Monday, October 20, 2014

What's For Breakfast: Carrot Cake Granola

My new favorite granola is Nature's Path Love Crunch Carrot Cake granola. It is ridiculously delicious and I have to keep myself from eating all the super-satisfying granola chunks in one sitting. (I mean, we are all agreed that the chunks are the best part of granola, right?) One downside is that a pouch of it is fairly expensive, so I only ever buy it when it is on sale.

So, to ensure that I always have some carrot cake granola on hand, I decided my best option would be to try to make a batch of my own. This granola features classic carrot cake flavors -- cinnamon, pecans, raisins, pineapple, and of course, grated carrots. The one thing my recipe is missing is yogurt chips to give it a little cream-cheese flavor; I wasn't able to source any in my small town -- but if you can find them where you live, I'd recommend tossing in a handful after the granola has cooled.

Carrot Cake Granola
makes about 12-15 servings

1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/4 cup filtered water
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
dash ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
1/3 cup walnut oil [or use a neutral oil such as canola]
2 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrot (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried pineapple

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Set aside.
2. In a medium sauce pot, combine together the brown sugar and filtered water. While stirring constantly, cook over medium-high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. In a large bowl, add together the oats, sliced almonds, pecans, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and sea salt.
4. Stir the walnut oil and vanilla extract into the cooled brown sugar mixture. Then pour the sugar mixture over the oat mixture. Use a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients together. Stir in the grated carrot.
5. Spread the granola evenly onto the prepared baking sheet.
6. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven and stir/flip the granola over to ensure even browning.
7. Bake for an additional 60 minutes, or until the granola is dry.
8. Remove the granola from the oven and stir in the raisins and pineapple. Allow the granola to cool completely. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What I'm Drinking: Black & White Italian Cocktail

I definitely have a soft spot for cocktails that contain Kahlua or Irish cream. There may have been a phase during my senior year of college in which my roommates and I would toast many an evening with mudslide milkshakes. Later, during my bar-going phase, one of my favorite go-to cocktail orders was Bailey's on the rocks. (Wild and crazy, I know.) So when I saw a recent episode of Giada at Home that featured this Black & White Italian cocktail, I was immediately hooked. (Plus the name brings to mind my favorite black & white cookies of New York City fame, which gave the recipe an extra warm and fuzzy connotation to me.)

The black & white name comes from the drink's layered appearance that occurs due to the different densities of the alcohols and the cream (science!). You'll want to mix together the cocktail before serving (or encourage your guests to stir their cocktails just before drinking to maintain the "Ooh! Aah!" factor). Key to this cocktail's flavor is the use of a coffee ice cube (and a dramatically-sized ice cube adds an extra something special) . . . so you'll want to make those ahead. (Pour that extra coffee into an ice cube tray instead of down the drain the next time you have some leftover in the pot.) If you're super-senstive to caffeine, use decaf instead to prevent any late-night jitters.

Black & White Italian Cocktail
makes 1 drink

1 coffee ice cube (I like to use these large square ice molds)
1/2 ounce amaretto
1 ounce vodka
1 ounce coffee liqueur (e.g., Kahlua)
1 ounce organic half-and-half

1. Place the coffee ice cube in the bottom of an old-fashioned or rocks glass. Top with 1/2 ounce amaretto, 1 ounce vodka, and 1 ounce Kahlua. Stir to combine.
2. Top off with 1 ounce half-and-half; you will get a lovely layered look as the cream will sit atop the liqueur layer. Stir to combine before drinking.

(from this Giada De Laurentiis recipe)

Note: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

What's (Not) Baking: No-Bake Cookie Balls, Two Ways {Vegan and Gluten-Free!}

I am officially obsessed with this recipe for no-bake chocolate chip peanut butter cookie balls. So obsessed, in fact, that I've made these balls three times in the past two weeks. This recipe, originally called "peanut butter cookie dough bites" is from The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon, the writer behind the blog Oh She Glows.

This cookbook, which provides gorgeous full-page photographs for each recipe, contains over 100 vegan recipes in categories ranging from breakfast to dessert. Back in my vegetarian days, I had a short-lived vegan phase. And by "short-lived," I mean it lasted like two days before I realized that my love for all things dairy (read ice cream and cheese) is a beast that cannot be caged. Even if I'm not a card-carrying vegan, I still appreciate recipes that are animal-product free. And this cookbook proves that vegan foods can be just as delicious, if not more so, than their non-vegan counterparts.

This recipe comes from the "Power Snacks" section. And it has become one of my favorite go-to pre- or post-workout snacks. (Or, okay, really, any-time-of-the-day snacks.) I have to admit I was a little worried at first that I'd just snarf down an entire batch of cookie balls in one sitting, but I have found that eating just one is totally satisfying. (Seriously!) And the fact that the ingredients are relatively wholesome means I don't feel all that bad when I consume more than one at a time. :)

The first couple of times I made these chocolate chip peanut butter cookie balls I opted to be a little extra-decadent and dipped the balls in a dark chocolate coating followed by a topping of chopped peanuts. And that is a totally satisfying option. However, the cookie balls are just as tasty without any embellishment.

These cookie balls are vegan (so long as you use dark chocolate) and gluten-free (just make sure your oats are specifically marked gluten-free; not all brands are processed separately from wheat products).

No-Bake Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie Balls
makes 14 balls

1 1/2 cups oatmeal, blended or processed to a fine flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons smooth natural peanut butter (i.e., ingredients = peanuts and maybe salt)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips, chopped (or use miniature chips)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the oatmeal flour, almond flour, and salt. Set aside.
2. Use an electric mixer to beat together the coconut oil and peanut butter. Add the maple syrup and vanilla extract and beat to thoroughly combine.
3. Add in the flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Stir in the chopped chocolate chips by hand.
4. Use a tablespoon cookie scoop or two spoons to form tablespoon-sized balls.
5. Set the balls on a cutting board or other flat surface and place into the freezer for 10-15 minutes, or until firm.
6. Store the cookie balls in a freezer-safe container.

(from a recipe in The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon)

After I made (several) batches of the chocolate chip peanut butter cookie balls, I figured it was about time I experimented with my own cookie ball creation. I opted to start with the super-wholesome (and yet still quite delicious) oatmeal raisin cookie. These little cookie balls are full of oatmeal raisin cookie flavor, but are ready to pop into your mouth in a fraction of the time it would take to bake a batch of cookies. That's my kind of easy snack!

No-Bake Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Balls
makes 14 balls

1 1/2 cups oatmeal, blended or processed to a fine flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole oatmeal
3 tablespoons raisins, chopped (into halves or quarters)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the oatmeal flour, almond flour, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
2. Use an electric mixer to beat together the coconut oil and maple syrup. Add vanilla extract and beat to thoroughly combine. 
3. Add in the flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Stir in the whole oatmeal and chopped raisins by hand.
4. Use a tablespoon cookie scoop or two spoons to form tablespoon-sized balls. 
5. Set the balls on a cutting board or other flat surface and place into the freezer for 10-15 minutes, or until firm.
6. Store the cookie balls in a freezer-safe container. 

Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's For Dinner: Slow Cooker Broccoli-Cheese Soup

On a blustery fall day, there is nothing better than a warm bowl of soup for dinner. I've made broccoli-cheese soup on the stovetop before, but I wanted to up the lazy factor, so I decided to make a slow cooker version. To make this soup gluten-free, I used potato starch as a thickening agent; if consuming wheat isn't a problem for you, go ahead and substitute in all-purpose flour. If using all-purpose flour, stir it into the onion-garlic mixture and cook for a minute or two until just slightly browned before adding in the evaporated milk.

I prefer a thick broccoli soup, so I only blended it slightly. For a smoother soup, blend it for longer; or, if you prefer a chunkier soup, go ahead and skip the blending step altogether. I used a mixture of monterey jack and sharp cheddar cheeses; you could also just use one or the other rather than a blend. When served alongside a few slices of crusty bread or a handful of saltine crackers, you've got yourself a comforting (and filling!) meal on a cold autumn night.

Slow Cooker Broccoli-Cheese Soup
makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons potato starch (or all-purpose flour)
1 can (12 ounces) nonfat evaporated milk
4 cups (32 ounces) low-sodium vegetable broth
4-5 cups broccoli florets
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
pinch of red pepper flakes
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup organic half-and-half
1 cup shredded cheese (I used a mixture of monterey jack and sharp white cheddar)

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until softened and golden, 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the potato starch and evaporated milk, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, 1-2 minutes.
2. Pour the thickened onion mixture into the slow cooker. Stir in the vegetable broth, broccoli florets, dried basil, and pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover with the lid and cook on low 4-5 hours or high 2-3 hours.
3. If desired, use an immersion blender (or blend in batches with a regular blender) to puree the soup to your desired thickness. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Turn the slow cooker to warm or off, then stir in the half-and-half. (If your soup doesn't look thick enough, stir a tablespoon of potato starch or flour into the half-and-half before adding to the soup.)
5. Stir in the shredded cheese. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary and serve immediately.

Monday, October 6, 2014

What's For Dessert: Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling

Oh, look! A pumpkin recipe -- how prosaic. I know, I know. But I can't help it -- it's October and I am officially jumping on the pumpkin bandwagon. And, okay, full disclosure, I was beyond excited when my favorite local coffeehouse put their pumpkin pie latte back on the menu a couple weeks ago. I mean, I must get some points for choosing a local cafe for my pumpkin latte fix rather than Starbucks, right? (Truth be told, I think the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is kind of revolting; give me an Oprah chai any day.)

I was gifted a whoopie pie pan awhile back, but somehow I've only ever made whoopie pies once or twice, and always of the chocolate variety. So, this past weekend I dusted off the pan and set to work on a pumpkin spice whoopie pie. I worked from a recipe by Wilton (manufacturer of said whoopie pie pan) and played around with the sugar content and a few of the other ingredients. I also amped up the standard cream cheese filling by adding in a little maple syrup. The result? Autumn flavors in whoopie pie form.

Now, if only I can get the Fall season to stick around a little bit longer. I was not a fan of having to wipe snow off my car's windows on Saturday morning before heading to the gym. (Pardon the humble brag.) It's only been autumn for less than three weeks, Mother Nature! Could you let me enjoy sweater weather for just a few weeks longer before I have to break out my down coat and fuzzy winter hat?

Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies
makes ~10 whoopie pies

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you could also use unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup organic skim milk mixed with 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or use 1/2 cup buttermilk)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a whoopie pie pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger.
3. Add the butter and sugar to an electric mixer bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating between additions.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the yogurt/milk mixture (or buttermilk) and pumpkin. Stir thoroughly between additions.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling each cavity to no more than 1/2 full. (The fuller the cavity, the taller the cake will be.)
6. Bake 9-12 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

Maple Cream Cheese Filling
1 package (8 ounces) plain cream cheese, softened (I used Neufch√Ętel)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1. Use an electric mixer to beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and maple syrup and beat until thoroughly combined.
2. To assemble the cakes, add a healthy dollop of filling (1 to 2 tablespoons or more) onto the flat side of one cake and sandwich together with another.

(adapted from this Wilton recipe)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What's For Dinner: Skillet Chili Mac

The second one-pot meals book I picked up recently from the library was The Best One-Dish Suppers by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated. Cook's Illustrated is another magazine that I subscribe to on my Kindle - I like the publication's mixture of recipes, cooking technique how-tos, and product reviews. Like the magazine, this book is quite text heavy and features more pencil drawings than full-color photos (although there is a small section of full-color photographs in the middle of the book). Recipes are accompanied by equipment and product recommendations.

Though the content is a bit dense, I still found myself looking through each recipe (there are over 175 of them!). The first recipe I earmarked to try was this recipe for skillet chili mac (which is called Tex-Mex Macaroni Bake in the book). This is a true one-pot (er, skillet) recipe, which I love.

This one-skillet meal comes together in less than 45 minutes, making it an ideal meal for a weeknight dinner. And, speaking from experience, any leftovers reheat quite nicely for lunch the next day.

Skillet Chili Mac
makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound 90-percent lean ground beef (I prefer grass-fed)
2 cups filtered water
1 15-ounce can organic tomato sauce
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 cup frozen organic corn
1 4.5-ounce can chopped green chiles
2 cups shredded pepperjack cheese
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and green pepper and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Stir in the garlic, chili powder, and cayenne pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the ground beef, breaking it into smaller pieces with the edge of a wooden spoon, and cook until evenly browned, 3-5 minutes.
4. Add in the water, tomato sauce, and macaroni and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a rapid simmer, cover, and cook until the pasta is tender, 9-12 minutes. (Stir every couple of minutes to ensure even cooking.)
5. Remove the skillet from the heat and add in the corn, chiles, and 1 cup of the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over top the pasta. Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

(adapted from a recipe in The Best One-Dish Suppers by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated)

Monday, September 29, 2014

What's For Dinner: Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

I tend to pull out my slow cooker to make chili, but this is a quicker stove-top chili recipe. Like last Friday's Middle Eastern lamb stew, the recipe for this sweet potato and black been chili also comes from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Although the original recipe calls for cooking the sweet potatoes in the broth, I chose to roast the sweet potatoes to pull out some more flavor. Doing so adds about 20 minutes to the cooking time, so if you're in a hurry, you can always just follow the original recipe's instructions by simmering the diced sweet potatoes in the broth for about 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.

I like to play around with the spices every time I make chili, and aside from the obvious use of chili powder, some of my favorite go-to additions include oregano and unsweetened cocoa powder (something I say has to do with my Cincinnati upbringing, though I must admit I probably ate more Hormel chili than Skyline or Gold Star chili whilst an Ohioan). Playing around with the spices also helps you to control the heat; if you prefer a bit more spice you could add in more cayenne pepper, add a sprinkle (or more) of red pepper flakes, or shake in a dash of hot pepper sauce.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
makes 6-8 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1" pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, divided
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 28-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil
2. Place the diced sweet potato in a small bowl. Add in the olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder, and a dash or two of salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Spread the seasoned potato pieces onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, flipping the potatoes after 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a Dutch oven or large soup pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, garlic, chili powder, salt, oregano, cayenne pepper, and cocoa powder. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the vegetable broth, beans, tomatoes, and lime juice. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the roasted sweet potato, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. Before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve with your favorite chili fixins' such as plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), shredded cheese, crackers, or chopped scallions.

(recipe adapted from EatingWell One-Pot Meals by Jessie Price & the EatingWell Test Kitchen)


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