Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pennsylvania and Connecticut

I've been traveling the northeast to visit my family in Pennsylvania and my fiancé's in Connecticut. Compared to what I'm used to in Cambridge, the riding here is excellent. I was a bit bummed in PA: snow blew up about half of an hour into my favorite ride, which caused me to turn around, but fortunately allowed me to get some practice in riding in snow. My favorite ride is a ride up to Blue Mountain, where my best friend who passed away in 2010 and I used to go skiing as kids. I like to take the 70 mile ride solo and spend the time thinking about her. Instead, I got to ride home in snow and spend a few more hours on the trainer.

The weather in CT has been slightly more cooperative. And by that I mean today I was able to go for a 40 mile rain in just-above-freezing rain with my future father in law. He was kind enough to show me the roads and hills, I repaid by nearly giving him frostbite. I was doing ok, but I had included a slightly better arsenal of waterproofing in my gear for the day, so I was able to finish the ride on the trainer in the basement after my fiancé came to rescue us from a neighboring town. Yesterday though, we fared much better, which was when I took the picture above. My fiancé and I went for a little hike in nearby Sessions Woods. My favorite view on the hike was a semi-frozen waterfall we found on an off-shooting trail, but our camera died before we reached that destination. The above photo was from a fire tower, overlooking the landscape of the area. Tomorrow, the weather looks colder, but clearer so I will try another ride! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your travels too!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Merry Christmas! If you celebrate, I hope you are having a wonderful day, surrounded by those who mean the most to you. If not I hope you're also having a great day and getting to enjoy your family & friends!

For the holiday, I'm sharing a classic Christmas favorite... gingerbread. I made up a big batch before leaving Boston and have been taking a plate with me as a housewarming gift for my Christmas visits to friends. The flavors of ginger and molasses are two of my favorites, and from the looks of my Gingerbread Blondies, you agree that they are worthwhile!  Molasses is rich in iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can translate into reduced recovery time and therefore improved athletic performance. I think I'm going to take some of this quickbread on my next bike ride, I'll let you know how that works out! 


2 1/2c wheat flour
1/4c brown sugar
1T white sugar
1T ground ginger
1T cinnamon
1T pumpkin pie spice
1t baking soda
1/2c almond milk
1c water
1/2c molasses
1T apple cider vinegar
Few drops vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F. Mix wet in or glass (I use my measuring cup to mix them). Then mix dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix thoroughly. Add to a greased loaf pan and bake for one hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. 
As a bonus, I bet it would be good to use the candied ginger from Trader Joe's like the Gingerbread Blondies. Use 1/4c, chopped up in a good processor or blender, and add it with the dry ingredients. Depending on your preferences, you could omit the white sugar if you add the candied ginger. 

Enjoy! Have a great holiday!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lentil & Kale Soup

Last week, I was trying to finish the things in my refrigerator in preparation for my holiday travels. I was doing really well with this until... I ran out of fresh and frozen greens. No way was I going to go a whole day and a half without a salad! So I ran down the street to Trader Joe's to grab a bag of kale. I figured we could get through one bag if we really committed to it and if not, hey! There's always kale chips, which we can take on the road. Then I remembered that I've been craving lentil soup for at least a month now. A warm, brothy lentil soup with kale, tomatoes, and scallions. But no! I only had a few scraps of scallions left, so I couldn't possibly pull that off! Well... I caved and bought the scallions in addition to the kale. They were only $1.29 and usually they'll keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge. I had some basil I needed to use up anyways. I cooked the lentils in a vegemite broth (still convinced that vegemite will make you faster) and the result was this really filling, savory soup. It was so good that I made it again for my non-vegetarian family when I got home! Lentil soup with homemade bread from the local farmer's market is on the menu for this evening.

On top of the taste, I was really pleased with this recipe nutritionally! In a 1.5c (135 calorie) bowl of soup, you get less than a gram of fat, 8g of complete protein, and 9g fiber. Towards your daily value of micronutrients, you get 100% vitamin A, 60% vitamin C, 10% calcium, 20% iron, more than 10% of several B vitamins, as well as potassium and a plethora of others.

Lentil & Kale Soup

1/2c dry green lentils ($0.25)
1/3 bag kale ($0.66)
8 scallions, sliced ($0.30)
4 celery stalks, sliced ($0.20)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced  ($0.20)
garlic & black pepper to taste ($0.10)
2 sprigs fresh basil ($0.50, can use dried to bring the price down)
1 can diced tomatoes ($0.50)
3T vegemite ($0.30) Or 3 cubes vegetable bouillon!
6c water
Total cost: $3.01, or $0.75 per bowl

Cook lentils in plenty of water, seasoned with 1T vegemite. Meanwhile, chop scallions, celery, carrots, and basil. Add vegetables to your large soup pot with ~1/2c water. Sautee and add spices. Once the lentils are almost soft enough to eat, drain and rinse thoroughly. (The rinsing will get rid of the stuff that causes gas.) Add additional 5.5c water, 2T vegemite, and lentils to the pot with the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and add additional spices to taste. Serve warm with a salad and bread. Enjoy!

Lentils... The vegetarian white meat.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas City

Well, my fiancé and I have made it to Pennsylvania! We're visiting my family now though the 26th (when we'll attend my 10 year high school reunion, gasp!) and then we'll head back north to visit with his family for a few days. Today, we visited the neighboring town of Bethlehem, which transforms itself into Christmas City every December.  Bethlehem is home to the world's oldest continuously operation bookshop, the Moravian Bookshop, which opened in 1745. The town also hosts a Christkindlemart, but we didn't have time to explore that market too!

While I'm traveling, I won't be cooking as much but don't worry... I have a backlog of recipes so they will keep coming! In the meantime though, feel free to peruse these recipes that look just great. In fact, I am now inspired to try to make a chestnut loaf... the recipe's not there, but the ingredients gave me the idea!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apple & Sausage Farro

Today's post shares one of the few recipes that I make over and over. This recipe was inspired by an apple basil gouda chicken sausage that my fiancé and I found while grocery shopping, back in the days before we were vegetarian and he was my fiancé. We've taken it to potlucks and it's always a hit. Recently, we tried this recipe veganized. To get it right, we used a cheese substitute and commercial vegetarian sausage, but it was still good! While our original dish used bow tie pasta, we upgraded to farro when making the other switches and it really enhanced the flavors. I also thought that since it's been a while (ok, a long time), I'd take the opportunity to show off farro as a great grain.  Farro is unfortunately not gluten free, as it is quite literally, whole wheat grains. For a 100 calorie serving, you get 4g protein, 4g fiber, and 1g fat. Like most grains, it's deficient in lysine, but this dish combines it with complete protein sources.

Apple & Sausage Farro

1 package Trader Joe's quick cook farro
1 package sweet Italian vegetarian sausage, cut into 1/2in coins
2 apples, cubed
1/2 block Daiya jack or regular Gouda cheese, cut into 1cm cubes
sage, basil, and garlic to taste

Boil a large pot of water and add farro. Cook as directed, it should be about 15 minutes until the farro reaches the desired texture. Meanwhile, add sausage to a skillet greased with olive oil. Add spices. Cook 5 to 10 minutes. Just before the sausage starts to brown, add you apple cubes. Cook an additional 5 minutes, until apples are soft. Turn off the heat and add cheese cubes. Cover to let the cheese melt a bit. Drain farro in a strainer. Serve apples, sausage, and cheese over farro. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pumpkin Nachos

On this blog, I feel like I give the impression that I have my life together and the time to cook beautiful gourmet dinners every night. That's at least the impression my fiancé has of what he's missing out on. He is in his 3rd year of med school at Brown so we only see each other on the weekends, when I set him up with leftovers for the week. In reality, I get home from lab sometime between 9 and 10pm and microwave whatever leftovers I have in the fridge from whenever the last time I cooked. It's usually less involved than whatever I cooked over the weekend and left for my fiancé. Last week, I didn't even have time to make anything, so subsisted on Trader Joe's Creamy Corn and Roasted Pepper Soup. I added nutritional yeast for protein and it's actually quite good!

Anyways, most people I know (myself included) went through a phase in college or their early 20s where nachos were their standard supper. Heap some corn chips on a plate, sprinkle some cheese on top, and pop it in the microwave. 30 seconds later, a warm dinner is served! Magic! I think my fiancé would still be in nachos-every-night phase if it wasn't for me... Anyways, Saturday the snow was coming down hard and we were feeling lazy. It was dinner time, but I was in the mood for comfort food. So I decided that I would try my hand at making some vegan nachos! The kitchen in RI is primitive at best (i.e. there is no food processor) so I used a simple pumpkin-cheese comprised of pumpkin puree, nutritional yeast, and spices. Believe me, this is better than it sounds! Also, pumpkin is full of antioxidants, and nutritional yeast serves up a ton of complete protein and vitamin B12. This looks amazing nutritionally, when it's matched up against the cholesterol and saturated fat in regular cheese. I also added salsa and black beans, another source of complete protein, to finish off the dish. The result? The best tasting and most nutritionally sound nachos you've ever experienced! And a perfect complement to a night in watching holiday movies.

Pumpkin Nachos

1c pumpkin puree
1/2c nutritional yeast
chili pepper and garlic to taste, dash of cinnamon
1 plate corn tortilla chips (most are gluten free, check to make sure)
1 1/2c black beans 
1c red salsa

In a small bowl, combine pumpkin, nutritional yeast, and spices. Stir to mix. Add tortilla chips to a plate and drop dollops of your pumpkin cheese on top. Add salsa and black beans. Microwave for 1 minute, until warm. Serve with a kale salad and call it dinner!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Mini Whoopie Pies

My fiancé and I finally finished our Christmas shopping this weekend. Well, we have a few tiny things to do last minute and we have to cross our fingers that the mailing gods are smiling upon us so that our nephews' toys arrive in a timely manner. But other than that, we are done! Either way, it got me to thinking it might be fun to share some last minute gift ideas for people like me.

Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Cyclist (or Outdoor Enthusiast!) in Your Life

Face mask: It gets cold out there and research shows that windburn can age your skin just as much as sunburn! Well, you get the wrinkles, but not the cancer. Either way, you can avoid this by covering as much skin as possible on the bitter days.

Heavy Duty Lotion: Same idea as the first one, except to help their face recover when they come indoors. Good face cream is expensive though, so it makes a great gift! You could also go with gifting some coconut oil, which is a great skin protector. I haven't gotten windburn once while wearing it!

Neoprene Booties or Socks: Every cyclist north of the Mason-Dickson line, or heck... even the tropic of cancer can use a good pair of neoprene booties! If they already have one pair, chances are they are ripped somewhere or your friend has been hoping for the chance to double-up. Yes, two pairs are really better than one! If you're buying for a runner/ rower/ skiier, I have and highly recommend these neoprene socks. Especially for the booties, choosing at least 3mm thick neoprene will give optimal warmth.

Coffee/ Tea Thermos: Having a hot beverage around is a game changer for long days in sub-freezing temperatures. My personal favorite is this one, which keeps the coffee hot for hours and can be purchased at Walmart for <$10. (Mine broke a month ago. Just as it was getting cold, sad!) Some of my friends swear by this one, that fits in a water bottle cage and features a one-finger trigger to open, which means that warm coffee can be consumed while you're rolling.

Gloves (for cyclists or runners), a sweat-wicking winter hat, and good wool socks will all also be appreciated!

Anyways, back to business... remember these Gluten-Free Oreos? Well, I revisited them with some peppermint. I was going to do my Christmas cookie tins this year as standard chocolate chip, but these turned out so well that I changed my plans and decided to pass this goodness along instead. The number of chocolate peppermint recipes in December is still trailing the number of pumpkin recipes I posted in November, but I am trying hard!

Chocolate Peppermint Mini-Whoopie Pies

Chocolate Cookies

1c quick cook rolled oats
1T cornstarch
1/3c cocoa powder
1/4c brown sugar
1/2t baking powder
1/2c vanilla almond milk
1/4c canola oil
1/8t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Food process rolled oats and cornstarch to make a fine powder. In a large bowl, mix oat flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, brown sugar, and baking powder. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Drop spoonfuls onto a grease baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, until cookies are set through (i.e. the middle of the cookie is solid to the touch).

Peppermint Icing

1/4c Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread
1/8t vanilla
1T peppermint schnapps (or 1t peppermint extract)
2 candy canes, finely crushed in a coffee grinder
1 candy cane, coarsely crushed
2c powdered sugar
2T vanilla almond milk

Cream earth balance, vanilla, and schnapps using an electric mixer. Add candy canes, then sugar in half cup increments miming thoroughly after each addition. After last 1/2 cup of sugar is added, add the almond milk to thin it out. 

Put it Together: Don't be impatient... let the cookies cool! Then spread one cookie with a generous amount of icing and top with a second cookie. Enjoy immediately, or wait a few hours to let the icing set.

Final point of business...  the winner of the Chocolate Cinnamon Sunflower Seeds is...

Commenter #4, Becky! Thanks to everyone who participated, I hope to give you something soon!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friendship Soup & Hot Cocoa

Sorry I missed the post yesterday! I'll confess... I thought this little DIY in the kitchen blogging bit was going to be extra fun, but instead it turned stressful! From now on, I'm going to keep blogging about what I do and like best... cooking purposeful food. And I'm also going to start talking a bit more about training and recovery because that's fun too. This week, I was so overwhelmed with things that I didn't even have the time to make my dinner soup... I bought my soup pre-made from Trader Joe's. Gasp! But anyways, I'm always one to finish what I started so here are my last two ideas, along with some links for other ideas I might try. I'll leave the write up to someone else though!

Today's idea is to take your repurposed jar and fill it with dry ingredients that look pretty and your recipient can easily turn into something delicious with the addition of water and/ or a few other simple ingredients. I chose to make jars of Friendship Soup and Gourmet Hot Cocoa.

Also, the chance to win is still available! Head over to Wednesday's post & comment so that you don't miss out. Your chocolate cinnamon sunflower seeds are waiting!

Friendship Soup

3/4c split peas
3/4c barley
2T garlic
1T sage
2T parsley
2T basil
3/4c red lentils
3/4c rice
4 cubes bullion

Layer the ingredients in the jar in the order above, tapping the jar after each addition to make sure that no settling will occur (just like packing a column, organic chemists. ha!). If you're using a smaller jar, scale back amounts accordingly. The spices will form the green middle layer you see above. You can also add some dried onion flakes if you have them. After adding the rice, add the bullion cubes on top and close the jar. Add a note that reads: "Add all contents to 10 to 12 cups water. Bring to a boil for 40 minutes. Add 1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables and additional spices to taste. Enjoy!"

Gourmet Hot Cocoa

1/2c brown sugar
1/2c unsweeted cocoa powder
3 candy canes, fully crushed in a coffee grinder (Peppermint Hot Cocoa)
                 or 1T cinnamon, 1T chili powder (Mexican Hot Cocoa)
mini-marshmallows to fill the jar.

In a bowl, mix cocoa, sugar, and spices of choice (I tested both options and can vouch for their deliciousness!). Add to a clean, repurposed jar. Fill the rest of the jar with mini marshmallows. Attach a note that reads "Add 3T mix to warm milk. Enjoy!"

My DIY gift-making station, still many more to go! Mexican hot cocoa and peppermint hot cocoa are front and center.

Other ideas:
- These brownies would be fun in a jar, if you add ground flax seeds instead of eggs. Just add oil and water!
- I bought some empty oil & vinegar bottles at the dollar store as well as some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I'm going to add fresh sun dried tomato, basil, and garlic to the oil and apples, cinnamon, and garlic to the vinegar. These will be great for dipping bread, marinates, or salad dressing!

And for the kiddies:
-Fizzy Bath Bombs
-Boo-boo bunnies
-Play-dough (this gift can be amped up if you add in small plastic cookie cutters and a small/ pastry rolling pin!)
-Gingerbread house kits (Use graham crackers, make up some icing, and buy some cool candy for decorating)

Enjoy! Back to our normal discussions next week, whew!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gifts from the Kitchen: Fancy Roast Nuts

Today's a first that I think you'll be excited for... I'm trying out my first give-away! I often hear that you would like me to make my recipes for you and I'd like to give you, my readers, a holiday present this year. So I will be making an extra jar of fancy roast nuts, and giving it away to one lucky reader. To enter, simply comment below. You can comment/ enter as many times as you would like between now and Sunday 12/15 at 5pm EST. I will announce the winner in the post next Monday. Even if you don't like nuts, I'd be happy to make a personalized jar that you can give away as a gift!

Anyways, homemade roast nuts are a great holiday present. Nuts contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and are great for hearth health, so this is really a gift that keeps on giving! If you can figure out a good source for raw nuts and package them in a repurposed jar, this can be a really cost effective gift too. In Cambridge, raw almonds are $2.99/ package at Market Basket and raw sunflower seeds are $1.99/ package at Trader Joe's. Peanuts can also usually be found on the cheap! Below are two of my favorite recipes that I've developed. If you like the idea, but are worried about nut allergies, sunflower seeds work great for any of the coatings!

Maple Cinnamon Pumpkin Nuts (I recommend almonds and cashews!)

1/2c pumpkin puree
1/4c brown sugar
1/4c maple syrup
1T brown sugar
2-3c raw nuts

Preheat oven to 375F. Mix all of the ingredients except the nuts in a bowl until smooth. Add the nuts and stir to coat. Spread the mixture evenly on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. The nuts will still feel soft when you take them out, but they will harden upon cooling!

Chocolate Cinnamon Nuts (This works great with sunflower seeds and hazelnuts!)

1/3c cocoa powder
1/3c brown sugar
1/4c warm tap water (the warmth melts the oil and helps everything combine more smoothly)
1T cinnamon
1T coconut oil
2-3c raw nuts

Follow the directions above, using the chocolate ingredients. Same thing goes, they will be soft even when they are ready, so resist the temptation to over cook!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gifts from the Kitchen: Popcorn!

Remember those big tins of popcorn that you used to be able to get from department stores around the holidays? Usually, they would contain neat sections of flavors like butter, cheese, caramel,  and cinnamon. Almost always, one flavor would disappear faster than the others, which was much to my dismay! I never had a favorite: I do not discriminate when it comes to popcorn! Although probably if pressed, my favorite would have been microwave popped, since it was the freshest. This year, why not make your own? Recently, I learned that I could make my own flavored popcorns on the stove, without a popcorn popper! My two suggestions are to use a pot with a clear lid (unless you have practice... I nearly started a fire using an opaque lid) and make sure to buy good kernels. I like both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and both are cheaper than microwave popcorn with enough to fill a tin costing about a quarter. Once you've perfected your popcorn flavor, package it up in a festive holiday tin ($1 at the Dollar Tree). Remember to make it fresh, so your recipient will be impressed that you made the best popcorn they ever tasted!

Cinnamon-Maple Popcorn

1/2c popcorn kernels
1T olive oil
1/2t cinnamon
1/4c maple syrup
a few cracks or a pinch of salt

Add 1T olive oil to a pan with a clear lid and 8c capacity. Spread the olive oil around to make sure you don't have any hot spots where the popcorn can stick. Add 3 kernels and turn the burner on high. Stay by the stove, and shake/ toss the pan every minute or so, to make sure the kernels have an outer covering of oil and are heating homogeneously. Once the kernels pop, your pan is ready. Add the rest of the popcorn, then the cinnamon, salt, and about 1-2T maple syrup. Re-cover the pan and shake/ toss to make sure that the kernels get covered in your tasty flavoring. Continue to heat, shake/ tossing the pan almost constantly (but not quite, make sure it stays hot enough with contact from the burner.) Your popcorn will start to go! The popcorn is ready when you can no longer feel many kernels rolling around the bottom when you are shaking it. Remove from heat. Keep covered for 1 minute (otherwise, undetected kernels may pop out at you!) and let cool one more. Enjoy!

Other Flavor Suggestions (starting from a pan with 1T of olive oil)
Just Salt
Curry, Turmeric, and Red Pepper
Cinnamon & Salt (pictured above)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gifts from the Kitchen: Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

'Tis the season for gift giving! And what says happy holidays better than homemade cookies? So Day 1 of my Thrifty Gifts From the Kitchen series will feature just that: a delicious, simple chocolate peppermint cookie recipe and a suggestion for a cute, DIY presentation of the gift. The end product? A thoughtful gift for only $1.

This summer, my fiancé started saving any jar that came with a pre-made food. Salsa jars, pasta sauce jars, olive jars-- you name it, he kept them. When his cupboard started overflowing, I asked him to throw them out, but he did not. So instead, I got to thinking of ways I could get rid of them. Soon enough, I realized that with a little TLC I could use these jars to present the same gifts that would normally come in mason jars and more! The best part is, these jars are free. To further add to my cute, thrifty presentation I use the holiday-themed Trader Joe's paper bags, creatively cut to feature holiday designs or plain brown paper. I've been using these bags to wrap my presents for years now, because nothing looks more classic than a package tastefully decorated and wrapped in brown paper. Some of the jars have plain metal or white lids, so those work as it. Others, such as the Travel Cookie Jar above, had some sort of product label. To cover this, I covered the outside of the lid with a small piece of aluminum foil, tucked under. I could have gone one step further and decorated the lid with glitter or something else like that, but I figured Sam would prefer I keep it simple.

The contents of the jar are worth a blog post in and of themselves. These are a new, super simple, super healthy chocolate peppermint cookie recipe. I've obviously been on a bean kick for desserts: they are super easy to work with, very nutritious, and very cheap! It doesn't get better than that. These days, you can buy chickpea flour for a pretty penny and many gluten free recipes call for it, but you usually end up adding wet ingredients anyways. So I figured I'd give chickpeas a shot in cookies! Ok, it's not totally original... I was inspired by this blog post that I found last week. The result is just phenomenal. You don't even need to add leavening or binding agents to this cookie... it's that easy! Chickpeas are a complete protein, and for 24 cookies from the recipe below, each cookie will have 70 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, and 3 grams of protein. The antioxidants from the unsweetened cocoa powder and the peppermint tea make this recipe a hidden gem. I also tried peppermint green tea for a batch and that was  amazing... and then the cookies also pack the added health benefits of green tea. With all of those compounds that promote cell regeneration and an ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1, I bet these cookies would do really well as fuel on a long bike ride! These cookies are definitely a gift that will keep on giving.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

2 cans chickpeas ($1.20)
1c cocoa powder ($1)
3/4c brown sugar ($0.20)
3/4c strong peppermint tea (two tea bags) ($0.25)

1. Boil water and brew an extra strong cup of peppermint tea or peppermint green tea by adding 2 tea bags to 3/4c boiling water. Let steep for 20 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Food process for several minutes, until smooth.
4. Use hands to roll dough into 1 inch balls. Flatten onto greased cookie sheet. (Or if your chickpeas were extra moist, drop rounded spoonfuls onto the sheet. They will still come out well!)
5. Bake 15- 20 minutes, until cooked through. Enjoy!

To make the Travel Cookie Jar

1 medium sized wide-mouthed (salsa) jar (free)
4 inch circle of aluminum foil ($0.04)
plain brown scrap and and patterned scrap from Trader Joe's paper bag (free)
Elmer's glue ($0.01)
curling ribbon ($0.02)
candy cane ($0.08)
1/3 of cookies from the recipe above ($0.85)
Total cost of gift: $1!

1. Clean out jar very well. Remove label. If it won't come off, or come off cleanly, don't worry! We can fix that with our repurposed brown paper label.
2. If you want to cover the lid, place lid inside up on a circle of aluminum foil. Fold edges under.
3. Cut a small card out of the TJ's bag that has a festive print on the outside. I used a paper cutter to make sure my edges were straight. Fold in half. Inside, write the recipe on the one side and your message on the other!
4. Cut out a plain brown square to make a label for the jar. If you couldn't get the label off, just measure, and make your new label so it covers the old one! Use Elmer's glue to attach your new label.
4. Load jar with cookies and cap.
5. Punch hole in recipe/ card. Thread curly ribbon through. Add candy cane and tie the curly ribbon off, either in a bowl or just in a knot and curl the ends.

Stay tuned all week for more ideas for thrifty DIY gifts from the kitchen!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thrifty Gifts from the Kitchen

First, Energy Neutral has a new look! I finally took some down time and used it to figure out how to work with the blogger templates. Things should be prettier and easier to find now, although almost everything that you've come to expect should still be able to be found in the same place. I hope you like it!

This weekend was very busy! I went down to RI on Friday afternoon because my fiancé had to work on Sunday, so I wanted to make sure I was there when he got off work. Saturday morning I did another cross race, which was... ok. My brakes at least worked this time! But I got stuck behind a ton of crashes and people who managed to get in my way on the few favorable to me/ uphill parts of the course. After hanging out some with the MIT team, I went back to Providence and my fiancé and I went out for brunch, did some Christmas window shopping, and hung out for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Sunday, I rode my bike up to the north shore to support my biffle in a half marathon! I also ran into my brother, his girlfriend, and the younger brother of one of my best friends from college. So it was basically a huge party even though it was really freaking cold! I did make the 40 mile trip mostly ok (although there was a bridge fiasco) and got to see the Witch's House in Salem, passed through Manchester by the Sea and got some good base miles in. I got up very early to get there on time so there were some really breathtaking views along the way.

Anyways... this week we'll be doing another series! If you think you'll be getting a gift from me this year... you might not want to read the blog this week! Or your surprise may be ruined. However, if you don't mind a hint and you need thrifty gift ideas, the posts this week will be right up your alley. Each day, I'll be profiling some do it yourself gift ideas that come from the kitchen and the heart. Most days, we'll be using repurposed materials (jars food came in, paper bags) for the packaging so get ready! These will be great gifts for your eco-conscious friends and they'll be great for your wallet too! Monday starts off the week with a travel cookie jar you can make and fill for just under $1.

Gettin' in the Christmas spirit here in Cambridge!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pumpkin Oat Waffles

Happy Friday! It's almost the weekend, which means it's almost time for brunch! I've shared my favorite recipe for a basic Belgian Waffle, and most times that I make brunch, we just make the basic recipe and branch out with our toppings. Well, this weekend, I was mourning the beginning of the end of pumpkin season so I decided that I had to make a pumpkin themed brunch. I was going to try a vegan pumpkin french toast recipe, but I've never had good luck with french toast that doesn't have eggs (well, actually the very next day I came up with a delicious vegan french toast). But anyways, I decided that I would make pumpkin waffles. Oat flour does a great job with pumpkin (the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are fantastic with oat flour!), so I decided that I would make gluten free pumpkin waffles. The oat flour adds a nice rustic flavor to these and I even managed to slip in some protein powder. I'm currently using a complete rice, pea, and hemp protein from Life's Basics (vanilla, unsweetened) and it's doing pretty well. Hope you enjoy these pumpkin waffles!

Pumpkin Oat Waffles

1 2/3c oat flour (finely food processed quick cook oats)
1/3c vanilla unsweetened protein powder
2T cornstarch
2t baking powder
2T brown sugar
generous amounts cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice
2T vegetable oil
1c pumpkin puree
1c vanilla almond milk (or soy)

Mix the dry ingredients, and then the wet. Add batter (~1/2c for a belgian sized waffle) to your greased waffle iron and cook according to your iron's directions. Top with maple syrup and enjoy!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Butternut Chickpea Soup

As soon as the weather becomes remotely cold, I start eating soup for dinner. I usually get home from lab sometime around or after 9pm and the last thing I want to do before having dinner is fuss with a bunch of ingredients. Soup keeps well in the fridge and warms me up after a cold day in my office or a frosty ride home. Soups like this one, that are high in protein are especially nice because they serve as a "one pot wonder" where your vegetables and protein are conveniently combined into one dish. That way, I only have to worry about heating and eating one thing before I can think about bed! (or doing core, calling my fiance, fixing my bike... all the things that I guess are the reason normal people leave work at 5pm)

This soup has a nice smooth flavor from the butternut squash and chickpeas. I spiced it with cinnamon, chili pepper, garlic, and a touch of maple syrup. I made this soup with butternut squash, because I accidentally picked up an extra bag of the frozen cubed stuff at the super market. This could easily be made with pumpkin too!

Butternut Chickpea Soup

1/2 bag frozen cubed butternut squash
1 can chickpeas
3c water
cinnamon, crushed red pepper, garlic, and maple syrup to taste

Defrost the butternut squash in the microwave. Transer to food processor with chickpeas and spices. Food process until smooth. Transfer to large pot and add water. Bring to a boil. Taste test and add any extra spices you need. Enjoy! This recipe makes about 3 bowls, so if you want more, double it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

White Chili

Chili is delicious, but I've made the red chili already this season at least half of a dozen times. So this weekend, I decided that I would shake it up a bit and try to make a chili that was spiced with black and white pepper, rather than red. I had a few potatoes left from a giant bag I bought a few weeks ago and had been wanting to find a recipe for some yellow split peas, so I decided that I'd try to make a white chili. And it turned out well!

My white chili has yellow split peas, white beans, potatoes, butternut squash, and a base of cauliflower. I was really excited to use the yellow split peas because they are a source of complete protein, as are the white beans! Split peas also are a good source of oxalates and are known to stabilize blood sugar, like other legumes. I use pureed cauliflower as a base because of the antioxidants and other benefits of cruciferous vegetables.

White Chili

2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 bag frozen cauliflower
1/2 bag frozen cubed butternut squash
1/2 bag frozen sweet white corn
1c dry (~2c cooked) split yellow peas
1c dry (~2c cooked) white beans
3.5c water
1 cube vegetable bullion
black and white pepper
smoke seasoning
dash basil and cinnamon
nutritional yeast to top

1. Cook the split peas and white beans by boiling them in a large pot of water or in the crock pot. This can take upwards of an hour, so have something else handy!
2. Microwave the cauliflower until tender. Transfer to food processor and process for a minute or so, it doesn't need to be completely smooth.
3. Peel and cube potatoes.
4. In a large soup pot, add the 3.5c water and dissolve the bullion cube. Add pureed cauliflower, corn, and potatoes.
5. Add spices and peas/ beans when they are ready.
6. Let cook until potatoes are tender, and flavors are infused.
7. Serve warm with a dusting of nutritional yeast. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Apple Cinnamon French Toast

I did it! I finally did it! I made vegan french toast on Sunday and it was so good, I can't stop thinking about it. Previous attempts have been disastrous or at best, pretty much regular toast-textured. I've been trying hard though because french toast is one of my all time favorite foods, and it was one of the first breakfast food recipes I perfected back in college. My french toast was made with egg whites, so it was high in protein and low in fat. I found it easy to digest too, so I would often eat it before crew practice in the mornings. The crispy outside and soft inside, paired with the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple are hard to resist... These days, I have a waffle maker, an awesome pancake recipe, and we don't keep eggs around. Fiancé says the cholesterol is bad (though this logic fails since there's no cholesterol in the whites) but until the eggs come from happy chickens that live in my back yard, I've become skeptical. So I've been challenging myself to try to create vegan french toast so that this old favorite can again become a regular part of my life.

Sunday morning, we woke up to a cold, wet, dreary day. The type of day that's best for sitting inside with a warm breakfast and cup of coffee watching the rain fall (you know, before you go out and ride your bike for a few hours in it.) We had made pumpkin waffles on Saturday (coming soon!) and I wasn't in the mood for pancakes. So I did a little research and decided to give vegan french toast one more shot. I decided to make my batter with apple sauce, protein powder, and flax seed, since the blogs I trusted most seemed to be using banana and I personally really like flax as an egg replacer. Banana unfortunately makes me gag, but I had an opened container of apple sauce in the fridge that I thought might be close enough. I added Life Basic's vanilla unsweetened protein powder, since I always need a protein boost in the mornings. This particular protein powder is pretty palatable and it's a complete source of all of the essential amino acids! The vanilla adds to the cozy flavor nicely. The flax seeds were also a good choice for their omega-3 fatty acids and nutritional profile, as well as the hearty, nutty taste they bring to the table. The final, critical tip for cooking these... make sure you use a generous amount of vegetable or canola oil to grease your pan! Otherwise they will stick and become a soggy mess.

Apple Cinnamon French Toast

3/4c vanilla almond milk
1/2c unsweetened apple sauce
1/3c vanilla unsweetened protein powder (I used this one)
1T ground flax seeds
1T cinnamon
3T maple syrup
6 slices bread (whole wheat, multi grain or Udi's gluten free)
canola or vegetable oil to grease the pan

1. Preheat skillet to medium heat. Add a generous amount of vegetable oil and swirl to spread it. Skillet is ready when water droplets sizzle when added.
2. Mix all of the ingredients except the bread together in a large bowl.
3. Dip bread in batter. This is a bit thicker than regular french toast batter, so you may have to spread it a little with a finger or a knife to make sure it's fully coated.
4. Cook french toast on skillet. The first side will take 2-3 minutes and the second will take 1-2 minutes. Don't try to flip it early or it will stick! Cooking times will vary, but it'll be easier to recover from a slightly black piece than a soggy-all-over-your-pan piece (which will require you to cool & clean your skillet to start over)
5. Remove from skillet and let cool. Regrease your pan for every piece you make, it's crucial for it to come out right! Serve with additional maple syrup, nuts, and/ or chocolate chips. Enjoy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Pie

Happy Cyber Monday! And with that, it's official... we're into the holidays, aka peppermint season! This also should be when Starbucks reveals its red cups and peppermint mochas. These days, they do it far too early, but even a few years ago, they would wait until an appropriate time to reveal these and peppermint mocha would signal the start of the holiday season, finals, and the end of the fall semester. This year, I'm a little less excited than normal for peppermint season. This is because I finally found a deep love for pumpkin. I mean, who wouldn't love a warm, cozy baked good or dinner that's based on a highly nutritious vegetable?? Also, I recently learned that 90% of the worlds canned pumpkin is made by Libby's in a plant that is only open from August to October every year. So they've already stopped producing! I need to go on a shopping spree to hoard all of the pumpkin to get me through the long winter and summer.

To usher in this season properly, I put down the pumpkin and made a chocolate peppermint pie. My taste testing committee has informed me that this is the best thing that I have ever created. Basically it's a super moist, gooey peppermint brownie contained in a chocolate crust. The crust isn't the best part though, so you can also use the silicone baking cups and cook your filling in there to make a gluten free treat. Perhaps the best part is the secret ingredient... of course, I made it with white beans! With the blood sugar stabilizing power of legumes,  this decadent treat will not surprise you with a sugar rush and subsequent crash.

Chocolate Peppermint Pie


2 3/4c white beans
1c cocoa powder
1/2c brown sugar
5T white sugar
2 candy canes, crushed to a fine powder in a coffee grinder
1T peppermint schnopps (or 1t peppermint extract)
1/4c vanilla almond or soy milk
dash cinnamon
to top: 1 candy cane,  coarsely crushed with a rolling pin

Crust (optional)

3/4c flour
1/4c brown sugar
1T brown sugar
2T vegetables oil
2t baking powder
1/3c warm water

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. To make the crust, mix the wet ingredients and then the dry. Kneed it a few times. This crust is difficult to roll, so I ended up just pushing it into the greased 8 inch pie pan. The crust isn't exceptional, so feel free to leave it out for a gluten free recipe.
3. Clean out your coffee grinder, and add 2 candy canes broken into chunks. Grind for a few seconds and you should be set! If you don't have a coffee grinder, your food processor should work as well.
4. Add all filling ingredients to the food processor (except the last candy cane). Food processes for several minutes until smooth. As usual, make sure it's smooth because bean chunks kill the chocolate vibe!
5. Pour filling into crust or into cupcake cups. Use a pinch of sugar to coat the edges of the crust. Top with the coarsely broken candy cane (it will melt, so leave chunks larger than you think you want!)
6. Bake for 50 minutes (pie) or 30- 40 minutes (gluten free cups). Serve warm and enjoy! The center will still be soft and kind of melty, but it's ok! The crust will keep it together.

You choose... make a gluten free crustless cup, or try out the crust and make a whole pie!