April 24, 2012

BIG NEWS: Walking, Living, Breathing Proof

Drum roll please.....

My friend Ann, who started this whole foods, plant based diet a few months ago, recently got her blood work done.  Here are the results after only a few months as a vegan - and it's pretty exciting - and not atypical.

Met with my endocrinologist today to get my lab results back. Why is Ann seeing an endocrinologist you may ask?  Well my dirty little secret is out.  I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

I'm not going into detail about it, you can google it if you want to know more.  But I've been battling for 10+ years.  Drugs, low carb diets, regular tests, I've done it all.  Magically I was able to conceive two amazing children, and have yo-yo'd weight all through my 20's.  It's highly encouraged for women who have PCOS to follow a low carb diet (Adkins, South Beach, etc) as simple carbohydrates impact literally everything in the PCOS body.  But I could not bring myself to eat meat, cheese, and eggs again to lose the weight.  I had to make a change, and I went against everything I had been told that would be successful in the past... I became plant-based. 

I have been eating carbs... and loving it.  People give me such a hard time about "being vegan is so difficult." That's complete BS.  Eating meat, cheese and eggs is friggin' hard!  So I decided to test this plant-based diet out on my blood-work.  Sure we know it lowers cholesterol, blah blah blah, but could it do more with the PCOS body?

Keep that drum roll going.....

Now mind you that I have only been plant-based for 4 months.  I have only lost 8lbs (Painfully stagnant, I know, working on that next).   I have gone off two of my medications prior to starting this (on my own accord due to the cost).  One of which was Statin for my cholesterol.  The other was my birth control pill.  Magically my cycles have stayed regular, and of course my cholesterol went down.

Okay, okay... here are the results:

We'll start with the obvious - Cholesterol:
  • Total cholesterol: 
    • 1 year ago:  237  
    • Today: 176
  • Triglycerides:
    • 1 year ago:  142
    • Today: 90
  • LDLs (bad cholesterol):
    • 1 year ago: 139
    • Today: 98
  • HDLs (good cholesterol):
    • 1 year ago: 70
    • Today: 60  (okay, so this one should not have dropped, but it's still good)

And the not so obvious results:

Women with PCOS tend to be insulin resistant making it difficult to properly process glucose in cells and instead store the glucose as fat.
  • Fasting Insulin: 
    • 1 year ago:  14
    • Today:  7  (this was surprising in spite my carb consumption)

Women with PCOS also make higher than normal testosterone levels (male hormones).
  • Testosterone:
    • 1 year ago:  33 
    • Today:  19

So, voila, there you have it.  Not only does this plant-based, whole-foods thing work for good heart health and cancer prevention, but there are some added benefits for other issues as well.  

And NOW I'm a believer.  And now, I will never stop!

I will, however, limit my simple carb consumption, avoid simple starches, keep to lower GI (Glycemic index) foods, but most importantly, with a break in the weather.... get out and exercise.  

Can't wait to see my blood work will look like a year from now (is there better than normal?).

We are SO PROUD of Ann!  Walking, living, breathing proof - and encouragement that YOU can do this too!

Love & Kale,
Ali

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Dehydrated Fruit

Ingredients: Crap load of fruit

Instructions: Peel, slice and dehydrate

Results: Happy healthy kids (and myself)

Crapload of fruit

Nifty apple corer-peeler thing


Peeling apples!

Perfect little apple
Done dehydrating

Picky kid approved


April 20, 2012

SNACK ATTACK: Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites & Fruit Smoothie

I have been so "snacky" lately - I don't know if it's that my body knows that swimsuit season is coming up, so to spite me, it's making me crave snacks........or if I'm just making up excuses like that because I like to eat snacks.

Either way, I have had an arsenal of healthy snacks around, in an attempt to curb my crazy appetite lately.  Ann has come to my rescue in the afternoons, whipping up some smoothies for us (recipe below).  They really are the prefect pick-me-up during that late afternoon "blah" time.

Years ago, I would just grab a cup of coffee to get me through the latter part of the day - but now, I have an unbelievably nutritious snack that's filling, energizing, and absolutely delicious (especially if you have a neighbor with a Vitamix - but if you don't, a regular blender is perfectly fine).

In addition to all the frickin' fruit I've been eating, I've made things like mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, mini Strawberry Muffins, Easy No-Bake Cookies, and mini Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie bites (do you notice the snack-sized theme here?  An attempt at portion control.....).

The Banana Chocolate Chip cookie bites are awesome in a number of ways - first of all, they're so frickin' easy.  Secondly, they require ingredients that you most likely already have on hand.  Last, they're so delicious!!




If you can get a cute little helper to assist you, like I did, the better they turn out too :)

What are your favorite healthy snacks when you just can't seem to curb the snack attack!?

Love & Kale,
Ali

                               _________________________________________________
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites
This recipe is so easy, and uses ingredients you probably have on hand!  Be warned - the dough does not hold together well at all.  But don't worry - try your best to get them shaped in a ball.  I used a cookie dough baller-thingy.  Once they're baked, they hold up great.  And they taste great too - so pop-able, snack-able, and healthy to boot!
Makes: About 2 dozen

Print here.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ripe medium bananas
  • 2 cups oats
  • 1/4 peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds (optional, I didn't end up using them)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
  • Dash of cinnamon
Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  
  2. Mash the bananas, then stir everything else in (1 bowler!).  Let batter stand for about 20 minutes, then drop on a cookie sheet (use a melon baller if needed to shape).
  3. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon (optional) and bake for 10-12 min, until golden brown on the bottom.

Ingredients

Dough

Shape into bite sized cookies and place on cookie sheet

Watch them bake because it's so exciting!!

YUMMY!  Fast, easy, so, so yummy!!

                                 __________________________________________________
Healthy Fruit Smoothie
This smoothie is the perfect combination of healthy leafy greens and flax seeds - plus loads of fruit to make is oh so naturally sweet and delicious.  The perfect afternoon pick-me up.  And don't be afraid of the purply-brownish color - it's the combination of the fruit and spinach.  Kids aren't even deterred by the color because it's that good.  If it bothers you, just close your eyes and drink that sucker up!
Serves:  You and your neighbor

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk (coconut, almond)
  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup pineapple
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • A couple ice cubes
Instructions:
  1. Put everything in the blender (or Vitamix if you're lucky) and let her rip!
  2. Drink, feel refreshed, re-energized, and renewed.  
So yummy - Ann calls it her "brown monster smoothie"

Picky kid approved!!

April 18, 2012

Quinoa & Sweet Potato Stuffed Peppers

Now that we broke the tempeh seal, I'm dying to use it in everything!  It absorbs whatever spices or sauces you decide to use, giving me thousands of ideas.  So of course, I decided to add it to this stuffed pepper recipe and pair it with some garlic (which is by far my personal favorite as noted earlier).

And boy did that work out really well.



I threw in a few more of my favorite veggies, spices, some chopped tempeh, and of course the super food, quinoa.  Then, we shoved it all into some peppers and called it day. Who knew I could be so creative in the kitchen?

This recipe was full of color and flavor, health and pure vegan goodness.  AND it was super easy!

If you expect kids to eat this, leave out the cayenne.  I'm making this again next week without the cayenne to see how it fairs with the 6 and under crowd.

Now what else can I shove tempeh in?

Love & Kale,
Ali

                                       ____________________________________________

Quinoa & Sweet Potato Stuffed Peppers
The nuttiness of the quinoa is a great balance to the soft texture of the peppers and sweet potatoes.  The cayenne pepper and cumin add a spicy, smoky flavor to the sweet potatoes and peppers.  We added chopped up tempeh to the onion and garlic mixture, as a sort of "mock sausage."  It gives the filling the perfect texture, without adding any badness and lots of goodness.  If you want to tone down the spiciness for kids, use less cayenne or omit altogether.  If you want to kick it up even more, use poblano peppers!
Serves:  3-4

Print here.

Ingredients:
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin, divided
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne, divided
  • 3 peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise (bell peppers or poblano peppers for more spiciness!)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 4 oz tempeh, chopped into bite-sized pieces (or half an 8-oz package) 
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Cooking spray or a little olive oil
  • Daiya cheddar cheese (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.  Toss the sweet potato cubes with just a touch of oil or cooking spray, the salt, 1 tsp of cumin and 1/4 tsp of cayenne.  Roast on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes, until browned on edges.
  2. Meanwhile, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil and add the quinoa.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, until it's tender and water is absorbed.
  3. Heat a large skillet with some veggie broth or water over medium heat, and add the onion, garlic, tempeh.  Season with salt, the remaining 1 tsp cumin, and 1/4 tsp cayenne.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Cook about 8 minutes, adding more broth/water as needed, until onion is tender.  Stir in the quinoa and sweet potatoes. 
  4. Line your peppers on a baking sheet and spray with a little cooking spray or oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Stuff each half with the quinoa mixture, and top with the cheese (if using).  Bake for 30 minutes, until the peppers are tender.
Ingredients

Dice your potatoes and roast them 

Meanwhile, cook your quinoa

Meanwhile, dice your onions, garlic, and tempeh

Saute onions, garlic, and tempeh with spices and broth or water

All done sauteing!

Quinoa is done and fluffy

Add quinoa to tempeh mixture - like a ninja

Add your potatoes and combine.

Slice your peppers in half

Line then up and spritz them with some oil - aren't they GORGEOUS!?

Stuff those peppers!!

Finished product - stuffed pepper deliciousness.

April 17, 2012

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash & TEMPEH!

Okay, so I have been plant-based for over 2 years now, and I was more terrified of tempeh than most omnivores are.  In fact, it was a friend that was the one to convince to try it!

I am, of course, whole foods, plant-based, so my recipes don't include many meat or cheese substitutions - after all, the point is to be healthy and prevent disease - and eating a bunch of processed mock-meats and cheeses is not the way to achieve optimum health!

However, I discovered that tempeh is not just another mock meat - in fact, like tofu, tempeh is very minimally processed and is basically just fermented soy (remember my post about tofu?).  Like tofu, tempeh is loaded with protein, fiber, calcium, vitamins and minerals - plus, it's low in cholesterol and sodium.  You can find it in most supermarkets - around here, I know Kroger, Trader Joe's, and Health Foods Unlimited all carry it (This is the brand I really like - and they often have coupons, making this a very inexpensive protein choice!).

Unlike tofu, tempeh is made with whole soybeans, which give it a much firmer texture and more heartiness.  It's also fermented, so the soybeans are "pre-digested," making it easy to digest and allowing the body to absorb all of the minerals that soy provides.

Personally, I much preferred tempeh to tofu in terms of texture and flavor.  It will take on the flavor of any sauce you cook it with, just like tofu, however it also adds its own "nutty" flavor and texture.  I'm officially hooked!

So I remembered I had a recipe for tempeh somewhere, but had hid it, since I was too afraid to try it.  When I pulled it out, I discovered it was in the section with holiday meals - and I came across another recipe I had been meaning to try.



This Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash is most definitely reminiscent of the fall, and holidays.  Yes, I understand it's April - but do you understand how darn good this stuff is!?  Well then I'll tell you....

So, so yummy - everyone I served it too absolutely loved it - picky omnivores included.  In fact, my friend's kid could literally not stop eating the stuff.

So.......nuf' said!  MAKE THIS.

Love & Kale,
Ali

                                ____________________________________________________
Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
The nuttiness and crunch from the wild rice is absolutely perfect paired with the sweet softness of the squash.  This is such comfort food - all the flavors of a Sunday, home-cooked meal, without all the bad stuff.  Yum, yum and yum.
Serves:  4-5
Original recipe from Forks Over Knives.

Print here.

Ingredients:
  • 4 medium-sized acorn squash, halved and seeded
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 3/4 water or vegetable broth (I used broth for more flavor)
  • 3/4 cup wild rice, cooked
  • 3/4 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced (optional - I didn't use)
  • 1-2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup raw walnuts, chopped (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place squash halves, cut side down, on 1 or 2 deep baking sheets filled with an inch of water. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. When done, remove from oven, remove the water, and flip the squash so it is cut-side-up.
  2. In a medium pot, sauté onions, carrots, and celery in 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth until slightly browned, approximately 5 minutes. Add wild rice, brown rice, mushrooms (if using), poultry seasoning, sage, black pepper, and remaining water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat and then simmer on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Add parsley and walnuts and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Spoon rice mixture into each squash. Cover in foil and return to oven. Bake for 20-25 additional minutes, or until squash is tender. Serve warm.

Ingredients

Cut squashes in half and seed them - save seeds for apocalypse 

Place squashes, cut side down, in a pan filled with a little water - bake.

Meanwhile, saute veggies

Chop up some walnuts and parsley

When rice is almost done, add parsley and walnuts

Squashes are ready to stuff!

Cute little stuffed squashes - ready for round 2 in the oven!

Done - and perfect

Comfort food at its finest....


                                ___________________________________________________
Tempeh Italiano
Great texture, excellent flavor - this tempeh is super easy to make and a great way to add a little extra plant-based protein to your meal.  
Serves:  4-5
Original recipe from Forks Over Knives.

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed a bit with your fingers
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 - 8oz. pkg. tempeh, cut into quarters

Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine tamari, balsamic vinegar, garlic, vegetable broth, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, ground fennel seed, and crushed red pepper flakes. Add tempeh cutlets, and stir well to evenly coat. Transfer tempeh cubes to the prepared cookie sheet, and spread out into a single layer.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Stir tempeh with a spatula, and spread out into a single layer again. Bake for 10 to 15 more minutes or until tempeh is golden brown around edges. Remove from the oven. Serve hot or at room temperature as desired.

Ingredients

Chop up your tempeh - don't be scared!  It's supposed to look like that!

Mix marinade ingredients together and toss with tempeh strips

Line them up and get them ready for the oven!

Perfectly golden brown and delicious!

Little tempeh bites.






April 13, 2012

"Tofredo" Spaghetti Squash Casserole

 
So the Spaghetti Squash Casserole I made the other day was awesome, flavor wise.  Texture wise is another story.  It needed to be "beefed" up.  And I wanted to add a bit of protein to it, to boot.

So instead of the marinara, I thought why not try the garlic "Tofredo" sauce similar to the one for the Creamy Roasted Garlic Pasta, and add tons of veggies?  Like onions, spinach, mushrooms (that latter obviously not a veggie but a fungus), and anything else my little heart desired.

It worked out marvelously.



My plan worked!  Besides filling out the "mushiness" of the previous recipe, the flavor was equally as awesome, and there were tons of leftovers!  Serve with some sweet potato fries and you've got yourself an awesome meal.....

Love and Kale,
Ali

                                   ______________________________________________

"Tofredo" Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Serves:  Many
Creamy, yet hearty....full of great texture and even better flavor....this casserole ROCKS!

Print here.

Ingredients:
  • 1 package of silken tofu 
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast 
  • 1 tbsp flax seed 
  • 1 head of garlic 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1 & 1/2 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 handful of baby spinach 
  • 1-2 cups of steamed broccoli 
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 package of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large spaghetti squash 
  • 1 cup non-dairy (Daiya) mozzarella cheese 
Instructions:
  1. Make your "tofredo" sauce by blending the first 6 ingredients (tofu through sun-dried tomatoes) together in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash into half lengthwise (carefully to avoid losing a finger). Brush cut side with oil and place cut side down in a casserole dish with fitted lid.  Microwave on high for 10-12 minutes until softened and can be easily "stringed" out with a fork. 
  3. Meanwhile, sauté onions and mushrooms over medium heat in a large saucepan for about 5 minutes. 
  4. Reduce heat to low and add steamed broccoli, squash and "tofredo" sauce. Mix together until evenly coated.
  5. Remove from heat and gently fold in spinach. Transfer mixture into 2-quart casserole dish and sprinkle shredded non-dairy cheese on top. Bake for 25 minutes until cheese is bubbly.  ENJOY!


Ingredients
Prep your squash and nuke it.

Using a fork, gently pull squash apart to make "spaghetti"


Saute your veggies until tender

Mix the veggies, squash, and "tofredo" sauce together


Top with some Daiya cheese - bake

After baking - warm and bubbly!

Serve with some sweet potatoes and enjoy!

YUM!!