Thai Quinoa Salad with Homemade Peanut Ginger Sauce

Have you ever been bored with your typical cooking routine? I can tell you I have. I’ve found that when I’m uber-busy with work, school, working out, and just life in general, I stick to the same foods. I might alter my meals a little bit, but I don’t go out of my comfort zone and try a new recipe. Well, I’ve made a goal to change that. To find new recipes, adapt them, or simply create my own. And its going great so far! I have actually saved time by just cooking a large batch of food and eating portions of it throughout the week.

This dish has been on my radar for a while, but for some reason, it seemed like a time investment. Surprisingly not the case. Aside from chopping up the vegetables, it was pretty quick to prepare! With the combination of the quinoa and edamame beans, this is a pretty protein-packed meal, and the loads of vegetables make this an even more nutrient-dense dish. And did I mention it is gluten-free AND vegan?? IMG_20130623_111302

Thai Quinoa Salad with Homemade Peanut Ginger Sauce

Adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

Makes 6 servings

¾ cup uncooked quinoa

2-3 cups shredded red cabbage

1 red bell pepper, diced

½ medium red onion, diced

1 cup shredded carrots

½ cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup diced green onions  

1 cup edamame

Fresh lime, wedges

For the dressing:

¼ cup all natural peanut butter

2 tsp freshly grated ginger

2 Tbsp soy sauce*

1 Tbsp honey*

1 Tbsp apple vinegar

2 tsp olive oil

*To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free soy sauce. To make it vegan, substitute agave for the honey. 
To cook the quinoa: Unless it is already pre-rinsed, rinse the quinoa with cold water in mesh strainer. In a medium pot, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil before adding the quinoa. quinoa and bring mixture to a boil. Bring it to a boil again and cover the pot, reducing the heat to low and letting it simmer until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and fluff the quinoa with fork, then place it in large bowl and set aside to cool for about about 10 minutes.
To cook the edamame: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add edamame and bring back to a boil. Let the beans cook for 4-5 minutes. Using a colander, Drain the water and rinse the beans with cold water.
To make the dressing: Add peanut butter and honey (or agave) to a microwave safe bowl and heat in microwave for 20 seconds. Add in soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, and ginger, and stir until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Add as much dressing as you prefer to the quinoa. You can save the dressing for later, but the flavor absorbs better if soaks into the quinoa longer. Fold in the edamame, cabbage, red pepper, onion, carrots, and cilantro into the quinoa. Garnish with and green onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, chilled or at room temperature.
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This is, hands down, one of the most flavorful salads I have ever made. Words can’t even describe how delicious this was. My taste buds were jumping for joy  (finally!).
 What’s your favorite recipe to get you out of a cooking rut?

Two-Ingredient Banana Pancakes

You know that Jack Johnson song, “Banana Pancakes?” It’s one of my favorite rainy day songs, and always makes me want banana pancakes. No matter what time of the day it is. Heck, it makes me think that if I were eating banana pancakes, the rainy day wouldn’t be so bad. And today feels like a rainy day, in fact, I’m 60% sure (according to my phone) that it’s going to rain sometime later today, most likely at a time when I need to trek outside to get to my next destination, most likely in a way that will leave me absolutely drenched. And so, to keep from getting upset at the possibility of an unfortunate rain, I’m going to think about banana pancakes. And you should too. Why, you ask?

Well, what if I told you that I had a banana pancake recipe that wouldn’t break your calorie bank? And that it was high in protein, and [gasp] had no wheat (meaning gluten-free for all my gluten-sensitive friends)? And, as if you’re somehow not convinced yet, that it takes less than 10 minutes and 2 ingredients to make? Are you sold yet? I thought so.

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Two-Ingredient Banana Pancakes:

Makes 1 serving of pancakes

1 ripe banana

2 eggs

*cinnamon, dash (optional, but HIGHLY recommended)

*Another optional add-in: crushed walnuts – to up the healthy fat content of these pancakes and keep you full longer.

In a small bowl, mash the banana with a fork. Add the two eggs (and cinnamon, if you dare), and whisk the ingredients together with the fork. Spray a heated pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon a desired amount of the “batter” onto the pan and cook until golden brown. And try, just to make this little nutrition fanatic friend of yours happy, NOT to pour syrup or any sweetener on your pancakes. Your body will thank you for it!

What’s your favorite rainy day meal? Comment below and let me know!

Sunday Morning (or any morning!) French Toast with Homemade Raspberry Sauce

Welp. It’s not Sunday, but life has been a whirlwind and will continue to be a whirlwind all week (a good whirlwind though – no worries). But I couldn’t resist and I HAVE to share this recipe. It’s simple AND satisfying, and one of my favorite weekend breakfast/brunch dishes. Or any day that I’m not rushing through my morning routine.

I’m sure you read the words “French toast” and thought of the typical indulgent breakfast favorite that is sure to leave you with a sugar rush rather than setting you up for the day. I’m not going to lie, French toast is one of my brunch weaknesses. But, I have to admit, it’s usually more of a dessert than a well-balanced breakfast dish, drenched in syrup and topped with even more sugar-laden goodies.

So, of course, I had to recreate it. I mean, a girl with a love for French toast simply can’t go without for too long, am I right? But you won’t find any added sugars in this recipe…what you will find is a well-balanced breakfast, complete with whole grains + fiber, complete protein, healthy fats, and fruit + antioxidants.

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Sunday Morning French Toast with Homemade Raspberry Sauce:

Makes 1 serving

1 piece of whole-grain bread

1 large egg

1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

2 Tbsp almonds, chopped or slivered

dash of cinnamon, to taste

Whisk the egg and cinnamon together in a bowl. Soak the bread in the egg mixture, flip over and soak the other side. Spray a heated pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place and cook the bread in the pan until golden brown. Flip and cook the other side. Meanwhile, in a heated pan, toast the almonds until they are golden-brown, 2-3 minutes. Microwave the raspberries for: 30 seconds if they are fresh, 45-60 seconds if they are frozen. The raspberries should melt and form a sauce, but still be mostly intact. Top the French toast with the raspberries and almonds. And voila, you have healthy French toast that is firm on the outside, soft on the inside, creamy and crunchy on top, and both cinnamon-y and with a naturally sweetness from the raspberries. Delish!

What’s your favorite healthy Sunday morning breakfast? Leave a comment and let me know!

Weekend Update with Alena!

So I recently started an internship for FiTMAPPED as a blog contributor. Every Friday, I’ll be posting a “Weekend Update with Alena” on the FiTMAPPED Fit Blog for fitness, food, and lifestyle events happening in NYC. You can find my first blog post for FiTMAPPED here.

I know I just started, but I’m excited for all of the opportunities that this internship will give me. It has already motivated me to make fitness a larger part of my life. With the stresses of moving to a new city (and not any city, NYC sure isn’t for the weak at heart), starting my first semester of grad school, and working for most of the day, I sort of…kind of…really let fitness go on the wayside. But no more! I’m vowing to make this summer a healthy and active one, and I’ll be documenting my adventures along the way. Not only that, but I’ve also started to think outside the box and consider options outside of basic (sometimes boring) gym exercises, and New York is swarming with free fitness classes and passes that pat the “I have no money” excuse on the back, and say “Nice try kiddo, but that’s not going to fly this time.”

Have a happy (and healthy) weekend!

Lemony Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Shrimp & Quinoa

I will start off by saying this is my new favorite dish. I’m not kidding, it’s that good. And filling, and healthy, but most importantly, so good. And kale and I have had a rough start. As a nutrition student and health fanatic, you would think that I was the first one to jump on the kale bandwagon, right? Wrong. Trust me, I tried. Back in Kalamazoo, Waterstreet had a Smokey Kale Salad, easily the most popular salad there, especially since the cafe was commonly frequented by health conscious foodies. I tried it. Multiple times. And? Nope, not for me. Alright, so that was strike 1.

Strike 2 came when I attempted to make kale chips. Were they horrendous? No, but something went wrong along the way and they did not look nor taste how I was expecting them to, especially with all the rave about kale chips.

DISCLAIMER: I am NOT hating on kale chips, I’m sure they are fantastic and I just did not make them correctly…I will admit that.

So why would I give kale a third chance? Most people aren’t even given second chances, and here I was giving kale a third chance. Well, I will tell you why. Kale is arguably the most nutritious green leafy vegetable there is, and sometimes you have to override your feelings (and taste buds) and eat something just because it is so darn good for you. That, and how am I supposed to be a good dietitian in the future if I don’t even like kale? So I gave it a try…again.

And?

DING DING DING, FOLKS WE HAVE A WINNER!

I’m a believer! (finally, phew!)

And it is all thanks to this delicious dish that I crafted:

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Lemony Kale, Brussel Sprouts, Shrimp & Quinoa:

Makes 2 servings

1 1/2 cup kale, frozen, thawed

1/3 cup water

1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 red onion, julienne

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups Argentinian red shrimp, thawed

2/3 cup Brussels sprouts, rinsed, halved

Herbs de Provence (to taste)

Garlic Pepper (to taste)

1/3 lemon

1 cup quinoa, cooked

lemon slice (for garnish)

Cook quinoa. You can find a recipe/instructions to cook quinoa here. In a medium pan, heat kale and water over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until boiling. Then, cover and turn heat to low for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile in another pan, heat oil over medium heat. Toss in the onions and cook for about 4 minutes, until they are slightly translucent, then add the garlic for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and let cook for a few minutes before tossing in the Brussels sprouts. Season with Herbs de Provence and garlic pepper, and let the mixture cook until the shrimp and Brussels sprouts gain a golden color, and the shrimp is fully cooked. Turn the heat off and combine the kale with the mixture. Squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture and stir. Top quinoa with the vegetable and shrimp mixture. Garnish with a lemon.

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Now for the important part…take in the colors, textures, and flavors of this dish…out of this world right?

Now you know why my faith in kale has been restored.

Bon appetit!

How to Accidentally Deflate an Airbed + Apple Cinnamon & Flaxseed Oatmeal

So I’ve got a funny story for you. Not funny like slap-on-the-knee funny, but funny in the sense that you might feel a little bad for me and give me a virtual it’s going to be alright pat on the back. That kind of funny.

Here’s a little bit of a background:

When I moved to New York, my parents graciously packed me and all my necessary belongings (or those that could fit in their car) and shipped me off. My bed, however, was left behind and deemed not worthy of the price required to move it as well. A queen-sized, high-quality air mattress replaced it as my temporary bed until I got settled in enough to buy a bed.

Well, I figured that buying a real bed would come on my own terms, and I would hopefully have a steady income first to off-set the costs. Little did know, that would NOT be the case…

While I was curling my hair on Saturday, I burnt my hair with the curling iron, panicked, and went to go run my hand under cold water. What I didn’t do was think through my actions and make sure not to drop the curling iron within close vicinity to my airbed. I came back to a very discomforting sound of my airbed deflating. Yes, my bed was gashed by a curling iron and deflated. See folks, that’s the problem of not having a real bed. That, and the comfort that goes along with owning a real bed. So, needless to say, I slept on a deflated air bed that night, aka the ground…and by slept I mean I spent more time awake than sleeping.

While you might feel bad for me, let me reassure you that this is the first bump I have had since moving to New York. Everything else has been great, and the city has kept a protective and comforting arm over my shoulder.

Anways, the next morning I woke up, expecting to have my usual breakfast, which you can read about here, and discovered that I was not only out of bananas, but peanut butter as well. No worries though, since oatmeal is so versatile I decided to go with the flow and change up my oatmeal routine. Luckily, I had prepared the oats, cinnamon, and soymilk the night before.

This oatmeal variation is just as filling, just as healthy, and just as delicious as my Creamy Crunchy Banana Oatmeal:

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Apple Cinnamon & Flaxseed Oatmeal:

Makes 1 bowl of oatmeal

1/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup milk of choice (I prefer vanilla soymilk)

1 apple, chopped

1-2 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1 Tbsp almonds, sliced, diced, or chopped

There are two ways to go about this:

My preferred way (just because I like to save time in the morning) is to prepare the oats the night before and let them soak in the milk and cinnamon in the refrigerator all night. To do this, combine the oats, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and milk in a tupperware container and stick it in the refrigerator the night before you plan on eating the oatmeal.

That way, in the morning you can just focus on preparing the apples and then combining them with the rest of the oatmeal.

In a bowl, placed the apple chunks, squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the apple chunks, and top with 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Stir the mixture so that the cinnamon is evenly distributed among the apples. Heat it in the microwave for 1 minute. Then, stir in the prepared oatmeal, flaxseed, and almonds. Heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes, and let it cool for about 1 minute.

Note: if you did not prepare the oats before, no worries! Just put the ingredients all together once the apple mixture has been heated, and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Make sure to watch your oatmeal so that it doesn’t boil over in the microwave.

Then enjoy!

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So what’s the deal with flaxseed anyway? Why is it good for you?

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Well, flaxseed has three main components that make it beneficial for both overall health and weight loss:

It is rich in:

  1. Fiber, so not only does it keep you full, but it helps with digestion and constipation as well.
  2. Lignans, which have antioxidant properties and can help protect against cancer in two ways: by preventing or slowing the  growth of tumor cells, and by inhibiting hormone metabolism enzymes.
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol levels, especially LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), which potentially lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The best way for flaxseed to get digested in your body (and for you to reap all the benefits) is to consume ground, rather than whole, flaxseed. Flaxseed is sold commercially both in ground and whole states, so you can either buy it ground, or grind the seeds yourself at home with a food processor or coffee grinder. I choose to buy it ground to save the hassle, but that’s just me.

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Delicious and heart healthy? Take that Cheerios!

Wish me luck in finding a cheap and affordable real bed soon!

Blizzard-Worthy Vegan Sweet Potato & Quinoa Chili

So by now, many of you know of Nemo as not just a cute clownfish, but as a massive storm that hit the Northeast. Despite the build-up and the hype (and school closing),  I was not as personally affected by Nemo as anticipated. Yesterday, after braving the wind, freezing rain, and snow for a good 8-mile elliptical/treadmill workout at the gym, I planned on going to Trader Joe’s to gather the remaining ingredients I needed to create a vegan chili masterpiece in an attempt to survive the blizzard. Apparently, everyone else in Manhattan had the same thought – the line outside of Trader Joe’s was enough for me to change my mind, that and the fact that I didn’t even have an umbrella to shield me from the increasingly painful bursts of freezing rain/snow. Defeated, I bought some fresh produce from a street vendor and went home, hoping that my chili wouldn’t disappoint me as much as my attempted trip to Trader Joe’s did.

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A bundled up Alena slightly resembles Cheburashka, an old Russian cartoon character, don’t you think?

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Luckily, I had the main staples in my cupboard at home, and would only have to make a few substitutions for the chili.

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Quite the spread, huh?

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Blizzard-Worthy Vegan Sweet Potato & Quinoa Chili:

Adapted from http://www.milkfreemom.com/vegan-quinoa-sweet-potato-chili/

Makes 6 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

one 6 oz can organic tomato paste

1 Tbsp oregano

1 Tbsp paprika

1 Tbsp chili powder

one 15 oz can black beans(low-sodium), rinsed and drained

one 15 oz can Great Northern white beans (low-sodium), rinsed and drained

32 oz vegetable stock (I used “Better than Bouillon” – try to find low-sodium version if possible)

2 large tomatoes, chopped in thick chunks

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 cup dry quinoa

salt and pepper to taste

cilantro (for garnish)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for 8-10 minutes until they are soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, oregano, paprika, and chili powder, then cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the beans, vegetable stock, tomatoes, and sweet potato chunks and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and then season with salt and pepper. Stir, stir, stir, and keep cooking the fragrant mixture about 25-30 minutes, until the quinoa and sweet potato chunks are cooked thoroughly (the quinoa should form rings around the seeds and the sweet potato should be soft), and the chili has thickened (as chili should). Garnish with the cilantro and enjoy!

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A few tips to make this chili-making experience (and most any cooking experiences) exciting and not stressful:

  1. Read the recipe thoroughly before you start cooking.
  2. Gather all the ingredients and cooking utensils/pots/pans that you will need for the recipe. This saves you from panicking later when you’re frantically searching for the oregano.
  3. Put the ingredients in the order that the recipe calls for.
  4. Chop/dice/slice all the vegetables/produce that your recipe calls for before you even heat the oil. Also, open any cans and drain if necessary. TRUST ME.
  5. Create rhythm. If you’ve followed the steps/tips I’ve listed, the process should be fun and rhythmical, almost like dancing!

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Now, although I hope you don’t have a blizzard to worry about, I do hope that you’ll have a reason to make this delicious chili. Not only is it vegan, but it is PACKED with protein, fiber, vitamins, and FLAVOR.

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Bon appetit!