I know not all my dear readers and cooking class students have children, and therefore are not likely submerged chin-deep in back-to-school chaos right now. You lucky ducks. I have three kids in three different schools and I can’t keep track of all the back-to-school nights and picture days. And it’s only September! I’ve got my priorities straight though. Mr. Picky hasn’t had a haircut in three months, but I’ve got a freezer full of blueberry-banana bread and vegan oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough. Yes, ma’am.
The point I was actually trying to get to is that these most recent posts aren’t just meant for those whose Monday-Fridays are considered “school days.” I’d like to think all the recipes I post are relevant to anyone trying to eat well. And one thing we all have in common these days, whether you have kids or not, is lack of time. Unfortunately, I don’t think little old me is going to change that.
I used to think that it was silly for me to post recipes with 3 ingredients, that take 30 seconds to make, and that have probably been pinned more than a certain VMA performance has been viewed. (Sorry for the reminder.) But then my students plead with me, “we want more 30 second recipes!” So if you haven’t been introduced to raw chia and oat porridge, and at least one person on instagram asked for the recipe last week when I posted a picture of my breakfast, here it is! I probably eat this 3-4 times a week from July through October, because it is a refrigerated dish and slightly cooling so it’s better for you during the warmer months. It is super healthful since the oats are soaked overnight, which makes them much more digestible. On its own, this is a well-balanced breakfast with protein, fiber, complex carbs and high quality fat. But we usually add either fresh or dried fruit to it. And like I said, it is a cinch to make, almost disappointingly easy. But this time of year, I’ve got nothing to prove. Enjoy!
There’s a new (but not really new) diet in town which everyone is talking about called the Paleolithic Diet or Paleo, for short. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Caveman or Hunter-Gatherer Diet and it focuses on the foods humans ate pre-industrial agriculture. The idea is that our bodies recognize certain foods and haven’t evolved to recognize other newer foods so we should stick to what was eaten during the Paleolithic time to be healthy and fit. The diet allows lean grass-fed and pastured meats, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, coconut, avocado and healthy fats. Easy, right? But the diet does not allow anything processed or refined (like sugar, flour, packaged food), or any grains (wheat, rice, barley, etc.), legumes (beans, lentils), dairy, potatoes or processed oils. I am not encouraging or discouraging this diet, which I think has its pros and cons, but merely giving a quick explanation since I’ve received a few questions about it recently.
As I have noticed more and more people limiting gluten and grains, I have also noticed the increased popularity and use of almond flour, which is finely milled blanched almonds. Almonds, like all nuts and seeds, are gluten-free, low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Whereas nuts and seeds, generally speaking, can be slightly acid-forming, almonds are alkalizing.
A few years ago I found Elana Amsterdam’s great gluten-free website, www.elanaspantry.com, which I think started the almond flour revolution. Elana has since turned paleo, and all her newer recipes follow those guidelines. It’s really because of her website that I was inspired to experiment with almond flour and although I have had mixed results, overall I think it’s awesome once I figured out how to work with it. I think it’s great to add some variety to our diet and I love getting some extra protein into Mr. Picky. Almond flour also comes in handy around Passover, 8 days of no grains or legumes, except Matzoh which can start to get a tad boring after a few days.
I had a really delicious Chocolate Banana Chia Seed muffin at Le Pain Quotidian last year or the year before and I was intent on duplicating it. The muffin was moist with the perfect amount of sweetness and I loved the crunch from the chia seeds. They were kind enough to tell me the ingredients (although not the exact recipe) and I made a tasty version at home with whole wheat pastry flour and maple syrup. The kids thought they were great! When I tried using almond flour in place of the wheat flour, we all went crazy for them. The almond flour version of the muffin was the best — super moist, chocolaty and a little denser, but in a good way. Now when I make these muffins, I always use almond flour!
Before you start substituting almond flour one-for-one for wheat flour, stop right there. It isn’t a perfect substitution. Almond flour has no gluten, but does contain way more fat than wheat flour so there are a few adjustments to be made. I would stop by Elana’s Pantry for a quick lesson on how almond flour works. I also have found that specifically labeled “almond flour” is better than “almond meal” (like Bob’s Red Mill.) Per Elana, I started buying almond flour from Honeyville Grain, which has a very good, fresh product and a very reasonable shipping fee ($4.50 flat rate.
These muffins are not technically Paleo due to the yogurt, although if you can find an unsweetened almond milk yogurt, that would work here. Or you can try making these without the yogurt and just add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, although I have never done it and can’t guarantee the results. I’m really posting these as a great gluten-free, Happy Passover muffin, although I make these all year. In fact I made these recently and Daughter #2 had a few friends over and they inhaled half the batch in 2 minutes. (I’m telling you, if you want the kids to hang out at your house, you need FOOD.) To make this more of a dessert, you can certainly substitute chocolate chips for the diced dates. The chia seeds are fun and obviously nutritious, but there’s less than 1 teaspoon per muffin so it’s not a dealbreaker if you want to omit them.
As always, I love hearing about your experiments in the kitchen and would especially be interested to know about your experience with almond flour or your favorite Passover treats. Once again, I’m on dessert duty for Passover and I’m getting busy right now. This weekend I will be making loads of Macaroons, both plain and dipped in chocolate, the Lemon Ice Torte which I have been making since 1991, and a raw cashew “cheesecake” which I will have to share another time. There is also a recipe on my site for a (vegan) Coconut Tart with Strawberries which is perfect for Passover and Easter. Lots of delicious options!
Have you ever bought something that you heard people talking about, that you thought you should start eating and would figure out how to get it into your diet soon but never did, only to have that something sit in your pantry forever? That would be a scenario with me and chia seeds a few years ago. I kept reading about these little nutritional powerhouses and I was easily convinced about all their benefits and that I should be incorporating them into my diet, but I hadn’t the slightest idea how to actually eat them. Chia seeds are super high in Omega-3 fats (which many of us don’t consume enough of) and antioxidants. They have almost double the fiber of flaxseeds, as well as lots of protein, calcium, iron and magnesium. What is unique about chia seeds is their gel-like consistency when they are soaked in liquid. They become thick like tapioca and that gel actually helps to keep everything moving very smoothly throughout our bodies.
Most suggestions that I originally encountered for consuming chia seeds were to “sprinkle” them on food, such as oatmeal or yogurt. That was fine for me, but the kiddos and Mr. Picky Sr. weren’t going for it. My next idea was to add chia seeds to cookie dough, which did make for a delicious almond butter and chia seed cookie. But a cookie isn’t going to give you a heck of a lot of chia seeds/nutrition. Finally I heard about chia pudding – an instant, raw, thick and silky pudding of chia seeds soaked in a barely sweetened liquid. Sold! Not only is chia pudding even easier to make than tofu chocolate pudding, but I think it’s even more delicious!
I have two versions to share with you because even though I love the plain Jane vanilla version, Mr. Picky thought it looked like tiny eyeballs and wouldn’t try it. So I added a little cocoa powder to make it chocolate-y and less like, well, eyeballs. Both versions are great. I eat vanilla chia seed pudding for breakfast with berries or diced banana on top and it fills me up for a good long while. Mr. Picky and his buddies love the chocolate pudding after school with lots of different toppings like coconut, raspberries or sliced almonds. Check out the video I did below for The Chalkboard on how to make this delicious concoction. Naturally I used date-sweetened Pressed Juicery almond milk to make it, but you can follow the recipe below.
Now that we’re hooked, I’d love to hear your favorite way to eat chia seeds!
2-2 ½ Tablespoons raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder (if making chocolate pudding), depending on how chocolaty you like it
¼ cup chia seeds
Place almond milk, dates, vanilla and cacao in blender and process until dates are pulverized. A Vitamix does a great job with this. If your blender leaves the dates too chunky, you can strain the mixture before adding it to the chia seeds.
Pour chia seeds into a medium container and add almond milk mixture. Stir immediately to combine otherwise you may end up with blobs of chia seeds. Allow to sit on countertop and stir every 5 minutes. After 15 minutes, it should have thickened.
Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. I usually do this the night before. Stays in the fridge for as long as your almond milk would. Fun to add toppings like fresh fruit, coconut or chopped nuts.