Crispy Rice Treats

Here is a recipe that uses Brown Rice Syrup that I posted about earlier as a sugar substitute. This is super easy to make and tastes so much better than traditional Rice Krispies which are loaded with sugar and butter. I learned this at my last cooking class at Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health. It is an amazing place and I am so happy I was able to be a part of the nutrition class. I learned so many new things that compliment my school training.

For these treats you will need brown rice syrup (located by honey/maple syrup/sweeteners), vanilla, peanut butter, crisp rice cereal (brown or regular). Brown rice cereal is harder to find and pretty pricey so I used trader joe’s regular.

Stir 1 cup syrup, 2/3 cup peanut butter and dash of vanilla and salt over medium heat until it thins and starts to bubble.

Pour 3 cups cereal into square pan.

I started with half the amount, added the syrup, and then stirred in additional cereal.

Mix well, press down and let cool.

Cut into squares. The amazing thing is you will swear there are marshmallows in this. The gooey brown rice syrup and peanut butter are a perfect combination. You can also add in: dark chocolate pieces, peanuts, almond pieces or cashews. This recipe is not brain surgery but I had never cooked with brown rice syrup before and these are pretty addicting for being sugar free!!

Sugar Subs

I’ve been off white sugar now for 18 months and have found some great options that are less processed and more beneficial to my body. Of course there are times when white sugar is unavoidable in certain foods as in the occasional, deserved, and cherished cupcake or gelato, but when I am in control of the ingredients I choose to not use processed white sugar. My body does not react to it well and I don’t like the highs and lows it produces. I also don’t like the addictive effect it has on my system complete with cravings and energy/mood swings. There are a billion articles written on the dangers of sugar so I won’t bore you. I will just say I am NOT a fan of this stuff so liberally infused in all processed, packaged foods, and worse yet- in children’s foods.

Some alternative options that I enjoy:

HONEY: I’ve found honey works well in a lot of recipes. The consistency is great for baking and cooking and it has such a distinct flavor that it can really add to whatever you’re making. It contains vitamins, minerals and enzymes. I try to buy local honey, not because of the debatable idea that it cures allergies, but because I want to support local beekeepers! Read about my honey snack I love here

AGAVE is sweeter and thinner than honey so not as much is needed. I use agave mixed with honey in baking. It’s almost TOO sweet for me sometimes. Made from cactus plants, it is more refined than other natural sweeteners but it is lower on the glycemic index. Basically that means your body takes longer to convert it so your blood sugar doesn’t spike and fall as rapidly as it does with white sugar. Honey, however, is high on the GI.

BROWN RICE SYRUP is a recent sweetener for me to try. It has a thick consistency (marshmallowy) and not quite as sweet as the others. It has a distinct somewhat butterscotch flavor. It’s great for baking and thickening dressings or sauces.

MOLASSES is an often forgotten dark syrup with a very distinct flavor. It is the most nutritious sugar substitute. Great for baking, the taste is so nostalgic to me I like to take small spoonfuls of it whenever the jar is open. Good source of iron.

STEVIA is a plant based sweetener made from stevia leaves that comes in liquid or powder form. I honestly don’t like this for baking but it’s good for coffee/tea or if you want to add to a dressing. It has zero effect on blood sugar. It still has that slightly “fake” taste to me though…..

TURBINADO SUGAR is juice from sugar cane plant that has been heated and dried. Also known as “Sugar in the Raw”. This is closest in texture and flavor to white sugar. I don’t use it often unless I’m baking something special that calls for a lot of white sugar. Which is rare.

There are several more I have yet to try but these are the ones I use most often and have had success with. The great news is that tastebuds adapt very quickly when you cut back on sweet stuff and sugar. It only took me a few days to really appreciate the natural sweetness of foods. Without added sugar in my diet, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, and most all fruit now are satisfyingly sweet, as they were meant to be!

What are your favorite natural sweets?

Super Easy Swiss Chard

I used to be intimidated by leafy greens. I didn’t know how to buy them, what they were or what to do with them in the kitchen. So I left them alone for the most part. Aside from a salad or some spinach in my eggs, I didn’t try many other greens until recently. I’ve learned SO much about how beneficial these are to our overall health that I am now mildly obsessed with them and eat them more than once a day. I put kale and/or spinach in my morning green smoothie, I add spinach to my eggs for breakfast and then I eat a salad and have broccoli or another type of green for dinner.  Greens have tons of calcium, fiber and are nutrient dense. In fact, Kale is the top rated food on the ANDI scale which measures the nutrient density of foods.

I bought some swiss chard at a local farmers market the other day and brought it home with no plans on what to do with it.  As usual, when I don’t know where to start, I heated up some coconut oil and sauteed chopped onion and garlic.

Red onion has a stronger flavor than white so should be chopped smaller

I then stripped the chard leaves off the stems and tore them into smallish pieces. I had a HUGE heap of greens and felt like I could feed 10 people with it.

They filled the huge pot!

As I kept adding more to the pan and stirring I watched them begin to shrink down to a much smaller consistency like all leafy greens do.

The greens quickly cooked down to a small portion

I sprinkled on some freshly squeezed lemon and let it all saute a bit more before serving over organic butternut squash ravioli (find in frozen section of whole foods)

Amazing combination

It was so delicious and although I had guests, I could’ve easily eaten the entire amount of chard by myself. So simple, so easy. Lessons learned:

1.Don’t be intimidated by a vegetable you aren’t familiar with- try it and experiment.

2. Keep it simple. Simple is sometimes the best. As in this case all I used was a squeeze of lemon for flavoring. The coconut oil and onion were enough of a base that I didn’t need anything else.

3. Use various methods to get in your daily greens- cooking, in smoothies or raw in salads. Mix it up!

Spicy Pumpkin Chicken n Vegetables

Slow cooker season is here! Yay!!! Nothing makes cooking easier than a slow cooker. Putting together ingredients in the morning before leaving the house and then coming home to a great hot meal is so satisfying and so little work.

I experimented with a half a can of pumpkin puree leftover from some muffins. I put 2 chicken breasts in the slow cooker with chopped onion, garlic and coconut oil.

They’re so cute when they’re young….

I let them cook about an hour and then combined the pumpkin puree mixed with salsa, peanut butter, honey, red pepper flakes and water.

I poured it over the chicken, stirring well to mix with the juices on the bottom.

After that I tucked in some baby carrots and potatoes.

Happy Family

I let this all cook on high for about 4 hours because I had to leave. I really would rather have let it cook on Low for about 7-8 hours which I will do next time. I was trying to rush a slow cooker….not very productive.

I served with Brown Rice

A couple lessons learned:

#1 Pumpkin puree is a great ingredient to add to thicken soups, stews, or to cook with meats. It is not limited to pie filling.

#2 Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors in your cabinets- adding peanut butter and honey gave it sweetness while the salsa and red pepper flakes added spice.

#3 Most important- You can’t, and shouldn’t, rush a slow cooker no matter how badly you are ready to eat….

Tahini Tempeh Stir-Fry

Let me start by saying Tahini is such a forgotten condiment (at least it was for me) and so amazingly delicious! It’s also very versatile; it can be used as a dressing, marinade or topping for meat and veggies.  I’ve even had Tahini cookies which tasted like peanut butter cookies. It’s roasted sesame seed puree but you won’t find it with the other nut butters. It’s usually in the Middle Eastern/Ethnic section of most grocery stores. I learned this dressing recipe in the cooking/nutrition class where I am volunteering and observing.

Whisk together 1/2 cup tahini with water, enough to make it as thin as you desire. Add 3 Tblspn fresh lemon juice,

2 minced garlic gloves, 2 Tblspn Tamari, 2 Tblspn Maple Syrup. Whisk away, store in fridge. The can of Tahini should also be stored in the fridge.

For my protein, I cubed up a square of Tempeh (fermented soy)

and sauteed with some scallions and carrots in coconut oil. I didn’t need anymore garlic as the tahini that I was going to use later had plenty.

After it had slightly browned, I added shelled edamame (soy beans- found in frozen vegetable section) and drizzled in some tahini dressing.

I added a touch more tahini before serving over brown rice. Because in all honesty, I could drink the stuff I love it so much.

With this dish you are getting a great source of plant protein plus a whole grain. It works well left over so make a large batch for later in the week.  I also have half my Tahini dressing ready to be used on salads or greens as I wish.

Tofu can be substituted if you prefer the softer texture. I like the chewier, denser tempeh.  Which do you prefer?

Carrot-Berry Blaster

The afternoon slump: That time of day when our blood sugar has fallen from lunch and it’s too early to eat dinner. You’re tired, grumpy and more than likely dehydrated. This is when I used to make a run for a local coffee shop for something caffeinated, preferably sweet and cold too. I wanted that instant “energy” (chemicals and sugar) in my bloodstream. And it worked. For a minute.  Then I crashed again as my blood sugar plummeted once more from the simple carbs. The caffeine made me shaky and more irritable too. Fun.

These days when I need a pick-me-up or just some healthy instant energy I make a fruit/veggie juice in my blender.

Nature’s Starbucks…i found this awesome photo online

Earlier I wrote about making juices/smoothies in a standard blender if you don’t have access to a juicer. What you will get is all the skin, pulp and fiber that a juicer would strain out. Either way is great.

Stack blender with Kale or Spinach. Add water to cover half. Blend on high until liquified.

Add baby carrots, sliced apple, dash of honey and frozen berries. I used a blueberry, blackberry, rasberry blend.

Blend on High until frothy.

Dark rich colors = antioxidants

I add some ice as well to make it thick and icy. I’ve been having one almost everyday and my energy levels have evened out completely. No more slumps. Lots of healthy snacking helps with that too.

Try adding some of the following to see what tastes you like: Ginger, Garlic, Lemon, Lime, Beets….it’s a great experiment.

Curried Root Vegetable Salad

Autumn is the time of year to start transforming our swirling intense energy of summer into a calmer, more grounding energy in preparation for the resting season of winter.  We can allow ourselves  to slow down, draw inward, and begin to bring our energy back  down to the earth.  Rest, meditation, and changing our workouts can help with this.  Another way of doing this is to eat a lot of root vegetables. It’s a great way to connect with the earth’s naturally grounding energy. You can’t really get much closer to the earth than eating a potato or carrot pulled right from the ground! Yesterday I made this chilled salad but it could be served warm too.

I always leave the peels on

Bake 1 sweet potato, 1 large carrot and 1 acorn squash. Simply poke holes in vegetables, wrap in foil and place in 375 degree oven for approximately an hour. They should soften but not be mushy.  I actually left the peel on the acorn squash rather than scooping it out as usual. It was soft and added some flavor and a beautiful dark green color. Leaving on the peel of vegetables adds fiber and cuts out a time-consuming task which I’m always looking to do. Just be sure to scrub them well before cooking.

Rainbow of nature’s vitamins!

Chop into bite sized pieces. Toss in toasted sesame oil, dark vinegar, drop of honey (optional- the veggies are so sweet it really isn’t necessary unless you want that added sweetness), curry, cinnamon and garlic.  I would suggest a rich balsamic or flavored vinegar. I used fig so there was some sweetness to it.

Top with toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately or set in fridge to marinate and chill.

Stir well to coat veggies with savory oil and spices

I was dying to sprinkle on feta cheese but I resisted the urge. Read more about my weird obsession with feta here. I think goat cheese would be an excellent companion to this.

It’s sweet, spicy and warming. The dark colors are full of antioxidants as well.

What do you enjoy eating in the fall? 

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