Tag: healthy recipes

Healthier Holiday Treats

Christmas is fast approaching! We are less than 2 weeks out and I’m about to buckle down on my holiday baking. This year my naturopath is hosting her first annual Christmas Cookie Exchange geared towards those with food allergies, sensitivities and dietary restrictions of every kind! How BRILLIANT is that. I think it’s awesome and a great way to include those who might otherwise feel left out around the holidays.

I just ran a couple of test batches of the cookies I will be making and gifting this year. I’ve selected Snickerdoodles and Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies. Snickerdoodles because Christmas and Mocha Chocolate Chip because we all need some chocolate in our lives (do you like how I made that all inclusive? Ok maybe I need some chocolate in my life, at all times…). YUM! The best part? They are both Gluten & Refined Sugar Free, Paleo and Vegan… and they taste awesome!! That’s right, no all purpose flour, butter, eggs, milk, OR white sugar but still delicious.

I use to be a baking machine but when I initially got sick, baking became the least of my worries and was the furthest thing from my mind. When I started feeling better and the urge to bake came back, it became much more challenging to do so because of my newfound dietary restrictions. At first, it was very discouraging. In reality, my experience with and exposure to baking with healthier, alternative ingredients was non-existent and I simply needed a little education on the matter (aka trial and error). 

I’ve tried a variety of recipes from various bloggers over the last year and I’ve struggled to find someone whose recipes could not only suit my ever changing dietary needs but also consistently tasted fantastic (I was a baker and come from a background of sugar and flour, winning combinations in the taste department… I have REALLY high standards with the things I create and refuse to let “healthy” translate to “less than stellar”). If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to your favorite holiday treats, I honestly think I’ve found the perfect girl for you. 

Enter Rachel Connors and her blog, Bakerita. I seriously encourage you to check out Bakerita and the story behind it. I made one of her recipes when I was in Georgia visiting my family over Thanksgiving and was pleasantly surprised to find that the recipe I choose was both delicious AND doable. By that I mean there weren’t any crazy, only going to use once a year ingredients (another pet peeve with health geared recipes… ugh!).

Since nixing refined sugar, I’ve stuck with using pure maple syrup and honey as sweeteners for dessert recipes. I’ve now expanded that to include organic maple sugar and coconut sugar and that opens up the door to things like COOKIES, which really rely on the granulated texture that sugar normally brings to the table. All of the new recipes on Bakerita are gluten, refined sugar and dairy free.

This is a great article on baking with sugar alternatives, if you’d like to learn more. 

Whether you have your own specific dietary restrictions this holiday season, are trying to cook or bake for someone with them or simply want to enjoy food that tastes good and incorporates more health conscious ingredients, you need to know that it is possible and it doesn’t have to be hard.

Last Christmas was an overwhelming one for me on the food front. I knew what I couldn’t eat but I really didn’t have any idea what foods I could eat. By that, I mean I just wasn’t aware of all of the options that are out there – 
in both the sweet and savory departments! – for someone trying to avoid some of the most common ingredients. This year will be a different story for me, and it can be for you too.

Check back soon for a post on pantry staples for health conscious baking!

How To: Homemade Vanilla Extract

We’re already almost through November. Can you believe that?! I realize we’re only a week post Thanksgiving and most people don’t want to start thinking about Christmas yet but it is less than 4 weeks away. If you haven’t already, many of you will soon be starting your Christmas shopping lists and trying to come up with something creative to get those special someones on your list.

I’m a giver by nature and I love Christmas shopping for my family and close friends. It brings me so much joy. I’m the kind of gift giver who may or may not ask for recommendations on things you want but always strives to find a gift that will be extra special and meaningful for everyone on my list. This brings me to last year’s gift which is the subject of today’s post.

Have you figured it out?? (The title is a bit of a giveaway…) That’s right! Last Christmas I decided to make homemade vanilla extract for my family and friends. Let me tell you, it was: So. Much. Fun. From researching and purchasing the vanilla beans to selecting and finding the perfect glass bottles to creating my own little gift bags, it was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in preparing Christmas gifts. This is coming from a self proclaimed non crafty person.

From my grandmas to my aunts my family loves to bake so I knew this would not only be a meaningful gift because I was making it myself, it would also be a gift that would get used over and over and over again as it would last quite a long time. The coolest part was that I had enough beans to give away bottles of vanilla to a multitude of people.

I’ll outline the process I followed below:

First – the beans! This one requires a little bit of research. There are various types of vanilla beans that you can purchase, depending on the flavor profile you’re interested in creating. Here are the main types of vanilla beans, taken from beanilla.com:

    • Madagascar Vanilla – rich and creamy
    • Mexican Vanilla – bold, dark, smokey
    • Indian Vanilla – full, chocolate
    • Indonesian Vanilla – mild, well balanced
    • Tahitian Vanilla – floral, cherry-chocolate
  • Tonga Vanilla – earthy, fig, raisin

I personally wanted the classic creamy flavor typically found in vanilla (but 10 million times better when made yourself) so I opted for Madagascar Vanilla beans, the most commonly used. I purchased my beans on Ebay (50 count) because I found a good deal, but there are many bean suppliers out there. They can be expensive, so shop around.

Grade A, B or C? While I found that there are some differing opinions on this one, I ended up going with Grade B vanilla beans. Grade A beans are considered gourmet and are ideal for cooking purposes. Grade B beans are generally smaller and drier; some may even come cracked. Grade B beans have a lower moisture content and are considered “extract grade”.

Alcohol – This again is personal preference but I used Vodka for a more neutral flavor. Other options include bourbon, brandy and rum. I didn’t buy top shelf stuff either, the alcohol is simply a solvent used to extract the vanilla flavor from the beans.

Bottles – This is where you can start to get creative. There are many different bottle sizes and shapes that you can choose to store your vanilla extract. The color can be a factor as well. I debated between amber bottles, which are great for light sensitive liquids, and clear glass bottles. I eventually went the clear glass route as I wanted my family and friends to be able to watch the vanilla change colors – to me, that’s part of the fun. I simply recommended that the bottles be stored in a dark, cool place, away from direct sunlight.

I ordered my bottles off of SpecialtyBottles.com but Amazon has a good selection as well. I ended up using a couple of these 8 oz bottles because I had plenty of beans, and I gave those to the avid bakers in my life. For the rest of my giveaways, I went with these 4 oz bottles.

Instructions – There are many different vanilla extract recipes available online. They’re all very similar with slight variations here and there. This was the recipe I used to make my vanilla extract. It’s very straightforward and quite simple. There’s really not much to it; no need to over complicate the process!

I made my vanilla on December 10th, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s recommended you let your vanilla brew (giving it a gentle shake every now and then) for at least 8 weeks. You can make it as far ahead of time as you’d like, but I wanted my family and friends to be able to see the progression as the beans slowly turned the alcohol into a deep amber color, even if it meant they had to wait a little longer to use it.

Labels, Tags & Bags – This is where you can really get creative. Maybe you don’t have a lot of extra time and decide to purchase pre-made gift packaging for your vanilla bottles or perhaps you’d rather not wrap them at all. It’s really personal preference. I ordered some cute labels from Etsy for my vanilla extract bottles. While the labels I ordered appear to no longer be available, Etsy offers many other variations (or if you’re feeling craftier than I was, perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own!).

I used this online template for my bottle tags. (She’s also included a label template if you prefer to print your own rather than purchasing them.) I then went to my local craft store and purchased a couple of sheets of thick decorative paper which I used to print the tags on, as well as some shiny string to secure the tags around my bottles, with the help of a hole punch.

While I was at the craft store, I bought a roll of material and some ribbons for my gift bags. After I got home I measured my bottles, cut the material down accordingly, grabbed a glue gun and went to work! Once I had created the gift bags, I placed a bottle inside each of them and finished each gift bag off with a beautiful ribbon. Voila!

In conclusion, I’m so glad I decided to bite the bullet and learn how to make homemade vanilla extract and by making a large batch, I was able to gift a bottle to my closest family and friends.

Can you keep a secret? Before I decided to learn how to make vanilla myself, I’d never even given a thought to the fact that anything other than imitation existed… I know… I KNOW! Now that I’ve learned how to make the real stuff, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use anything but. Store bought vanilla extract is also quite expensive. In the long run, it’s much more cost effective to make your own.

Aside from the heavenly smell of homemade vanilla extract, the flavor is impeccably pure. You’ll thank yourself and every time your family and friends use your thoughtful gift, they’ll thank you too.

Gluten Free – by choice?

I do not have Celiac Disease. I won’t even go so far as to say I’m gluten intolerant. I personally know people who have tested negative for Celiac yet a gluten filled meal will send them running for the bathroom or leave them plagued by various symptoms. They might still indulge from time to time but they know the consequences. Thankfully, I have never experienced a reaction that extreme. For me, it’s more subtle and eating gluten free is a voluntary choice.

Last year’s birthday pancakes made from a gluten free mix.

The question of Celiac inevitably comes up, most often by inquiring friends or waitresses when I venture out. My response in the negative is usually followed by a somewhat quizzical look until I explain that I’ve had some health issues and I just feel better when I don’t eat gluten. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people who respect my choices even if they may not fully understand them and I’ve been fortunate that my family and close friends have automatically fallen into that category.

I don’t make a big deal out of my dietary choices, in fact, my instinct is to stay as far under the radar as possible with things like that. I’ve never been one that likes to draw attention to myself and declining a piece of pizza is definitely attention grabbing. It’s something I’ve had to work on. You playing small does not help anyone. It prevents you from bringing awareness to areas that need it and potentially helping others who might be in the same boat as you.

I still get uncomfortable from time to time talking about my health issues and my food choices. Many people just don’t understand. Judgement has always been a fear for me but one I’ve made great strides towards overcoming and continue to work on. My blog has created a platform that has allowed me to be more honest and more authentic, with others and with myself.

I stopped eating gluten around April of 2017. Both the D.O. I was seeing at the time as well as my naturopath later on, encouraged it. I was experiencing a lot of nausea and stomach trouble and through my research had learned about gluten and at the minimum, the distress it can cause in your gut. Within days of completely eliminating gluten from my diet, my bloating decreased and my stomach issues improved significantly. Coincidence? Maybe. Worth steering clear of most things gluten? For me? Absolutely.

Before we go any further, let’s break it down…

What is gluten? Taken from the Celiac Disease Foundation, simply put, “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat… Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.” Wheat, barley and rye are the three main gluten containing grains. Non-gluten containing grains include amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

What foods contain gluten?  – Some common foods that typically contain gluten include pastas, breads, baked goods & desserts, cereals and sauces. Foods that you might not realize contain gluten but likely do include snack bars, chips, bouillon cubes, salad dressings, chili packets & other seasonings, soy sauce and more. Basically, if it’s pre-packaged, you need to check the ingredients. I was blown away with the amount of food stuff that contains gluten. Foods aren’t the only gluten containing items, many beauty products also contain gluten.

Is gluten bad for you? – I don’t think gluten is inherently bad. Our ancestors ate gluten containing grains for centuries but modern technology and farming techniques have ensured that the grains they ate were vastly different from the grains we eat today. This is a great article that goes more in depth.

Like with anything, too much of a good thing can turn bad. Unfortunately, gluten is now added to almost everything we eat and our bodies are on overload. Because gluten containing foods can be hard to digest, it’s often recommended that those with autoimmune conditions, especially conditions such as leaky gut, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns, etc. remove gluten from their diet, at least temporarily.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity – There are a wide range of symptoms that can range from stomach issues, nausea, gas, bloating and vomiting to headaches, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to do a quick Google search.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

– Eating gluten free has become so much easier. There are whole sections in the grocery store dedicated to gluten free food stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many gluten free products contain ingredient lists that are ridiculously long and very unhealthy. Aside from gluten free pastas, soy sauce and seasonings, and along with the occasional loaf of gluten free bread, I steer mostly clear of gluten free touting products. I aim for fresh, whole foods instead.

The best salad I’ve ever eaten – spring 2018, Washington DC. Who said gluten free or “healthy” for that matter has to taste bad?!

– Many people think eating out gluten free is difficult and it can be, at first. Once you learn a few tricks of the trade, eating out gluten free will be a breeze. Many restaurants now include gluten free sections or alternatives in their menu. I live in a pretty small town in north central Ohio where gluten free eating is not common. I have not been to a restaurant yet where I can not find something to eat. You might have to modify the menu a little bit (burger with no bun, salad without croutons, an entree with no sauce, etc.) but once you explain your situation, I’ve found most restaurants are very accommodating.

– An at home elimination diet (removing all gluten from your diet for, say, 2 weeks) is a cost effective first step and can be extremely insightful. If you think you may have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity or even Celiac disease and want additional resources and help, talk to you doctor. If they don’t listen, find someone that will.

– I want to add one last point. Aside from gluten, I’ve also removed almost all refined sugar but I think it’s important to emphasize that I don’t view the way I eat as a restrictive diet, I view it as a choice. While I choose to eat gluten free a majority of the time, I will indulge in the occasional gluten containing meal under special circumstances. This might be during a period of travel where an opportunity presents itself to try something that is not readily available back home (such as Maryland crab crakes!). Aside from those occasions, I prefer to eat without.

Those with severe gluten intolerance or Celiac have to eat gluten free. I don’t claim to fall into either of those categories. I eat gluten free most of the time because my body simply feels better without it. Everything in moderation. I enjoy myself and I enjoy my life. For me, as I’ve said before, it’s all about the balance.

More soon on the subject of “labeling” yourself and why that can be a slippery slope. It’s something I’m working to change in my own life and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on it soon. In the mean time, look out for a fun blog in 2 weeks with a gift idea that just might be the perfect fit for those special people on your holiday shopping list! 

My Chocolate Addiction

I’m a chocolate girl through and through. In my family, a dessert isn’t a dessert unless it incorporates some aspect of chocolate. I have learned to appreciate fruity pies and other things but when someone says “dessert” my mind automatically conjures up a piece of chocolate cake. Cheesecake. Chocolate cheesecake… if beggars can be choosers.

Growing up, my grandma would hand make beautiful themed cakes for all of the grand kids birthdays (there’s 12 of us). While she’d always incorporate some other flavor into a small section of her elaborate creations for those poor souls who didn’t know the joy of growing up in a chocolate addicted family, when it came to choosing a flavor for the bulk of the cake no questions were asked. It was going to be chocolate. Those cakes remain one of my dearest childhood memories.

When I cut out sugar 14 months ago and a few months later decided to continue with a diet that excluded refined sugar, I quickly realized I would need to get creative. We’re talking crisis mode. Chocolate and sugar often go hand in hand. You’re going to be hard pressed to find chocolate based desserts or even chocolate bars that do not contain added refined sugars unless you make your own. So what was a girl to do? Google! There are tons of recipes online that use refined sugar alternatives and having baked my entire life, a made from scratch solution was just what I was looking for. I was determined to find the perfect recipe before my birthday arrived.

That’s when I discovered Chocolate Covered Katie. She has created an extremely popular healthy baking blog. After a quick glance at her website I knew I had found my girl. Katie’s recipes include healthier alternatives to many of your standard baking ingredients, such as refined sugar. It did not take me long to settle on her Refined Sugar Free Chocolate Cake which features both gluten free and vegan options. I’ve made this cake 3 times now.

Once of the things I love about Katie’s recipes, is that she makes them as customizable as possible. In place of cows milk, I’ve used almond and coconut milk in the past and I opt for coconut oil and a gluten free flour blend. I also use equal parts Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa and Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa for a richer chocolate taste.

My taste buds have changed over the last year with the reduction in my sugar consumption and I’ve found that the called for 1/2 cup of maple syrup makes the cake too sweet for me. I reduce it slightly to between 1/4 – 1/2 cup (depending on who will be joining me in consuming… I’m unashamed to admit that I have eaten the entire cake by myself… not in one sitting of course!). I usually double the recipe using (2) 8′ round baking pans and I also add in 1/2 cup dark chocolate baking chunks per layer (so a full cup when doubling the recipe). That’s probably not necessary but again, I love chocolate and, why not?

Katie has many frosting recipes and glazes on her website as well but when I originally made her cake recipe I did not have the correct ingredients for the frosting recipe I had selected, so I found and have continued to use this 5 Minute Vegan Chocolate Frosting instead. I’d love to find a delicious refined sugar free peanut butter frosting recipe. Katie has a slew of them on her website. Mmmmm… that would be a winning combo right there.

When I don’t want an entire cake taunting me from the kitchen, I opt for a single square from chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 88% dark chocolate to cure my cravings. These bars generally have 6 grams of sugar or less per serving. A serving is usually half of the bar. The bars are often broken down into 12 squares so when you reduce the serving size down to 1 square per serving, that’s less than 1 gram of sugar! Not bad and just enough chocolate to give me the fix I’m looking for. Here is one of my favorites. This is another. What’s your “go-to” chocolate?

Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos

I was at the grocery store not long ago, in the vegetable section, selecting some mushrooms to use in dinners for the upcoming week. Sitting right next to the containers of whole and pre-sliced button mushrooms were these beautiful Portobellos and right next to those were some smaller, stuffed mushrooms. They caught my attention but as I bent over to grab some I hesitated. Honestly, they didn’t look all that appetizing in their commercially prepared form but I loved the concept! Generally, when given the option, I prefer to eat things as unprocessed as possible so I thought, why not make my own?

 

I love mushrooms but truth be told, the big Portobellos can be a bit intimidating… at least, they’ve always seemed that way to me. I was quite happy to discover that they’re very easy to work with. If you don’t like mushrooms to begin with, you may not be a fan no matter the size but those of you that do, whether you’ve worked with Portobellos before or not, will love this recipe. Not only are my Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos super tasty, they make wonderful leftovers as well.

 

 

I realize sausage is not exactly a “health food” but you can easily substitute ground beef, ground turkey or even more vegetables in place of the ground sausage to opt for a more heart healthy version. I decided to stick with the sausage in my recipe because it’s so flavorful and alleviates any need to add additional seasoning, which may be a factor if you don’t have a lot of extra time.

 

Quinoa is another main competent of this dish and for those not familiar, quinoa is not only high in protein, it contains all nine essential amino acids! One of the few foods that can boast that fact. (What are amino acids? Great question! This article breaks it down in a detailed way that is very easy to understand.) I’m still at the experimental stage with quinoa. On it’s own it can be a bit plain and tasteless but combined with other things? It blends very well, adds a cool texture to the dish and is packed with nutrients, which is why I opted to use it in this recipe.

If you’ve never cooked Portobellos before and haven’t tried quinoa, consider today’s recipe a challenge and a stepping stone! I’m constantly trying to bridge the gap between what I know I’m capable of and the potential that’s just waiting to be tapped into. Cooking is a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Most of the time you’ll be rewarded in the tastiest of ways and you’ll have fun doing it!

Have you made one of my recipes? I’d love to see your pictures!! Use hashtag #IncrediblyYou, tag me on social media (kayla_jarvinen / Instagram or Kayla Jarvinen / Facebook) or send me an email with a photo of your finished product! I’d be honored to get your feedback and I’d love to see your beautiful creations <3 

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Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 

Gluten Free / Dairy Free / Refined Sugar Free 

Course: Main Course
Servings: 6
Calories: 333 kcal
Author: Kayla Marie
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Red Quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium Zucchini, cubed
  • 7 bunches Broccoli Florets, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice)
  • 1 lb Ground Sausage
  • 6 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • 1 jar Ragu Simply Marinara
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. 

  2. Add rinsed quinoa, cover and reduce to a simmer until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

  3. While the quinoa cooks, cut up your garlic, onion, zucchini and broccoli. 

  4. Heat 1 tbsp. ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice) in a large skillet on medium heat.

  5. Add your chopped garlic and onion to the skillet and brown.

  6. Once your garlic and onion are browned, add in your chopped zucchini and broccoli.

  7. While your vegetables are browning, prepare your portobello mushrooms. Cut off the stems and if desired, chop them up and toss inside pan with other vegetables. Scoop out gills with a spoon and discard. 

  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  9. Push veggies to the side of the pan and add 1lb ground sausage. 

  10. Cook meat thoroughly, breaking up big chunks with a wooden spoon as it browns.

  11. Once meat is brown, remove from heat and add cooked quinoa to pan. Combine the veggies, browned meat and cooked quinoa.

  12. Spread a thin layer of the mixture onto the bottom of a 13 x 9 non stick baking dish. 

  13. Brush the outside of the portobello mushrooms with 1 tbsp ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice) and place inside the baking dish.

  14. Fill mushroom caps with remaining mixture.

  15. Top with desired amount of marinara sauce.

  16. Bake for 30 minutes until mushrooms caps are thoroughly cooked.

  17. Plate and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

-1 clove of garlic is equivalent to approximately 1 tsp bottled minced garlic

-I only used 4 Portobello Mushrooms when I made this recipe. There was a significant amount of stuffing left over, which I spread along the bottom of the baking dish. If using 6 Portobello Mushrooms like I recommend, you will have enough leftover stuffing to lightly layer the bottom of the baking dish but stuffing ingredients can be increased if more leftover stuffing is desired.

-If you don't have a large enough skillet or pan, you can cook the meat in a separate skillet and combine with the veggies and quinoa at the end.