Gluten-Free, Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

What better to accompany your Pumpkin Spice Latte (#PSL) than some protein- and fiber-rich Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix? Loaded with nutritious nuts, crispy cereal and oats, and chewy apples, this is the perfect fall snack at work, before the gym, or anytime you need a little pick me up. Also, with Halloween rapidly approaching this Friday, this trail mix is a great party treat that offers a more nutritionally, texturally, and gustatorily complex update on the classic party Chex Mix.

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

Ingredients
1 ½ cup Cinnamon Chex
1 cup Honey Nut Chex
½ cup Brown Rice Crisp cereal (I used plain, no salt added)
½ cup GF granola (I used Love Grown’s Simply Oats)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup walnut pieces
½ cup pecan pieces
½ cup pistachios
¼ cup almonds
½ cup of dried apples
¼ cup vegan Earth Balance
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp vanilla

Directions

1. Combine cereals and nuts in a large, microwave-safe bowl.
2. Add ¼ cup of Earth Balance to a separate microwave safe bowl and microwave for about 40 seconds or until melted.
3. Add 2 tsp of vanilla, ¼ cup brown sugar, and 1 tbsp pumpkin pie spice to Earth Balance and stir well.
4. Pour liquid mixture over trail mix.
5. Microwave for 5 minutes, stirring every minute.

Gluten Free Vegan Pumpkin Spice Trail Mix

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Snickity Snacks: Nika’s Favorite Gluten-Free, Vegan Snacks

A snickity snack. A mid-day nom. A tid bit to tide you through. A morsel make your stomach stop grumbling. We all need them, whether it be the mid-morning munchies, the mid-afternoon hump, the pre-workout pump up, or the post-workout recovery. Some equate “snacks” with diet mishaps, a bingeful bag of chips gone in one sitting. Snacks are not diet disasters; in fact, they are essential to staying on track with your healthy lifestyle. However, choosing healthy snacks is crucial for keeping these mini-meals from turning into mishaps full of wasted calories, waistful calories. Snacks can be an excellent opportunity to fit some extra protein into your day or to squeeze in another serving of fruits and vegetables. Today I’ll be sharing with you some of my favorite healthy snacks!

Step one, cover everything in almond butter

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Apple slices and almond butter

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Banana and almond butter

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One slice of gluten free or whole grain bread topped with almond butter and ½ of a banana

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Gluten free or whole grain crackers with almond butter

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Plain rice cake with almond butter and banana slices

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Sliced apple, dipped in almond butter, and rolled in granola

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½ banana, covered in almond butter, and rolled in granola

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½ banana, covered in almond butter, rolled in vegan chocolate chips

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Baby carrots with almond butter

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Celery with almond butter and raisins (or dried blueberries, cherries, etc). Although, most of you know my hatred for celery.

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Whole grain tortilla and 1 tbsp of almond butter wrapped around a banana, slice into bite-sized pieces

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Literally anything + almond butter is delicious

Step two, cover everything in hummus

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– Baby carrots with hummus
– Celery with hummus
– Raw broccoli and cauliflower with hummus
– Sugar snap peas with hummus
– Cherry tomatoes with hummus
– Gluten free or whole grain crackers with hummus
– Gluten free or whole grain pretzels with hummus

Step three, get fruity

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Fresh fruit makes a quick and easy snack. Grab any of the following: apple, banana, peach, orange, or a sprig of grapes.

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Fresh fruit cup. This is one of my work lunch favorites, and it makes a great dessert. I’ll cut up an apple and some strawberries and toss with some blueberries, raspberries, and whatever else I may have on hand (some sliced banana, peaches, kiwi, etc). Usually I eat it plain, or you can top it with some granola.

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Frozen grapes- this makes a great snack or dessert, especially on a hot day. Wash fresh grapes and put them in the freezer for several hours, and they will turn into refreshing mini fruit pops.

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Fruit parfait- choose your desired vegan yogurt (in my opinion, soy is the best tasting out of soy, almond, and coconut) or Greek yogurt if you are not dairy free. If you can, choose Greek yogurt with minimal additives and sugars, as Greek yogurt contains much higher amounts of protein and beneficials probiotics. Top yogurt with your favorite add-ons: fresh cut fruit, nuts, gluten-free granola, vegan chocolate chips… whatever tickles your fancy!

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Fruit protein smoothie: see my classic smoothie recipe here. Choose your favorite frozen fruits, toss in a banana, sprinkle a scoop of plant-based vegan protein powder (Plant Fusion is my favorite), add some organic 100% apple juice, and blend.

Step Four, get salty and savory

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Chocolate Almond Butter Cookie Smoothie (recipe here): almond butter, almond milk, a banana, some cookies and cream vegan protein powder and you’ve got yourself a sweet and savory protein smoothie. Need an extra kick? Add some coffee to turn this into a mocha frappuccino with a protein punch.

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Protein bars/granola bars: Out of all the gluten-free, vegan protein bars out there right now, my favorite is probably the Strong and Kind bar. They taste delicious, have a short (and pronounceable) list of ingredients, and have only 6g of sugar and 230 calories for 10g of protein (whereas other protein bars have upwards of 17-20g of sugar and a laundry list of less-than-basic ingredients). I also like the Pro Bar Core bars (review here) and the Bonk Breakers (review here).

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Trail mix: Trail mix is probably my favorite snack right now, especially for a protein boost before my afternoon workout. My current mix includes: almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, gluten free granola, raisins, dried blueberries, dried plums, dried apples, and vegan chocolate chips.

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10 tortilla chips + salsa, hummus, or guacamole

These are a few of my favorite things… let me know what your favorite healthy gluten-free, vegan snack is! ❤ Nika

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

‘Tis the season for Pumpkin Spice- or is it?

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Fall is officially here, which means gratuitous amounts of Pumpkin Spice paraphernalia is coming (also, winter is coming… But please, let’s not talk about that yet). The Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte has such a cult following that it even has an abbreviation (PSL) and countless Tumblr pages dedicated to capturing the fall-tastic essence of the PSL and various other fall things “white girls love.” Since I’m a Starbucks-drinking, Michael Kors-toting, legging and riding boot-wearing basic white girl, I thought I would embrace my inner basic bitch and indulge in the PSL. Turns out I’m not as basic as I thought- I found the PSL to be mostly hype.

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Gasp. I know, how dare I insult the Pumpkin Spice Life (err… I mean “latte”). I just wasn’t blown away by it- the flavor was meh, and I find most Starbucks seasonal drinks to be far too sugary for my liking. Plus, everyone knows that the Peppermint Mocha is the Queen Bey of seasonal lattes (even though it, too, becomes too sweet for me).

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So what’s a girl to do to get her fall swag on? Fear not, for there is a year-round solution to feed your latte addiction: the cinnamon dolcé latte… A skinny cinnamon dolcé latte with soy milk, to be exact. I’ve already blogged once before about the wonders of the cinnamon dolcé latte (CDL?). Not only does the soy CDL taste better, it contains much less calories and sugar (140 calories and 13g sugar for a grande soy CDL vs 310 calories and 48g in a grande soy PSL). Even more horrifying, if you don’t order your PSL with soy/nonfat milk and you indulge in whipped cream, you’re looking at 380 calories in your white and green cup. Too many of those and you’ll really begin to question if legging as pants is a good idea.

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So enjoy fall- pick pumpkins, wear riding boots and leggings, throw on that J.Crew blazer, rock a chunky scarf, whip out your cashmere tech gloves, but don’t fall victim to the PSL life. This has been a PSA against PSL by the Cinnamon Dolcé Coalition against Lumpy Legging Butt (CDC against LLB? Has a nice ring to it).

❤ Nika

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Mango Lime Guacamole Recipe (Gluten-Free, Vegan)

Mango Lime Guacamole

Sometimes the best creations come from a simple spark, a spur of the moment thought that ignites into creation. Quite often I enter the kitchen with no real plan, like an artist approaching an easel with no image in mind. I’ll stop, take a deep breath, and look out upon all the ingredients at my disposal- fruits and veggies poised like nature’s vibrant paints. Last night, I scanned the fruit bowl on my counter and spotted avocados and mangos that needed to be eaten quickly before the damn gnats creep in and take over. Hmm, avocados… well, guacamole, obvi. I love guacamole… Maybe I’ll do a whole Mexican theme tonight. But what about the mangos? I love mango salsa.. but don’t have any tomatoes. What about… mango guacamole? I consulted my fellow guacamole-loving friend, who was doubtful and, at best, ambivalent of this combination. I just nodded my head saying, no, no trust me on this. This is legit, I think this exists. Spoiler alert: it does exist, and it’s delicious.

Mango Lime Guacamole

Two avocados halved with the seed removed. I’ve found that the best way to remove avocados from their pesky shell and pit is to cut them straight down longitudinally (top to bottom) until you hit the pit. Next, twist the two halves until they separate, and one half will contain the pit. Pop the pit out. Lastly, if your avocado is ripe (like mine were), you can just peel off the skin, which is nice because you don’t have to deal with any fancy knife work.

Mango Lime Guacamole

Peppers and onion and avocados, oh my. I love to take pictures of my guacamole (or whatever dish I’m making) before I mash up all the ingredients because you can really see all the beautiful, vibrant colors.

Mango Lime Guacamole

 

Ingredients 
2 ripe avocados
1 ripe mango
⅓ cup diced red pepper
¼ cup diced onion
1 tbsp diced Anaheim pepper
Juice of ¼ lime
1 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Cut two ripe avocado and remove the seed. Add to bowl.
2. Dice ⅓ cup red pepper, ¼ cup onion, and 1 tbsp of Anaheim pepper and add to avocado.
3. Season with desired amount of salt and pepper.
4. Using a fork, mash the avocado and mix in the peppers.
5. Skin, slice, and dice one ripe mango. Add to the guacamole.
5. Add your tablespoon of cilantro and squeeze ¼ of fresh lime over the guacamole. Mix again to incorporate the mango, cilantro, and lime.
6. Serve with tortilla chips, gluten free crackers, raw veggies, or as a compliment to your entrée!

Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Espresso Protein Bar Recipe

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Holy espresso chip batman, these bars are amazeballs and contain 10g of protein and 4.5g of fiber for only 245 calories and 4g of sugar! I dare you to find a comparable protein bar in the store (spoiler: you won’t. They are all loaded with sugar.) Plus, the majority of the fats in this bar are healthy unsaturated fats (think omega-3s, polyunsats, and monounsats!) from heart-healthy nuts, seeds, and oats.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Nutrition LabelI just… I don’t even know how to begin to transcribe the taste of these slices of heaven. Should I start with the gooey, rich chocolate? Or perhaps the way the taste of espresso permeates the dense oats? Or maybe I should begin by describing the way that chopped walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds add an airy crunch to the multifaceted texture of these bars? Or how the hints of cinnamon unite chocolate chips and freshly ground coffee in mocha paradise? It’s like a Bonk Breaker Espresso Chip Bar… but better. Chewy oats, crunchy nuts and seeds, rich chocolate, and smooth espresso. Earthy, grainy, sweet, savory. It’s a granola, it’s a protein bar, it’s a dessert, it’s an edible mocha latté, it’s a powerhouse of nutrition, it’s…. the Gluten-Free, Vegan Chocolate Espresso Protein Bar.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Ingredients
2 cup gluten free rolled oats
¼ cup brown rice flour
2 tbsp chia seeds
3 tbsp flax seeds
¼ tsp sea salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup Plant Fusion Cookies n Creme Protein Powder
3 tbsp ground coffee
1 tsp brown sugar
¾ cup unsweetened plain almond milk
¼ cup epsresso almond butter
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup vegan chocolate chips

Serving Size: ~12 bars

Time: 10-15 minutes prep, 25 minutes baking at 350ºF

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. In a large bowl, combine your dry ingredients: rolled oats, brown rice flour, chia seeds, flax seeds, sea salt, cinnamon, protein powder, ground coffee, and brown sugar. Mix well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine your wet ingredients: almond milk, almond butter, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Whisk well until almond butter incorporates with maple syrup and milk, forming a lovely, gooey almond butter syrup.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Fold in ½ cup of vegan chocolate chips.
5. Line a medium-sized baking pan with parchment paper. Using a large spoon, scrape the bar “batter” into the pan and spread out evenly using the back of the spoon.
6. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes. Chocolate should be melty, oats should be lightly toasted, and the bars should be firm yet springy to the touch.
7. Let cool for 10 minutes, remove the slab o’ protein bars from the baking pan and place on a cooling rack for at least another 10 minutes. Be sure the bars have cooled before cutting to ensure that the bars won’t break or crumble when cut. Cut into desired number of bars (I divided my slab into 12 bars).

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)Organic Flax Seeds and Chia SeedsBrown Rice Syrup

Start by measuring your dry ingredients- 2 cups of certified gluten free rolled oats, 2 tbsp chia seeds, 3 tbsp flax seeds, ¼ cup of brown rice flour, 3 tbsp of ground coffee beans, ¼  tsp sea salt, 1 tsp brown sugar, and 1 tsp cinnamon.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Add dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl.

Chopped Walnuts

Measure 1 cup of walnuts and briefly place them into a food processor or chop them by hand. Add to the other dry ingredients.

Plant Fusion Protein Powder

Grab your favorite protein powder. I used 2 scoops (roughly ½ cup) of Plant Fusion’s Cookies and Creme protein powder- this is my absolute favorite brand of plant-based protein, and it tastes divine. Plant Fusion is rich with plant-based protein complete with all essential amino acids provided by quinoa, amaranth, yellow peas, and globe artichoke. This protein powder contains Bromelain and Alpha-Galactosidase, which aids digestion (no more bloated protein belly!). Plus, the cookies and creme flavor really added an extra hint of chocolate and creaminess.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Mix together all the dry ingredients in your large bowl.

Almond Butter Silk Almond Milk

Now, onto the wet ingredients: ¾ cup unsweetened plain almond milk, ¼ cup of almond butter, ¼ cup of maple syrup, and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract. I found a miraculous treat at the Co-Op the other day- Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter… I couldn’t believe my eyes. With coffee grounds swirled in rich almond butter, it was the perfect addition to these Chocolate Chip Espresso bars. However, you can use whatever almond butter you have on hand, as this delight is a tough find! My favorite almond butter is Justin’s Honey Almond Butter, mmm. You can use any plant-based milk you prefer, but I enjoy almond milk the most, particularly Silk’s unsweetened original- tastes the best and has the least amount of sugar.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Combine all of your wet ingredients and whisk or mix by hand until the almond butter thins out in the maple syrup and forms a fluid yet viscous glue for your protein bars.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients. Mix by hand very well to ensure all the oats and flour are incorporated into the bar batter.

Vegan Chocolate Chips Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Grab ½ cup of your favorite vegan chocolate chips and fold into your batter. I used these Chocolate Dream Semi-Sweet baking chips, and they were a rich, gooey, and delightfully melty addition to my protein bars!

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Using a large spoon or spatula, spread your bar batter into a baking pan lined with parchment paper and spread out evenly.

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan) Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Bake for 25 minutes at 350ºF. Remove, take a big whiff of the oaty cinnamony, vanilla-y mocha magic. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Remove the slab from the pan and cool on a cooling rack for another 10-15 minutes (this will help prevent your bars from cracking or crumbling when you cut them). Cut your slab into your desired number/size of power protein bars!

Chocolate Chip Espresso Protein Bar (Gluten Free Vegan)

Sample one… just one… Close your eyes and savor this delicious creation full of protein, fiber, and omega-3s . They’re delicious, but they’re so filling that they keep you from going crazy and chowing down! I ate one bar and was satisfied for hours! And, now, let us commence the gallery of food porn…

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

ohmygosh, this might possibly be the best thing I’ve made this year. It’s been hard to decide on a name for these little veggie babies because I’ve been so busy reminiscing over their taste and adorable little patty shape, but I think I’ve decided on “Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters.” Although these babies (I keep calling them that, that’s how much I love them) are chock full of vegetables, I really wanted to put the spotlight on the zucchini for two reasons: 1. I used to love zucchini, but I got completely burned out on it and haven’t cooked with it in over a year, 2. Rob’s mom gave me a lovely (and humongous!) zucchini that she grew in her garden.

Her zucchini was literally the size of my arm, and I held onto it for several days trying to decide how on earth I was going to do this veritable vegetal behemoth justice. My mom, the woman to whom I credit my crafty cooking capabilities, suggested zucchini patties. Um, yes. I don’t know why, but I go crazy for tiny foods: patties, nuggets, fries… These delicate little morsels beckon for toppings and condiments (another one of my passions). Furthermore, their petite size encourages a crispy coating, which is my weakness. I am a sucker for some crisp, a crunch, a bite to precede my chew. I think that’s why I enjoy potato products (chips, fries, home fries, etc), because they develop that lovely, brown crisp, and I am addicted to crunch! For this reason, I couldn’t let the zucchini be lonely without some other veggie friends… okay, shhh. Don’t tell da zucch, but I really was not concerned for his well-being. I really hate how watery and soggy zucchini can get- in fact, that’s why I’ve avoided it for a year. So I needed some heartier comrades to support mr. zucch, give the fritters some structure, and counteract some of that sogginess to achieve DAT CRISP. And, by golly, I’ve done it.

Now I can’t end this introduction without mentioning the top hat for these fritter babies- chunky guacamole. My friend recently turned me on to homemade guacamole, and now I’m hooked. It’s personal preference, but I like to make my guac chunky, filled with delicious peppers, onions, tomatoes… and don’t forget the lime!

Seriously though, I am in love with these fritters. They take some work (all of the grating creates a bit of a mess, and I sustained a battle wound), but ooooh my are they delicious AND insanely healthy. Gluten free, vegan, soy free, nut free, and made almost entirely of vegetables (garden-grown ones at that!). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to share these with anyone, so I instead crouched over my plate of fritter babies and whispered “my precious” as I ate them all (over the course of two days… I’m not completely crazy).

Garden Veggie Fritters
¾ cup garden zucchini, grated
½ cup garden squash, grated
¼ cup carrot, grated
½ cup potato, grated
¼ cup red pepper, diced
1/8 cup red onion, diced
1 EnerG Egg Replacer (1 ½  tsp “egg” + 2 tbsp warm water)
½ cup Ians Gluten Free Panko Breadcrumbs
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Olive oil (to coat skillet)

Chunky Guacamole 
1 avocado
1/8 cup red pepper, diced
1 tbsp garden green chili pepper, diced
1/8 cup tomato, diced
1/8 cup red onion, diced
Juice of ¼ fresh lime, squeezed
1 sprig cilantro, for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

1. Grab your washed veggies and your trusty grater.

Grater Injury

2. Remind yourself to not get overzealous with your grating and shave your hand off… like Nika may or may not have done…

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

3. Grate ¾ cup garden zucchini, ½ cup garden squash, ¼ cup carrot, and ½ cup potato. Add to a large bowl. Admire how pretty it looks.

4. Dice ¼ cup red pepper and 1/8 cup red onion and add to the bowl.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

5. Make your EnerG Egg by mixing 1 ½ tsp EnerG with 2 tbsp of warm water until completely dissolved.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

6. Add the “egg” and ½ cup of Panko breadcrumbs to the bowl.

7. Mix all the ingredients together by hand.

8. Add olive oil to a large skillet and warm the oil on medium high heat.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

9. As the oil is heating, form your veggie fritters by packing together the ingredients into patty cakes. Place into hot oil.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan) Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

10. I cooked these babies for approximately 10 minutes each side. Make sure the first side is browned before you flip them over so they don’t fall apart. The time depends on the thickness of your patties, but you want to make sure that a crispy brown coating has formed on both sides. In my opinion, it’s better to overcook them in order to try to dry out the watery garden vegetables. Some of my patties looked a little burned/over-crisped on one side, but they tasted even better (just extra crunch, no burn taste).

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

11. While your veggie fritters are cooking, cut up one avocado and place into a bowl.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

12. Cut up 1/4 cup red pepper, 1 tbsp garden green chili pepper, ¼ cup tomato, and 1/8 cup red onion and add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

13. Mash the avocado with a spoon and fold the ingredients into the avocado.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan) Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

14. Top with a couple sprigs of cilantro and the freshly squeezed juice of ¼ of a lime.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

15. Once your fritters are nice and crispy, remove from heat and plate ’em.

Garden Zucchini Veggie Fritters with Chunky Guacamole (Gluten Free, Vegan)

16. Top with guacamole and try not to pass out from a delicious veggie OD.

These little babies are best fresh (obvi), but I refrigerated them ate them the following day and they were still delicious. I reheated them by tossing them back into a skillet with some e.v.o.o. so they would still retain their crunch. You could microwave them, but you would lose your crispy coating and it might encourage the zucchini and squash to get soggy. Regardless, this is the best damn thing I’ve ate this month… maybe even this year.

❤ Nika

 

 

 

Kutoa Chocolate Banana Bar Review

The last time I ventured to Whole Foods, I discovered a new gluten free, vegan bar: the KUTOA Bar (kew-toa, ko-toa, ku-toah?). I may not know how to pronounce Swahili, but I do know that this bar has good intentions. Not only are these bars constructed from natural, non-GMO ingredients, this bar has a social and public health cause in mind- for every bar you buy, they will feed a child in need.

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Whenever you buy one of their full-size bars or kids squares, they will give mironutrient packs, nut packs, KUTOA bars, or healthy sandwiches to children in need in the US, developing countries, and globally.

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Whenever I find a new gluten free, vegan bar, I can’t refuse slipping it into my cart; therefore, I couldn’t resist trying this alimentary version of Tom’s Shoes, especially with flavors like Chocolate Banana and Blueberry Almond.

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You can read more about their cause and their products on their website, but now let’s get to the part you really want to hear- how does it taste?!

Although I’m reviewing the Chocolate Banana flavor here (which is the flavor I was the most excited about), I tried the Blueberry Almond bar first and loved it. The chocolate flavor in this bar is great, but the banana is a little off to me. It tastes a little too ripe and mushy, almost like a babyhood banana purée. The bar is a little softer and mushier than the Blueberry Almond bar, so there is not as much of a rice crunch crisp present (which I really enjoy, I like a little crisp!). The chocolate has a great taste and melts perfectly in your mouth, but the banana really doesn’t measure up for me. The off-taste (for me) is likely due to the date paste, which is listed above bananas in the ingredients (ironically). I often steer away from bars with ingredients heavy in dates because, although they have great nutritional value and add natural sweetness, I often find bars with dates to be overly saccharine in taste and to have an odd, mushy mouthfeel. That’s totally personal preference, so if you enjoy LaraBars (which are also heavy in dates), you might love the Chocolate Banana, but I think I will stick with the Blueberry Almond KUTOA bars to get that nice, airy crispy crunch! After perusing their website, I discovered they also have a Chocolate Espresso flavor that sounds divine, but my Whole Foods unfortunately doesn’t carry this flavor. (Cough cough for anyone who can find one and wants to send one my way! 😉 )

This bar contains 7g of protein and 3g of fiber, so it has some nutritional worth… until you scan down to the sugar content: 22g of sugar!! Most GF vegan bars you can find are around 12-17g of sugar (which is already high enough), so I was shocked (and preparing for a sugar coma) when I saw that this KUTOA bar contained a full 22g of sugar. Despite the high sugar content, the ingredients are natural and the bar contains lots of chia and flax seeds to pack a 200mg omega-3 punch.

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The verdict: The bar wasn’t terrible, but I much prefer the Blueberry Almond flavor. I won’t be purchasing this flavor again, but it hasn’t deterred me from trying their other options, especially if I can get my hands on the Chocolate Espresso flavor! Until then, I guess I will continue to eat my Espresso Chip Bonk Breaker Bar!

Review: Bonk Breaker Espresso Chip Protein Bar

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I first discovered these Bonk Breaker bars in a Whole Foods in Los Angeles last summer. At that point, the GF vegan market in Lexington was rather pathetic, especially in terms of protein bars. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I approached a shelf containing not just one bar that I could eat, but several. Having options in a world full of limited options is an intoxicating feeling… and one that leads to you buying $50 in protein and granola bars… I had been looking for a replacement for Clif Bars, which used to be my addiction. They’re delicious, but I don’t trust them to be GF and dairy free. Enter the Bonk Breaker bar.

There are several flavors of Bonk Breakers, but many of them contain peanuts, so that limits my options some. My favorite in this selection is the Espresso Chip, delicious chocolatey coffee heaven. I love to have this bar in the morning if I don’t have time to eat breakfast before I leave for work. The bar actually contains caffeine! So it’s a great bar to help get you going in the morning. This bar has the gritty texture of ground expresso beans complemented by chunks of mocha chocolate. The gritty crunchiness of the espresso helps mask the taste and texture of the protein powder. The Espresso Chip flavor is less dry than their other flavors (the bars definitely benefit from a liquid companion. Naturally, I like to pair the Espresso Chip with… more coffee!!!). The taste is almost like a coffee cake- flavors of chocolate, mocha, espresso, granola… These tastes intensify as you chew, further grinding up the espresso chips.

The only downside to this bar is that it is quite petite; however, it is filling for its size. Unfortunately, it only contains 7g of protein, which is clearly surpassed by the 20g contained in the PROBAR Core Chocolate Mint bar that I reviewed the other day, which is probably my new favorite GF Vegan protein bar for pre-workouts. The Espresso Chip is still my pick for a quick breakfast on the go.