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)

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)

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

IMG_2533“Did you MAKE these?!” my father asked with his mouth full, turning the the half-eaten object in his hand from side to side with an expression of glee.

“Um, yes.” I replied.

“What is IN them?”

“Dad, they’re banana slices dipped in chocolate. And frozen. That’s it.”

“Really?!”

“Really.”

“You could sell these at [name of expensive restaurant in our town] for lots and lots of money. Seriously, serve them up on a fancy platter and no one would ever know the difference.”

“Haha.”

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All jokes aside, these frozen chocolate banana bites have serious show-stopping potential, despite their short list of ingredients and the minimal effort involved in making them. All I did was melt together some dark chocolate chips with a little peanut butter (because in my world, where there is chocolate, peanut butter must follow), dunk banana slices in the mixture, and sprinkle a little shredded coconut over the tops. Then I froze them. Thirty minutes later I had a Tupperware full of delicious chocolatey treats that my family couldn’t believe I had created all by myself. Of course in reality it was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life, practically kinda sorta.IMG_2540

These really are some of the easiest treats I’ve ever made, but they taste so fantastic! According to my (questionably hyperbolic) father, they just might be “the best” things I’ve ever made. The frozen banana tastes remarkably similar to vanilla ice cream, tucked inside a shell of dark chocolate with just a hint of peanut butter. The coconut sprinkled on top was the icing on the cake for our family, but if you aren’t a coconut fan (oh, the horror!) just leave it off. Although you probably didn’t need me to tell you that, you intelligent people you.

So basically, in a matter of 15 minutes you can be popping these babies in the freezer. No sink full of dirty dishes, no oven heating up your house, no excessive amount of time suddenly robbed from your day. And you get a ton of frozen chocolate banana bites out of it. You’re welcome!IMG_2556

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

2 bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch disks

1 cup chocolate chips

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter*

Shredded coconut, for sprinkling

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper or aluminum foil. Set aside.

Place the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (or use a double boiler if you have one). Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Working quickly, use a fork to dip each banana slice in the melted chocolate and coat it entirely, then transfer to the prepared cookie sheet. When all the banana slices are covered in chocolate, sprinkle with shredded coconut if desired.

Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has hardened, and then transfer the banana bites to an airtight container. Enjoy these straight out of the freezer!

*If needed, you can omit the peanut butter and melt a teaspoon of butter or coconut oil along with the chocolate instead.

 

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

IMG_2440I’m sitting here in shorts and a tank top, the thermometer reads 78.4 degrees, and I have an awesome tan line on my neck/shoulder from wearing a side ponytail all day while out in the sun (<—fail). So basically, for all us Pacific Northwest wussies, it’s a sweltering summer day. Sorry if you happen to live in Phoenix or something and would give up an arm and a leg to have a 78.4-degree day right about now, but up here in the land of clouds and drizzle we consider this a hot day indeed. Or at least I do. But I still love it!

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Even though I really do enjoy the warmer weather, it certainly doesn’t make me too excited to turn on the oven for a baking project in the middle of the day. Instead I turn toward no-bake desserts like these awesome little energy bites. The good news about these treats is that they aren’t full of fat and sugar to weigh you down. They’re made with a super short list of fresh, healthy ingredients and are gluten-free, vegan, and contain only natural sugars. (If you’re making them gluten-free, be sure to use gf oats!) You do need a food processor for these, but if you don’t have one don’t worry. Just try these other wonderful energy balls instead!IMG_2451

My family went nuts over these cookie-dough-like bites. They’re perfect as an after-dinner treat or as a little snack to pick you up from an afternoon slump. You could even grab a few for breakfast! I love how in a matter of minutes I can be eating these delicious, nutritious little balls in a house that hasn’t turned into a sauna from a 350-degree oven. It’s almost like eating chunks of oatmeal-chocolate-peanut butter cookie dough, but the ingredients are actually good for you…summer eating at its finest!IMG_2444

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Makes about 24 small bites

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup quick-cook oats

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dates (about 12 dates, or 86 grams)

2 tablespoons water*

Shredded coconut, mini chocolate chips, or extra cocoa powder for rolling (optional)

Directions:

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the water. Process until the mixture clumps together. Add in the water and pulse until incorporated. Pinch off pieces of the mixture and form into small balls (I ended up with about 2 dozen). Roll in shredded coconut, chocolate chips, or cocoa powder if desired. Store the bites in the refrigerator.

*To make the bites a little sweeter, substitute 1 tablespoon agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup for 1 tablespoon of the water

(Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie)

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)

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

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Since I was little, I’ve been a notorious cookie-dough lover. Whenever my mom and I  baked cookies I would do whatever I could to make sure I ended up with a sufficient number of tastes before the cookies made it into the oven. That meant licking the spatula, licking the spoon, scraping the bowl, and forming the dough balls with my fingers so that I could have an excuse to lick them, too. It’s a wonder I never got salmonella! No matter, I loved my cookie dough. Once in a blue moon I managed to convince my parents to buy a roll of Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough, which always seemed to taste so much better than any homemade dough. Most likely because of all of the artificial flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives. But boy did that dough taste good!

I wish I could say that I’ve overcome my cookie dough addiction, but sadly I have not. In all honesty I much prefer cookie dough to actual cookies, which is too bad since cookie dough contains raw eggs and I know I shouldn’t be eating it. Sigh. The good news is, there are more of my kind in the world! Other cookie dough addicts! Like Lindsay Landis from Love and Olive Oil, who wrote an entire cookbook full of eggless cookie dough recipes! My dream come true. This recipe for cookie dough fudge is from her book, and it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. I can only handle eating one tiny delicious square at a time since it’s so rich…it tastes exactly like you’re eating a hunk of raw cookie dough! Also, since it’s eggless there’s absolutely no risk of making yourself sick…unless of course, you eat the entire pan. And with this fudge, I wouldn’t blame you.

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Fudge

Yield: one 8″x8″ pan, about 36 servings

For the cookie dough:

1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 Tbs half-and-half

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

For the fudge base:

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup butter

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup half-and-half

4-5 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips (for topping the fudge)

Directions:

Line an 8″x8″ baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang around the edges. Set aside.

For the cookie dough, in a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, salt, and half-and-half. Stir in the flour, mixing just until combined. Fold in the 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Set aside.

For the fudge base, in a medium-sized saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, salt, and half-and-half. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should be smooth. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla. Add in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (The more powdered sugar you add, the sweeter and thicker the fudge will be). Let the mixture cool for about 5 minutes before proceeding.

Fold the cookie dough into the fudge mixture. If you like chunks of cookie dough, gently fold so that the two mixtures aren’t completely combined; if you want a uniform fudge, mix the cookie dough in completely. Press the fudge into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips and gently press them into the dough.

Chill for 3-4 hours. Then lift the fudge out of the pan, invert onto a cutting board, and slice into squares. This fudge can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator!

(Recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, originally from The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook)