Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Handmade All-Natural Lip Balm Gifts

Hello and Happy New Year's Eve!  I hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far.  We stayed in town over Christmas and enjoyed time with Oklahoma family as well as some out-of-town relatives.
As usual, this winter break has been flying by.  Aside from all the holiday festivities, Jay and I are trying hard to get some "to-dos" accomplished  over break (like shampooing all the carpets!) while still making time for fun.  A couple days ago, we took a day trip to a nearby state park and hiked about seven miles.  It was so nice to get away for a bit and enjoy a change of scenery. 
On another note, now that all the Christmas gifts have been exchanged, I wanted to share a little bit about the lip balm my mom and I made this year for our friends and family.  
Last year's laundry soap was a big hit, so we decided to start a tradition of making a handmade gift together each year.  We settled on lip balm for this year's gift because it's something everyone can always use (especially in this freezing cold winter weather we've been having), and it seemed easy enough to make a large batch in a single afternoon.  

We combed through numerous recipes on the internet and selected four ingredients to use for the balms.  It took a little trial and error to figure out the best proportions, but the consistency of this final formula is just right. I was really happy with how it turned out.

Here is what we used:

6 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons beeswax
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
10-12 drops essential oil
We bought the coconut oil at the grocery store, but the beeswax pellets and vitamin E oil were purchased from Amazon.  We used essential oils that we already had on hand, but they can be easily found online or at any health food store in a variety of scents.

To make the lip balm, we started by melting down the beeswax and coconut oil.  To avoid burning, we placed the ingredients into a small stainless steel mixing bowl which we then submerged in a larger pot of hot (almost boiling) water.  Of course you could also use a double boiler to do this, but our own makeshift method worked surprisingly well.
Once the beeswax and coconut oil were melted, we added in the vitamin E and essential oil and stirred it all together.  We experimented with several flavors of essential oils, but our favorite was the wintergreen.  It was much more noticeable than the orange and gave the balm a fresh, minty fragrance.

We used a small spoon and an eyedropper to fill up our little plastic containers (also purchased on Amazon).  One batch of the lip balm filled up about 18 of the small 5 gram pots.  By the end of the afternoon, we had made enough to fill 50 containers!

After about 15 minutes, the lip balm had cooled off and was ready to use.
To make the gifts a little more special, we decorated each lip balm with a festive sticker and attached it with a dab of hot glue to a small card that I designed on PicMonkey. 
The lip balms were very well received.  Many have commented that they love the way it feels on their lips, and I think everyone appreciated the simple, all-natural ingredients.  Plus, it always seems more special when a gift is made by hand.

I'm not sure exactly what the next few days have in store, but I am going to do my best to enjoy every minute  of my time off before the craziness of work resumes.

Wishing you all a very safe and healthy new year!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Go Veggie! Cheese Review

Since Jay and I primarily eat a plant-based diet, we rarely purchase any meat or dairy products at the grocery store.  I cook with lots of vegetables, beans, whole grains, and spices and try to avoid buying a lot of vegan "meat" and "cheese" substitutes.

That being said, some of my favorite meals just wouldn't be the same without the addition of some melty, stretchy cheese.  (Cheeseless pizza?  No thank you.)  For those situations, I usually turn to Daiya as a satisfying cheese substitute.  It is one of the few options at our local Sprouts that is plant-based and completely dairy free.

Some nice people at the Go Veggie! company noticed our affinity for Daiya on the blog and recently offered to send us some of their products to try out and compare.  I had always noticed the Go Veggie! shreds next to the Daiya on the grocery store shelf, but I never purchased them because they were only lactose free and not dairy free.

As it turns out, Go Veggie! has an entire vegan line that I never knew existed.  There are shreds, cream cheeses, singles, and even a parmesan-style topping.

I accepted their offer to try out the products and was so excited when my big box of samples arrived!
I immediately checked everything out and was glad to see that I recognized the majority of the plant-based ingredients (things like coconut oil and pea protein).

When I started cooking with the Go Veggie! cheeses, one of the first things I noticed was how much better it melted than Daiya.

I used the Mexican shreds on this loaded sweet potato, and it oozed its way through all the veggies.
The mozzarella shreds were delicious on this pizza.  It's a bit hard to see the cheese, but if you look at the edges you can really get an idea of how melty it was.  The flavor was amazing!
My favorite was when I used the Mexican shreds on my spaghetti squash enchiladas (made for the second week in a row).
Look at that cheese dripping over the side!
I also added the shreds to a big taco salad and a bowl of rice and beans.  I usually wouldn't eat any cheese with these meals, but I enjoyed the extra flavor.
The cream cheese spread wasn't quite as thick as real cream cheese but still had a great texture and flavor.  Jay said this kind tasted like strawberry ice cream on his bagel.  
I forgot to snap a picture, but we tried some of the singles at lunch yesterday and they were very comparable to real cheese singles.  I haven't had a cheese single in ages and probably wouldn't buy these on a regular basis, but they would be great for kids or sandwich lovers.

I have really enjoyed the Go Veggie! products so far, and I'm looking forward to using the cheeses in future recipes.

As for the downsides...I wish this vegan line was more widely available.  It looks like some of the vegan varieties can be found at Natural Grocers and Whole Foods, but unfortunately not at Sprouts or any of the big box stores.

Also, you do have to be sure to read the Go Veggie! labels carefully, especially if there are certain ingredients or allergens you are trying to avoid.  As I mentioned before, not all of the Go Veggie! products are dairy free, and even within the dairy free line some products contain soy and some do not.

I'm happy to have new tasty options when it comes to dairy-free cheeses, but I plan to continue using these types of products in moderation.  Just because something claims to be "plant-based" doesn't mean it is automatically great for you.  Any brand cheese substitute is still processed and contains a lot of oils, so I wouldn't go too crazy even if they are delicious.

With that in mind, for those occasions when a pizza or nacho craving strikes, Go Veggie! cheese will be a great asset to have in my refrigerator!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Black Bean Enchilada Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

I like the idea of spaghetti squash, but I don't always like the reality of it.  Replacing actual noodles with a healthier, noodle-like vegetable seems smart, but I've come to realize that the squash just won't taste the same as real noodles (no matter how badly I want it to).  I also find it a big pain to scrape all the "pasta" out of the squash after it's cooked, and I usually end up burning myself at some point in the process. 

That being said, I really love all other kinds of squash and wasn't ready to give up on spaghetti squash all together.  I wanted to prepare it in a way that would be easy (no scraping) and wouldn't depend on the squash trying to taste like something it wasn't.  Since it's hard to go wrong with roasted vegetables + beans + melty cheese, I thought it might work well to roast the squash and then stuff it with an enchilada-style mixture.

This turned out to be a very wise idea.  

Aside from being delicious, this recipe is great because it involves zero chopping, takes only about 10 minutes of hands on time, and is full of healthy vegetables hidden beneath the cheesy goodness.  This is definitely how I will be preparing spaghetti squash from now on. 
Black Bean Enchilada Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
Serves: 2 (very large servings)
Total time: 1 hour
Hands-on time: 10 minutes

1 spaghetti squash, cut in half and seeded
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
1 cup enchilada sauce 
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup black beans
1/2 cup corn 
1 cup shredded cheese (non-dairy or regular, divided)
Optional toppings: diced avocado, cilantro, salsa, etc. 
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
2. Brush the inside of the spaghetti squash with oil and season with a pinch of salt. 
3. Place on baking sheet and roast, skin side up, until tender (30-45 minutes). 
4. Meanwhile, mix the black beans, corn, rice, enchilada sauce, and 1/2 cup cheese in a large bowl. 
5. Once the squash is done, divide the enchilada mixture between the two squash halves and top with remaining cheese. 
6. Return the squash to the oven for 10 minutes at 400, just to make sure everything is warm.  Then, crank the heat up and broil until the cheese turns a light golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
7. Garnish and eat! 
 I highly recommend topping the squash with gave the dish a creamy texture that really took it to the next level.  No one would have ever guessed this was completely vegan. 

Just look at all of that cheesy, stringy goodness. 

Until next time!