Juice Cleanse, Day 1

Well, I never thought I’d do it but here I am, doing a juice cleanse. I’ve mocked people for going on these short-term weight loss aventures that more often than not end up in nothing after you’ve successfully gained back the weight you lost in a week.

I’ve had the toughest time staying on a diet, working out everyday and doing all these things I used to do so well recently. I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and that I’m craving sweets, alcohol and creamy, cheesy things.

This is why I’ve decided to embark on a juice cleanse. I’m no fan of fad diets, but I thought I could try it out and see for myself what it’s all about. Perhaps this will be the way I can kickstart my weight loss and retrain my taste buds, two benefits of which I’ve heard lots about, but don’t seem to be backed up by science.

So far, I can tell you, after two juices (I did let myself have a banana early in the day and a couple of cashew nuts and 2 dates) – I don’t really feel well. I feel kind of awful, actually. I’m lightheaded, I’m really cold and I have slight nausea. I don’t even eat poorly or fried foods all the time. I’m a generally healthy eater and I feel like I can’t focus and my stomach hates me.

I’ll update you at the end of the day, which is when I’m going to let myself have a real meal (my sister’s bday dinner, I couldn’t refuse!) but this is really tough so far. I hope it’s worth it.

Banana Nut Chia Smoothie

smoothie1

I know it’s been ages, blog world! I’ve been cooking and cooking nonstop and not telling any of you about it. In short, since I last told you about cookies bursting with dates, chocolate and raisins, I’ve moved to a new city, started a new job, found a new apartment and got a car. It’s like I grew up in just a few months. The good news for you, blog world, is that I’ve got a large fridge, a proper stove and my own kitchen (well, that I share with one person), so there’s been a lot of cooking over here and a lot of new recipes that work with a busier lifestyle.

I’ve been hitting the gym at 7AM – yes, early – and so I need to be up around 6AM every morning. Since I’ll be working out, I usually grab something quick to power me through my workout but won’t weigh me down too much. I’ve come up with a recipe, which is probably a bit too hearty for a pre-workout meal (unless you got an hour before you exercise, which I often do), but also works really well as a post-workout meal. Besides, it’s banana-y and nutty in a delicious, delicious way.

This smoothie has cashew nuts (my new obsession) and chia seeds (another new obsession) to thicken it up without adding too much milk or protein powder. Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein, manganese (for your bones!) and omega-3 fatty acids (those found in fish like salmon and sardines, as well). Cashew nuts are high in oleic acid, the same heart-healthy kind found in olive oil.

 

smoothie2Banana Nut Chia Smoothie

1 scoop vanilla protein powder (about 16g)
1 large banana, refrigerated (can be frozen too, if you’ve got a powerful blender)
1/2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp cashew nuts
1 cup cold water
1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp chopped cashews (optional)

Cut banana in half, throw in blender with other ingredients. Blend well and once it’s done, pour it out and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. This will allow the chia seeds to thicken up your smoothie. If you don’t have cashews, you can use other kinds of nuts, maybe almonds, would pair up well with the flavors in this. Peanuts would be a safe choice, or peanut butter, even!

Oatmeal, Raisin, Date and Chocolate Cookies

11 cookiess

March has been a trying month. With a new work schedule, I’ve had to change my routine quite a bit and it’s been quite tough to get myself to the gym when I want to. I’ve worked around it and I’m still going to the gym, but I’m also starving much more than ever. I’ve also hit a weight loss plateau, which I believe is partly self-inflicted (weekend outings) and partly due to the fact that I just don’t have that much weight left to lose. It’s like the weight is sticking to me. It’s holding on to my bones for dear life; clinging to my thighs, my upper arms and my belly. Maybe you’re looking at the picture of the cookies above and are like, “Well, if you’ve been eating cookies, then why are you even surprised that your weight isn’t budging?” Well, observant reader, I made these about a month ago for Valentine’s Day. I’m very much of the school that if you’re really craving something, you need to go ahead and have a bite to get rid of the craving. I haven’t done much of that because I feel like the more I have something, the more I crave it. However, for sweet things, a little tiny cookie sometimes goes a long way. After long weeks of hard work, there is no reason why you can’t just take a bite out of something delicious. It’s not going to undo your diet, as long as you eat the same way you do throughout the entire day. That’s the idea behind a cheat day, or a cheat meal.

I love Smitten Kitchen, but of course, anyone who’s been there knows healthy recipes are not Deb’s forte. I decided to take on her delicious-looking oatmeal cookies last month, but made a few changes to cut back on fat and sugar. I added dates and a bit of chocolate instead. The cookies will still taste good and you won’t feel as guilty. Now, a good idea is to make these around a holiday, or when you have people coming over, so you’re not stuck with 12 cookies that you have to eat all by yourself. I made these, sent a bunch to my brother and his wife, and gave his co-workers some, too. I had two and satisfied my craving.

11 cookie dough

11 cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Thick, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces, or 115 grams) butter, softened (I actually used almost a stick, so maybe 75% of the stick)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups (120 grams) rolled oats
3/4 cup (120 grams) raisins (I used a lot of golden raisins)
1/4 cup chopped dates
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips (just to get a bit of chocolate here and there, unexpected surprise!)

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Stir this into the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins, dates and chocolate.

Chill the dough and scoop the cookies onto a sheet. Preheat at oven to 350°F (175°C).

The cookies should be two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes (mine took longer because my oven sucks), taking them out when golden at the edges but still a little undercooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.

Makes maybe around 12 cookies

Homemade Vanilla Soy Pudding

14 soy pudding

I have gotten into the habit of buying this absolutely delicious (but probably uber processed) chocolate soy pudding at the supermarket. I eat it with sliced frozen bananas (better than ice cream, okay, for most of you, probably not) and it is amazing. However, they are a little bit too expensive, which means I can’t have them as often as I’d want, so I set out to make a homemade version.

I was pretty surprised at the lack of soy pudding recipes that don’t call for silken tofu available to me, so I started off with Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for caramel pudding, but substituted all the animal products for healthy ones. What I ended up was with a pretty delicious vegan dessert. The texture was not as gelatinous (not a great word to describe food, but) as regular pudding, but it hit the spot, and I made it with all the ingredients I had in my kitchen. Success.

Vanilla Soy Pudding 

2 cups soymilk (I used a mixture of regular and light)
3 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 small envelope of artificial sweetener (you could skip this if you buy sweetened milk, but could add brown sugar instead)
1 tsp cinnamon

In a small bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of the soymilk with the cornstarch and vanilla until smooth. Set aside. In a small saucepan, gradually heat the rest of your soymilk for about 5 minutes. Gradually mix in the cornstarch mixture, keep whisking over moderate heat, stirring until it thickens. It’ll thicken in about 8-10 minutes. Separate into half a cup servings and refrigerate in bowls. It’ll set in about 2 hours. Sprinkle in additional cinnamon before refrigerating.

Greek + Fattoush Salad

10 fattoush greekThere’s something about scorching hot summer temperatures that make you want to spend absolutely no time in the kitchen. Maybe it’s the fact that the kitchen is, hands down, the hottest place in this apartment, or maybe it’s the fact that there’s so much going on outside with people running to the beach, to beach lounges, and anything beach-related that makes me want to avoid turning the oven on and either join in on the fun, or go into deep hibernation in a cold, dark room. Welcome to summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

This recipe is my answer to this hellish weather and my desire to spend zero energy on anything in the kitchen. It requires nothing but chopping and assembling, and it tastes so good. You know how I said I was picky about salads for a vegetarian-ish? Well, this is another one of those salads that I really look forward to having, especially on the days when there is barely a breeze and everything gets slow and lazy.

10 salad tomato

I love Greek Salads, but they’re not very special, are they? I mean, not often. I stayed away from the olives and added mint, inspired by the Fattoush Salads served with fried pita at some Lebanese restaurants here, to make it extra bright. For a dressing, nothing sounded more refreshing than a delicious tzatziki, a version of Ina Garten’s (my idol) featured on Smitten Kitchen. I originally wanted to eat it alongside pita, but I decided it was thin and delicious enough for a dressing. I didn’t grab the pita and just ate it with the salad. I also cut out a lot of calories by opting out of the sour cream and full-fat yogurt the recipe called for.

Here, I used a combination of arugula and lamb’s breath because the latter’s softness complements the former’s peppery bite. However, you are welcome to use more traditional lettuces, like romaine. This is a bright salad that will feel substantial and tastes like summer.

Greek + Fattoush Salad

1 tomato, roughly chopped
1/2 cucumber, sliced in rounds
2 tbsp onion, chopped (red is better)
3 tbsp red pepper, roughly chopped
4 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1 cup arugula
1 1/2 cups lamb’s breath
3 tbsp tzatziki 
1/4 cup feta (you can use nonfat)
black pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, red pepper, and mint. Place lettuce of choice in a big bowl. Add all veggies and dressing. Combine well. I’d only add the feta on each plate because if you throw it in before you toss the salad, the feta breaks up quite a bit, so don’t do this until the end.

10 cucumber

Tzatziki dressing (adapted from Ina Garten’s, featured on Smitten Kitchen

14 ounces regular yogurt (I used a mixture of regular and nonfat yogurt, so go ahead and use regular, it tastes good. You can use nonfat greek, but make sure to mix it with regular nonfat yogurt because it might not be runny enough)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled and seeded
1/4 nonfat yogurt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place the yogurt in a medium bowl. Grate the cucumber on a box grater and squeeze the grated cucumber with your hand to remove some of the liquid. Add it to the yogurt along with the sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and stir.

10 tzatziki

Serves 2 as main, 3 as side dish

Summer Squash Salad with Goat Cheese, Cranberries and Balsamic Reduction

9 squash salad 2I might be largely vegetarian, but the thought of having a salad for lunch or dinner when I’m really hungry is really, really discouraging. The prospect of boring leaves, simple tomato, maybe a little onion with a regular vinaigrette just doesn’t make me look forward to eating and it also doesn’t fill me up. Hearty salads and warm vegetable salads is where it’s at for me, and this is exactly the kind of salad I can actually crave.

I made this with steamed summer squash, or pumpkin, that is called abóbora moranga in Portuguese. It’s rich in antioxidants like beta-carotene and alpha-carotene that take care of our immune system. I love it because it adds bulk, substance and flavor without being starchy or heavy. I also used cranberries, which work so well in salads, because they’ve also got a ton of antioxidants and fiber. I added goat cheese because I love it and because it adds a touch of richness without weighing the whole thing down. You are welcome to add nuts for crunch. I’m not a huge fan of nuts, so that’s why I did not but walnuts and pistachios would work.

As for the dressing, I used a balsamic vinegar reduction, which elevated the affair quite a bit for someone who stuffs black beans into tortillas like there is no tomorrow. I am generally incredibly picky about dressings. First off, I convinced myself a couple of years ago that I hated vinegar, including balsamic vinegar, so I’d try to have my salad with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Because olive oil can’t really stand on its own in a salad, I always had a feeling that salads were always boring. That’s until I tried this balsamic vinaigrette at a really casual lunch hall in college and fell in love. Balsamic vinegar, you are a tempting seductress.

9 squash salad

I scoured the internet to make a fancy-sounding balsamic reduction and worked off of the recipe featured in Cooking on the Ranch. However, I omitted the soy sauce because I thought it wouldn’t work. We’ll never know for sure, but I was pretty pleased with the end result sans soy. Oh, and while researching balsamic reduction recipes in the wee hours of the morning, I found out that, like wine, balsamic vinegar has cancer-fighting polyphenols and is rich in minerals like manganese and iron. Also, it’s got no fat and only 15 calories in a tablespoon. Who needs olive oil when you’ve got balsamic?

Summer Squash Salad with Goat Cheese, Cranberries and Balsamic Reduction

1/2 cup cooked squash (roasted would be ideal)
1 to 1 1/2 cups arugula (I used butter lettuce but this would have been much better with arugula)
1 tablespoon balsamic reduction
1 oz goat cheese
1 tbsp cranberries
mint, finely chopped (about 1 tbsp)

Chop cooked squash in large squares. Place on bed of arugula on the bottom of a bowl. Break up ounce of goat cheese into small chunks and arrange them all over the salad so you get a bit of creamy deliciousness in every bite. Chop about a tablespoon of fresh mint and mix it into the salad. I love how the mint works here, but you are free to omit it if you’re not a fan. Sprinkle the cranberries over the salad and drizzle a tablespoon of balsamic reduction on the salad. A little bit of that reduction goes a long way.

Balsamic Reduction 

1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar

Heat the vinegar and the brown sugar in a small saucepan. Once it boils, turn heat down and let it simmer until it thickens. What I had trouble with was knowing when it was syrupy enough to stop simmering. I stopped when it started lightly coat the bottom of the pan when I moved it around. The instructions I saw online said 20 minutes. Remember to err on the side of caution because really syrupy balsamic reduction will basically become candy and harden when cooled. This is also great for meats, so if you make a big quantity, you can keep it in a squeeze bottle in the fridge to make all sorts of dishes (meats, salads, pasta) look super professional.

Huevos Rancheros

8 eggs 3…or Breakfast Tacos! Over the years, eggs have become the poster child for high cholesterol and heart disease. Although a number of studies published in the past have linked the consumption of eggs to increased risk of heart disease, a number of reliable sources, including the National Institutes of Health and several researchers, doctors and dietitians, agree that eggs can be a part of a healthy diet in moderation. One egg may contain almost half the cholesterol you should eat in a day (185 out of 300 milligrams), but it also contains a lot of high quality protein (about 6 grams) in a small, cheap package for relatively few calories (around 72-80). Furthermore, eggs have got  an antioxidant, lutein, which can lower the body’s inflammatory responses, and choline, a nutrient that helps memory and muscle function. Need more reasons to eat eggs? Three delicious words: runny egg yolk.

Like in most aspects of nutrition, it’s all about balance. If you had two eggs in the morning, you should probably pass on that slice of Brie before dinner or go meatless for lunch. Eggs are not the villain they’ve been cracked up to be and they are certainly at home as part of a healthy lifestyle. Of course, if you want to have eggs all the time, you should probably consider using half the amount of eggs and doubling the egg whites, or just using egg whites.

8 eggs 6

I will go ahead and confess that I am obsessed with corn tortillas and I could have Mexican food (guacamole, black beans, burritos, fajitas) every day and never get bored. There was a time when I used to buy 30-count bags of corn tortillas and was constantly thinking of ways I could use them. This is a great way to not only use up tortillas but also hit the spot that Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon usually hit for me. Think of this as a great and filling brunch alternative to Eggs Benedict that can be made with scrambled egg whites, too. Here, a delicious spicy tomato salsa fills in for Hollandaise. Your thighs will thank you later.

Huevos Rancheros

2 large eggs (can work with 2-3 egg whites, too)
1 large very ripe tomato
1/4 of a small white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
2 pickled jalapeños (feel free to use fresh, without the seeds if you don’t like it spicy – oh and of course, any pepper you want!)
1 tbsp sriracha
1 tbsp ketchup (can substitute with 1/2 tsp of tomato paste and a tiny bit of sugar)
2 6″ corn tortillas
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup refried black beans
salt and pepper to taste (for eggs perhaps, but optional for the salsa)

Let’s start with the salsa. Oh, and if you have red peppers, Serranos, or even something a bit less common like pieces of ripe peaches or pineapple, feel free to throw them in, too! I used to be obsessed with a pineapple-Habanero salsa. Start by finely chopping 1/4 of a white onion. Cube the tomatoes. You want small cubes, but not tiny. Finely chop one clove of garlic. Get a small saucepan and throw in your a couple of tomatoes and the onion over low-medium heat. When I made this, I didn’t need to add any fat because the tomatoes were watery enough to keep the salsa from sticking. Cook for 2 more minutes, or until onion starts to get translucent. Add the rest of the tomatoes and the garlic. Let it cook for about 3 minutes, stirring vigorously. If you feel it is starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, add the water to the pan. Roughly chop your pickled jalapeño and throw it in. Turn up the heat to medium. When it begins to boil, lower the heat a bit and let it simmer. Now add the sriracha and the ketchup. Let it cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, or until it looks like the picture below. Salt and pepper are optional. I found it did not need any.

8 eggs 4

Cook the eggs in olive oil (use the fat you prefer) in a nonstick pan the way you like the most. I scrambled one egg and cooked the other one sunny side up (runny yolk, obviously) because I was feeling fancy and wanted variety. I know that’s not very fancy at all because it’s just eggs, but it did take a tiny bit longer. To assemble, char tortillas over open flame for about 5-8 seconds on each side (be careful not to burn yourself and yes, there will be tiny bits of tortilla stuck to your burners but it’s worth the flavor!). Assemble by spooning about 1/4 cup of refried black beans (recipe coming soon!) on the tortilla and then place your egg on its delicious bed of beans. Add about a tablespoon and a half to two of salsa on top of your eggs. A little bit of feta or queso fresco on top would be delicious, but this is definitely up to you. You won’t be hungry for a couple of hours. A hearty breakfast you can feel good about.

8 eggs 5

Makes 2 breakfast tacos

Fish Tacos with Healthy Chipotle Crema and Guacamole

7 tacosWith international chains touting extra grande nachos smothered in nondescript cheese sauces and giant, overstuffed burritos that contain all the calories you should eat in a day, it’s no wonder Mexican food gets a bad rap. But the truth is that not all Mexican food is unhealthy and going on a diet does not mean you need to bid adiós to all the Mexican fare you enjoy. Yes, this does mean you need to get avoid sour cream (have you tried nonfat Greek yogurt instead?), all those radioactive-looking cheese sauces (I just wrote a post about the cheese you should eat instead), and anything fried (bake your tortilla chips!), but there are a lot of ingredients you can still have. When you go for Mexican, keep the avocados, the pico de gallo, the salsas, the chiles, the corn tortillas, and the beans.

I am a huge fan of Mexican food, but I dislike Tex-Mex adaptations that rely on deep frying and burying healthy, innocent tortillas under blankets of cheese. When I feel like Mexican, I usually make my black bean tacos (recipe coming soon!) but if I’m having one of those days when I feel like I need extra protein, I go for this delicious take on fish tacos I came up with while living in Washington, D.C. and gorging on Salvadoran food on a regular basis. I know most of the recipes I’ve featured so far are vegetarian, so this is a departure from what I usually make, but trust me, it’s worth it.

7 tacos 2

You can make this with flour tortillas if you want, but seriously, it’s not the same. Plus, 6″ corn tortillas only have 55 calories and less than a gram of fat each. A 2-tortilla serving has 12% of your daily dietary fiber intake. For me, white or yellow corn tortillas are a great healthy choice. Most flour tortillas have more calories, except for the reduced carbohydrate tortillas that come with extra fiber, so if you want to use those, go ahead, but you’ll lose the delicious earthy flavor of corn.

The fish is also up to you, but I go for something white, thin, and flaky, like Tilapia. Halibut would be great here. Additional toppings could work, say, a nice little slaw and some corn salsa, perhaps.

Fish Tacos with Healthy Chipotle Crema and Guacamole

1 fillet Tilapia (about 4-5oz)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 white corn 6″ tortillas
1/4 cup guacamole (recipe to follow)
1/4 cup chipotle crema (recipe to follow) 
salt and pepper to taste

Marinate Tilapia with olive oil, paprika, and salt and pepper for 10 minutes. Lightly oil a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once marinated, put the Tilapia down on the pan carefully. Let cook for about 4 minutes without flipping. Flip when the top starts looking a bit white. Lower the heat to medium, and maybe even to low if your stove is powerful. Cook for an additional 3 minutes until fish is cooked. Remove from heat. Char 2 corn tortillas over an open flame (or heat in the toaster oven for about a minute on a low power setting, or in the microwave for 20 seconds wrapped in paper towel). I like the char the stove gives the tortillas, both in flavor and look. Flip so each side gets charred. This will take about, so keep your eye on them. Remove from heat. Assemble tortillas quickly because they will get cold and hard if you leave them hanging out there for hours. Place fish down first, then a generous dollop of the chipotle crema (you will be coming back for more of this), and then the bright guacamole. Eat tacos. Feel amazing.

Makes 2 tacos

Healthy Chipotle Crema
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (I swear by FAGE, use 2% if you want a creamier “crema”)
1/2 tbsp adobo sauce from the canned chipotle peppers
1 tbsp sliced chipotle pepper

It is very important that you do not drain your canned chipotle peppers. Save the juice. All of it. My favorite brand is La Morena because it’s so good and its logo is a judgmental Latin lady. Open can, grab one of the sliced peppers and finely chop it, so you have a tablespoon of it. In a bowl, mix nonfat Greek yogurt with the pepper, mashing the pepper against the sides of the bowl. The yogurt should become pink. Add the adobo sauce, and add some more if you like it spicy.

7 avocado 2

Guacamole
1 small Hass avocado
1/6 cup white or red onion, finely chopped
the juice from half a lime
1 tbsp of cilantro, finely chopped
1/3 fresh jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

I don’t think I need to explain how to make guacamole because it’s so easy, but I just included my personal favorite recipe because I will not stand for tomatoes in guacamole. No ifs, ands, buts or maybes. They have no business there. They are there to water the delicious green ambrosia down and I will not have it. Avocado tips: Remember, a Hass avocado is ready to eat when it is brown and the end, the part where the stem once came out of should yield a bit when you press it – it’s like a ripeness button! If your avocados aren’t ripe and you really want to make guacamole, put it in a brown paper bag with a banana for a day in a warm spot. Bananas help other fruit ripen. Maybe they corrupt them, precipitating their arrival to ripe old age?

7 avocado

Open your avocado by cutting it with a knife lengthwise around the seed. This should give you two perfect avocado halves. Remove the pit with the knife carefully and slice the avocado meat in squares with your knife without cutting through the skin. Scoop it out with a spoon. Add the chopped onion, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and finally, salt and pepper to taste. Now, I prefer my avocado a bit chunky, so I don’t mash it. I think it’s much nicer to have chunks of avocado melting in my mouth with every bite rather than eating baby food, but I’m not judging.

Banana Oatmeal “Fritters”

6 banana frit

It’s Carnival time where I live and that means colorful costumes, men in drag, scantily clad people everywhere and most importantly, street parties that begin at 9AM and don’t end until the sun rises. Carnival is truly an excuse to party all day, but after a long day (and night!) of dancing, drinking, and sweating, there’s nothing else I want other than a good stick-to-your-ribs breakfast to bring me back to life.

A couple of years ago, this would have meant a heaping plate of Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and delicious breakfast potatoes, or maybe an egg and cheese sandwich oozing with American cheese on a baguette. These days, after a night of rum and beer-induced antics, I don’t feel like undoing my diet once again with a greasy and heavy breakfast. This is why I go for something that’s comforting, warm and rich, but also good for me. I am a huge fan of whole wheat banana pancakes and I’ve been making a ton of vegan and fat-free versions of them in the last couple of months, but although they are tasty, they tend to be a bit dense for me. Today, I decided to make a lighter and creamier batter using oat flour. I worked off of Cookie and Kate’s recipe for Banana Oat Pancakes but made a couple of changes to lighten them up. I did away with the eggs and added fiber-rich flaxseed meal for a vegan pancake (hold the butter!). The result was a mix between a healthy oatmeal fritter and a banana pancake that was 100% creamy, melt-in-your-mouth banana goodness. Oh, and for those with gluten sensitivities, did I mention these are gluten-free, too? Remember to make sure your oats are gluten-free first!

6 banana oatmeal

6 banana oatThe other side featuring caramelized bananas.

Banana Oatmeal Fritters 

1/2 cup oat flour (make this by pulsing old-fashioned oats in a food processor)
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
2 large overripe bananas
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp light soymilk (you can use any kind of milk subtitute)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp honey (you can use agave) (optional)
1/2 tbsp coconut oil (optional)
a pad of butter, or margarine (optional)
sliced bananas (optional)

In a small bowl, mash bananas with a fork and pour in the vanilla extract and the honey. In another bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: flour, flax, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder. Combine wet and dry ingredients. This will depend on the size and ripeness of your bananas, but if your batter is very dry, add 3 tbsp of light soymilk. If it looks very wet already, then add only 2 tbsp of soymilk. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat, lightly oil the surface with either cooking spray, coconut oil or margarine/butter. I experimented a bit with the coconut oil, but I really didn’t notice the difference so feel free to omit this or add it to the pancake itself. You only need a little bit, especially if you’re using a nonstick pan or griddle. Pour half the batter onto the pan. Allow it to cook for about 4 minutes until bubbles appear on top. When you see those bubbles, you can place some sliced bananas on your batter for an added taste of bananas if you’d like. Flip the “fritters” and cook for about 3 more minutes. Serve the banana oatmeal fritters with fruit and a drizzle of honey or agave. I had mine with sliced bananas and honey. They were delicious and filling.

Makes 2 fritters

Life After Cheese

Image(An amazing grilled cheese sandwich. Oh. My. Lord. Photo by Flickr user: Maggie Hoffman)

I’ve encountered a number of people – including vegetarians – who have told me meat is not difficult to give up, but the one thing they couldn’t do without is cheese. As a former cheese fanatic, I know exactly what they mean. Few things used to comfort me like a nice grilled quesadilla with tons of cheddar or a hot slice of pizza overflowing with mozzarella. However, cheese lost a lot of its appeal when I took one look at a nutrition label on a fateful Saturday morning. I was at a Starbucks, about to board a train for a long ride and I really wanted a snack. I grabbed one of Starbucks’ deceivingly healthy-looking snack boxes filled with crackers, almonds, sliced fruit, and cheese. I walked off happily, proud of myself for grabbing the healthiest snack, and went on about my day. I was devouring a tiny wedge of Brie with a slice of apple when I decided to take a peek at the nutrition facts. This is what I saw: “Calories 480, Calories from Fat 250; Total Fat 28g, 44% DV; Saturated Fat 10g, 50% DV; Cholesterol 50 mg, 17% DV.” I couldn’t even believe it! This tiny box with small slices of cheese, fruit, and almonds had half the fat that a grown adult needs in one day. Of course, the nuts in there have some fat too, but that cholesterol and most of the saturated fat was coming solely from the cheese. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature: they clog your arteries, raising the level of cholesterol in your blood. You’ll find them mostly in foods from animal sources, but they are also found in coconut oil and palm oil. Because they are considered “bad fats,” the American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats make up less than 7% of your daily calorie intake. Whole-fat and creamy cheeses are a major source of saturated fats. That day, I ended up eating the crackers and the fruit, but tossing the cheese.

ImageLooks innocent enough, right? Think again. (Photo by: Starbucks

In fact, I began tossing (and giving away) most of the cheese I consumed regularly. I started reading labels and learning a bit more about how many calories and how much fat the cheeses I love have. After careful consideration, I said goodbye to my spicy friend, Pepper Jack, for good and tried to get rid of my quesadilla habit. Over time, I cut back on cheese dramatically and I truly feel like that has been one of the keys to my weight loss. Obviously, that’s because a lot of the fat that I consumed came from cheese and that may not be the same for you. But if you are a cheese lover looking to get healthy, remember that forgoing two slices of cheddar on your sandwich can mean saving a total of 226 calories and over 11 grams of saturated fat, 60% of the daily recommended value of saturated fat for an adult consuming 2,000 calories per day.

But I’m not here to advocate that you get rid of cheese completely! There are a lot of voices online that want you to cut out dairy completely, and if you feel that’s right for you, then more power to you. But if like a lot of us, you have no adverse reaction to lactose, buy organic dairy, or don’t think you could give it up the creamy goodness, here are five tips to make sure the cheese you buy helps you reach your health goals.

Remember, getting healthy and losing weight is not about adopting radical changes that you will not be able to maintain long-term. Getting healthy is about making small changes and changing bad habits for good habits.

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 1. Choose Tofu

Okay, I know it’s not the same. I know it’s not the same at all, but tofu can certainly hit the spot. Add marinated firm tofu to sandwiches and silken tofu to pasta sauces to achieve that creamy consistency melted cheese provides. Besides, tofu is high in protein and low in fat. (Photo of tofu ceviche by Flickr User: Lablascovegmenu)

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2. Choose Goat Cheese over Cow’s Milk Cheese

Goat cheese has less calories and fat than cow’s milk cheese. An ounce of goat cheese usually has around seventy to eighty calories and six grams of fat, while a similar amount of cow’s milk cheese packs around 100 calories and ten grams of fat. Sprinkle pieces of Feta (made with sheep’s milk too) and French goat cheeses on salads instead of shredded cheddar. (Photo by Flickr User: cheese slave)

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3.Use Nutritional Yeast

Deactivated yeast imparts a great cheesy, nutty flavor to food. You can add it to macaroni and cheese and to mashed potatoes. Sprinkle over tofu for a brunch favorite: vegan scramble. (Photo by Flickr user: Watashiwani)

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4. Use Vegan Cheeses

I don’t have to tell you just how many vegan cheese substitutes there are out there. Daiya makes very popular melty ones. Just make sure to read the labels. Like a lot of commercial vegan products, the manufacturers often replace animal flavorings with tons of vegetable oils.

5. Ask for half the cheese, double the veggies

I remember asking for extra cheese when I ate out at restaurants and wanted to get a sandwich that had meat in it, without it. I figured, “Well, if I’m not getting the meat, then I might as well get double the cheese to get more food for my buck!” Not the best idea. I didn’t necessarily feel fuller and I was getting protein, sure, but a lot of fat, too. Now when I go to restaurants and want to get something that’s got meat, I ask for extra veggies instead. This is how I try to make pizza at home, too: cut the cheese in half and make up for it with a ton of fresh vegetables.

The truth is that if you love cheese, it’s hard to give it up. If you’re trying to lose weight or get healthy, avoiding it at times can help you reach your goal. However, make sure you are making changes that you can maintain. If you’re craving the Swiss, have a slice! But don’t let it undo your diet. The key is moderation and knowing that if you had too much of one thing, it’s better to exercise and cut back on the next meal.

As for me, avoiding cheese on most days has worked out best. I love it and the more I have it, the more I end up craving it. I allow myself an ounce of goat cheese every once in a while, but as a whole, I don’t have it as part of my weekly diet. I never thought I’d say this as someone who salivated for a long time looking at the picture of the grilled cheese at the top of this post, but there is a life after cheese.