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We’ve been experimenting just a bit with raw desserts these days, both in an effort to maintain our healthy streak and to minimize the amount of  heat we’re contributing to our already-toasty apartment this summer. The raw desserts we’ve had the most of lately are the usual suspects like popsicles and banana milkshakes, but we also just recently tested out a raw chocolate coconut banana pie.

The basic gist of the raw food diet is to eat uncooked, unprocessed foods as the majority of one’s diet, with the assumption that raw foods typically have higher nutrient values and healthy micro-organisms. This diet is typically vegan, though sashimi and carpaccio are not strictly excluded. We’re not big proponents of this diet, primarily because it doesn’t seem to be a way to eat in balance–plus we love cooking–but we will say that the raw dessert recipes we’ve seen are incredibly creative and will likely grace the pages of this blog in the near future.

Raw Coconut-Chocolate-Banana Cream Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 c whole nuts (we used almonds)
1 1/2 c pitted dates (we used dried plums)

For the filling:
1 c whole almonds, soaked overnight
1/2 c water
1 banana
2 T cocoa powder
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1 T vanilla extract
2 T agave

Make pie crust: Coarsely chop nuts and salt in a food processor. Add dates, pulse until thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds. Press nut mixture firmly and evenly into a 9-inch pie plate, wetting fingers as needed. Set aside in refrigerator. (See photo above.)

Make filling: Toast coconut flakes in a hot pan until slightly brown and fragrant. Set aside. Grind nuts to a coarse paste in a blender. Add water, agave, and vanilla extract; blend until smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping sides as needed. Mixture should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Add cocoa powder and banana, and process to combine. Pour into prepared shell, spreading evenly. Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Original recipe here.

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Barely one week into September, and it already feels like fall. Connecticut was hit with some dicey weather over the weekend, resulting in some gusty breezes, fallen branches, and comfortably cool weather to start off the week. Taking advantage of the coolness on Sunday, Greg and I decided to head out for a little jaunt through the woods of Haddam, CT. Little did we know this excursion would end up in an emergency roadside assistance call placed to the local police when we lost our trail and found ourselves wandering alongside an unmarked road. Thankfully, the local authorities came to our rescue and we were able to make it back to our car with little incident. Good reminder to pack a GPS or Eagle Scout along with you on your next hiking trip!

We’ve been experimenting with some raw desserts recently and have hit upon a few successes (more on those to come). This one in particular has an excellent, flavorful, aromatic crust that we’re excited to use again in future recipes. Cashew “cream” is a pretty common filling in raw desserts, and though it’s not quite the same as fluffy layers of dairy, it approximates cream closely enough and is a completely guilt-free substitute. Enjoy!

Triple-Citrus Raw Bar

Coconut Almond Crust:

1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c almonds
2 t coconut butter
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 c liquid used for soaking dates*

In a food processor, pulse the almonds with coconut flakes until it is pebbly, like almond meal. Combine other ingredients and blend until you have a sticky mess.

Place the mixture in a 9″ pie pan and press down and against the sides until even. Freeze until ready to use.

Lemon Cashew Filling:

1 c raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
5 dates, soaked overnight*
5 clementines, juice and zest
2 T lemon juice
1 T coconut butter
1/4 c mandarin preserves

Place the cashews in the food processor and blend until “creamy”. These will likely still have a few clumps but process until the consistency of a wet peanut butter. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth.

Once the crust is ready, spread an even layer of the mandarin preserves on the bottom of the crust. Pour the lemon cashew mixture on top and evenly spread. Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top (optional).

Refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm. Serve cold.

* Soaking dates in water can soften them and make them easier to blend. The soaking liquid can then also be used as a flavored “simple syrup” to moisten the coconut-almond crust.

Photo and original recipe found here.

Chocolate avocado mousse is one of the hottest recipes to hit the raw foods, vegan, health foods circuit as of late. It’s a luscious, creamy, and remarkably guilt-free dessert, chock full of antioxidants from the chocolate and healthy fats from the avocado. And though it may sound a bit kooky and unconventional, trust us on this one…

And just in case you need some extra evidence to back up your chocolate habit — chocolate may lead to reduced risk of heart attack, lower blood pressure, and improved arterial blood flow, says WebMD. And, it keeps your wife happy, and you know what they say — happy wife, happy life!

Chocolate Avocado Mousse, Rich Version

1/2 Florida avocado (or 1 Haas avocado)
1/2 c dark chocolate

Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler or microwave, until completely soft and no chunks remain. Tips for melting chocolate found here.

Combine avocado and melted dark chocolate in a blender or food processor. Blend until completely smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Garnish with cocoa powder, chocolate shavings, or fresh raspberries.

Chocolate Avocado Mousse, Light Version

1/2 Florida avocado (or 1 Haas avocado)
1 T peanut butter
1 T vanilla extract
3 T cocoa powder
agave nectar to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until completely smooth. Chill until  ready to serve. Garnish with cocoa powder, chocolate shavings, or fresh raspberries.

I can also envision this being delicious with a bit of coconut oil or a splash of coconut milk. The texture is infinitely forgiving, so try it out and let me know what you find!

As part of our current “diet,” we’ve begun to really indulge in our morning meals.  Our omelettes overflow and we’re blending an embarrassing amount into our smoothies.  Thankfully, what’s kept us from feeling like we’re sliding into gluttony is remembering that our breakfast still has fewer calories than lunch or dinner–which maybe should change.  If there’s any meal of the day to indulge, it’s breakfast.

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast regularly has been linked to increased longevity, higher metabolism, longer attention span, and sustained energy. It’s also a great opportunity to add some much-needed fiber, fat, and fruit to a body starved of nutrients after an 8-hr hiatus.

That said, it’s amazing what the packaged-food industry has done to this most essential meal! Rather than promoting good health through eating real foods, the food industry has taken over breakfast with its promise of rainbow-colored treats and cocoa crispies. Even the standard run-of-the-mill store-bought granola will contain a deceptively high amount of fat and sugar under the guise of healthful eating. Most granola recipes will contain half a stick of butter or a cup of maple syrup, and scaling back will lead to pitiful flakes of lightly toasted oats, barely resembling the substantial clusters found in store-bought varieties.

Enter the avocado. Hailing from Miami, Greg’s mom was in town last week with a hostess gift of two of the most ginormous avocados we’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you’re born and raised on Haas avocados, these South Florida beauties will knock your socks off. The two that we received were at least as big as pineapples, covered in a bright green skin, and sometimes called alligator pears. (I thought they were bowling-ball sized, but Greg insisted they weighed less than 8 lb. each).

Now a quick plug on avocados — they are high in monosaturated fat, which can improve heart health and keep cholesterol low. They are also bursting with vitamins C, E, K, folate, and fiber. Avocados, along with extra virgin olive oil and some nuts, are often considered to be among the best fats that a body can take in, in moderation of course.

Avocados work surprisingly well in granola because of their fatty content (remember, good fats) and their smooth, spreadable texture. Unlike the aforementioned granola recipes I’ve tried, which rely on bad fats and bad sugars to achieve desirable clusters, avocados are an incredibly healthy substitute. And because we typically eat granola with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, there was no need for an additional sweetener. The vanilla, cinnamon, and toasted coconut gave it enough aroma and flavor that no sugar was needed. This recipe is by far the tastiest and most guilt-free granola recipe I’ve ever made! (And would you believe I dreamed it up in my sleep?)

Coconut Avocado Granola

1/2 Florida avocado (or 1 Haas avocado)
1 T natural peanut butter
2 c rolled oats
1/2 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
1/4 almonds, slivered
1 t cinnamon, cardamom, or other spice of your choice
1 T vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Blend avocado, peanut butter, vanilla, and cinnamon until well-combined and smooth. There should be no clumps. Stir in rolled oats, coconut flakes, and slivered almonds.

Spread evenly on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally for even toasting. Let cool before storing. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Happy August, everyone! We’ve had a very full and good weekend so far here in “the Hav”, with a few friends visiting from out-of-town to partake in some lechon. The unfortunate things about lechon are: 1) it’s so enormous it really takes a full party to eat, and 2) it’s time-consuming and therefore requires a real occasion to make it worth making. 7 hours on the grill means we can’t make this baby on a normal weeknight!

The occasion for celebration this time around is that three of our favorite former roommates (MT, AT, and LL) were in town visiting. Perhaps the next time you come to visit, we’ll make that an excuse to fire up the grill for some lechon again!

Lechon

As far as the pork goes, this time around we tried something a little different.  First, just because it was easier to get, we used a bone-in, skin-on shoulder (instead of the boneless, skinless shoulders sold at Costco).  Perhaps the bone added flavor, but not that we could tell.  It did, however, add difficulty to carving.  The second change was that the first three hours we cooked the shoulder directly on the grill and finished the last four hours wrapped in foil.  This created a smokey, crunchy crust without drying it out.  This is a change we definitely recommend.

One additional recommendation — do overestimate the amount of meat you’ll need. We bought a 7.5 lb. bone-in shoulder for a party of 8 adults and 1 baby with a healthy appetite for meat, and ended up with barely an ounce of leftover lechon. A big part of the reason we had no leftovers is that the bone really took up a lot of the 7 lb. We spent too much time cooking for us to not end up with leftovers, so we are definitely going to overestimate in the future.

Cheese Plate

This bit is pretty exciting. Greg and I have taken to eating cheese plates pretty regularly as a pre-dinner snack, usually just a small sliver of 3-year Vermont cheddar with a few slices of peach. Cheese plates are a great way to start a party, since they’re a very low-maintenance, prep-ahead appetizer that keeps guests entertained until the main meal is served.

This cheese plate pictured above has the following: 1) toasted almonds dusted in salt, sugar, and cinnamon; 2) a small wedge of pecorino romano with a drizzle of agave; 3) hand-picked peaches from Lyman’s; 4) 3-year old Vermont cheddar.

Cabbage-Fennel-Celery Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch celery, thinly sliced
sesame oil, agave, salt to taste

This is a pretty different slaw from the type we usually make. This includes cabbage, fennel, and celery, and very minimal dressings to allow the vegetable flavors really stand out on their own. (Also, I’m suffering from a bad case of strep throat so am a bit timid about extra seasonings these days, especially anything acidic or spicy. Under normal circumstances, we would have added some apple cider vinegar or habanero salt in a heart beat!)

Slice all vegetables extremely thin, ~1/8″ thick. We used a fabulous mandoline that we had received from our two good friends on the other side of the pond (we know you’re reading this, M&A!). Salt the vegetables, and let sit, refrigerated, for at least two hours. This step helps to tenderize the cabbage.

Gently whisk together agave and sesame oil, and drizzle over the slaw. Toss all vegetables until well-combined, and taste. Add additional seasoning, if needed.

Peas-Feta-Avocado Salad (not pictured)

3 c frozen shelled peas
6 oz. feta, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Defrost frozen peas in microwave or by running under hot water for 30 seconds. Toss with cubed feta and cubed avocado. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

After baking these incredible carrot shortbread cookies over the weekend, we are a bit hooked on carrots in dessert. Partly due to our healthy diet kick, and partly due to a family-sized bag of Costco carrots in our fridge, we decided to try our hand at another carrot dessert.

Very rarely do we bake something that is a complete personal invention. Tonight, however, after scouring the Internet for a simple healthy recipe for carrot cake, we decided to resort to our own devices. The recipes we found online all required ingredients we don’t usually keep in stock — wheat germ, flax seed, etc. — or just seemed to involve too many steps for a weekday treat.

The result of our creative genius was blog-worthy. This carrot cake is light and fluffy, almost like a souffle, due to the separating of eggs in the first step. It is naturally sweetened with banana, and only had an additional 2 tablespoons of sugar. The next time I do this, I might play around with excluding the sugar altogether and adding the other half of the banana. I may also try adding a tablespoon or two of coconut oil or cocoa powder for a completely different twist. We used almonds in this recipe, but hazelnuts or walnuts would be delicious as well, especially if toasted for a few minutes prior to grinding.

Simple, Healthy Carrot Cake

3 eggs, separated
3/4 c nuts, ground finely
8 carrots, peeled, grated
1 1/2 ripe bananas
1 T vanilla extract
1 t cinnamon
2 T brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Gently butter a 8″x8″ square cake pan.

Using a stand mixer, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine carrots and bananas and stir until well-mixed. Add egg yolks, vanilla, ground nuts, cinnamon, and brown sugar, mixing after each addition. Combine until well-mixed.

Fold egg whites gently into carrot batter, 1/2 cup at a time. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for 25 minutes, watching carefully.

Upon returning from our trip to China/Taiwan, we’ve turned over a new leaf and have decided to start eating healthier than ever. We’ve cut out processed sugar (fruit is fine), and have stuck to whole grains, lots of vegetables, and very limited sweets (save the very occasional baked treat with maple sugar or fruit as sweetener). Keeping to this new healthy lifestyle, we have collectively lost about ten pounds in the last six weeks!

We’ve recently received a cookbook written by one of my favorite bloggers — Super Natural Every Day. This book emphasizes whole grains and vegetables, keeping pantries stocked with whole, natural foods made with as little processing and as few added flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives as possible. It’s really a fabulous read, and the blog is one of my long-standing favorites. The salad featured here is largely based on her kale salad with toasted coconut.

We made this for lunch with a bit of leftover short grain brown rice, but really any grain will do (quinoa, wheat berries, etc.). For a more substantial meal, you may want to consider adding some protein (tofu, any kind of white bean, or chicken) or a sprinkle of toasted nuts.

One important note — do be sure to wash your kale carefully. Though kale is not one of the dirty dozen, it is a “special mention” on the list of vegetables that are commonly contaminated with toxic insecticides. Also, it drives us crazy when people tell recommend discarding the ribs of kale! Yes, they are tougher than the leaves are, but full of fiber and should not pose a problem to young healthy teeth. If you’re an 80-year old with dentures, you may want to be a bit more careful, but otherwise, keep the ribs.

Coconut Kale and Caramelized Leek Salad

1/2 bunch of kale, finely chopped
1 leek
1/4 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
1 c cooked brown rice
a few sprigs of fresh herbs (we used basil)
sesame oil to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the kale and coconut flakes evenly on two cookie sheets, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 10-15 minutes. Do check on these and toss a few times during baking, as they are prone to burning.

On low heat, saute chopped leeks until soft and caramelized (brown). Alternatively, you can slice these lengthwise into halves and grill, then chop after grilling, as we did.

Once the kale and coconut are finished, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with a bit of sesame oil or good olive oil, add some chopped herbs (basil, in our case), and a grinding or two of black pepper.