Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites

22 Oct

This weekend marks my sixth half marathon (!) in two years’ time. And this time, I’ve taken on the additional challenge of running a 5k the evening before. My training plan has incorporated shorter runs the day before my long runs, so I feel physically and mentally prepared for this. It’s a Halloween-themed run, and I’m sure I’ll see plenty of amazing costumes on the course. Stay tuned for a complete review and tons of pictures. Until then, I’ll be snacking on these Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites!

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

All of this running and racing has taught me to pay more attention to the health of my gut. The gut is responsible for digestion, which is insanely important for our health. Probiotics aid in this digestion, which requires the bacteria in our gut to be balanced. An unhealthy gut might result in a variety of unpleasant issues, such as constipation, indigestion, gas, and more (Global Healing Center).

Furthermore, the microbiome that is the gut is thought to affect our brains: how we think and feel. “Recent studies have found that autistic people’s microbiome differs significantly from control groups.” “Gut bacteria can influence anxiety and depression.” Prebiotics have been shown to “lower levels of a key stress hormone, cortisol, and in a test involving a series of words flashed quickly on a screen, [subjects] focused more on positive information and less on negative.” Probiotic eaters “reacted more calmly to images than the control group,” which scientists think “changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.” (The Atlantic)

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Finally, “it’s not yet clear how the microbiome alters the brain. Most researchers agree that microbes probably influence the brain via multiple mechanisms. Scientists have found that gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA, all of which play a key role in mood (many antidepressants increase levels of these same compounds). Certain organisms also affect how people metabolize these compounds, effectively regulating the amount that circulates in the blood and brain. Gut bacteria may also generate other neuroactive chemicals, including one called butyrate, that have been linked to reduced anxiety and depression. Cryan and others have also shown that some microbes can activate the vagus nerve, the main line of communication between the gut and the brain. In addition, the microbiome is intertwined with the immune system, which itself influences mood and behavior.” (The Atlantic)

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Now we know how the gut works, and why it’s so important to maintain a healthy gut! Consuming probiotic foods are one way to aid gut health, but these should be paired with prebiotic foods, to ensure the most effective absorption of nutrients. This is because “probiotics are living organisms, while prebiotics are indigestible fibers that provide nourishment for the probiotics—much like fertilizer for a garden” (Hyperbiotics).

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Still with me? Let’s get to the recipe 🙂 One form of a probiotic is fermented foods. Tempeh is a delicious, high-protein fermented soy product that can be eaten raw or cooked. Chocolate is also a fermented food (watch Michael Pollan’s series “Cooked” for an amazing look into the fermentation of chocolate). Bananas, almonds, and coconut are examples of prebiotic foods, and thus pair incredibly well with tempeh and chocolate.

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Tempeh slices ready for chocolate!

I KNOW how weird it sounds to think of tempeh in a sweet application. But TRUST ME, it’s amazing. On its own, tempeh has a wonderful nutty flavor to it. And what’s better than chocolate and banana and nuts?! Dairy-free, semi-sweet or dark chocolate is a simple way to keep these healthy bites vegan, and you should be sure to use chocolate that’s not loaded with sugar (I’m talking to you, milk chocolate).

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Vegan chocolate chips were on sale, so I stocked up!

Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites

Makes 12 bites

  • 1/2 block plain tempeh
  • 1 just-ripe banana
  • 6 oz semi-sweet vegan chocolate (chips or a baking block are fine – I used Chatfield’s vegan semi-sweet chips)
  • 12 raw almonds
  • 1/4 C unsweetened shredded coconut

Line a baking sheet or plate with parchment paper; set aside.

Cut a block of tempeh into two equal pieces. Save one half for another meal. Then, slice the second half into two thin sheets. Cut each into 6 pieces, so you have 12 total, equal pieces; they should be about one-square inch in size. Set aside.

Peel the banana and slice into even pieces, about as thick as the tempeh squares. You want them to match up fairly well for easy stacking.

In a glass bowl, slowly microwave the chocolate until completely melted. Be sure to stir will every 30-60 seconds to avoid burning the chocolate.

Now for the assembly! Begin by dabbing a little melted chocolate onto one side of the tempeh squares and press a banana coin on top (yes, these are different shapes, but the mismatched look is totally in). Then, spread a little chocolate onto the parchment paper. Place a tempeh-banana stack on the chocolate and spoon more chocolate on top, and spread it down to cover the sides as best you can. Top with an almond and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Repeat the chocolate-covering process with the remaining tempeh-banana stacks.

Place the sheet pan in the fridge and let set for an hour. Transfer the Chocolate-Covered Probiotic Protein Bites to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator.

Eat them cold or let them set out on a counter for 10 minutes before enjoying for a softer treat. I would NOT recommend freezing these, because the frozen tempeh needs to thaw, but this will cause the banana to loose its shape and weep out its juices.

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Creamy Chickpea Potato Soup

16 Oct

This weekend, my family and I celebrated my Oma and Opa’s 57th anniversary (that’s German for grandma and grandpa)!

Celebrating 57 years together!

We gathered at a local Italian-themed restaurant, toasted their lives together with some tasty wine, and enjoyed a delicious meal (the chef even whipped up something special for my vegan needs).

Fried artichokes and grilled vegetables with balsamic glaze

All celebrations in my family revolve around food: from birthdays to anniversaries to holidays to major accomplishments. Whether it’s brunch, lunch, or dinner, food is the common denominator for our gatherings. Being first vegetarian, and now vegan, that’s hard enough. Tack onto that the October #Unprocessed challenge, and it’s like I can barely eat anything!

Me and Oma ❤

Or is it? Much to everyone’s surprise, there are so many things I can eat – one just needs to understand ingredients and various preparations. And one must remember the miracle of soup. Yep, soup is an easy way to get a bunch of veggies into your meal, in a delicious, #unprocessed way! This soup is pureed to be a creamy, luscious meal that’s packed with protein, fiber, and flavor. Chickpeas naturally thicken the end product, so you don’t have to whisk in a roux. Finally, this is made in the crockpot! Just dump, stir, and switch it on. Eight hours later, use an immersion blender to puree to finish.

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Creamy Chickpea Potato Soup

Serves 6

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds removed and chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cans (or 3 cups) chickpeas, rinsed and drained (I use homemade crockpot chickpeas)
  • 4 medium white potatoes (Russet potatoes are best), about 4″ long, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 C low sodium vegetable stock
  • 3 C water
  • 1/4 C maple syrup or coconut sugar

Prep all the vegetables, chickpeas, and potatoes and throw them into your slow cooker or crockpot. Add the herbs and spices, and top with the oil, stock, water, and sweetener. Stir with a spoon, cover, and set on high to cook for 6-8 hours.

Once the vegetables are cooked completely, use an immersion blender to puree the soup partially or until silky smooth. You can also do this in batches (carefully) using a traditional blender.

Serve the soup hot, topped with freshly parsley, hot sauce, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Confessions of a Mother Runner

 

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

12 Oct

Disclaimer: BrightFarms compensated me for my time to review their lettuce greens, and also provided a gift card to share with my readers to try the products as well.

It’s been more than a week doing the October #Unprocessed challenge, and it sure has been a challenge! Before I get into this recipe for Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto, here are a few revelations I’ve made so far:

  • Why the heck does a jar of salted peanuts have wheat, soy, and milk in the ingredients?! It was a late-night snack attack, and salty peanuts sounded perfect, until I took a closer look at the label and saw a plethora of unnecessary ingredients. Tossed those out immediately!
  • Lunch at work is hard. We’re provided lunch in my office (which is super awesome!), but they’re not cooking under the same standards as I’m following during #Unprocessed. Lunch has basically been reduced to raw and cooked vegetables, and soup if they make a vegan one.
  • Special lunch at work is even harder! One of the teams I support is having a long meeting over the lunch hour, so the manager graciously offered to bring in lunch for everyone. Being vegan is hard enough in those situations, so being vegan AND unprocessed makes it nearly impossible. While everyone enjoys hot pizza, I’ll have to bring in lunch for myself and get all the questions.
  • Sometimes, a muffin goes a long way 🙂 I baked for that same team last week – vegan peach cornbread muffins. One of my teammates doesn’t eat eggs, and was elated to learn that the muffins were egg- and dairy-free.

With all of that in mind, I have been cooking a LOT more for myself. I don’t keep snack foods in the house (unless you count jalapeno-stuffed green olives, which I’m totally obsessing over at the moment), and even the bread I indulge in is homemade! Real food, made with fresh ingredients, is my tune.

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

That’s why I created a from-scratch recipe with BrightFarms greens. BrightFarms is the leader in local salad greens in Wisconsin, grown in a local greenhouse farm in Illinois, which is designed to conserve land and water, eliminate agricultural runoff, and reduce greenhouse gas emission from transportation. AND, the farm creates green-collar jobs for local farmers, keeping more dollars in the community. Their mission states that they strive to improve the environmental impact of the food supply chain and encourage the consumption of whole and fresh foods.

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Whole wheat spinach gnocchi are ready for the oven!

Scroll to the bottom of this post for details on how to win a $25 grocery store gift card, provided by BrightFarms!

You may not know this, but gnocchi is my absolute favorite Italian dish. Properly made gnocchi melts in your mouth and is coated with the most scrumptious sauce, be that tomato-based, creamy, or pesto. I wanted to develop a gnocchi recipe that’s not too difficult, full of flavor, and made with fresh, local ingredients.

Enter: Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto. This version uses Russet potatoes grown in Wisconsin, whole wheat flour, and BrightFarms baby spinach. A simple swap of flaxseed gel for the traditional egg used to bind the dough makes these gnocchi vegan. They’re then baked (rather than boiled) to retain their texture and avoid any disintegration. Once boiled, the gnocchi are tossed in a freshly made pesto sauce, made with BrightFarms basil, locally grown sun-dried tomatoes, homegrown fresh tomatoes and parsley (from my Opa’s garden!), balsamic and red wine vinegars, and nutritional yeast to make it vegan (in place of parmesan).

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

These gnocchi are so soft, they melt in your mouth!

A tip for the best gnocchi: bake, don’t boil the potatoes for the dough. Boiled potatoes retain extra water, which then requires the use of additional flour in the dough, which is not ideal. Baked potatoes are drier and will not need extra flour.

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Serves 6

For the gnocchi:

  • 2 lbs Russet potatoes
  • 5 oz fresh baby spinach, stems removed (weigh after removing the stems)
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed meal mixed with 3 tbsp warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scrub and wash the potatoes and wrap them well in aluminum foil. I wrapped several together into one sheet. Place the wrapped potatoes on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 60 minutes.

While the potatoes bake, skip down to the pesto recipe and prepare that!

Once the potatoes are baked, remove them from the oven and unwrap the foil. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on!

Place the destemmed spinach in a large bowl and cover with boiling water; let wilt for a few minutes. Then, lay a clean tea towel in a colander and drain the spinach into it. Use the towel to squeeze out ALL the water from the spinach – you want this as dry as possible! Roughly chop the spinach and place it back into the bowl it was wilting in (be sure to dry this off first).

Carefully peel the potatoes and discard the skins. Roughly chop the potatoes and add them to spinach.

Use a hand mixer to blend the potatoes together with the spinach, but be careful not to over do it – just blend until the potatoes have broken down so there aren’t chunks. Add in the salt, flour, and flaxseed meal and use a wooden spoon to mix until just combined.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on a clean, dry work surface. Scoop about a half cup of the dough into your hands and form a cylinder out of it. Then gently roll it into a rope, a half inch thick. Use a butter knife to cut off half-inch pieces. Transfer these pieces to a parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough. Make sure the gnocchi do not overlap – leave them in a single layer.

Bake the gnocchi at 350 for 20 minutes.

For the sun-dried tomato pesto:

  • 4 oz sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 C packed fresh basil, stems removed
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, stems removed
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/3 C crushed tomatoes (fresh is best, but canned will work)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 C balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 C nutritional yeast
  • sea salt, to taste

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with hot water; let sit 5 minutes to soften, then drain out the water.

Combine all ingredients except the oil, nutritional yeast, and salt in the bowl of your food processor. Puree well, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Pour in the oil and nutritional yeast and puree again until smooth. Taste and add salt as desired (I added ~ 1/4 tsp).

Once the gnocchi are baked, transfer them to a bowl and toss with 6-8 tablespoons of the fresh sun-dried tomato pesto. Store leftover pesto in a jar and refrigerate, up to a week. You could also freeze this for a taste of summer in the winter!

Baked Whole Wheat Spinach Gnocchi with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto | xtinaluvspink.wordpress.com

Gnocchi tossed in pesto.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! BrightFarms offered to giveaway a $25 grocery store gift card to one of my readers. To enter, 1) comment on this blog post, telling me what you would like to make with some of the local salad greens that BrightFarms grows and 2) follow my blog via the button at the top right of the page! Deadline extension: Giveaway closes at midnight, October 27, 2017, so comment by then! Entrants must live in the USA.

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