Carrot Cake Bites

It’s time for another no-bake healthy treat recipe…

For my 5th birthday I requested carrot cake for my dessert. It’s been a standby ever since. (Though I’m sorely disappointed if I ever encounter carrot cake that has raisins lurking inside!) I have to admit to loving the cream cheese frosting that is the usual accompaniment and adds to my all-around love of the cake.  It’s been months, maybe even a couple of years since I’ve eaten a slice of my beloved carrot cake, so I was intrigued by this recipe for raw carrot cake balls I stumbled across on Pinterest. These are cream cheese frosting free, but I still thought worth sampling.

These don’t taste exactly like carrot cake, but they certainly are reminiscent and they are both tasty and healthy little morsels that make you feel like you’re getting a treat. So, they come with my recommendations. I did tweak the original recipe by adding nuts and spices. I’m sure coconut and perhaps a little nutmeg would be good as well. And maybe if you want to go really fancy, you can make a sweet cream cheese dip. 🙂

CARROT CAKE BITES
(adapted from gracefulfitnessblog.com)
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10 dates
small handful raw walnuts
1 c. gluten-free rolled oats
1 medium carrot, finely grated
zest from one lemon
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon
dash of ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
finely chopped walnuts for rolling, opt.

Rough chop the dates and walnuts and then put them in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process until date pieces are about the size of raisins.

Add the oats and process until the oats are ground.

Add grated carrot, lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and salt and process until the ‘dough’ comes together in a ball. If it seems a little dry, add a few drops of water and process again.

Use clean hands to form into balls. Roll in chopped walnuts, if desired and store in the fridge. Makes 12-15 balls.

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Peanut Butter Fudgy Bites

Jeremy and I have a rather bad habit of wanting something sweet after dinner. I didn’t grow up having dessert every night, but I find that my mind wanders to a bite of sweet almost every evening. Most often we’ll enjoy a little dark chocolate, but I’ve been experimenting lately with finding some “healthy” treats for us to enjoy. The next few recipes I plan to share with you are some these sweets. So, perhaps you too can healthfully satisfy your post-supper sweet tooth.

First up, is a recipe that I now can’t remember where I found; however, in typical fashion, I’ve adapted the recipe anyway to suit our tastes. We love the classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, so are fond of these. As they are raw treats, be sure to store in the fridge. (Sadly, these little bites are really unattractive to photograph…I hope that won’t deter you from trying them. :))

PEANUT BUTTER FUDGY BITES
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15 pitted dates, rough chopped
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/3 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (my coconut is larger flakes, so I’ve been using a packed 1/2 cup instead)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp chocolate chips

Place the dates in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade and process into smaller pieces. Add the remaining ingredients and process until thoroughly combined and ingredients form a “dough.” Roll into balls.

Green Soup

I don’t think I’ve shared with you all yet the deliciousness that is Green Soup! Who doesn’t need more leafy greens in their life? This pureed soup packs a nutritional punch! I like to serve a small bowl before supper for an extra serving of veggies. Variations are rather endless, so find your favorite combination of greens and spices. Perhaps the first time you can try the “original” recipe, but then your brain and palate can lead you from there.

The soup is a bit labor intensive, but it is worth the effort every time.

I must credit Anna Thomas for this recipe. She published a wonderful cookbook a couple of years ago called Love Soup. I’ve checked it out from the library many times. The cookbook is sectioned by season and she offers several menu ideas. And for those that care, her recipes are all vegetarian. Every time I flip through the pages I see more soups I want to try. She includes a half a dozen Green Soup recipes.

I know winter is coming to a close, but this soup is light and year-round worthy, in my opinion. I hope you enjoy (despite the un-photogenic nature of the soup!). 🙂

GREEN SOUP
(from Love Soup by Anna Thomas)
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1 bunch of chard or spinach (8 oz)
1 bunch kale (8 oz)
4-5 green onions, sliced
1/2 c. loosely packed cilantro
1 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
3 Tbsp Arborio rice
1 medium onion
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
Marsala or dry sherry (opt.)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2-3 c. vegetable broth
fresh ground pepper
cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Wash the greens thoroughly, trim off stem, and slice leaves. In a large soup pot, combine the chard or spinach, kale, green onions, cilantro, Arborio rice, 1 tsp salt, and 3 cups water. Bring water to a boil, turn down to low, cover the pot and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and cook the onion with a small sprinkle of salt over medium until it is golden brown and soft. This will take up to 30 minutes. Don’t hurry, just stir it once in a while. Once cooked, you can deglaze the pan at the end with a bit of Marsala or sherry.

Add the caramelized onion to the soup. Put remaining 1/2 Tbsp oil in the onion skillet and stir the garlic in it for about a minute. Add garlic to the pot and simmer the soup for 10 more minutes.

Add enough broth to make the soup a soup–it should pour easily from a ladle–and puree it in the blender, in batches, or use an immersion blender and blend in the pot.

Bring the soup back to a simmer, and taste. Add more salt if needed, grind in a little black pepper, add a pinch of cayenne pepper and a Tbsp of lemon juice. Stir well and taste again. Adjust any seasonings to taste.

Garnish with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil.

Black Beans and Rice with Fresh Apple Salsa

I love black beans and was excited to find this recipe in the most recent Bon Appetit magazine, which takes the humble bean and ups the ante with a fresh apple salsa. The original recipe called for topping the dish with shredded chicken, but I wanted a vegetarian dish. This was full of flavor and I didn’t miss the meat. Plus this is a cinch to throw together, so you can enjoy this healthful, seasonal, naturally gluten-free, vegetarian meal on a busy weeknight.

BLACK BEANS AND RICE WITH FRESH APPLE SALSA
(slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2012)
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1 c. chopped apple (I used Fuji because that’s what I had on hand, though Granny Smith was the original suggestion)
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/3 c. finely chopped red onion, divided
1 1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 c. finely chopped bell pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
dash of red pepper flakes
3 c. chicken broth or water
2 15 oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained
4 c. cooked brown rice

For the salsa: combine apple, 1/4 cup cilantro, 2 Tbsp onion, and lime juice in a small bowl. Toss to coat. Set aside.

Combine remaining onion, bell pepper, and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until completely softened, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes; stir constantly for 2 minutes. Stir in broth or water and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer briskly, mashing about half the beans with a potato masher or the back of a spoon, until sauce is thickened, 8-1o minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

On plates layer rice, beans, and apple salsa. Top each with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Classic Hummus

I always have such healthy eating goals after the sugary (and delicious!) excess of the holidays. So, I’ve started brainstorming some healthier snack options and decided to make hummus. Over the weekend, I made a double batch of it and we have been enjoying it! The kids even like it which is always a plus! I serve it with carrots, celery, and pretzels – the best compliment is our three-year-old proclaiming, “I loooove hummus.” Too cute!

Anyway, this is a quick, easy, and inexpensive snack or side dish. So yummy! You could easily add roasted red peppers or cilantro or other flavors to change it.

CLASSIC HUMMUS
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1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, half the liquid reserved
3 Tb. lemon juice
2 Tb. tahini
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. salt
black pepper
2 Tb. olive oil
parsely, chopped (opt.)

In a blender or food processor, pour garbanzo beans into blender with chopped garlic. Add lemon juice, tahini, chopped garlic and salt in blender. Blend until creamy and well mixed.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl or storage container. To serve, sprinkle with pepper and parsley, and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I love fresh mushrooms, particularly when they are cooked. I don’t like canned mushrooms very well. My love for mushrooms is a learned skill. In college I decided I really wanted to like mushrooms. So I taught myself, how, I’m not entirely sure. But it worked, and they are a staple in my cooking. (Olives are next on my list to teach my palate to like. So far the class isn’t going too well.) 🙂

However, when I think of cream of mushroom soup, I usually think of the condensed variety served up from a can, and used in quick casserole cooking. Not terribly appetizing to me. But, when I found this recipe, I knew I had to try it. My husband and I both loved it. It’s already been repeated and there are plans to make another pot this week.

Give this light version a try. It’s perfect for a first course. Though I’m certain it would make a lovely lunch served up with a fresh green salad. (Please don’t let the dullness of the photo dissuade you from trying this recipe. It’s truly a wonderful soup!)

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP
(slightly adapted from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie Krieger)
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1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz button mushrooms, thinly sliced
10 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 c. beef broth (depending on how thick you want the soup)
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp heavy cream

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release most of their liquid, 7 to 8 minutes.

Add the broth and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the wine, salt, and pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and cool slightly. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is mostly smooth. (Alternatively, in 1 c. amounts you can blend the soup in a blender.) Stir in the cream and warm through.

Serves 4.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

It’s officially winter now. Snow is clinging to the trees. The short walk to my car is a bit treacherous with icy patches. Wind whistles around the house and pushes its way through the cracks in my old, leaky windows. And when I approach the kitchen each evening, soup is often my first thought. Alas, my husband is not as much a lover of soups as I am. However, over the three and a half years we’ve been married, I’ve been slowly bringing him around by concocting soups that cause the memories of canned soups to fade away. While I won’t serve soup every single night, I make sure it gets a good rotation in our dinners.

If you’re at all like me and love a good soup or stew on these blustery, winter evenings, then stay tuned throughout the month of January as we hope to bring you several new recipes. (One minor aside, I don’t think soup generally photographs well at all.)

Health and added veggies and fruits are often top priority at the start of the new year. We all want to make changes and somehow the turning of the calendar year creates a perfect clean slate opportunity. Broccoli Cheddar Soup might not come to mind as a thoroughly healthful soup, but when Food Network’s Ellie Krieger is the brains behind the recipe, it’s bound to be a lightened up version. This soup takes just a bit longer as you make a simple cheese sauce to add to the soup, but it’s definitely worth the effort. For a quicker prep, I used frozen broccoli florets.

BROCCOLI CHEDDAR SOUP
(from Comfort Food Fix by Ellie Krieger)
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2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (opt.)
1 large head broccoli, florets and tender part of stem chopped (about 6 cups)
3 c. chicken broth
2 c. milk
2 Tbsp flour or cornstarch
1 1/4 c. lightly packed shredded sharp cheddar cheese (5 ounces)
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and cook for 30 seconds. Add the broccoli and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the broccoli is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk together the milk and flour/cornstarch, until dissolved. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes. Add one cup of the cheese and cook, stirring, until melted, 2 minutes more. Removed from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Use an immersion blender and puree the broccoli mixture, until it is mostly smooth with a few chunks. (Alternatively, if you don’t have an immersion blender, puree one cup at a time in a blender.) Stir in the cheese mixture, season with salt and pepper, and cook over low heat until warmed through. Serve topped with the remaining cheese. Serves 4.

2012 Question

Hi. My name is Alaina and I used to menu plan.

When the new year starts, I always feel ambitious and inspired. I want to try new things and more than anything, I want to be a regular menu planner. I know it would make life easier because…true confession…I used to be a fairly successful weekly menu planner (do you like weekly or monthly plans?). Now, I occasionally make out a list and even less occasionally actually stick to it. WHY? I honestly don’t know. Life happens, I get busy, there are a lot of poor excuses.

So, once again, I’m here at the beginning of the year and ready to dive in on menu planning. I know it will save money, reduce stress, and mean healthier eating for our family. I’m a little weary of failing and really, really want to be successful. So – I have two questions for you today that I hope it will be helpful to other readers.

1) Do you menu plan? How often? (Answer on the poll.)

2) What makes you successful (your top couple of tips)? (Please share in the comments.)

Ooh, can I add a third…pretty please…

3) Do you use any type of menu plan sheets, websites, recipe sites, freezer meals etc?

Yes, I realize that was about 5 extra questions not-so-subtly masked in one question. 🙂

Please, please help a girl who desperately wants to be back in the menu planning game.

Autumn Chopped Salad

I enjoyed concocting this seasonal salad, packing it full of the colors, flavors, and textures of fall. And to tie it all together, a lovely fall-inspired maple vinaigrette to drizzle over top.

This would be a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table. It will definitely be a part of our menu because right now, it’s my new favorite salad!

AUTUMN CHOPPED SALAD WITH MAPLE-DIJON VINAIGRETTE
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6-8 oz. Mixed lettuces (leaves torn or chopped)
1 pear
1 apple
1/4-1/2 c. dried cranberries or fresh pomegranate seeds
1/4-1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts
4 green onions, sliced (or chopped red onion, if you prefer)
2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (opt.)
2 oz. plain or honey goat cheese, crumbled

Wash and spin dry lettuce before placing in a large bowl. Top with pear, apple, onion, and dried cranberries. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Sprinkle salad with nuts, bacon, if using, and goat cheese. Serves 4.

MAPLE-DIJON VINAIGRETTE

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
1 tsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Shake well.

Healthy Living: Black Bean Dip

Looking for a healthy dip alternative? I was – I wanted a guilt free dip that I could enjoy with vegetables or for a treat with tortilla chips. This recipe is the result and I was so pleased with the delicious, easy, healthy dip created with such simple ingredients!

BLACK BEAN DIP
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2 cans black beans (1 drained, 1 not)
1/2 c. cilantro
1/2 tsp. lime zest
juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno, cut into large chunks
1/2-1 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth and creamy. Chill before serving or serve at room temperature. Serve with prepared vegetables or tortilla chips. Enjoy!