Bananas and Icing and Sprinkles, oh my!

What to do if you have a hankering for bananas, cake, and still want to keep it vegan (and somewhat healthy)? You find a recipe and veganise it of course!!

I was scrolling through Pinterest and found this yummy-looking recipe for Banana Blondies from Life In The Lofthouse, and decided to give it a try, vegan-style.

I also used this Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting from Oh She Glows instead of the one that came with the recipe. And lastly, I wanted to try out some of my new sprinkles, so I did half-half with Sweetapolita’s Sweetie Pie and Cornucopia sprinkles.

The result?

Perfection.

Here’s what I did:

Yield:

Original Yield: 24 squares

Actual Yield: 24 large squares (I halved the recipe the second time I made it and it worked just as well)

Prep Time:

Original Prep Time: none

Actual Prep Time: 10 minutes

Bake Time:

Original Bake Time: 25-30 minutes

Actual Bake Time: 28 minutes

What I changed:

  • I swapped butter for a half-and-half mix of vegan butter and coconut oil and a mix of apple sauce and extra banana for the eggs
  • I swapped the brown sugar frosting for vegan cream cheese frosting (amazing flavour combination!)

Notes or Comments:

  • I tried this recipe out as is and it was amazing.
  • I swapped out all of the butter for coconut oil and found the coconut favour was so overpowering that the banana flavour was lost completely. Half and half is perfect if you like a bit of coconut flavour, but use only vegan butter if you want just banana flavour.

Verdict: Success! This recipe is delish, both as is and with some vegan substitutes. It was simple to make (all in one bowl… that’s always a win!) and is easily halved or doubled with no issues.

** Please note that all opinions and experiences are my own. They are not influenced, endorsed, or sponsored by Life In The Lofthouse, Oh She Glows, Sweetapolita, or any other third party. All changes to the recipe are my own.

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Extending summer

It’s been a crazy few weeks, so I’m recycling a post from my old blog, as we JUST had this salad for dinner this week! We get most of our produce through Mama Earth Organics and I love being able to use all these local veggies in my meals every day!

Fall is here, but I wanted to share a favourite summer salad with you before the cold weather sets in for good.

Greek Orzo Salad

I had been searching for a salad hearty enough to serve on its own as a meal but light enough to also be used as a side. I also wanted something pretty easy (it had been a long week but I was determined to stay as far away from the burger joint around the corner as I could). We love Mediterranean food (aka I love feta and fresh veggies!) so when this recipe for Greek Orzo Salad from Cooking Classy came up, we decided to give it a shot.

Since finding this recipe last summer, it’s been on constant rotation from April through October (and a few times during the colder months too). I’ve switched some things up when we were out of an ingredient or two, and we skip the olives (none of us are fans), and it’s been a winner every time.

Greek Orzo Salad

Here are the deets.

Yield:

  • Original Yield: about 6 servings
  • Actual Yield: about 8 servings (unless it’s the main… then about 4 servings)

Prep Time:

  • Original Prep Time: none given
  • Actual Prep Time: 20-30 minutes

Cook Time:

  • Original Cook Time: none given
  • Actual Cook Time: 30 minutes (orzo-10 min + cooling orzo-5 min + 15 min to cool in fridge)

Notes or Comments:

  • As mentioned above, we always skip olives in this salad, but due to the saltiness of the feta, we’ve never found the need to add extra salt.
  • The first time we made this salad, we had no lemon and neither did the store by our house. We subbed in equal parts red wine vinegar for the dressing and it was delicious.
  • I’ve made the dressing for the salad with lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and half lemon/half red wine vinegar as the acid. Our favourite is the half/half version as it gives the salad a bit more bite than just the lemon (could be because of those missing olives).
  • You can make this salad vegan by omitting the feta or subbing in a vegan feta (that’s what I used last time)… super simple fix!

Verdict: Success! Go make this salad NOW! It’s flavourful, healthy, easy, and works as a light main or side. We’ve had it as a side for BBQ-ed sausages, grilled chicken, as lunch, and as the main course for dinner (who wants to eat hot food when it’s already 42C??). And if you try it with olives, let me know!

Greek Orzo Salad

*** Please note, the recipe for Greek Orzo Salad is in no way mine. All opinions and experiences are my own and are in no way endorsed/influenced/sponsored by Cooking Classy, Mama Earth Organics, or any other third party.

Vegan Broccoli Quinoa Casserole

It's already been a couple years since I posted my thoughts on Damn Delicious' Broccoli Quinoa Casserole. It's become such a favourite that I can make it from memory and by eyeballing the measurements.

That's a win in my books.

Of course, since making this recipe the first time, I've made some changes (aka shortcuts!) and I recently experimented with making one of our favourite "healthy comfort food" recipes vegan.

I will be the first to admit that it was a challenge. And maybe it wasn't 100% the same as the original. But the little one gobbled it down and hubby liked it well enough too.

I will also add that this dish can get a bit heavy, so I'd save it for a chilly fall evening instead of a hot summer dinner. Just take my word for that one.

I'm going to include both the original changes I made to the recipe as well as the vegan version.

This casserole is actually pretty healthy… Yes it's got some cheese (ok, a bit more than some), but it uses milk and Greek yoghurt instead of cream, has a good amount of lean chicken and broccoli, and as a bonus it tastes amazing. You can easily halve or double the recipe too.

  

Ok, so let's get started.

Yield:

  • Original Yield: 1 9×13 casserole (8 servings)
  • Modified Yield: 1 3-quart sauté pan (4 servings)

Prep Time:

  • Original Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Modified Prep Time: 15 minutes (longer if your using tofu… pressing it takes about 12 hours/overnight)

Cook Time:

  • Original Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Modified Cook Time: 30 minutes

Vegan Ingredients List:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 package firm tofu, pressed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup cashew milk (you could use almond milk in a pinch)
  • 1/3 cup cauli-power alfredo sauce (from Oh She Glows)
  • 1/2 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese (optional)

cooked the vegan version in the same way as I did the original.

Notes or comments from the author:

  • For the vegan version, swap out chicken for firm tofu, skip the rue (butter and flour), swap cow's milk for cashew or almond milk, and swap Greek yoghurt for cauliflower alfredo sauce.
  • I haven't yet tried it yet, but I'm thinking to try swapping tofu for northern beans next time!
  • I found it easiest to cut up the chicken into cubes, season it, and cook it instead of cooking the breasts and chopping them up after. It took 6 minutes to cook the cubed chicken and the flavour was all there.
  • You could easily make this with precooked/leftover/rotisserie chicken. Skips the cooking and it works just as well!
  • You don't have to transfer the casserole to a baking dish, especially if you halve it and/or if you have a big enough oven-proof skillet. I cooked everything in the skillet (except for the quinoa and broccoli), then mixed everything together in this same skillet at the end, topped the casserole with cheese, and popped it in the oven. Saved me from cleaning at least one dish!

Verdict: Success (with modifications)! This recipe was a total success. Hubby loved it, it makes leftovers, it's pretty healthy, and it was easy to make. It's also very comfort-food-y (I'm making that a thing, by the way), which makes it perfect for the cool weather coming in. Ignore the warning labels and try this one at home!

** Please note, the original recipes for Broccoli Quinoa Casserole and Cauli-Power Alfredo are in no way mine. The views and experiences above are my own and not endorsed/influenced by Damn Delicious, Oh She Glows, or any other third party.

Keep Calm and Barre3 On

When I got an email from Barre3 in June inviting me (and everyone else who has an account) to join this summer's B3 Anywhere challenge, I signed up immediately. I'm not paying for a Barre3 online subscription right now, but I keep my account open (I love the recipes and blog posts, plus I do want to get back to B3 soon).

Anyways, the B3 Anywhere challenge caught my attention for 3 reasons:

  1. It was super easy to do and follow – you got workout videos sent to you, a 4-week meal plan, and all the recipes
  2. I was able to do workouts on my own time – I got an email every Monday morning with links to free new workouts (and the new post for the subscribers) as well as the live workout on Wednesdays, but I could do them whenever
  3. It wasn't demanding – the recommended number of workouts (3x/week) and clean meals (5x/week) were super doable, and of course you could modify upwards from there

I printed the meal plan, thinking my 5 clean meals would be lunch only, but found that many of the recipes work for my whole family! I ended up making at least four or five of the dinners every week and most of the breakfasts. I call that a win.

For the exercise calendar, I filled in 3 days a week that I wanted to do a Barre3 workout, plus my HIIT (another post on this later) and my walks to and from work… it was a very full calendar.

So… 4 weeks of clean eating (and proper portion sizes!) plus extra exercise… where did that get me?

  • Weight: I didn't weigh myself before starting the challenge, but I want to say there's been no difference (that's not to say I didn't swap some fat for some muscle!)
  • Body measurements: from just putting on clothes in the morning, I can tell I've lost a bit of fat off my legs, butt, and stomach. Unfortunately this last week I was more bloated than usual (thanks, Mother Nature), so I'll find out exactly what the difference is in a couple days.
  • Muscles: it amazes me how a workout can kill you one day and after some time feel so much easier. I never did the same workouts twice in a row, but I started and ended the challenge with the same workout set, and while the first time I did it I thought I'd need a leg transplant, this last time was so much easier and better. I was able to hold the positions longer, even modify them a bit, and I only took one short break. Win!
  • Energy: I did most of my Barre3 workouts after getting home from work, and the burst of energy they gave me helped me get through busy evenings and a tiny human who decided not to go to sleep until 1am one night!! I did my HIIT in the mornings right after waking up, and the energy lasted until I got into the office a couple of hours later. Combining this with healthy foods to fuel my day, I felt more energy in these four weeks than I used to.
  • Motivation: I want to put this here, because I was so motivated when I started the challenge, I wanted to do Barre3 workouts every day! Of course, this fizzled out by day 4, but I still managed to keep up with the challenge. I wasn't 100% motivated every day, but when my motivation failed me I powered through with discipline, which I think is not only more telling but awesome for your mind and spirit. I have a quote pinned that I turn to when I want to blame my lack of motivation for skipping a workout: You will never always be motivated. You have to learn to be disciplined.

On top of these benefits, I've also found some fantastic and healthy summery recipes we all enjoyed, and I've been much better with portion sizes and treats (no eating a whole box of donuts for me!). Even though I wish I could drop all of my stubborn fat in a couple weeks, I know it's not possible, and this challenge reminded me that a little extra effort can go a long way.

I'm definitely signing up for whatever challenge Barre3 comes up with next, and I hope you will too!

** Please note that I am in no way affiliated or sponsored by Barre3. All opinions and experiences are my own. Please consult your doctor before starting a new diet or heavy exercise plan.

Labels Or Love


"I'm shopping for labels, I'm shopping for love"

The first line in Fergie's song always makes me think of grocery shopping. I wasn't always conscious of what I was buying to nourish myself… to be honest, I never really cared. It wasn't until we started talking about having a baby that we started going to the farmer's market and being pickier with our food. One our little one was born, I knew I wanted not only to make her early food once she began to want something besides my boobs, and we made sure everything she was eating was organic. Over these last two years, we've been refining our food choices, and while I've been much better at cutting out things like chips and pop, hubby is making much better choices today than he was when we started dating or even after we got married.

But better food choices for us and better choices for us and the planet only became a consideration recently. Buying a house with a big yard meant having a garden, but that never happened last year, which made me sad. Luckily, for over 2 years now, we get local, organic produce delivered right to our front door from a Toronto company called Mama Earth (and no, this isn't a sponsored post or a plug, I just ADORE Mama Earth!). As it became even more important to me to eat not just in a healthy way (usually organic), but locally whenever I could, I turned to Mama Earth to give me delicious, fresh, and almost always local food for equal or better prices compared to the grocery store. Of course in winter the produce tends to come from the US, but not all of it. Still a win in my books!

I've recently (and finally) joined Instagram (@chaerybear follow me!) and some friends and family have been asking me if I'm vegan now, as I have been posting quite a few vegan meals in these couple of weeks. The answer to that is simple and yet a bit more convoluted than I'd like.

No, I'm not vegan, though I follow and support quite a few. But I like to think of myself as someone who follows a plant based diet (I see vegan as plant-only instead of plant based). I eat mostly "vegan-friendly" foods; I choose plant based proteins like chickpeas and quinoa whenever I can, I think of portobellos as amazing steak replacements, and Angela Liddon and Evanna Lynch are my food idols. But I also use eggs and drink milk (although it's almost always almond or coconut) and I eat meat. Now before any vegan reading this decides that I'm the root of all evil, hear me out. The eggs I get are from a local farm a family friend owns… where her chickens are like pets. If she gets eggs from her chickens, she's happy… if not, she's happy. The birds are fed a great diet, run around their not-so-little pen, and live a happy chicken life.
I get me meats from local farmers (around St Jacob's, Ontario) who have a small mixed herd or several animals who eat well and are treated with love and respect. I understand why vegans have banned together; I also despise the "machine" that is the meat industry: animals trapped in tiny spaces, injected with hormones and other crap to make them grow abnormally large, the horrid conditions, the slaughterhouses… all of it. It's beyond disgusting, and it's a big part of why I'm so picky with my food. But I believe if I'm choosing animal products that do not contribute to that horrid cruelty, I can enjoy them knowing that my choice is not feeding that cruelty machine. And if I'm ever proven wrong, I'll change my habits.

Labels aren't everything, love is.

Told you my answer was long-winded!

Next time (in a day or so) I'm going to share my new favourite way of making tilapia (100% drool-worthy!), which of course I found on Pinterest!

Cheers!
Marta xoxo