Introducing The Soaked-Grains Series - Maple and Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal Cakes with Blackberry Sauce

We live in an age where grains are constantly abused. We bleach them, strip them of their nutrients, we even "enrich" them by taking away their natural nutritional benefits and replacing them with shelf-stable chemical "nutrients." As a result of this foul treatment, many people have gone gluten-free, or grain-free because they want to avoid the disadvantageous effects that wreck our health. So how did we get to this point? How did we go from deeming bread the "staff of life" to chanting "the whiter the bread, the quicker you're dead?" I'm no nutritionist, but I believe the way grains are prepared dramatically impacts the effects they will impart to your health.

So where do we go from here? What makes a grain "properly prepared?" In her wonderful book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon explains that ancient cultures who ate grains as a staple in their diet, properly prepared the grains by first soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the grains. The Irish did it with their oatmeal, the French with their sourdough, the Latin-Americans with their corn tortillas. Why go to all of this trouble you ask? Most grains, particularly wheat, contain high levels of phytic acid, which does more harm than good to our bodies. Not only can it slow down your metabolism, but it also causes mineral deficiencies, bone loss, tooth decay, and other maladies when consumed in excess. The good news is, phytase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down the levels of phytic acid, is activated when grains are soaked in an acidic medium, such as yogurt, buttermilk, whey, lemon juice or vinegar. In addition, the mineral content is actually increased by soaking, making grains more beneficial to our bodies. Sounds pretty good, right?

With all of that being said, I am excited to share this series of soaked-grain recipes with you! If you have ever baked using the soaking method, you know that it can be a little tricky at first. The first muffins I made with soaked flour were a bit dense, to say the least. But with practice, you learn what works well using the soaking method and what does not. My hope is that I can make most of the mistakes for you and provide you with recipes that not only maximize optimum nutrition, but also taste great! Let's get soaking!

The first recipe I am sharing with you is these baked oatmeal cakes. They are simple, delicious, and come together quickly on a rushed morning.  Plus, they have the added advantage of being naturally gluten-free, for all of my wheat-avoiding friends out there. With the addition of a sweet and tangy blackberry sauce, these little cakes are great for breakfast or as a snack.

Baked Oatmeal Cakes
Makes 12

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder

In a large bowl, mix oats, yogurt, and water together and let sit covered in a warm place overnight. In the morning, blend the butter, maple syrup, eggs, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder together. With a fork, loosen the oat mixture; add the maple mixture and mix until well blended. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan and fill each cup 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove and let cool on rack. Store any leftover cakes in the refrigerator.

Blackberry Sauce

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blackberries
2 tsp. lemon juice
2-4 Tbsp. maple syrup (slightly more or less depending on your taste)
1/2 tsp. arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved in a tsp. of warm water
pinch of sea salt

In a medium saucepan, combine berries, juice, and syrup over medium heat. Once juices have released from the berries, after 10 or so minutes, add the arrowroot mixture and salt. Let cook until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes more.

Happy soaking!

Warm Kale Salad with Honey-Dijon Vinaigrette

You don't have to get too deep into the foodie scene to know that kale has been the starring craze of nutrition enthusiasts for a while now. With the abundance of nutrients packed into this intensely colored green, it's easy to understand how this humble member hailing from the Brassica family gained its popularity. Speaking of nutrition, have you ever looked at all the amazing health benefits of kale? It's kind of ridiculous. Kale is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, anti-inflammatory properties, iron, calcium, and the list goes on. Not only is it richly abundant in nutrients, but it is very economical, making it a great vegetable to indulge in often.

 However, before you start eating kale often, you need to be cautioned about one thing. With the intention of obtaining the most nutrients possible, many are eating raw kale daily, whether it be in their salads, smoothies, sandwiches, etc. But I believe there to be problem with this. Among the army of nutrients residing in kale, there are also harmful goitrogenic substances and oxalic acid that needs to be neutralized before consumption. Please understand that I am not a nutritionist, but after researching, I have found that failing to lightly cook kale before consumption can actually inhibit nutrient absorption. All of those great nutrients we just talked about are not being optimized to the extent that they should be. I don't know about you, but I was thrilled to find this out, as I'm not much of a proponent of raw kale salads in the first place. If you have a deep attachment to raw kale and absolutely cannot go without eating it in its raw form, try to limit your consumption of it as much as possible, eating it raw only sparingly. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

From the moment I started forming this salad in my mind, I knew I wanted it to include enzyme-rich sprouted sunflower seeds. As you can see, my sprouts didn't grow particularly long, but had they been given another day or so, the sprouts would have been more noticeable. Sprouting is something everyone should get into, when you consider the payoff of this super simple practice. Most grains and seeds contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that, similarly to the oxalic acid in kale, needs to be broken down before consumption. There are two ways to do this. The first is sprouting, which I will further explain here. The second is soaking, which I will get deeper into in future posts. For now, I thought it would be nice to include a do-it-yourself intro to sprouting, so here is a general guide to get you started:

Basic Sprouting Method

What You Will Need:
-Glass Mason Jars with Rings (generally quart size for grains, pint size for small seeds)
-Cheese Cloth
-Seeds/Grains to sprout


  1.  Place the seeds or grains in the jar and fill with water. Let sit for about a minute.
  2.  Cut a piece of cheese cloth that will overlap the opening of your jar by half an inch. Place on top of jar and secure in place with ring
  3.  Turn jar upside down and drain excess water in sink. Repeat this rinse 2-3 times daily until sprouts appear.
Again this is a general guide to sprouting. Certain seeds react better than others to sprouting, so you may find that you are wildly successful with some seeds, yet hit trial and error with others. Here is a small list of things I have been successful in sprouting:

-Wheat Berries
-Un-Toasted Buckwheat
-Chia Seeds
-Mung Beans

The list of things you can sprout goes on and on, ranging from almonds to sesame seeds. Above all, have fun experimenting with it!

Without further adieu, I am pleased to present the star of today's post. Warm, slightly-wilted kale is accompanied by sizzling pan-roasted sweet potatoes, mouth-watering crispy shallots, sweet succulent black grapes, and enzyme-rich sprouted sunflower seeds, all adorned with a tangy lemon-dijon vinaigrette. When I first made this salad in preparation of the photo-shoot, I was so lost in the enticing gustatory sensations upon each bite, that before I knew it, I had eaten the whole thing. It is seriously delicious.

Warm Kale Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Makes enough for two servings as a side dish

Juice of half a large lemon (1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together until combined. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. 

1 small sweet potato, cut into small cubes
2 cups loosely-packed torn kale leaves (I used Red and Tuscan kale)
Handful of black grapes, sliced in half length-wise
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. coconut oil

  1. In a large skillet, melt 1 Tbsp. of coconut oil over medium heat. Add the sweet potato cubes and saute until lightly browned and crisp (I found that I needed to add more oil as the potatoes cooked due to their absorption of the oil).
  2. Once potatoes are nearly done and showing dark marks, add the shallot and just enough oil to crisp the shallots (about a teaspoon). Let cook several minutes longer, until shallots are crisp.
  3.  Add the grapes and kale; shake or stir the pan until evenly distributed. Continue to stir for about a minute, until kale is just beginning to wilt. Add desired amount of dressing and salt and pepper to the pan. Serve immediately.

Love and Best of Health,

Starting the Day on a Positive Note ~ Breakfast Parfaits with Cherry-Apple Compote and Grainless Granola

Breakfast. It's probably the most abused meal of the day, and yet, it shapes the way the day begins. Before the hectic, fast-paced lifestyle is thrust into high gear, I like to sit down to a healthy meal, break the fast, and take time to be thankful for the day. This is one of my ways to mentally prepare for the day that lies ahead of me, and start it on a positive note.

This can be very difficult to do though. Let's face it. There are some mornings when we just don't have time to invest in making an elaborate breakfast. I get that. So where do we turn when we need something quick and no more complicated than a bowl of cereal? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you these lovely yogurt parfaits. Not only is the grainless granola and cherry-apple compote extremely simple to make, but both of these toppings can be made ahead so that they are ready to rock and roll as soon as you are. That's what I call real fast food.

This time of year, we have an abundance of tart frozen cherries in our freezer, thanks to my family's diligent picking, pitting, and preserving accomplished over the summer. Although you simply cannot beat freshly picked, tree-ripened fruit, having these succulent little gems all through the winter helps to keep my eagerness for the next harvest at bay. I really love the sweet-tart punch they give when they burst in your mouth. It's enough to make your mouth water.

 As for the grain-less granola, there are some days when my body just wants a break from the typical over-abundance of grains at breakfast time. Although it may be better classified as a "crumble" rather than a granola, it is so simple and a snap to make. Whenever I buy a large quantity of raw nuts, I always soak them all day in salt water, and then dry them all night in a warm oven. This procedure not only makes any nut taste ten times better, but also removes any unnoticeable mold that is most likely lingering on the nuts, unbeknownst to you. Plus it makes the nuts more digestible. I highly recommend this practice, it's a win-win situation.

One last note about these toppings. In the unlikely event that you get tired of eating the compote and granola with yogurt, it is also splendidly delicious over pancakes, oatmeal, ice cream, and the list goes on. Be creative, be healthy, and take time to indulge in a healthy breakfast!

Cherry-Apple Compote
Makes approximately 1 pint

2 cups pitted tart cherries, thawed and rinsed if frozen
1 apple, washed and diced
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
zest and juice from one clementine
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients together in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat until cherries are plump and liquid has reduced to a syrup-like consistency, about 20 minutes. Keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Grainless Granola
Makes approximately 2 cups

1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
4-6 soft medjool dates
Optional add-ins - chia, flax, or hemp seeds, dried fruit, etc.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine nuts and coconut in a pan and toast in the oven until fragrant and golden, 8-10 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. Combine nut mixture with dates in a food processor and pulse until a few large chunks remain. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

For the Parfaits:

Simply layer the compote and granola with your favorite yogurt (my favorite is plain Greek yogurt with a hint of vanilla).

With Love,

Winter Comfort Food Meets Nourishment - Buttery Greens atop Braised Black-Eyed Peas and Chicken

This time of year, when the snow is falling, the wind gushing, and the cold biting, I find that my body craves foods that are hearty, rich, and nourishing. In other words, comfort foods. When I was younger, the term "comfort foods" had a slightly different meaning than it does to me now. It definitely meant rich, but nourishing? Not so much. As I have gotten older, my taste for real and healthy foods has proliferated, and the nourishing aspect is a key component in my style of cooking. This dish is a reflection of that concept.

Although not to the extent of beets or buckwheat, black-eyed peas have a subtle earthiness about them. Honestly, I have never been crazy about this bean. I found it rather dull on the flavor scale. Attempting to end my lack of enthusiasm for the bean, I was determined to make this dish smashingly delicious. With the aid of the spice cabinet and loving technique, a new appreciation was born. Braising the beans with caramelized vegetables, chicken, and fennel seed (the secret ingredient!), created flavorful and soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth black-eyed peas that I would be happy to indulge in regularly.

 On its own, this stew is delicious, but in order to satisfy my cravings for richly-dark leafy greens, I topped it all of with soft, buttery kale. Not only did this help the nutrition aspect, but also made the stew look ten times more appetizing. The minor bitterness that kale bears was balanced with the sweetness from the carrots and fennel in the stew. A perfect match.

I like to think that I kept things simple with this recipe, although it's important to note that one person's definition of simple can be vastly different than another's definition. Nonetheless, this dish is easy to prepare. Just make sure you plan ahead, as you must soak the black-eyed peas overnight, and cook the dish for several hours.

Braised Chicken and Black-Eyed Peas with Buttery Greens
Serves 2-3 People

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly, and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade if possible)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. fennel (anise) seeds (I used slightly more)
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

3 cups loosely-packed kale or other greens
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chicken stock
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and saute a few minutes more. Next add black-eyed peas, stock, and spices, and simmer with lid on for about 45 minutes, until peas are tender. Once the peas are tender, add the chicken and cornstarch mixture, and continue to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the liquid has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

About a half hour before the peas are done, roughly chop and rinse the kale. In a large saute pan, cook the kale in olive oil until bright green, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and cook with lid on until soft. Just before serving, add butter, salt, and pepper.

When ready to serve, ladle hot black-eyed peas and chicken into bowls, and top with buttery greens.

Love and Health,

Eggs for Dinner: Frittata with Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, Spinach, and Feta

Eggs have to be one of my favorite last-minute dinner options because, well, they are fast and simple. No fat to trim, no bones to de-bone, no extra time to marinate... you get the idea. You simply crack the thing, and proceed with dinner. Because I was getting a late start on my Monday night dinner duty, eggs seemed to be the ideal option for me. Within twenty minutes, I had two crust-less ham and cheese quiches in the oven, and nestled underneath were some cherry tomatoes, sizzling as they roasted. This dinner was beginning to take shape. All I needed to do now was come up with a vegetable dish to serve along with the quiche and something to do with my succulent roasted tomatoes.

A quick look in the refrigerator solved my dilemma. A caesar salad would be perfect to serve along side my quiche, but a quick look at some fresh spinach and feta cheese and I couldn't resist. I had to make a frittata too. To me, the combination of spinach and feta is glorious on its own, but combine it with roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions in a soft bedding of bakes eggs, and it would be a win kind of night.

To Roast the Tomatoes:

1 pint of cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a baking dish and roast at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until tomatoes have burst, and start to brown lightly.

For the Frittata:

1 small onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
A handful of roasted tomatoes
2/3 cup chopped spinach
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1-3 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
3 eggs
2 Tbsp. whipping cream
salt, pepper, fresh herbs and seasonings of your choice (I use LOTS of Italian seasonings)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small saute pan, cook the onions in olive oil over medium-low heat until they begin to caramelize. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, whipping cream, and seasonings and set aside. Next, add the tomatoes and spinach to the onions, and coat the sides of the pan with the butter, so that your frittata does not stick to the pan. Gently pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, and sprinkle the cheese over top. By now, the eggs should have set on the bottom, so that the edges don't jiggle. Now, place the frittata in the oven and bake just until the center is set, about 8-12 minutes. Once set, loose around the edges with a spatula, and serve immediately.

One last note. After several years of wanting to upgrade to an SLR camera, I finally did. Oh my, am I happy that I did! It will probably take me all year to figure out how to use it, but I am so eager and excited to learn. I want to thank my amazing Grandpa, who took the time to help me do the research, figure out exactly what to get, and go shopping with me. I am so blessed to have such an incredible man in my life.

Simple Snacks: Sweet Potato Dollars

When it comes to snacks, it's so easy to reach for a bag of tortilla chips or pretzels to satisfy your stomach, especially if you're like me and have the mind set of "I want it, and I want it now." But what if we were to take a deep breath, calm down, and take the time to prepare something that would both satisfy and nourish our body at the same time? This is the mind set I am trying to adapt to right now. This is where these crisp-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-center sweet potato dollars come in; they're so easy and quick to prepare, yet packed with loads of vitamins. Did I mention that kids love them too?

Today I tried something new by adding them to my salad for lunch. Whoa buddy! As soon as I took the first bite, my taste buds were having a party. Combined with avocado, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and spinach dressed in a lemon vinaigrette, I found a new favorite salad combination. In fact, I was so enthralled with my lunch that I didn't take the time to take a proper picture! I did however manage to take one on my phone before devouring it. My apologies for the lower quality picture.

Anyway, as with most recipes, it is important to remember that you are never confined to a recipe! Try adding lemon juice to the sweet potatoes to have a sweet-tart thing going, or maybe maple syrup and cayenne pepper if you like sweet and spicy, cinnamon and honey? Mmmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about all the flavor possibilities! Like them super crispy? Cut them very thin. Like them on the chewier side? Cut them thicker. I've given you the recipe as a canvas, now go have fun and paint your picture!

Sweet Potato Dollars

This recipe is originally from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, New Trends Publishing Inc., Washington D.C., 2001

Makes about 4 servings

3-4 long, skinny sweet potatoes
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt to taste

Slice sweet potatoes thinly, a little thinner than a 1/4 of an inch thick. Arrange the slices on a buttered baking sheet and brush each slice with a *mixture of the butter and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt to your liking, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. 

*If you are adding any other flavors, it is best to add them to the butter mixture before brushing the slices. 


Soup Time ~ Irish Chicken Soup with a Twist

With the hurricane brewing on the east coast, the weather around here has been so dreary. My thoughts have been with the people who have and are facing much worse conditions than here in Ohio. Even though the sun has hardly shown up the past few days, I must admit that I enjoy this kind of rainy weather. There's something comforting about a rainy day. When I have the opportunity to stay home and cook on a rainy day, you will find me in the kitchen with the Frank Sinatra station on Pandora, as happy as can be, most likely making a big pot of soup. Those are the days I love most. 

Soups are definitely one of my favorite things to cook, mainly because they are so easy and delicious, but also because a nice mug of soup on a chilly and wet day is hard to beat. This particular soup is one I started making last winter. My family, particularly my dad, loves this creamy and hearty soup. I love it because it is so nourishing. Unlike traditional Irish chicken soup, I use sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes for the higher nutrient content. With all the orange color going on, this soup contains loads of betacarotene which is great for your skin, protects against cancer, colds, infections, and diseases. When I feel a cold coming on, this is the soup I make.

 Irish Chicken Soup

Like most soups, this soup will taste even better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to combine.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
3 large carrots, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 large sweet potato, diced
2 chicken breasts, shredded
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot sauté the onion and celery in the oil until soft, about five minutes. Add carrot, garlic, and sweet potato; continue to cook about five minutes longer. Add stock and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cover and cook for about an hour, until the sweet potato cubes are easily pierced with a fork. Puree two-thirds of the soup in a blender, and pour blended soup back into pot. Add the chicken, and season to taste.