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No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

I have become obsessed with Medjool dates and I am still just as amazed now as I was the first time I baked with them. It is incredible how sweet they are. I have made quite a few simple raw “cookie” balls in the processor with just oats and/or nuts, some dates and other goodies like chocolate chips or peanut butter. They are so simple and a totally healthy way to get your sweets-fix. I need to start taking photos of those and sharing them with you. You will love them.

A few months back while shopping at the Lexington CoOp here in Buffalo, I ran across something called a “Raw Pecan Pie Bar” (I forget the name of the company that made it) – it was raw and sweetened only with dates and also had sprouted pecans and sprouted something else (can’t remember, again). It immediately peaked my interest, so I picked one up. It was quite tasty, but I couldn’t help but think I could make it even better. Plus, at $3.50 for a single small bar, I knew I could make it cheaper.

I had been looking at different recipes online for date bars as a base for my recipe and ultimately settled on Oh She Glow’s blog, once again. I liked how simple her recipe was and that it included everything that I love! I made a few additions and changed it up a bit to make it similar to a pecan pie. I am so excited about how these turned out. Oh and one quick thing to mention about these bars, because they aren’t loaded with sugar, you could even have this as a breakfast bar. I cannot believe it is sugar-free, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and it’s even raw! If someone rattled off all of those things to me, with the words “pecan pie” – I would likely laugh in their face. You have to trust me though, these are so amazing. Even my southern-boy pecan pie loving hubby liked him, though he took one bite and said “man, these are good, a big ‘ol scoop of vanilla ice cream over top would really make this.” haha some things will never ever change.

I tend to actually have cravings for sweets around this time of year, which is crazy since I really don’t crave sweets that often. I think it could be the fact that everywhere you look there are holiday cookies and sweets just laying out, begging to be eaten. I am trying really hard to stick with my usual way of eating through the holidays this year, so I don’t step on the scale after the holidays to find I put on 5-lbs. I am planning to make a handful of alternative holiday sweets over the next couple of weeks, so I can still partake in the festive eating, but in a healthy way. I am also making sure when and if I do partake in some not-so healthy holiday eating – that I remember that everything in moderation is OK, a taste here won’t kill me and I would much rather have a little and know when to stop then to feel like I am missing out on something I really want.

Do you try to eat healthy during the holidays or do you just forego all healthy eating rules during the holidays?

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars - Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

No Bake Pecan Pie Bars – Gluten-free, Raw and Vegan

Adapted from Oh She Glows
Makes 9 large squares or more if cut smaller

Crust:

1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds (you could also do 3/4 cup almonds and 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats (if you aren’t gluten-free just use regular rolled oats)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
10 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Date and Pecan Topping:

25 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup roughly chopped raw pecans

Line an 8″ x 8″ pan with two pieces of parchment paper going opposite ways. In a food processor, process the almonds, salt, and oats until a fine crumble forms. Add in the chopped dates and process until crumbly again. It your coconut oil is solid, melt it quick and add to the mixture with vanilla and process until sticky and a bit doughy. If your dough seems a bit dry, you can add a bit more oil, mind was fine as is. Remove from processor and press the dough very firmly and evenly into the pan to form your crust.

Clean the food processor real quick and process the dates with water and vanilla until a thick paste forms, it should be mostly smooth and creamy. You will have to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl often. You can add a tiny bit more water if needed, but you want the paste quite thick. Scoop out the date mixture onto the crust and gently spread with the back of a wet spatula until even.

Sprinkle the chopped pecans evenly across of it and gently press down with fingers. Refrigerate in the fridge until firm for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight. Cut into squares and serve. Store in the fridge or freezer.

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Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I was so excited to be participating in A Book of Yum’s Gluten-free Vegetarian Thanksgiving Event, that I of course couldn’t decide on just one recipe, so I made two! I wanted to re-imagine a classic side dish like stuffing, but I also really wanted to bring something completely new and unique to the table (pun intended). I came across a recipe in Edible Buffalo’s Fall 2011 issue a few weeks ago that I cut out and set aside, since it really intrigued me. It was a raw butternut squash salad – I had never thought about eating squash raw, but I honestly couldn’t wait to try it. In thinking about the recipe and really wanting there to be a rainbow of beautiful fall colors, I decided to change it up add some fresh local kale and dried cranberries instead of golden raisins. I also had some a fresh organic navel orange that I had zested earlier in the day to make another batch of my Chai concentrate and I thought the juice from that would be the perfect complement to all of the flavors going on in this salad.

This beautiful salad is crunchy, sweet and bright. It would be a welcome side dish at any Thanksgiving feast and it is a wonderfully unique option everyone, especially for those who are gluten-free, vegan and/or vegetarian. Plus, I personally love the idea of any Thanksgiving sides that aren’t heavy and carb loaded and more importantly, that don’t require the use of the oven that is always far too crowded on Thanksgiving.

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

 

Raw Butternut Squash and Kale Salad
Serves 4-6
Adapted from Edible Buffalo Magazine, Fall 2011 Issue

1 butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and grated by hand or with a food processor
1 cup kale, washed and stems removed, cut into very thin strips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients, toss and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate, covered, for an hour before serving.

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Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

I have fully admitted to my love-affair with pasta on this blog, many times. It is something I cannot live without and is almost always included in my weekly menu planning. Not only are pasta dishes simple and fun to create but they can easily be made with ingredients you have in the pantry and your refrigerator and many times can easily be made healthy. Even with the healthiest of pasta recipes, to me it is a major comfort food, it always will be. Probably the number 1 comfort food on my list.

Although I am on a cleanse, I wanted to make sure to experiment with at least one cleanse-friendly pasta dish. Of course, as I mentioned in my post about my cleanse, there are many different types of cleanses out there and many different items you can remove from your diet when cleansing. Obviously this recipe may not work on every cleanse. For me already being on a totally gluten-free diet, removing gluten when cleansing is never a major hassle or issue, but it is very important to a cleanse and to detoxify your body. For me one of the biggest things I like to remove from my diet while cleansing is dairy. I am not a milk drinker and I rarely cook with it, but cheese is what gets me. I love cheese. So with that in mind, I wanted to come up with a cleanse-friendly pasta dish that would bring the comfort of any other gluten-free pasta dish I would make, but with cleanse friendly ingredients.

I love gluten-free pastas and find them to be much lighter compared to traditional wheat-based pastas. I personally prefer brown rice pastas and I love Tinkyada brand organic pastas. They have three or less ingredients, organic brown rice, rice bran and water. That’s it. When I cleanse the majority of what I eat is fresh vegetables, legumes and whole grains – I certainly cannot go without pasta. Brown rice pasta falls within the constraints of my cleanse and though I don’t eat a ton of it, a dish like this is a perfect way to forget you are even cleansing at all. If you don’t care much for brown rice pasta, there are also corn and quinoa based gluten-free pastas that are also quite delicious, as well.

I decided when making this alfredo sauce rather than trying to experiment with different nut milks, which I knew wouldn’t give me the thick and creamy affect of an alfredo sauce, I would go the route of a raw nut based sauce. Cashews tend to be great for this. Even without excessive soaking, you can just add boiling hot water to cashews just before pureeing and get a delicious creamy sauce. I took the above photo the next day with the leftovers, since it was too dark to take photos the night we ate it. I honestly don’t think the image fully captures just how creamy the sauce really is, it is incredible. There isn’t an overwhelming nutty flavor to the sauce and by adding garlic, basil and some nutritional yeast, it’s very hard to tell that it is even dairy free. Beyond nutritional yeast’s nutty and cheesy flavor, is a great source of protein and fiber, it is rich in B-complex vitamins including B12 and it contains the glucose tolerance factor that helps in the regulation of blood sugar. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is definitely worth exploring adding it into your diet.

The beauty of this sauce is that it doesn’t actually need to be heated up, so if you like to eat raw, you could skip heating it up, use your favorite alternative raw noodle, like thinly sliced raw zucchini (or other raw vegetables), kelp noodles, etc and just pour the raw cashew cream sauce right over for a delicious and healthy raw meal.

I had some beautiful zucchini and yellow squash that we picked up at a farmers stand on our drive home from NYC so I added that and a carrot to the dish for some additional health-benefits as well as the very lovely colors. You could play around with many different vegetables here including fresh spinach, peas, etc.

I had a small amount of sauce leftover that I put in the fridge, I figured it would be delicious on some steamed broccoli or over a baked potato, etc. I have a feeling you will fall in love with this healthy alfredo sauce.

Soaking raw cashews for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Veggies for Vegan, Gluten-free Fettucini Alfredo

Vegan, Gluten-Free Fettucine Alfredo
serves 6

1 1/2 cups raw, unsalted organic cashews
3 cloves garlic
1 cup warm water (you may need more)
3 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces of your favorite gluten-free fettucine or linguini, I use Tinkyada’s organic brown rice pasta
handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 zucchini, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned (or you can wash and peel the outside, then peel the entire carrot instead of julienning it, which is what I did)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the raw cashews in a glass bowl, cover in water. Let soak as little as a few hours or overnight.

In a large saucepan bring your water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions.

Drain the soaked cashews and rinse well, place into your food processor with garlic, salt, pepper and 1 cup of water. You may find you need to add more water if the sauce is too thick, but you can always add more. Process until smooth and creamy. Once it is at your desired consistency, add in the nutritional yeast, pulse a few times to combine. Set aside until you are ready to heat it up.

While your pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat, add your julienned vegetables and sauté a few minutes until tender. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of your cooking liquid, drain and place in a large serving dish. Pour the alfredo sauce into the saucepan you used to cook your pasta and heat over a medium heat, stirring often to keep from sticking. Once warm, pour over the pasta.

Add the vegetables and fresh basil to the pasta and sauce. Toss to combine, adding some of the pasta cooking liquid if the sauce is too thick. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topped with freshly chopped basil and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, if you wish.

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Mint Pesto

Last summer I made, what I later learned, to be a big mistake – I planted mint in our yard, not in any pot or planter, just in the dirt on the side of the yard near my vegetable and herb gardens. I originally planted it because I absolutely LOVE fresh homemade mojitos in the summer time. There is nothing more refreshing. The reason my planting of said mint turned out to be a mistake, was the fact that it has grown out of control and it is taking over that section of the yard. Because I have never grown it in my own yard, I didn’t realize how quickly it grows and how far it can spread. We travel so much, that getting into the yard and weeding my gardens gets increasingly difficult as the summer goes on. I know I should get out there more, but I don’t, so I always try to plant things that need very little upkeep. Well, mint definitely falls into that category. Early in the summer I took a look out in the yard to see the progress of things and I was floored at how the mint was spreading. It was crazy. So I made a lot of mojitos this summer. I also decided I needed to find other things to do with the mint. I mentioned something on Twitter and Kelly from Design Crush made the wonderful suggestion of mint pesto. I had never thought of that. So, earlier this summer I played around and made mint pesto to serve with gluten-free penne. It was sooo good that we ate it all up and I forgot to write-up my recipe or photograph it. Ooops. That just meant I needed to make it again. Darn.

This time around, I again served this over delicious organic gluten-free penne with some gluten-free crispy zucchini rounds on the side. We both were in heaven with this meal. This pesto, much like the original that we all know, is bright and light but chock full of flavors. I like my pestos garlicky, which gives a bit of a spicy kick, you can certainly take it down to one clove if you don’t like a lot of garlic (shame on you). I also love playing around with different nuts in my pestos. Most original basil pesto recipes call for pine nuts, which I really love, but they can be hard to find sometimes and many times are insanely expensive. I have played with both toasted almonds and walnuts in pesto recipes, both of which are absolutely equally delicious, if not more. I think any one of those nuts would be great in this mint pesto. I went ahead and still included some basil in this mint pesto, since I also grow that in my yard and I thought it would round out the flavor of the mint nicely, so it wouldn’t be too overpowering. Also, it should be noted, it is crucial to use a good quality olive oil in your pestos, since the sauce is left raw and is never cooked, the olive oil flavor remains in the forefront of the flavors, so you want it to be a good one.

In addition to all the usual dishes that pesto is great in; pasta, sandwiches, pizza, in soup, over a baked potato etc, – you could definitely use this mint pesto for other non-traditional uses as well, such as a marinade or served over-top grilled lamb or steak, etc, you could just skip the basil and cheese, maybe add some lemon juice and red pepper flakes and make it more of a Chimichurri style condiment. Have fun with it and make sure if you plant mint of any kind in your yard plant it in a pot, unless you are looking to be able to make enough mojitos and pesto to serve a small country.

Gluten-free Penne with Mint Pesto

Mint Pesto
makes approximately 1 cup

2 cups fresh mint
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds (walnuts or pine nuts would also be great)
2 medium-large cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, shredded (plus more for serving)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place mint, basil, almonds, garlic and salt in a food processor; pulse a few times, and process until everything is finely chopped and combined. With the processor running, gradually pour the olive oil in and process until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides to get all the little bits. Add the parmigiano reggiano and pulse again until blended and smooth. Season with additional salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

If you are serving this immediately, keep the sauce at room temperature and pour it over your cooked pasta (I used my usual gluten-free organic brown rice penne) and quickly stir to combine, top it with fresh parmigiano reggiano and serve immediately. I always recommend reserving approximately 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid from your pasta so you can add it in to the final dish, if need be, to thin the sauce if it is too thick.

If you aren’t serving this immediately, it can be stored in a tightly closed container in your refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Notes:

To toast sliced almonds, cook them over a medium-low heat in a small dry skillet, stirring and tossing constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, this will take less than 5 minutes.

If you’d like to freeze your pesto, leave out the parmigiano reggiano. When you’re ready use the pesto, defrost it first, then stir in the cheese.

Seri frolicking in our mass amounts of mint

Seri hiding out in the mass amount of mint in our yard, earlier this summer

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Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

This recipe is a fast and simple twist on the original, with no accurate measurements needed. It’s all about taste. I grabbed a quart of colorful local heirloom tomatoes at the market and I couldn’t wait to pick some of the beautiful heirloom black cherry tomatoes from my own garden to make a big tasty salad with. Since the tomatoes themselves had so much flavor and the basil from our garden was abundant, I decided to not go crazy and put the full 8 oz of fresh mozzarella into the salad, it just didn’t need it. I also decided that by saving half of it, I could use it to add to an omelette with the next morning.

I wanted to get a nice sweet and tart punch from the balsamic, so rather than just pouring it on as is, I made a simple reduction syrup to drizzle over top the salad when serving. It is incredible how the concentrated flavors from the vinegar reduction really sing with the subtle sweetness. It is one of my favorite, simple kitchen tricks that works for so many dishes. In addition to drizzling over top salads like this one, the balsamic reduction is also wonderful drizzled over a steak, grilled fruit and so much more.

There is something about a good insalata caprese that just screams summer to me. But much like the balsamic, it is bitter-sweet, by the time the tomatoes in our gardens are ripe enough to start picking for the beautiful salad, summer is on the down-swing and definitely more than half over.

Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction
serves 4

Approximately 1 quart of mixed heirloom tomatoes, any variety. (Mine were all smallish – cherry and grape sized, some from our garden)
4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes (you can use the full 8oz, but I was attempting to keep this light and much more about the tomatoes)
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/2 cup high quality balsamic vinegar
3 teaspoons brown sugar
A few tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan over a medium-high heat bring the balsamic vinegar and sugar to a boil, constantly whisking to prevent burning. Continue cooking until it is reduced by half, stirring often. Remove from heat, allow to cool. (The sugar is optional as the vinegar has a natural sweetness when reduced, but I find that just a little is nice to compliment the tartness of the vinegar)

Meanwhile, half or quarter the tomatoes and place in a large serving bowl. Add the fresh mozzarella and basil. Toss lightly to combine. Season the salad with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Serve individual servings of the salad on small side plates, drizzle both the olive oil and the balsamic reduction over top each serving. Serve immediately.

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Vegan Chocolate Mousse

I plan to keep this post short and sweet, much like this recipe. It may sound a bit bizarre and hard to believe, but you really need to trust me and make it yourself.

After making some no-bake cookies for Mark in the afternoon yesterday (recipe coming soon), I was having a major sweet craving last night. Since I try not to keep too many sweets in the house for myself, I was feeling a bit bummed out that I couldn’t satisfy my sweet-tooth. I have seen many takes on vegan mousse that involved silken tofu, but I don’t really love tofu since it often bothers my tummy and I wanted to play around with the two very ripe avocados in my fridge that needed to get eaten up.

This mousse is so creamy, it is unbelievable that there is no dairy in there. It is decadent, rich and so satisfying. I was actually dancing around the kitchen and swearing with the spoon hanging out of my mouth on the first bite, I couldn’t get over how delicious it is. This mousse is naturally gluten-free, vegan and raw, it takes only 4 ingredients and you can make it in less than 5 minutes, so you can enjoy every last bite of it, guilt-free.

If it needs a bit more moisture when blending, try adding a little splash of almond or soy milk. You could also play around with adding peanut butter, chunks of your favorite chocolate bar, or simply just topping the mousse with your favorite vegan whipped topping and/or fresh berries. You could also play with adding in a dash of cinnamon or even cayenne for an extra little kick!

Now I need to do a little research about avocado fudge, a fellow food-loving friend, Kate, mentioned it to me on Facebook last night after I was carrying on about how amazing this was.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse
serves 2

2 ripe avocados, pitted and chopped into large chunks*
1/2 cup organic fair trade baking cocoa
1/2 cup agave nectar (you could also use maple syrup or honey)
2 teaspoons organic vanilla

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or heavy-duty blender, process until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve cold.

*your avocados need to be very ripe and very soft to be able to get that just right smooth silky texture.

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Honeydew Almond Milk Smoothie

After our nearly 2-week long trip that we took mid-July to California for the Renegade Craft Fairs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I am so happy to be home for a stretch and back into a more normal routine. It seems to take a week or two for things to settle down and feel calm again after a trip that big and with how crazy we were before we left. Besides being able to cook and bake in my own home, one of the most important things for me is to get right back into my daily routine of yoga. I try to get to 5 or 6, 90-minute classes a week. I tend to prefer the morning classes, since I can just come home after I practice and get right to my desk and work for the rest of the day. I don’t eat before I leave for yoga, I usually have a kombucha after I practice, so most times when I get home I am not looking for a large meal, just something light to hold me over until lunch. Many mornings I whip up a quick smoothie and head up for my office. So I can “eat” and work. This past week I was just making up smoothies as I went along, trying out new flavor combinations and just exploring. This honeydew almond smoothie is probably my favorite discovery of the week. It was simple, very light and had a unique and bright flavor. The honeydew that I cut up was so sweet on it’s own I didn’t even have to add any sweetener. If your honeydew leaves a bit to be desired in the sweetness department, feel free to add in a tablespoon of agave syrup or honey.

We don’t leave home again until August 24, when we had back to NYC for another event with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We are doing a poster for St. Vincent who is playing on the rooftop of the Met. I am so excited to be going back to the city again but I am trying not to count down the days to that trip so as not to rush our time at home, but it is hard. I am hoping to accomplish a ton in the time before we leave again. Beside all of the work we have on the schedule, I have a ton of cooking and baking I want to do, a few crafty projects and some work around the house. Here’s hoping I can be that productive.

Honeydew Almond Milk Smoothie
serves 2

2 cups honeydew, diced (this was half of a melon for me)
2 cups, organic unsweetened almond milk
1-2 cups of ice

Add all of the ingredients to the blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately.

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