Heart Healthy Meals to Serve Your Sweetie

Clockwise from Top Left: Carrot Cake Overnight Oats, Skillet Fajita Hash, Banana-Omega-Chia Pudding, Super Simple Incan Quinoa

Clockwise from Top Left: Carrot Cake Overnight Oats, Skillet Fajita Hash, Banana-Omega-Chia Pudding, Super Simple Incan Quinoa

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day — the universal day of love (or, the day Hallmark says we need to buy stuff to show our love, however you want to look at it). Traditionally, our expressions of love come in the form of flowers, chocolates or fancy meals. Unfortunately, the latter two traditions can ironically have a negative impact on our hearts.

Indeed, the #1 killer in the United States is heart attacks, a disease that literally attacks our hearts, the symbol of love. So it’s funny (but not so funny considering that last sobering statistic) that on a day meant to celebrate love, we often do so by buying foods that are damaging our hearts.

A low-fat, vegan diet is the only diet on the planet that has long been scientifically proven to not only prevent but actually reverse heart disease. So while soaked oats and chia seed puddings might not at first scream “romance” to you, think about it this way: what’s more romantic than keeping your loved ones alive and healthy for years to come by feeding them foods that promote a healthy heart and prevent disease? I’d say, not much.

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Slow Cooker Quinoa Chili

quinoa chili

For obvious reasons, winter has never really been my favorite. And by obvious reasons, I just mean, well, the cold. And the short, dark days. And the dry, chapped hands. The slippery roads. The salt that is copiously strewed over every business’ sidewalk, which stains my boots and requires my dog to wear boots because it stings his paws. That’s what I’m referring to when I say “obvious.”

But then there are days like the one I had last Sunday — days that remind me of winter’s virtues. Here’s a little bit how it went down: with my slippers and pajamas on, I snuggled with my dog and binge-watched Friends on Netflix while the smell of chili simmering in the slow cooker permeated my comfortably warm old home, enough that I wasn’t even thinking about the dropping temperatures outside.

While the slow cooker has long been touted as a working woman’s (or man’s) greatest asset for having ready-to-eat meals available upon walking in the door, I have long loved the slow cooker for its equally important role in helping me facilitate a day of doing absolutely nothing. And by nothing, I mean binge-watching Netflix shows.

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A Gluten-Free, Vegan Thanksgiving (Part 2)

gluten-free, vegan thanksgivingI know it has been quite some time since I posted. As I’ve mentioned before on here, work has become increasingly busy in the last several months, and has left me struggling to find time to do much outside the office. When I do have free time, I made a promise to myself to spend it in ways that have a positive impact on my mental and physical health. Of course, it’s hard to argue that cooking healthy food at home has a negative impact on one’s health. Yet the stress of creating recipes (which can be time-consuming), combined with writing them down, photographing the finished project and blogging about them left me depleted. Although I know I don’t particularly owe an explanation for my absence, I nevertheless seem to want to provide one with every new post.

I am still trying to navigate how to move forward with this blog in the face of an increased workload and other responsibilities. I’ve decided to simply take things day-by-day. While I still love cooking, I’ve been posting more and more to my Facebook and Instagram feeds, which I found provides an outlet for me to share my cooking and ideas without the work of creating full recipes and new posts. If you’d like to see what I’ve been cooking lately, I encourage you to follow/like Delectably Free on one of those pages.

Then again, Thanksgiving is a great time for a new post that doesn’t require any new recipe-making. I love compilations because they let me look back on past blog posts that even I may have forgotten about. So this year, I’ve decided to do a take-2 of my previous gluten-free/vegan Thanksgiving ideas post. I hope you find inspiration in some of these ideas. While a lot of what I’m sharing could fall into the “traditional” Thanksgiving-fare realm, other dishes veer from the traditional Thanksgiving menu (lasagna on Thanksgiving, anyone?). I hope you enjoy and have a wonderful, safe and happy Thanksgiving.

no turkeys were harmed in the making of this Thanksgiving menu

No turkeys or other farmed animals were harmed in the making of this Thanksgiving menu

Breads and Rolls:

Cheddar Scallion Biscuits

Traditional Cornbread

Focaccia

Side Dishes:

Cornbread Stuffing

Fat-Free Potato Salad (oil-free, fat-free)

Zucchini Potato Latkes

Green Bean Casserole

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale

Portobellos and Gravy

Entrees/Main Courses:

Winter Rice Bake

Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna (oil-free)

Butternut Squash Lasagna (oil-free)

Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf (oil-free)

Adzuki-Millet Cakes

Salads:

Warm Green Bean and Potato Salad

Fat-Free Green Bean Salad (oil-free, fat-free)

Raw Fruit and Nut Kale Salad (oil-free)

Antioxidant Quinoa Salad

Desserts:

Applesauce Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate-Pumpkin Mousse Pie

Apple Crisp

Cranberry-Oatmeal Cookies

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Super Simple Incan Quinoa

Incan QuinoaI think I’m ready.

If you hadn’t noticed, I took a little bit of a break. You may know that I’ve been dealing with fighting Lyme and other chronic Tick-borne infections in the last two years. After a year on antibiotics and steady improvement, I decided to return to blogging after a long hiatus. I blogged again for about a year before realizing I was, quite simply, exhausted. Physically — after coming home from long, stressful days at work — I was pushing myself to make multi-step meals to test for the blog in time to take photos while there was still daylight. Then I would spend the rest of the night editing said photos, then forcing myself to sit and write a meaningful and informative post — all while watching the clock in panic mode, hoping I could make it into bed to ensure my requisite eight hours of sleep were possible that night (otherwise, I might as well call off tomorrow on account of the inevitable brain fog and fatigue).

The weekends provided more opportunity for cooking, picture-taking and writing posts. But that turned out to be a problem as I found myself turning down plans or opportunities for much-needed rest and self-care in order to make sure I got my quota of decent posts lined up for the week ahead.

The pace was unsustainable, and I found myself getting more tired and, perhaps worse, becoming grumpier. So I got burnt out and quietly went away for awhile, hoping that the much-needed reset would help me return with a purpose and vigor like never before.

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Strawberry-Spinach-Quinoa Salad

Strawberry-Spinach-Quinoa SaladThe simple fact of the matter is, I needed a reset. It had been months of chocolate this and chocolate that, and I was feeling my body slowly tell me I had had enough. Enough chocolate? Yes, it’s possible. I started to suspect something was amiss when I brought home from work an empty tupperware container of what once contained my double chocolate chip cookies. “Oh, did you bring your cookies to work?” my husband asked, when he saw me come back in with the empty container. I had. “How did your co-workers like them?” he wondered. I looked sheepishly back at Gennaro, ashamed to admit that my coworkers hadn’t eaten them, I had. I had eaten 4 chocolate chip cookies in one day. They were my lunch. And my mid-afternoon snack. This is what happens when you have a full work schedule and nothing else to bring for lunch at work except chocolate cookies — seemingly the only thing I had been working on in the kitchen that past week.*

As a side note, I did eventually bring my double chocolate chip cookies to work. And my co-workers did love them, thankfully. 

So, after months of chocolate desserts interspersed with some thumbprint cookies, I was ready to call it quits on the desserts for awhile and get my sweet fix elsewhere. Like in a salad. A fresh, seasonal, whole foods, plant-based salad. Something bursting with color and nutrients, that wouldn’t leave me feeling heavy, weighed-down or sluggish.

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Vegan Mexican Lasagna

Gluten-Free, Vegan Mexican LasagnaYes, I made this Mexican lasagna with Cinco de Mayo in mind. But truthfully, I really don’t need an excuse to bring Mexican food into my life. Rice, beans, tortillas and salsa all top out the list of foods I regularly enjoy in some capacity. And I think it’s fair to say by now that I am a huge fan of cashew cheese, including the cashew nacho cheese sauce that I used here.

While I was making this dish, it occurred to me that it would be really difficult to mess it up. I suppose you could. But there’s not much science that goes into layering things and baking them together for a casserole-like dish — and even less science when it comes to using tortillas rather than lasagna noodles because there’s less risk of overcooking the tortillas than the noodles. I tried to keep this recipe as simple as possible, but that doesn’t mean sauteed vegetables, black olives, veggie crumbles or any number of other ingredients won’t also work here.

Similarly, if you don’t have a blender or don’t feel like making the homemade cashew sauce, you could easily substitute a vegan cheese for the cashew cheese sauce. If you do that, I would suggest adding a little extra salsa to the middle layers.

For me, the best part of this lasagna — aside from the taste, of course! — was that you get to avoid the frustration of having to soften corn tortillas and roll them into enchiladas. If you’ve ever tried this before, you understand first-hand how nearly impossible it is to do this without breaking any tortillas. I sort of decided at some point that I wasn’t interested in dealing with that sort of annoyance in the kitchen anymore. Layering the tortillas solves that problem while keeping the flavor and spirit of enchiladas intact.

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Triple Chocolate Brownie Doughnuts

gluten-free, vegan triple chocolate doughnutsI read an article around New Years last year that had food experts predicting the next food trends of 2014. One expert pegged 2014 as the year of hybrid desserts, in light of the recent cronut craze of 2013.

In our home, if we had to predict what sort of surprises 2014 would bring, I don’t think either of us would have predicted that this would be the year we’d find raccoons living in our attic. But that’s exactly what we were presented with a week ago yesterday. Had it not been for that little fly – er, raccoon – in the ointment, so to speak, last Sunday would have been a wonderful day. It was Easter Sunday, so we packed up our car bright and early, Woodley in tow, to attend church and then a day of festivities and vegan feasting at my parents’ home. It was a beautiful outside – in the 70s and sunny. Once we got home for the evening, we took a long family walk through the neighborhood, enjoying the warm and peaceful evening. As we rounded the corner of the street back to our house for the night, it became apparent that there was some sort of creature up on our rooftop, staring at us as we approached our home. That creature, it turns out, was a quite large raccoon. We locked eyes for a moment before she quickly darted back into, well, our home. From the roof. I was too creeped out to keep watching her, but Gennaro stayed outside only to learn there was another adult raccoon with her as well. The “baby daddy”, if you will (side note: when raccoons take up residence in the attic, they are almost always preparing for babies to come, which would explain why the raccoon who greeted us when we came home last Sunday night was nearly the size of our 45 lb. dog, and why there was a second adult raccoon with her).

A frantic Google search later, we learned that homes like ours – bungalows with dormer rooms built out over the roof – provide the perfect entryway for raccoons into an attic. Did you know raccoons can fit into holes only 4” wide? Yup, neither did we. Keep in mind that, as we were doing this Google search, we could clearly hear the unsettling pitter-patter and thumping of our house guests above us.

Instinctively, without a second thought, I began searching the internet for ways to get them the hell out. This, in turn, presented a rather interesting vegan dilemma that would have me losing sleep in the week that followed.

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Roasted Carrot & White Bean Hummus

Roasted Carrot & White Bean Hummus | Delectably Free

One of the benefits of living in Metro Detroit is the amazing Middle Eastern cuisine. Dearborn, Michigan is home to a large Middle Eastern population, and thus, an amazing selection of Middle Eastern restaurants. It’s no wonder that when Anthony Bourdain visited Detroit to film No Reservations, Al-Ameer restaurant in Dearborn (one of my family’s favorites) was featured in his segment. The food is good. The hummus? Incomparable. Actually, it is comparable – but only if you’re comparing it to any of the other great Middle Eastern restaurants in the area. Otherwise, good luck finding anything to live up to it.

For this reason, I’ve been highly reluctant to post any of my homemade hummus recipes on Delectably Free. Sure, I make homemade hummus from time to time. It’s good. Not always great. But it works in a pinch when I need something to dip my gluten-free crackers in or to dollop on salads. But for the most part, I tend to not make hummus, because I know I can venture not too far from my neighborhood to find the best hummus you can get outside of the Middle East. I lived in New York City for 4 years, and even there, I never had hummus so good. It’s probably an understatement to say that when it comes to hummus, I have high standards and am a bit spoiled.

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Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna

Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna | Delectably FreeWhile I own a growing collection of vegan cookbooks — a collection that my tiny kitchen is increasingly struggling to contain — I admit that I rarely make recipes directly from any cookbooks. That’s because I usually find myself trying to think of new recipes rather than make someone else’s. I collect cookbooks because they give me inspiration and help me with the thinking part more than anything else.

That said, there are a few cookbook recipes that fall under my all-time favorites — ones that I will gladly make and share with others, with no shame in that it wasn’t my idea to begin with, because it’s just that good. Ok, maybe there’s a touch of shame that I couldn’t think of the idea myself. But I love these recipes so much, they’re among the rare meals I make without trying to change a thing.

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Quinoa-Coconut Thumbprint Cookies

Gluten-Free, Vegan Quinoa Coconut Thumbprint Cookies | Delectably FreeIf it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — just tweak it! 

It seems that’s been my basic motto in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. I’m a restless cook — one who rarely makes the same exact thing the same way twice, unless, of course, I’m testing recipes to post here. But even then, once the recipe has been posted, after all the testing an tweaking that came before it, I’m still hard-wired to contemplate adjustments to that recipe that could make it even better. Or at least, something that could make it different.

The recipe for these thumbprint cookies is based on a previous recipe from 2011 for quinoa cookies — an oat-free oatmeal cookie alternative that has been a family favorite in recent years. If you compare the recipes side -by-side, you’ll notice they’re quite similar. But just a few tweaks to the original recipe has yielded a quite different cookie altogether. It’s like a coconut macaroon married with a thumbprint cookie and spiked with lemon zest for a fresh burst of flavor. It’s a bit of a departure from the oatmeal-like quinoa cookies upon which these were inspired.

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