Apricot Ginger Energy Bars (LARA Copycat Bars)

I have been a big fan of LARA bars for a while now; they have a million flavors, are usually on sale for $1 at the grocery store, and are the sole reason I survived the Whole 30 this past January. I love having healthy snack options like energy bars stashed at my desk for weekday afternoons that are dragging, because they save me from caving to the unhealthy options in the break room.

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When my friend Annie texted me to tell me she bought a 5 lb bag of sun dried apricots at Costco and then realized she didn’t like them (I love her), I immediately thought of trying home-made LARA bars. Obviously flattered that I was the first person she thought of, I told her that I’d put her sad, unwanted apricots to use.

You might be wondering why it’s worth making your own at home, and that’s a good question… why mess with a good thing, right? Let me tell you, everything is better home-made. This recipe comes together very easily, and you can literally use whatever dried fruits and nuts you have sitting in your pantry- just keep the ratios similar to the recipe below. They are the perfect snack to toss in your lunch box, to enjoy before or after a workout, or for breakfast on the go.

I love the combination of the apricots with ginger and cinnamon, but you can experiment here as well! Almond extract, fresh ginger…whatever you’re feeling. But the lemon zest is a must. Don’t leave that out!

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Apricot Ginger Energy Bars

Makes 18 bars

3 C dried apricots

3/4 C pitted Medjool dates

1/4 C Chia seeds

1 t cinnamon

1 t ground ginger

1 C raw unsalted cashews

1/2 C unsweetened dried coconut

1 t lemon zest

2 t lemon juice

1/4 C honey

Pinch of salt

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Method:

Line 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with nonstick oil.

Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until ingredients are well-distributed. Mixture should be sticking together easily. If it’s too dry, add 1 T more honey at a time until it comes together. Turn mixture into prepared pan and spray your (clean!) hands with more nonstick oil. Pat it down in even layer. Place into freezer for 20 minutes.

Take out of freezer and cut into ~18 pieces with chefs knife (I used a Norpro Scraper and it worked perfectly!) I also cut off the scraggly ends and ate those for quality control. Important step. Wrap individually with plastic wrap and store in fridge or freezer. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I thought everyone would be over butternut squash by this point, but I was wrong! I took a poll on my Instagram page last week to decide between Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta and butternut squash soup, and it resulted in a tie. Since I couldn’t possibly let half of you down, here’s the recipe for one of my favorite fall soups, just in time for #soupsunday!

A couple reasons I love this recipe: it takes less than 30 minutes to make, and you don’t have to spend any time stirring a pot or dirtying extra dishes! It’s vegan, but is so wonderfully creamy and filling, you’d never know it. You can use whatever broth you have on hand, but I used vegetable broth to keep this soup vegan. It’s perfect paired with a kale salad or some avocado toast for dinner, and reheats nicely for weekday lunches.

I was extra excited to make this soup today because of my new found affinity for crispy sage leaves. It’s not fall without the inclusion of sage in every vegetable dish, am I right? Taking the extra few minutes to “fry” some of these fuzzy little herbs in ghee to top your soup will result in a delicious and beautiful garnish for your roasted butternut squash soup.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Makes 4-6 servings

6 C butternut squash, diced

1 T olive oil

Salt & pepper

2 C leeks, roughly chopped

5 cloves garlic, roasted

2 1/2 C vegetable broth

1 C full-fat coconut milk

1/4 t crushed red pepper (optional)

Garnishes for soup- pomegranate seeds, crispy sage leaves, pepitas, etc.

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Method:

For crispy sage leaves, heat small skillet on medium heat and add 1 T ghee. Add sage leaves and fry for about 60 seconds on each side. Remove carefully with a fork and set on paper towel to absorb excess ghee.

Preheat oven to 375°. Toss butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread onto rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Roast in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and toss squash for even cooking. Add chopped leeks to baking sheet and return to oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until veggies are golden brown.

Tip** If you don’t have roasted garlic already prepared, here are the Cliff Notes from my last post – slice the very top off of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until fragrant.

In high speed blender, add roasted butternut squash, leeks, garlic, vegetable broth, and coconut milk. Blend for 20 seconds on low, and another 30 seconds on medium.

Tip** If you’d like to serve this soup right away, make sure to heat broth and coconut milk before adding to blender so soup is nice and hot!

If soup appears too thick, add 1/4 C more broth. Season with salt, pepper, and optional crushed red pepper. Enjoy!

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta (Vegan & GF)

I’ve been craving mac and cheese for about 2 years now. Sad, I know. But I’ve decided that the effects cheese and milk have on my system aren’t worth the temporary satisfaction of a hot, steamy, comforting, cheesy, melty, delicious bowl of mac and cheese. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyways. However, I recently discovered the plethora of GF pasta options available in grocery stores like Whole Foods and ALDI, and  knew that I could find a way to fill the mac and cheese void in my life. Butternut squash is (obviously) the answer. I know there are still some of you out there who don’t want to be members of my butternut squash fan club *ahem, Matt* but let me tell you, this recipe is a game changer.

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Let’s talk about some of the seemingly unnecessary/obscure ingredients I use in my recipes, because I promise that once you stock up on them, you’ll use them all the time…

  1. Nutritional yeast- This is a staple for your dairy-free pantry that mimics the flavor of Parmesan cheese in any dish, and is full of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.
  2. Smoked paprika- I never knew or cared about the difference between regular paprika and smoked paprika until our trip to Southern Spain last year. Smoked paprika is used in lots of traditional vegetable dishes like chickpea stew, and as soon as I got home I bought a jar. A little goes a long way to create a smoky heat that brings out the flavor of just about any vegetable. Buy some!
  3. Roasted garlic- I know this seems like an extra step, but the flavor of roasted garlic is mild with this wonderfully creamy texture that makes a big difference in your finished product. I roast a couple heads at a time and keep them refrigerated in a jar so I can squeeze a couple cloves into whatever I’m cooking. I have instructions below.

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta

Makes about 4 servings

1/4 C raw cashews

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

1 package cubed butternut squash (about 3C)

3 cloves garlic

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 T nutritional yeast (optional)

1 t onion powder

1/2 t smoked paprika

1/4 t chili powder

1/4 – 1/3 C vegetable broth or water

1 package GF pasta

Optional roasted vegetables for serving (Brussels sprouts or kale)

Sriracha (optional)

Method:

Soak cashews in 1 C of boiling water for at least 30 minutes, until they soften and absorb a good amount of the water.

Preheat oven to 375°. Toss cubed butternut squash with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast in oven for about 30 minutes until tender. Remove from oven and set aside. (If you are making roasted vegetables to go with your pasta, make those now, too.)

Roasted garlic- Slice the very top off of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until fragrant.

Prepare GF pasta according to package instructions. Do NOT over cook!

In a blender, combine roasted butternut squash, drained cashews, about 3 cloves of roasted garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and seasonings and pulse until combined. Add broth or water a little at a time and continue to pulse until you reach desired consistency (I left mine pretty thick).

Combine cooked pasta with sauce and top with roasted vegetables of choice and sriracha, hot sauce of choice, or crushed red pepper. Enjoy!

 

 

Vegan Sun Dried Tomato Risotto with Roasted Vegetables

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Ever since I finally caved and bought a sturdy dutch oven last month, I have found myself looking for any and every excuse to make one pot meals. Matt’s parents had us over for lunch on Sunday and I decided to experiment with a vegan risotto. The finished product was vibrant and comforting, but still healthy with the addition of colorful roasted vegetables on top. I brought this risotto along with us to my in-laws, and this is what I learned:

  1. If you put a bowl of fresh Parmesan alongside the dish, no one cares that it’s vegan.
  2. Rainy Sunday afternoon + comforting risotto for lunch + wine = me falling asleep on the car ride home.

The sun dried tomatoes lend a really nice texture and acidity to the dish, which balances out the creaminess of the risotto. If you aren’t vegetarian, you can use any kind of broth you happen to have on hand. The best part is that you can top risotto with anything! I used fresh parsley, pine nuts, and store-bought pesto. This would be great with Italian sausage as well (definitely not vegan, I know.)

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I think some people are intimidated by the thought of making risotto at home, but it is truly hard to mess up. Risotto can be time-consuming because it requires standing over the stove as you stir the broth in a little at a time, but as long as you have hot broth ready to add in along the cooking process, it shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes. You can also view this time you’re spending stirring the risotto as quiet time in the kitchen, drinking wine. That’s what I choose to do 🙂

Risotto is my go-to dish for Pot Lucks because it’s a crowd pleaser, and you can use just about anything in terms of vegetables and seasonings. I love bringing this extremely heavy Dutch oven with me with the hot risotto inside because I make Matt carry it and I can just throw it in the oven at a low temp to warm back up when we get where we’re going! Easy as that.

Vegan Sun Dried Tomato Risotto with Roasted Vegetables

Makes 4-6 main course servings or 6-8 side dish servings

2 1/2 T good olive oil

Salt & pepper

2 small zucchini, quartered and diced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 red onion, chopped

2 shallots, finely diced

1 C Arborio rice

4 C broth of choice

1/3 C dry white wine

1/2 C sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 t dried basil

1/4 C nutritional yeast (optional) or 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese if not vegan

Toppings such as fresh parsley, pine nuts, pesto, etc.

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and red onion with 1 1/2 T olive oil, salt and pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

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Heat Dutch oven or medium pot and add remaining tablespoon of oil. In a separate pot, heat broth on low/medium heat.

Saute shallots in Dutch oven for about 4 minutes, until they turn translucent. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Cook for about 2 more minutes. Add wine and let simmer for 3-4 minutes.

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Add broth, one ladle at a time, stirring frequently and cooking until rice absorbs liquid fully before adding next ladle of broth. When the broth is about halfway gone, add sun dried tomatoes and dried basil and continue adding broth one ladle at a time and stirring until fully absorbed. When all broth is used and liquid fully absorbed into rice, turn off heat and stir in nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese. Serve with roasted vegetables and toppings of choice and enjoy!

Autumn Quiche with Paleo Crust

It’s a lazy Saturday morning and I have a bunch of random vegetables laying around, so you know what what means- QUICHE! I haven’t made a quiche with a crust for a long time, and now that I’m avoiding gluten, I needed to conjure up a new recipe. I found a recipe from Paleo Running Momma that uses a combination of gluten free flours, but sounded simple enough. I tweaked it just a tad, and it came out wonderfully. This crust is quick and easy, and doesn’t require any rolling out!

I had some turkey sausage and fresh sage to use, so I thought I’d combine some autumn flavors for a hearty and filling paleo breakfast. Like my other quiche recipe, you can use any vegetables and meat you have on hand and as long as you stick to similar measurements, it will turn out great! For example, I used leftover cooked acorn squash as the carb-y vegetable in my quiche, but hash browns or leftover roasted potatoes would be great too!

I tried something new today by not adding any milk to the egg mixture and really liked the results. It came out a little richer, and had amazing flavor. The pinch of smoked paprika adds a nice amount of heat that perfectly compliments the flavors of the turkey sausage and fresh veggies. Matt is a tough judge when it comes to quiche, as he is not a fan of eggs, so his seal of approval this morning was a real success.

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Autumn Quiche with Paleo Crust

Makes 6-8 servings

For the crust:

1 C almond flour

2 T coconut flour

2/3 C tapioca flour

1/3 C cold ghee or vegan butter

Pinch sea salt

1 egg

For the filling:

1 C cooked squash, cubed (or substitute with hash browns or cooked potatoes)

1/2 bell pepper (about 3/4 C) diced

1/2 yellow onion (about 3/4 C) diced

3/4 lb turkey sausage

1 t fresh sage, chopped

6 eggs

Salt & pepper

Pinch smoked paprika

Method:

Preheat oven to 375°.

For the crust, combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl and use pastry cutter or two butter knives to cut butter and egg into dry ingredients. When dough starts to form, use clean hands to knead. Turn dough into pie dish and lightly spray your hands with nonstick oil. Press crust onto bottom and sides of pie dish lightly, until evenly distributed. Pierce with a fork to prevent crust from rising, and bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, and lower oven temperature to 350°.

In medium skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks. Drain fat and discard. Add onion and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until onion starts to turn translucent. Add bell peppers and season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat. Add squash or leftover potatoes to pie dish, sprinkle sage, and add mixture from skillet, distributing evenly over crust.

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In large mixing bowl, whisk eggs, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, and carefully pour into pie dish. Bake at 350°  for 40-45 minutes, until nice and brown on edges and eggs are completely set completely in middle of quiche. Let sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, and use knife to loosen crust from sides of pie dish for easier serving. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Tip** for a nice golden top, turn oven to broil for last 5 minutes of cooking. Watch quiche very carefully during this step so it doesn’t burn!

Winter Minestrone Soup (GF)

The other night, my mom took me to see Ina Garten live at the Chicago Theater, and let me just say that I didn’t think it was possible to love her more than I did, but I do. It’s possible. She’s the best. She spoke about her almost 50 years of married life with her husband Jeffrey, and about all the experiences throughout her life that led her to where she is now, creating recipes on her farm in the Hamptons every day. Like what is that and how do I get to that point in life?

She acknowledged the existence of the “store bought is fine” meme, which I found very satisfying, and poked fun at herself for the number of times she says “how easy is that?” She spent a lot of time explaining her method for creating and testing recipes. I never realized how much thought and testing she puts into every single recipe, and it really struck a chord with me because she cares so much about how the finished product turns out for home cooks.

I love all her recipes, but this soup is on my list of favorites. I made a few small tweaks, and although she might not appreciate me dissecting her perfectly-crafted recipe to make it gluten and dairy-free, I hope you will! Because now we can alllll cozy up with a bowl of her amazing Winter Minestrone soup this season.

This recipe looks a little daunting at first because of the long list of ingredients, but you will probably already have most of them on hand like I did. One thing to note is that Ina stresses the use of chicken stock, not broth, in this recipe and it does make a noticeable difference. She of course makes her own stock, but let’s not get carried away… “Store bought is just fine.”

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Ina’s Winter Minestrone Soup (made GF and dairy-free)

Makes 6-8 servings

Good olive oil

4 ounces bacon, ½-inch-diced

1 large yellow onion, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

2½ cups butternut squash, peeled and diced

4 cloves minced garlic

1 t dried thyme

2- 14.5 oz cans roasted diced tomatoes

1 carton chicken stock (4 C)

1 bay leaf

Salt & pepper

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans (or Northern beans), drained and rinsed

2 C cooked GF pasta (I used Whole Foods brand chickpea shells)

8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons store-bought pesto (make sure it’s dairy-free)

1/4 C nutritional yeast

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Method:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven. Add  bacon and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned.

Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, the bay leaf, salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Discard the bay leaf. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. Just before serving, reheat the soup, add the spinach, cook just until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the white wine, pesto, and nutritional yeast. Enjoy!

Tip** if you plan on having leftovers, leave all pasta on side and add to soup as you serve. If you leave it in the soup for multiple days, it’ll absorb too much liquid from the soup and turn to mush.

Apple Cobbler (GF)

My friend Jillian and I have been avoiding gluten and refined sugar for 3 weeks now in an effort to get our eating habits back on track, and the goal was to make it to Halloween. I’ll say it’s been a pretty valiant effort, despite the beer (or two) I’ve had along the way, and the hot dog I saw Jillian eat at the 5k we organized…

This weekend, I was really craving apple cobbler, and this presented a challenge because traditional apple cobbler contains flour, butter, and at least one type of refined sugar. I have been searching for coconut sugar to use in paleo recipes and finally found some yesterday at Whole Foods. I thought apple cobbler would be the perfect chance to  experiment with my new ingredient, and turns out it perfectly enhanced the natural sweetness of the apples in this warm, gooey dessert! Lemon juice adds some balance to the sweetness and keeps the apples from browning as you make the crumb topping, and the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg comes through really nicely in the finished product.

This recipe makes about 4 servings if you’re anything like Matt and I,  but you could probably stretch it to serve up to 6 people, especially if you’re serving it with ice cream or whipped cream. It  reheats so beautifully, I might venture to say it’s even better the next day!

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Apple Cobbler

Makes 4 servings

4 medium apples (Granny Smith or McIntosh work best)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

2 t cinnamon

3/4 t nutmeg

2 T coconut sugar

1 T arrowroot powder (or corn starch)

For the topping:

3/4 C old fashioned rolled oats

1 t cinnamon

1 t vanilla extract

Pinch sea salt

4 T butter of choice, melted (I use Earth Balance vegan butter)

1 T coconut sugar

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Method:

Preheat oven to 325° and grease 8×8 square pan.

Peel and thinly slice apples, adding to greased dish. Sprinkle lemon juice on top of apples and toss. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut sugar, and arrowroot powder and toss again.

In medium bowl, combine oats, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, melted butter, and coconut sugar and mix until it clumps together. Sprinkle evenly on top of apple mixture, and top with a few more teaspoons of whatever butter you’re using.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the apples are nice and soft and it’s bubbling around the edges. Your whole house should smell like Thanksgiving 🙂 Let cool for 15 minutes before serving warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped coconut cream. Enjoy!