Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Truffles (vegan, gluten-free)

chocolate almond butter truffles

Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Truffles are one of my favorite desserts for dinner parties and holiday get togethers, as they are vegan and gluten-free, paleo friendly (if you use a very dark chocolate), and they are super cute arranged in little cupcake tins on a colorful platter. You can also box them up in little gift boxes to give for gifts. Just make sure to refrigerate the truffles until it’s time to gift them.

Get creative with coatings for your truffles– I use toasted almonds and cocoa here, but you can try any of the following:

  • chopped toasted pistachios
  • dried lavender flowers (see image below)
  • dried rose petals (make sure they are the edible variety found with bulk teas)
  • shredded unsweetened coconut
  • chopped roasted peanuts
  • carob powder (the combination of cocoa truffles and carob coating is great!)

truffles with lavender budsIn the recipe instructions, you’ll see that you need to work quickly when forming the truffle balls, using your fingertips, at least until coated with cocoa/almonds. Do not try rolling truffles in the palm of your hand, or they will melt! Otherwise they are really simple to make.

You’ll need to set aside some time for the truffle mixture to set in the refrigerator before forming them into balls, perhaps an hour or so. If you need to leave them longer than that and the mixture gets hard, no worries, just set out at room temperature for 30-45 minutes and they should be ready to roll.

Chocolate Almond Butter Truffles (vegan, gluten-free)
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips (fair trade recommended)
  • 6 tablespoons smooth, roasted almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • generous pinch unrefined sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • ½ cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped finely
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder, sifted (fair trade recommended)
  • 24 mini baking cups
Instructions
  1. In a double boiler or saucepan with heavy bottom, gently melt chocolate being careful not to burn or introduce any water into the chocolate. Stir with wooden spoon, heat-proof spatula, or whisk until almost melted, then turn off heat and let sit until completely melted.
  2. In pot or separate bowl, add almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Mix until smooth and transfer to a glass or metal bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool and firm to the touch.
  3. Meanwhile, set out two bowls— one with almonds and one with cocoa.
  4. Using a melon baller or small rounded metal teaspoon, scoop out balls of the chocolate mixture. Working quickly (without rolling between warm hands), roll 2-3 chocolate balls at a time in either cocoa or almond mixture. You may want to coat half of the balls in each for variety. Once chocolate balls are coated, you can form into neater balls with clean, dry hands if needed.
  5. Place each truffle in a mini baking cup and place on a plate or platter, alternating almond-coated and cocoa-coated truffles around the platter.

Chocolate almond truffles recipe card
Print recipe card for your friends for the holidays!

Check out my upcoming Austin cooking classes here.

Happy holidays!

Mineral-Rich Energy Bars (V, GF)

Creating a nutrient-dense, delicious energy bar

This month I started a new yoga program and realized I needed to make some nutrient-dense snacks to take with me. I remembered Jessica Porter’s classic recipe for Crispy Brown Rice Bars (a healthy, macrobiotic version of Rice Crispy Treats), but wanted to add some extra goodies to make them more hearty, like: 

  -pumpkin seeds or pepitas (high in potassium, iron, magnesium, and zinc)

  -unhulled sesame seeds (high in copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, and more)

  –dulse flakes (high in iodine, protein, Vitamins B6 & B12, and more)- one of my favorite foods

  -almond butter (high in protein, fat, magnesium, calcium, and potassium)

These mineral-rich energy bars are good for boosting the thyroid, building bone density, or for anyone feeling depleted that needs more minerals.

Choosing the right brand of brown rice syrup makes a difference

Make an effort to find the special brown rice syrup I recommend in the recipe— Suzanne’s Specialties Genmai Rice Nectar. It is available online and in various natural foods stores. (I used to be able to buy it in Austin but now I have to order online.) It is much more clean tasting and delicious than other brown rice syrups (such as the Lundberg brand which is more bitter), as it is made through natural fermentation rather than a chemical process. You could try making this recipe with another sweetener, but you may need to adjust the other ingredients due to viscosity and sweetness (honey is much sweeter, maple syrup may be a little too thin to hold the bar together).

Mineral Rich Energy Bars (V, GF)
 
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These no-bake energy bars are the perfect post-workout or lunchbox snack. They are packed with nutrients including complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, and many trace minerals.
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12 bars
Ingredients
  • ½ cup organic brown rice syrup (Suzanne’s Specialties Genmai Rice Nectar recommmended)
  • ⅓ cup organic almond butter
  • a few grinds Himalayan sea salt or a large pinch sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil (optional)
  • 1½ cups crispy brown rice cereal (One Degree or Erewhon brands recommended)
  • ½ cup organic green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted
  • ¼ cup organic raisins
  • 1 tablespoon dulse flakes
  • 1 tablespoon unhulled sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 piece parchment paper
Instructions
  1. In heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat brown rice syrup, almond butter, and salt over low to medium heat until bubbly and well combined. Remove from heat and stir in coconut oil if the mixture is too thick (depends on the brand of syrup you use).
  2. Add cereal, pepeitas, raisins, and dulse flakes to the almond butter mixture and fold in until well combined using a heat-proof rubber spatula or wooden spoon coated with a little coconut oil.
  3. Lay piece of parchment paper on a flat surface (large cutting board or countertop).
  4. When mixture has cooled to the point you can handle it without getting burned, and turn mixture onto parchment paper. Moisten fingertips with a little water, and press down into an even layer, about ½-inch thick. Sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds and lightly press down.
  5. Using a sharp chef knife, cut into bars or squares.
  6. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days or refrigerate if storing more than a few days.

Be creative!

Be creative and try different combinations with what you have on hand. Some other ideas for add-ins to replace pepitas, raisins, dulse, and sesame seeds: sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, coconut flakes, slivered almonds, candied ginger, or chocolate chips (freeze ahead and make sure mixture is cool before pressing into the bars). You could also try tahini (sesame butter) in place of almond butter. 

Interested in learning more? I’m offering healthy cooking classes in Austin this fall/winter. For class descriptions and registration information, click here.

And please drop me a line to let me know how your bars came out!

 

Volunteer Social Media Intern for Natural Foods Chef (Fall 2018)

Chef Rachel Zierzow of Cook Love Heal (Austin- based cooking classes, personal chef, healthy recipe blog) seeks a social media intern for September-December 2018.

What you’ll be doing: documenting cooking classes and personal chef sessions (take photos with camera or iPhone), 3 weekly Instagram and Facebook posts, weekly Pinterest post (following chef’s recipe post), and other duties as agreed upon by chef and intern. Hours are flexible, approximately 5 hours per week.

Benefits include: learning about plant-based, natural foods cooking, helping a female-owned, local business.

How to apply: E-mail resume and cover letter to rachel@cookloveheal.com

Baby Arugula Salad with Berries and Lemongrass Mint Vinaigrette

baby arugula salad


I’m in love!

In mid-June, I started teaching kids’ cooking classes at Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars in Austin, TX and was transported into the world of amazing, high quality olive oils and balsamic vinegars from Europe. A few weeks before my classes started I got a tour of the store and sampled a variety of their products. I fell head over heals with everything I tasted, and was especially taken with the white balsamics which are lighter in color and flavor than the dark varieties (which I also love). It was the Lemongrass Mint White Balsamic that I ended up using in this recipe.

Summer is a great time for salads

In summer, I do a lot less cooking, but still like to eat at home. The simple solution is making more salads and using the grill to avoid heating up the kitchen. This Baby Arugula Salad is great for either lunch or dinner with something like a creamy vegetable soup (try Creamy Broccoli Soup or Creamy Butternut Squash Soup) and some fresh bread with olive oil. Make the soup early one morning before it gets hot, and quickly heat it up for meals later in the day or serve chilled.

How to make arugula taste great

This salad took me by surprise. I made during the first week of kids’ cooking camp at Con’ Olio and EVERYONE liked it– even those children that swore up and down they didn’t like vegetables. The key to this salad is finding a dressing that balances the peppery flavor of the baby arugula and the tartness of the berries. On the recommendation of the manager at Con’ Olio (who is also a chef), I used a combination of a mild olive oil and their lemongrass-mint white balsamic vinegar for the dressing. It is just equal parts of each with a little sea salt and black pepper. It was unbelievably delicious! I look forward to trying some of their dark balsamics (like strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, or fig), maybe when the weather cools down a bit.

Baby Arugula Salad with Berries and Lemongrass-Mint Vinaigrette
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Serves: 4 servings
Ingredients
Salad
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (optional), shaved
  • ¼ cup raspberries
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • ¼ cup strawberries, sliced
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
Dressing
Instructions
  1. In a medium prep bowl, mix together arugula and spinach.
  2. Prepare dressing by whisking together olive oil and white balsamic vinegar with a few pinches sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup.
  3. Using a pair of tongs, toss salad greens and Pecorino Romano (if using) with dressing until evenly coated.
  4. Divide greens onto 4 salad plates. Top each salad with a variety of berries and sliced almonds.

baby arugula salad
Baby Arugula Salad from Kids’ Cooking Camp at Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars- June 2018

Asian Mushroom Lettuce Wraps (V, GF, soy-free)

Asian mushroom lettuce wraps are the perfect start to an Asian-themed meal or any plant-based gathering. I brought these to a potluck last week held in honor of a friend visiting from Asheville. By the end of dinner, all that was left was one lonely lettuce leaf!

I wanted to make these lettuce wraps healthier than the restaurant variety, so added more vegetables, and left out the soy, sugar, and gluten! Instead of soy sauce or tamari I used Coco Aminos (I like the Big Tree Farms brand) which is naturally sweet and savory. If you like your filling a little sweeter, you can always add a dash of maple syrup or agave, but you probably won’t need to.

 

Asian Mushroom Lettuce Wraps (V, GF)
 
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This recipes is a vegan, gluten-free version of Chicken Lettuce Wraps served at Asian restaurants.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Asian, Vegetarian
Serves: 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons untoasted sesame oil
  • ½ cup leek, spring onion, or sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 3 cups mushrooms (crimini, shiitake, and/or oyster), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup carrots, small dice
  • 1 cup zucchini, small dice
  • ½ cup water chestnuts or celery, finely chopped or sliced
  • ½ cup bamboo shoots, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1½ teaspoons brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (Big Tree Farm brand recommended)
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 head green or red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, or Romaine lettuce
Instructions
  1. Heat large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Make sure all ingredients are prepped so they can be added to the pan quickly. Add sesame oil and swirl to coat pan.
  2. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for about a minute. Reduce heat a bit to prevent burning.
  3. Add carrots, zucchini, and another pinch of salt and sauté a few minutes more.
  4. Add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are cooked through.
  5. Add water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
  6. Season with brown rice vinegar, coconut aminos, and sea salt (to taste).
  7. Put mushroom filling into a serving bowl in the middle of a large plate or platter. Garnish with cilantro and green onion. Place lettuce leaves around the bowl or on a separate plate. To serve, take a lettuce leaf, place a spoonful or two of mushroom filling onto the leaf, and eat like a taco.
Variations
  1. For a heartier appetizer or main dish, add ½ lb. cooked chicken thigh cut into bite-sized pieces. Adjust seasonings.

 

Chef Rachel Zierzow is available for group classes, private dinners, and corporate team building sessions. Contact her below to find out more.

Women’s Health Tips: 7 Steps to Finding Balance

Rachel & Isabel Yoga on Beach

I wanted to share these women’s health tips for improving your health naturally. As a macrobiotic chef and counselor, I work with individuals that are seeking balance in their lives— to improve physical, mental, and emotional health naturally. A macrobiotic lifestyle emphasizes a whole foods diet that emphasizes whole grains, beans, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, natural seasonings and fermented foods such as miso, shoyu, sea salt, umeboshi, and fresh sauerkraut. In addition, macrobiotics recommends limiting exposure to harmful chemicals in our environment, especially those we would come into contact with every day at home in soaps, shampoos, detergents, cleaners, clothing, bedding, and unfiltered municipal water. Although it’s a challenge in our busy lives to seek out natural and healthy alternatives, the benefits to health are worth it. Below is a partial list of Women’s Health Tips, in no particular order. Many of these tips apply to men, women, and children, so please read on even if you’re not a woman!

Your body is constantly finding balance for you. By pumping your heart, exhaling toxic gases, and keeping your blood at a proper pH, it maintains a delicate balance called homeostasis… And balance isn’t happening just inside of you; you are a product of a vast network of organic systems all striking their natural balances; they include the soil, the oceans, the atmosphere, and space itself. So naturally your inner world seeks to balance with the outer world; you relax into sunlight and shiver when it’s cold. You experience teenage join the spring and mature melancholy in the fall. You give love to your family and receive it back from them in kind. That’s healthy. You are many to harmonize with the bigger systems of nature. You are meant to feel connected to all of life.

Jessica Porter, macrobiotic teacher and author

1. Create a more balanced diet. “Eat a balanced diet” is such a cliché… what does it even mean? My favorite book that describes how to create balance in the diet is The Complete Macrobiotic Diet: 7 Steps to Feel Fabulous, Look Vibrant, and Think Clearly by Denny and Susan Waxman.

  

This book describes how to wisely choose what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat for optimal health, which also involves living according to our natural rhythms. Also, check out the recipes on my blog to get you started on cooking healthy meals, and my article on eating for blood sugar stability.

2. Get the sugar out! 

Sugar not only provides major highs and lows in mood and energy, it can also disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. And insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. –Dr. Mark Hyman

Sugar is linked to weight gain, diabetes, candida infections, yeast infections, and the growth and spread of cancer. Most of us can really feel the mental and emotional effects of sugar as well. If you’re ready to get off the roller coaster, try Dr. Mark Hyman’s sugar detox plan or read the Always Hungry Diet: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently by Dr. David Ludwig and Chef Dawn Ludwig (my macrobiotic cooking teacher!). The Ludwigs have a great facebook group for support as you are transitioning away from sugar.

3. Adjust your eating according to where you are in your menstrual cycle. The week prior to the onset of menstruation (week 4 of the monthly cycle), a woman’s body becomes more contractive or yang as estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Therefore, it is best to avoid very yang foods during this time to avoid cramps, heavy blood flow, PMS, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Do this by reducing concentrated animal foods and salt the week before your menstrual cycle starts, or anytime you are feeling tight (tight muscles, stiff neck, headaches in the back/base of the head). Foods such as eggs, chicken, hard cheeses, cured meats, deli meats, pork, beef, and salty, dry foods such as chips, crackers, and fast food are considered to be energetically contractive or yang. Instead, reach for nourishing soups like:

[soliloquy id=”2225″]

Creamy Butternut Squash SoupCreamy Broccoli SoupCreamy Carrot-Fennel Soup;  whole grain salads with lots of fresh vegetables; and beans, lentils, or fish for protein. The week after the menstrual cycle (week 1-2) is a good time to have more protein and mineral-rich meals, so you may want to season your food while cooking with sea salt or shoyu, try some sea vegetable dishes like arame, carrot, and onion sauté, add some pan-fried dulse to your soups and salads, and have some wild-caught fish with vegetables.

 

photo of red lentil soup

4. Reduce or eliminate dairy products. Cow’s milk and milk products contain naturally occurring growth hormones meant to grow a baby calf into a big cow (440-600 lbs by 8 months of age). Even if the milk does not have “added hormones” the natural cow hormones are still there and affect/disrupt our own hormones levels.  Milk is also considered to be acid-forming can can lead to inflammation and bone loss. Even vegan dairy products such as almond milk, soy milk, and non-dairy ice cream are acid-forming and should be used sparingly rather than drinking big glassfuls.

5. What else are you drinking? We should be careful with caffeine, red wine, and carbonated beverages. We all know about caffeine- it’s a very addictive stimulant that drains our adrenal glands and gives us the false sense of being “wide awake” or “wired” even if we haven’t gotten adequate sleep. Daily use can lead to headaches, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue. Wine is a very concentrated beverage—it takes 600-800 individual grapes to make a 750 mL bottle of wine! So with 5 glasses of wine per bottle, each glass of wine is made from 120-160 grapes! In other words, that is a lot of fruit! It’s no wonder that our liver feels the effects of wine. Women in their 40s-50s are especially susceptible to getting hot flashes at night after drinking wine (some feel the effects of red wine more than white varieties)– even as little as a half a glass. How about those trendy, calorie-free fizzy waters? They are marketed as a “health food” but carbonation turns to acid in the body (carbonic acid) and can lead to stiffness in the joints (especially when we first wake in the morning), stomach upset, and erosion of tooth enamel. Reach for the “still” spring water rather than the fizzy varieties to hydrate without the negative effects of acidity.

6. Stop taking birth control pills. I know this is a controversial topic. But oral contraceptives have been linked to depression, a decrease in circulating testosterone and thyroid hormones, inflammation, disruption of gut flora, oxidative stress, and depletion of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, there are so many women suffering from hypothyroid, leaky gut issues, bone loss, and inflammation today that could benefit from stopping oral contraception.

7. Limit exposure to plastics. Different types of plastics are in almost everything these days, including clothes and shoes, food containers, water bottles, cookware, cosmetics, flooring and carpets, cushions, mattresses, pillows, baby pacifiers and toys, and on and on… The manufacturing of and exposure to different kinds of plastics have been linked to all kinds of health problems including endocrine disruption, cancer, skin rashes, birth defects, infertility, endometriosis, birth defects, immune system impairment, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity, respiratory issues, liver issues, and more! I definitely notice a positive difference with 100% cotton clothing and bedding. See this article for more information. If plastic is everywhere, how can we limit our exposure?

  • Try replacing synthetic clothing and bed sheets as they wear out with 100% cotton. Wearing organic cotton underwear is supposed to be especially helpful because it is non-toxic, breathable, and super soft.
  • Carry reusable canvas bags in the car for any kind of shopping to avoid bringing more plastic into your home.
  • Buy a nice set of reusable glass containers (most have plastic lids but there are some out there without any plastic).

  • Make a commitment to use refillable, non-plastic water bottles. There are all kinds of glass water bottles as well as stainless steel varieties you can choose from:

Bonus tip #8: Exercise more moderately or gently. Gentle forms of yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking in nature, swimming, or whatever movement is rejuvenating (without overexertion) are actually better for you than strenuous exercise. Certain stretches are particularly beneficial to stimulating flow of energy through the liver and gall bladder meridians (these organs are closely related according to TCM) which eases menstruation, evens out moods, and improves digestion. Try these yoga stretches  and qi gong exercises for liver and gall bladder health.

As a macrobiotic health counselor, Chef Rachel Zierzow is a teacher, mentor, and guide. Her aim is to educate you about your condition from a macrobiotic perspective, and give you the tools to incorporate a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle as a way of improving your physical, mental, and spiritual conditions. Chef Rachel Zierzow does not replace your doctor, nor will she prescribe things for you to do or take. Recommendations and tools will be given to empower you to improve your own health. The doing of macrobiotics will be up to you.

To view Chef Rachel Z’s upcoming cooking classes click here.

For more information about personal health consultations or pantry makeovers with Chef Rachel Z, click here

Chef Rachel Z is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.