Recipe: Vegan Brownies

Public enemy number one to your diet: brownies. They’re gooey, they’re tasty, they’re sweet and in most cases, they’re fattening. There are a number of “healthy” brownies out there: from the “deceptively” delicious variety where you mash up carrots and spinach to the new craze of black bean brownies. I have to admit: none of these ‘healthy’ brownies really do anything for me. They’re usually unsweet, they waste my ingredients and leave me wanting more. I’ve come across a recipe today for a vegan brownie that actually is edible! It’s not overly fattening, it’s not hard at all to make and it taste pretty good.

The problem with boxed brownies is that you’re getting a heck of a lot more than a chunk of chocolate cake. You have your white flour, tons of salt, lots of other chemicals you can’t even pronounce. Then to add insult to injury, most call for you to add in 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and 2-3 eggs. That’s what makes them mostly fattening and causes your waistline and ass to expand at an exponential rate. So there’s an easy solution: ditch the oil, leave the eggs at the farm. Then, you may ask, how do you make a brownie? You make it vegan style! Give this recipe a try:

1 cup of flour (I used self-rising so I didn’t have to scramble for baking soda or powder)
3/4 cup of white sugar
6 TBSP cocoa
1/2 tsp of baking powder (omit if you’re using self-rising)
1/4 tsp of sea salt (or regular salt if that’s all you have)
1/2 cup of water
2 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup all-natural, unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp of vanilla
2 tsp of ground coffee (optional)
1 1/2 TBSP ground flaxseed (optional)

Mix all of the ingredients together. Pour into greased pan. In my oven, at 375 F, it took about 25-30 minutes.

What makes these better for you: First, you’re controlling the ingredients and know what you’re eating. That’s not always the case with the store boxed brands that look more like science experiments than real food. Sure, white flour in most circles is the devil but you’re omitting a ton of unhealthy things in the recipe so you shouldn’t fret about using white flour here. Most boxed brands call for 1/2 or so of vegetable oil. Just a little vegetable oil is bad for you in general cooking (please, switch to olive or at least canola oil for your general cooking purposes) so notice that in this recipe, you’re just using 2 TBSP of olive oil – you’ve just saved yourself a heck of a lot of time spent in the gym working the fat off your ass and abs. Most boxed brownies call for 2-3 eggs … again, it’s unnecessary. Instead, the applesauce will help bind things together just as the eggs would and you don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that unsweetened, all-natural applesauce is healthier for you than cholesterol, fattening, eggs.

The optional ingredients have their perks. A little caffeine in the form of coffee adds a special flavor as well as speeds up your metabolism just a little – though you’re using so little in this recipe that you shouldn’t expect your metabolism to race at the speed of light. Flaxseed is something else used in place of eggs – it’s healthy fat, containing Omega-3 fatty acids that promote heart health, joint lubrication as well as keeps your brain fed and healthy. Want another healthy dose of Omega-3? Toss in some crushed walnuts.

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Recipe: Cheat-Day Pizza

I think the key to any successful eating plan (I like that term over ‘die-ting’) is allowing yourself to indulge from time to time. My favorite ‘cheat’ meal tends to be a slice of pizza from Whole Foods. They use fresh ingredients and hearth-fire the pizza, really giving you a not-so bad slice of pizza. You aren’t getting imitation ‘fake’ cheese, tons of grease and cholesterol and they offer a wide-range of toppings and variety. I usually go for a simple cheese but they have vegetable-topped pizza that I’ve tried from occasion. This isn’t at all the definitive Whole Food pizza recipe but something adapted from their ingredients list to give you a way to cook it at home/

“I’m Gonna Eat the ‘Whole’ Damn Thing” Pizza-
Cheese: A mix of jack, mozzarella and Parmesan
Pizza sauce (olive oil, salt, oregano, tomato paste, water, basil)
Pizza crust (unbleached flour, sugar, canola oil, salt, yeast, water)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of flour (unbleached or wheat), 2.5 oz of self-rising yeast, salt and teaspoon of sugar. Add in 1 cup of very warm water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil or canola oil (both have health benefits). Knead for about 5 minutes into a ball or until dough is well mixed. Let it stand for 10 minutes in a warm place.
3. After 1o minutes, roll out dough onto well-greased pizza pan. Place in the oven and bake until crust is slightly brown (approx. 10 minutes or less).
5. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Add pizza sauce to crust (store bought or mix a teaspoon of olive oil with a can of tomato paste, a little water, chopped basil, parsley and oregano leaves). Garnish with cheese mixture and your toppings of choice. For a ‘vegetarian delight’ pizza, add red onions, sweet bell peppers, mushrooms and chopped broccoli. For others, the crust itself is super healthy (it’s vegan, not so fattening) so choose a lean meat/protein. Skip fattening meats like sausage, ham and pepperoni (try turkey pepperoni instead).
6. Place back into oven and bake for another 10-20 minutes. Remove, let cool, slice and serve.
Note: This pizza is figure friendly because the crust is pretty much vegan (meaning a lack of dairy that’ll turn into fat when consumed). Adding vegetables is a great way to boost the health content, add in some fiber and get more vegetables into your daily meals. You can garnish the finished product with spinach or basil leaves for added affect and presentation.

Peanut Sauce Recipe

When it comes to vegetarian or vegan, you end up losing a lot of taste or surprises when it comes to food. You get bored with the taste because really, you’re close to being on a raw food diet and feel restricted. Well, the secret to a successful vegetarian or vegan dish is actually in how you dress it up. Peanut sauce is something you can whip up really quickly on the fly and for cheap. Use it for ‘chikin’ (vegetarian imitation chicken), noodles, stir fry and other dishes.

1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup of natural peanut butter (avoid peanut butter with excess sugar or high fructose corn syrup)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 packet sugar substitute (Equal, Splenda, Sweet N Low, Truvia, etc.)
1/3 cup water
A dash of cayenne pepper

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a microwavable dish (not plastic due to BPA threat). Stir well and microwave for 30 seconds.
2. Pour over ‘chikin’, noodles, stir fry or whatever your dish is.
3. Act like you’ve slaved away on a dish that took you no time and effort at all to prepare. Amaze your family and friends with your Rachel Ray-like cooking skills.

Real Men Know How to Cook

All week I’ve been posting about getting in shape and improving your health. Today’s subject is really simple: it’s about the food you eat. This isn’t a lecture like earlier in the week when I made my case for you going vegetarian or vegan – no, this is something that applies to carnivores and omnivores all the same. If you want to lose weight and get fit, you’ve got to exercise and eat better. You can’t do just one and expect to go from looking like Mama Cass to Michelle Pfeiffer. You can’t go on a diet of ‘Lean Cuisine’ or ‘Healthy Choice’ and call yourself eating better. You see, the only way you’re going to eat better is if you control the content of your food.

Learning how to cook is a skill everyone needs to possess. It really gets on my nerves when people laugh and jokingly say they can’t cook. It’s not an excuse and it’s not cute or charming. You can’t cook? You can’t follow directions and measure things with measuring spoons and cups that are clearly marked or read directions off packages? If you can’t do that, then you seriously shouldn’t be allowed to drive or do other daily tasks. Cooking is pretty simple. With the internet, there are hundreds if not millions of free recipes online. If you’re worried about them not tasting good, then simply search out recipes from a reputable source. has tons of free recipes as do a lot of the other celebrity chefs and cooks. Your library also has tons of cookbooks for loan for those who want to try out recipes without committing to purchasing one. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, a great website of recipes for you is You can even go onto PETA’s website and have them E-mail you a recipe of the week. SELF magazine also has a newsletter with healthy, low-cal, low-fat recipes that are great for vegetarians and meat lovers. Nowadays, even non-health or food magazines and publications carry recipes. Men’s Health, along with exercises and fitness tips, has a good selection of cooking tips and recipes that any man can pull off. Men’s Fitness, Details … you name it, there’s something about cooking. The point is that cooking isn’t physics (well, it sort of is but it should induce stress like High School physics class). There are recipes and those contain a clear ingredients and instruction list. All you do is gather the ingredients, follow the directions, stay mindful of the time and poof, you’re a chef!

Part of how I shed 60 lbs was learning about nutrition and learning the proper way to cook. Instead of frying everything, I learned the joy of cooking using a mini indoor grill. I also learned to steam veggies, how to bake over deep frying foods, how to use extra virgin olive oil instead of fatty oils that give you a lovely bloated, sack-of-potatoes look. Here’s another tip- part of cooking is also what you’re cooking with. I love microwaves as much as the next guy but the best food you’re going to eat is that which you’re cooking on a stove top. Buy a good set of stainless steel pans to use – these will reduce the harmful chemicals that Teflon gives off (using pans with that dark/black inner coating can actually put chemicals into your body that’ll bloat you and prevent you from slimming down). Instead of microwaving in plastic containers, microwave your food on plates and in glass bowls. Microwaving in plastic actually leads to the consumption of BPA, another harmful chemical you should avoid like the plague! Instead of dumping tons of salt into your food, switch to sea salt: it lacks iodine (a chemical your body needs) but just a little of it is potent and unlike regular table salt, it won’t bloat you or cause you to retain water. Instead of using tons of white sugar, try sweetening your food with sugar alternatives like Truvia, Splenda or agave. These swaps are easy for you to make and will aid in your quest to lose weight. One last swap tip, eat off of a saucer instead of a big plate. Saucers will help you with portion control.

Now, the food itself. EAT MORE FIBER. Fiber (beans, grains) will help rid your body of all that stuff that’s stuck inside of you. It’ll clean out your body as it moves through your digestive track, giving you a feeling of being full without eating too much. Eat vegetables. Your plate should be 2/3 or more vegetables. People rarely get fat from overeating vegetables. If you like pastas and rices then switch to whole grain, quiona or give Shirataki noodles a try. These options are far healthier than their starchy, fattening counterpart white rice and white pasta. As mentioned earlier, don’t be fooled by ‘low fat’ or ‘healthy’ food options. Consider them the posers of the grocery store. You know that guy/girl online who claims they’re hot and in reality they’re really hideous and disgusting looking? That’s what all of these ‘low fat’ and ‘healthy’ options are. Frozen dinners often are low in calories but have 600+ mg of salt or high fat contents. People, that’s not a healthy choice or a lean cuisine! The healthiest frozen food you can buy are frozen vegetables (none with those pre-made sauces already saturated on the veggies!) and frozen fruit. Otherwise, cook your own food and then freeze it. I lost a lot of weight by planning out my meals for the entire week and spending one day cooking and packaging them up, freezing them. Believe me, it makes life a lot easier when you can come in after a hard day at work and not have to worry about what you’re going to cook, order or eat.

Which brings me to the last part of the food equation: stop wasting your money on eating out. Do you know what’s in your food? Do you know how much salt was used, how much sugar, how fresh the ingredients are? In most cases, you don’t, and that’s killing your diet. Some restaurants are cool and are starting to post their nutritional info online or on the food wrapper itself. Google your favorite restaurant or dish and check out how many calories it is and how much fat it has – you’d be surprised to find out how even the healthier options are the gut busters. Salads are the hidden danger; often thought to be a healthy option, and they are, until you saturate them in the fattening salad dressing they come with. Chicken is always a healthy option for meat eaters – until you slap on a sauce like BBQ (nothing but sugar). I looked up the nutritional information for a ‘vegetarian’ burrito at Moe’s Southwest Grill. Know what I found out? Even without having everything on it, this ‘vegetarian’ option weighed in at over 1,000 some calories! It was something like 1,300-1,600 to be exact. You’re only supposed to be eating about 1,600 or less in a DAY, not in one meal! Don’t trust labels but you need to READ those labels if you’re eating out. If no label or nutritional info is offered, skip it, you’re probably making the healthiest choice.

I could go on and on about food but the point is if you’re preparing your food with fresh ingredients you purchased and picked out then you’re going to be eating healthy and getting in shape. You’ll control the fat content, the sodium, the sugar, the portion. Women seem the most willing to do this but men need to step up, too. Men, it’s all right to cook – there’s nothing feminine or weak about it. I personally like a guy who’s willing to get his hands dirty and cook. I think one of the best dates a guy and a girl (or a guy and a guy) could have is one where one decides the menu and then invites the other to help cook the meal! It’s a great bonding exercise and I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they conduct themselves in a kitchen. Plus cooking together a very vulnerable and intimate experience and definitely shows more thought and consideration than spending tons of money to go out to a restaurant with unhealthy, fatty food that someone else barely prepared. So redo your kitchen, find some recipes and get to get to fixin’.

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‘Going Bananas’ Muffin

Well, it’s the notorious muffin. It comes in many flavors and varieties; bran, blueberry, raspberry, so on, so forth. It’s also one of the most fattening and unhealthy choices you can choose during the most important meal of the day – breakfast. So, how’d you like to makeover that unhealthy delectable treat? It is possible and this is how you do it.

You see, it’s all about what’s in the muffin itself. Usually people flock to the grocery store or to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or where ever and just buy something pre-made. Do you have any idea what’s in that muffin? Probably not. I’ll make an educated guess what that muffin contains. Probably a trace amount of the fruit or main ingredient, enriched wheat flour, tons of sugar, eggs, hydrogenated oils, butter … basically, a combination of crap that’s going to make you feel sick, bloated and sluggish all day long. Someone once said that a muffin is nothing more than an excuse to have cake at breakfast, and it’s true! You might as well just sit down to some bacon, eggs, milk and a plate of chocolate cake if you’re going to chow down on a muffin. So the first step in giving this naughty treat a proper makeover is simply to make it yourself. Groan and whine all you want but this is the only way you’re ever going to be sure of how much sugar and other ingredients the muffin has.

I love banana muffins. I used to eat the ones that came in a convenient bag in the grocery store. It’d say ‘just add water!’ and presto, muffins! Well, I started to make my own muffins. My problem with the mixes you buy in the store and muffins you buy already made in coffee shops and other like places is that usually the muffin just SMELLS like or sort of looks like it has the fruit it claims to have. Well, banana muffins are a great and easy thing to make. You don’t need to be a Rachel Ray, Rocco Dispirito or Paula Deen to whip up a tasty and nutritious version of the muffin. Basically you could fix this as you’re getting ready for work, pop it in the oven, brew your coffee, get dressed and it’ll be done by the time you’re heading out the door. This recipe is vegan, but don’t let that scare you away. Vegan food tastes just like regular food but it’s healthier for you because it doesn’t contain fattening (and unnecessary) dairy ingredients.

‘Going Bananas’ Muffins (Vegan/Vegetarian)
2-3 Ripe Bananas
1/4 cup (or less) of Smart Balance butter (or vegan margarine or even olive oil)
1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar
1-2 packets of sugar substitute (I use Truvia but you can use Sweet-N-Low, Equal, Splenda)
2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of baking soda
1/4 (or more) cup of dry oats
1/4 cup of Bob’s Red Mill 10 Grain Hot Cereal (dry) (optional)
Chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, mash peeled ripe bananas. Mix in the remaining ingredients and blend well. Mixture should be slightly stiff, wet,  but not watery. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or check with toothpick if done (when you stick the toothpick in it should come out clean).

Yep, it’s that simple. You’re getting potassium with the REAL bananas, an added boost of fiber with the whole wheat flour, dry oats and grains and some ‘brain boosting’ omega-3 fat with the walnuts (and olive oil if you use that). Yes, it still has sugar in it but by not using the typical white table sugar you’re saving on the fat and calories. This comes out super moist, tastes just as sweet as the pre-made mixes. The extra boost of fiber will help with digestion and will keep you feeling fuller through the day; the potassium and nuts will help give your brain a much needed boost of energy and whole wheat helps with weight control.

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Winter Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

Veggie Soup

An easy vegetable soup full of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

So, some may think there’s a typo in the title. Isn’t ALL vegetable soup vegetarian? Well … not necessarily. Some may add in chunks of beef or ground turkey to give the soup more flavor; some may have all vegetables but will use a beef or chicken stock. Some may have only a little selection of vegetables and the rest will be a mix of water and some tomato paste. Well, this soup I’ve made is truly vegetable and vegetarian friendly. It has more vegetables than you will probably find in Campbell’s Soup. It probably has enough vegetables to make up for a good vitamin supplement.

Here’s the gist of it; I like soups with substance. I guess, as Rachel Ray would put it, I like more of a ‘stoup’: it’s a soup with the consistency of a stew. There are some hidden ingredients that really help to boost the health content, and flavor, of this soup. It’s easy to make, it’s something you can stick in a crock pot or just in a regular pot on the stove.

What You’ll Need:
1 can of tomato soup1-1.5 cups of water
Diced Carrots
Diced Daikon
Minced Garlic
Sliced Mushrooms
Chopped celery
Sliced zucchini
Chopped broccoli stalks
A leafy green, chopped (kale, spinach, collards, turnips)
Dry black eyed peas (or some other dried beans will work)
A teaspoon of lime juice
A teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt, pepper (to taste)
A dash of hot sauce
A dash of Cajun or Chili powder seasoning
Italian seasoning (a dash)
1/2 sheet of Nori seaweed, crumbled (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

This is another ‘clean out your fridge or pantry’ meal. Meaning, if you don’t have ALL of the vegetables listed, that’s fine, it’s okay! Just use what you have on hand. Bring about a cup or a cup and half of water to boil; add in dry beans. Let the beans cook while you chop of the vegetables. After 20 or so minutes, add in the can of tomato soup and a little bit of more water. Let the contents simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add in all of the chopped vegetables to the pot and let simmer. Add in salt, lime juice, pepper, hot sauce, Cajun or chili power seasoning to the pot. At this point, you’re going to let the soup simmer for an hour or more. This would make a great crock pot meal because the longer it simmers, the more tender the vegetables will become and the better the flavor (early on you will probably taste the lime juice strongly; after an hour of stewing and mixing with the veggies, it’ll be less detectable). A variation on this is to not allow the vegetables to get too soft. This will give you more of a crunch and will make it healthier; the less cooked a vegetable is, the more of its original nutrients, minerals and vitamins it maintains! Don’t be afraid to ‘undercook’ the dish.

Near the end when you’re almost ready to eat or serve the soup, another great hidden ingredient to boost the minerals you’re consuming is to crumble up a sheet of nori seaweed (can be found on the international row of the grocery store; usually used to make sushi). Adding in sea vegetables to your meal will, again, give you the health benefits many are lacking in their diets. By the end, there will be more vegetables than liquid. This makes the dish more hearty and fulfilling because the dish is packed with fiber, has tones of much needed vitamins and minerals, and will fill you up with just 1-2 bowls.

Some may be asking ‘what the heck is that white stuff on top of the soup?’ Well, it’s just a few popped kernels of corn. Yes, popcorn in layman’s terms. This gives the soup a bit more of a crunch and fun flavor, allowing you to perhaps skip out on bread or something overly fattening. Plus, air pop the corn and it’s healthy, only a few calories and boosts the fiber content of the meal.

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“Fake Out” Chinese Lo Mein Noodles

I love(d) Chinese food. Past tense because I hardly buy it anymore. First, I don’t want to spend the money and gas on it to get it. Secondly, it’s highly fattening. Here’s an easy recipe you can try if you’re trying to eat healthier. It’s full of fiber, vegetables and flavor. This was made for a single serving but could be expanded for more.

Whole wheat spaghetti (long noodles broken in half)
2 cloves of crushed garlic
Diced/cut daikon
Shredded carrots
Spinach leaves, chopped (half for dish, half for garnishing)
Diced mushroom
Bok Choy leaves or shredded cabbage (optional)
Green, yellow, red peppers (optional)

For Sauce:
A little water
Soy Sauce (preferably reduce sodium)
A teaspoon of corn starch
A spoonful of honey

Directions: Boil whole wheat pasta. Drain, reserve a little of the excess water and pour it in a bowl. Set noodles/spaghetti aside in separate bowl.  Dice/chop carrots, daikon, garlic, carrots, mushrooms. In the same pot you boiled the noodles in. Put about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of the pot. Put a lid on it to help speed the heating process. When oil is hot, place all of the chopped veggies inside.

In the bowl containing starchy water left over from boiling the noodles, mix in about a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of honey and just a small amount (perhaps a teaspoon and a half) of corn starch. Mix all of this together for the sauce. By this time, veggies should have cooked up just a bit. Re-add the cooked pasta noodles to the pot and give the entire pot a firm shaking to mix everything up (you may need to mix it with a fork or spoon). After letting the contents warm for just a little (careful not to let burn), pour sauce over everything and mix thoroughly.  At this point, add in a little of the spinach or shredded cabbage, or the bok choy leaves. For an added boost of flavor, toss in some small grape tomatoes and chopped pecans or walnuts.

Why you should eat this: Chinese food is fattening. It’s just something we sadly have to accept. The Chinese take-out food, I read in Men’s Health once, isn’t even REAL Chinese food. Cooking your own take-out gives you better control over the ingredients and makes it far more healthier and fulfilling. It also saves time, money and is just outright fun to get in the kitchen and create your own dish. When this is all done, you can create a dish that looks super impressive and fancy.

All of the veggies goes with my stop-light dieting plan: including veggies of every color means you’re getting more vitamins and minerals out of the dish. Using whole wheat pasta as the lo mein is also a good move. Why? Because in the Chinese food you buy out, the lo mein noodles are brown because they’re drenched and saturated with oil and fat. The kind of stuff that’ll end up expanding your stomach. Eat this dish with whole wheat pasta and loaded with vegetables and you can get by with eating as much as you want.

The whole wheat pasta gives you an added shot of fiber. Mushrooms can serve as a substitute for meat, but adding mushrooms to any dish can help lead to weight loss. Peppers are full of antioxidants (meaning you’ll look younger by eating them), spinach has muscle-building nutrients. Daikon (a Chinese radish)  is a veggie that actually cuts through body fat. Here’s another secret; the less you cook the veggies, the more of the original nutrients and vitamins they’ll maintain. This dish would be just as satisfying with some of these veggies kept raw. Notice I didn’t include any meat in this. If you HAD to have meat, I’d go with a little skinless/boneless chicken breast mixed in.

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