Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes


I've fallen in love with baked sweet potatoes. It's been a long time since I've had a regular baked potato because I really prefer these. There is a sweetness and flavor that you can't get with regular potatoes. They are equally great with savory or sweet toppings! Can't imagine trying to put brown sugar and marshmallows on a baked white potato. Gross. But sweet potatoes can handle it.

This time of year can be a little annoying because the produce selection starts to look sparse/sad, but sweet potatoes really help. Can you tell I'm a fan? Ok, I'll move on.

I guess this would be a good time to tell you about the 'interesting' food I made a few years ago. You know just before you move and you're trying to eat most of your food and don't want to buy more because you'll just have to move it? Well, all I had for a few days were tortillas, onions, and some olive oil. Broil that for a few minutes and voila! Believe it or not, it wasn't the worst thing I've made. It did get old, though. And I was still single. I doubt I'd be able to get away with that nowadays.

I made a homemade barbecue sauce for these and will get that recipe up for you soon. Meanwhile, use what you already love.

You could easily use a rotisserie chicken here which will make this meal much quicker to toss together. But my directions will give you leftovers. Pick your poison I guess.

I'm not the type that gets really into Halloween, so I guess this is my contribution. At least they're a beautiful orange color...and the barbecue sauce looks annoyingly like blood. 

Barbecue Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4-6

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cups chicken broth or water
1 cup barbecue sauce (homemade or store bought), plus more for serving
1 bulb of garlic
Olive oil
4 large sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Place chicken and broth in slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Shred chicken with two forks and return to cooker. Add 1 cup barbecue sauce, stir, and let cook on low for another 30 minutes.

About 2 hours before serving, preheat oven to 375 F.

Cut the cone shaped top off the garlic bulb so the top of the cloves are exposed. You can leave the outer papery skin on. Place on a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, and wrap tightly into a packet. Place on a baking sheet large enough to hold the garlic and sweet potatoes.

Scrub sweet potatoes under running water and pierce each potato with fork in multiple places. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Check the garlic and sweet potatoes to see if tender with a fork after 1 hour.

Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Unwrap garlic to cool as well.

Once the garlic is cool enough to handle, you can hold the garlic from the bottom and squeeze out the roasted garlic from the exposed top into a large food processor bowl. (If you've never worked with roasted garlic, it should look like a creamy puree and squeeze out easily.)

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out flesh from inside, leaving a small amount around the edges so the remaining shell holds its shape. Add the cooked flesh to a large food processor bowl with the roasted garlic, syrup, and vinegar. Process until smooth. Stir the cranberries in by hand.

Fill the shells with the sweet potato puree and top with shredded chicken (there will be plenty left over) and additional barbecue sauce. Serve hot.

These make a great lunch the next day!

Pinit

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ginger Cookies with White Chocolate Cinnamon Frosting


This cookie recipe is one that your grandma would bake this time of year. Or, if you are a grandma, it's something you should be making! Actually, there's really no reason you shouldn't make these no matter who you are! These are homey, simple, classic, and delicious. Serve this with a glass of cold milk and you will make someone's day!

I'm aware I'm rushing the season just a little here, but I've decided to get a head start on my baking and am stocking the freezer. That way, when Christmas gets a little closer, I won't be panicking about last minute gifts and food. Just the gifts...

This ginger cookie is soft in the middle and chewy on the edges. The white chocolate takes on almost a spicy flavor and adds just enough sweetness to balance all the spices.

I reduced the amount of sugar slightly because that's how I roll and switched up some of the spices to make it more interesting and to my liking. I bet you'll love this!

Soft Ginger Cookies with White Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from this recipe
Makes about 30 cookies

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
4 tablespoons sugar

7 ounces white chocolate
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, whisk together the ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, salt, baking soda, and flour.

In a stand mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the 3/4 cup sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and stir to combine thoroughly. Mix in the water and molasses until the mixture is uniform.

Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place 4 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Roll the refrigerated dough into tablespoon sized balls with your hands and roll to coat in the sugar.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly with palm.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are thinned, small cracks appear in the middle and edges look firm. Cool on pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Once cookies have completely cooled, you can start the frosting: Using a microwave-proof bowl, you can melt the white chocolate by microwaving in 10 second intervals and stirring between each until smooth. If using a double boiler, bring a small amount of water to a boil over high heat and set a metal bowl containing the chocolate over the water. Stir until melted and smooth. Add the cinnamon and stir until incorporated.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment or wax paper. Dip each cookie in the melted chocolate to cover about half and set on the parchment to harden. You may speed up this process by placing the pans in the refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes.



This blog hop is hosted by Brenda from Meal Planning Magic. I'm also sharing this at Crazy For Crust, Back for Seconds, Lady Behind the Curtain, DJ's Sugar Shack, Happy Hour Link Party, The Humble Brag, and 33 Shades of Green.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicken Fajita Nachos

Last weekend our girl decided to be sick for the first time in 16 months, which also happened to be the same weekend my hubby was off running his first 50K. I'm obviously proud of him, but his (or her) timing could have been better! I don't know how single parents do it! I was going nuts after 24 hours of being barfed on.

Now this weekend, it was Nick's turn to be sick, but I think he's mostly over it now. Which made me wonder: Who takes care of the mom when she gets sick? I'm just glad I have the immune system of a beast. Knock on wood. I told Nick after these two weeks I need to go off by myself for two nights to recover! Kind of hard while breastfeeding, though. Oh well, I'm keeping track and banking some serious girls weekends! Sisters of mine: get ready to party...

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let's talk about these nachos. For some reason, I never thought of making anything other than the classic beef nachos. Nick's favorite meal is chicken fajitas, so this makes sense and I'll definitely be making them again.

They still have all the flavor of fajitas, but they're more of a snack food. Another perfect recipe for watching football, along with my roasted red pepper hummus. And I said I wasn't a huge football fan!  I sure like the food though...



Chicken Fajita Nachos
Serves 4
I would love to give credit for this recipe, but I have no idea where I got it. If it sounds familiar, let me know!

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Juice from one lime
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 colored bell peppers, roughly chopped (I used one each of red, orange, and yellow)
2 white or yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Large bag of tortilla chips (may not need all of them)
Optional accompaniments:
Sour cream
Avocado
Salsa
Hot sauce

In a large bowl, place chicken strips, oregano, cumin, salt, honey, paprika, lime juice, garlic, and olive oil. Stir to thoroughly coat chicken, cover, and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat coconut oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add peppers and onions. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Move vegetables to a large plate, draining if necessary, and add another tablespoon coconut oil to hot pan. Add chicken and juices to the pan, cooking until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Drain if necessary and cut chicken into small pieces.

Layer chips on a large sheet pan and cover with peppers, onions, chicken, and cheese. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn.

Serve with sour cream, avocado, salsa, and/or hot sauce if desired.


Pinit

I'm sharing this recipe on Mostly Homemade Mondays.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Deep Dark Chocolate Cake


When I finally succeeded in putting this cake together, I had grand visions of becoming a famous cake baker, because I enjoyed it so much and it actually looked like what I envisioned. Normally, I'm constantly changing my 'vision' because what comes out of my hands is not quite what I was picturing. Not that any part was actually hard, but it was something new that I've never done before. So, if you've never made homemade cake like this, try it anyways. Of course I have lots of room to grow, but it's attainable. What I'm trying to say is: You can do it! Even if you don't do the whole cake exactly like I have here, each component stands alone and can be used in other ways. For example, the pastry cream can be used to fill pastries. The buttercream can be used to fill sandwich cookies, etc. Lots of room for customization here. Plus this cake recipe is awesome!

I love any homemade cake, but this one is my favorite combination. A dark and rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream that looks really feminine and girly. I have a hard time resisting...My birthday is in one month, so don't forget!

Because I tried changing too many things at once and made massive mistakes, I had to try some of these components more than once. With the cake, the third time was the charm. The only 'gamble' was the mocha pastry cream filling because I wasn't sure it would stand up to the weight of four layers of cake. It obviously ended up working just fine.

I wanted to change the cake recipe so it didn't have vegetable oil in it. For some reason, there are just some ingredients I don't want to use and vegetable oil is one of them. Thankfully, butter is a great substitute. Other than that, I barely made any changes.

All the components can be done ahead of time and the cake can even be assembled over a two day period as well.

My instructions may look long and intimidating, but I've tried to describe everything in detail so you can manage this even if you have no experience whatsoever. I took my mistakes and tried to improve the instructions so you wouldn't have the same problems I had.

You can find the frosting recipe here. Double the recipe if you plan on using the buttercream for between the layers and frosting the outside. If you fill the layers with pastry cream like I did here, you should be able to use the frosting recipe as is. Honestly, if you're going to the trouble of making this buttercream, make a double batch and you'll have leftovers for another use. Just store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw on the counter until it reaches room temperature. You may need to give it a little stir before using.




Deep Dark Chocolate Cake
Adapted only slightly from this recipe
Makes 2 9-inch round cake layers that can be left in 2 layers, or split into 4 

1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup dark coffee, any temperature (if you don't have a coffee maker, see note below for instructions)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups dark cocoa powder, plus more for pans
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more solid butter for pans
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Liberally butter bottom and sides of 2 9-inch pans. Shake about 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder around the pan to coat and shake out the excess. I've found that if your cake is going to stick, it will be in the middle, so make sure you have plenty of butter and cocoa there.

Combine whole milk and vinegar in a small bowl. Let sit for at least 5 minutes.

Note
We aren't coffee drinkers and don't have a coffee maker but we do have coffee grounds in the freezer, so this is what I do: In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/3 cups water and 2 tablespoons ground coffee to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and boil for 5 minutes. Strain through many layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to equal 1 cup of coffee. It doesn't matter what temperature your coffee is when you add it to your recipe.

In a medium-sized bowl, add flour, sugar, 3/4 cup cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Using a whisk, combine the dry ingredients until evenly combined. Sift into a stand mixer bowl.

Add melted butter, coffee, eggs, milk and vinegar, and vanilla extract.

With mixer set to medium speed with paddle attachment, stir for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the  bowl if necessary.

Pour into prepared pans, dividing equally between the two. The most accurate way to do this is to use a scale, but since I don't have one, I've found the next best thing. Push the pans next to each other so they are touching. As you pour the batter, you should be able to see how evenly the batter is distributed.

In order to minimize doming of the layers, I use an offset spatula to flatten out the surface before placing in the oven.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and then rotate pans. Bake for about another 15 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Set pans on cooling racks to cool for 20 minutes. Sometimes 20 minutes isn't quite enough, so I test this by placing my hand on the bottom of the pan. You should be able to hold it there for about 5 seconds. If it isn't cool enough yet, check again in 5 minutes. Run a dull knife around the edge of the pan and turn over to remove the cake. You may need to rap the pan against a table to loosen as well. Let the layers finish cooling at room temperature.

If not using immediately, wrap in two layers of plastic wrap, and place in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for about 2 days or in the freezer for about 3 months.

When ready to frost, it is best to cut layers while they are still cold from the refrigerator.

To split the cakes in half, I placed an embroidery hoop around the cake. Using the top of the hoop as a guide, saw gently though the layers using a long serrated bread knife. There are tools that do this as well, but this is by far the cheapest, short of eye-balling it.

If you are making a 2-layer cake, make sure the tops are flat and cut off portions to level, if necessary.


Mocha Pastry Cream
Adapted slightly from this recipe 

2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together instant coffee, cocoa, and 2 tablespoons boiling water to dissolve.

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch in a medium bowl until fully combined. Add the whole egg and yolks. Whisk until smooth.

Fill a medium bowl about halfway with water and place in the freezer.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add remaining milk and sugar. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, transfer to another saucepan, and let cool for 5 minutes.

While whisking constantly, add egg mixture to the hot milk in a very thin stream. Adding the eggs too quickly will result in scrambled eggs, so go slowly. Once the eggs have been added, return the pan to medium heat and continue whisking until the mixture boils and thickens. When I made this the second time, it never came to a boil, but it did thicken. If it doesn't come to a boil, watch for the whisk to leave a trail in the thickened cream and then remove from the heat immediately.

Whisk in butter and vanilla extract. One tablespoon at a time, add in coffee and cocoa mixture, tasting as you go. I used it all because I wanted a strong mocha flavor.

Cool about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Assembly

Place one layer flat on a cake board (or 9-inch piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil) and cover with about 1/2 cup pastry cream, spreading evenly over the entire surface.

Continue with alternating layers of cake and pastry cream until you reach the last layer. Top the final layer with a thin layer of buttercream. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the sides as well and refrigerate so the frosting has a chance to harden and any stray crumbs in your frosting will get 'locked' into place.

Frost as desired. I'm not going to describe my ruffle technique here because this is a great tutorial and it's what I used.

I will not admit to being any kind of expert on frosting roses, but this video explains it very well. This buttercream is a little soft for roses, but it can be done if you don't mind imperfections. If you need to stiffen it up, you'll have to add powdered sugar.

Store the cake in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving (about 30 minutes) or the frosting will be buttery-tasting and hard.


Pinit

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Not that I'm very into football, (don't tell my hubby) but I know it's about that time of year when game-day snacks become more popular. This is a great dip for football season, as well as any time of year.  It would also be nice in cold lunches to encourage more vegetable consumption if you use it as a dip.

If you really love garlic, feel free to use two cloves instead of one. 

On a side note, I finally finished the cake I've been wrestling with for days now! It's such a relief. I'm eating a piece as I type up this post. Lucky me, right? I promise, that recipe will be up next.

I don't know if you're the type that's able to munch on raw vegetables, but I get bored of that very quickly, so it's nice to have something like this hummus on hand. Plus, it's ridiculous how much they charge for hummus at the store. Did you see those ingredients? So basic...

If you use canned chickpeas and red peppers, this recipe will be ready in about 10 minutes. If using dried chickpeas, you'll have to start soaking them about 12 hours ahead of time. Other than that, let's get started!

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 lb. 13 oz. (822 g) canned chickpeas or about 3 1/2 cups cooked (see note below)
2/3 cup roasted red peppers (canned or 2 large bell peppers if making homemade -see note below)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for serving
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus 1 tablespoon for serving
Smoked paprika
Tortilla chips, pita bread, or sliced vegetables

In the bowl of a large food processor, fitted with the metal blade, combine chickpeas, roasted red peppers, 1/4 cup olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Blend until puree is smooth. If more liquid is needed, add additional olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time.

Serve with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and additional olive oil with chips, bread, or vegetables.

Note- Cooking Dried Chickpeas
Put 3 cups of dried chickpeas in a large pot and cover with cold water. Allow the covered pot to soak overnight. Drain the soaking water and add fresh cold water so the chickpeas are covered by double their height. Place uncovered pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium low, cover pot, and allow to simmer for about 1 hour. Test to see if they are tender and continue to simmer if not fully cooked. The chickpeas should not have a dry, crumbly texture. If so, they are undercooked.

Note- Roasting Red Peppers
This recipe requires about 2 large red bell peppers.
Set oven to broil and place rack in top third of oven.
Wash the peppers and place in a sheet pan. Place in oven and check every 2-3 minutes. You want to have a nice black burn to the skins so they separate from the peppers and develop good flavor.
Turn with tongs and continue broiling until all sides are black.
Remove from oven and place in an airtight container to cool slightly for about 15 minutes.
Using your fingers, peel the skin away from the flesh of the peppers and discard. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the white ribs and seeds. Do not rinse the remaining flesh because it will remove most of the flavor.

Pinit


I'm linking up this recipe at Simple Lives Thursday and Real Food Wednesday.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Citrus Beet Juice


Sometimes I crave foods that will clean out my system, and fresh juices always seem to do that. Plus, it's a good way to get in more fruits and veggies than you'd be able to otherwise.

Citrus season is approaching fast, which makes it a little easier to say goodbye to all the other summer produce. When we lived in Florida, Nick and I had a small orange grove in our yard (even I'm jealous of us!) and every morning that we could, we'd pick a few from our trees and make fresh juice for breakfast.

Beets have a pretty strong bite, especially when raw, so you can feel free to omit if you aren't up to the challenge. A plain citrus juice would be absolutely fabulous as well.

When Nick and I make our own juice, they usually have about 20 different ingredients and have either a grayish or brown color, but this one is a brilliant pink. And gorgeous. We tend to toss random fruits and vegetables in, based on what we have on hand. This one, however, is simple and clean; perfect for the uninitiated!

As the 'season of eating' approaches, I try to eat better at home so I feel like I can indulge more when out and about. Juicing is one of the ways I do that.


Citrus Beet Juice
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 pink grapefruit, peeled
1 tangerine or orange, peeled
1 lime, peeled
1 small beet, ends removed, optional

Run the ingredients through the juicer and drink immediately. If you don't have a juicer, you can always use a high-powered blender and drink as is, or strain through cheesecloth.

Best served immediately.

Have you ever made your own juice? What's your favorite combination?


I'm sharing this recipe over on Real Food Forager.

Pinit

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies Stuffed with Andes Mints


It's about that time of year. Christmas baking time. Chocolate and mint is one of the combinations that reminds me of Christmas.

This is one of those classic Christmas cookie recipes with a little twist. It's more of a cakey cookie than a fudgy one, but it's soft and surprisingly light. I've modified it slightly to decrease the sweetness so you can enjoy the mint surprise in the middle even more.

I even made about half without rolling in powdered sugar, but they are not nearly as beautiful.

For once in my  life, I have a start on something early because these are currently all cozy in my freezer just waiting for Christmas to arrive. Well, they're probably not too cozy. It is a freezer after all...This is so unlike me. I also have started a few Christmas gifts. Somebody needs to check on me. I'm not sure who this is! I've noticed that having a lot on my plate actually makes me more efficient. Anyone else notice this?

This recipe requires at least 3 hours to chill, so it does require a little working ahead. I made my dough the night before, chilled overnight, and baked in the morning. 



Chocolate Crinkle Cookies Stuffed with Andes Mints
Adapted slightly from Fork vs. Spoon
Makes about 42 cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 package Andes Mints (about 28), cut in half

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl (stand mixer, if you have it), with paddle attachment, stir together the cocoa, sugar, and butter until well combined.

Add eggs to the cocoa mixture, one at a time, and stir until fully incorporated between each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients while mixer is running and beat for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer to an airtight container (4-cup capacity) and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

Have your powdered sugar in a small bowl and your mint halves nearby for stuffing. Remove cold dough from refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

The dough will get stickier as it warms, so work as quickly as possible.

Scoop out a tablespoon-sized piece of dough and push half of a mint into the center. It works best to push them in with the thin edge first. Pinch together the surrounding dough to enclose the mint. Roll into a ball.

Roll the dough in your powdered sugar bowl to cover completely and place on an ungreased cookie pan. Place cookies about 2 inches apart on the pan and bake for about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest on pans for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to finish cooling.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days or in a freezer for up to 3 months.


See that mint hiding in the middle? It's the best when all melted and warm, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at a room temperature cookie either...

Pinit

I'm sharing this recipe over at Meal Planning Magic, which is where you can find all kinds of other Christmas treats, as well as Little House in the Suburbs, One Project Closer, and Happy Hour Link Party.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Almond Joy Larabar


I've been going through a period of recipe failures lately, so I was pretty happy that these actually turned out on the first try. On an unrelated note, anybody know what I can do with two batches of chocolate cake that cracked when I pulled them out of their pans?

I've never bought a Larabar because they're so expensive and being that they're so basic, you can easily make them at home. This is also my new favorite flavor combination.

These are great for a bagged lunch, quick snack, or even to grab in the morning as you're rushing out the door. If you happen to know of somebody with a new baby or expecting soon, whip up a batch for them. I know I would have killed to have something like this in my fridge when I didn't want to cook just after my baby was born.

Almond Joy Larabar
Makes an 8x8-inch pan

1 cup raw almonds
2 1/2 cups Medjool dates
2 tablespoons coconut oil, unrefined
1/2 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened and untoasted
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (optional, I use Ghirardelli) 

Remove stem fragments from the end of your dates if they're still attached and then pull the dates in half using your fingers to remove the pit from the middle. In a large food processor fitted with the metal blade, add almonds, pitted dates, and coconut oil. Process until almonds are finely chopped. This is a semi-violent process, so hold on to your processor!

Continue to add each ingredient, one by one, thoroughly mixing with your processor after each addition. If you mix after the addition of each ingredient, your mixture will slowly begin to come together. 

After the addition of chocolate chips, continue to pulse until the mixture begins to stick together in large clumps. It should stay together when you pinch it between your fingers. If it's still crumbly, continue to process and/or add additional coconut oil, a tablespoon at a time until you have the correct consistency.

Line an 8x8-inch pan with parchment or wax paper and press mixture evenly into the pan. They are ready to eat as is, straight out of the pan. If you prefer, remove from the pan using your parchment paper and cut into individual portions and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Fall Butternut Squash Soup

Lately it feels like eating healthy is an all-or-nothing endeavor for me...My hubby is running his first 50K in less than 2 weeks and he feels so much better when we're eating well, so I promised to clean up my act. This will be good for me too, since my sinuses have been feeling a little 'off' lately.

Nick doesn't really like soup when it's warm out and I've acquired the taste for cold soups, so we wait for fall to bring out the soups. This recipe uses the best of fall produce and is perfect for a chilly day.


Butternut Squash Soup
Makes about 2 quarts

1 large butternut squash
1/2 large sweet potato (bake a whole one, reserving unused half for another use)
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
5 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Ground cinnamon, for serving
Pepitas, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Rinse squash and sweet potato. Slice squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds using a spoon. Place cut sides face down on a baking sheet with sides. Poke sweet potato multiple times with a fork and place on pan with squash. Roast on middle rack for about 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. My sweet potato took about 10 minutes longer than the squash.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh from the squash and half of the sweet potato into a bowl. Reserve the other sweet potato half for another use. I like sprinkling it with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and serving hot with butter at lunchtime.

In a large pot, over medium-high heat, melt butter until it turns a light caramel color, whisking constantly. Add celery and onion, stirring occasionally until tender. Now add the squash, sweet potato, apple, broth, sage, and thyme to the pot. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in pot if you have an immersion blender or transfer portions to a blender and puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste just before serving with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few pepitas.

Pinit

I've also shared this recipe on Real Food Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chicken Broth from Scratch

Hey, you! Yeah, you with the supposed kitchen handicap. Please don't discount this recipe because you aren't very experienced in the kitchen. All you really need is a crock pot and some time. No special skills required, I promise. Once you make this and realize how easy, tasty, healthy, and cheap this is, you'll never go back to stock-in-a-box or whatever you've been using.

I'll admit to having bullion cubes in my pantry, but I haven't resorted to using them since I discovered this technique. It's really more a technique than a recipe.

There's probably a million different ways you can use this. I keep jars of it in the fridge to sip (usually warming it up and sipping from a thermos), freeze in an ice cube tray to add to recipes and adding to soups (check back tomorrow to see how I used this batch).

This is great to keep on hand and warm up when you're feeling sick because it's loaded with minerals and collagen that helps heal that gut. My 1 1/2-year-old loves it!

Although I'll give you specific amounts below, if you don't have an ingredient, skip it (unless it's the chicken...) or adjust amounts based on your taste.

Whenever I buy a whole chicken, I use it 3 different times. First for roasting, second for chicken salad, and third for broth!


Easy Chicken Broth
Serves about as much as you want...depends on the size of your crock pot, but use the biggest one you have

Chicken carcass or variety of chicken bones, preferably free-range or organic, with meat and skin removed (doesn't need to be perfect)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a large knife
2 carrots, broken into 2-3 pieces
1 yellow or white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 stalk celery, broken into 2-3 pieces
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's)

After pulling most of the meat from the bones, add them to your crock pot with your vegetables and apple cider vinegar. Fill nearly to the top with water, cover, and cook on low for 8-24 hours. Ladle out the liquid and pour it through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove the sediment. Toss the bones and vegetables.

You can use immediately, store in jars in the refrigerator, or freeze in smaller portions for later use in airtight containers.

Told you it would be easy! 

Pinit

Friday, October 5, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

There's quite a bit going on with these ones. They're quite a bit darker than your average chocolate chip cookie and taste like caramel and peanut butter, but in a way that works. The caramel taste comes from the browned butter and the molasses which I love because usually caramel adds too much sweetness. I want the flavor of caramel without all the tooth pain. What I did with this recipe makes it happen!


The beauty of browned butter is that you can pretty much use it with any cookie recipe that you want a little more flavor. Simple dimple.

I learned an awesome trick from Dorie's Baking book that I now apply to nearly every chocolate chip recipe: Different sizes of chocolate pieces! So, even if I'm being 'lazy' and using chocolate chips, I give them a little chop so I have many different sizes. That way, every bite has chocolate in it. Some have large chunks and some just a swirl. This could change your life. You must try it.

I pretty much always reduce the sugar when working with other people's recipes and if it calls for brown sugar, I use my little molasses trick. My molasses is blackstrap, so feel free to reduce to just 1 teaspoon if you're unsure about your final result.



Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted slightly from this talented lady 
Makes about 24 cookies

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional for topping
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses (could use as little as 1 teaspoon for a more subtle flavor)
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whipping cream or whole milk
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips, cut into varying-sized pieces

Using a whisk, combine flour, baking soda, powder, sea salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, whisking constantly until it turns a light caramel color (it will smell like caramel as well), then immediately transfer to your mixing stand bowl and let cool for a few minutes.

Add the peanut butter to your stand mixer bowl and combine with the butter until smooth and uniform.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and molasses, squishing it and mixing it together with a fork. It will look like dark brown sugar and should be moist with no chunks of molasses. Add this to the peanut butter mixture and mix until combined.

Finally, add the honey, egg, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. Stir until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir.

Let the dough firm up in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350 F.

On an ungreased cookie sheet, place tablespoon-sized pieces of cookie dough about 1-2 inches apart. If you need to, use your hands to tuck in any stray tails of dough so the dough is round on your pan. Flatten each ball with your palm slightly and sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies look dry, but the center is still slightly shiny.

Allow the cookies to cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before moving to a drying rack to finish cooling.

Pinit

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

For the very first time in my life, I bought and roasted an actual pie pumpkin and used part of the puree in this recipe. Honestly, it was worth it. I'm the kind of baker/cook that gets a lot of satisfaction from doing things from scratch, so this was really fun and not too much extra work. The hardest part is cutting the pumpkin. Could those things be any tougher? Can't imagine how I would have done it without my awesome knife. Love that thing.

The roasting part is so simple and if you want to be really high volume, buy a few and do them all at once. If you have some sort of self-control, you'll be able to freeze the extra puree until you need it. I have none.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Homemade Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash

The first time I was introduced to spaghetti squash a few years ago, I was amazed. I had no idea something like it existed! Now, it's one of my favorites when fall rolls around.

It's great for those eating lower carbs but who still miss their pasta. Although nobody will be tricked into thinking they're eating actual spaghetti, it's still pretty darn good. If you have a hard time getting your kids to try something like this, having them use a fork to 'make spaghetti' might get them excited enough to give it a whirl. They'll think it's pretty cool that they made it on their own... 




Homemade Bolognese with Spaghetti Squash
Adapted slightly from Practical Paleo
Yield: 4 servings

2 spaghetti squashes
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt & pepper, to taste
1 pound ground chuck or beef
1/2 cup chicken broth
2/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
3 T tomato paste

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Using a large, sharp knife, cut the squashes in half the long way and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle the insides with a small amount of salt and pepper. Place face down on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 35 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork.

Once cool enough to handle, scrape out stringy flesh with a fork into a serving dish.

While squash is cooling, heat a large skillet over medium heat with butter. Add onion, carrot, and celery to pan and cook until onions are tender. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute). Crumble ground meat into pan and brown, stirring occasionally and using a wooden spoon to break into smaller pieces. 

When meat is fully browned, add chicken broth, coconut milk, tomato paste, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture over low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve with spaghetti 'noodles'.

Pinit