Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Low-Carb, Dairy-Free Creamy Chocolate Breakfast Shake

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As promised, today I am sharing one of my current favorite recipes… a delicious creamy chocolate shake that also happens to be very healthy… to balance out the last carb-laden post. My sister and brother-in-law recently accomplished some amazing health goals by adopting a low carb lifestyle, and I was duly inspired to do a homemade version of the Take Shape for Life diet (spoiler alert: it’s working). This shake is a big part of why I am losing weight… low calories and low carbs, lots of nutrition, and it is actually delicious and substantial! Before we get to the recipe though, here are a few tidbits that might be of interest:

COCOA POWDER: It’s a real challenge to make anything chocolaty without cocoa. My favorite cocoa powder… a high-quality, popular cocoa that fits into our limited grocery budget… is Rodelle. I buy it in big canisters at Costco when they have it, typically leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas season. I ran out in April last year and had to wait till November to get more, so as a precaution I bought 4 canisters to get me through the year. So far, so good. I make most of the brownies/cakes/cookies/shakes/etc my family eats from scratch so we do go through it. Here is the product you’re looking for on Amazon (currently $18!! what?!), but it was just $7 for the very same quantity at Costco this past season so it’s worth stocking up when you can. For that price, it is really no more expensive than anything generic in your local grocery store. Fun fact: Just 2 tablespoons of cocoa has 16% of your recommended daily value of fiber and 30% DV of iron. It’s tasty stuff, and healthy.

AVOCADO: I learned in the past year (thank you Pinterest) that avocados freeze really well. Their high fat content makes them ideal for this. So when my local stores put them on sale for anything less than $0.50 per, I stock up. When each one is perfectly ripe, I peel and seed it, chop it into eighths, and freeze it on a cookie sheet. I store the chucks in a ziplock and pull them out as needed for smoothies, shakes or guacamole (not quite as good as fresh, but certainly better than no guac!). Avocados are also high in potassium, fiber and have a bit of protein to boot. They make this shake incredibly creamy and are truly honestly not noticeable in terms of tasting it in the shake. They are the secret ingredient!! My 3 yr old loves to steal some sips, and even my deeply-entrenched standard American diet husband admits he enjoys it “but I get the impression it might be healthy”… touché, Sherlock.

COLLAGEN HYDROLYSATE: I purchased mine via Amazon, the brand is Great Lakes Gelatin - the kind in the green canister. It is a flavorless white power which will dissolve even in cold liquids. I know you probably don’t have this sitting around, but I am currently using it daily to (hopefully) help revitalize my poor, aching, mother-of-four, used and abused sacroiliac joints. Collagen hydrolysate is a protein precursor to gelatin… another substance getting a lot of health food press lately. It is procured from grassfed beef hides (yum?) and research has been done indicating it may have a wide variety of uses in treating everything from joint pain to osteoporosis to ulcers and leaky gut. Also beneficial for radiant skin, strong nails and vibrant, healthy hair. I understand that it has much the same health benefits as any bone broth or other whole-animal type foods… you’re getting all the good stuff our standard American diet leaves out. After less than a month of daily use, I am not ready to claim that it has fixed my back pain problem, but it IS a sneaky way to add some flavorless protein to a shake. You could sub a typical protein powder instead, or leave it out altogether.

Pro tip: I regularly add a scoop or half-scoop of unflavored whey isolate powder to this shake (I like Mike’s Mix for value and taste) if I need more protein at the end of a day to meet my RDA but I am craving a treat. FYI, 1 scoop of Mike’s Mix has 114 calories and 40% of your daily protein needs, and currently costs just $0.72 per serving… almost identical in cost and nutrition to a 4 oz chicken breast at $3.00/lb… but a LOT easier to put in a smoothie ;) It’s not crazy expensive like some other specialty “health foods” when you consider how it will be used. I use almond milk (from Aldi) in my shakes because I am losing the battle with lactose. Whey protein powder contains only trace amounts of lactose, and so is still a great choice for the lactose intolerant like me. I can’t speak knowledgeably about non-dairy protein powders, but it would be easy to find one if you are of the dairy-free persuasion but still want to bulk up your shake.

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So… after all that blathering on, here’s the recipe:

Healthy Chocolate Breakfast Shake

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 cup water

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup ice cubes

1/2 average size avocado, frozen in chunks

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 rounded tbsp Great Lakes Gelatin collagen hydrolysate (green container)

Splenda* or sweetener of your choice

Directions:

Add wet ingredients to blender (I love my Nutribullet for anything like this). Mix dry ingredients together first (prevents clumping), then add to wet ingredients and mix until very smooth. Enjoy your shake!

Variations:

If low carb and dairy-free isn’t such a priority, adding some malted milk powder turns this into a delicious and healthy chocolate malt!

Try adding some other flavorings like peppermint extract, coconut cream, nutella, or espresso powder. This shake lends itself well to a wide assortment of flavor accompaniments, so give it a whirl (pun intended).

Nutrition (as written, using 1 tbsp granular Splenda, calculated using myfitnesspal):

This very filling 24+ ounce shake only contains 245 calories, and 6 grams of net carbs!

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*I realize that many people are anti-artificial sweeteners, and are probably incensed that I would suggest they might *gasp* be part of a healthy recipe. I have decided to use them at this stage of my life. That is my decision for my own health. Please feel free to make a different decision that suits your requirements, but please don’t leave comments about it here… that’s just not the point of this post. Thanks.*

**This post contains affiliate links to products that I use and have purchased with my own cash, but only the ones I would actually recommend. If you happen to follow a link and also happen to make a purchase, a small percentage of that will come back to me and, for the sake of full disclosure, I will promptly use it to buy fabric or fund a home improvement project. Do with that knowledge what you will ;)**

Friday, March 13, 2015

Easy Pretzel Sticks Recipe (with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce)

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It’s Lent. Yes, most definitely Lent. When you need to bribe your kids to eat leftovers (yet again) and you’ve given up after dinner desserts, the most effective way to do it is to make soft pretzels. Even acceptable on meatless Fridays! It’s also good for making friends and influencing people… take some to your next meeting or social event. See what happens.

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Want to make some? First, prepare some dough. You can use many different dough recipes to get delicious pretzel results. The dough recipe I used is from King Arthur Flour website. Prepare a cooling rack by placing it on a dishtowel and spraying it with cooking spray (you will be baking directly on it). Baking on a wire rack will allow the pretzels to cook on all sides without getting too crunchy or soggy in places. This is my favorite method after much trial and error. I would also use this method for bagels. The towel will soak up drips… don’t skip that step.

While the dough is rising, skip the wimpy baking soda bath and jump straight to the big guns of pretzel-making: LYE. Lye will almost always come in a container where DANGER and/or POISON are printed in a font size bigger than than the contents of the container itself. Make no mistake: lye is dangerous!! Have you seen Fight Club?! It is used in soap making and also as a drain cleaner. Alkaline substances will corrode and discolor your favorite aluminum pans (ask me how I know), so don’t use those with lye or baking soda. Lye can cause severe burns. Which is why you will exercise common sense and protect your skin and eyes as necessary. Got it? Okay. Don’t let lye freak you out… You’re the boss if it! The pretzels will be worth using substances that may get you on some sort of government watch list. Trust me. Of course if you don’t have lye on hand and must make some pretzels right now, by all means use the baking soda as advised by the KAF recipe I linked.

Preheat your oven to 450. If you have convection, turn it on (if you don’t they will still turn out amazing!). Put about 6 cups of water in a stockpot (choose your dirtiest looking stainless steel stockpot… the lye will leave it sparkling!), add a couple tablespoons of lye (always add the lye to the water, never the other way around!), stir to dissolve, and heat to simmering. Lye can get staticky, so be careful when measuring and clean up any spilled lye particles quickly to avoid unpleasantness later.

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Roll your dough out flat and chop it into breadstick shapes (4” L by 1/2” H by 3/4”W… ish) with a pizza cutter. Perfection and uniformity are completely optional.  Allow it to stand for a few minutes while you make sure everything is in order with your lye bath and wire rack. Carefully place the strips into the simmering lye bath for about 10 seconds, just until they turn a little yellow. I do about 4 at a time since I can scoop that many out at one time. The yellow means the gluten in the surface of the dough has been affected by the alkaline bath, and it will give you the delicious pretzel flavor and golden brown pretzel exterior you know and love. Don’t leave them in too long or they will get soggy. Scoop them out with a mesh strainer utensil or slotted spoon (again, avoid aluminum). The lye in the water on the pretzels has reacted already, so you don’t have to be overly worried about lye burns if you need to nudge them with a finger at that point.  Arrange them on the rack, leaving some room for expansion. When the rack is full or you’ve done them all, sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.

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Place the wire rack into the preheated oven and bake for 8-9 minutes, or until they are a light golden brown and nicely puffed. Meanwhile, you can pour the hot lye bath down the drain and feel pretty good about it. When done, allow them to cool for a few minutes, and then coax them off the rack. Some may require gentle persuasion with a spatula, but hopefully the cooking spray did it’s job and they slide off easily. I don’t own a nonstick cooling rack, but I imagine that would be a good thing for these.

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These pretzels should be eaten promptly… if you try to wrap them up, the moisture of the pretzels will be soaked up by the salt and they will get gluey in parts. Still tasty, but not everything you might hope. They will last out in the open (or in a brown paper bag) for hours with their chewy exterior, and can be reheated in the oven later if you want to serve them at a party but don’t want your guests to see you in chemistry goggles while you cook them (sort of joking, sort of not). They are amazing with a honey mustard dipping sauce. My basic recipe is below (a knockoff from Applebee’s, I think), though I rarely measure ingredients and it always turns out delicious.

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tbsp prepared or whole grain mustard (the kind with visible seeds)

1/4 cup honey

1 tbsp white vinegar

Directions:

Mix well. Refrigerate to store.

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To restore balance to the world, next I will share a delicious gluten-free, low carb recipe. I’m currently limiting my own carb intake, so writing this pretzel post was a little bit of a Lenten sacrifice :)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Farewell to Winter

I am a Michigander, born and raised. I am not intimidated by extreme weather, even if it sometimes wreaks havoc to the most carefully laid plans. I love that we get to experience all the seasons here, even if sometimes it feels like they will never end. But the year is marching on, and winter is fading fast.

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I love the first delicate flakes of late Fall. The highly-anticipated, short-lived few.

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Light dustings of fine powdery snow that give away the secret wanderings of other unseen lives.

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I love fluffy midwinter snow, especially on windless days. Falling, swirling, clumping. Making a dimpled blanket that covers the gray slush splatter from salted roads. Clinging to tiny branches, roadside weeds, power lines. Building impossible towers of snowflakes on every tiny exposed horizontal surface.

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The glittery, wind-swept formations.

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The tiny worlds of frost that bring wonder to even the most excruciatingly cold of winter days. Imperfect windows harboring magical patterns of ice in miniature.

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And, eventually, the melt. Luminous, patiently-formed icicles slowly drip-drip-dripping away until they ultimately succumb to their inevitable transience. Those last hills of crusty, dirty snow surrounded by Spring.

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The smell of ice and earth, life stirring after the freeze, ready to burst forth in glorious color to shock us out of our snow blindness.

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Breathe in. Savor the stillness, the empty air, the cool fingertips… banking these moments in my mind for the days of unrelenting summer heat.