Sunday Morning Breakfast: Carrot Cake Muffins with Melting Coconut-Almond Icing

I woke up before the sun this morning to “Say a Prayer” by Aretha Franklin. I couldn’t help but be in a good mood.  I really feel like I have my life together when 1. I wake up to Aretha, and 2. I wake up as she sings “From the  moment I wake up…”

I read some of The Simple Path by Mother Teresa and how Jacob moved his whole life (again) to Egypt because he heard Joseph was alive.

I drank too much coffee and stared longer than I had time for out the window at the birds chasing each other and singing their Sunday song.  There’s not as much of that in a courtyard of concrete as there was in the tree-laden hills of Arkansas.

In these practices, my heart was quieted in the first few moments of daylight, and it was a true Sunday morning–baptizing, sacred, familiar, new.

After my first few Sunday morning rituals, I got up from my comfy couch nook, turned on the Sara Groves Pandora station and began making breakfast.

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A few weeks ago, I made zucchini bread, and I have made it a few times since. A few days ago, I accidentally put twice as much maple syrup in the batter and couldn’t figure out why the bread wouldn’t solidify. Then I realized my mistake and accepted that it was my brain telling me to eat more maple syrup. That had to be it. I accept, brain. You’re right.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before my obsession with the 5-lb. bag of carrots at Whole Foods. 5 lbs of organic carrots for less than $5, people! I don’t think Whole Foods has realized what it’s doing.

So I’ve been trying to find more ways of incorporating carrots in our diet because I’m not a huge fan of raw carrots or steamed carrots, which I realize is ironic. But 5 lbs of carrots for less than $5!  You can’t pass that up.

I found a vegan carrot cake muffin recipe, and I tweaked it to make it oil-free and smothered in coconut cream.

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The coconut cream is not true icing in that it doesn’t harden or even stay on top of the muffin. Once it hits a warm muffin, it begins to surrender to the carrot cake muffin and melt into happiness. It’s a celebration of vegetables and cream.  It’s a symbol of what happens to my cells as carrots enter swimming in coconut cream–they surrender, they accept.

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Carrot Cake Muffins with Melting Coconut-Almond Icing
Adapted from Beth’s recipe at Tasty Yummies
Makes 12 muffins

Muffin Ingredients:
2 c. oat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 flax eggs (2 tbs. ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp. water mixed together)
1/4 c. pureed pumpkin
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. raisins
1 c. shredded carrot

Icing Ingredients:
2 5.4-oz. cans of coconut cream*
3 tbsp. maple syrup
Handful of roasted almonds, ground

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare flax eggs and set aside while you mix other ingredients together.

Combine first four ingredients in a big bowl. Then add coconut.

Mix wet ingredients, including flax eggs, in a separate bowl until completely blended.

Combine dry and wet ingredients and stir until blended. Add walnuts, raisins, and carrots.

Scoop into muffin pan and cook for 25 minutes.

While muffins are cooking, ground almonds and maple syrup together.

Scoop coconut cream (make sure you don’t scoop out coconut water) into a bowl. Add almond and maple syrup mixture. Whisk together until completely blended.

Once muffins are done, let cool in pan for a few minutes. Then take them out and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Smooth icing** on top of the muffins and feed to groggy husbands.

*For best results, refrigerate the coconut cream the night before.

**Because of the nature of the coconut cream, the icing will melt a little bit over your muffin. If you don’t want that, don’t add the icing.

How do you get more vegetables into your diet?

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For Those Who Don’t Know Where to Start

I poured the maple syrup into the mix and wondered if I needed a banana. “Nah, I thought. It’ll be fine.” Then I grabbed my whole wheat pastry flour from the top shelf and nearly dropped it. After my heart stopped threatening to beat out of my chest, I measured the flour out and added it to my mix.

When I was whisking the flax and water together, I made a mental note to add pumpkin puree to the recipe next time, and maybe some chocolate chips. For now, the cinnamon and nutmeg would be a nice touch.

As I popped the bread in the oven, I realized that I had just made a completely plant-strong breakfast bread without stopping to think about equivalents or despair over the lack of eggs. I just functioned out of what I knew and acted like a normal person (for a while, I felt like a complete weirdo making recipes because I was trying new things).  When I took the first bite of my zucchini bread, I thanked God for how far I’ve come in my knowledge of food on journey to better health.

I shared last week my fumbles in the kitchen when we were transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, and I want to be clear that I still have fumbles. I’m always learning new things about food, but the best thing I’ve learned is this:

Know your food. Knowledge is power.

The key to experimenting with food and venturing our of your comfort zone (goodbye bean soup every week) is to get to know your food. It’s so important to know flavors (Mexican vs. Italian, for example), and what certain foods can do.

I thought I’d share some of the insight to food that we’ve gained over the past two years that might be helpful for those who don’t know where to start. This is not an exhaustive list of knowledge, but it is a place to start.

Bananas, Avocados, and Pumpkin Puree
Bananas act as butter and eggs for a lot of meals. One large banana mashed is about two eggs. For a butter equivalent, if the recipe calls for 1/4 c. butter, add that much mashed banana. It’s important to note that if a recipe calls for eggs and butter, don’t use bananas for both. You’ll get a weird, sticky consistency, and it may not work depending on what you’re making. For recipes that call for both, use a flax egg for the egg, and the banana for the butter (if it’s a sweet recipe).

Pumpkin puree makes things fluffier than bananas. It’s used the same way as bananas when measuring it into a recipe. The only downside to using puree is that it makes your dish taste like pumpkin. I personally never see this as a downside; however, I realize that not everyone wants pumpkin everything. I don’t know who you people are, but I’m praying for you.

Avocados share this same butter quality, but they give a cake consistency to breads (which is not a bad thing!). Avocados work well for things you don’t mind turning green (like cornbread) and for saltier foods. I once made avocado cornbread for a small group potluck, and I had people grabbing pieces of cornbread out of my pan as I was trying to leave that night because it was so good. Perhaps I’ll share that recipe soon!

Obviously, bananas and pumpkin work better with breads and dessert foods.

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Nutritional yeast
I’m still learning everything I can do with this food. I use it mostly to thicken my sauces and to give a cheesy flavor to dishes like pesto and nut cheeses.

Nutritional yeast does have a flavor, so you will want to try it out on pasta sauces and pestos before throwing it into everything. I also add it mashed avocado with a little lemon juice to make a hearty sandwich spread.

You can get this in the bulk section of nearly every healthy food store.

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Soy milk
If you’re making a baked good that requires milk (pancakes, cookies, etc.), I’ve found that soy milk works the best because it has the thickest, milkiest quality.

Almond milk tends to be watery, so I try to avoid using it. It’s fine for things like pancake; but other bread recipes will not hold up as well if almond milk is used.

Coconut milk works well, but it has an oily quality that might affect food. It’s really hard to find pure coconut milk without added ingredients (such as carrageenan). Whole Foods sells some expensive coconut almond milks that don’t have added ingredients. But it’s much cheaper to make your own!

For any milk, we buy the unsweetened kind because we don’t want added sugar.

Tofu
I’m dedicating an entire post to this because there is so much to tofu. Be looking for it next week!

Flour
I have certainly not tried every flour out there, so I’m going to make that clear before I proceed.  I want to share the flours I use most often.

Whole wheat flour (for gluten-friendly friends) is great for many things if it’s used in combination with another, lighter type of flour. It makes things really dense when used as the only flour, so I have found it’s best to pair it up with another kind of flour.  Too many dense pizza crusts made me realize the error of my ways.

My favorite flour of all time is whole wheat pastry flour. It’s lighter and gives breads a great consistency. This is sold at Whole Foods and most healthy food stores.

Oat flour is so easy to make (just grind oats), but you can also buy it. This is a great alternative to whole wheat pastry flour in most recipes.

I’ve tried other flours such as spelt, almond, and barley, but I haven’t used them enough to form a solid opinion on them.

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(oat flour)

Flaxseed Meal
You can find this at almost any store. Bob’s Red Mill brand is sold at Walmart, so flaxseed meal is sold pretty much everywhere.

Flaxseed has fiber and protein, and it’s a great addition to cereals, breads, bars, burgers, etc. for added nutrition. It’s better to use ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal) rather than whole flax seeds because ground flaxseed is easier for your body to digest. Also, whole flax seeds may pass through your system undigested, which means you don’t get any of the nutrients. See this article for more information.

You can make a flax egg by mixing 1 tbs. flax with 3 tbs. water. Let it sit for a few minutes so that it can bind together. Then use it as an egg in your baked goods!

I also add a few tablespoons to flax to any bread recipe (muffins, pancakes, etc.) because it gives the bread more fluff. And who doesn’t like fluffy bread?

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I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on, but these tricks have saved me so much time in the kitchen!

What are you tricks in the kitchen?

Mean Green Enchiladas

I can’t tell you the last time I took TUMS. To truly understand how remarkable this is, you have to know that JD and I used to take TUMS nearly every night in our pre-plant-strong days. Meat is naturally very acidic, and on top of the processed, oily meals we were eating, our stomachs were battlefields.

I took TUMS for heartburn, acid reflux, and sour stomach regularly–even when we were eating “healthy.” In addition to TUMS, JD was on medication for acid reflux and couldn’t drink coffee or eat anything with tomatoes in it.

Do you know how hard it is to make chili, tacos, pasta, curry, etc. without tomatoes? We actually had arguments about adding tomatoes to a meal. But that’s not relevant to my story.

Since completely transitioning to a plant-strong diet, our life is vastly different. JD and I are completely off medication, and we haven’t had to worry about acid reflux for nearly a year. I literally cannot remember the last time I had a stomachache. I mean, I grew up thinking stomachaches were a normal part of your day. And now I can’t remember the last time I had one. That is crazy!

For so many reasons we are plant-strong, but this a big reason. Food is not a point of contention in our lives. It doesn’t cause turmoil inside our intestines, we don’t lay around feeling miserable, and we are not longer dependent on medication. It’s liberating.

I preface this recipe with that story because I still have some tricks up my sleeve from those no-tomato days, including these Mean Green Enchiladas. You can check out my Kale and Sweet Potato Enchiladas here, but if you’re wanting some green goodness for dinner, this is a simple, mouth-watering recipe.

Don’t be deterred by the amount of ingredients–you probably have quite a few of these in your pantry already. With prep and cook time, it takes about 45-50 minutes to make, which makes for a great weekday meal.

The sauce is what makes this recipe, so make it your own with extra cilantro, more lime, or less salt.  You can substitute ingredients to fit your needs and preferences such as spinach for kale, wheat tortillas for corn tortillas, kidney beans for black beans, etc.

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Mean Green Enchiladas
Serves 6-8 (1 serving is 3-4 enchiladas!)

Sauce ingredients:
1/2 c. water
3 avocadoes
28-oz. can tomatillos, drained
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro
Juice from 1/2 a lime
Handful of pickled jalapenos
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pepper

Filling ingredients:
1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced
2 cans black beans, drained
1 c. sweet corn
2 c. kale (I used frozen), chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. tomatillo salsa
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder

Small tortillas (I used white corn this time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend all sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth. Add avocadoes if it’s too liquid-y, water if it’s too thick. Set aside.

Add all filling ingredients except salt, cilantro, and salsa to a skillet with a little bit of vegetable broth and saute until mushrooms and kale are wilted. Then add salt, cilantro, and salsa.

Scoop about 1/4 c. filling mixture in a tortilla and roll up, placing the two flaps on the bottom into a 13×9 pan. Continue until pan is filled up.  I used two large pans for this recipe.

Pour green sauce generously over tortillas and use a spoon to spread sauce over edges of tortilla. The sauce keeps the tortillas from getting hard and chewy.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Enjoy!

How do you fight acid reflux?

Staple Foods: A Story about Humility

I’ve mentioned before the sticky veggies and rice we ate our first year of marriage like it was a thing of the past…but that dish made an encore appearance the first few months of our transition to a plant-strong diet as well. This is a story about humility.

When we made the final step into the plant-based world, I wasn’t quite sure what most of the ingredients were in the recipes I looked up: nutritional yeast, liquid aminos (liquid what?), fennel, chia seeds, etc. So instead of mustering my courage to ask a nice Whole Foods associate what those things were, I tried to do plant-strong on my own. I mean, I had been eating my whole life–shouldn’t I know food?

But I have been a meat-eating, processed-food-loving, refined-sugar-addict my entire life. That was not the knowledge I needed. I remember thinking canned vegetables grew out of the ground when I was really young and that red delicious apples were the only apples out there (and they lie–they are the opposite of delicious).

Despite my clear inexperience with whole foods (not the amazing franchise, but actual food), I arrogantly and foolishly thought I would tackle plant-based meals on my own. Ha.

So that’s how we got to the sticky veggies and rice. Mushy brown rice–think mashed potato consistency–soggy carrots and broccoli (the only vegetables I knew well), and bland tofu. We had that mixture too often in the early days. JD, of course, was kind about it, commenting on the quality of the vegetables being the problem, our stove acting up, etc.

But we both knew the truth–I didn’t know what I was doing.

As we washed down that slimy concoction with green tea for the 5th time in a month’s span, I swallowed my pride and resolved to ask for help next time we were at the grocery store.

That was over a year ago, and I still don’t know a lot about plant-based cooking, but I do know more now. I actually blend in with the hipsters drinking their soy lattes and grabbing gluten-free cookies at Whole Foods, and I never end up ordering pizza because I don’t understand the food in my kitchen.

I did a lot of reading and experimenting–two of my favorite things–and I feel so much more confident preparing meals each week.

Because I didn’t know how to transform meals into plant-strong, one of the biggest challenges I faced transitioning into a whole foods, plant-based diet was figuring out what to keep in my kitchen. Most of the staple foods we had known before our diet change were no longer an option, and we’ve found this is a common question with people making the transition.

I thought I’d share with you some of the staple foods we keep in our kitchen and some food tricks to survive that transition into a plant-based lifestyle over the next few weeks.

Today, I’m sharing a list of the staple foods that you’ll typically find in our kitchen with some ideas for how to use them.

Dry food:
Nutritional yeast: supplement nut cheeses, use as Parmesan or corn starch (only in salty foods), use as a cheese base for pesto, mix with avocado and lemon juice to make some yummy sandwich spread

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Brown rice/quinoa: tacos, chilis, curries, veggie burgers, stir-fries. There are lots of different kinds of rice out there, so try something new!

Oats: oatmeal, muffins, veggie burgers, pancakes, oat flour

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Whole wheat pastry flour: shortcakes, pancakes, scones, pizza dough
-Whole Foods, Sprouts, and any natural food store will have this

Almonds: milk, nut cheese, pesto, bars, snacks
-raw or roasted, just not salted!

Black beans: tacos, burgers, chilis, salsa over beans

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Red lentils: filler for chili and stir-fry, soups (mixed with sweet potato is delish)

Honey: sweetener for coffee, muffins, pancakes, teas, etc.

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Flaxseed meal: mix 1 tbs. with 3 tbs. water and you’ve got a substitute for one egg; add to muffins/pancakes to make them fluffier; beef up your veggie burgers

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Cold food:
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos: use as soy sauce (but use less of it than you would soy sauce)

Salsa: baked potatoes, chilis, tacos, beans

Organic soy milk unsweetened: if you’re a milk person like us, you need a replacement. Always get organic with soy.

Fresh peanut butter: toast, muffins, pancakes, stir-fry, bars, smoothies

Organic bagged mixed veggies: stir-fries, pastas, tacos, pizzas, enchiladas, steamed veggies

Produce (all organic):
Bananas: muffins, pancakes, snacks, cookies, smoothies, bars

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Onions: easy flavor for tacos, chilis, burgers, pasta, pizza, stir-fry, etc

Garlic: same as onions

Carrots: snacks, sandwich salad, puree to soften tomato sauce, juices, smoothies
-Whole Foods sells 5-lb. bags of carrots for really cheap. If you think that’s a lot of carrots (JD laughs at me every time I haul one of those babies into the cart), remember that they last for a long time in the fridge.

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Red potatoes: baked potatoes, potato soup, tacos, baked fries

Lemon: saute oil substitute, water/tea enhancer, fresh pastas and salads, dressings

What foods do you keep in your kitchen?

Plant-Based Zucchini Bread

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Dessert breads have been the bane of my vegan existence. My mom used to make amazing banana bread growing up, and since we’ve transitioned into a plant-based lifestyle, it’s been very difficult to find a good bread recipe. It’s either been dense and dry, or runny no matter how long I cook it. I had almost given up.

But yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of breadlessness, I will fear no famine for He with me. Give us this day our daily bread.  Or something like that.

I have been a fan of zucchini for some time because it can be eaten raw (raw lasagna, anyone?), sauteed, baked, steamed, you name it. I’ve been looking for a good zucchini bread recipe for a few months, and I was delighted to find a vegan recipe for zucchini bread that didn’t use oil or vegan butter. It’s all plant-based ingredients!

This is not my personal recipe. I changed a few things from Will Cook for Friends‘ recipe, so check her blog out! This bread is moist, rich, and makes for an amazing breakfast.

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Zucchini Bread
(Adapted from Willow Arlen from Will Cook For Friends)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP ground flax meal (and 6 TBSP water)
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. honey
1 1/2 cup grated zucchini (approx. 1 1/2 medium-size zucchinis)
1/3 c chopped roasted almonds

Preheat oven to 350f.

Combine flax and water to make a “flax egg.”   Set aside to gel while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl.

Grate zucchini.  My zucchini wasn’t quite grated–it was cut into 1-inch slivers from my Salad Master.

Add applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to the flax egg, and whisk until combined. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix.

Add grated zucchini and almonds, and stir until completely mixed.

Pour into a loaf pan or an 8-inch cake pan, and bake for 50 minutes.  It will be done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Slice and serve to hungry husbands.

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What’s your favorite thing to do with zucchini?

Super Creamy Hot Chocolate

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With the reversal of global warming this week across the United States, there has been a lot of warm cooking going in my kitchen.  For some reason, I always make my friend’s curry when it’s blustery and bleak outside.  I also make homemade hot chocolate (which is way, way, way better in taste and nutrition than processed sugar powder!) and remember why I love winter.

This week is homecoming week at school, and I’m the cheer coach… so my main focus at home is to stay awake until 8 pm.  Did I mention we have morning practices?

So the other night, my wonderful husband volunteered to make the hot chocolate, and his recipe turned out to be the best to date!  All credit goes to JD for this mouth-watering, thick, super creamy hot chocolate.

You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen already, so it’s fine by me if you continue reading this as you throw things in a blender!  Just remember it’s hot before you attempt to guzzle it.

 Super Creamy Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 mugs

Ingredients:
3 c. coconut milk
2 tbs. dark chocolate chips
2 heaping tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbs. maple syrup

Heat milk on the stove at medium heat.  While heating, drop chocolate chips in the pot and stir often.

Once chocolate is melted and milk is warm enough, pour milk in blender and add cocoa powder and maple syrup.

Blend the mixture until fluffy, creamy, and foamy.  Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

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What’s your favorite winter treat?

(Almost) Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

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Let me say first, Happy New Year!

Let me say second, we have already eaten the entire pie I made yesterday for New Year’s Eve. Sure, we cleared out half of it last night with some friends. But I awoke this morning after my husband had already left for work to this:

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Thanks, babe. Never mind that I went straight to the pie for breakfast. It’s tofu and peanut butter–protein!

But it’s that good. And it’s really easy. It requires no cooking and takes about 20 minutes to put together, so it’s perfect for a quick dessert for a party. I say it’s almost raw because it uses tofu and vegan chocolate chips, but other than that, it’s raw and minimally processed.

(Almost) Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

Filling Ingredients:
14 oz. extra firm organic tofu
2/3 c. raw peanut butter
1/4. c. soy/almond milk
Handful of vegan chocolate chips
1/4 c. maple syrup

Crust Ingredients:
1/2 c. cashews
1/2 c. almonds, soaked overnight
1 c. walnuts
1 c. shredded coconut flakes
1 c. dates, soaked for 1 hour

Handful of vegan chocolate chips for garnish

Blend crust ingredients in blender on low-medium speed until fairly chopped up. You’ll need to stir up the ingredients a few times because the dates are very sticky. Soaking them for hour ahead of time will help the blending process. Be sure not to soak them too much longer or else they will liquefy.

Put crust mixture in a pie pan and flatten into crust shape with fingers.

Blend filling ingredients on medium speed until everything is completely liquefied. Add more milk if it’s too thick.

Pour mixture onto crust and smooth. Then sprinkle with vegan chocolate chips.

Chill in refrigerator for 2-4 hours before serving.

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What pie would you eat for breakfast?