Oatmeal-Raisin Energy Balls (No-Bake!)

IMG_6974I’ve only been home from college for two weeks, but I’m already in full-on summer mode. The weather was particularly cooperative when I first got home, with sunny days and temperatures in the 70s, and although our island has now succumbed to its more usual May weather (overcast skies and temperatures in the low 60s) I’m still in a summery mood. I’ve started back up with my summer jobs, taken long runs in the (sometimes) sun, bought tons of fresh summer fruit that finally doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and carried out a considerably admirable attempt at purging my closet of STUFF. Since coming home I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed at the amount of STUFF cluttering up our entire house, and I’m trying to do a bit of summer cleaning. I can never decide which is stronger: the hatred I have of the actual cleaning, or the wonderful freeing feeling of a de-cluttered house. It’s an ongoing dilemma.

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One of my favorite parts of summer is more time for cooking and baking, and it’s been so nice to be back in a real kitchen. Ice cream sandwiches, Greek-themed dinners, chickpea curry, lemon-poppy seed bars and energy bites are just a few of the things that have emerged from my kitchen in the past two weeks. Today I’m sharing a recipe for some of the quickest, easiest, and healthiest little treats you can find. These Oatmeal-Raisin Energy Bites are gluten-free (if you use gf oats), dairy-free, low-sugar, and packed full of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. They’re made in one bowl with one spoon, and you don’t even have to turn on your oven! Sounds pretty fool-proof to me.

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The other morning I woke up to an email from my mom (yes, we live in the same house and see each other multiple times a day yet she still gets a kick out of emailing me), saying that the little energy balls were so, so delicious and she hopes I’ll make them “again and again.” I just had to chuckle. Especially considering the fact that she was in the next room when I read it. I won’t even pretend to understand her logic, but there’s no doubt about it that these energy bites really do taste amazing! They’re full of flavor, are sweet but not too sweet, and have a wonderful chewy texture from the softened oats. I think the balls are quite reminiscent of oatmeal-peanut butter cookie dough, but they’re so much better for you!

This recipe is also super adaptable. Use whatever nut butter you like in place of the peanut butter, sub in maple syrup or agave nectar for the honey, use cocoa powder or oat flour instead of ground flaxseed, and use your favorite add-ins if you don’t like raisins. Chocolate chips, dried cranberries, or nuts would all be delicious. I promised my mom (via email, just to humor her) that I would be more than happy to make them again and again! I can’t wait to play around with other combos, and these simple balls are the perfect solution to an 8pm snack craving. Hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

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No-Bake Oatmeal-Raisin Energy Balls

Yield: about 20-24 balls

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. If the mixture is too dry, add in an extra tablespoon or so of honey. If it’s too wet, add in a bit more oats.

Chill for 30 minutes, then form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls. The energy bites can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

(Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots)

 

Baked Falafel with Lemon-Tahini Sauce

IMG_6874In the little practically microscopic town of my college, there’s a Middle Eastern restaurant that I like to eat at on special occasions. I’ve been there three times throughout this year, each time getting my fill of fresh hummus and pita, chicken shawarma with red rice, mini falafel balls, and the most amazing almond cake. On my tiny island we have a limited number of restaurants, and unfortunately no Greek/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisines are among them. Which is quite sad for all the stuffed-grape-leaf-and-tabbouli-deprived people here on the island, but it makes eating at this particular restaurant at college all the more exciting for me.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, and I’m hoping you won’t judge. Cause it’s kind of bad, as in it makes me seem like the laziest person ever. Which I’m totally not, if you happen to ignore all the hours I’ve clocked watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix in the past transitionary week between the end of school and the beginning of work. We’re talking zero laziness for this girl. Anyhow, I was gifted a food processor last Christmas (ummm, as in 2012), which I was super excited to get and had every intention of using at my earliest convenience, but…..but. It might possibly have stayed in its tight little plastic cover on the carpet of my closet for the past too-many months. And this might be for no good reason other than that I decided it was too much work to wash and put together and learn how to use with all its little slicing/dicing/careful-or-you’ll-cut-your-hand-off tricks. So it might have just sat there gathering dust and shame. But I’m neither confirming nor denying.

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The important part is that now my little food processor is happily out of the darkness and getting quite the workout. Earlier this week I made some energy bites out of dates, flaxseed, cocoa powder, peanuts, vanilla, and honey (which were an experiment, and aren’t quite worthy of posting on the blog–sorry!) and it played a major role in last night’s dinner. The theme was Greek, and the menu was miniature baked falafel balls wrapped in whole wheat pita bread with a lemon-tahini sauce and Greek salad on the side. These falafel balls are gluten-free, vegetarian, easy, and fairly quick. And most importantly, delicious. Just as good as a meal from my beloved restaurant, but a million times cheaper and substantially healthier since the falafel is baked rather than fried. The lemon-tahini sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the falafel balls, and when stuffed inside warm pita bread with fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and feta, it was a regular feast.

Even though I’m kicking myself for not breaking out my food processor sooner, it’s better late than never! And if you don’t happen to be the proud owner of a food processor (or, you know, there’s one sitting in the floor of your closet because you’re a ridiculous lazy fool like myself), you could most likely make them anyway. Just be sure to mash up the chickpeas really well with a fork or potato masher, and use finely minced garlic, green onions, and cilantro. I can’t promise that the texture will be the same, but it’s worth a try! Because no one should miss out on these delicious little chickpea balls of goodness. No restaurant required!

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Baked Falafel 

Makes about 30 small balls, or 15 larger balls

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 scallions, roughly chopped

1 large egg

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/3 cup oat flour (or any other gluten-free flour)

1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or a baking mat and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, add all ingredients except for the flour and baking powder. Pulse about 40-50 times or until ingredients are well-combined but still coarse. Add in half the flour, and pulse several times to incorporate. Add in the rest of the flour and the baking powder, and pulse until combined. If the mixture is too wet, add in more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is moist but still holds together well.

Scoop the mixture into balls about 1 tablespoon each. (Mine were quite small, so if you want more traditionally-sized falafel use 2-3 tablespoons per ball. You’ll just have to increase the baking time a bit.) Drop onto prepared cookie sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the outsides are crisp and golden-brown and the insides are soft but cooked through.

Lemon-Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over warm falafel balls.

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(Falafel recipe adapted from How Sweet Eats; sauce recipe adapted from My Name is Yeh)

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches

IMG_6441I’m baaaack! Anyone still out there? I know my little break for college turned into a nearly 9-month sabbatical, but I’m home for the summer and ready to be back in the kitchen! It’s been quite the year. I won’t go into all the cliches of going through the overwhelming, emotional roller coaster ride of freshman year, becoming better acquainted with myself and learning that it is possible to exist outside of familiarity and build a new little home-away-from-home….cause this is a baking blog, people! Hah. But it’s true. I’m sure I’ll figure out ways to slip in a few little personal stories here and there between recipes…I always seem to. 🙂

So, ready for the food part? Today’s recipe is for Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches with Vanilla-Cinnamon Ice Cream. Phew…I’m practically out of breath just typing it! But seriously, these are SO delicious. About a million steps up from the standard chocolate-chip-cookie-vanilla-ice-cream sandwiches you can buy at the store. Cause there’s BROWNED BUTTER, folks! And we all know that browned butter makes everything a million times better. Fact.

While I was at college (yep, we’re already going there!), the food was…not exactly top-notch. My school was definitely better than some, in terms of fresh fruit & veggies, gluten-free/vegetarian options, variety…but we’re still talking A LOT of salad bar creations and turkey sandwiches throughout the year. Since I don’t eat mammals (easiest way to describe my part-vegetarianism), there weren’t always a lot of choices, especially since I wanted to avoid the greasier options. The salad bar was decent, and I usually loaded up my plate of greens with fresh veggies, chickpeas or black beans, corn, cubed chicken breast and walnuts, but that doesn’t exactly scream flavor. 

By the time school was out, I was desperate for some homemade food made with actual spices and seasonings other than massive amounts of MSG and salt. And now that I’m home, even the simplest meals taste so amazing! Last night I threw together a quick quinoa bowl with roasted veggies and peanut sauce, and it was soooo good. I’ll never take fresh ginger and garlic for granted again.

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Now, here’s the part where I manage to tie my super-long tangent into the real recipe. The moral of this story is that sometimes flavor is just too good to pass up, even if it takes more work. For instance, these ice cream sandwich cookies take quite a bit of time between the browning and re-solidifying of butter, chilling of dough, baking of cookies, softening of ice cream, and re-freezing of cookies and ice cream, but IT IS WORTH IT. I wrote it in caps, so you know I mean it. Browned butter, as you may know, is my life. It adds such a nutty, almost caramel-like depth of flavor to whatever it’s used in, and is so easy to make. I mean, all it is is butter! I love to use it in cookies, especially when paired with dark brown sugar (which gives a hint of molasses undertones). Since this recipe, which is one of my favorites for CC cookies, uses softened butter rather than melted, I just chilled the browned butter until it was re-solidified. Yes, it takes time, but remember…FLAVOR!

I couldn’t just make chocolate chip cookies, especially for the recipe that resurfaced my blog from the depths of neglect. That’s why I added the browned butter. But I couldn’t just stop there, so I decided to sandwich the cookies with vanilla ice cream. But I couldn’t just leave it at that. So I changed it to CINNAMON vanilla ice cream which, when paired with the nutty browned butter flavor, makes for one phenomenal ice cream sandwich. A far cry from anything in my college’s cafeteria, that’s for sure! Adding cinnamon to the vanilla ice cream does add another step, and I guessss you could just use regular vanilla ice cream (or store-bought cinnamon ice cream, if you can find it!), but again….FLAVOR is worth the time. At least for my flavor-deprived-college-student tastebuds.

The end result was, as I hoped, totally worth the effort. None of the steps were hard in the least, and these ice cream sandwiches are the best I’ve ever had. Thick, chewy, browned butter chocolate chip cookies sandwiching a disc of creamy vanilla-cinnamon ice cream. They’re about as far from bland as you can get. Oh, how it’s good to be home!

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Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches 

Yield: about 24 cookies, or 12 ice cream sandwiches

For the cookies:

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 & 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For assembling:

1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)

Instructions:

Up to a day ahead of time, allow the ice cream to soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes. When it is at a soft-serve consistency, add in 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and stir to combine. Spoon the ice cream into a 9×13 inch glass pan and freeze for at least 2 hours, or until firm. (If you want to save time, you can skip this step and just have plain vanilla ice cream.)

For the cookies, melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Let the butter cook, whisking constantly, until it becomes golden-brown and fragrant. (This will take about 5 minutes, but watch it closely!) As soon as the butter is golden-brown, pour it into a shallow bowl. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours, or until it is solidified but still soft. If the butter gets too cold, allow it to sit out for 10-15 minutes or until slightly softened. (Again, you can skip this step and just use softened butter, but the browned butter flavor is seriously worth the time!)

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the browned butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla until well-incorporated, scraping down the bowl as needed.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet (I like to use a wooden spoon for this, rather than a mixer). Stir in the chocolate chips.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. When ready to bake, turn on the oven to 350 degrees F and let the dough sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Then form the dough into golf-ball-sized balls (about 1.5 tablespoons) and place onto lined cookie sheets. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are set and the edges are slightly golden-brown. They may look slightly underdone, but this is okay–they will continue baking as they cool and will remain soft and chewy!

Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

When the ice cream is firm and the cookies are very cold, take the cookies and ice cream out of the freezer. Place one cookie, face-down, on a square of plastic wrap. Using the bottom of a small glass (about 3 inches in diameter), cut a circle into the ice cream and transfer it onto the cookie. Place a second cookie on top and press slightly. Wrap up the sandwich in the plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Repeat with remaining cookies. Eat immediately or keep frozen. If the ice cream sandwiches have been frozen for several hours, 5-10 minutes at room temperature will make them easier to eat.

(Cookie recipe adapted from Anna Olson on Food Network)