Carrot Cake Slow Cooker Oatmeal

Hallelujah! He is Risen! If you are looking for an easy breakfast for the family this Easter weekend, here’s a new idea. I absolutely love carrot cake, but now that I am gluten & egg free, it is harder to enjoy these days. I’m satisfying this seasonal craving during breakfast, getting a serving of vegetables in with a bowl of carrot cake oatmeal that is gluten, dairy, egg and refined-sugar free!

IMG_3161Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of coconut or almond milk (can also use water)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups of steel cut oats (regular oats will not work!)
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1 cup shredded organic carrots (I used 4 medium carrots)
  • 1/2 cup shredded apples (or frozen pineapple as a variation)
  • 1/2 cup pecan or walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (or honey, coconut sugar or brown sugar)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil or butter
  • Optional: 1/4 cup shredded coconut

Preparation:

  1. To prepare the apples and carrots, peel and then use a food processor with shredding disc.
  2. Add all ingredients into a glass pyrex bowl that fits inside your slow cooker and stir well to combine.
  3. Place the glass bowl into the slow cooker and then add water into your slow cooker (around, not in the glass bowl) to fill up to a little over halfway around the bowl.
  4. Turn slow cooker on low for around 8 hours (I do this overnight).
  5. It will be ready to serve immediately. Enjoy!

If you have leftovers to reheat (this makes a lot!), I add a little bit of water before microwaving.

Happy Easter, friends! Hope you have a wonderful time with your family and I pray you are all staying healthy (and sane) during this pandemic.

 

Quick Hash

Who loves a great hash!? This is on my regular rotation of dinners because it is so quick and easy + super versatile. It’s a great way to work in veggies and I love that it is great leftover for breakfast.

The key to making this super QUICK is using the slicing disc with your food processor. It’s amazing!! I didn’t use the shredding or slicing attachment for years and I’m embarrassed at how much time I used to spend chopping things and shredding cheese.  This brings food prep time down to seconds.

Ingredients:

  • 5 large red or golden potatoes or 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 bag of Brussels sprouts (I’ve also used broccoli florets, which of course don’t require slicing, and I’ve added carrots too before)
  • 1 package of sugar-free pasture-raised bacon
  • sea salt + pepper + onion powder + garlic powder to taste

Preparation:

  1. Put slices of bacon on parchment paper on a large baking tray (I use this one: GreenLife Ceramic Cookie Sheet)
  2. Place in cold oven and turn to 425 degrees.  I typically cook for 10-15 minutes until bacon is crispy. Baking time will vary depending on your oven preheating time and the thickness of the bacon – keep an eye on it!
  3. While bacon is cooking, prepare potatoes & veggies. Clean and cut small enough to fit into the feeding cylinder of food processor.
  4. Slice the potatoes and veggies using the slicing attachment of your food processor.
  5. When bacon is cooked, transfer to paper towel lined plate, leaving the bacon grease on the pan.
  6. Add the potatoes and veggies to the pan and toss in the oil, adding more avocado or coconut oil if needed to coat.
  7. Season the potatoes and veggies, ensuring you use plenty of the sea salt.
  8. Place in oven and cook 20-30 minutes until browned and brussels are caramelized, taking out once mid-way to toss.
  9.  When potatoes and veggies are ready, crumble the bacon on top and serve.

Easy Homemade Marinara

Homemade marinara has always intimidated me. While it’s so easy to buy pre-made sauce at the store, if you look at the ingredients list, the jars are often full of sugar and preservatives.  When we took a cooking class in Italy a few years ago, I discovered that making my own sauce is not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as I thought it would be.

This is not the recipe we learned how to make in Tuscany, but a variation I created one day while trying to use up some extra veggies I had in the fridge.  This version gives the opportunity to add more flavor and some sweetness by using vegetables in the sauce.  Since it all ends up pureed, this is an easy way to serve your unsuspecting kids more veggies.  I love that it makes an easy, all-in-one-dish meal.

Ingredients:

  • two 16-oz cans of organic tomato sauce
  • 1 organic zucchini
  • 1 organic red bell pepper (seeds & core removed)
  • 2-3 organic carrots (peeled)
  • 1/2 yellow onion (peeled)
  • 6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 5-6 leaves of fresh basil

Preparation:

  1. Roughly chop the veggies, onion and garlic.
  2. Add the veggies to a deep pot with the olive oil and cook over medium-low temperature until soft.  This usually takes around 15 minutes; the smaller your veggie pieces, the faster they will soften.
  3. Add the tomato sauce.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the veggies into the sauce.
  5. Add the salt and crushed red pepper to taste and let simmer on low until you are ready to serve.
  6. When you remove from heat, add some chopped fresh basil.
  7. Serve over pasta or spaghetti squash with fresh mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.

To add some protein, make it a ragu / bolognese by adding cooked Italian sausage to the sauce.  I also love to add in even more veggies at this point by mixing in some chopped kale or spinach that I have sauteed with shallots.

Baby Led Weaning

Now that my baby is almost a year old, we’ve got nearly 6 months of solids food eating underway.  It has been such a fun experience watching her explore food.  She is an incredible eater compared to most kids her age and I am thankful she is always willing to try new foods.

When I was pregnant, I read the book Bringing Up Bébé (highly recommend!) that shares bits of wisdom from French parenting. One of the main topics in the book was about kids’ eating and it really struck a cord with me. The idea is this: Kids Eat What Parents Eat.  It involves eating mostly real food, eating a variety of food – including lots of colorful vegetables, tasting new items, having a healthy relationship with eating habits, and eating together as a family.  When we were getting close to starting solids with my daughter, I started to research more about how to implement this practically and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

(FYI: Weaning in this case simply means the introduction of solids, and not weaning from breastmilk.) BLW takes into practice the whole idea above in a safe way for little babies as they are learning how to eat.  Babies have been eating what their parents ate for thousands of years- far before we had blenders to make purees or little baby spoons. Many nations around the world follow the BLW way naturally.

We have loved the BLW process and I’m now a huge advocate of how it works to create a healthy little eater.  My mom and husband were very skeptical at first, but now they are believers in the process too! Here are the benefits I have seen so far:

  • Family Meals: Sharing food together as a family and in community are important to me.  Developing this habit early was a big goal for me.  The biggest benefit practically is that baby sees you eating and mimics you- both being willing to eat what you eat and copying the way you eat (chewing, bite sizes, using utensils).  This also begins to teach a baby how to behave at a dinner table -I think has already had a positive effect on our ability to eat in public without causing a scene and actually getting to eat our own meals.
  • Confidence & Independence: Giving my daughter the ability to learn how to eat has given her confidence in trying new foods and starting to be self-sufficient.  It also gives me a much-needed break as I don’t always have to sit there spoon feeding her.
  • Safety- Chewing Before Swallowing: When babies start with purees, they are used to getting a large amount of food in their mouth and swallowing.  When they start solids from there, food often must be cut very tiny so they do not choke.  BLW teaches babies how to chew before swallowing. It also teaches how much is appropriate to bite off of an item and how much will fit in their mouth. Since babies have a stronger gag reflex when they are younger, it is the perfect time to teach this skill- I have seen my daughter fill her mouth and start to gag, learning to spit it out and try again rather than forcing it down and choking.
  • Developing Tastes: Have you tasted baby food? It’s bland and disgusting. It doesn’t taste good to us, so why would a baby want to eat it? Babies are born with a full set of 10,000+ taste buds and are just as eager to enjoy their meals as we are.  There is no reason to stay away from various flavors or spices.  My daughter can eat food just as spicy as I like it and she prefers her food to be well-seasoned.  She loves chili, Tex-Mex and BBQ!
  • Learning by Touch/Senses: We all know that babies learn by putting things in their mouth.  They explore the whole world this way.  As I put various items from our meals on her tray, she gets the chance to touch everything- the different textures and sizes- and develop her grasp. She also gets to experience the smells and colors of her food much better than she would through a puree.  Babies are drawn to color (as we see in their toys) and this translates to the food they eat as well- often, my daughter will choose the orange sweet potato or green bean or red beet over white bread.
  • Convenience: I don’t have time to make homemade purees.  When we go out, she just eats whatever I order. And at home, she eats whatever I cook.  I’m not making special meals for her or accommodations. It’s simply easier on me.

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying with your baby?  I know that getting started with something so different to the norm can be overwhelming, but here’s a little intro on what helped me the most:

Resources: I recommend reading either of the following BLW books:

I also joined the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners Facebook group to see helpful pictures and videos, answers to questions and tons of tips.  I started following it about 2 months before we started and it was more helpful than anything!

When to Start: No sooner than when baby is 6 months of age, can sit unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and has an interest in food.

Safety: Choking risk is the number one reason I hear that people are afraid to try BLW.  As I mentioned above, BLW does not increase choking risk. The key thing is to learn the difference between gagging and choking.  Gagging is a reaction that helps prevent choking and teaching them how not to choke- letting them work it out and learn.  Watching videos on the Facebook group and knowing the signs for gagging vs. choking are important.  As always, it is important to know child CPR as a parent, and that knowledge should help you be more confident when your baby eats.  An easy way to distinguish: If they are loud & red, let them go ahead. If they are silent & blue, they need help from you.

In general, baby should be eating what you are eating, with a few health/safety exceptions…

  • Don’t offer whole nuts or popcorn or peanut butter on a spoon- items that can easily stick to/in their throat.
  • Quarter (lengthwise) round foods to avoid lodging in the windpipe: blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sausage, string cheese, carrots.
  • Season generously but limit the salt/sodium. Since your babies kidneys aren’t fully developed, too much sodium can cause them harm.  This is another good reason to avoid processed food.

No teeth? No problem.  My daughter did not have teeth when we started.  She still would mimic my chewing and those jaws + saliva are powerful at breaking down foods to swallow. You would be amazed at how she learned to pull at a strip of meat with her gums and chomp on it a few minutes before swallowing. This girl loved steak even before she had teeth.

Food Before One Is Just For Fun: For the first couple of months, my daughter really did not eat a lot.  She would taste and chew and explore, but would swallow very little. And that is perfectly normal and okay.  Breast milk or formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition before the age of one.

BLW How to CutCutting to Size: There is no need to cut foods into tiny pieces.  In fact, you want foods to be more finger-sized so they are easier for young babies to pick up and hold.  Having large pieces also helps them learn to bite off an appropriate amount. Cutting little grooves in slippery items like banana and avocado is also helpful to keep their grip. Here is a great picture to use as an example when you are preparing food for your little:

What do you think? Is this something you would try with your baby?  Have you tried it and loved it (or hated it)?  I would love to hear from you!

Gluten-Free Baby Shower

This weekend I hosted a baby shower for a friend who is allergic to gluten. We wanted her to be able to eat everything at her own shower without worry, so we created a completely gluten-free spread for the event.

Emily's Shower

In case you are hosting for a bride or mama with this same allergy, I thought I would share the menu we put together.  While it certainly wasn’t sugar-free, we had plenty of healthier options to choose from. Plus, it was all super easy to put together so you won’t be in the kitchen prepping all day.

Chicken & Waffle Skewers – My friend thought up this brilliant, easy idea – find gluten-free chicken tenders and gluten-free waffles in the frozen food section. Toast them in the oven then cut into bite-sized pieces and alternate on a mini skewer or toothpick.  Serve with hot syrup or honey.

Veggies & Hummus

Fruit & Dip – For a healthier alternative to the classic cream cheese + marshmallow fluff dip, mix 2 cups vanilla yogurt with 1/2 cup honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Serve with your favorite fresh fruit.

Gluten-Free Mini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – found in the baked goods section at Whole Foods

and a beautiful “Naked” Cake!

Gluten Free Naked CakeI’m usually not a fan of baking because I don’t have the patience to follow recipes, but this cake was super easy! I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix and prepared according to the directions, baking in 2 9-inch diameter cake pans. I used coconut oil instead of toxic vegetable oil. The cake was super moist and didn’t taste at all gluten-free.

Once the cake cooled, I pulled them out of the pans and placed in the freezer for 30-45 minutes – this makes the cake easier to cut and frost. In the meantime, I made some buttercream frosting. I used this recipe because it calls only for butter and no shortening. I added about double the milk and double the vanilla it called for to make it a bit creamier and more spreadable.

When I pulled the cakes out of the freezer, I cut each in half so that I could have 4 cake layers.  Then, I spread frosting in between each layer. Once I had all four layers stacked, I ran my knife around the outside to smooth out the edges a bit, without covering the cake completely, giving it that “naked” effect.

Drink BarFor drinks, we had yummy sparkling Italian sodas for the mama to drink, served in champagne glasses. And for the guests who weren’t pregnant, we had some local Peach & Grapefruit Deep Eddy Vodka(not gluten-free) to add – if you haven’t tried these yet, they are super delicious!

Happy Hosting!