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)

Turkey, Black Bean, and Kale Taco Filling

tacos1This recipe isn’t fancy. It’s certainly not gourmet, and it isn’t exactly a show-stopper. But. This recipe is made with simple, inexpensive, healthy ingredients. It’s full of lean protein, vitamin-rich veggies, and mild southwest spices. It’s extremely quick and extremely versatile. You can pile it into cute little corn tortillas, fold it up into soft flour tortillas, use it as a filling for enchiladas, mix it up with brown rice, or wrap it in lettuce leaves for a low-carb option. I ate it over quinoa with avocado slices on top and it was delicious!

No super skills are required for this recipe either. Everything is sautéed in the same pan, and from start to finish it takes about 20 minutes. Perfect for those busy weeknights! I know I’ll be making this in the future when I want a fast, easy, healthy, and delicious meal.

Well…yup. That’s about it. I guess this post will be quick and simple, just like the taco filling! Enjoy!tacos3

Turkey, Black Bean, and Kale Taco Filling

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound lean ground turkey

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bell pepper, diced

2 cups kale, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed (optional)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the turkey and onion until the turkey is cooked through. Add in the jalapeño pepper and garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add in the bell pepper, kale, and salt and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the kale is wilted and the bell pepper has softened.

Stir in the black beans, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, and black pepper. Lower the heat and cook for an additional 5 minutes to heat the mixture through. Serve in tortillas, over rice or quinoa, or use as a filling for any Mexican-type recipe. Add toppings such as avocado, shredded cheese, or salsa if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Green Lite Bites)

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Stew3It’s finally beginning to look like autumn in northwest Oregon. After a long, drawn-out summer of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s (not that I’m complaining), the mornings are getting chillier and the weather prediction for this week is rain, rain, rain. I have to admit that I love the crisp autumn weather, but after a day or two of rain I’m ready for sun again. I think I was spoiled with an unusually sunny summer at home in Washington, and I’m dreading all the the bleak, gray days to come.

The clear, cool days are my favorites. My college campus has a huge variety of trees, and this time of year is so beautiful. I love walking to class under a canopy of shocking red trees, or sitting on a bench and having a leaf fall onto my head. On my morning runs I like to look at all houses decked out in spooky Halloween decorations, and our little apartment is covered in pumpkin/ghost/witch/skeleton paraphernalia. Fall also signals the beginning of soup season, and I’ve been loving my little red Crock Pot more than ever!Stew2

This Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew is the most perfect fall meal. Despite being vegetarian, it’s packed full of hearty protein and fabulous flavor. The recipe makes about 8 servings, and since I’m only one person I got to enjoy it for 8 meals. You’d think I’d get tired of eating the same lunch and dinner for 4 days in a row, but not with this stew! I actually looked forward to eating it again and again and was sad when it was all gone. The combination of chickpeas, lentils, sweet vegetables, spicy jalapeño and warm curry spices is wonderful, and the longer you cook the stew the thicker it gets. It’s comfort in a bowl, I tell you!

Last Thursday my car battery decided to die, and after a long day of racing back and forth between Les Schwab and classes it felt awesome to walk into the door to a fragrant slow-cooker full of hot stew. Sometimes a good meal is all it takes to brighten up a hard day. Add this fantastic crock-pot meal to your dinner repertoire! It’s great any time of the year!Stew

Crock Pot Chickpea, Lentil, and Butternut Squash Stew

Makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon garam masala (or curry powder)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1 cup brown lentils

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

32 ounces vegetable broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cilantro, for serving (optional)

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, carrot, and jalapeño for 5-7 minutes or until tender. Add in the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Stir in the garam masala (and cayenne pepper, if you like spice).

Transfer the mixture to a slow cooker. Add in the butternut squash, lentils, diced tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8-10 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and top with chopped cilantro if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Eat Live Run)

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)

Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie

IMG_4553Secret ingredients are my favorites. I love being on either end of the guessing game: the eater or the maker. I know that many people run away screaming when they’re approached with a mystery food and the claim that they’ll “never ever guess what’s in it,” but I’m certainly not one of them. I love finding out that the seemingly innocent chocolate pudding given to me with a sly grin was made out of avocado, cocoa powder, and coconut sugar; on the flip side I find it largely entertaining to watch my family try to guess what gives my black bean chili a certain depth of flavor, never suspecting that the answer is a trio of pumpkin, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. Whether it’s a dash of cinnamon in a homemade cherry pie or a can of black beans in a batch of flour-less brownies, I’m always excited to try out a recipe made with something you’d never expect.IMG_4556

This Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie can easily fool you into thinking it’s sinful. Its smooth, rich chocolatey filling tastes just like (a really good) chocolate cream pie, and it manages to be firm yet airy at the same time. I’m pretty confident that I could have eaten the entire pie if I let myself, especially when topped with a dollop of whipped cream! The best part is that even though this pie may look and taste like a dessert packed with sugar, cream, and butter, it’s surprisingly healthy!IMG_4566

Made with a short list of ingredients that are simply thrown into a food processor and blended, this pie is incredibly quick and easy. It doesn’t even need to bake! There’s no gluten or dairy involved, and in this case the sneaky little wonder ingredient is…tofu! Stick with me here. I know lots of people turn up their noses at tofu, hating on its bland mild taste and unappealing acquired texture, but in this pie it is virtually undetectable. It manages to give the pie its firmness without adding any funky aftertastes so that all you end up tasting is rich, delicious chocolate.IMG_4574

The rest of the ingredients aren’t scary at all: milk, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and melted chocolate. I was feeling rebellious and decided to ruin the healthiness of it all by pouring the filling into a store-bought shortbread crust (and possibly going so far as to top it with Cool Whip), but you could definitely make your own pie crust or just pour it into little ramekins and serve as a custard-y dessert. Firm tofu will create a more traditional pie that holds together well, but if you want a more mousse-like pie or  a crustless pudding, just use soft tofu. Ten points to tofu for its versatility….yet another reason it’s such a star in this recipe!IMG_4583

So, the next time you catch yourself with a chocolate craving, go the healthy route and whip up this chocolate pie! It’s guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth without the extra baggage of junky ingredients, and it’s also fun to serve to unsuspecting friends. I bet they’ll never guess it’s made with tofu…I know I wouldn’t have!IMG_4576

Silken Chocolate Fudge Pie

10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

12.3 ounces firm tofu*

2 tablespoons milk (soy, almond, etc. all work fine)

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar or agave nectar (more or less to taste)

1 pre-baked pie shell

Whipped cream (optional)

Directions:

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Place all the other ingredients into a food processor or high-powered blender and scrape in the melted chocolate. Blend or process until very smooth. Mixture will be thick.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The longer it chills, the firmer it will be (I chilled mine overnight). Slice and serve, topped with whipped cream if desired.

*For a softer, mousse-like pie, use soft/silken tofu rather than firm

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

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)