Wild Blueberry Hibiscus Breeze Smoothie

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

As each New Year rolls around, I always have the best of intentions to eat healthy, get fit, and lose a bit (or a lot) of excess weight that has crept up on me.  In my case, this is often accompanied by some sort of overly regimented eating plan that is unrealistic for the long haul.  I diligently follow said eating plan for about a week (maybe two) and then move on to focus on an enlightened eating plan that is more about eating super healthy foods, feeling great, and limiting processed goodies.  I am in that place right now, and it perfectly aligned with this fun smoothie contest that highlights one of my favorite ingredients, frozen Wild Blueberries.

I seriously always have frozen wild blueberries on hand (I usually buy Wyman’s brand at Wegmans, but have also gotten Trader Joe’s brand).  I actually had two bags stashed in my freezer already.  Why do I love these tiny superfoods?  Let me count the ways!

  1.  I love these in smoothies, but also in baked goods.  Because they are tiny, you can add them frozen into your pancakes. Muffins, waffles, etc…and they will cook quickly, but not turn your batter purple.
  2. They have a more intense blueberry flavor than fresh berries. They taste amazing!
  3. They have double the antioxidants of fresh berries.
  4. They are good all year round and keep in the freezer for a very long time, with no compromise of quality.
  5. They are small, so they blend very easily into smoothies, rather than larger chunks of frozen fruit.  No need for ice!

 

Frozen Wild Blueberries

Not to toot my own horn, but I came up with the best smoothie EVER with these gorgeous berries!  Plus it has protein, antioxidants, and probiotics. I think that because it is currently sleeting her in VA, my mind went on a much needed tropical vacation with this recipe… The taste is exotic, but easy for even children to love.  I am in love with this smoothie!  Here’s how to make one for yourself:

First, steep 2 hibiscus flavored herbal tea bags in 3/4 cup very hot water.  The mixture will be very concentrated.  Remove teabags and let cool.  This step can be done ahead of time or you can add an ice cube to chill the mixture quickly.

Next, add 1-1/2 cups wild frozen blueberries to blender.  Chop up one fresh mango and add it to the blender, being careful to remove the skin and pit.  You could also use frozen mango in this recipe.  Throw in one small container of your favorite Greek yogurt.  I recommend coconut flavored yogurt, but vanilla, plain, or  blueberry would also be great!  Pour in your hibiscus tea concentrate, 1/2 cup of coconut milk (or your favorite milk), the zest of 1 lime plus 1 teaspoon lime juice, and blend on High until very smooth.  If you like things a little sweeter, you can add a teaspoon or 2 of honey.  Totally optional though- The Blueberries and mango are already sweet!  Enjoy with a parasol and pretend you are on the beach….

Wild Blueberry Hibiscus Breeze Smoothie

Ingredients:

2 herbal Hibiscus teabags

3/4 cup hot water

1-1/2 cups frozen Wild Blueberries

1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) mango chunks

1 container (4-6 ounces, depending on brand) coconut Greek yogurt

1/2 cup coconut milk

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1-2 teaspoons honey, optional

Pour 3/4 cup boiling water into a heatproof measuring cup.  Steep 2 teabags in the hot water for 3-4 minutes.  Let cool completely or add an ice cube to cool quickly.  Set aside.

In a large blender, combine frozen Wild Blueberries, mango, yogurt, coconut milk, Hibiscus tea, lime zest and juice, and honey (if desired).  Blend on high until very smooth.  Pour into 2 large glasses and enjoy immediately.

 

Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies (for Passover and beyond)

I have a strict rule about Passover desserts:  One should never try to make cakes or cookies with matzo meal or any of it’s derivatives.  They always taste like matzo and the bondage of my people, rather than dessert.  I am only partly kidding, people, so please don’t try to convince me that you made a delicious Passover cake with matzo cake meal.  You didn’t.  So, my approach to Passover baking is to instead choose desserts that are flourless by nature, like pavlovas, flourless chocolate torte, and macarons/macaroons.  These Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies are a spicy variation on the popular gluten-free favorite that can be found at Whole Foods.  The spices were inspired by another old favorite of mine the “Mayan Mystery Cookie,”  which is a well-known recipe that has been circulating for a while.  My version is a bit more interesting with warm spices and lots of ginger.  Of course, if you like the original or are serving kids, feel free to omit all the spices and the crystallized ginger.  These cookies are made in one bowl, quick, easy, gluten-free, can be dairy free, Parve, nut-free, and very low in fat.  Enjoy!

First you want to sift your powdered sugar and cocoa into the bowl of your mixer (you can definitely use an electric hand mixer).  Add your dry spices at this point, if using.  Give it a mix on low, just to combine.  Then, just add your egg whites and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed for ablout a minute.  Fold in chocolate chips and minced ginger by hand, if using.

This is the crystallized ginger that I minced.  It is optional, and only suggested if you are a ginger lover or hosting adults only.  Kids tend to think it is too spicy.  I like to cut it with kitchen shears.image

Drop by tablespoonful onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until set and shiny on top and still a bit soft in the center.

Let cool completely and peel off of parchment.  Happy baking and Happy Pesach!

Mayan Spiced Chocolate Chewies

Parve, perfect for Passover, gluten-free/dairy-free/nut-free diets, and for all year round.

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (find the Kosher for Passover variety)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Small pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup egg whites (approximately 3 large eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (parve and K for P variety)
2 tablespoons crystallized or candied ginger, finely minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine powdered sugar, cocoa, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. Mix on low to combine.
Add in egg whites and vanilla, mixing well for 1 minute on medium speed, scraping down sides of bowl. Fold in chocolate chips and minced ginger (if using). Spoon by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between cookies. Bake for 12-14 minutes until tops are set and shiny. Let cool for 10 minutes on parchment. Peel cookies off parchment and serve or store in airtight container.

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones with Vanilla Bean Glaze

I make quite a few variations of these scones, and they are always wildly popular. My kids love these Mini Scones with Chocolate Chips and tempting speckled Vanilla Bean Glaze icing. They are perfect for a grab and go breakfast or a sweet after school snack. They freeze beautifully after baking, and make a great housewarming gift. They are pretty much perfection in scone form. This recipe is adapted from Kittencal’s Blueberry Sour Cream Scones on Food.com

First, combine your sugar and other dry ingredients in a large food processor. Pulse a few times to combine evenly.  Cube or slice your cold butter to make it easier to process.  Pulse 10-15 times until pea sized bits of butter remain in the dry mixture.

Next combine the sour cream (or yogurt), egg, vanilla, and baking powder in a measuring cup.  Whisk well to combine.  Pour into processor and pulse until a shaggy dough forms.  Remove to clean surface and knead briefly, just until dough comes together.

Knead in chocolate chips (mini-chips would have been fabulous, but I was out of them and snowed in….).

Next, roll each section into a ball and flatten into a disk.  Cut each disk in 4, then cut each section in half again so that you have 8 wedges per disk.  Place 1/2 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet.  You can be OCD like me and place them in a back and forth pattern, or you can be normal.  That is your call.

Bake scones at 350 degrees for 15-17 minutes or until edges turn slightly golden brown.  Do not over-bake.  We do not want dry scones!  Let cool for  few minutes before dipping in glaze.

To make the glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, milk or half and half, vanilla, vanilla bean specks, a pat of melted butter, and a pinch of salt.  Dip the top of each scone in glaze and let set on wire rack until dry to the touch.  Serve or freeze for later, as desired.

Enjoy with tea, coffee, or milk.  Freeze before glazing in large freezer bags for up to 2 months.  Try variations like swapping out the chocolate for blueberries, adding orange zest, swapping cranberries and lemon zest for the chips, and more…This is a very adaptable recipe.

Mini Chocolate Chip Scones with Vanilla Bean Glaze

Makes 32 mini scones or 16 larger scones

Dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (or you can just use another cup of AP flour)

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, diced

6 ounces sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips (mini or regular, or any other mix in you would like-nuts, chips, dried fruit, blueberries, etc…)

for the glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk or half and half

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped (optional)

1/2 tablespoon butter, melted (in microwave is fine!)

Small pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt.  Pulse to combine.  Add cold butter chunks to processor, pulsing a few times to combine until butter is pea sized.

In a measuring cup, whisk to combine sour cream (or yogurt), egg, vanilla, and baking soda.  Pour into processor.  Pulse until a shaggy dough forms.  Dump dough out onto a clean surface and knead a few times, just until dough comes together.  Knead in chocolate chips quickly and gently.  Dived dough into 4 for mini scones, 2 for larger scones.  Take each section and form a ball.  Flatten balls into 1 inch high discs.  Cut each disc into 8 wedges, like you would cut a pizza.  Place scones onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake 15-17 minutes or until edges just start to brown.  Center will still be a tad soft, but will set when cool.  Cool for 3-5 minutes on wire rack before glazing.

To make the glaze icing, whisk together powdered sugar, milk or cream, vanilla extract, Vanill bean caviar, melted butter, and salt.  Dip top of each scone in glaze or drizzle on top of slightly warm scones.  Set on wire rack to dry.  Serve or store covered.  Scones may be frozen before glazing in zip top freezer bags for up to 2 months.

 

 

 

Healthy Oatmeal Banana Chip Cookies

I realize that I might seem a bit Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde with this blog- One week decadent desserts, the next healthy treats, with almost no in between. That is actually pretty much the way I roll with my diet in real life, too. I love to eat for absolute pleasure and look for rich, gooey sinful treats that are no good if made “low fat” or “low sugar” or my favorite… “low carb.” I eat that way until it catches up with me, then it is time to reign it in and eat a healthier, whole food type diet. Recently, I decided that this oppositional yo-yo approach is not great for me, mentally or physically. So, I am going to work on balance this year, having the occasional decadent treat, but mostly opting for better choices for my health. Enter the “Healthy Oatmeal Banana Chip Cookie.”

I had been seeing a similar recipe pop up on Facebook from time to time. That other recipe pretty much consists of bananas, applesauce, almond milk (a no-no in this nut free home), oats, raisins, and a couple of other ingredients. I decided that the recipe looked flawed to me (too much liquid), and I could recreate it in a yummier (albeit slightly less perfect nutritionally) way. I cut a lot of the liquid, added some soy nut butter (you could use almond or peanut butter), and added a small but satisfying amount of brown sugar and mini-chocolate chips. Voila! A healthy cookie that would make the perfect pre-workout energy/carb boost without breaking the caloric bank. There is no butter in there, and only a minimal amount of brown sugar for flavor. They have a nice dense, chewy texture and are best enjoyed warm. You could reheat them in the toaster oven for a minute before serving.

Overripe bananas
I always have overripe bananas laying around.

Begin with 3 very ripe (brown) bananas. Mash those babies up with one egg, a teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of soy nut butter (or almond or peanut butter!). Stir in 2 cups of old fashioned or rolled oats and 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips. The dough will be wet, but will firm up during baking. Scoop out cookies and spread them out slightly on the parchment, leaving a little bit of space between cookies. They won’t spread much. Bake for 14-16 minutes at 350 degrees on parchment lined baking sheets. Makes 12 large cookies (about 100 calories each) or 24 smaller cookies (50 calories each). The larger ones are great as a breakfast cookie. Serve warm or reheated.

Allergy friendly versions:

You could definitely make these dairy-free by using chocolate chips that contain no dairy ingredients.  You could leave out the egg, and I think they would still work, though I have not tested them.  At that point, they would be vegan.  If you used gluten-free oats, they would (obviously) be gluten free as well.  If you are not eating added sugar, feel free to leave out the brown sugar and/or chocolate chips.

Healthy Oatmeal Banana Chip Cookies

Healthy Oatmeal Banana Chip Cookies

Healthy cookies, warm and ready to enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 overripe bananas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy, sun, almond, or peanut butter
  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mash bananas in large mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in egg, vanilla, brown sugar, and "nut" butter.
  4. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.
  5. Spoon 12 large cookies or 24 smaller cookies onto parchment paper, spreading batter out slightly until 1/4 inch thick. Batter will be wet, but will firm upon baking.
  6. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden around edges.
  7. Let cool 5 minutes and serve warm.
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New York Crumb Cake

You know how pregnant women crave very specific, seemingly random things?  Well, I am not pregnant and haven’t been for a while, yet sometimes I get a craving so strong that I will not rest until I have that exact thing.  Nothing else will do.  It is not good enough to just have a mediocre version- It has to be the very best iteration of my dream food.  Yesterday, in the midst of the biggest blizzard the East Coast has seen in 20 years, I was suddenly overcome with an intense urge to have the ultimate New York Crumb Cake.

You know, the one that is half moist yellow cake, half giant buttery brown sugar and cinnamon crumbs lightly dusted with powdered sugar. I even dreamed about it.

So, the next morning, I set about looking for a good recipe.  Some recipes called for cake flour and buttermilk, but I am both out of those and snowed in.  Some recipes made gigantic 9×13 inch cakes, but let’s be real, I am going to eat the whole thing, so an 8 inch is plenty.  I put together a combo of a few different recipes, scaled it down to 8 inches square, and am writing it up just for you all to make while you are snowed in.  Also, so I can justify eating a whole cake.  Enjoy!

Virginia Snowmaggedon 2016
The view out back this morning

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  I use the convection setting on my oven, though conventional is fine. Spray an 8 inch square cake pan with non-stick spray.

Now, cream your butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric hand or stand mixer.  In a measuring cup, measure out milk, adding egg and egg yolk, vanilla and additional extract (if using).  Whisk together lightly.  Add to creamed butter mixture and beat on medium for a minute.  It will have some lumps, but that is okay.  Add flour salt and baking powder.  Mix until well blended for about 30 seconds on medium speed.  Spread in prepared pan.

In a separate bowl, make crumb topping by combining all dry ingredients, pouring in melted butter, and mixing well until it feels like damp sand.  Pack it down a bit, break into large crumbs, and sprinkle evenly over cake batter.  You want big crumbs on top for the most part, with some smaller crumbs underneath.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Mine took 42 minutes.  Let cool completely and dust with a bit of powdered sugar.  Enjoy with coffee on a snowy day!

Final New York Crumb Cake 2

New York Crumb Cake

Ingredients

    For the cake batter:
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon Lor-Ann Princess Emulsion, or 1/4 teaspoon lemon or almond extract, or 1 teaspoon lemon juice (all optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    For the crumb topping:
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2-3 teaspoons powdered sugar, for dusting on top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8inch square cake pan.
    For batter,
  1. Cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.
  2. Pour milk, egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and additional extract or lemon juice (if using) in a measuring cup, whisking lightly to combine.
  3. Add liquid to butter mixture and mix until combined but slightly lumpy.
  4. Add flour, salt, and baking powder and mix on medium speed until smooth, thick batter forms.
  5. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
    For crumb topping,
  1. Combine flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  2. Pour melted butter over top, and mix well with a fork.
  3. Press down firmly to pack mixture.
  4. Scoop out some of mixture with hands, squeeze into large clumps, and break into smaller crumbs.
  5. Sprinkle evenly over cake batter in a thick layer.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Let cool completely and dust with powdered sugar.
  8. Cut into large squares and serve with coffee.
  9. Makes 9-12 servings.
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Kelly’s Cookie Challenge

Tomorrow night, I get to be on the other side of a judging table, for a welcome change of pace.  I’m so honored to have been chosen as a judge for this year’s Kelly’s Cookie Challenge charity bake-off…and I get to taste lots of amazing cookies- Kind of a dream come true.

Several teams of bakers will be there with their best cookie bakes, and three judges (that’s me!  Well, one is me) will pick a winner. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the winning team’s charity of choice.

There are teams representing a number of charities this year including:

And many more!  If you’re at the event, you’ll have the opportunity to join the “Long Shots” team, and make a mystery baked good for charity.

If any of you are in the Silver Spring, MD area, and have some time tomorrow night, stop by to support a great cause! Based on pictures from previous years events, it looks like it will be a great time!  Hope to see you there.  I will try to post photos of the cookies and teams very soon.  I really love the idea of being a judge.  Way less pressure, and lots of yummy desserts-  This might be what I want to be when I grow up!

Easiest Cut Out Sugar Cookie

I have tried many “Roll Out” Sugar Cookie recipes for use with cookie cutters, and I am always surprised that many do not hold their shape or taste very good.  This is my go-to recipe, and I actually found the basic recipe on the tag of a cookie cutter.  Of course, being the weirdo I am that can’t just follow a recipe as written, I have changed it a tad.  Plus, I have about a million ways to make them really special….Hello Tangerine-Chai Sugar Cookies from Cookie Week on The Great Holiday Baking Show!  They really are my favorite thing to make from the show, and it all started with the easiest cut out Sugar Cookie recipe.  They will hold a cookie cutter shape perfectly, are not too sweet and can stand up to some icing, and the dough is easy to roll and handle.

Basic Roll Out Sugar Cookies
Tangerine and Chai Sugar Cookies, all gussied up for Valentine’s Day

Lauren’s Sugar Cookie Dough

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon additional extract, any flavor-almond, lemon, orange, etc… (optional) and/or 1 tablespoon citrus zest or fresh herbs, finely grated or chopped (I love tangerine zest!)
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 325 degrees convection.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy (1-2 minutes).  Add egg and vanilla to mixer, beating on medium speed until just incorporated.  At this point, if you are using any citrus zest, herbs or additional extracts, add them now and mix for a few seconds.

For the dry ingredients, there are two options:

For basic dough, just add the flour and salt, mixing until the dough just comes together.

*Or for a dry mix in, such as **Chai tea, Earl Grey tea, freeze dried fruit (I love this with freeze dried strawberries!), or dried herbs and spices, run the extra ingredient and the flour and salt in the food processor for a couple of minutes until very finely broken down.  I do this step so that you don’t get bits of tea in your teeth.  Then, add the blended dry mixture to the wet ingredients.  Mix until just combined.

Chill dough for at least 2 hours.  You can chill the dough faster in the freezer, if desired.  Also, this step can be done up to 3 days in advance of baking.  Take dough out of the refrigerator, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Dust counter and dough liberally with flour, roll to just under 1/4 inch, and cut into desired shapes.  Bake for 9-12 minutes or until edges just barely get a hint of color.  Remove to cool on wire rack.  Decorate with glaze, royal icing, or whatever your heart desires!

many different cookies

**To add tea, cut open 3 tea bags and blend in the food processor with the flour.

To add freeze dried fruit, add 1 cup to food processor, pulse, then add flour and blend for a minute until combined.

Flavor combinations I like:

  1. Orange zest and fresh rosemary
  2. Lemon zest and fresh thyme (leaves only, no stems)
  3. Grapefruit zest and Earl Grey tea
  4. Lemon zest and British Breakfast tea
  5. Tangerine zest and Chai tea
  6. Freeze dried strawberries and vanilla bean seeds
  7. Fresh basil and freeze dried strawberries
  8. espresso powder and vanilla bean
  9. mint extract or fresh mint and cacao nibs
  10. Orange zest and ground cloves
  11. Fresh ginger and lime zest
  12. Freeze dried blueberries and lavender (go light on the lavender!)

The sky is the limit.  Let me know if you try any good combinations.  The trick is not to add any ingredients that are soggy or inherently waterlogged.

 

Perfect Crispy Oatmeal Cookies

This cookie is simple and unassuming, but I swear it calls to me like no other.  So much so, that I have inadvertently eaten a whole batch by myself without surfacing for air.  My family is not known for their baking, or even cooking, for that matter.  They are kind of famous for their eating skills, but that is another story.  Anyway, the only particularly notable recipe that I remember from childhood would be my Aunt Ruth’s Crispy Oatmeal Cookies.  They are highly addictive, perfectly crisp, lacy yet substantial, and delicately flavored with brown sugar, nutty whole oats, salt and vanilla.  Just try to resist them.

Aunt Ruth, who is not actually my blood relative (more of a relative by marriage through another relative), was a sweet, kind, adorable lady that you couldn’t help but love.  Her charming barely-there Southern accent and warm, perfect manners made her a lovely host and gave her cookies something extra that nobody since has been able to replicate….even with her exact same recipe.  My Aunt Adele, who has even made them side by side with Aunt Ruth, says that she can’t get them to taste just right.  So, I set about testing this recipe with little tweaks in the method to see if I could get close to the original.  They came out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  Maybe, just a hair different than Aunt Ruth’s cookies, but definitely worthy of making on a leisurely day of baking.

Crispy Oatmeal Cookie

Aunt Ruth’s Crispy Oatmeal Cookies Recipe

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups old fashioned oats

Makes 4 dozen cookies

In a large bowl, cream together softened butter (or margarine for pareve cookies) and sugars.  Aunt Ruth specified to do this whole method by hand, but I used the kitchen aid on low speed.  Add in eggs and vanilla.  Mix until just incorporated.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture.  Mix until just combined.  Again, do this by hand or on very low speed with mixer.
Fold in oatmeal by hand. Refrigerate dough for 3-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll into small balls (a rounded teaspoon) and flatten until very thin (the thinner the better) onto greased cookie sheet.  You can flatten with a fork or your hand, but try to get a very thin, even layer.

Flatten well! This is the key to a crispy cookie all the way through.
Flatten well for a crisp cookie.

Bake 9-12 minutes or until medium brown and crisp at edges.  Remove from oven and let sit on pan for 1-2 minutes.  Remove to wire rack to cool completely.  Can be stored in airtight container for a few days, if they last that long.  Enjoy!

imageimage image

Healthy New Year, Whole 30

Last year, I was on track. I had lost 20+ lbs, was going to the gym regularly, and was eating pretty well. Then, a trifecta of doom struck: My personal trainer quit to pursue a new career, I was cast on a television baking show, and subsequently traveled to England to film with no time for/access to a gym.  To add insult to injury, we ate at restaurants for 3 meals a day, while also intermittently shoveling in loads of decadent pastries. Sometimes when life gets crazy, you just eat whatever is available in large quantities, and then try not to think on it too hard.

Fast forward 4 months later-2016, and I am up 10 lbs but ready to get back on track. I am one of those people that doesn’t instinctively know  how to eat healthy or in moderation. Strict Guidelines seem to help me, especially when I don’t have a lot of wiggle room. So, I am planning to start my second Whole 30. If you are unfamiliar with this plan, it is basically all whole foods-organic when possible and includes: Meat, fish, poultry, fruits, veggies, seeds, most nuts, and healthy oils that are not grain derived. No grains, no sugars, no artificial sweeteners, no soy, no, dairy, no fun….It gets a bit tricky for me, since my home is nut and coconut free, due to my son’s severe allergies. However, I do sneak around a bit with some pecans and coconut milk (stored like contraband in hidden compartments and labeled with skulls).

Still, being obsessed with preparing food and known for creativity in the kitchen, I still want to eat satisfying foods that I love. Here are some ideas for healthful and mostly Whole 30-friendly snacks, smoothies, and treats (some require a bit of tweaking for whole 30).

Banana Matcha Energy Smoothie:

My favorite Pre-workout energy smoothie, low calorie with a good proportion of protein and carbs for optimum performance. This one could be made without protein powder and with coconut milk for whole 30 compliance. I love to freeze chopped bananas for this smoothie in ziplock bags (when I have overripe ones sitting around).

Ingredients:

1/2 frozen or fresh banana, cut into chunks (about 1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder

3/4 cup flax milk, almond, soy, rice, coconut or cashew milk

1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder (optional)

3 Medjool dates (optional, but makes smoothie sweeter)

1/2 cup ice cubes

Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender until very smooth. Enjoy immediately, preferably 1 hour before a tough workout.  I recommend half a smoothie before a workout for energy and the remainder post-workout to replenish carbs and protein.

Snacks:

I know you are not supposed to snack much on Whole 30, but sometimes you need a little something to get over the starvation  hump.  Some of my easy to grab go-to snacks are:

  1. An apple cut into thin slices (or even French fry shapes) and tossed with a bit of cinnamon in a ziplock bag.
  2. a slice of deli turkey (organic and sugar free, of course) wrapped around a slice of avocado and/or a pickle.
  3. Prosciutto wrapped around a wedge of melon.
  4. Crunchy, freeze dried fruit.
  5. Hard boiled eggs or deviled eggs made with homemade mayo, finely diced shallot, and paprika.
  6. These babies pictured below, minus the cream cheese for Whole 30 compliance.  You could sub a pimento stuffed olive or even an almond stuffed olive…yum!  Those are thinly sliced, seedless cucumbers (use a vegetable peeler) rolled up with smoked salmon and an olive.  Tie it up with a chive if you are feeling fancy!  I actually won a Healthy Snack Contest from Cooking Contest Central (my favorite community of cooking contest friends) with these beauties last yearwhole 30 snack
  7. I also love a slice of roast beef with my homemade mayo, some grated fresh horseradish, and a slice of tomato all rolled up.
  8. Raw veggies with a dressing for dipping.  Some great brands to buy include Brianna’s and Tessimae.  To make your own, the sky is the limit.  I plan on making  a tahini and roasted eggplant dip soon.

Sweet treats:

  1.  A sliced banana, some fresh pineapple chunks, nuts (walnuts or pecans, if you are not allergic), coconut chips, and a drizzle of coconut milk that has been blended with a little cinnamon.  This also makes a great breakfast when you can’t look at another egg.
  2. Cherry-Chocolate Sorbet:  This will only work in a food processor or a vitamix blender.  Blend frozen dark, sweet cherries with a teaspoon or two of unsweetened dark cocoa powder.  Keep agitating mixture until the cherries are blended completely smooth, like sorbet.  You might need to add a touch of coconut milk to get the blender moving.
  3. The following concoction:

image

Carrot Cake Smoothie:

  • 1/2 frozen or fresh banana, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks
  • 3/4 cup organic carrot juice (I used Boathouse Farms)
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 3 Medjool dates
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I LOVE the one from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup ice cubes

Blend all ingredients in a high powered blender until smooth and serve immediately.

Lastly, I do want to say that I learned a lot on Whole 30 last time I did it, even though the scale did not show that much movement for me.  I felt great, my skin was glowing, and I saw definition in my abs that I had never seen before.  Of course, it is all gone now, but I will let you know in a month if I am back in the game; )

Feel free to leave any tips or snacks that you love while doing Whole 30 (or any clean eating plan) in the comments section.  Thanks and have a Happy, Healthy New Year!

 

Copycat Levain Bakery Ginormous Chocolate Chip Cookies (Nut Free)

Once upon a time, when I only had two kids (and they weren’t babies any more), I took a weekend trip to NYC to visit my cousin, Aunt and Uncle, and BFF.  I decided to also take a tour of the most highly rated bakeries in Manhattan.  Levain Bakery was at the top of everyone’s list of “must visits”, and coincidentally was in walking distance of my cousin’s apartment in the Upper West Side.  Coincidence or fate, I ended up trying many of the cookies from Levain, with their doughy centers, crispy rugged exterior craters and plateaus, and ginormous soul satisfying size. When I tried their chocolate chip cookies, it was love at first bite.

Fast forward 6 years to the present…I have not been able to get these cookies off my mind.  It turns out I am not the only one, and their are tons of copycat recipes out there.  I researched as many as I could, watched the footage of the owners baking them on Beat Bobby Flay, and put together my own recipe that combines tips and tricks from many of the recipes….

While researching, I noticed a few odd things about this cookie recipe:

1.  They almost all called for cold butter, cubed, instead of the usual creaming of room temp. butter.  Curious, I kept this oddity in my recipe.  I believe it contributes to the craggy exterior.

2.  The bakery apparently doesn’t use vanilla in their recipe.  It feels wrong to me, just as a vanilla lover, so I put a tad in my recipe, but feel free to leave it out for the sake of authenticity.

3.  Some of the recipes called for bread flour, some called for AP flour.  I decided to split the difference and use both.  I think it was perfect.

4.  Some of the recipes called for cornstarch, which I found interesting, so I kept it in.  Not sure if it is necessary, but I believe it contributes to the center being soft and doughy, but not raw or falling apart.

5.  Lastly, this is sold as a chocolate walnut cookie (which is my all time favorite), but since we are nut-free, I left the nuts out.  You could add them back in, if you are not allergic.  Please use good quality semi-sweet, dark or bittersweet chocolate in these.  I have heard rumors that the use Guittard chips at Levain.

First, take two sticks of cold unsalted butter and cut them into tiny cubes.  Place in a stand mixer with the white and brown sugars, and vanilla.  Cream them together, adding eggs one at a time until just incorporated.  It will be lumpy at first, but after a minute or two, it should look like this.  Stop here, and resist the urge to beat until smooth.  Those lumps of butter will contribute to the rough exterior later!

Chocolate Chip Cooki dough

Add in your flours, baking powder, cornstarch, and salt.  Mix until just combined.  Or until your paddle attachment breaks in half, like mine did, signaling the end of mixing….forever.  Adieu, after market paddle attachment.

Chocolate Chip Cookie dry ingredients

Yes, it actually did break at the thickest point.  I have a knack for these things.

borken mixer paddle

Then, if your paddle isn’t broken, mix in the whole bag of chocolate chips.  If you were me, you would be folding it in by hand at this point.

chocolate chip cookie dough with chips

To look like this.  If you are adding nuts, now would be the time.  There are still a few small chunks of visible butter.  This is awesome.

chocolate chip cookie dough mixed

Okay, this might actually be the key to this recipe:  loosely grab gigantic balls of dough, like baseball size.  Resist the urge to make smooth balls, and actually try to keep the batter loose and rough.  See those valleys and craters on the outside?  Now stash these in the fridge (or even the freezer) for at least 30 minutes.  Mine were in there about 1 1/2 hours.

chocolate chip cookie dough balls

Bake at 375 degrees (Or 350 convection)for 18-24 minutes, rotating pans half way through baking.  They are done when they are still soft in the center, but golden brown at edges and gooey, but not too gooey, if that makes sense?  Sometimes, when I pull a particularly gorgeous baked good from the oven, I start singing bow-chicka-bow-bow…This was one of those times.

chocolate chip cookie baked

You definitely need a glass of milk for this baby!  And the beauty of this recipe is that they are HUGE, so 1 is enough even for the most dedicated sweet tooth.  I almost feel less guilty having one of these, even though I would not want to know the calorie count (don’t tell me), than when I make my usual chocolate chippers and devour 6 of them.  It is so much more fulfilling to eat one of these while it is warm, breaking off little chunks, and actually savor it a bit.

chocolate chip cookie

The soft center….

chocolate chip cookie center

My last little bit…For scale purposes, this was only about 1/8 a cookie.  Like my green mani?

chocolate chip cookie closeup

Levain Copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies (Nuts Optional!)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (I used light, but I suspect dark would be even better)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1 1/4 cup bread flour (could sub AP, if you don’t have bread flour)
  • 2 cups AP Flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups good quality chocolate chips (Guittard or Ghirardeli would be great)
  • *Optional- 1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream cold butter cubes with sugars and vanilla until mostly smooth, but with small lumps evenly distributed throughout.  Add in eggs, beating just until incorporated.  There will still be small chunks of butter.

Add all dry ingredients to mixer on low until just combined.  Fold in chocolate chips (and nuts, if using).  Do not overmix.  Form dough into 11 or 12 gigantic balls, being careful not to pack them together.  Place cookies onto parchment lined cookie sheets with lots of space in between.  Keep the exterior rough and bumpy.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or freeze for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (mine was 350 convection).  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until the center is set but soft (should seem just underdone), and outside becomes golden brown at edges and peaks.  Let cool on parchment for 5-10 minutes and serve warm with milk.

**One more interesting thing about this recipe.  It was developed by the bakery owners, who are triathletes.  They were trying to find the perfect cookies to fuel their grueling workouts.  These definitely fit the bill.

Let me know what you think!  I thought these were pretty darn close to the originals, if not exactly the same.