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(6)

Saturday
May072011

Today, just this

We picked up our first basket of the season’s strawberries this morning at the farmer’s market, and naturally I couldn’t wait to put them to good use. A chocolate smoothie for lunch, laced with a subtle tart-sweet tang from the fresh berries. Enjoy.

Strawberry Chocolate Smoothie :: Serves 2

1 cup nut milk or water

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

5 Tbsp cacao powder

1 scoop protein powder, optional

1 banana, fresh or frozen

6 fresh strawberries

3 Tbsp coconut cream (from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk)

– Place all ingredients in a blender, in the order listed. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, then serve.

Saturday
Mar052011

Chocolate-Fig Freezer Fudge

I have thought long and hard about posting this recipe. As Kelly said to me yesterday when I confessed my dilemma, “Every good cook needs a secret recipe!” And I agreed: This fudge is so unbelievably good, I don’t know what I would change about it; it would surely create explosions at every gathering I bring it to, with every guest I serve it to, and every time I get caught sneaking into the freezer for just one more bite; it would truly be my secret weapon. 

But there is one thing that would make it even better, if you can believe it. The common denominator in the aforementioned scenarios is the aspect of shared experience. Sharing with those I care about, letting them in on my little secret, watching their reactions as they bite into the soft, smooth, creamy decadence that is this fudge, the unexpected glee on their faces and shock when they find out that it is completely raw, completely vegan, completely free of added sugar, completely healthy and just… perfect. 

Sharing good food with people I care about is probably my favorite thing in the world. I love all of YOU, the readers of this blog, because you make it what it is: a place for exchange. I’m not just talking to myself here; although sometimes it may seem like it. No, I’m talking to you, and I adore the conversations we have. And so, it is my distinct honor to let you in on the best recipe to emerge from my kitchen since, well, forever. 

This fudge is a representation of the entire meaning behind The Chocolate Fig. Not only does it contain both figs and raw cacao, my favorite foods in the world, but it is a perfect example of what makes something indulgently healthy; buttery, creamy, smooth on the tongue, slightly bitter but mellowed by the figs’ seductive sweetness and a pinch of sea salt. It is perfectly balanced, euphoria-inducing, and everything fudge should be: rich and oh so decadent. 

The star of the show is the coconut oil: Naturally solid and creamy at room temperature, like butter, it holds the rest of the ingredients together and maintains a fudgy texture even straight from the freezer. Make sure you buy organic, extra-virgin coconut oil. Avocado may be a surprise ingredient to some of you, but it is very well-masked by the other flavors and is essential for a smooth and rich bite. 

What else can I say? Just one thing: Make this, and while you’re at it, smile.

Chocolate Fig Freezer Fudge :: Makes 1 8×8 square pan

1 cup dried Mission figs, reconstituted in hot water 1 avocado, pitted  1 cup coconut oil 3/4 cup raw cacao powder (start here, and add more if you like a deeper chocolate flavor) pinch or two of fine sea salt

  1. Line an 8×8 square baking pan with wax paper. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, puree figs, with a bit of their soaking water, to desired consistency. I prefer a smoother and syrupy puree, but feel free to leave it a bit chunkier. Measure out 1 cup of fig puree  (in a liquid measuring cup) and set aside.
  3. Clean the food processor, then scoop avocado meat into the base and puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Measure out 1/2 cup of avocado puree and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, gently whisk coconut oil and avocado puree until combined and smooth. Too much friction will cause the coconut oil to melt, and you want it to stay softly solid and fluffy. Add fig puree and incorporate, then add cacao powder and sea salt. You may have to switch to mixing with a spatula at this point, gently folding the cacao into the batter. 
  5. Scrape batter evenly into prepared pan and smooth the top. Lick the spoon, spatula and bowl. Place in the freezer and wait as long as you can; it solidifies almost immediately, so you really won’t have to wait very long. I’d give it 10 minutes just to be safe. Slice into squares and serve; store leftovers in the freezer.

 

Saturday
Feb052011

This month, life is naturally sweet

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day’s descent, I thought it would be appropriate to write about all things sweet for the February column. Sugar is something with which we’re all very familiar, and most of us likely have a love-hate relationship. We know that the processed, refined, crystal-white, poisonus and drug-like table sugar is, well, bad news, so how are we supposed to satiate that ever-more-annoying sweet tooth? 

Not to fear. I’ve done my fair share of searching, and found that my cravings for sugar are squashed by many things you can pluck from nature: Dried fruit, raw cacao, raw fruit juice, and raw honey. Naturally super sweet, and not the least bit dangerous. For more, read the column here!

Speaking of raw, holy Mother Nature! Have you ever eaten something so full of nutrients that you felt a sort of divine energy just coursing through your veins? If not, pay closer attention the next time you eat a piece of fresh fruit and I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s the beauty of raw foods, my friends. It’s the beauty of the heavenly bliss-nuggets at the end of this post. 

I’m no specialist (yet), but I have always loved the way food tastes in its purest state of being. Of the many cookbooks in my collection, a handful of them feature inspiring ways to prepare meals without using animal products or high temperatures. I’ve dipped my toes into the pools of raw foodism over the years, read many articles, and learned as much as I could about the pure, potent power of unadulterated foods and why they help us prevent disease. This quest for knowledge is never-ending. While I’m an advocate of the balance is key ideal, I do believe that eating this way on a regular basis is very beneficial. In my opinion, food is medicine. When we eat fresh, nourishing food straight from the earth, we feed more than just our empty stomachs. Whatever your beliefs about diet, the point is that I love raw fruits and vegetables and I can’t help but share my enthusiasm with you. 

By keeping nutritional integrity in mind, I think it’s possible to have our cake and enjoy it too. As I said, I am not a nutritionist, and everything expressed here is simply my well-researched opinion. If you’re curious, here are some great posts I’ve read recently about sugar and the benefits of raw food. Check back for more posts on this, and I’ll try to compile a list of useful books and tidbits for you. What follows is a recipe I’ve played with for quite some time, and found it perfect for mid-afternoon or dessert-hour munchies. Of the many versions I’ve tried, this one spices things up with chili powder and cinnamon for circulatory benefits and exceptional flavor. They require less than 15 minutes from start to finish, and are well worth the time they take to chill in the fridge. If you’re looking for something to replace processed sweets, these are the way to go. 

Spiced Hazelnut Cacao Balls :: Makes about 15  Full of enzymes, healthy fats, protein and vitamins, they satisfied my cravings for chocolate all week long. You could technically use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of raw cacao, however nutritionally speaking it’s not quite the same. Word to the wise: I could never have just one.

1/2 cup almonds  1 cup pitted dates  2 tablespoons hazelnut butter  3 tablespoons raw cacao powder  1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract  1 teaspoon chili powder  1 teaspoon cinnamon

Roughly chop the dates. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind the almonds until fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process until fully incorporated. When well-mixed but still crumbly in texture, stop processing.

Shape small handfuls into balls or squares. Roll in more cacao powder (optional) and place on baking sheet. Chill for one hour before serving, and store in the refrigerator for about one week.

Saturday
Jan292011

Red Kale & Blueberry Smoothie

I love blending kale into smoothies. I love that it turns my breakfast into a vibrant, green and energy-giving machine, full of the most potent nutrition. I normally stick with the common green kind, but this week I tried something new in the spirit of beginnings. Classes started on Monday, which meant my schedule got a makeover and feelings of excitement and optimism carried me through the past five days. Maybe I’m the only member of this club, but anyone else get the first-week-of-school euphoria? Ever since first grade when I couldn’t wait to show off my new fall wardrobe and crisp notebooks, going back to class has been a pleasant experience. At least for the first week.

Enough of that, more about kale. Other than the fact that it is an absolutely gorgeous shade of almost-black imperial purple, “red” kale doesn’t really differ in appearance from its curly green sister. It must have known I was seeking adventure, though, because a rather ample bunch of the stuff followed me home from the store this week. I was delighted– what kinds of crazy stovetop adventures could we stir up together? With its ample antioxidants and flavonoids (WHFoods claims kale boasts 45 different recently-discovered flavonoids), these nutritious leaves are ready to party at the drop of a spatula.

 

In my smoothie, frozen blueberries kept the color palette consistent; you can use any richly-colored fruit you want. If this is your first time blending leaves into a morning beverage, you might try using spinach for a much smoother smoothie. It blends up a little easier, and leaves no lumps. The most important thing to remember, though, is to use a frozen banana: peel, cut into chunks and pop into the freezer the night before. The result will be much different if you don’t. Cinnamon keeps things spicy-sweet and gets your circulation going.

Red kale & blueberry smoothie :: Serves 1 very hungry person

1 1/4 cups water or nut milk  1/2 cup frozen blueberries  1 banana, peeled, cut into chunks and frozen  1/4 an avocado  1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon  1/2 teaspoon ginseng powder (completely optional– I happened to have some in my bag of tricks)  any other powders or add-ins you like: cacao, protein powder, shredded coconut, etc.  1-2 cups loosely packed kale leaves (from 3 stalks or so)

In a powerful blender, add all ingredients in the order listed, reserving 1/4 of the banana. Blend on high for at least one minute, adding more liquid if necessary. You might have to stop and push  the contents down periodically. Blend and blend some more. Once completely smooth, add the remaining banana and pulse on the ‘ice crush’ setting. Serve in a tall glass and enjoy!

Thursday
Jan202011

Nourishing quinoa salad

We are having a fantastic break from winter’s grey gloom around here. Last Saturday, stunning as it was, pretty much set the pace for the entire week to follow. On Tuesday morning, I tiptoed outside with my breakfast and ate bathed in the warm morning sun, something I haven’t been able to do since October. For someone as easily effected by the seasons as I, it was a welcome change. 

On another note, the break I’ve been giving my body for the past week has left me feeling so alive, there’s no way I could not share some of my meals with you. I haven’t really been cleansing in the way that we usually think of the term, but I feel cleansed nonetheless. Nourished, sustained, refreshed, and better. Happier, even. 

This salad doesn’t differ from something I might make on any normal day, cleanse or no cleanse, but it’s my favorite lunch of the moment and I’ve been making it often. It has got a little bit of everything– salty, sweet, nutty, fresh, very flavorful, and comforting in its own unique way. The different textures from the dried fruit, pomegranates and beans and the way they work together make it something of a masterpiece.

Red quinoa is higher in antioxidants than the more common white variety, but either will work here. Also, when you’re wrestling with a pomegranate, here are a few words of caution: Wear an apron. Do not wear a shirt you like even a little bit. Do not use a white cutting board, and place a few layers of paper towel on top of your work surface before you begin. A note on the greens: I used kale and spinach, but feel free to use any you like. Mustard greens might be nice. I recently learned that massaging raw kale with your hands and some olive oil causes it to wilt and ‘cook’ down a bit, which is what I’ve been doing to make it more manageable in a salad. Yum! 

Nourishing Quinoa Salad :: Makes 1 generous serving

Ingredients: 2-3 leaves curly kale, stems removed, chopped handful spinach leaves, chopped 1/2 cup cooked red quinoa 1/4 cup pistachios seeds from 1/2 pomegranate 1/3 cup cooked black beans 3 dried figs, chopped  3 dried apricots, chopped

 Dressing: 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon honey 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)

In a medium bowl, place kale and a drizzle of olive oil. Massage with your hands, rubbing oil into the leaves, for a few minutes until slightly wilted. Set aside and prep remaining ingredients.

Add spinach, quinoa, pistachios, pomegranate seeds, black beans, and dried fruit to the bowl with the kale. Make a dressing with the olive oil, vinegar, honey and dijon, whisking vigorously or shaking in a small container. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper.