prefer them sprouted, but again, I follow my body as a cue and have found that I feel no negative affects from small amounts incorporated into my diet. In fact, I actually feel much better when I do. So here's my recipe for hearty pasta salad.

Hearty, Mostly Raw Pasta Salad

Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
-1 medium Zucchini
-1 medium Cucumber
-1 small or medium Red Onion
-2 medium Bell Peppers
-1 large Tomato (though I ran out of tomatoes)
-8 ounces Pasta
-about 1 cup Italian dressing (you can find my recipe for Italian dressing here)

Method:
-Chop all of your veggies whichever way you prefer, and allow to marinate in Italian dressing for at least 20 minutes.



-Cook your pasta as directed, rinse with cold water to chill, and mix with your marinated vegetables. That's it!






Monday, August 18, 2014

Grilling in a Pinch on a Semi Raw Diet

August is the pinnacle of summer for us, there's lots of family BBQ's, and late nights spent grilling. Grilling in general can be rather difficult for a person who eats a mainly whole foods, plant based diet. The easy go-to for most non-omnivorous eaters are meat replacements, veggie burgers from brands like Boca, or Morning Star, which are what I like to call "food-like products." Unfortunately, these products are about as on par nutritionally as meat that many Americans now consume, which come from factory farms, and are highly processed as well. To put it simply, these "food-like products" are extremely lacking in nutrients, and many of the ingredients wreck absolute havoc on our bodies. Which for me becomes glaringly obvious because my anxiety almost immediately increases, and my OCD symptoms kick up about 5 notches whenever I used to eat these foods. Mental health is completely intertwined with intestinal health, and many of these foods are highly inflammatory. So when your intestines become irritated, or inflamed, it's going to stimulate a response from the brain.

First off, most of these products contain soy. Roughly 90% of all the soy grown and used in the U.S. is non-organic, and genetically modified. Non-organic soy is extracted using hexane, which is a byproduct of petroleum refining. Hexane has been shown to cause brain tumors, and this chemical is also released into the air through processing, contributing to chemical smog and air pollution, which has been heavily linked to childhood asthma.

My second issue is with the kinds of oils used in these products. When reading the ingredients list you're likely to find one or more of these oils: canola oil, soy oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, sunflower, or safflower oil. The problem with these oils is twofold, one issue is that the plants which most of these oils come from are genetically modified, and non-organic. But more importantly these oils are hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated, meaning they're highly chemically processed. Processed vegetable oils are also very high Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which are known to lead to heart disease, and numerous types of cancer.

But sometimes all I want is a nice veggie burger, slightly charred on the grill. So what's a girl to do in a pinch? Well I've finally found one brand that stands far and above any other, Hilary's Eat Well


The ingredients in these are so pure, and delicious that there's almost no reason to even bother trying to make your own burgers...almost. Hilary's products are organic, certified non-GMO, they're also dairy, egg, soy, corn, and gluten free. But here's the real kicker, they're made with COCONUT OIL. The only ingredients in these little beauties are organic vegetables, organic spices, and organic coconut oil. That's it!

Coconut oil is one of my favorite oils to use because it's made up of medium chain triglycerides, or medium chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have therapeutic effects on brain disorders from Alzheimer's, and epilepsy, to mental illnesses like anxiety & depression. Here's a great post, with citations, about the many health benefits of coconut oil.

So all we did for our delicious burgers was slice up some veggies.


But instead of a bun I decided to use collard greens to wrap it all up in. Collard greens are part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage & turnips. They've gained quite the reputation for being serious nutritional powerhouses, and rightly so, but I make it a point to only consume a sparing amount of these veggies in their raw form. Why though? Well because there's now a growing body of evidence which has shown that consuming large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables contributes to Hypothyroidism. According to the Oregon State University Micronutrient Information site:

Two mechanisms have been identified to explain this effect. The hydrolysis of some glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., progoitrin) may yield a compound known as goitrin, which has been found to interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. The hydrolysis of another class of glucosinolates, known as indole glucosinolates, results in the release of thiocyanate ions, which can compete with iodine for uptake by the thyroid gland.

So how can we avoid this? By cooking our veggies. The goitrogenic properties of cruciferous vegetables become dramatically lessened when they are cooked. So in general I like to keep my intake of these raw veggies to a minimum, though I wouldn't be worried about consuming small amounts, especially if you regularly consume seaweed, or any other food that's high in iodine, which has been shown to help counter, or balance the effects of these vegetables on the thyroid.

I bought Hilary's Hemp & Greens, and Adzuki Bean burgers, and they were fantastic! I especially loved the flavor from the green chili's and cumin, not really spicy, but very flavorful. My omnivorous partner in crime was even craving more.