Chocolate Protein Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Pumpkin Pie Chocolate SmoothieYes, I’ve fallen into the “pumpkin everything” trap. I told myself I wouldn’t succumb to those sneaky marketing ploys from the big chains and ignore the fact that it’s already September, and we’re supposed to be falling in line (no pun intended) with the fall-themed script: pumpkin, pumpkin and more pumpkin. I wasn’t going to do it. Wasn’t ready. Wasn’t feeling the pumpkin everything vibe.

But then, you know, this funny thing called pregnancy got the best of me. I saw a recipe for a pumpkin smoothie somewhere and suddenly my mind could not stop thinking about making one. Maybe all the stealthy marketing campaigns got to me. But suddenly, my mind was all pumpkin, and there was no stopping me until I had my fix.

But still another thing happened this week to lead to the creation of this smoothie — another thing that I can definitively blame on my pregnancy. I got my results back for my 1-hour glucose screening test — something I thought I would pass with flying colors, given my pre-pregnancy history of actually having low glucose levels on all my blood tests — and the results were not as I planned. My glucose levels were high. Now, I realize that a lot of women actually have this happen and they do end up passing their 3-hour test when all is said and done, without a diagnosis of gestational diabetes (I take my follow-up test next week, just to be sure). But the initial realization that my glucose was fairly high, along with even the possibility of having gestational diabetes looming in my mind, had me really re-thinking my diet and trying to re-imagine a diet plan if a gestational diabetes diagnosis were in my future.

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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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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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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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Spicy, Creamy Vegan Chickpea Curry

Spicy, Creamy Vegan Chickpea Curry | Delectably FreeIt’s pretty clear to me by now that cashew cream is my newest kitchen trick that I can’t get enough of. At one time, I used to think it was daunting and time-consuming to make cream sauce from cashews. Little did I know that with the help of my Vitamix, making cashew cream is only slightly more daunting or time-consuming than opening a jar of cream sauce. I mean, opening certain jars can be a daunting task in itself…

But one need not have a fancy or high-powered blender to make cream sauce in minutes. Creamy, smooth and luscious sauce is attainable simply by soaking your cashews ahead of time, then draining and rinsing them before blending. This softens the cashews and puts them just minutes from being turned into a silky smooth sauce.

This curry was born out of a recent craving for the Thai-style restaurant cream sauces that I’ve been deprived of ever since going vegan. I think I might miss Thai curries more than anything — in fact, it might be the only thing I can truly say with much certainty that I actually miss from my former life. But I take solace in knowing that I don’t miss the headaches and stomach pains I used to get after ingesting such high salt, dairy and fat-ladden meals.

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Single-Serving Carrot Cake Overnight Oats

Single-Serving Carrot Cake Overnight Oats | Delectably FreeI’ve been doing overnight oats for breakfast for awhile, not putting too much thought into it because I figured the internet had that area of oatmeal-making pretty well covered. But then I witnessed a recent surge of carrot cake oat recipes on some of my favorite vegan blogs, and suddenly became fixated on the idea of combining a popular Pinterest-era phenomenon — overnight oats — with the flavors of carrot cake.

Aside from green or berry smoothies, overnight oats are one of my favorite breakfast options for so many reasons. First of all, overnight oats are just that: they literally soften overnight, leaving you with thick, ready-to-eat no-cook oatmeal in the morning. I also love having a base recipe that I can make again and again, while still being able to customize that base to my particular tastes and preferences on a given day (or, more likely, based on what I happen to have in my fridge).

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Vegan Skillet Fajita Hash

skillet fajita hashI’m in love with the fajita recipe from The Vegan Table. It’s probably been one of my favorite vegan cookbook recipes, and it’s a super easy go-to for entertaining vegans and non-vegans alike. The problem is, while the recipe is easy, it’s requires a bit of advance preparation, which means that it’s not always the best option for weeknight meals when I’m hungry and cranky and will probably eat the entire contents of my pantry if I have to wait for something to marinate and then roast in the oven before eating.

Last week, I had a craving for fajitas and happened to have enough ingredients on-hand to make them happen. But the problem was, I was so hungry by the time I got home from walking Woodley after work that there was no way I was going to be able to wait long enough to make them. That’s where the idea for this fajita hash was born.

I wanted to stray a bit from the fajitas I’d been making from The Vegan Table. This recipe is oil-free and low-fat. Making it on the skillet makes it much easier to pull off the no-oil thing, as everything is sauteed rather than roasted, which usually requires oil. To make it a meal in itself, I added potatoes, which provide some additional caloric bulk. Oh, and did I mention I love potatoes? Cause I do. So, there’s that. Finally, the black beans round this out by adding protein — again, this could be a meal in itself.

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Chocolate-Avocado Mousse

chocolate-avocado mousseI don’t know what got into me. Well, I do know. It was Chef Fran’s amazing book Vegan Chocolate that started this recent whirlwind of cooking and baking with chocolate (though in this case, there is neither cooking nor baking required). From chocolate granola to chocolate-covered strawberries to chocolate chip pancakes to the double chocolate chip cookies I’ve been teasing but haven’t posted yet, it’s been a big ‘ol chocolate party at my house recently, all thanks (or no thanks) to Chef Fran. My apologies to any of you out there who are not chocolate lovers (including my husband) or to those who have chocolate allergies (my cousin Weylin comes to mind..and I always keep him in mind when I’m developing recipes for family gatherings).

That said, I’m sorry I’m not sorry for loving chocolate and wanting to share all things chocolate with the world. This recipe is the ultimate dichotomy: rich and creamy, yet raw, vegan and healthy. And when I say rich, I mean it. The richness of this mousse is like built-in portion control. You can eat a little bit and feel filled and satisfied.

Yes, there are plenty of avocado mousse recipes to be found on the internet these days. A recent Facebook meme with a similar recipe comes to mind. So there are tweaks and variations galore for those looking to play with this recipe. But what I love about this one, in particular, is that dates — not any sugar substitutes — are used for sweetness, making this an entirely whole-foods and raw (if using raw cocoa powder) recipe.

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Baked Tofu Teriyaki Skewers

tofu teriyaki skewersIt took me a long time to understand the purpose of skewering food if you weren’t going to end up eating it on the skewer. I mean, what’s the point? Eating food on the stick always seemed to be preferable to me to just cooking it on the stick, then taking it off to eat. It was a wonder to me that people would go through the trouble of putting a kebab together if they were not going to follow through with the whole stick thing when it came time to eating.

The kid in me still thinks it’s fun to eat things on sticks. Even more fun to me these days, though, is cooking things on sticks, which allows the flavors to meld together perfectly. Add a sweet and salty marinade, which is easily brushed on as a coating, and you have a whole lot of deliciousness married together. Cooked to perfection. On one stick.

Now that I’m older and presumably a bit wiser, I also like the idea of eating things on a stick (have I said “stick” enough yet?), but the key word here is idea. Logistically, it’s much, much easier — and yummier — to remove all the edible components upon eating, and to serve those components over a bed of fluffy quinoa with a side of raw fermented kimchi and just a drizzle of Sriracha. At least, that’s what I did. You do it your way. Heck, even eat this off of the stick if you really want to.

Ok, so I’ve met my quota for typing the word stick in one post. Now,  I can get to the more important issues at hand here. First is the fact that this is an easy, healthy meal that can be rounded out well with some simple sides. So, that’s always nice. But perhaps more important is that I did two tests of this recipe: one with oil, and one without. Gennaro and I both agreed that the oil made absolutely no difference — in fact, I actually preferred the version without oil. So, don’t feel compelled to add any. It isn’t necessary. Unless you’re trying to put weight on or add calories to your diet, I would recommend leaving any unnecessary fat out of the equation. Personally, I tend to feel better, lighter and healthier when I’m not cooking with any added oils. I prefer to save the calories for something really special….like the double chocolate chip cookies I made yesterday…to be shared later…

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Chocolate-Hemp Granola

chocolate hemp granolaGranola seems to be one of those things people loathe as a child and love as an adult. At least, that’s been the case with me. Then again, granola may have gotten a lot better taste-wise over the years, as we’re now lucky enough to live in an age when healthy eating has become more than just a fad reserved for those uninterested in eating tasty food. In fact, these days “healthy” and “granola” are not necessarily even synonymous. Often, granola is loaded with butter and/or sugar. It can also be quite high in fat, as well. And while not always a bad thing, fat is something to avoid eating in excess. So for all those people characterizing super healthy vegan fare as “granola” – you might want to re-think your descriptors.

This granola, though, can still be considered “granola” granola, if you know what I mean. But that’s not to say it’s not tasty. This version is crunchy, sweet and so addicting with a little banana and almond milk. Subtly infused with chocolate, when eaten with milk (non-dairy, of course), you’ll find the added benefit of a nice little bit of chocolatey milk to slurp when your granola is gone. But high in fat, oil or sugar it is not. And that was the goal here — so that I don’t feel quite so guilty loading up my bowl to keep full between breakfast and lunch.

I added hemp seeds to this for some added Omega-3 fats and protein. You can sprinkle some more on top, as shown in the picture, if you’d like. I love to add sliced banana to my bowl, but you can also add fresh berries, sliced pear, or whatever fruit is in season.

And, to borrow a line from one of my favorite movie characters from my favorite movie of all time: that’s all I have to say about that. Not because I couldn’t think of more things to say about this granola. I could, sadly, expound further upon granola and many foods for that matter. But I have made a promise to myself to not push myself too hard to write so much here when I’m busy with other things. It’s part of my ongoing effort to keep my life and priorities in balance. On that note, I hope you enjoy this healthy, oil-free treat as much as I did. More on how well that effort is working out for me in another post.

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