Monster Cookies (Flourless!)

IMG_1239Let me introduce to you the ultimate cookie mash-up: oatmeal cookie meets peanut butter cookie meets chocolate chip cookie…meets M&M cookie! Phew. It’s no wonder they’re called monster cookies with all that goodness loaded in (although I’ve heard rumors that the name actually comes from a bakery that made mass–monster–quantities of these cookies). While my past few posts have featured recipes with some considerably strange ingredients, these monster cookies feature the exact opposite. Most of their ingredients are pretty typical for cookies–sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, salt, baking soda–but there’s one common cookie ingredient missing…flour!IMG_1234

That’s right. The quick-cooking oats and three whole eggs hold these monster cookies together just fine, and they have the best chewy texture. I was worried that the lack of flour might result in flat pancake cookies, but they also stay tall and thick. In fact, you’d be wise to pat them down a little before baking, because their shape holds up really well in the oven. I made them extra-large because no way was I making regular-sized MONSTER cookies, and seriously, each cookie is like a meal in itself! The peanut butter and oats offer such a fantastic texture and flavor, and the chocolate chips and M&Ms bring in a nice dose of richness. IMG_1232

For those of you gluten-free folks out there, here is a cookie that you can eat too! Just make sure to use gluten-free oats, and you should be all set. My gluten-free mother, who has long since resigned herself to forgoing homemade cookies, was astounded to hear that she could actually eat these. At first she thought I was teasing her! Nothing like a pleasant surprise in the form of a monster cookie. 🙂 IMG_1236

Ditch the flour and make yourself a batch of these overloaded monster cookies. You’ll never have to decide between peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookies again!IMG_1241

Monster Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 & 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 & 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

4 & 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup M&Ms

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line or grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and eggs until smooth. Mix in the butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and salt until well-combined. Stir in the baking soda, oats, chocolate chips, and M&Ms.

Roll the dough into balls (mine were about 1.5 tablespoons each) and place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Slightly flatten each ball with the back of a spoon or the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are set and the edges are light golden-brown. Don’t overbake! Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Note: the dough balls can also be frozen and baked for 12-14 minutes (without thawing!) as desired.IMG_1244

Recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding

IMG_5634Since I’ve been all about secret ingredients lately (chickpea muffins, anyone?), I figured I’d stick with the trend and post another delicious recipe containing an unlikely ingredient. After undergoing a gingival graft last week (in which a piece of soft tissue from the roof of my mouth was sliced off and sewn onto the gum line of my two front bottom teeth to counteract some recession most likely caused by my orthodontic work in middle school…for those of you who care to know), basically all I’ve been able to eat is yogurt, scrambled eggs, and smoothies. Well, and because I’m me, I’ve been eating blended-up overnight oats, mashed-up turkey meatloaf mixed with zucchini puree, and smashed-up avocado/shredded chicken salad. Hey, I’ve got to keep it interesting!

Anyway, lately my best friends have been soft, cold foods to ease my aching mouth. And what better best friend is there than chocolate pudding? I’ll tell you what: chocolate avocado pudding! It’s rich, smooth, chocolatey, full of heart-healthy fats, and doesn’t taste at all like avocados. At least, I don’t think it does–if you have sensitive taste buds, you might be able to detect a slight avocado-y taste, but the dominant flavor is definitely chocolate. Pure, smooth chocolate. Gahhh.IMG_5635

Not only is this pudding (fairly) healthy, easy, and delicious, but it only takes about 5 minutes to whip up! I highly recommend chilling it for 30 minutes or so, but if you’re feeling impatient you can eat it right then and there. I wouldn’t blame you.

Most of the measurements here are just ballpark figures–feel free to add more or less of the cocoa powder, milk, and sweetener until you reach your desired taste and texture. If you like your pudding a little more creamy and a little less intense, add a few extra tablespoons of milk. If you want a super-chocolatey flavor, add a bit more cocoa powder. If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, just use a tablespoon or two of agave or honey. Unlike delicate pastries or baked goods that require exact measurements, this recipe is highly adaptable and pretty darn hard to mess up. In the past I’ve thrown in a banana, left out the milk entirely, added peanut butter, and doubled (okay, tripled) the entire recipe. Each and every time, it was delicious.IMG_5639

Even if you’re not usually an avocado fan, I urge you to blend yourself up some Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding! It’s the ideal comfort food whether you’re recovering from a dental surgery like me, or just want to enjoy a no-bake dessert on a warm summer night. Have fun experimenting–and eating!IMG_5638

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Pudding

Makes 4 servings

2 small, ripe avocados

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup milk (coconut, almond, cow milk, etc.)

1/4 cup sweetener (brown sugar, honey, agave nectar, etc.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate chips for topping (optional)

Directions:

Scoop out the avocado flesh into a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend or process until very smooth. Spoon into bowls or small ramekins  and chill for 30-60 minutes before serving.

Note: this pudding should be served the day it is made for the best texture and flavor!IMG_5629

Recipe from Emma’s Baking Addiction

Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

IMG_5366If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years of baking, purchasing, reading about, talking about, and eating food, it’s that “healthy” means something different to just about everyone. Yes, we can probably all agree that deep-fried Twinkies have a very low chance of ever making it into the “healthy” category, and I’ve never met a person who has labeled fresh broccoli as “unhealthy,” but there is still a crazy level of disagreement when it comes to clean eating. I’ve read diet books that forbid the consumption of bananas, grapes, and watermelon due to their high sugar contents, but the vending machine in my residence hall back at school has a “fit pick” sticker pasted on Grandma’s Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies. There are also “fit pick” stickers on bags of low-fat pretzels and salted peanuts, which are scorned by others for their simple carbohydrates and high fat content, respectively. Sometimes it seems like there’s just no winning.IMG_5348

All that being said, there is winning when it comes to this recipe! I’m going to refrain from trying to convince you that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars are “healthy” (because, yes, there are real milk chocolate chips and gobs of peanut butter in them), but I will say that they have no flour, no butter, no white sugar, and no un-pronouncable additives or preservatives. What they do have is a soft, slightly crumbly crust made from oats, maple syrup, and peanut butter–side note: pure maple syrup+peanut butter is one of the best unlikely combos ever–and a thick, smooth filling that consists purely of chocolate and peanut butter. I personally think these bars taste best when eaten straight from the fridge, but you can also freeze them to make them last longer. Although if you’re anything like my family and me, the bars will be devoured in record-breaking time whether or not they’re hidden away in the freezer. I recommend saving yourself the trouble by keeping them thawed in the fridge and at-the-ready for eager consumption. Even if you decide that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge bars aren’t 100% healthy, they are certainly 100% delicious…and when it comes to desserts, that’s what really matters, right? IMG_5340

Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

Yield: 16-25 bars (depending on how large you cut them)

2 & 3/4 cups quick-cooking oats (220g)*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup**

1/4 cup + 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, divided

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)

Directions:

Line an 8×8″ pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a short overhang, and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, 1/4 cup peanut butter, water, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the oats and salt.

Scoop about 2/3 of the oat mixture into the prepared pan and press it down firmly and evenly with the back of a metal spoon. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine the 1/2 cup peanut butter and chocolate chips. Microwave for about 40-60 seconds, stirring after each 20-second increment, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate mixture over the oat layer in the pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture evenly over the melted chocolate, and carefully press it down. Chill for at least an hour, or until the chocolate is firm. Carefully lift the bars out of the pan while holding onto the foil or parchment paper, and cut into squares.

*I only had old-fashioned rolled oats on hand, so I just pulsed them about 20 times in my food processor. Using old-fashioned oats by themselves will change the texture of the bars, making them more crumbly.

**Honey or agave nectar can be substituted for the maple syrup. If you do use maple syrup, make sure you are using PURE maple syrup (not regular pancake syrup).

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered KatieIMG_5349

Healthy No-Bake Cookies

no-bakecookiesMy first batch of no-bake cookies can only be described as a disaster. I was in middle school at the time, and my friend and I were lounging around her house trying to decide what to do when her mom suggested no-bake cookies. I had never heard of them but was all too willing to try them out. The recipe called for butter, peanut butter, sugar, vanilla, oatmeal, and milk…I’m pretty sure that was it. Total health food! Luckily our pre-teen metabolisms could handle it, and we got right to work.

The standard recipe for no-bake cookies is pretty simple: melt the peanut butter, butter, and sugar; stir in everything else; drop the mixture onto cookie sheets. Let it set up, and you’re done. Fool-proof, right? Not so much…

My friend and I divided the task of measuring ingredients, and peanut butter fell onto my side. “I think there’s a jar of Skippy in the cupboard,” she said, and I obligingly skipped over to the cabinet. Sure enough there were two jars of peanut butter, one farther back than the other. I chose the emptier one in the back, if only to help her family use it up. As soon as I screwed open the jar I noticed a funny smell, but I didn’t say anything. My family always bought natural peanut butter that you had to stir, so I figured Skippy just smelled a little different. That was my first mistake.nobakecookies2

I scooped out the appropriate amount of peanut butter and dumped it into the saucepan along with the other ingredients. Five minutes later we were forming the mixture into little balls and placing them onto a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. I’ve always been a “taster” when it comes to baking (my justification is that any incorporated germs are killed by the heat of the oven…and let’s just pretend the no-bake thing doesn’t exist) so I definitely snuck a pinch or two of the dough. It tasted…bad. Not a little bad, a lot bad. It’s a taste that I now know can be described as rancid nuts (shocker, right)?! Seeing my expression my friend tried it too, and made the same disgusted face as I had.

“Why didn’t you tell me the peanut butter smelled funny?” she asked. “We could have used the other kind.”

“Well, uh…” I started to reply. “I don’t know.” Satisfying answer for sure.

We threw out the entire batch and sadly resumed our lounging around. But fear not, because we definitely made a successful batch at another point in time! I think I probably put her in charge of the peanut butter…

And now we have reached the end of the road where I stop talking about my crazy life and cut to the chase. THESE no-bake cookies are just about as easy as the originals (if not easier) but they have the benefit of actually being good for you. Yeah, there’s chocolate, but it really doesn’t count since the rest of the ingredients are so healthy. That’s how it works–you heard it from me! They’re pretty darn good too, considering the lack of butter and sugar. They definitely aren’t as sweet as “regular” cookies, so if you aren’t used to that you can definitely add in a couple tablespoons of sugar or additional honey. Also, the riper your banana is, the sweeter the cookies will be. Bananas FTW! Always.

But yeah. These easy-healthy-delicious cookies are winners, at least in my opinion. We’ve got chocolate, peanut butter, honey, AND banana all in the same place, which can only lead to good things. Just make sure your peanut butter’s not rancid, okay? Great. 🙂

nobakecookies3Healthy No-Bake Cookies

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 small ripe banana, mashed (1/3 cup)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup milk (any kind)

3 cups quick-cooking oats

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Place the peanut butter and mashed banana in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth, then remove from heat. Stir in the honey, cocoa powder, milk, oats, cinnamon, and salt until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into rounded tablespoons and place on a lined cookie sheet. Press each mound of dough down slightly until the desired shape is reached. Chill for at least 2 hours before enjoying. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

(Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

muffins1At the beginning of each October, my university has a so-called “fall break” which is actually nothing more than a 3-day weekend. I’m totally on board with the idea of this mini-vacation, but its actual application seems pretty half-hearted. If you’re going to call it a break, make it a break! Three days was just long enough for me to make the 7-hour journey home, collapse into relaxing familiarity for 40-some hours, and then tear myself away to drive all the way back to school. It felt more like a teaser than anything else, especially for a homebody like myself. Still, I’m grateful for my brief recharge at home, and I need to keep reminding myself that relaxation often morphs into boredom after too many days. Okay, maybe not 2 measly days, but let’s stay positive!

One of my projects during my time at home was to re-stock the freezer with easy grab-and-go breakfasts for my mom. She’s not exactly a morning person, and I know for a fact that breakfast is virtually the last thing on her mind as she gets ready for work. You know someone like that, too? Good. Make them these muffins!muffins2

These Banana Flaxseed Muffins are perfect for a quick, healthy breakfast. I like to make a full batch ahead of time and store them in the freezer for those busy mornings. They can be made gluten-free, but you can also use a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour if gluten isn’t an issue. Unlike so many muffins that are basically frosting-less cupcakes, these are full of healthy ingredients to give you an energy boost without the crash. Bananas serve as the main sweetener, and they also lend the muffins a soft, moist texture. Flaxseed brings in some heart-healthy fat, and warm spices give the muffins extra flavor. You can even make them vegan by using agave nectar and soy or almond milk!

I love knowing that my mom now has a few weeks’ supply of muffins for breakfast, settled right next to the chili I made for my dad (which he will most likely not eat for breakfast, just so we’re clear). I’m sure they’re capable of fending for themselves (after all, they managed just fine until I came along) but I also know how much they miss my cooking and baking! Make your own friends and family happy by baking them a batch of these Banana Flaxseed Muffins. There’s nothing like a pre-made, homemade, healthy, on-hand breakfast to show them that you care!muffins4

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

Makes one dozen standard-size muffins

1 & 3/4 cups gluten-free flour blend (or all-purpose flour)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (if using gf flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

1/2 cup milk (I used soy milk)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons ground flaxseed

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line or grease a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, milk, oil, agave, vanilla, and flaxseed. Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just until no flour streaks remain. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tins.

Bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 13-17 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.

(Recipe adapted from Anecdotes and Apples)

Flourless Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_0245So. Let’s overlook the fact that this recipe might possibly be interpreted as cheating, since I already have two variations of these cookies here on the blog, and just roll with it. Because seriously, guys, these cookies are good enough to be posted three times! They’ve always been one of my go-to recipes for their a) minimal ingredients, b) quickness, c) easiness, and d) gluten-freedom (I was gonna say “freeness,” but “freedom” has the upper hand of actually being a word.)

While you can stick to my original 3-ingredient recipe and make these with 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 egg (yes, that’s all!!!), I prefer to use this recipe with its little adjustments. It goes against my nature as a baking addict to just leave a good recipe alone, so naturally I’ve come up with some tweaks. First of all, using half brown sugar and half white makes the cookies especially chewy and flavorful. Brown sugar FTW! Secondly, I add vanilla to pretty much everything (including my oatmeal while it’s cooking–if you haven’t tried it, DO!), so of course I had to include it in these cookies. The baking powder is just for a little extra lift, and I’m sure the chocolate chips need no explanation. Chocolate should never need an explanation–remember that.IMG_0242

These cookies are the perfect recipe for a college student with a limited budget, limited time, and a limited kitchen (namely myself), or anyone else who wants cookies that are fast, easy, don’t require a grocery store trip, and/or are gluten-free. Despite their lack of flour (and other usual cookie ingredients), they’re some of the best cookies I make. In fact, they’re the only peanut butter cookies I ever make! What more could you want than a perfectly chewy, slightly-crisp-around-the-edges, ultra-peanut buttery cookie with chocolate chips? Actually, I can think of quite a few things, but for all intents and purposes the proper answer here is “nothing.”IMG_0250

Flourless Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except for the chocolate chips until well-combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. (At this point, if you like thinner cookies, you can slightly flatten each ball of dough or make a criss-cross pattern with a fork.)

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are set around the edges and the tops are no longer shiny. Err on the side of underdone! Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Tahini Vinaigrette

IMG_4035Surprising as it may seem, I do actually make food other than dessert. Behind all the butter and sugar, I happen to follow a fairly healthy diet. Of course I taste everything I make (my motto is everything in moderation), but most of it ends up in the stomachs of my friends and family members. Unless of course it’s something like these healthy Oatmeal-Raisin Energy Balls which I may or may not hoard in secret tupperware containers in the way way back of the fridge. Strange as it is, I actually get more excited about stuff like this quinoa dish than I do about chocolate chip cookies. Who am I?!IMG_4037

Now, before you lose all trust in me as a baker/blogger and toss me to the curb as a pitiful soul who chooses quinoa over cookies, you’ve gotta try this recipe! Then you’ll see what I’m talking about. With quinoa as its base, this salad is loaded with sweet balsamic-roasted cherry tomatoes, crispy roasted chickpeas, creamy avocado chunks, and nutritious baby spinach. Then it’s all tossed in a fabulous lemon-tahini vinaigrette–the recipe makes extra, so you can use it to dress other salads as well! My favorite way to serve it is slightly warm, but it’s also delicious at room temperature or straight out of the fridge. My family loves to eat this salad as a main dish for lunch or dinner, but you can also serve it as a side. Or you can do what I did and eat it straight out of the tupperware as a late-night snack!

If you’re looking for a fast, easy, meatlessgluten-free, and delicious dinner recipe, you have to try this! It’s got so many good things going on that I can’t pick a favorite…the juicy, almost caramelized tomatoes? The hidden pieces of smooth avocado? The slightly-nutty, slightly-sweet lemony dressing? Call me crazy to choose leftover quinoa salad as dessert instead of a cookie, but I just couldn’t get enough! The cookies can wait.IMG_4047

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Tahini Vinaigrette.

Makes 6-8 servings

For the salad:

1 & 1/2 cups quinoa (uncooked)

1 pint (16 oz) cherry tomatoes

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt & pepper

1 avocado, diced

2 cups baby spinach

For the dressing:

1/4 cup tahini

3 tablespoons warm water

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

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

1 teaspoon honey

2 large garlic cloves, minced

Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cook quinoa according to package directions. While the quinoa is cooking, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. When the quinoa is finished, fluff with a fork and allow to cool as you assemble the rest of the ingredients.

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes and spread onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Add the chickpeas to the baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the tomatoes are blistered and the chickpeas are golden and slightly crisp. Cool slightly.

To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients in a medium-small bowl. Place the cooked quinoa into a large serving bowl and add in the roasted tomatoes, chickpeas, and baby spinach. Pour on as much dressing as you like (the recipe makes about 1 cup and I like to use about 2/3 cup). Stir gently to coat, then carefully fold in the diced avocado. Serve warm, chilled, or at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Tasty Kitchen)