Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is here, and what better way to cope with the cooling temperatures than to warm up with some hearty fall recipes? Now, I hate cold weather. Low body fat combined with poor blood circulation in my extremities leads to perpetual goosebumps and bouts of hypothermic shivering. Sometimes, when you catch a chill so severe it seems to creep into your bones, the only way to shake the cold is take a hot shower or eat something that warms you from the inside out. What better way to ready yourself for chilly days than with a festive fall soup? Your house will be filled with scents of roasted butternut squash caramelized with brown sugar, swirls of cinnamon and nutmeg, and warm, baked honeycrisp apples. This soup tastes just as good as it smells, and it smells like something straight out of a seasonal Yankee Candle store. Furthermore, it’s incredibly hearty and filling. Save for 5 cups of liquid, this soup is entirely pureed roasted vegetables. Indicative by its rich color, butternut squash is rich in carotenoids, particularly beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Furthermore, this festive squash is rich in antioxidants, particularly vitamin C, fiber, potassium, vitamin B, and folate. Not to mention that it tastes delicious, with a rich amalgamation of sweet and savory. Because all of the ingredients in this soup are roasted, the fragrant flavors of every vegetable are detectable in each bite. This recipe makes quite a bit of soup (and you don’t need much in a serving because it’s so hearty!), so it’s a great recipe to make in bulk for the week for meal planning.

Ingredients
1 medium-large butternut squash
3 carrots
1 medium yellow onion
½ red pepper
2 medium honeycrisp apples
4 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
Cinnamon
Pumpkin pie spice
Nutmeg
Brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrupO
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Directions

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
1. Cut the ends off of the butternut squash

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
2. Cut the squash in half

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
3. Peel the squash. If you see green streaks, keep peeling

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
4. When the squash is done being peeled, it will be bright orange with no green stripes.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
5. Cut the peeled pieces in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into 1 inch cubes

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
6. Coat squash with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp brown sugar, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and salt and pepper.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
7. Spread evenly on a baking sheet covered with foil. Place in preheated oven at 425ºF.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
8. Cook for 45 minutes, turning once midway.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
9. While the butternut squash is roasting, cut up 3 peeled carrots, 1 medium yellow onion, 2 honeycrisp apples, and ½ red pepper. Coat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper, and a dash of paprika. Spread evenly on a pan covered with foil.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
10. Cook for 25 minutes at 425ºF.

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
11. Put all of your roasted vegetables into a large stock pot. Add 4 cups of vegan vegetable broth and 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk. Use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables (Or, alternately, pour the soup mixture into a blender, blend unit smooth, and then pour back into the pot. Turn heat to medium to warm soup, adding additional seasoning to taste. You’ll likely want to add more salt and pepper. I added a dash of paprika and chili powder to cut a bit of the sweetness, but it’s not detectable. I served my soup with some Harvest Pumpkin Tortilla Chips [gluten-free, vegan] from Food Should Taste Good…. and this soup certainly tastes good!

Enjoy and happy fall!
❤ Nika

Advertisements

Making Smoothies in Bulk & and a Lesson on Adhering to a Healthy Living Lifestyle

IMG_3111

I love a good fruity protein smoothie. Not only are these frozen delights chock full of fruit, fiber, antioxidants, and protein, but they are also a refreshing treat for any moment of your day. Don’t have time to eat breakfast before you leave the house? Grab a fruit protein smoothie and a granola bar, and you’re out the door. Need a mid-day snack? Smoothie. Pre-workout boost? Smoothie. Post-workout recovery and treat to carry you over to the next meal? Smoothie. Dessert? Smoothie.

 TL;DR: Drink smoothies all day errday.

Herein lies the rub- smoothies can be a bitch to make. I follow the same standard recipe every time I make a smoothie- the “Nika’s Classic Fruit Protein Smoothie” (recipe here). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? This smoothie is, in my opinion, the best smoothie because it’s like all the smoothies combined into one- strawberries, blueberries, peaches, mango, banana, cherries, raspberries, apple juice, protein powder… It’s the “everything but the kitchen sink” version of the fruit smoothie. The only downside to this is the prep- simply gathering and preparing all those different types of fruit, most of them frozen, can be a pain in the ass. I’m already pressed for time in the morning, so there’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to get all the ingredients out, make the smoothie, clean everything up, and drink my smoothie without being absurdly late. My solution to this? Making smoothies in bulk- how to enjoy smoothies all day, errday without blendin’ all day, errday.

My recipe (and I use this term loosely because I never follow a recipe when I make anything, everything is by eye) yields about four smoothies. I can increase or decrease this number by the amount of fruit or by the amount of liquid I add. Typically I make my smoothies in the evening, drink one as a post-workout recovery, enjoy one either in the morning or post-workout the following day, and then I have two more to enjoy. I’ll keep the one that I drink the following day in the refrigerator, but I will freeze the other two so they will keep longer.

IMG_1381

Initially, I was storing my smoothies in Lilly Pulitzer cups, as you can see in the recipe post linked above. Now, that option worked fine at home, but if I needed to transport my smoothies to work or to the gym, it was a mess when they began to thaw. I had thought about purchasing some mason jars in which to store my smoothies, but then inspiration struck- recycle!

72OL+UuCykL

Introducing Argo Tea, my recent obsession. Not only do these teas taste delicious, they come in adorable glass bottles… that are the perfect size for storing smoothies. I haven’t tried all the above flavors because the selection is limited in my town, but I have tried the Hibiscus Tea Sangria (omg, my favorite), the Green Tea Ginger Twist, and the Mojitea (my least favorite, I think the mint tea was a little weird for me). I have a Carolina Honey in my refrigerator that I still need to try, but I’m sure it’s going to be delicious (tea and honey, how could this be anything but amazing?).

After I finish sipping these delicious teas, I remove the plastic label, wash them, and then use them for smoothie shenanigans! They’re great in the refrigerator, in the freezer, at home, in the car, at the gym, at work, in your backpack or purse…. literally everywhere.

 il_340x270.372191140_1ita

If you’re feeling extra crafty and cute, you could purchase some labels, such as these chalkboard labels, for your jars so you could write the type of smoothie, your name, the date you made it…whatever strikes your fancy!

Cooking in bulk and “meal prepping” are great ways to encourage and facilitate adherence to a healthy lifestyle. So much of healthy living is determination, planning, and foresight. Therefore, this is not merely “cheating” on your “diet.” It’s not like sneaking another dessert that Jenny or Atkins won’t know about… just your little secret right? You deserve/need/want that extra dessert because of whatever fill in the blank bullshit is going on in your life. We are always going to be stressed, pressed for time, running late, running behind, too busy, frantically bouncing through our days dealing with life’s drama and wishing there were more hours in the day. But it’s your responsibility as a person to take care of yourself. So even if no one sees you sneak that extra dessert, you will know- and so will your scale, your pants, your skin, your waistline, and your self-confidence. How many times have you eaten that little extra something and then loathed yourself for it? Berating and beating yourself up? How many times has that actually led to something productive, other than more cheating, more desserts, more missed workouts and poor choices? Being healthy is not a fad, it’s not a diet- it’s a lifestyle. For life. You cheat on your lifestyle and you’re only cheating yourself. Thus, there is no excuse other than your own poor planning for eating unhealthfully.

Oh you forgot to eat breakfast, so you’ll just stop somewhere on the way to work? Let me know how that greasy, artificial animal byproduct fluff claiming to be “egg” tastes cozied up to that plastic square of “cheese” and mechanized Wilbur butt “bacon.” How’s that going to make you feel the rest of the day? Let me know how quickly your indigestion and lethargy kicks in. Instead, keep smoothies in your freezer, protein bars on hand, steel cut oatmeal packets tucked away, and always keep extra food at work.

Oh you forgot lunch, so you’ll just go out to eat or grab something at the cafeteria? False. If you’re not already bringing your own lunches with you to work/school everyday, I am shaking my head at you. This little part of your day is crucial for healthy living. You either have the chance to replenish and refuel your body with something healthy and homemade, or you can clog up your arteries with whatever death du jour Hardees is serving up next door. Even a frozen meal (albeit a healthy, Nika-approved one) is a better option than anything you’ll find in a cafeteria or fast food restaurant.

ChipotleSalad-300x193

If you do have to go out, choose somewhere like Chipotle, where you can get a salad or bowl and choose your own ingredients. Notice how I said salad or bowl and not burrito? Getting a burrito adds 300 calories to your meal before you even put anything in it. On the other hand, lettuce adds a whopping 15 calories as base. For example, the salad I always get at Chipotle (brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken, tomato salsa) weighs in at 550 calories, which is no problemo for me due to the amount of exercise I get in a day. That same combination in a burrito is 840 calories… at that point, you’re rivaling the neighboring McDonalds for a calorie count, and your cutesy elliptical jaunt is not going to cover that. Also, if you get cheese and sour cream… I just… I can’t. No. Just no. You’re adding an additional 225 calories that are completely worthless to you. If you’re trying to plan a lean meal at Chipotle, I would also avoid the corn salsa, which carries 85 calories, compared to 20 calories for the other tomato-based salsas.

Living at healthy lifestyle is really not that difficult. Challenging, yes. But really difficult? no. Nor is it some mystical, elusive treasure reserved only for the majestic, rainbow fitness unicorns that poop gluten-free vegan pellets between spinning and Pure Barre classes. With some determination, persistence, research, planning, and preparation, you can accomplish mystical unicorn status as well, and I’ll be here every step of the way to lead you out to pasture.

❤ Nika

My “I Don’t Feel Like Cooking Dinner” Dinner [Gluten Free, Vegan]

IMG_3072

Some days (most days?) you get home after a long day of working and working out and really have no motivation to stand over a stove after spending an inordinate amount of time chopping up ingredients. Worse still, you live alone or don’t have a S.O./bribable friend around to clean the cacophony of cutlery and cookware you’ve amassed while creating your culinary masterpiece (he who does not cook, must clean… right?). This was the case for me last night, when I arrived at home exhausted (from work), sweaty (from a killer workout at the gym), and pissed (from trying to be a good homeowner by mowing my grass before it got too tall (like last time)… only to find that my lawn mower pooped out on me after only 2 minutes). With a sizable mound of laundry on my bed waiting to be folded, eyes that could barely stay open at half-mast, and a desire to do nothing but collapse on my couch/bed/whatever soft surface I encountered first, I was determined to prepare (not cook) a quick, easy, yet healthy and nutritionally complete dinner. Here’s what I concocted:

– Schar GF multigrain bread with Justin’s Honey Almond Butter and one sliced banana

– Carrot chips with Hope Foods’s Organic Garlic Lentil Dip

– Cubed watermelon and one chopped peach

– Dessert (not pictured): one GF Vegan Schar Honey Gram (45 calories)

With bananas, peaches, watermelon, and carrots, this dinner is obviously very fruit and veggie heavy… just how I like it. I got some nice complex carbohydrates from the GF multigrain bread and enough protein to replenish my fatigued muscles from the almond butter and lentils, which are also a good source of fiber. This no-cook dinner was incredibly satisfying and delicious. The combination of bananas, nut butter, and bread is probably one of my favorites, and this blend was further ignited by the hints of honey in the Justin’s Honey Almond Butter. I love these carrot chips; I’ve always been a fan of baby carrots, but these chips have a great texture and crunch and a larger surface area to encourage dipping. Overall, I was very pleased with this meal- it was quick, easy, delicious, healthy, and required only minimal cleanup (a plate and a knife? I can handle that). Meals like this are proof that there is never an excuse to “cheat” or eat unhealthy- even just for one meal. No matter how pressed for time or tired you are, there is always a healthy solution out there, you just have to you have the strength, determination, and creativity to find it. Thankfully, you have me to help you along the way 🙂

❤ Nika

Labor Day Cookout: Organic BBQ Chicken and Kale Chips [Dairy Free, Egg Free, Gluten Free]

Kale Chips

Happy Labor Day, everyone! To me, labor day is a bittersweet holiday- “no more white” (pish posh), the pools start to close, fall seems just around the corner (hello riding boots and blazers), and, here’s the saddest bit, summer is over. Talk about summertime sadness. What’s the best way to bid adieu to summer? Put on a sundress, make some pink lemonade, and have a cookout!

Organic BBQ Chicken and Kale Chips

This is how Nika does a cook out- BBQ organic chicken drumsticks, homemade kale chips, and quinoa and brown rice. Abandon the burger, hold off on the hot dog, steer clear of the soda, and ditch the diet disaster desserts- this is an Eat. Tone. Love. cookout.

I love the way that food tastes when it has been cooked on the grill, so we picked up these organic chicken drumsticks at Whole Foods for our cookout. We marinated the chicken in Stubb’s Original BBQ sauce, which is also found at Whole Foods. Some gluten free, vegan, and all natural condiments and BBQ sauces can taste way off (cough, sorry Annie’s), but Stubb’s BBQ sauce is downright delicious. The original is really stellar, and reminds me of a Sweet Baby Rays with a little less heat (and also lacking the high fructose corn syrup). I’ve also tried Honey Pecan, which was… quite unpleasant, probably because of the ginger (which is not my fav). Regardless, you can’t go wrong with the original, and I’m sure the other flavors, including Sticky Sweet, Spicy, Sweet Heat, Hickory Bourbon, and Smokey Mesquite, are delicious as well.

Stubb's Original BBQ

After marinating our chicken, we cooked our drummies on the grill for about 20-25 minutes, turning routinely until cooked through.

Organic BBQ Chicken

You can also brush some olive oil on your naked chicken breasts and cook them partially on the grill before coating them with BBQ sauce. With that technique, you’ll get a juicier BBQ sauce coating. Our method (marinating in the BBQ before grilling) results in a milder BBQ taste because some of the sauce cooks off, but the BBQ sauce will caramelize and form a nice crunch on the chicken.

Organic BBQ Chicken

Now for the kale chips, and this recipe is my best kale recipe to date. Everyone loved these kale chips, and someone even commented that this was the best way they’ve ever had kale. Why, thank you. These chips had a perfect amount of crunch and chew. Enough crispness without being overcooked. Enough flavor without being overwhelming. As a lover of all chips, the kale chip is the perfect replacement for potato chips- I still get my crunchy side dish, just minus the fat and questionable carbohydrates.

Kale Chips

First, buy some good quality kale, preferably organic, as it is particularly important to buy greens and lettuces organic as they are most susceptible to pesticides. The kale I bought was very leafy, which I think was key to the recipe- lots of surface area. First, cut off the tough spines and stems and discard (or use for juicing). The stems are quite tough and bitter, so using just the leaf will produce a much tastier kale chip.

Kale Chips

Here you can see some of my chopped kale leaves. You can make your chips whatever size you prefer, but keep in mind that they will shrink and shrivel in the oven, so cut your chips a little larger.

Kale Chips

Place your chopped kale leaves into a large bowl. This may look like a lot of kale, but, unfortunately, it really isn’t when you’re making kale chips! You know how you can put what seems like a gallon of spinach into a skillet and still only end up with a cup of cooked spinach? Yep, same concept. I cut up about ¾ of a head of kale for the cookout, which produced the amount of kale chips seen in my picture at the top of this post.

Kale Chips

Coat your kale chips with one tablespoon of olive oil, ¼ tsp of garlic powder, 1/8 tsp of nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper to taste. I use a generous amount of salt, as the salt helps cut the bitterness of the kale.

Kale Chips

Lay your kale chips out on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Taking the time to lay out the chips so they aren’t stacked on top of one another will yield a crispier chip.

Kale Chips

Place kale chips into a preheated oven set at 350ºF. Cook for 10 minutes and remove. Your chips will begin to darken, shrink, and crisp up. Flip the chips over and place into the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Kale Chips

Om nom nom, healthy kale chip goodness. Not only are these crispy kale chips a perfect side dish or snack, they are low in calories at fat (take that, potato chips), high in fiber, iron, and vitamins K, C, and A, and full of powerful antioxidants. Further, the olive oil adds some healthy unsaturated fats to this treat.

I long to see the day that people show up to cookouts with veggie burgers, organic chicken, bowls of kale chips, homemade salsa, quinoa salads, fruit salads, and healthy vegan desserts. We can make this happen- we can reinvent the American summer cookout, and it starts with you, my Eat. Tone. Lovers! It won’t happen overnight, and you might meet some opposition, but by incorporating healthy yet mouthwateringly delicious recipes like these, you will surely win over even the most stubborn eater.

❤ Nika

WIAW: Vegan Brown Rice Sushi and Spring Roll

Gluten Free Vegan Brown Rice Veggie Sushi and Spring Roll

What I Ate Wednesday (WIAW)

I picked up this gluten free, vegan sushi tray at Sushi Express inside the Good Foods Co Op. This vegan sushi roll is made with brown rice, which is higher in fiber yet lower on the glycemic index as compared to white rice, wrapped around avocado, carrot, and cucumber. This meal also came with a gluten free, vegan spring roll: vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served with a plum sauce. While this tray came with soy sauce, I brought my own tamari sauce to work because regular soy sauce contains gluten (caution!). This meal was delicious and filling. I love sushi- it’s so light yet satisfying. Whenever I eat sushi, I get this lovely satisfied feeling without the heavy fullness associated with most meals. Plus it’s just so fun to eat! It’s like a little meal in a bite! I forgot chopsticks, so I had to eat this sushi with a fork, which is the first time I’ve ever done that. However, I think using chopsticks is, by far, the best method of eating sushi. Even if you’re not a master of the stix, you should give it a shot! It’s the perfect vehicle for getting those delicious rolls of heaven into your mouth while keeping the rice and nori roll intact.

Further, sushi is not only for fish lovers! If the thought of raw fish scares you or if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, there are still plenty of options for you! Which is hard to say for most restaurants or types of cuisine. I enjoy some fish in my sushi, but vegetable rolls are probably my favorite. Plus, you don’t have to feel as squeamish about raw fish and your sushi will keep better (if you’re buying trays like this). Lastly, this tray was about $5.75, which is cheaper than any meal you can find at a sit-down restaurant and far healthier than anything you could find in a chain restaurant or fast food joint.

I loved this lunch, especially paired with a cup of green tea. I will definitely start buying a tray or two of this sushi whenever I stop into the Co Op because they make perfect work lunches!

Meatless Monday: Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salsa Recipe (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Mango Avocado Salsa

Last weekend, I took my first ever solo road trip to visit my best friend, Carolyn, in Atlanta. Granted, in retrospect, a 6 hour drive is really not that bad, but for someone who had only driven a long distance solo once before, it was a bit daunting. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually love road trips, I just don’t like driving. Of course when I first got my license (omgg sweet 16, like #driving), driving was grrreat because, to a 16 year old, driving means freedom. But to a 23 year old, driving means dealing with idiots who don’t know how to drive, leg cramps, ass cramps, neck cramps, and road rage. I love being in the car… as a passenger. As a kid, my parents and I would take road trips all the time. In fact, as much as we traveled, the first time I was on a plane wasn’t until I was around 10 years old, and that’s only because you can’t drive to Paris. Therefore, I’ve perfected the art of being a passenger. I can sit silently and stare out a window for hours on end, although road trips are exceedingly more fun if you have someone to chat with (hence my dislike of solo road trips).

But road trips as a driver? As the only driver? I had always been ambivalent of such trips, even though this says nothing about my qualities as a driver- I’m a safe driver, an efficient driver, a smart driver… I just don’t like it. Furthermore, the thought of driving hours and hours alone always makes me fear falling asleep at the wheel (which I’ve, thankfully, never even come close too, but stress-over-everything Nika must always consider worst case scenarios… I get that from my mom) or dying from boredom, figuratively or literally (boredom=sleepy=peril). My brain is so optimistic, eh?

bridesmaids

Prior to this trip to Atlanta, I had one other solo road trip experience- driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Livermore (about an hour east of San Francisco). So you may be thinking “uh that’s a 7-8 hour drive, why did you even bat an eye about driving to Atlanta?” Well, for one, I split the trip into two days. And secondly, I drove on the Pacific Coast Highway, and driving alongside this was just awful, let me tell ya.

Pacific-Coast-Highway-California-1 Unknown

Regardless, I made it Atlanta and back without a hitch. Well, except the Starbucks detour on my way down there that set me back an hour. Seriously, what is it about Starbucks that compels us to seek out the caffeine gods at all costs? At the midway point of my drive, I searched for nearby Starbucks, and my iPhone informed me there was one 30 minutes away in Athens. Awesome, lead the way, Siri. Except that bitch Siri led to me a random ass Family Dollar parking lot with no Starbucks (or major forms of Starbuck-like civilization) in sight. Le sigh. The nearest Starbucks then was another 30+ minutes away and was, naturally, no where close to the interstate. I had already wasted 30 minutes on this coffee endeavor and didn’t even really want it at that point, but it was the principle of the matter- I had already hemorrhaged precious travel time driving to find this elusive skinny cinnamon dolcé latté with soy milk, so I had to get one now, regardless of the cost. Long story short, I finally got my coffee, but lost an hour to this excursion. On the other hand, on the way home, I got my coffee before I even got on the interstate (ha! take that!) and then powered through, saving 30 minutes off my ETA. Now that I knew that I could handle a solo road trip, I pretty much felt like a BAMF, sup.

tumblr_m8d555O8Ky1rouyn1o1_500

Plus the whole thing was totally worth it because I got to be reunited with my best friend since 6th grade, Miss Carolyn, the lovely lady who brought you this recipe. This girl is my favorite, and even though we are now separated by six hours of interstate and state lines, she knows me better than anyone. Forget merely finishing each other’s sentences, we don’t even need to verbally communicate because we have mastered the art of the conversation via look, which was quite convenient in class during high school.

  Carolyn and Nika

Therefore, my trip to Atlanta to see Carolyn is the inspiration for today’s recipe. Carolyn introduced me to her avocado, black bean, and corn salsa, and I was hooked. I knew I had to make it as soon as I got home, and I wanted to add my own twist to her mouthwatering recipe- mango, red pepper, and cilantro. Other than those three ingredients, everything is identical to the Chef Carolyn original.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Ingredients
2 avocados
2 tomatoes
1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 mango
½ onion
¼ cup red pepper, chopped
1 lime
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (I used a pomegranate infused one)
Cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
1. Add 1 can of black beans and 1 can of corn to a large bowl
2. Dice 2 avocados, 2 tomatoes, 1 mango, ½ onion, and ¼ cup of red pepper and add to the bowl.
3. Add the juice of 1 freshly squeezed lime and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cilantro (if desired).
5. Mix together well, evenly distributing the ingredients. Eat with chips as a dip, eat it solo as a salad, or use it as a topping! It’s delicious and versatile.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Beans and corn, the base to this delicious concoction.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Add two diced tomatoes. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some organic homegrown tomatoes from my mom’s garden.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Add diced onion. I used ½ of a medium-sized onion, or you could use a whole small onion.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Now things are getting good. Dice two ripe avocados and add to the bowl.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Time to get fruity- dice one ripe mango and add to the salsa.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Finishing touches: add the juice of one freshly squeezed lime, 1 tbsp of pomegranate red wine vinegar, and your cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well for an even distribution of delicious ingredients.

Mango Avocado Salsa

If you can manage the patience to not eat it straight from the bowl (this is the most difficult step of the recipe), plate as desired and garnish with some fresh cilantro.

Mango Avocado Salsa

Turkey Burgers on Gluten Free Buns (Gluten Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free)

Turkey Burger on GF BunI made these tasty little mamacitas the other night from scratch. There’s something about a homemade turkey burger that really hits the spot. My recipe for turkey burgers is simple yet delicious; All you’ll need is some organic ground turkey, red pepper, onion, gluten free panko breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. I incorporate these ingredients together by hand in a large mixing bowl, form them into hockey puck sized patties, and drop the patties into a skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat. I typically cook them 8-10 minutes per side, flipping once.

Turkey Burger on GF Bun

I served these scrumptious turkey patties on a gluten free vegan bun… ohmygosh. I can’t even tell you the last time I had a bun… or any bread for that matter. Bread that is gluten free and vegan is quite hard to find, as most of your typical GF brand breads contain egg (grrr). So, as of recently, the only bread-like products I’ve had have been gluten free wraps that never keep their form and break instantly when you try to roll them and GF vegan waffles. However, I discovered a treasure during my last trip to the Good Foods Co-Op: Schar GF Classic White Rolls…dr_schar_white_rolls

Cue the heavenly music, because these babies were like a shimmering pot of gold at the end of the aisle. Additionally, I purchased some of their multigrain bread, but they also have baguettes (omg), sandwich rolls, ciabatta, deli style bread, and BAGELS. I didn’t see any of the bagels (with flavors such as cinnamon raisin, mmm) at the Co-Op, but I’ll have to take a closer look in the frozen section, because I definitely need to try those. As far as taste, these buns (or “rolls” as Schar calls them) are incredibly delicious and the closest thing I’ve tasted to the “real thing.” I lightly toasted the buns before topping them with my turkey burgers; they’re a little hard to fit into the toaster, but if I lightly flatten the pre-cut rolls with my hand, they’ll glide into my toaster like Cinderella’s slipper.

Turkey Burger on GF Bun

And what would a turkey burger be without some toppings? So I sliced some fresh avocado (can’t go wrong with that green goddess!), sprinkled a pinch of Daiya Pepperjack Cheese, and drizzled some organic ketchup on top. I served this handheld delight with some steamed broccoli and some Kettle cooked BBQ chips to complete the summer grill out ambiance.

Turkey Burger on GF Bun

The burger was melt in your mouth delicious and the gluten free bun was better than the real thing- tasted delicious and actually held its shape without crumbling into a gluten free mess. The avocado was the perfect accent to the savory turkey burger, and the organic ketchup added a lovely bite of acidity to the meal. I could have done without the cheese, even though there was so little on there that I could barely taste it. I used to be a complete cheese addict and cheese snob, but now, especially when it comes to fake cheese, I’m mainly like “meh, no thanks.” Cheese, real, fake, or otherwise, is cool, but do you really need it? Nah. What you need are fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains… just sayin’. Either way, regardless of your opinion on cheese or your favorite toppings, try out these homemade turkey burgers and go find some Schar bread- you won’t be disappointed!

Review of Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen, Lexington, KY

Vinaigrette Vegan Power Salad with Chicken

Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen is a new restaurant off of Leestown Road that describes themselves as a “fast casual salad shop serving fresh gourmet salads.” As the first salad shop of its kind in Lexington, it’s causing quite a stir. My eyes widened in excitement as I heard the announcement of their opening because, as a health-conscious nutritionist that struggles to find restaurant options that are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and mammal-free, salads are my mecca, especially when they’re packed with hearty, fresh ingredients. When I looked at their menu, my heart skipped a beat when I saw their Vegan Power Salad. A restaurant option that doesn’t require me to make a million adjustments to the ingredients and then still worry about any hidden dairy or egg?  I was sold, and I knew I had to make the pilgrimage to this salad mecca.

I ordered the Vegan Power Salad, which consists of spring mix with Napa cabbage, quinoa, chickpeas, carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sweet peppers, roasted sunflower seeds, and edamame. Somewhat ironically, I added grilled chicken to this vegan salad and swapped the salad’s standard Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette for their Blackberry Sorghum Vinaigrette. My mom ordered their Orange Blossom Salad, a mixture of romaine and iceberg mix with Napa cabbage, crispy rice noodles, edamame, snow peas, carrots, and cucumbers with a Honey Orange Sesame Vinaigrette. They also had a tempting assortment of lemonades, including Sweet Baby Watermelon, Blackberry Mint, and Lemon Rosemary.

The Food:
I really enjoyed my salad- the ingredients were really fresh and crisp. I loved the edamame and chickpeas in the Vegan Power Salad- it’s so nice to see some vegan sources of protein out there. Further, I knew I had to order this salad when I saw the quinoa- finally a place in Lexington that uses quinoa in salads! It adds such a great texture to the greens, and it’s a wonderful source of protein and fiber. Additionally, the tomatoes and cucumbers were really tasty! So often restaurants use pathetically pale insipid tomatoes and wimbly, watery cucumbers in their salads; thus, it was refreshing to get some quality ingredients. You really get a lot of salad at Vinaigrette, as they fit a lot of greens and lettuce into those deep metal bowls (which is a cute idea, by the way). I drizzled my salad in their Blackberry Sorghum Vinaigrette, a delightfully rich and smooth dressing with a hint of fruit and sweetness, but not overly saccharine or tangy. I definitely enjoyed this vinaigrette and got a second cup of it to finish off my lettuce (they’ll give you as much dressing as you need). I tried both their Sweet Baby Watermelon and Blackberry Mint lemonades. The Blackberry Mint was pretty good, but, oh my, the Sweet Baby Watermelon… SO GOOD. I could drink that all day. I love the taste of watermelon, and Vinaigrette perfectly captured the delightful sweetness of fresh watermelon in this crisp and refreshing lemonade. Overall, I was very satisfied (both with the taste and quality of the food and also with how the salad satisfied my hunger).

The Atmosphere: 
The interior is quaint and adorably appointed. There is great texture and warmth to the interior: rustic brick, barn wood, metal chairs, wooden tables, subway tile… the interior gets a definite thumbs up from me. However, the seating is almost absurdly minimal- there are three tables, three! I understand they are a new business and pressed for space, but finding a place to sit was a challenge. At lunch time, all of the tables inside were occupied, their tables outside were occupied, the benches were occupied, the tables in front of the neighboring Orange Leaf were occupied, and some people were sitting on stray chairs with their laps. My mom and I, along with several other patrons, had to walk around the corner to the patio of Firehouse Subs to be able to sit down. Not that it’s horribly inconvenient, but it was awkward, as the manager of Firehouse came outside to tell all the Vinaigrette patrons (who stand out with their large metal bowls) that, essentially, we couldn’t sit there but she would let us finish eating before she kicked us off the patio. So be cautious of the lunch rush and consider getting your salad to go if you are planning on trying out Vinaigrette during peak hours. However, the staff of Vinaigrette was exceptionally friendly, upbeat, and helpful. Even when I asked to add chicken to a vegan salad and inquired which of their dressings were gluten free and vegan, they were happy to answer all my questions and definitely added to the warm and inviting atmosphere at Vinaigrette.

The Prices: 
Vegan Power Salad $8.95
Add grilled chicken $3
Orange Blossom Salad $8.95
Seasonal Lemonade $3
Our total for lunch ~$26

The prices are reasonable, but you will pay more than your average quickie salad due to the quality and customizability of the ingredients. If you get a salad, and only a salad, you could scrape out of there for under $10. However, if you want to add any additional toppings, especially proteins, or if you want to indulge in one of their tantalizing lemonades, you could be over $15 for one person. As someone that rarely eats out and always packs her own lunch, it will be more of an occasional treat than a regular occurrence, but it is convenient to find somewhere that prepares healthy food in front of you.

Overall: 
I really enjoyed Vinaigrette- the food, the drinks, the atmosphere, and the business. It’s a little out of my way, but it will definitely be a top contender for future lunch dates! Want to learn more, see more pictures, and see what others have to say? Head on over to their Facebook page.

Note: I received no compensation for this review and purchased my own food. However, I would never be opposed to some complimentary salads or lemonades… you know, for taste-tasting purposes 😉

❤ Nika

WIAW: Fajita Chicken and Veggies Served Over Brown Rice and Quinoa (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free)

Fajita Chicken and Veggies Over Brown Rice and Quinoa

This dish was really simple, but my friend and I enjoyed it quite a bit! I was planning on cooking dinner and thus brought over an assortment of possibilities (I never travel light, clearly). We had already made some homemade guacamole to serve with our chips and salsa, so I decided to carry on the Mexican cuisine theme. I cut up some chicken breasts and sautéed them in olive oil. Once the chicken was cooked, I added a can of roasted tomatoes and half a packet of fajita seasoning (if you buy the pre-made seasoning packets, be sure to get ones that don’t contain wheat!). While the chicken and tomatoes simmered, I sautéed some fresh broccoli, red pepper, green chili pepper, and red onion in some olive oil and added it to the chicken and tomato fajitas. After simmering the entire fajita concoction for several minutes, I served it on top of a bed of brown rice and quinoa and squeezed some fresh lime over the entire thing.

This take on fajitas was simple, easy, yet delicious! I had intended on serving as true fajitas (with tortillas and rice on the side), but I had forgotten to pack my tortillas (I said I never travel light, I never said that it was effective!). Either way, this was quite the tasty and satisfying dish. The chicken and vegetables really ignite with the fajita seasoning, and the splash of fresh lime juice really brings out the taste profile of the dish. I’ve recently become quite addicted to topping things with a splash of freshly squeezed lime juice, it makes everything taste so light, summery, and fresh! ¡Buen apetito!

Meatless Monday: Veggie Tofu Pasta Primavera (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Veggie Tofu Pasta Primavera (Gluten Free, Vegan)

As you all know, I am not completely vegan as I occasionally eat poultry and fish. Thus, I am mammal-free, not meat-free or vegan (I feel I must clarify as this has been an area of debate). The reason for this apparent discrepancy lies in the results of my blood work: I show sensitivities to all animal products except poultry and fish. However, I find chicken (basically the only animal product I do eat) hard to keep on hand. First, I don’t have time to go to the grocery store all the time, especially since the closest grocery store was bulldozed and is undergoing a massive remodel. Second, meat (and all animal products) spoil so quickly. So when I do go grocery shopping, I can’t buy in bulk because I can’t eat that much chicken, and I don’t like to freeze my meat (it’s already been frozen at least once by the time it arrives at the store, further freezing just continues to degrade the texture and taste). Thus, I’ve found myself living a vegan lifestyle recently, somewhat out of laziness and somewhat out of intent.

As much as I’ve loved chicken my entire life, I’ve become a little more ambivalent about it recently. Now, cooking chicken and handling raw chicken has always grossed me out to the utmost degree. All that cold salmonella sliminess… shudder. Ask anyone that’s been around me in the kitchen, I am a raw meat cop: raw chicken on that plate? WASH, SCOLD WITH HOT WATER. Raw chicken touched that? SCOUR. Raw chicken looked in the direction of that cutting board? BURN. Raw chicken possibly dripped on the countertop? CLEAN ALL THE THINGS.

However, recently things have progressed a little further. I’ve become more and more concerned with how cooked the chicken is- if I even think I see a hint of pink, it makes me feel ill, and I can’t eat anymore. I’ve also realized that I always season or sauce the hell out of my chicken… probably because the taste and smell is meat drawerbeginning to strike me the wrong way on certain days. Thus, my refrigerator’s “meat drawer” the past week has not only contained no meat, but also no animal products at all. Instead, mister “meat drawer” is full of tofu and Daiya cheese… the average American would be aghast, I know. I only confirmed this suspicion when I took leftovers of this Veggie Tofu Pasta Primavera to work.

Ohh that smells good. Is that chicken?

“Ohh that smells good. Is that chicken?”

I was looking forward to lunch all day because I knew I had this little Pyrex bowl full of pasta joy, accompanied by an organic Gala apple (naturally) and some sliced and salted garden-grown cucumbers. As I took my delicious bowl of GF vegan heaven out of the microwave, scents of cilantro, garlic, cheese, and savory vegetables filled the air. I set my bowl down with pride as my coworkers asked “mm that smells good, what is that? Chicken?” 

“Nope,” I said with a grin on my face, “the entire thing is gluten free and vegan! It’s gluten free pasta with a tofu and vegetable scramble with zucchini, squash, and carrot….”

"It's gluten free and vegan!!" ......

“It’s gluten free and vegan!!” ……

I trailed on, knowing by the look on their faces that I had lost them at “gluten free and vegan,”and they were definitely not on board with my weirdass hippie shit when I brought up tofu. Thankfully my friend Carolyn reassured me of the deliciousness of my meal when, upon receipt of a picture of my meal, she declared “I’d eat that off the floor.” Funny how uttering one word can have such a ripple effect of fear and distrust…. tofuI whisper into the ears of my enemies as wield my carrot stick, grated into a point, and poised to strike at their slab of deli meat. I am… the veggie avenger. The masked tofurkey. The legend of DaiyaWelcome to the cage match of nutrition, it’s Meatless Monday, bitches!

Veggie Tofu Pasta Primavera (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Gluten-free pasta (I never measure anything, oops, but I’d estimate that I made around 3 cups of Tinkyáda brown rice pasta)
1 inch slice of tofu, crumbled
½ cup grated zucchini
¼ cup grated squash
¼ cup grated carrot
1/8 cup Daiya mozzarella cheese
1 sprig of cilantro
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Paprika
Salt and pepper
Olive Oil

Directions

IMG_2689

1. Bring water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add desired amount of GF pasta and return to a low boil. Cook for 14 minutes, drain, rinse with cold water, and return to heat.

IMG_2690

2. While the pasta is cooking, add 1 inch slice of crumbled tofu, ½ cup grated zucchini, ¼ cup grated squash, and ¼ cup grated carrot to a large skillet coated with olive oil. Season with chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

IMG_2691

3. Stir well and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes.

IMG_2695

4. When both the pasta and tofu-veggie topping are ready, drizzle some olive oil on the cooked pasta and scoop a serving into a bowl.

IMG_2696

5. Add your veggie-tofu scramble topping.

IMG_2699

6. Sprinkle some Daiya mozzarella cheese and a sprig of cilantro on top.

IMG_2701IMG_2702

7. Enjoy! I paired my pasta with some GF vegan garlic onion toast (my imitation of breadsticks) and a glass of red vino! Cheers!