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Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Annia Villa is on a mission to make guilty pleasures healthy. See her recipe for the pictured dark chocolate almond-butter cups below.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 3 years ago

Tiny taster brings big, healthy flavors to Baldwin Park

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Blogger encourages healthy eating
by: Brittni Larson

When Annia Villa was a little girl, some of her earliest and most treasured memories were of her grandmother cooking in the kitchen. Villa was young, so she’d stir the pot, add a dash of each ingredient and, most of the time, just watch in amazement.

Her grandmother would cook traditional Peruvian dishes, the most decadent mashed potatoes and the perfect turkey on Christmas. And everyone was invited.

Try the dark chocolate almond-butter cups Villa made, which are featured in the photos:

Makes about 10 dark chocolate almond-butter cups.

Ingredients:

2 cups dark organic chocolate chips

1/2 cup creamy raw almond butter

1/2 tablespoon virgin coconut oil

1/2 tablespoon raw honey

Pomegranate arils for decorating

Cupcake liners

Muffin tin

Directions:

-In a small bowl combine almond butter, honey and coconut oil and heat in microwave for about 20 seconds until creamy.

-Stir everything together.

-In a separate bowl add chocolate chips and microwave for 30 second intervals, checking and mixing the chocolate. It took me about 1 minute and a lot of stirring to get it smooth.

-Add liners to muffin tin.

-With a teaspoon add some melted chocolate to the bottom of the liners, and then smooth it out with the spoon so it covers the whole bottom of the liner.

-Now add the almond butter layer, only use about half your teaspoon full of it and plop it in the middle.

  • Now add your top layer of chocolate. You will need to smooth it out to be flat. Don't worry if the almond butter shows through.

-Sprinkle on a few pomegranate arils.

  • Stick them in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Then, enjoy!

“Every memory that I have with her is of her in the kitchen,” Villa said. “She knew that if she cooked, people would come.”

Villa didn’t get to spend as much time with her grandmother when she got older and moved to the U.S., but the idea of food being a persuasive method to gather loved ones has remained an inspiration for the Baldwin Park resident.

“Food is a universal language to me, and no matter who you are or where you’re from, you’re going to like food,” she said. “I like that it brings everybody together.”

Villa does that with her family and friends — it’s tough to get friends together for a movie, but if she’s cooking, they will come, just like her grandmother said — and now, she reaches many more through her blog the Tiny Taster. Through the blog, which is also featured on the Orlando Sentinel’s hypeorlando, an online, locals-only blogging community, Villa shares healthy, delicious, beautifully photographed recipes.

The 5-foot-tall Villa — the “tiny” in Tiny Taster — takes dishes that are simple and quick enough for every day and elevates them just a little while packing in big flavor. The meals feel special, said Kim Hays, community manager for hypeorlando.

“She’s creating her own recipes, the photography is spectacular, she puts stuff up there and you’re like, ‘I want to make that, I want to eat that, I want her to adopt me,’” Hays said. “She also just has a writing style that’s very relatable … she shares a little bit about herself in her posts so you’re getting to know her and you feel like she’s a friend that you want to come back and see what she’s doing next in her kitchen.”

Villa said she wants to inspire people to eat healthier, to actually cook for themselves and to do it surrounded by friends and family. She takes recipes that might not sound too healthy and puts a spin on them. She makes a low-calorie lasagna, throws cauliflower in mashed potatoes and sneaks lots of fresh spinach in her pesto sauce. Villa’s boyfriend Matthew Richardson said he loves that she can take homey favorites and miraculously make them healthy.

“Proper nutrition is like medicine in itself,” Villa said.

But healthy doesn’t have to be boring, and Villa won’t let that happen in her cooking.

“I can’t eat bland,” she said. “I love food so much; I have to figure out a way to make it exciting.”

And that’s why Vince Urdaneta, owner and trainer at VinceFit in Baldwin Park, reached out to Villa. The two have teamed up to offer clients custom meal plans. They’ll work to find a person’s fitness and weight loss goals, food likes and dislikes and dietary restrictions, and Villa will create a variety of healthy, tasty dishes for each meal of the day. Urdaneta and Villa each offer their services separately, too.

Food has to taste good to make it a long-lasting change, not just a diet, Urdaneta said.

“She provided really creative meals and really creative ways of putting things together, so making healthy eating a little easier, a little more permanent, as opposed to just making it like a diet, making things more like a lifestyle change,” he said.

But Villa isn’t always healthy. She loves cooking with decadent ingredients too, especially when she’s satisfying a sweet tooth. She’s inspired by fresh ingredients when she’s shopping locally, and can spend hours in Publix.

“We go shopping together for her ingredients; Annia always has a lot of excitement and energy leading up to the making of her recipes and throughout the entire process,” Richardson wrote in an email.

She loves eating at local spots Seito Sushi and La Bella Luna, and Ravenous Pig and Cask and Larder are favorites. She reviews restaurants for the blog, too, and that combined with her cooking passion means she can’t help but imagine each ingredient in the dish she’s eating. She’s self-taught, just her imagination, Pinterest and the Food Network, she said with a laugh, but hopes to one day head to culinary school. That will come in handy one day when she opens up her own tapas style restaurant, her dream gig. Until then, Villa just wants to continue bringing people together by sharing her food as the Tiny Taster.

“It’s my art,” she said.

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