Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Better Than Your Grandma's Chocolate Chip Cookies (Grain-free, Vegan, No refined sugar)

Chocolate chip cookies. I mean, unless your an alien, who doesn't LOVE this classic dessert? For me, cookies have always taken the cake (well in this case, the cookie). And homemade chocolate chip? A favorite dessert since childhood. Whether warm, cold, frozen, dunked in milk....they never fail.

I have tried many gluten-free chocolate chip cookies out there and I have never been blown away by the taste or the ingredients. Most cookies are loaded with sneaky sugar or unhealthy fat --- providing a whopping 10 grams of fat per cookie or 200+ calories. Might as well buy a carton of Ben & Jerry's. Or how about the cookie that tastes like cardboard? No thanks, I'll pass.

So yesterday I was inspired not only come up with a grain-free version of my favorite childhood dessert, but also free of refined sugar and dairy. So in other words, vegan! And to my pleasant surprise, they taste DELICIOUS. Yes. Magic happened. Not only delicious, but according to my ultimate taste tester (husband, Carlos Albir), they are better than the real thing.

I have tried these cookies at room temperature as well as chilled in the fridge. Both versions are equally delicious providing a slight crunch on the outside, but a soft, gooey inside where you will find yourself not being able to stop. WARNING, these are super addicting.

The recipe below makes these cookies in "portion control" size (believe me you will need it), which is equivalent to your traditional "famous amos" cookie. But way more delicious :)

I hope you enjoy these amazingly delicious (and good for you) chocolate chip cookies. And yes, they are better than your grandma's.

3 cups of almond flour (or almond meal)
1/3 teaspoon of salt
3/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil (non-vegans can use butter or whipped butter for less fat content)
4 1/2 tablespoon of agave nectar (or honey if following a Paleo diet)
3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of almond extract
3/4 cup of Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl mix together your dry ingredients: almond flour, salt and baking soda. In a separate large bowl, combine your wet ingredients: coconut oil, agave nectar, vanilla extract and almond extract. Mix well with a large wooden or plastic spoon. Make sure the coconut oil (or butter) is melted so you don't get any chunks in the batter. (*Side note: I mention in the ingredient listing that non-vegans can use butter instead of coconut oil. I have tried both versions and each way comes out equally delicious. I have also tried using 1/2 coconut oil and 1/2 whipped butter, which also comes out perfect).

Next add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix well either using a wooded spoon or electric mixer. Make sure to scrape along the sides so everything is evenly combined and mixed. Now stir in your delicous chocolate chips :)

If you find that your batter is a little too wet or sticky, it helps to place the bowl in the fridge for a bit before scooping the dough onto cookie sheets. Since this isn't your average cookie dough, it will be more on the wet side versus doughy side. But don't add more flour. Just place in the fridge for about 20 minutes or so to firm up a bit and then it should be easier to scoop out.

Next, line your cookie sheets (I used two) in parchment paper. Using a tablespoon ice cream scooper (which I think is easiest) or just a regular tablespoon measurer, scoop your cookies! For the "bite-size" portion that I have in this recipe make sure you pack in and level the tablespoon with each scoop then slightly press down each ball of dough. I find that each cookie comes out the perfect shape and size this way. (If you find that the dough is sticking to the inside of the scooper, a helpful hint is to sprinkle the inside of your scooper with a gluten-free flour (I used arrowroot flour) and then wipe off with a paper towel in between scoops.

Bake cookies for 8-9 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. LET THE COOKIES COOL on the cookie sheets for at least 15 minutes. Try and restrain yourself from eating them right out of the oven as you want them to set first (and not fall apart), plus they taste way better at room temperature :)  You can store them in an air tight container in the fridge or freezer as they taste just as yummy cold!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chicken Paillard with Arugula and Strawberry Salad

A simple go-to meal that is healthy and budget friendly. The fresh arugula salad on top is mixed with juicy strawberries, heart of palm, toasted almonds and shaved queso fresco, and goes a long way to compliment your everyday piece of chicken!

Chicken Paillard (in most cases), is breaded before being cooked in a skillet ---however my gluten-free version does not have a breaded coating and tastes perfectly delicious simply seasoned with salt & pepper and high quality olive oil. Easy peasy, right?

Hope you enjoy this easy-to make perfect Summer dish :)

1 chicken breast (no skin or bones)
3 handfuls of fresh arugula
2 whole heart of palms (sliced)
3-4 strawberries (cut into 4ths)
2 tablespoons of blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespooon of fresh grated queso fresco (or goat cheese or feta all work great)
Good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice

Let's start with pounding out your chicken breast. On a cutting board, take your chicken and with a sharp knife cut horizontally into the side of it, but not all the way through. The easiest way to explain this is to pretend the chicken is a book. You want to cut into the side and open it up like a book so there is now two halves, but still attached (like the binding of a book). Make sense? If not, photos below will hopefully explain :)

Next, take a piece of plastic wrap and wrap it once around the chicken (top and bottom). Using a meat pounder (or the back of a heavy skillet), pound out your chicken till it's about 1/2 inch thick. POUND! You will see above a faint white line in the middle (this is the 2 halves of the chicken - like two pages of a book, mentioned above).

Now coat your medium sized skillet with your GOOD quality olive oil (the better quality, the better the flavor). Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and place in the skillet over medium-high heat. You will cook the chicken on both sides about 5-6 minutes per side.

While your chicken is cooking, prepare your simple summer salad. In a medium bowl mix together your arugula, heart of palms and strawberries. In a separate small bowl whisk together your dressing of 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and your fresh squeezed lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the arugula salad with the dressing.

Once your chicken is done cooking, plate it. Add the arugula salad on top and sprinkle your toasted almonds and shredded cheese overtop. BOOM! Easy, healthy, affordable.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Garden Fresh Kale Salad

This is my go-to, every week salad that is packed with nutrition and tastes market fresh. I kid you not when I say I make this every week for dinner and switch it up by topping it with steak (for my husband) and fish or grilled portabellas (for me).

It has all my favorite salad ingredients with tons of avocado and fresh basil and mint to brighten everything up! Make sure you get the freshest produce possible and feel free to add whatever protein or grilled veggies to top it off!

It's also a great salad to serve as a side dish at a fun summer BBQ or at a dinner party all season long :)

*I don't provide measurements for this salad because you basically just toss everything together using as much and as little of the ingredients as you want. For instance I love a lot of avocado and sun-dried tomatoes as well as the fresh herbs, but you may want to adjust to your preference (and group size!)

Fresh kale roughly chopped (green, purple, or mixed all work!)
Mini cucumbers, sliced
Avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
Grape tomatoes, halved
Sun dried tomatoes (I use the ones soaked in olive oil)
Hearts of palms (cut into 1/2 inch slices)
Black olives (sliced)
Fresh basil, chopped
Fresh mint, chopped
Olive oil (high quality for optimum flavor)
Minced garlic

Start by taking your kale and placing it in a large salad bowl. My secret trick with kale when making raw salads is to add the dressing first and massage the kale with it. This is what softens it a bit and removes that bitter flavor that some people dislike. The dressing that I use for this is a combination of 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice and two parts olive oil, salt, pepper and minced garlic to taste. I whisk this all together and then drizzle over the kale. Then using my hands, I toss and gently massage the kale for about 30 seconds or so. Next, add the rest of your ingredients (in no particular order), although I like to add the fresh herbs at the end before tossing it all together. Do a taste test to see if you want to add any extra dressing or salt/pepper, and then your done! Top with your favorite meat or fish, or enjoy as is on those meatless Monday nights!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pesto Noodles with Roasted Tomatoes and Arugula (Grain-free, Vegan)

I am happy to report that I have a new favorite recipe. And possibly a favorite to top the charts. My Pesto "Noodles" will happily satisfy any of you pasta lovers out there without the gluten, carbs, dairy, high-fat....sound too good to be true? I know.

For anyone who knows me, pasta is something I absolutely adore. And it was also the hardest thing I had to give up after realizing I felt like death after eating it. So I'm sure you can imagine my excitement at the discovery of this recipe and most importantly the main ingredient: Kelp Noodles.

What are these magical noodles you ask? They are simply a sea vegetable in the form of an easy-to-eat raw noodle. Kelp Noodles are fat-free, gluten-free, and very low in carbohydrates and calories. Most importantly, they are highly versatile and take on any flavor/style you wish, whether you are craving an Italian pasta night, or you want to travel East for a Thai noodle bowl.

In this particular recipe, I also add the newly popular zucchini "noodles" and follow suit with carrot "noodles" to add a bit of texture, color and flavor to the dish. Let's face it, noodling veggies is so hot right now. Right!?

These veggie noodles also serve as a great substitute but I personally think are best when mixed in with Kelp Noodles as the vegetables sometime can get a little soggy. The kelp has a stiffer texture (resembling noodles) as opposed to the veggies (when cooked) tend to be a bit softer. 

I added my all-time favorite Vegan Pesto to this dish along with sweet roasted tomatoes and peppery arugula. But of course feel free to add whatever sauce, veggies, protein, etc. that your little heart desires. I ate this for dinner last night hot, but it was possibly even more delicious for lunch today cold. Like I said, VERSATILE. 

Enjoy this guiltless beyond yummy "noodle" dish and have fun experimenting with the life changing Kelp Noodles! Bon Appétit friends. Bon Appétit.

1 package of Kelp Noodles
1 medium zucchini
1 large carrot
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cipollini onions (sliced thin)
1 big handful of arugula
4 tablespoons of Vegan Pesto  (you can make ahead of time)
Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss your tomatoes and onions with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Spread across a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes and onions are soft and roasty toasty. Set aside.

Next take your kelp noodles in a medium bowl and soak them for about 15 minutes with warm water. (This will soften them up a bit). While the noodles are soaking, make "noodles" out of your zucchini. There are a few ways to do this, but I highly suggest buying this spiral vegetable slicer. It's only $30 and makes great noodles. For this dish, I used the blade that makes the thinnest (spaghetti-like noodles). Alternatively if you don't have this device, you can try using a vegetable peeler as I do for the carrots, but they will be thicker and flatter noodles (like fettuccine). For the carrot use a vegetable peeler (as I just mentioned) and thinly shave off pieces to resemble noodles. (Side note: I find it difficult to use the spiral veggie slicer for carrots because they are skinner than zucchini. To get a better noodle, your traditional veggie peeler does the job).

Add veggie noodles to a colander in the sink and sprinkle with a small handful of salt (as mentioned before, your veggie noodles tend to get a bit soggy. This process will release some of the water). Set aside for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, drain the kelp noodles and shake out excess water. If the noodles look too long, feel free to cut them with kitchen scissors to shorter strands.

Take a large skillet on high heat and add about a tablespoon of oil. Take your veggie noodles and squeeze out any excess water. You should release quite a bit. Shake them back into shape and throw them onto the hot skillet. You want them to brown up a bit before adding the kelp noodles. This will add some texture back to them. Let cook for about a minute or two, just until you see them start to brown slightly. Next, add your kelp noodles and toss around evenly with veggies. You may want to add another tablespoon of olive oil if the pan seems dry. Let cook for about 5 minutes and lower the heat to low. Toss in your pesto sauce. Make sure to stir around well as it takes a couple minutes to get the kelp noodles coated evenly. Next toss in the tomato/onion mixture and turn the heat down to simmer and cover the pan.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a smaller skillet over medium heat. Add your arugula and let cook up until just soft (about 5 minutes). Lastly, add your arugula to the noodle pan and toss everything evenly. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan (or vegan parm) and enjoy!