Almond Cherry Bomb Muffins

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I’m just finishing up a long stretch at work and feeling drained. On the plus side, I am feeling much stronger (and faster!) when I ride my bike to work now. Not only that, but I’m actually  enjoying it. When I first started, I knew it was good for me, the earth, and my checkbook, but I just didn’t like it. It was hard. Sometimes you have to “fake it till you make it.” Maybe it’s the much awaited sunshine, but I couldn’t help myself from just smiling every time I got on the bike! The down side? I’m so exhausted that I took an extra “rest day” off from working out today. I usually only take one day off a week, but today I thought I was going for a run and ended up mostly walking. My legs are sore and my energy is low. I hate messing up my schedule, but I have to respect my body.

Other exciting news? My bestie, Michelle, arrived in Portland Sunday! We are now about a 25 minute walk away- much easier than a 4 day car ride or 4.5 hour plane ride. As I mentioned, she is newly gluten-free and I have been making lots of gluten-free treats. I don’t follow a strictly gluten-free diet, but I do enjoy trying new grains and grain alternatives. I feel best when I eat a variety of grains such as rice, quinoa, oats, kasha, and millet instead of just all wheat.

These muffins are actually made with almond flour and are low carb, high protein (a whopping 9 grams per muffin!), and packed with nutrients. I don’t buy almond flour as it is quite expensive. I simply grind whole almonds in my coffee grinder and…voila! Almond flour.  Almonds are high in protein, fiber, vitamin e, calcium, and magnesium. The best part? They taste amazing! Andrew wrote me a love letter after eating one when he came home the night I made them. The phrase “most delicious muffins I have EVER tasted” was used.

But it gets better! They are also ridiculously simple and easy to make. I slightly adapted a genius recipe from Elana for a simple almond flour muffin that she created as part of the “Gluten-free Ratio Rally.” Her basic recipe has just five ingredients, though I changed it up slightly with the additions I made. The “bomb” is the homemade cherry jam surprise inside, and I also stirred some chopped cherries into the batter, as well as chocolate chips in half of the muffins.

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 Almond Cherry Bomb Muffins:

*8 oz almond flour (about 2 cups if you don’t have a scale)

*4 large eggs (I know it sounds like a lot, they act as leavening and binding agents in gluten’s absence)

* 2 tablespoons agave nectar

*1/2 teaspoon baking soda

*1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (Elana uses apple cider vinegar, but I didn’t have any on hand)

*1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

*1/2 cup pitted and chopped fresh or frozen cherries

*8 tablespoons cherry jam

*1/4-1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

1. Line 8 standard muffin tins with paper cups, or grease them. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Combine wet ingredients (eggs, agave, vinegar, almond extract). Stir in almond flour and baking soda. Fold in chopped cherries and chocolate chips if using.

3. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins, only about half full. Spoon 1 tablespoon of cherry jam into each, then cover with the remaining batter.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden. Cool and enjoy!


I’m off to enjoy some much needed sunshine! Have a beautiful day!

xo/ Nikita

Miso-Ginger Fried Rice with Nori Strips

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I can hardly contain my excitement- in just a matter of days, my best friend is moving across the country and we will be neighbors! To prepare I have been practicing my gluten-free baking skills (she recently discovered she is gluten intolerant). I am dying to share a super simple muffin recipe I made that the husband literally wrote me a love letter for, but I this fried rice has been nagging at me to be shared for awhile now so here we go…

I’m really more of a stir-fry girl than fried rice… Indeed, I’m not typically drawn to things with the word “fried” in the description. My husband, however, loves anything fried and orders fried rice almost every time we go to an Asian restaurant of any sort. So I tried making fried rice at home, using the method in which the eggs are cracked into the pan and scrambled/ cooked into the vegetables, but I could never learn to like that texture. Finally, I read about a different method of cooking the eggs separately on Heidi’s  site, and it revolutionized my fried rice!

Once I learn a really good method of cooking something, it’s much easier to create recipe variations on the fly. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ve ever made the same stir-fry or fried rice twice. Both of these can be made with almost whatever produce is on hand and can be made quickly- huge bonuses in this house! I have been making a lot of these types of dishes with our CSA goods. They also both rely on a method of cooking tofu that I adhere to for many dishes.

Forgiving as this recipe is, there are a few things that I think really make it stand out: Besides the method of cooking the tofu and eggs, I like to use brown basmati rice- I buy it in bulk at Costco and am absolutely in love with it. It has the flavor and aroma of basmati, with the nutrition of brown rice. It is nice and fluffy, not sticky like some brown rice can be.  I also like a combination of coconut and sesame oil for cooking. Coconut oil and sesame oil both have strong flavors and a little goes a long way. You can use another oil instead, I frequently do, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch. Lastly, I add a bit of liquid such as broth or juice mixed with soy sauce at the end. The addition of the liquid reduces the amount of oil you will need to “fry” the rice.

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Miso-Ginger Fried Rice with Nori Strips:

*2 1/2 cups cooked and cooled rice or other grain such as quinoa or barley

*7 oz. (1/2 package) tofu, cubed and cooked (*see instructions below)

*2 large eggs, preferably free-range organic

*2 1/2 cups chopped vegetables (this batch included chopped red onion, julienned carrots, chopped broccoli, sliced cabbage, and shitake mushrooms. Last week we had snow peas- my favorite!)

*2 teaspoons sesame oil

*1- 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil

*1/4 cup orange juice

*4-6 tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari for a gluten-free version)

*1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

*1 tablespoon white miso

*1 small clove garlic, minced

*1/2 sheet nori, cut into strips (toasting gives an even better flavor, but careful not to burn it!)

Directions:

1. Begin by making the sauce, combining orange juice, ginger, garlic, miso, 2-4 tablespoons soy sauce (depending on how salty you want it). You can use this sauce to braise the tofu as well, or you can use plain soy sauce.

2. Next, prepare the eggs: Heat 2 teaspoons sesame oil in your skillet or wok. Beat two eggs with a pinch of salt and pour into wok. Cook until almost set, then flip and cook a minute more. Cool and slice into strips.

3. Heat 2 teaspoons coconut oil in wok and add the onions, cooking a few minutes before adding the other vegetables. When the vegetables are tender-crisp, add the rice. Stir to mix evenly and cook until heated through. Add the tofu and egg, then pour the sauce in. Stir and cook until liquid is absorbed.

4. Serve hot, garnished with nori strips.

*Ah tofu… It has such a bad rep among the general population, yet it really has such potential! I still remember my first time trying to cook tofu… I was in 8th grade. I bought some silken tofu and tried to cube and saute it in a pan. It crumbled all over and was flavorless and awful! I now use tofu in a variety of dishes, cooked in different manners, but when I make stir-fry or fried rice or sometimes even a curry, I use this method:

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1. Begin with the right tofu. Buy the firmest regular tofu you can find. Extra Firm if you can find it. And don’t use silken tofu for this!

2. Press the tofu. Layer a few paper towels on a big plate, set the block of tofu on top, layer a few more paper towels, then another plate and finally something heavy like a text book to set on top of the plate. Leave for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge. This will help remove excess water so that the tofu can absorb more flavor. When the tofu has drained, cut it into 1/2 – 3/4 inch cubes.

3. Heat a little oil (2 teaspoons should be plenty) in a wok or large nonstick skillet. I really like to use coconut oil here for the flavor and the high heat properties , but you can use what you have on hand. Add the tofu and cook until golden brown on two or more sides, flipping the pieces after a few minutes to cook evenly. This should take about 8 minutes.

4. Now here is the important part: Prepare 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, with or without seasonings such as garlic, ginger, chile, or a hint of something sweet like agave or orange juice. Drizzle this into the pan with the crisped tofu, coating as evenly as possible and stir until all liquid is absorbed.

I’m going to be working a long stretch starting tomorrow… I like to have either super simple or make ahead meals when I work long days. Any ideas for a make ahead or quick dinner?

xo/Nikita

Frugal Fitness (Healthy Living on a Budget Part 2)

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In a world where decent running shoes can cost upwards of $100 and yoga classes can easily be $20 a pop, it’s easy to feel like staying fit must be a luxury reserved for the rich.

Thankfully there are other options for those of us who just can’t get our zen on when it feel like our money is being flushed down the drain…Here are some of my favorite free or cheap ways to be fit:

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Yoga: 

Yoga can cost over $100/ month for a membership at a yoga studio. If you have the money in your budget and find a studio you really love, then by all means do what makes you happy! But know that there are other ways…

1.) Doing yoga in the comfort of your own home can be a great way to start your day and a lot more relaxing than battling rush hour traffic first thing in the morning. Yoga dvds are great, but you can also find free yoga downloads at www.yogadownload.com for a wide variety of yoga styles. Myfreeyoga.comhas even longer yoga videos you can watch for free. For an experienced yogi or yogini, Dave

Headstand

Farmar does some challenging Power Yoga Podcasts that you can listen to for free. I

wouldn’t recommend them to beginners because it is difficult to do the poses without seeing them unless you know the names.

*When we get a new computer (please, IRS, send us our amended refund already!), I hope to share a yoga video of my own, but for now those sites should keep you busy!*

2.) For those who feel the yoga experience is best enjoyed socially, or those who need just need to get out of the house, there are options for you, too! First of all, if you haven’t already, sign up for daily deal sites such as Groupon and Living Social.  I recently bought a package of 20 yoga classes from a local studio for $20- originally $240 (gasp!)- from Living Social but I see similar packages on both sites.

Another good way to save cash while checking out different studios is to take advantage of the newcomer specials many studios offer. Core Power Yoga, which is a chain with studios in several states, allows new clients a free week of yoga, no strings attached. Many other studios will offer deals such as your first month unlimited for $30.  Some studios offer reduced priced or even donation only classes certain days of the week.

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Ditch the car:

Walking, biking and even taking public transport to your destination are all ways to add more physical activity to your day with spending money- in fact, you will certainly see savings in the gas money you would have spent!

1.) Biking: I have to admit I was afraid to start biking in Portland for a long time. Being forced to share a car between my husband and I forced me to give it a shot. I’m still getting used to it- my neighborhood is hilly! But it is getting easier and more enjoyable. I save about $5.50 in gas every time I ride my bike to work. It seemed like it was more timing consuming to bike at first, but I only have to leave about 15 minutes earlier than I would if I drove, and since my total transit time is about an hour round trip, I can count that hour long bike ride as my daily workout and cross that off my list! I also feel it energizes my to do this first thing in the morning and sets me on the right track.

2.) Walking: Are there places you could be walking to instead of driving? I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of a beautiful park where I can go to read or draw, a post office, a library, a grocery store, and a whole array of shops, restaurants, and bars tucked into a cute little “neighborhood” nearby. Today I walked to the library (30 minutes round trip), and then to a beading shop and a consignment shop (60 minutes round trip). It sounds like a lot of walking, but I decided to consider it my cardio for the day, did a pilates video, and my workout quota was met! I traded in some old clothes at the consignment shop and got this pretty new workout top without having to pay anything!

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3.) Public Transit: To be honest, this is the form of transportation I use least. It’s often faster, cheaper, and a better workout just to ride my bike. I do enjoy taking the bus downtown though, mainly because then I don’t have to deal with parking! If your destination is farther, public transportation is a great way to get a little more walking in, save money, and reduce pollution. Just be sure to bring a book!

Running:

I used to hate running. Some days I still do… But one of the things I love about running is that it can be done almost anywhere! All you need is a good pair of running shoes (or not- barefoot running is becoming quite popular!) and a bit of space outdoors and you can get a great cardio workout. During the winter, I prefer to run indoors, but as long as it is nice out I much prefer to run outdoors. The fresh air and scenery can’t be beat and gives me a boost when I feel tired! Plus, I can run outside for 30 minutes when I’m pressed for time, whereas a trip to the gym would end up taking almost an hour with transit time.

For awhile I resisted signing up for races because of the cost, but I have found they actually give you so much in free samples, food, and booze (still puzzles me) that it is worth it for me to do every now and then. Plus races are a lot of fun and great for motivation! Some races will charge less for the participation fee if you do not get a t-shirt.

Lastly…

DVDs:

The tried and true… I can remember my mom working out to Buns of Steel with Greg Smithey when I was growing up. The headbands, the colorful leotards… this was the golden age of corny workout videos! Still, having a few “go-to” DVDs can be very helpful in sneaking in a workout when you are running late, don’t feel like going out, or want to try a new type of workout in the privacy of your own home. They only cost about $10-$20 and can be used over and over. I have a pilates DVD that features 5 different pilates workouts, so I don’t get bored and stay challenged.

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The most important thing about staying fit is doing things that you enjoy! If you want to spend a few bucks on a class or gym membership that really motivates you, go for it! But if you think cutting fitness costs out of your budget will hurt your routine, give one of these suggestions a try!

xo/Nikita

Pretty as a Peach…

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This weekend here in Portland we experienced a heat wave. By heat wave I mean, it was above 80F. Sorry, native Portlanders, but I don’t think you really know what a heat wave is! Nonetheless, I can’t argue that it felt pretty hot.

Enter, Frozen Peach Ice Cream Pie. This baby is gluten-free, vegan, and raw as is, but can be easily modified to suit your specific needs or speed up preparation (see notes.)

I’m actually working on the second Healthy Living on a Budget (fitness edition!), but iphoto refuses to display the photos I uploaded, so I’m going to take it as a sign with the weather that this frosty dessert is the best post for today! Peaches are just amazing this time of year, and I wanted to make a dessert that showcased them without loading up on sugar and butter. Peaches are naturally delicious! Not only are they naturally sweet and fat free, they are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, and lutein. These nutrients help boost your immune system and maintain healthy vision!

This recipe is not as complicated as it looks and can easily be made ahead if serving at a party. Just read through the recipe first if you plan on making it all from scratch, as there are a few steps that require a little planning.

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Frozen Peach Ice Cream Pie:

Crust:

*3/4 cup raw almonds or walnuts

*1/2 cup oats

*1/4 cup dried unsweetened coconut

*10 dates, pitted and chopped

*1/4 teaspoon salt

*1 tablespoon coconut oil

*1 tablespoon agave nectar

*optional: 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (the flavors or peach and almond go well together. Did you know they are very closely related?)

*note: If you can’t eat nuts, or are simply  pressed for time, you can substitute a pre-made graham cracker crust.*

Filling:

*3 large bananas, chopped in 1 inch pieces, then frozen

*1/4- 1/3 cup nondairy milk of choice (coconut milk will give the richest results, but any kind will work)

*1 teaspoon vanilla

*1 tablespoon agave nectar (optional)

*note: Any pre-made ice cream or frozen yogurt can be substituted, dairy or non-dairy. Use about 2-3 cups for the whole pie, depending on how thick you want that layer. Measurements are not important for this part!*

Topping:

*2 medium to large peaches or nectarines, pitted and sliced about 1/4 inch thin

*1 tablespoon agave nectar

*1/2 teaspoon chinese five spice powder (You could also use ginger or cinnamon or a combination)

Directions:

1. To make crust, pulse all ingredients for crust in food processor until finely chopped and able to hold together. Press this mixture into a lightly oiled pie pan, all over the bottom and up the sides. Stick your crust in the freezer while you prepare the rest.

2. Wipe out the food processor and throw in the frozen banana chunks, vanilla, agave if using, and 1/4 cup milk. Process until a smooth “soft serve” consistency is formed. Isn’t it amazing what bananas can do? Add more milk if needed to smooth completely. Spoon this into the pie shell, spreading evenly, and freeze for at least an hour.

3. Combine sliced peaches, agave, and spice in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Arrange the slices in a pretty pattern on your pie and serve! It can be frozen this way as well, but tastes best when the peaches are fresh, not frozen.

Enjoy!

What are your favorite things to eat when it gets hot? I’d love some new dinner ideas!

xo/ Nikita

 

Pupusas De Queso- My Accidental Salvadoran Treat

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The theme when planning our meals this week was “use up what we have.” While I need fresh produce on a weekly basis, pantry staples like beans and grains have a much longer shelf life, and also a tendency to be forgotten once their role in a particular recipe is over.

I was brainstorming ways to use up some pinto beans, which I had purchased a very large quantity of when my grocery store was selling them for $0.30/lb (!), and some masa harina, the type of flour used to make tortillas and tamales. I had a bag of this from when I made tamales back in May. I was thinking I could make tortillas with it and turn these into quesadillas to serve with some refried beans. Simple and easy, right? Maybe too simple for me- it sounded boring. What if I stuff the tortillas with cheese before cooking them? Now that sounds more like a fun dish!

I sauteed a diced jalepeno with some sliced green onion, mixed it with some chevre, tucked this inside two uncooked tortillas, and cooked this on a pan with a little olive oil. What a fun new twist on Mexican food!

Well it turns out, I was only half way right about that. They are fun (and oh so tasty), but a quick google search of “stuffed tortillas” prior to writing this proved that this little snack was not my own invention, but rather a variation on a popular Salvadoran dish called “Pupusas de Queso.” That being said, keep in mind that my recipe doesn’t attempt to be faithful to tradition. (The recipe that I found from my search my from a site called Herbavoracious, and the recipe can be found here if you want to check it out- it’s a pretty awesome site!)

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Spiced Tortillas Stuffed with Queso-Chile Filling:

(Vegetarian and gluten-free as is. For a vegan version fill with vegan cheese or refried beans)

Makes 4-6 stuffed tortillas

For the dough:

*1 cup masa harina (a flour of gound corn treated with lime that can be found in the ethnic founds section of most supermarkets)

*1 teaspoon each: ground cumin and smoked paprika

*1/2 teaspoon salt

*1 teaspoon baking powder

*1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing the pan

*1 cup hot water

For the filling:

*1 jalepeno, minced

*3-4 green onions, sliced

*1 teaspoon olive oil

*1/2 cup crumbled chevre, queso fresco, grated cheddar, or a mixture of these. (I used chevre in mine, a mixture of chevre and cheddar in Andrew’s.)

Directions:

1. To make the dough, combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a fork. Pour in the 3/4 cup of the hot water and olive oil and mix with the fork. The dough should hold together but not be too sticky. You should be able to form a little ball in your hand with out it crumbling too much or sticking. If it crumbles, add a little more water, slowly, until the desired consistency is achieved. Divide mixture into 8,10, or 12 equal portions and roll into balls. Cover these with a damp cloth while you prepare the filling.

2. Saute the minced jalepeno and the white part of the green onion (reserve the green parts) in the olive oil until softened. Tranfer to a small dish and stir in the green parts.

3. On a sheet of waxed paper, flatten the balls of masa dough into disks, about 1/4 inch thick. You can use you hands to do this, but if you own a tortilla press, you could use this too, just be sure not to flatten them as thin as a traditional tortilla. Divide the chile-onion mixture equally among half of the masa disks, then top with about 1.5- 2 tablespoons cheese each. Cover the filled halves with a plain masa disk and press the edges to seal.

4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray or a teaspoon of olive oil. Transfer 2-3 filled tortillas to the skillet (depending on how large your skillet in and how large your tortillas are) and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until crispy and golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel while you cook the second batch.

Serve with salsa, cilantro pesto, guacamole or sour cream. Round out the meal with a side of pinto or black beans and a fresh green salad.

I served mine with salsa, but used some of my leftover pesto to make a salad dressing by thinning in down with fresh lime juice! The salad consisted of organic greens from our CSA, avocado, green onion, and these beautiful heirloom tomatoes I found:

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Look at that color! If you haven’t tried heirloom tomatoes, they are worth seeking out! I think they tend to be more flavorful than many conventional tomatoes today, and they are definitely nicer to look at!

Enjoy!

xo/ Nikita

Healthy Living on a Budget Part 1

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This will be the first of a series of posts on living healthy for less! I will highlight a different food group in each post, featuring both information and a recipe or two featuring inexpensive and healthful ways to enjoy these foods.

Step inside your nearest Whole Foods and you will see that health food is a hot trend that people are willing to pay premium prices for. Even at an ordinary grocery store, you will notice organics cost much more than conventionally grown produce, not to mention eggs, dairy and meats. The thing that really irks me? Whole wheat flour costs more than white! Apparently despite the fact that it is less processed and therefore should take up less resources to create, it is being sold at a higher price because people think of it as a specialty item. Speaking of wheat… don’t even get me started on how over priced gluten-free goods can be!

Okay, I know my last two posts have featured pistachios and figs, rather indulgent ingredients to be fair. I like food and I like cooking. Some people buy lattes on a near daily basis.  I allow myself a few “gourmet” items every week. That being said, the bulk of my groceries are simply wholesome foods that are both cheap and nutrient dense. The star of the frugal vegetarian whole foods pantry?

A sampling of whats currently in my pantry

Legumes:

These are among the cheapest sources of protein and are also rich in fiber, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin e, thiamin, magnesium, and potassium. They are a lovely addition to soups, stews, and curries and can make a simple side dish into a substantial meal. They make excellent dips (hummus is a well known favorite and black beans make a tasty dip as well), and can even be snuck in to cookies or brownies sometimes to amp up the protein and fiber content. Some of my favorites:

*Lentils (brown, green, and red)

*Garbanzos (Chick Peas)

*Black Beans

*Pintos

*Cannellini Beans (white beans)

*Red Kidney Beans

*Green or yellow Split peas

I buy my legumes in the bulk bins of a local supermarket. This is the cheapest way I have found to get them. They range from about $0.50/ lb to $1.25/lb. I soak the beans 8-24 hours, to make them cook faster and easier to digest. If you have had trouble digesting beans, don’t skip this step- it helps remove some of the oligosaccharides- natural sugars which are not very digestible by the body and can cause… ahem… discomfort.

After soaking, I cook a big pot of beans once a week or so and portion the cooked beans into several containers, about 1 1/2 – 2 cups in each (the amount usually found in a standard can). I will use the beans at least once or twice in my meals that week and I will freeze the rest for later use. Beans freeze beautifully. Just thaw them completely before using in a recipe. I usually try to plan ahead and just move them from the freezer to the fridge a few days before I will be using them. You can let them sit out on the counter for a faster thaw, but don’t forget about them!

And now, Cumin Spiced Potato and White Bean Soup with Cilantro Pesto:

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As much as I love hummus, chili, mexican beans and rice, and other dishes that showcase beans, sometimes it is nice to find a fresh way of using beans. In this simple soup, white beans are pureed with potatoes (another dirt cheap ingredient!) to create a rich and creamy base without the use of cream or dairy of any kind. This method adds protein and body to a simple potato soup, without losing the creamy comfort of the traditional dish. I asked Andrew if he wanted to say anything about this soup. His response: “I wish there was more of it.”

Cumin Spiced Potato and White Bean Soup with Cilantro Pesto:

*1 tablespoon olive oil

* stalk celery, diced

*2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

*4 green onions or 1/4 cup diced yellow onion

*about 5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced ( roughly 4 cups)

*1 1/2 cups or 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

*2 teaspoons cumin

*1 teaspoon tumeric (optional- gives a golden hue and has anti-inflammatory properties)

*4 cups vegetable broth ( see note at bottom of page for how to make your own broth.)

*Cilantro Pesto for serving (recipe follows)

Directions: 

1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add the celery, white parts of onions, and garlic. Saute over medium- high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cubed potatoes, cumin, and tumeric and saute a minute more. Add vegetable broth and white beans, cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

2. Remove soup from heat. Using an immersion blender directly in the soup pot, or by transferring soup to a blender, puree soup. You can remove some potato chunks before doing this to stir back in if you want more texture- I kept about a cup of potato chunks to stir back in.

Serve with cilantro pesto and sliced green onions. Garnish with cheese if desired.

Cilantro Pesto:

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Cilantro is one of the cheapest herbs- a large bunch is usually only $0.30- $0.50 at my grocery store. Unfortunately it goes bad quickly, so making a pesto is a nice way to prolong its life as well as add a tasty zip to many foods.

* 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro

*2-3 cloves garlic

*6 tablespoons cashews

*3/4 teaspoon sea salt

*1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or parmesan

*6 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Combine everything but olive oil in food processor and pulse until finely minced. Scrape down sides if necessary and, with motor running, pour in the olive oil. Serve with soup or use as a sauce for pasta, tacos, enchiladas, or anything else you can imagine!

***Note: In my vegetarian home, we go through a lot of veggie scraps. I started making my own broth with some of the scraps, which is not only cost effective, but also green, as it saves things from becoming waste. I keep a medium sized container in the freezer to fill with scraps when I cook, because it might go bad before it gets full if I just have it in the fridge. Here’s what can go in the broth:

-onion ends and skins

-garlic ends and skins

-carrot peelings and pieces

-celery

-tomato

-bell peppers

-mushroom stems

-organic potato peelings

-aromatic herbs like parsley and bay leaves

Here’s what you should avoid putting in the broth:

-cabbage, broccoli, or any members of this family (they impart a distinct taste that does not go well with many other dishes)

-anything that is rotton, moldy, or dirty (you can put things in that look limp or past their prime, but remember you are still ingesting them!)

-Strong herbs like cilantro

-Beets will turn your broth bright pink- not a huge problem, but just a heads up!

To make broth:

Heat a little olive oil in a soup pan, saute the veggie scraps a few minutes, and cover with twice the amount of water as you used vegetables. Simmer over low heat for at least 1 hour. I also add peppercorns to my mixture. You can salt to taste or even use a couple tablespoons of soy sauce to add depth. Keeps up to one week in the fridge, or may be frozen several months.

Does anyone else have any good uses for beans or tips for living well on the cheap? I’d love to hear suggestions!

xo/Nikita

Mythical, Magical Figs and Chevre Cheescake

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I went to the grocery store a couple days ago for a bit of lettuce. When I saw these, I stopped in my tracks!

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I hadn’t tried fresh figs until a couple years ago. You can only get them fresh a few months out of the year, which adds to their appeal. They are a rare treat and a delicate fruit. They bruise easily and don’t last long, but that only makes them seem more precious. They are a great source of fiber, and a good source of potassium, manganese, and calcium. But I would eat them even if they weren’t!

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There is something so seductive about figs. Its not surprising they have been the subject of so many myths. Figs trees are in many depictions of the Garden of Eden, and the leaves were what Adam and Eve were said to have used to cover themselves. Romans held the fig tree to be sacred because the she-wolf who suckled Romulous and Remus did so under a fig tree. Figs are associated with Dionysus, the God of wine, and Priapus, a satyr who symbolizes sexual desire. Even the bodhi tree which Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under is a type of fig tree.

As luscious, sweet and juicy as these gems are on their own, I felt like the first figs of the year deserved a little special presentation. Enter the Honeyed Fig and Chevre Cheesecake Bites with Walnut Crust…

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These combine two of my favorite things: Figs and goat cheese, which incidentally are a lovely combination! I made them in muffin tins because mini things are just cuter and it also helps with portion control! They are even gluten free, utilizing a simple crust of walnuts and dates. I tried to drizzle them with honey before baking, but I’m going to recommend not doing that because it made them very sticky and difficult to get out of the muffin tins!

Honeyed Fig and Chevre Cheesecake with Walnut Crust

makes 6 muffin sized servings

Crust:

*heaping 1/2 cup walnuts

*heaping 1/2 cup dates

* 2 tablespoons rolled oats

pinch on salt

Filling:

*3.5 oz plain soft chevre (goat cheese)

*4 oz low fat cream cheese

*1 large egg

*1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* 2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 2, plus a little stevia. You could probably replace all or most with stevia, but my husband hates it so I have to be sneaky!)

*1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

*1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)

Garnish:

*4 large fresh figs

* 2 tablespoons honey

cinnamon for sprinkling
Directions:

1. Preheat your over to 350F and prepare 6 muffin cups by either greasing them or placing paper muffin cups inside. Make the crust by pulsing the walnuts, oats, dates, and salt in a food processor until a crumbly mixture forms that will hold together if you roll it into a ball. Divide the mixture equally among the muffin cups, pressing against the bottom and up the sides to form a crust.

2. Make the filling by combining all filling ingredients in the food processor until well mixed. Spoon this mixture into the prepared muffin cups. Try not to eat it all before it gets there.

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3. Now prepare the figs: Slice the figs into 4-6 pieces each. Heat the honey up on the stove or in a microwave until hot and completely liquid. Toss the figs in the honey and let marinate for a few minutes. When they have soaked up that honey goodness, spoon them over your prepared mini cheesecakes, careful not to drip a lot of honey down the sides. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

4. Bake for 20-22 minutes, then broil for just a minute to ensure caramelization of the figs. Cool for 3 hours or more before serving.

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Enlightenment is not guaranteed, but they do pair well with Harry Potter Fever! Anyone seen the last Harry Potter yet? I did! Loved it!

xo/ Nikita

Super Easy Vegan Pistachio Pudding

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Pistachios make me feel fancy. They are also a great source of protein and fiber as well as vitamin E, folate, copper, and many other vitamins and minerals. A few months ago Andrew and I were at the grocery store together and he saw some Jello mix pistachio pudding and excitedly told me how much he looooved pistachio putting. I looked at the ingredients on the box:

Ewwwww...

Sorry, honey, things like this just aren’t allowed in my cart! However, I do love pistachios and promised him I would make a more wholesome homemade version. After looking at a few more traditional pistachio pudding recipes using egg yolks and whole milk to thicken, I remembered that when I was vegan I used to make the simplest pudding with silken tofu and decided to use that as a base. I swirled some pistachios with agave and vanilla, added a bit of coconut oil to replace the richness of the milk fat and egg yolk, and added that to a creamy silken tofu base. Garnished with a few pistachios and an extra agave swirl, it didn’t need anything else. Andrew was in heaven and proclaimed it “better than Jell-O’s pistachio pudding.” I didn’t think that was much competition… that stuff is scary! But really, this is so delicious and easy to make!

 5 ingredient Vegan Pistachio Pudding:

serves 2-3

*1/2 cup shelled roasted pistachios (I used salted)

*2 tablespoons Agave nectar (or more depending on how sweet you like it. Stevia can be substituted also), plus more for serving

*1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil

*1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*1 box Mori Nu firm silken tofu (12.3 oz), chilled

Directions:

1. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the pistachios for garnish. Add the rest of the pistachios, the agave, coconut oil, and vanilla to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the tofu and process until smooth again.

2. Spoon into dishes, garnish with whole or coarsely chopped pistachios and an agave drizzle and serve immediately. The ungarnished pudding will keep in the refrigerator for several days as well.

PS: Recognize the bowls? They are the ones we made during our Eugene trip! They make perfect desert dishes.

Bell Pepper Stuffed with Coconut Rice, Black Beans, and Mango

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This is my absolute favorite dinner recipe. Hands down. It uses some of my favorite flavors: Coconut, Lime, Mango, Basil…

Look at them. They're begging to be stuffed.

All nestled in the Crock Pot!

I don’t make stuffed bell peppers very often because I don’t like green peppers and red ones are frequently about $1.50 each around here, which just seems silly. Last time I went to the store they were $0.68 though and I greedily grabbed 4, knowing exactly what their future would be.

The other reason I haven’t made stuffed bell peppers in awhile is because the absolute best way to do so is to cook them in a crock pot. It softens them to a melt in your mouth texture, while keeping the stuffing moist and flavorful. And the problem  with my crock pot is this…

"I'm melting!"

I may have accidentally melted the control part of my crock pot by having it too close to something cooking on the stove. Now it only sometimes turns on when I plug it in. And when it does turn on it only works on one setting. The worst part? I had only had this for about a month when this happened: Andrew bought it for me to replace my old one, which I dropped and shattered the insert of.

I’m accident prone, but I digress. Onto more cheerful topics, like Thai flavored stuffed peppers!

This recipe is adapted lightly from an amazing cookbook called Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. It is one of my favorites, full of simple and delicious things you can throw together in the morning and come home to dinner waiting for you.


Bell Peppers Stuffed with Coconut Rice, Black Beans, and Mango:

*4-6 large bell peppers (I prefer red, which are not only sweeter but also higher in vitamins A and C than green, but you can use whatever color you like), tops sliced off and diced, hollowed out.

*2 cups cooked basmati rice

*1 cup cooked black beans (I threw in a few garbanzos, too, because I needed to use them up)

*1 large red onion

*1 large mango (use Manila or Champagne mangos if you can find them. They are much smoother in texture than regular mangos) —–> for the best way to chop a mango neatly, click here.

*1/2 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut

*1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil (preferably Thai Basil) or cilantro

*1 lime

*1 teaspoon agave nectar (you can use sugar if you dont have agave, or leave it out, but it helps round out the flavors)

*Optional: to give these an extra kick, add 1/2 to 1 minced chili pepper, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot chili powder such as cayenne, or 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce.

*1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil, plus extra for greasing the crock pot or pan.

*salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1.Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet and add the onion and bell pepper. If you are using jalepenos, add them now. Cover and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove skillet from heat and stir in the rice, coconut, beans, mango, half of the juice from the lime plus a bit of lime zest, agave, basil, and spice if using.

3. Spoon mixture into prepared peppers and arrange upright in a lightly oiled slow cooker. If you have extra rice you can serve it warmed with the peppers or reserve it for another use. Cover and cook on low for about 4 hours. I haven’t made these in the oven, but if you don’t own a slow cooker or are short on time, I would imagine they could be cooked at 350F for 45- 60 minutes. If anyone tries it, let me know!

La Cocina Encantada

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The Charmed Kitchen

Finding the right name can be one of the most difficult parts about starting a blog. Or buying a kitten for that matter. I originally wanted to use the “lick the bowl” title as a… descriptor of my zest for cooking and eating! Also because you can find me greedily licking the bowl clean after cooking most things.

But onto La Cantina Encantada. My husband, Andrew, and I dream about someday opening a restaurant. He has proposed many names for it, a few of which are in Spanish to reflect the Latin infused cooking styles that would undoubtedly be in place. “Siestas” was a recent one… I told him that sounded too blah. Who wants to go to a restaurant named after a nap? But the other day he came up with Encantada Cantina, mostly because of the pleasant way these words roll off your tongue. I loved it! It was backwards of course, and cantina refers to more of a bar,  but Andrew doesn’t really speak Spanish…

I just cant seem to get this “charmed” or “enchanted” kitchen idea and how much I love it out of my head. Why do I like this title so much? Let’s make a list:

1. To begin with, the title is in Spanish, a language I love, attempt to speak, and feel a strong connection in my roots to.

2. I have always viewed the kitchen as somewhat of a magical place. As I child I made both cookies and potions in my kitchen. You didn’t make potions as a child? That’s odd.

3. My potion making days may be over, but I still think that the kitchen has a lot of power to heal and promote all over well being. Scientists are discovering more and more about the way foods affect us and can be more powerful than medicine to prevent and treat illness.

4. I feel like this title invites the image of the domestic goddess (or witch?) that I have always fantasized about being “when I grow up.” Providing nourishing meals for people I love brings me joy. Baking bread makes me feel sexy. Too much?

5. I really do just like how these words go together…

6. I like lists.

On a side note, I wanted to share something my father taught me last time I was visiting home.

How to Cut a Mango  Like You Mean it:

Slice one side right before it hits the pit
Slice this portion into a grid pattern
Bend it back so the pieces pop up and slice away! Repeat with the other half.

Maybe you already knew of that cool trick, but it was new to me! So much neater than peeling before slicing.

xo/ Nikita