healthy

Though I can’t pinpoint any exact reasons, I recently decided to make big changes to my health and well being. A little over a month ago I agreed with my personal trainer/boyfriend, Gary, that I would visit the gym three times a week, with the incentive of one new piece of workout clothing at the end of each month. My goal is to finally get a new pair of pretty gym shoes, which I will be rewarded with only if I consistently exercise for 3 whole months.

Going to the gym was great! Something changed in my mind and I really became dedicated to working hard rather than going through the motions just to barely endure the 1 hour session. A month into my new exercise regimen I decided to really take my diet more seriously. As of right now, I have cut out sugar (except for fruit), reduced my carbohydrate intake to before and after work outs only, and have dramatically increased the amount of vegetables and protein I consume. According to my trainer, this is a very effective way of gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time (in conjunction with exercise, of course). I’ve dedicated myself to strictly adhere to this new lifestyle until June 17, which will be three months since embarking on this lifestyle change.

(Top two photos and bottom left were my healthy meals before my diet change.)

It’s been two weeks since I’ve altered my diet. Too soon to see any changes, but I can’t help but think, “What am I going to do after these 3 months are up?” While this diet might be most effective for gaining muscle and lowering my body fat percentage, it is not environmentally sustainable nor do I want to keep up with it. It’s got me thinking about all sorts of other diets (vegetarianism, locavorism, adding vegan options), wondering what’s best for our bodies’ health and not just our appearance, and has me questioning if our perception of healthy foods has been skewed over time.

At the end of the day, the question I keep asking is, “What is the best diet for my body and the environment?”

What do you think? Have you ever drastically changed your diet for the better?

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Here is the pizza recipe I submitted for the Hodgson Mill Build A Better Pizza Contest. It’s actually quite healthy for a dessert! The crust is a whole wheat brioche dough, topped off with apple slices and agave caramel sauce. And, you could make this completely refined sugar free! Just use honey/agave instead. The chopped hazelnuts add a nice texture as well as extra healthy oils, too.

I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty this was even with such a large amount of whole grain flour and minimal sugar and butter. Not only that but it came together really quickly. You can throw all the dough ingredients together the night before, stick it in the fridge, and bake it up the next day. It really only took me a few minutes to assemble!

If you are so inclined you may vote for my recipe at the Hodgson Mill Facebook Page!

Healthy Apple Pizza

Whole Wheat Brioche Dough:
2 c whole wheat flour
1 c  white flour
1 tsp yeast
1/2 c water
1/4 c honey
1/4 c butter, vegetable oil, or coconut oil
2 eggs

Agave Caramel Sauce:
1/3 c agave nectar
3 tbsp heavy cream
pinch of salt

Apple Pizza:
1 apple, sliced
1 tbsp sugar or honey/agave
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp chopped hazelnuts, or nut of choice
1 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional)
1/2 portion whole wheat brioche dough
agave caramel sauce, to taste

1. Make brioche dough: In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Gradually pour wet into dry and mix together with a wooden spoon until there are no more dry spots. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 2 hours. Then, place in fridge for at least 2 hours or until you’re ready to use it.

2. Make agave caramel sauce: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium flame. Stir occasionally until sauce has thickened, about 10-12 minutes.

3. Assemble pizza: Preheat oven to 350 F. Dust the top of the brioche dough with white flour and split in half. Take one piece and stretch into a smooth ball, dusting with more flour if necessary. It’s not necessary to knead the dough, simply pull the dough out and under until the surface is taut. Place on a baking sheet, then using your fingertips, gently press into a circle until 1/2″ thick. Core and cut apple into thin slices, then toss with cinnamon and sugar. Place apple slices in a circle, starting from the outer edge. Cut butter into four pieces and place on top of pizza. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, then bake for 20-22 minutes until apples have softened and brioche is cooked through. Drizzle with agave caramel and finish with chopped hazelnuts.

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One subject I’d like to share more about on Matchbox Kitchen is sustainability. It’s something that’s always on my mind yet I don’t write about it here very often. I firmly believe in not only caring for your body but also for the environment around you, as cliche and obvious as that sounds. One goal I’ve been working towards is giving up is over processed and over packaged food. I love the convenience of snack packs as much as anyone else but every little wrapper I throw away gives me a pang of guilt.

And then I found Weck jars. A favorite quick breakfast of mine is eating granola and yogurt because not only is healthy and filling but it’s easy to take transport too. And while I’ve made granola and yogurt at home before, I never really knew how I could pack it so it could be just as convenient as their grocery store counterparts. I received a few different Weck jars for my birthday and realized I could store my yogurt individually in the fridge so I can grab one on the go. Sure, going to the grocery store and buying a 6 pack of yogurt is a lot faster, but I’m happy to know exactly what’s going in my body without any sort of stabilizers, preservatives or high amounts of sugar.

There are a lot of different recipes out there for granola and to be honest I never really stick to one. I just throw in whatever I have around (oats, flax seed, walnuts) add some sweetener (this time it was apple sauce and a tiny bit of brown sugar) and dab of oil. Once I come up with a great recipe I’ll be sure to post it here, but in the mean time check out this one from Design Sponge and a whole slew of them from Everybody Likes Sandwiches.

As for the yogurt, it’s kind of intimidating as first but I love that I can control how tart or thick I want it. This batch came out perfect! I am hoping to show you how (in a video!) how to make yogurt yourself but there are great tutorials online already.  There’s even a whole website which is very handy.

Anyway, I’m not really expecting many people to try this because it can be a little time consuming.  But I hope that it inspires you to think about ways you can cut down on waste and live a healthier lifestyle at the same time.

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When it comes to getting ready in the morning I’d much rather choose sleep over being fully prepared for the day.  And although I know it’s the most important meal of the day, breakfast always ends up as an afterthought, quickly toasting a bagel or grabbing an apricot from the fridge.  Neither of those are the healthiest nor most satisfying to eat in the morning, and in about half an hour my stomach is grumbling for something more.

I decided to make granola bars because they’re portable, filling, and relatively healthy (depending on the bar/recipe). It turns out they’re also really quick and easy to make and impossible to mess up.  As long as you have the right amount of “glue” for your oats you can’t go wrong.  You can also put whatever you want in them to your liking, such as pine nuts, agave nectar, wheat germ, pecans, prunes, etc. I specifically made mine not too sweet because I wanted to keep them as healthy (and edible) as possible.  If you like your bars on the chewier and sweeter side, try adding some brown sugar.

Granola Bars
makes 8-10 snack sized bars
1/3 c almond butter
1/3 c honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c rolled oats (old fashioned, not instant/quick)
1/2 c raw almonds
1/2 c raw walnuts
1/4 c flax seeds
1/4 c golden raisins
1/4 c dried chili pineapple bits, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a small bowl, mix together almond butter, honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Set aside.
2. In a food processor, pulse together almonds and walnuts until they are smaller pieces (don’t do this for too long or else you’l make a nut butter!). Add 1 cup of rolled oats and pulse a few times more to lightly chop.
3. Empty contents of food processor into a medium sized bowl. Add the rest of the rolled oats and flax seeds. Combine almond and honey mixture, then add in dried fruit.
4. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fix a 8×8″ baking pan. Leave a bit of overhang on two opposing sides to use as “handles”. With an additional piece of parchment (or wax paper), press the mixture so it’s slightly compacted and evenly fills out the pan.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let the granola cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then place in the fridge for 15 minutes more. Make sure to wait until it’s fully cool before you cut them into bars. Store in an airtight container.

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This is my favorite way to make a quick pasta salad. The original recipe is from an old issue of Real Simple, but it’s pretty uh, simple to make that you sorta just make it up along the way.  Rather than a formal recipe this is just a guideline of how to make it, no exact measurements needed! For example, if you love tomatoes then add more, etc.

Caprese Pasta Salad
You will need:
- a few garlic cloves, minced
- fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped
- small tomatoes such as cherry or grape or mini heirloom, cut in half
- pasta (such as penne or farfalle, or make your own!)
- fresh mozzarella (bocconcini)
- salt and pepper
- olive oil

Directions:
1. Cook your pasta according to package directions, or use your freshly made pasta ;)  Make sure you salt your water well!  You want it salty like the ocean, that way your pasta picks up the flavor rather than adding lots of salt later.
2. Reserve a cup of your pasta water, then strain and set aside. Using the same pot (less dishes to wash!), add a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium to low heat, then throw in the garlic. Add your chopped tomatoes and mix together.  Let the tomatoes cook a little (less than a minute) to release their juices and then pour in about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of your pasta water. This will make a very light/thin sauce for your pasta salad.
3. Let your tomatoes cook a little bit more, maybe a minute or two. You don’t want them to cook too much or else things will start getting a little too soggy/saucy, and you want this to be just a light coating. Add more pasta water or olive oil to your liking, then mix in some pepper (and salt if necessary) to taste.
4. Turn off the flame, then add your pasta back into the pot. Add basil leaves and toss together, making sure that everything gets coated.  Add in your fresh mozzarella last so it doesn’t get melty.
5. Plate, then add a little more basil and pepper for garnish.

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This macaroni and cheese recipe is a lighter take on the usual.  The secret is using tofu instead of lots of cheese. It might not taste as decadent but I don’t feel sick or guilty after having a serving of this.  This is also really, really easy to make and makes enough for leftovers.

Light Macaroni and Cheese (Recipe adapted from thekitchn)
1 pound of pasta shells
1 lb box of silken tofu, drained
2 cups milk (I used whole)
2 tbsp mustard (I used honey mustard)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
2 tsp cornstarch
6 oz white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup bread crumbs
parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Grease 9″ square baking dish with butter or oil (I used butter).

Bring pot of water to boil to cook pasta.  Make sure you salt your water generously, it comes out tasting much better.  Cook until al dente. Drain in a colander then set it aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium/low heat, add tofu, milk, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper. Use an immersion blender break up the tofu until smooth.  When it starts to simmer, whisk in cornstarch and shredded cheddar cheese. Keep stirring for a few minutes until it thickens.

Place the pasta into your baking dish and carefully add the sauce, then sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on top.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until its slightly browned and crispy. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Notes:
If you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a fork to mash up the tofu instead.  You can also experiment with additions such as mushrooms, artichoke hearts (like the original recipe calls for) zucchini, or pretty much whatever you feel like eating. I’d also try different seasoning such as cumin and thyme, or even rosemary and pair the dish with roasted chicken. This could be made even healthier with whole grain pasta and maybe some wheat germ sprinkled on top for more texture (although I haven’t tried it).

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My daily breakfast the past week has been steel cut oatmeal with a helping of milk and golden raisins.  I’m not really an oatmeal person (excluding the cookie kind), but steel cut oats are so much tastier, I don’t know why I’ve never had them before.  I have the “quick cook” kind from Trader Joe’s, so they only take about 5-7 minutes to make. The raisins add the perfect amount of sweetness so I don’t have to add any sugar.

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Cherry tomatoes from a garden, basil, fresh mozzarella, pinch of salt and pepper, and some balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled on top. Perfect for a hot summer day.  This is what I make when it’s too hot to eat.

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I really wanted to try making a sandwich with all the bread I’ve been baking, rather than just eating it hot out of the oven with butter (which is how I eat it nine times out of 10).  This is the master recipe from Artisan Bread in Five, tomatoes and basil from my container garden, and olive tapenade and fresh mozzarella from Trader Joe’s.  There’s also a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in there.  I lightly toasted the bread but it in turn made the crust a little too crisp for my liking.  Next time I make this I’d like to make my own mozzarella as well.  Soft cheese is high up on my list of things I’d like to attempt.

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My first attempt at homemade yogurt.  I’ve been wanting to try this for a while because it’s so easy and sometimes I go through phases of eating lots of yogurt. My favorite is having greek yogurt with granola and a drizzle of honey.  I left this batch incubating for a little too long so it was a bit on the tart side, but it also made it a little thicker without having to strain it. There are lots of how-to’s online, and there’s even a website dedicated to making yogurt if you’re interested in trying it on your own.

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