Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Amaranth

A few months ago, I discovered amaranth at my local food co-op and decided to give it a try.  I had read about this lovely little grain in the Thrive Energy Cookbook by Brendan Brazier and I first tried it out as a rice substitute in this stuffed poblano peppers recipe.

Amaranth

Amaranth is a tiny grain that looks a little like quinoa and packs a serious nutritional punch.  This gluten free grain contains:

  • Three times the average amount of calcium
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin C – Amaranth is the only grain documented to contain this!
  • Complete protein

I love amaranth because it cooks up quick and is super versatile.  In addition to using it as a substitute for rice, you can make it into porridge and eat it for breakfast!

To cook amaranth, rinse 1 cup under cold water.  Boil 2 cups of water on your stovetop and add the amaranth.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed.  To make a thicker porridge-like consistency, use a 1:3 grain to water ratio and mix in desired spices.

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Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Amaranth

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 cup cooked amaranth
  • 1 cup cooked pinto beans
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • Sharp cheddar cheese, grated (omit or use a dairy-free alternative to make this vegan)
  • Avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime for garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F.  Cut the peppers in half and remove the stem and seeds.  Brush the peppers with olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so to soften the peppers.
  2. While the peppers bake, mix the amaranth, beans, corn, cilantro and green onions in a bowl.  Add some cumin, cheyenne, salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Remove the peppers from the oven.  Fill each pepper with the amaranth stuffing.  Top each with a little shredded cheddar cheese and place back in the oven until everything is warmed through and the cheese is melted.
  4. Serve with avocado, tomato, cilantro and lime.  Enjoy 🙂
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Life is too short to eat plain oats!

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Oats are a classic breakfast staple.  It seems like I am not the only one who feels a bit nostalgic about a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning.  That feeling reminds me of my grandmother and the warm cereal has been a necessity in my survival of Portland winter mornings (I know, it’s so obvious I am from Southern California when I complain about the winter here!  Go ahead and roll your eyes East Coasters, I won’t be offended!  (-: ).

There are several options for oats, including old-fashioned rolled oats, quick oaks and steel cut oats.  The various types are the same food, just cut differently, giving the oats a different texture and cooking time.  We know from Quaker brand commercials and packaging that cooked oats is a great food for those who are working to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes.  This is because oats contain beta-glucan, a fiber that has been shown to have positive benefits on cholesterol levels.  Beta-glucan also enhances the immune system and gives oats their blood stabilizing quality.  Their high fiber content also allows oats to remove cholesterol from the digestive system, thus keeping it out of your bloodstream.

Oats are also great for the following:

  • They increase appetite-control hormones
  • Oats may reduce asthma risk in children
  • They are low in calories and fat, but high in protein
  • Oats also contain lignans, which are thought to protect against heart disease and hormone-dependent cancers (i.e. breast cancer)
  • Oats contain unique antioxidants that prevent free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol, which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Oats are a great source of carbohydrates too, which can prepare you for a work out or get you fueled for your long day ahead
  • Oats are also very inexpensive, especially when purchased from a bulk bin!

For 1/2 cup dry (1 cup cooked) of whole grain rolled oats, you get 190 calories, 3.5g fat, 32g carbs, and 7g protein.

For more information on all the amazing benefits of oats, head on over to The World’s Healthiest Foods and The Whole Grains Council.

Because oats are so low in calories, it makes them a great base for fun breakfast creations!  Here are a few of my recent favorites!

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Ginger Peach Oats with Raspberry Protein Oats

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 bags of Trader Joe’s Organic Ginger Peach Tea
  • 1 fresh peach or apricot
  • 1/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • Splash of almond milk
  • Chia seeds
  • Sliced almonds

Steep the bags of tea in one cup hot water.  Meanwhile, microwave the frozen raspberries for approx 30 seconds or less (until melted and mushy).  Mix in the protein powder and chia seeds and splash of almond milk until desired thickness.  Next, cook oats in brewed tea on the stovetop until done.  Top the oats with sliced almonds and the fresh peach.  Pour the sauce over the top and enjoy!

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Chocolate Orange Protein Oats

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp orange extract
  • 1 tbsp cacao powder
  • Stevia drops to taste
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • Almond butter
  • Fresh orange

Cook the oats in 1 cup water with the orange extract.  Once done, stir in the protein powder and cacao powder.  Top with almond butter (I used Vanilla Espresso Almond Butter by a company called Wild Friends….I can’t even explain how amazing this almond butter is) and an organic mandarin orange.

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Coconut Blueberry Protein Oats

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • Frozen or fresh blueberries
  • Unsweetened shredded coconut
  • Coconut milk

Cook oats in 1 cup water and coconut extract.  Once done, add the protein powder.  Top with blueberries, shredded coconut and coconut milk to taste.

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Coconut, Strawberry and Banana Protein Oats

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 2-3 fresh organic strawberries
  • 1/2 banana
  • Unsweetened shredded coconut

Cook oats in 1 cup water and coconut extract.  Once done, stir in the protein powder and top with fruit and coconut.  Could also add coconut milk as well.

The plain flavor of oats allows you to add ANYTHING your heart desires!  Play around, experiment and try new combinations!  Let me know how it goes!  🙂

Carrot Greens Pesto

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I cannot tell you how many times I have purchased a bunch of carrots and simply chopped off their top leafy part and tossed it in the compost.  Recently, after I received my home delivery of produce, I was about to chop and compost my carrot greens and then…a lightbulb!  Maybe the greens are edible!  Maybe they are healthy!  Maybe they are even tasty!  So I hopped onto good ol’ Google and found some mixed messages.  On the one hand, carrot greens are touted to be:

  •  Full of Vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself
  • Rich in protein
  • Rick in minerals and vitamins
  • Loaded with potassium
  • High amount of chlorophyll, which has been shown in studies to combat the growth of tumors, as well as having cleansing properties that purify the blood, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands

On the other hand, some claim they are toxic.  From what I could tell, the concern over carrot greens comes from their close relatives: poison hemlock, water hemlock, and the wild carrot (a.k.a. Queen Anne’s lace).

According to The World Carrot Museum website, the main reason there is a conflict between whether carrot greens are edible or not is because there are poisonous look-a-likes that are often mistaken for wild carrot.  Therefore, you should be certain of what you are eating.  Furthermore, the bitter taste that makes some weary is reportedly from the high amount of potassium the greens contain.  They also contain flurocoumarins, which may cause an allergic reaction on the skin when touched.  According to the World Carrot Museum, this only affects people with allergies to the plant specifically, which are often the same people who have skin allergies to yarrow, ragwort, and chamomile (hopefully you already know if you fit in that category!).  The World Carrot Museum website also states:

“The toxicity linked to carrot tops is the same toxicity issue with any greens.  That is that all greens contain alkaloids.  When you eat the same type of greens all the time (like if you had spinach all the time or carrot tops all the time) then the levels of that plant’s alkaloids starts increasing in your system.  Alkaloids are toxic in high amounts.  Therefore the rule of thumb is that you need to keep rotating your greens.”

I am not a doctor and cannot speak to which side of the debate is correct.  I can say, however, that I ate them, felt great, and thought they were delicious.  If you are in any way hesitant or concerned, please ask a health professional.

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In any event, I used my carrot greens to make a pesto.  They tasted a bit like parsley and went really well with quinoa, black beans and roasted vegetables (beets, broccoli and rainbow carrots).

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For the pesto, combine the following in a food processor:Image-2

  • Roughly chopped carrot greens
  • A couple cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I am estimating here, I did not write down exact measurements but you can start with less and add as needed)

Pulse until well mixed and add to vegetables, fish, meat, pasta, whatever you’d add a pesto to!

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Other ways to use carrot greens include:

  • Homemade mouthwash (carrot greens contain antiseptic qualities) 
  • Mixed in with a mixed green salad
  • Add to coleslaw
  • Use for garnish

The Wonderful World of Bulk Bins!

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In the last year, I have discovered the wonderful world of bulk bins!  Bulk bins can be found in some grocery stores (Fred Meyer, WinCo, Safeway), health food stores (Whole Foods), and food cooperatives* (People’s Co-op in Portland).  They contain food staples such as beans, rice, flour, nuts, dried fruit, and spices.  There are typically plastic or paper bags nearby that you simply put however much you want of a particular food into, label it with the provided number or food name, and take it to the register!

Why do I love them so much?  Let me count the ways!

  1. Image-15Saves Money:  Buying in bulk saves some serious dough.  The most drastic price difference is seen in spices.  Typically, you’ll pay $3-5 for a bottle of cinnamon, but I can refill my spice bottle for less than $1!  When you see the prices on bulk bins they can seem pretty steep (especially for spices), but notice that this pricing is per pound.  I’d venture to guess you aren’t buying a whole pound of oregano, so don’t worry about that seemingly large price tag.  Also, items like pasta, spices, and flour are light in weight so that per pound price won’t add up quickly.  I recently purchased 1.12 pound of lentils for $1.67, 1.27 pounds of black beans for $1.77, and 1.42 pounds of pinto beans for $3.25.  If you buy canned beans, you get 15 ounces (about 1.9 cups) for somewhere between $1-3.  However, one cup of dried black beans yields 2.25 cups of cooked beans.  Trust me, it adds up over time!  And yes, you can save on organic foods this way too.
  2. Portion Control:  So, you’re trying a new recipe and it calls for 1/2 cup of bulgur.  If you’ve never heard of bulgur you may be wondering, what the heck is it and will I even like it?  At the grocery store, you can purchase 28 ounces of Bob’s Red Mill bulgur for $7 and hope you enjoy this new grain or buy the grain, use 1/2 cup, and never use it again!  However, if you find your needed ingredient in a bulk bin, you can purchase just the amount that you need.
  3. Saves Packaging:  I have saved a bunch of jars from things like pickles and jams, and now use them to hold foods from bulk bins.  I also use large storage jars I have purchased from places like Bed Bath and Beyond or Amazon.com.  Most of the time, there is a scale near the bulk bins where you can weigh the empty jar, write the tare weight, and then fill it with your food item.  The tare weight allows the person ringing you up to only charge you for the weight of the food and not the jar.  Don’t forget to weigh the empty jar with the lid on!  Reusing glass or plastic jars saves you from throwing away plastic packaging or recycling boxes and cans from packaged foods.  Not only does reusing jars reduce waste in our landfills, but you can also make your pantry super cute!  A little chalkboard paint or printable labels, and you’ve got well-organized and lovely food storage.  Check out BooBearyBinks or here for ideas.  My jars are not quite as cute yet.  I’m thinking this will be a great project when I am done with school!
  4. Nothing but almonds in my almond butter!!

    Nothing but almonds in my almond butter!!

    New Foods:  I have been introduced to so many new foods because of bulk bins!  Hazelnut butter and goji berries are my recent favorite finds and tries from bulk bins.  Sometimes, I literally stand in front of the bulk bins and Google things I’ve never heard of on my cell phone!  It’s fun to see a grain I’ve never heard of, purchase a cup or so, and give it a try!

  5. Clean Foods:  Foods in bulk bins are often just the food.  For example, dry beans in a bulk bin are only beans, while beans in a can may contain other nonessential (and possibly unhealthy) ingredients.  The nutritional information and ingredients will be on a label on the bin, so read carefully.

What I always buy from bulk bins:

  1. All types of beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, pinto etc).  Image-16
  2. Lentils
    (Yes, buying beans and lentils in bulk means they are dry and require some time to cook (1-2 hours).  If you plan ahead, it really isn’t a big deal.  I typically cook a cup of beans at the beginning of the week and stick them in the fridge so they are ready to be thrown into meals.  See Vegetarians in Paradise for charts and cooking guides for beans and grains.)
  3. Rice
  4. Dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, etc)
  5. All types of nuts (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, etc)
  6. Almond butter or hazelnut butter
  7. Honey
  8. Agave
  9. Olive Oil
  10. SpicesImage-17
  11. Oats
  12. Quinoa and quinoa flakes
  13. Chocolate or carob chips
  14. Goji berries
  15. Chia seeds
  16. Pasta
  17. Whole grains
  18. Popcorn
  19. Shampoo and conditioner (refill old shampoo/condition bottles)

If you have a store near you that has bulk bins, give them a spin.  You’ll never want to go back to packaged foods 🙂

*Food Cooperatives are also amazing!  Cooperatives (or co-ops) are worker or customer owned businesses that provide high quality, usually local, items at a great value to their members.  They not only provide food that supports safe, sustainable growing and manufacturing practices, co-ops can also be an amazing community resource.  I am a member-owner at People’s Co-op in Portland, OR and they have an amazing array of free or sliding fee scale classes every month, including yoga, canning and jarring, cooking classes, movement and meditation, as well as provide opportunities to learn and discuss ways to improve our local and national food system.  Being a member-owner means I have made an investment in the store and I am eligible to receive a small percentage of the amount of money I spend at People’s each year when the store as a profit and participate in elections through the Board of Directors.  They also have a Hands-on-Owner program in which you can work in the store for a discount on purchases.  Furthermore, food co-ops provide an opportunity for you to invest money back into your community and small businesses, rather than into large corporate supermarket chains that do not have the same interest in caring for your community and nearby farmers.

Because patrons are also owners in a food co-op, they have the opportunity to decide what types of foods the store offers.  For example, at People’s, members voted to not sell products that contain meat (except dog food), and the Board of Directors has approved product guidelines that prohibit products that contain artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.  This makes shopping there easy, because I have confidence that the products I am buying are going to be “clean” without me spending a ton of time reading every single label.  The investment is not large ($180) and can be made in $30 per year payments.  This has made it affordable for me while I survive on a student budget!

Search for a food co-op near you here!!  ❤

All of the photos in this post were taken at People’s Co-op.

Healthy Shrimp and “Grits”

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I love me some shrimp and grits!  Unfortunately, grits are simply ground corn meal and contain limited nutritional benefits.  Most commercially available grits are enriched with various nutrients, but I prefer to get my nutrients from natural sources and in their natural form.  So I played around with this Southern classic and replaced traditional grits with quinoa flakes!

photo-17Quinoa Flakes pack the nutritional benefits of quinoa, a seed related to the spinach family, with the texture of rolled oats or grits!  Quinoa Flakes are produced by flattening out regular quinoa.  I first heard about them from folks that eat quinoa flakes like oatmeal for breakfast and after one morning of replacing oats with them, I was struck by how versatile these wonderful flakes can be!

Quinoa Flakes are:

  • Gluten free
  • Quick and easy to cook
  • Great in baking as well as on their own
  • Neutral in flavor, making them great to add just about anything to
  • High in fiber
  • Cholesterol free
  • Sodium free
  • A complete protein, meaning quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids that the body needs to build and maintain muscle
  • High in magnesium
  • High in manganese and copper, which are minerals that act as antioxidants in the body

I found mine in the bulk bins at my local food co-op, but they can also be found packaged in health food stores.

Shrimp boast a great nutritional profile as well, but can be a bit controversial because they are difficult to find in high-quality form and present some challenges to food system sustainability (read more here).  The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a wealth of knowledge on the best seafood to eat, and if you have a local fish monger in your area, definitely talk to them!  If you live in Portland, we have the amazing Flying Fish Company on SE 23rd and Hawthorne.

In their best form, shrimp contain:

  • Unusual concentrations of astaxanthin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient
  • High amounts of the antioxidant mineral selenium
  • EPA and DHA omega-3s, which are important for cardiovascular and nervous system health
  • A great ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, which are associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

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Healthy Shrimp and “Grits”

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  • 2/3 cup quinoa flakes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shrimp (this depends on how many shrimps you want in each serving, adjust for calorie/nutrition needs.  I didn’t really measure this, but I think I used about 2 cups.)
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • Seasoning (I used Big Kevin’s Bayou Blend that my grandma brought me home from New Orleans, but you can use any kind of spice that will add a spicy kick!)
  • 3 cloves garlicImage-6
  • Green onions
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used walnut oil)
  1. Boil 2 cups water in a medium sauce pan.  Add quinoa flakes, reduce heat and cover for about 90 seconds.  Remove from heat and let stand for a couple minutes.
  2. Add milk and cheese to quinoa flakes and stir to combine.
  3. In a frying pan, heat up oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and green onions and cook for about 30 seconds.
  4. Add shrimp and cook until no longer translucent.  Add parsley and seasoning and stir well.  Set aside in another dish.
  5. In the same pan, throw in some broccoli and kale and saute until cooked to your liking.  I cooked mine until broccoli were bright green and kale was slightly wilted.
  6. Serve quinoa flakes with vegetables and shrimp on top.  Enjoy 🙂

Is Shakeology Worth the Price?

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You’ve probably seen a whole bunch of excited fitness folks posting pictures of their Shakeology drinks all over the internet and you may be wondering what all the fuss is about and if it is worth the price.  The Shakeology website lists the many healthy ingredients and benefits of adding the supplement to your diet, but what the website doesn’t tell you is how a busy and often broke graduate student can afford a monthly supply.

shakeology-vs-starbucks

One way I have made room for Shakeology in my monthly budget is I have prioritized my health and fitness.  By putting healthy living first, I am spending money wisely on quality foods instead of spending it on garbage foods, alcoholic drinks, and going out.  I used to love to stop at one of Portland’s many coffee shops and grab a latte and possibly a snack just about every day.  Furthermore, on long days that I did not prep meals for, I would grab dinner at a nearby restaurant for around $6.  If I have school, my internship, or work 7 days a week, I could be spending between $10 and $70 per week on store bought meals and snacks.  That is $40 to $280 per month just for lunch and a snack!  Yikes!  Replacing those calorie laden lattes and store bought meals with Shakeology and home-cooked meals has saved me money and time and has given me huge rewards in my fitness goals.  Furthermore, ordering Shakeology Home Direct means I don’t pay shipping costs and a new bag arrives at my doorstep every 30 days without me having to remember to order and wait for another bag!  You can set up Home Direct to alternate flavors so you never get bored either.  Acquiring a Team Beachbody Membership gets you 10% off all orders.  Also, being a Team Beachbody Coach gives you a 25% discount.

photo-4I drink Shakeology everyday at lunch time to give me an afternoon boost of more than 20 different antioxidants and phytonutrients, fiber, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, amino acids and protein all in a delicious smoothie.  Who doesn’t like to feel like they are drinking a decadent chocolate milkshake in the midst of a stressful day?  Because my mornings are usually rushed, making Shakeology is a quick way to make sure I have a filling lunch and I won’t need to grab take out while I am at work, school, or internship.  Since adding Shakeology to my daily diet, I have decreased my caffeine intake and can easily resist the multiple cartons of ice cream you’ll find in my freezer at any given time.  Combined with exercise and a clean diet, I have lost 21 pounds since I started drinking Shakeology.

Shakeology comes in 4 flavors, two of which are vegan!  I blend Shakeology with a wide variety of ingredients depending on my mood and nutritional needs including: coconut milk or almond milk, fruit (fresh or frozen), spinach, almond butter, avocado, slivered almonds, oats or coconut oil.  I also use extracts to create a variety of delicious flavors.  To get an idea of the versatility, some recipes for each flavor can be found at the following:

Order Shakeology Home Direct here and I’ll send you a fun free gift to help you get started (or continue) your fitness journey!

Of course, Shakeology is backed by Beachbody’s 30-day Monday Back Guarantee: “If you don’t start to see and feel the benefits of Shakeology within the first month of using it, or if you’re not 100% satisfied for any reason, just return it within 30 days for a full refund of the purchase price, less s&h – guaranteed.  That’s our promise to you.”  You can keep the gift I send you 🙂

As always, if you have questions feel free to email me at scottileona@gmail.com.

Brown Rice, Goat Cheese and Walnut Patties

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I had some goat cheese in my fridge that needed to get used and found this great recipe in an email from Everyday Health.  These come together really quick once the rice is cooked.  I cooked the rice while working on homework and finished them up before starting a 12 hour shift at work!  I ate a couple patties with an arugula, tomato and avocado salad.  Yum!

Time Saving Tip: The recipe makes 6 patties, so there were some left over for Nick’s dinner that evening and for one of us to grab for lunch the next day.  I always make large portions of recipes to save time in meal prep the following days.  You could also make these and freeze them for grab and go meals during a really hectic week.

Brown Rice Versus White Rice

Brown rice is a whole grain that has just had the outer layer removed through milling, while white rice is brown rice that has also had its bran and much of its germ removed, which reduces its nutrient content.

Photo courtesy of lundberg.com

Photo courtesy of lundberg.com

Reasons to Switch to Brown Rice:

  • Brown rice has twice the manganese and phosphorus as white rice.  One cup of brown rice will provide you with over 80% of the recommended daily value for manganese!
  • It also has 2.5 times the amount of iron, 3 times the amount of Vitamin B3, 4 times the amount of Vitamin B1, and 10 times the amount of Vitamin B6!
  • Brown rice boasts a high fiber, which assists in weight loss
  • Brown rice is also a good source of the minerals selenium and magnesium.

See realfoodforlife.com and www.whfoods.com for more information.

Recipe:

Adapted from everydayhealth.com.

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 dry cup brown rice, cooked in 1 cup water
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans, or whatever you have in your pantry!)
  • 1/4 cup soft goat cheese
  • 1 large egg white
  • Salt, pepper, thyme

Directions:

  1. Cook the rice.  Once the water is absorbed, remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook the onion until soft, and add the carrots.  Cook on low, stirring often, until the carrots soften and the onion is lightly browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. Preheat the over to 400 degree F.
  4. Transfer the cooked vegetables and brown rice to a food processor (my food processor is small so I had to do this in two batches).  Add the walnuts (or whatever nut you are using), goat cheese, egg white, thyme, salt and pepper.  Pulse until well blended but still course.  Transfer mixture into a large bowl.
  5. Heat about 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Scoop 1/2 cup of the mixture on the skillet and press down with a spatula to form a 3-inch patty.  Repeat until you have 6 patties.  Cook the patties until well browned, about 3-4 minutes on each side.
  6. Lastly, transfer the patties to a baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes.

These are simple and versatile!  Play around with various additions and enjoy 🙂