Skinny Chocolate Coconut Muffins

IMG_3180When I was little, I had a bit of a sweet tooth. Actually, it was more like a saber-tooth-tiger-sized sweet tooth, meaning that if I could I would inhale every piece of sugar that came my way. Lucky for me I had the metabolism of a hummingbird and two parents whose idea of treats was honey sticks, organic rice pudding, and homemade fruit juice popsicles. Maybe it was because we only had junk food on special occasions (Jell-O when we were sick, Starbursts when we went to the movies, Dove Bars when my grandparents visited) that I was unstoppable when supplied with sugary treats.

Whenever we stayed at hotels, I always took full advantage of the complimentary breakfast, piling my plate high with danishes, cinnamon rolls, muffins, and whatever other sugary carbs were available in the little plastic display cases. It was another one of those special occasions I so looked forward to. My parents used to worry about what would happen to me once I grew up and moved out of the house. I think they pictured me going walking into the grocery store and having free reign to buy whatever I felt like, and that was a terrifying image at the time.

They needn’t have worried, because now I’m much more sensible. I sample what I bake and eat some candy, but for the most part I stay away from overly-processed, corn-syrup-ridden junk. Moderation is my motto, and my parents no longer fear that their only daughter will become a walking block of sugar–I do most of our grocery shopping, too, and I can promise it’s all quite healthy…for the most part ;).

However, for those of you that still have insatiable sweet tooths (sweet teeth just sounded weird), I have a chocolatey treat that I think you’ll love…and your waistline will love too! These are the type of muffin that you don’t have to feel guilty about piling onto your breakfast plate…they’re gluten-free, low-fat, and low-sugar, but still super moist, rich, and delicious. My mom, who’s been gluten-free for a few years now and hasn’t had a “cupcake,” as she called these, in forever, proclaimed that these were “the BEST cupcakes” she thinks she’s ever had. Of course, given the amount of time she’s spent away from gluten I doubted she could even remember what a real cupcake tastes like. When I tasted one, though, I ate my words–no pun intended! The texture is really more like a cupcake than a muffin, with a fine crumb and a mega-chocolate flavor. The oats add a little chewiness, which I love, and the coconut sugar and sprinkling of coconut flakes give just a hint of tropical flavor. If someone had told me when I was six that I could eat a chocolate cupcake for breakfast, I would have practically fainted with glee.

It’s true that you’re totally justified to eat these for breakfast. They’re practically health food. Seriously. Go for it. YOLO.

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Skinny Chocolate Coconut Muffins

Yield: about 18 standard-size muffins

1 cup hot water*

3 large egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup oats

1 cup coconut sugar (or granulated sugar)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

*Alternately, you could omit the cream of tartar and use 1 cup of buttermilk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 18 muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg whites, applesauce, yogurt, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the oats, coconut sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. When incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the batter into prepared muffin tins, filling about 3/4 of the way. Sprinkle batter with shredded coconut and bake for 18-22 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool and enjoy!

(Recipe adapted from Six Sisters’ Stuff)

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Chicken Fajita Salad

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Last spring, while on a shopping trip for much-needed summer clothes, I ate lunch at one of my favorite cafes. After much debating, I ordered the Chicken Fajita Salad and it. was. phenomenal. Being a hard-core lover of Mexican Food, especially chicken fajitas, I suspected that I’d love the salad, and boy was I right. Sautéed chicken, roasted pepper strips, garlic, and onions were served atop crisp greens and piled with avocado slices, fresh salsa, shredded cheese, and tortilla strips. The combination of fresh flavors was to die for, and I knew that I just HAD to re-create the salad at home. So I did.

My version is slightly different than the original, but I enjoyed it just as much, if not more. I decided to marinate the chicken in a mixture of lime juice and Mexican-style seasoning before sautéing it with sweet white onions. Then I stirred in roasted red peppers and piled the mixture onto fresh salad greens. For toppings, I went with avocado slices, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, broiled corn tortilla strips, chopped olives, and salsa, but you can adapt to fit your personal tastes. And there you have it! A fast, super-easy, low-carb, pretty darn healthy, utterly DELICIOUS lunch or dinner! I first made this re-creation back in August, and my dad promptly requested that it be his birthday dinner. His birthday is in March, so I took that to mean that this meal was a winner all around :).

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Chicken Fajita Salad

2 Tbs olive oil, divided

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground oregano

1/2 tsp ground coriander (or 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips

1 medium white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers (or 1 fresh roasted red pepper), sliced into strips

To serve:

Fresh salad greens

1 avocado, sliced

Crispy tortilla strips

Chopped olives

Shredded cheese

Salsa

Directions:

Combine 1 Tbs olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, and coriander in a large ziplock bag. (If using fresh cilantro, wait until the end to add it in.) Put the chicken slices in the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the onion slices and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add in the chicken, including the marinade, and cook for about 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in the red pepper and cilantro (if using) and cook over low heat until heated through.

To serve salad-style, spoon the chicken mixture over mixed greens. Top with shredded cheese, tortilla strips, avocado slices, chopped olives, salsa, and any other desired toppings. Serves 4-6.

(Recipe heavily adapted from this Chicken Fajita Salad)

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies

random_1 For those of you on the lookout for a quick, easy, pretty and delicious Valentine treat, you’ve come to the right place! Red Velvet is to Valentine’s Day what peppermint is to Christmas and pumpkin is to Halloween, at least if Pinterest trends and unspoken yet mutual agreements among food bloggers have any merit. These Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies are sure to wow whoever takes a bite. You’d never know it but they start out with a cake mix (sneaky, I know) which makes this recipe ideal for whipping up on a busy weeknight. The best part is that inside each soft, cake-like cookie is a secret surprise…a sweet, creamy cheesecake filling! I love desserts that give off the impression that making them required a long list of ingredients and hours of laborious work but in actuality were as easy as stirring together a couple ingredients in one bowl, mixing up a 3-ingredient filling, chilling/freezing the mixtures for a couple hours (which definitely gives you enough time to clean up the kitchen, consider getting some chores done, and then decide to waste two hours of your life on Netflix instead), and finally forming the cookies and baking them.

You can tell everyone it took you 2 1/2 hours to make them, which is no lie, and just leave out the little part about 2 of those hours being dedicated to Private Practice or Desperate Housewives or The Office or whatever your particular poison happens to be. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has an addiction to soap operas, unrealistic doctor shows and crude humor.) Anyway, the fact of the matter is that these cookies NEED to be added to your Valentine baking list, or your to-do list, or your bookmarks folder or your brain or wherever it is that you store beautiful, delicious recipes like this one. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

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Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies

Yield: about 16 large cookies

For the Cookies:

1 18.25 oz box red velvet cake mix

2 Tbs all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:

2 oz cream cheese, softened (low fat is fine)

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake mix and flour until no lumps remain. Beat in the eggs, oil, and vanilla until smooth. Dough will be thick. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese filling. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Scoop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a plate until you have 18 (there may be leftover balls). Place the plate in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Scoop 2 Tbs of dough into a ball and flatten each ball with your hands. Place a frozen cream cheese ball into the center and wrap the dough around it, sealing the edges completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake cookies for 11-13 minutes, or until edges are set and tops begin to crack. Try not to over bake! Cool the cookies on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a day, but any time after that keep them in the refrigerator.

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(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Cherry Chocolate Kiss Cookies

cherry0When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of Kleenex boxes. In elementary school I would wait patiently during the weeks preceding February 14th, ready to snatch up an empty Kleenex box the minute the last tissue was used. Then I would keep it safely hidden in my room, away from parents on garbage-patrol, until a few days before Valentine’s Day. At that point I would bring the Kleenex box into my school classroom, ready to cover it with red and white paper, douse it in glitter, and plaster lacy hearts and shiny stickers all over it. When Valentine’s Day finally arrived our class would sit in anticipation at our little tables, trying to focus on our work as we were tapped on the shoulder one-by-one to go to the back of the classroom and deposit valentines into each classmate’s box. After recess we would re-enter the room, which would be miraculously transformed into a party by our parent volunteers. Punch, heart-shaped cookies, and conversation hearts were often served, but the best part was dumping out those prized Kleenex boxes and shifting through valentines. At the end of the day we would stuff our cards back into our boxes and return home, hyped up on sugar and giddy from the excitement of sharing valentines.

The holidays tend to die down a little each year as I get older, but there are still some things I like to do each year. A few years ago I found a recipe for these Cherry Chocolate Kiss Cookies and knew I had to try them immediately. Cherries, chocolate, cookies, and kisses? Valentine’s Day is written all over them! These are now one of my favorite cookies, and I’ve made them every February since. Although each time I make them I’m reminded of why I loathe using an electric mixer with powdered sugar (which is unsurpassed in its ability to make my kitchen look like a white dust devil has just swept through it), I’m reminded that it’s totally worth it when I bite into the freshly-baked product. Light, melt-in-your-mouth cherry shortbread combined with smooth milk chocolate is an incredible combo, if I do say so myself. One (or two, or ten) of these cookies is guaranteed to please your special someone on Valentine’s Day….or you could save them for yourself 🙂

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Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp maraschino cherry juice

1/2 tsp almond extract

a few drops red food coloring (optional)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

36 Hershey’s kisses, unwrapped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter, powdered sugar, cherry juice, almond extract and food coloring until smooth. Gradually stir in the flour and salt until the mixture is well-combined. (Dough will be stiff.) Stir in the chopped cherries.

Form the dough into balls and place on ungreased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets, about 2″ apart. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove cookies from oven, press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie, and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until edges are set and slightly golden-brown. Cool on sheets for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack, being careful not to squish the soft chocolate. Cool the cookies completely before serving so that the chocolate kisses can re-harden.

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(Recipe from Cooks.com)

Brownie Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting

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A few weeks ago, while eating a bran muffin I had just made, my brother said, “You know what you should make, Emma? A bran cake, like these muffins but in cake form. You could use that pan, you know, with the giant hole in the top.” What he was trying to say was that he wanted me to bake bran muffins…in the form of a…Bundt cake. Interesting. In the past I’ve gotten lots of requests from my friends and family for things like chocolate chip cookies, blackberry pie, and pumpkin bread (normal, normal, normal) but this one really took the cake. (No pun intended!) Luckily, before I could reply he came up with a new idea: “Brownies, but in cake form. Like brownie cupcakes!” This brother of mine seems to have a peculiar obsession with converting normal baked goods into “cake form,” but hey, this one I could live with. I made a mental note to add Brownie Cupcakes to my baking agenda.

After scouring the internet for a good brownie recipe, one that could be adapted into cupcake form, I found this recipe for actual Brownie Cupcakes from Joy of Baking. They were originally paired with a chocolate fudge frosting, but as good as it sounded I decided to go with a lighter topping so that the rich chocolatey cupcakes could really shine: whipped cream frosting.

My brother just might be a genius. These were literally brownies in cupcake form: dense, chewy, chocolatey, and fabulous. The whipped cream frosting turned out light, fluffy, and not overly sweet, just as I had hoped, and I finished the cupcakes off with chocolate sprinkles. The combination of brownie-like cake and whipped cream frosting was even better than I thought, and they complimented each other perfectly. These would be a great Valentine’s Day treat, although I have no doubt that they’d be a hit any time of the year! I might have a hard time going back to regular chocolate cupcakes after these…I guess I should listen to my brother more often!

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Brownie Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes

4 oz (4 squares) unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

Whipped Cream Frosting

3/4 cup (6 oz) heavy whipping cream, chilled

3 Tbs powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

Using a double boiler or a stainless-steel bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring with a wooden spoon. As soon as the mixture is smooth, remove from heat. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then pour into a large bowl (if you used a double boiler) and stir in the sugar. Next, mix in the vanilla until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. Add in the flour and salt and stir until well-combined.

Scoop the batter into prepared muffin cups, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack and cool completely before frosting.

For the whipped cream frosting, beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until soft peaks form. Add in the powdered sugar while beating, one tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form. Fold in the vanilla using a rubber spatula. Slather the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes or pipe it on using a pastry bag. Top with sprinkles if desired.

Store cupcakes in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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(Cupcake recipe from Joy of Baking)