Vegan Salted Mexican Hot Chocolate

*If you’re in Richmond, VA check out the article I wrote for Richmond.com about gluten-free friendly restaurants in Richmond. Check out the comments for even more g-free friendly places! Keep the comments and the recommendations coming!*

Virginia has decided to fully embrace winter – freezing winds and all.  I love the cold but have a strong hate for wind.  Especially cold wind (I just typed wine. Clearly, I have my priorities in order) – it just seems to cut right through me and cause me to have perpetually frozen fingers and toes. Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I need to invent a nose-warmer, this chill has a lovely silver lining.  And that would be hot chocolate.  Velvety, silky, insanely rich vegan hot chocolate to be exact.

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I grew up drinking the Abuelita mexican hot chocolate and quickly fell in love with the spicy + sweet chocolate combo. Rather than buy the processed stuff, I decided to make my own.  I took the spicy flavors of Abuelita, added in my love for all things salty + sweet and poured it all into a mug.  It is truly drinkable chocolate decadence.

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And if you’re feeling extra sassy, add in a shot of bourbon. And then top it with vegan (or real, if you prefer) whipped cream so it melts into the hot chocolate. It’s gonna get messy. Do it, it’s only right.
Full disclosure: the whipped cream in the photo is the real stuff. I stay away from milk & cream most of the time, but I just can’t resist homemade whipped cream! For a full vegan version – sub your favorite vegan whipped cream.

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Salted Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate
Yields: 2  large servings or 4 smaller servings (it’s rich stuff, so you can get away with a smaller portion)

2 cups vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (use the good stuff)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cayenne (adjust to your spicy liking)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. + a pinch for serving, good quality flaky sea salt, sel gris, or fleur de sel

1. Heat soy milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it just barely begins to steam and simmer. Stir it occasionally to keep a skin from forming.
2. Add chocolate and whisk constantly until chocolate is melted.
3. Add remaining ingredients, whisking to combine.
4. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is hot.
5. If you’re adding booze, do it here. Shut off the heat and serve immediately.  Make sure to sprinkle an extra pinch of salt on top. Yum.

Gluten-free Paprika Thyme Crackers

Did everyone have a nice three-day weekend? Luckily, I was off from work (kind of – I did have to work from home a bit) and the husband finally had a full day off, after working 9-days in a row. We spent the day relaxing around the house and went out for a delicious dinner at The Blue Goat. It was so nice to have a day to just relax, I wish every weekend was a three day weekend! It was even better to hang out with my husband and this girl, who loves the camera.

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Even though the majority of the day involved getting cozy with Netflix, I did manage to squeeze in a workout and prep my food for the week.  I froze leftovers of this soup to have later this week and made another batch of these for breakfasts/snacks. While I am definitely a creature of habit, I always make an effort to try doing something new in the kitchen at least once a week.  This weeks experiment was making my own gluten-free crackers!

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I don’t know where I’ve been, but I always assumed that making crackers, especially gluten-free crackers, was tedious, hard work. All of that hard work is why they cost $5 a box, right? Right?! Nope, wrong. It turns out that the $5 price tag is highway robbery because making your own crackers is as simple as mix, roll, cut.  This is good news for our house since we love nice salty crackers and one of our usual Friday night meals is a giant platter of cheese, meats, olives, and crackers.  Next time, I’m skipping the store-bought stuff and making a batch of these crackers instead so I can spend the $5 on more important things, like wine.

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Gluten-free Paprika Thyme Crackers
Yield: depends on size you cut them but expect at least 36-42 crackers
Inspired by too much time researching cracker recipes online!

*A quick note: You will see that I actually used cup measurements instead of grams here – something that is a definite rarity for me! The reason? My scale has been getting a serious workout due to a freelance project and thus, my batteries are dead. I will be back to grams soon enough!

1 cup almond flour
3/4 cup brown rice flour, finely milled
1//4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal (grind your own! it’s always better)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
4 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces
5-6 Tbsp. cold water

1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Combine all ingredients expect butter and water in a food processor. Give it a quick whirl to mix everything together.
2. Add butter pieces to dry mix and pulse until it there are small lumps. Not quite as large as you would leave it for pie dough, but still not fully incorporated.
3. Add water, a tablespoon at a time to running mixture until it comes together in a ball.
4. Lightly flour a Silpat or piece of parchment paper and place dough onto the paper. (NOTE: if you have a very large baking sheet, you can roll out the entire dough in one batch. If you’re like me and only have a small 9×13 baking sheet, separate dough in half and work with one half at a time).
5. Roll out dough in a thin rectangle, probably about 1/16 inch thick. Don’t get too obsessed with it but try to make it as thin as possible. Thin crackers = crispy crackers. (You can roll out using an additional sheet of parchment on top of the dough or simply flour your rolling pin very well.)
6. Trim the sides of the dough with a pizza cutter or sharp knife so that you have a fairly even rectangle.  Then, slice dough into small squares to make your crackers. You don’t need to separate the squares, just make sure they are cut through.
7. Prick each cracker with a fork and then sprinkle with additional salt. Place Silpat or paper on baking sheet
8. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheet half way through.  A quick note here – if your oven has a hot spot (mine definitely does) try your best to avoid it because it will cause the crackers to burn.
9. Let cool completely on a rack, the crackers will crisp up as they cool. Store in an airtight bag or container.

Gluten-Free Living: Grocery Shopping

This post is part of the gluten-free living series!

As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen and who is married to an equally experimental cook, I spend a lot of time in the grocery store. I remember going grocery shopping, gluten-free, for the first time. I picked up my usual fruits, veggies, and proteins and then stopped dead in the aisles when I went to get grains. Not being able to have pasta, wheat bread, cous cous, and gluten-y grains left me feeling confused and a bit frustrated. I must have spent two hours in the grocery aisles obsessively reading labels. Since then, grocery shopping has become significantly less frustrating and is actually a fun experience. If you’re newly gluten-free, here are some tips that helped save my sanity in the grocery store:

1. Shop the perimeter: This is good advice in general, but it is especially useful for gluten-free folks. The grocery store perimeter is often where fresh fruits, veggies, dairy, and proteins are located, so you’re likely to have an easy time shopping in this area.
2. Head to the organic/natural section: Most mainstream grocery stores have a dedicated organic or natural foods section where they house the majority of “health foods”, organic foods, and gluten-free frozen foods. This is usually the area where you can find your gluten-free oats, cereals, flour mixes, and pastas so be sure not to skip it!
3. Read labels: Always, always read labels on anything new that you buy or something you haven’t bought in awhile. It’s also good to read labels on frequently bought items to ensure that nothing has changed their gluten-free status. Look for the “certified gluten-free” seal on your products and you can be assured that your food is safe!
4. Try new things: I’ve talked about this before but it bears repeating. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when you’re limited on what you can buy. Try picking up something new every few weeks to change up your diet and expose your taste buds to new things. Who knows, you may discover a new “must-have” item.
6. Avoid the junk: Gluten-free packaged foods are not inherently healthier than regular packaged foods, so it is best to skip them. If you do buy them, make sure your read the labels to make sure that they aren’t just full of starch and check the nutrition stats. There are some great gluten-free package foods out there, it just takes some detective work!

And in case you’re curious, here are some of the constant items that we stock our gluten-free kitchen with:

Fruits – apples, bananas, pomegranates, citrus, whatever is in season!
Veggies – kale, spinach, cabbage, carrots (we go through almost 5lbs in two weeks!),broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, onions, whatever we get from the farmer’s market
Dairy – 0% greek yogurt, various cheeses, soy milk, almond milk, heavy cream (occasionally for baked goods), butter
Proteins – local tofu, beans, sliced turkey, organic free-range (and local when I can get them) eggs, organic free-range liquid egg whites, fresh fish that we buy from our local fish monger, chicken occasionally
Pantry – rices (brown, jasmine, abborio), dried beans (chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans), quinoa, gluten-free oats, corn tortillas, quinoa pasta, tuna, bpa-free tomatoes, flax seeds, chia seeds, peanuts (for making peanut butter), walnuts, shredded coconut, medjool dates, sweet potatoes, yellow or purple potatoes, protein powder, occasional tortilla chips or other chips, locally roasted coffee
Oils & Sauces – coconut oil, olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, cooking spray, srirarcha (I pour this on everything), gluten-free tamari, and tons of canned jams and jellies from husband’s family
You can also see my general grocery list with some of my favorite foods over at Relay Foods website! They asked to me create a public list of some of my favorite items using their new list feature. You guys know I’m a huge fan of Relay and I love the new list feature because it easily allows you to order your groceries without doing a new search every time. If you’re in the Richmond or Charlottesville area, you should definitely give them a try! (Full Disclosure: I was not solicited or compensated for mentioning Relay Foods. I just really like them!)

Do you have any special grocery tips/tricks or favorite items?

Happy Friday everyone! Have a great weekend!

Lentil Soup

I hope everyone had a great weekend! Mine was filled with

recipe testing

wine and photos

and playing with this crazy girl.

I was also able to catch up on a lot of house and general life stuff that I needed to get organized. Getting back into the swing of things after being off of work for two weeks is tough, but I’m feeling like I’m back in my routine this week. Despite the fact that Richmond is clearly having some cold-weather commitment issues,  it is actually starting to feel like winter here! In fact, there were a few days this past week that were downright freezing – and I loved every second of it. Having grown up in a place where the seasons range from hot to slightly less hot, I’m all about the winter chill. Bring on the snow days, hot buttered rum, and chili! Beside the rum and the snow, one of my favorite things about the winter is winter food, especially soup.  I make soup pretty much every week and never get tired of it since there are so many different types to try – there are Asian inspired soups, classics like chicken noodle soup, and one of my favorites, lentil soup.

I could eat lentil soup every day for the next few months and not grow tired of it. There are several variations on lentil soup ranging from Italian inspired to spicy Moroccan renditions and this soup falls somewhere in between. It’s tomato-based but full of fresh ginger and warm spices, which make it the perfect lunch or dinner on a cold or you know, 55 degree, winter day.  This recipe makes an extremely large batch, so consider portion out some for the rest of the week and freezing the rest for later. You will be glad you did!

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Lentil Soup

Yields: 10-12 servings. It’s great to freeze! And it’s vegan!

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large onion, diced

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 ½ cups carrots (about 3 large), sliced

2 cups lentils, cooked and cooled

1 28oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes

16 oz. fire roasted crushed tomatoes (1/2 of a large can)

8 cups water (you can replace some water with vegetable stock – highly encouraged!)

2 bay leaves

3 cups kale leaves, de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons

½ tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

salt + pepper

1. Cook your lentils according to package instructions. Drain and set aside to cool.

2. In a very large soup pot, heat up olive oil over medium heat and add onions. Saute for about 5 minutes until just transculent – don’t let them brown..

3. Add garlic and ginger. Saute another 3-5 minutes until fragrant.

4. Add carrots.  Sprinkle vegetables with salt and cover pot with lid. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they vegetables are slightly soft.

5. Add diced and crushed tomatoes, lentils, bay leaves, spices, and lentils to pot.  Add water or vegetable broth.

6. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer very slowly for about 1 hour.

7. Add kale leaves and simmer another 10-15 minutes.

8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

9. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, a dollop of plain yogurt, or anything else you wish!

Green Egg Muffins

First, some exciting news – I can’t discuss details yet but you will be seeing some gluten-free recipes and photography by yours truly coming to a magazine stand near you in the not-so distant future. I can’t begin to express how utterly excited I am about this – to say that 2012 is off to great start would be an understatement. Thank you to everyone who reads or simply glances at this blog; putting my recipes and photography out there has helped me grow in unexpected ways and I always appreciate everyone’s comments, tweets, and encouragement! (P.S. did you catch the photo feature on bonappetit.com?! I discovered that completely by accident but was so excited).

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I hope everyone enjoyed the tips posted earlier this week! I am going to try and post some additional health and fitness related things in the future but don’t worry, the main focus of this blog will still be recipes, both healthy and indulgent. Just don’t expect me to turn into a blogger that tries to make everything over-the-top healthy – I love chocolate, red wine, butter, and cream far too much. I would say that I eat very healthy and clean about 85% of the time but I’m not a girl who turns down a gin martini (extra dirty, extra dry please) just to save some calories. I am a big believer in moderation and quite frankly, there’s more to life than love handles. With that in mind, I thought I would share a healthy recipe that can help balance out those gin martinis.

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Behold, egg muffins. Not quite frittatas, not quite quiches – just veggies and eggs together in portable muffin form. I make a variation on these guys every week to have as a quick breakfast or afternoon snack since I’m all about prepping and planning ahead. The husband doesn’t eat them since he really isn’t fond of the texture of baked scrambled eggs, which means more for me! If you’re a frittata lover like me, then you will love these little egg muffins packed with good green stuff like kale, cilantro, and jalapenos. They’re great to grab and go during the week or on those weekends where you have a to-do list a few miles long. Speaking of which, I need to get going on my to-do list that includes pie making, errand running, wine drinking, workouts, and house cleaning. Happy Friday!

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Green Egg Muffins
Adapted from: Oxygen Magazine
Yields: 12 muffins

3 cup kale, de-stemmed and chopped into thin ribbons
1/4 onion, small diced or 4 green onions, finely sliced
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 jalapeno, very finely diced (de-seed and remove the white parts to decrease spice)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
11 egg whites (I use a small carton of organic, free-range liquid egg whites. You can also just use 12 whole eggs if you don’t like egg whites)
7 whole eggs
salt + pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375F and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and line with muffin liners (optional, I usually don’t).
2. In a medium, microwave-safe bowl steam prepped kale in the microwave for 2-3 minutes until soft and wilted. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
3. In that same microwave-safe bowl, add diced onions and microwave for about 1 minute. This helps take away some of the strong, raw onion-y taste. Add onions to the bowl with the kale.
4. Add cilantro, oregano, jalapeno, salt, and pepper to the same onion/kale mix and stir to combine. Set aside for now.
5. In a separate large bowl, whisk together whole eggs, egg whites, salt, and pepper. You want the mixture to ribbon off the whisk and be fully scrambled. Whisk hard and use those biceps!
6. Distribute the veggie mixture evenly between your 12 muffin cups.
7. Distribute egg mixture evenly between cups, pouring over veggie mix. I usually use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to do the job.
8. Bake for about 30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and puffed up.
9. Let cool in pan for a few minutes and then remove to a cooling rack. Try to remove them to a rack as soon as you can safely do so, while keeping the muffins intact. If they sit in the pan too long, they continue to stem and the texture can get rubbery.
10. Store in your fridge and reheat in a counter-top oven or microwave.

Gluten-Free Living: Tips for a Healthy New Year – Setting Up for Success

Since resolution making is in high gear we’re talking about healthy lifestyles and weight loss today in this gluten-free living series post!  Check back later this week for a healthy, make-ahead recipe that will help you reach your goals.

DISCLAIMER: Please note I am NOT a doctor, registered dietician, nutritionist, personal trainer, or fitness expert. I’m just sharing my experiences and opinions! Always check with a doctor before changing your diet or exercise.

January is one of the most popular months for health and fitness industry since it is the month where weight loss, fitness, and health resolutions are made and people begin to eat healthy and get active. Between magazines covers offering quick workout routines, online sources claiming to get you slim in two weeks, and retail stores putting all their fitness gear front and center, it’s hard not to think about diet and exercise. All of this is done to cater to the influx of new gym goers (January Joiners) and dieters who are anxious to get fit. Unfortunately, many people who start working out and eating healthy in January go back to old habits by February or March. One of the main reasons people have a hard time forming new, healthy habits is that they feel overwhelmed by all the changes and the time commitments associated with those changes.


end of August 2010 (c) Cecily Garcia

August 2011(c) Jack Looney

October 28, 2011 (c) Jack Looney

I admit that I was one of those people who resolved to lose weight every year but never really made significant progress until last year. Last year I lost about 25 lbs and made significant strides in my overall fitness, health, muscle mass, and athleticism. Forming new habits like hitting the gym at 6am, avoiding gluten, and healthy eating wasn’t easy. It still isn’t easy, but it has become much more manageable now that I have good habits in place. Now, healthy eating is a no-brainer and I look forward to working out every day. One of the main things that enabled me to lose weight in the first place was shifting my thinking – I now view view living a healthy lifestyle as a journey and not a means to an end. I still have some more weight I want to lose and other fitness goals I want to achieve and I’m looking forward to making progress. To help keep myself motivated and maybe spark some new ideas, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips that have helped me lose weight and get healthy.

1. Be prepared and plan ahead:

Exercise: Plan out your workouts for the week and write them down somewhere – a workout journal, a spreadsheet, or just a piece of paper. Look at it often and check off your workout when you’re done. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to look at your accomplishments every day! At home, I have workout calendar and at the gym, I carry a small notebook with me to write down my lifting routine and also keep track of the weights I use. This helps keep me organized and moving forward towards my goals.

Food: Prep and plan meals on the weekend for the week ahead and you will save tons of time. I like to prep at least one lunch item, like soup, and various snacks/small meals that I can grab and take with me. Between my husband’s work schedule and my work schedule, we often don’t have time to cook every meal, so having some ready-made options makes it easy.

2. Start small: Trying to overhaul your life in a day is too difficult and shocking to create long-term, sustainable habits. Instead, try implementing something new or changing one thing each week. One week, vow to incorporate more greens with your meals. The next week, maybe try to work out an extra 5 minutes each time you hit the gym. Make small goals and celebrate your small accomplishments and pretty soon, you will have formed tons of new healthy habits. I like to set a new challenge for myself every week, like practicing yoga at least 3 times, to keep myself motivated and interested.


3. Make friends with your freezer: During my prep for the week, I like to make big enough batches of food, like soups and grains, so that I can stash a few meals in the freezer. Freezing soup in individual portions is a great way to ensure you have some healthy lunch and dinner options, especially if your schedule gets hectic. I also like to freeze batches of grains like quinoa and brown rice in individual and larger sized portions to ensure that I always have a ready-made grain to throw into a quick stir-fry or to add to a hearty lunch.

4. Give it two weeks: Several people have asked me how I can wake up at 5:30am every day and get to the gym.. My answer is simply that the 5:30am wake-up call is just part of my everyday routine. Although, It wasn’t always that way. I’m naturally a morning person but I’ve always struggled with getting up early to get a workout in. I would do great for a week and then fall off the early gym wagon the next week. To successfully form my early gym habit, I initially said that I would get up early for 2 weeks and then see how I felt. Two weeks turned into a month, which turned into two months, and so on. If you’re struggling with consistency in your diet or exercise, commit to two weeks and re-evaluate after that. Chances are you will be feeling great and will want to stick with it.

5. Diversity is key:

Exercise: Change up your workout routine often to keep yourself and your body interested. I like to include lots of weight lifting, HIIT cardio, running (when I’m not injured), and vinyasa yoga to get a good mix of strength, intense cardio, moderate cardio, and flexibility training. Working out should be fun and interesting reward, not a boring and tedious punishment. If you’re in a rut, try out a new class at the gym or try a new routine from magazines like Oxygen.

Food: If you’re newly gluten-free, finding a diversity of foods that you can eat can be overwhelming and difficult. Try picking up one new-to-you item at the grocery store every week and incorporating it into your diet. Eating a variety of foods helps keep your diet interesting and fends off diet boredom and burn out.

6. Get rid of excuses: It’s simple really, either you do it or you don’t. When it comes down to it, you are the person who chooses to live a healthy life. There are so many excuses that we can tell ourselves – I’m too busy, I don’t have time, I’m too tired, etc. (Please note that I’m not talking about legitimate emergencies, injuries, illness, and general life things that happen – it is important to listen to your mind and body and take time off to deal with those things.) If you want it, you have to work it and the only way to do that is to, well, do it. This perspective helps keep me motivated and keeps me in check when I find myself slacking off. Keep yourself motivated to reach your goals through mantras, motivational pictures, or inspirational stories. If you need some great mantras or motivational words, check out Pinterest.

Exercise: Twenty minutes of exercise is better than no exercise so if you’re short on time, try incorporating bodyweight workouts that you can do it 20 minutes. If you don’t have a block of time, try doing mini-training sessions: do 20 jumping jacks when you wake up, 20 push ups on a work break, walk a few blocks during your lunch break, do 20 lunges at your desk, 20 crunches when you get home, and 20 squats before bed. Also, try enlisting a gym buddy to help you stay accountable and motivate you to get your workout in. Plan your workouts around times that are the most excuse-proof for your schedule. For me, that means getting up, getting dressed, and heading to the gym first thing in the morning – I typically don’t have any other commitments at 6am.

Food: Prepping your food ahead can help eliminate excuses to eat unhealthy foods. Try to keep a small snack with you at all times, like almonds or an apple, so that you can quell your hunger until your next meal. If you do need to eat and you don’t have a snack with you, try to find a healthy option at a restaurant or grab a small string cheese, nuts, or a banana from the nearest convenience store or gas station.

7. Focus on what you can do: One of the most helpful and important tips I can give is to stop obsessing about numbers on a scale and your ability to compete with the next gym goer. People tend to focus on what they can’t do or what they haven’t achieved yet rather than focusing on what they can do. I can’t do a pull-up or a handstand yet, hell, I’m not even close but I can do regular push-ups, hold crow pose for a few seconds (working on getting back to that level post-foot fracture), and regularly use 25lbs. for bicep curls. There are tons of people who can do much more than I can, but I try and focus on the goals I have reached, like doing a regular push up, rather than comparing myself to others. Focusing on what you can do helps you feel strong, accomplished, and motivates to keep reaching for your goals. Much like living a gluten-free life, focusing on can rather than the can’t makes life much more enjoyable.

This article sums my point up nicely: Go out there to kick ass and stop worrying about the number on the scale.

I hope those tips are helpful for those just starting out and a good remainder for those who are already on their healthy living journey. I know that they have served as good reminders for me!