Uniquely~Me

A Lifestylye Blog


Looking for a warm, hearty, and comforting dish to cozy in on after a long day of work? This healthy and dairy-free lasagna is a hit! Might I also add that it is really tricky to photograph lasagna? :0 When it's hot it's a big sloppy mess and when it's cold it's stiff and kinda grey looking. Well regardless of the aesthetics that come across in the photos, this dairy-free lasagna is a flavor punch in the mouth and the dairy-free cheeses used in this recipe will have you fooled that there is actually no animal milk in the dish. See below for more photos and the recipe details!


My dairy-free lasagna filling consists of nutritional yeast, fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, Parmela Bakery aged nut cheeses, Kite Hill almond milk ricotta, garlic and Himalayan pink salt. Absolutely fantastic!



Recipe:

1 lb grass fed ground beef
9 sheets whole wheat lasagna noodles
24oz can garlic marinara sauce
2 cups Pamela Creamery shredded mozzarella cheese
6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
4 cups fresh spinach


Preparation: Preheat oven according to lasagna noodle package instructions (usually 425 F). In a skillet, coat pan with preferred cooking oil (we use avocado oil) and brown ground beef with 3 cloves of chopped garlic. Add marinara sauce and set aside. 

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, add ricotta, shredded cheese, nutritional yeast, remaining 3 cloves of chopped garlic, salt, cilantro and parsley. Mix well and add a tablespoon of almond milk or water at a time if mixture is too thick. Overall texture of filling should resemble same texture as cottage cheese. 

In a 9x13 in. pan, coat the bottom of pan with a scoop of marinara sauce and ground beef mixture. This should be a thin layer. Next place dry lasagna noodles on top of this layer. Then spread filling mixture on top of lasagna noodles. The entire filling should fit into this one layer. Then add another scoop of marinara sauce mixture on top of the filling layer. Spread evenly. Next add another layer of dry lasagna noodles. On top of this layer of lasagna noodles, add 4 cups fresh spinach. This layer will take up a lot of space, but will soften once another scoop or two of marinara sauce is added. The goal here is to portion out the marinara sauce so that enough is spread out through each layer of the dish. After marinara is placed on top of layer of spinach, add another layer of dry lasagna noodles. This makes for the last of 3 layers of lasagna noodles. On this top layer add the remaining marinara sauce and cover with foil. An age old secret with lasagna is to let the dry lasagna noodles cook in the seasonings of the sauces rather than boiling in water beforehand. This way, the noodles are ensured to be delicious and full of flavor!

Place in oven for about 30-45 min (until noodles are soft when poked with a fork). Once noodles have completely softened, remove foil and add another layer of shredded cheese and let melt on top layer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes. Once finished, let cool and Enjoy!

Bon Appetit!





This time of year can be full of so much festive fun and yet can also set up the heart for deep hope, anticipation and expectation. It can be so easy to get swept up into the madness of it all. Each year I am challenged to ask myself what this time of year means to me. And now that I have a family of my own, I am even more challenged as I reflect on what lessons we want to teach our daughter and what traditions we want to establish as a family unit. 

Growing up as first generation, I learned of my mom's childhood Christmas experiences in Nigeria where the main event was Christmas Eve service where she and all her 7 brothers and sisters received a new dress/suit and shoes to wear to service. That was it- minimal yet so beautiful and it is was something they so looked forward to all year. Birthdays were not really celebrated so this was a year-end highlight for them. 

Here in America, as a child I saw my classmates and shops and commercials in a frenzy to decorate and create Christmas lists and my mom worked hard to help give us some of that experience even though it wasn't what she was most accustomed to. I remember wanting so badly to decorate our home to help it feel more like "Christmas". My mom questioned me as to where we would get the money and with a big grin I replied: "Dollar Tree". I think I was in junior high at the time and didn't really have a knack for decor or artsy types of things but I was determined to make our home feel like the Christmas I saw on TV and at friends' houses. Oh... I'm just shaking my head right now thinking of the craziness I put our home through: the bright, shiny gold and silver garland wrapped around our staircase and strung along the mantel of our fireplace. The silver tinsel scattered along table tops and end tables. The fake, bright red plastic poinsettias in small vases- a dollar each! It was a bit of an eye sore but my little kid heart was longing for that sense of festivity. 

As I'm older now, my priorities, like many others as we age have shifted. I'm not so keen on gifts and my husband and I have actually taken up a no-gifts tradition on Christmas. We instead are looking for ways to give our time and serve in other ways. Being on a tight budget may have spurred this, but even more so- it just feels right. It feels better. I've noticed our minds and hearts are more freed up to focus on gratitude and being thankful for what we already have. And we are able to spend more time reflecting on the love, joy, peace and hope that we have access to and get to share because of our faith. 

I did, however, want to make our home feel a little more cozy this year. Last year I was still working out of the home and stressed out of my mind. I kept holding off on decorating or putting up pictures because in my mind we would be moving anytime soon. But since we've settled on staying for a while longer and saving, I decided it was time to nest a little. I set out to find just a few key things that would celebrate this season in a way that would make our home feel special, unified and without over-doing it. Our home is small and easily cluttered. So decorating needed to remain minimal. I took a trip to Michael's and was so pleasantly surprised to see their 50% off Christmas sale  (this post is not sponsored) going on. After setting everything up in it's special place, in the evening I lit a few of the candles around our home and as my husband and I relaxed on the couch there was this sense of peace and relaxation. I know these are the memories we will cherish years from now. Where we can see every single room in our home just from sitting on the couch in our living room, lol. My husband commented: 

"I can feel a sense of pride over our home now- our home feels like a place I want to come home to at the end of the day..."

I wish you a sense of hope, love, peace and joy as you approach your holiday season this year. No matter how small your budget or your home, I encourage you to find small ways you can make your home feel special as you too reflect on what this time of year means to you. 




















Happy Holidays!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and peace as you trust on him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13












My body and gut (digestive system) experienced an odd, debilitating pain and aversion to dairy about 7 weeks postpartum (after having Chaya). Most likely due to leaky gut. My heart was crushed as I was a dairy fiend! I loved yogurt, cheese, frozen yogurt, whey protein, butter and all the good stuff that dairy seems to be hidden in- which is a lot! I missed my creamy treats and also my easy protein snacks. Being able to grab a yogurt or string cheese in the evening to add some more protein to my day was no longer an option. 

I had to get creative and searched blogs and recipes for weeks and months to find suitable and palatable alternatives that were not heavy-laden with a ton of chemicals and preservatives. I experimented with many different dairy-free cheeses- most not that great- but found Miyokos Creamery after an employee at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op suggested I give their mozzarella a try for a homemade pizza I was making for dinner that night. It was amazingly delicious! From there, my mind and tongue were introduced to the power of cashews. They are so versatile and can be used for both savory dishes and sweet treats. They can be aged and cultured to mimic cheese or they can be blended to make sauces, ice cream, whipped toppings and more. They assimilate the flavor of any dish they are placed in without being too overpowering and yet still provide great texture and body. I've found them to be a fantastic alternative to dairy even for those who are not dairy-free or experiencing any allergies or intolerance. Any opportunity we can get to incorporate more plant-based foods in to our lifestyle is always good and beneficial. Cashews are a great source of heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats, and are chock full of many vitamins and minerals that support blood, bone and immune health like copper, magnesium, and Vitamin K. See below for more pictures and the recipe details!

I soaked 1 1/2 cups of cashews overnight before starting this recipe



  
My little helper for the day

Recipe
1 1/2 cups raw cashews
1/2 cup 100% organic real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation: Soak cashews for at least 4-6 hours or overnight in bowl with cool water. Then drain water from cashews and place into a blender. A blender works best for creating this type of cream vs using a food processor. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract and set to "blend" or "whip" setting on high to create smoothest texture. Blending may take up to 5 minutes for cashews to completely silken. The cream should feel smooth when rubbed between your fingers. If still grainy, try adding a tablespoon of water at a time and blend a few more minutes until texture is smooth. Once completely smooth, serve immediately or place into airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 7-10 days. Enjoy with your favorite warm pie, with a piece of dark chocolate or by itself!




Bon Appetit!






Making it to the gym with a toddler and working from home is already enough of a challenge as it is! Throw in colder weather, busy holiday schedules and the usual mental barriers and it's so easy to just throw in the towel and chill on the couch.

I had these lofty plans to highlight some of my favorite healthy Thanksgiving side dish recipes this week, but time and lack of good lighting just did not allow. We enjoyed some of them at a lovely Friendsgiving- which is a great opportunity to practice Thanksgiving dishes ahead of the big day. I had hoped to shoot photos of them perfectly placed in platters with floods of beautiful natural light and garnishes. But I ended up being in a mad dash once they were finished cooking (my yams took 3hrs+ !!) as we were rushing to make it to the dinner in time. Ahh- perhaps next year. Or for this year's Christmas dinner! If I can get some nice photos in of our dishes during dinner this week. My family prepares a lot of the same dishes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas :)

So, instead, this week I thought it would be great to highlight my current favorite workout circuit. As some of us have Thanksgiving Day off and maybe even the day after, making it to the gym may not be a top priority as we want to spend quality time with friends, family and other loved ones. This workout circuit can be done at home or a gym. All you need are some tennis shoes, resistance bands and a sturdy chair. Make sure to properly warm up! (I usually foam roll for 5 minutes and do leg kicks to the front and the side to loosen up my hips)

See below for more details!





These shots are how our mornings typically go- my first goal about four mornings per week is to move as quickly as I can to get Chaya and myself out of the house to get my workout in before my work appointments begin. I do this workout outlined below at least once per week and rotate the other days with heavy lifting or intervals on the spin bike or stair-master. I don't have the fanciest gear or outfits and my goal is all about putting in as much work and sweat as I can in the shortest amount of time.



My Current Favorite High-Intensity Interval Training Circuit:
  1. 20 burpees
  2. 200m sprint x2 (0.12 distance x2 on the treadmill) or half a lap x2 around the track depending on your fitness level. If at home, you can use the RunKeeper app and track your distance around the block of your neighborhood. I consider a good sprint to be 80% exertion. 100% means you are in pain putting everything you can into it, 50% would be a comfortable jog. Sometimes I will take advantage of the sled at the gym and push those 20m to change things up.
  3. 30 step ups on to a sturdy chair or stair (if at the gym I use boxes) alternating one leg at a time. (Make sure you are pushing off of your heel, keeping your back straight and activating your glutes as you bring your knee up to your chest. Reaching the alternating arm up to the sky can help you maintain good back posture during this movement). Try adding dumbbells, push-ups in-between each leg or a little hop at the top of the step to increase the difficulty. 
  4. Side squat steps using highest resistance band possible maintaining good form. This movement is done in a squat position while stepping to the side. 20 steps each side x5. To prevent injury: our backs should be straight and not leaning forward, knees slightly pointed outwards and emphasis placed on heels (we should still be able to see our toes; i.e. knees not leaning too far forward). I will usually carry a 25lb weight when doing these as well. 
Repeat this 5 times with minimal rest in-between each movement and only taking breaks for water as needed! This workout is high-intensity and usually takes me about 45-50 minutes. I am always drenched in sweat after this circuit. It is full body and builds strength while also enlisting aerobic cardio. Treat yourself to a good burn and it will feel so good once finished.

Have a wonderful, joy-filled and healthy Thanksgiving!

3 John 1:2
Dear Friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.




Happy Sunday! Our family is still battling some sickies with Chaya having a lingering cough and the hubby also down for the count sick at home. I decided I would also take it easy and whip up a nice Sunday brunch for us all. It has been a while since we've all been able to be home for breakfast together. Eggs are a usual go-to breakfast for us (great source of protein for optimal blood sugar regulation to kick off the day), but I was craving for something different from our usual scrambled eggs and toast. I recalled a recipe I learned a few years ago at a free cooking class I took when at UCLA- frittatas! And decided to whip some up together using some leftover veggies that needed to be cleaned out from our refrigerator before going bad. My husband gave his two thumbs up as we all gobbled up this tasty treat- even Chaya ate more than we ever could have expected! 

The wonderful thing about this dish is that it is so versatile and can accommodate any produce you happen to have laying around. 

What I love about a frittata is that it is the perfect combination between an omelette and a quiche. Frittatas provide a unique texture that give enough of a different twist on eggs for me to feel like I was eating something new again. And this is all because of a special secret ingredient. This ingredient provides a nice puffiness to the dish that gives the frittata its special texture and separates it from the other egg dishes you may eat. For whatever reason, many frittata recipes you may search and find will leave out this game-changing ingredient. See below for more pictures and the recipe + secret ingredients! 




 




Recipe (Serves 2-3):
6 eggs
2-3 cups of veggies of your choice (we used green onions, red onions and kale)
2 small golden yukon potatoes (these potatoes in particular added a fantastic creaminess and texture to the dish)
1/4 cup avocado oil
1 cup protein of choice (we used chicken sausage)
1/2 cup coconut milk (or cream if you prefer dairy)
1/4 cup organic/ non-gmo flour ***this is the secret ingredient!
3/4 teaspoon baking soda ***this is another secret ingredient!
3/4 teaspoon himalayan pink salt


Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Start with chopping and sautéing potatoes on stove to help soften and cook them to ease the baking process.

In a medium sized bowl mix eggs, flour and baking soda. Then add salt, veggies, coconut milk, cheese, oil and potatoes. Mix well. Place into baking dish of choice and bake for 25-30 minutes. 

Let cool, serve with a warm latte and Enjoy! 



Bon Appetit!






Today was a day where the sole purpose and goal of our afternoon was to get out and explore. I identify mostly with the introverted personality type and there are days like today where I am feeling overstimulated from people interactions but still needing an outlet and to get out of the house. My hubby was home sick and Chaya was going a bit stir crazy so I grabbed our waters, diaper bag, my camera and the stroller and hit the sidewalk. We walked miles and miles and it was just what we both needed.



She was so happy to be out of the stroller and strolling on her own two feet!



Our favorite park to visit unexpectedly had a special event going on with lots of fun blow-up gyms for the kiddos. 








Another pit stop at our favorite local grocery store- Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op- for some dinner ingredients

 

We had this chili at a friend's house for dinner last night and it was so delicious I had her send me the link from Live Well Bake Often so I could recreate it. We had some leftover cornbread (homemade recipe) from the night before so it worked out perfectly. Since I've updated my chili and cornbread recipe being dairy-free, I now use a combination of almond milk and coconut milk in my cornbread. For the chili, my friend added a splash of red wine, lemon juice, sautéed carrots, one fresh chopped clove of garlic and it added an amazing touch to the final taste of the recipe.

This precious face was attached to my hip while trying to prepare dinner. This is her usual m.o. and although it was challenging with requests for breastmilk every what felt like 5 minutes, I wouldn't really have it any other way. The more she's in the kitchen with me, the more she gets to see, taste, sample and get comfortable with exploring. 




The day ended with some comforting home cooked crockpot chili and evening dancing with Chaya. We've got some oldies "Ring My Bell" and "Burn Baby Burn" playing in the background as we eat and play. I hope your day included some fun, rest, enjoyable movement and good eats too.



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