Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pumpkin Bars

    The other day it rained. It rained hard. Not just a downpour, but I'm talking monsoon type water accumulation. The rain and hail came on suddenly and would not quit. Mudslides soon followed, with people and vehicles getting swept up in the currents and buried in a matter of moments. The accompanying lightning and thunder were just the lights and soundtrack to complete the "apocalyptic" weather event that had descended upon us. I've never seen a storm like that before, and I read that it was a once in 1,000 year event. Lucky us.
   Well, thanks to the lovely weather, my family and I were trapped indoors. But, we were all safe, healthy and warm with plenty of provisions to see us through until the storm passed, and the wreckage left in it's quake could be addressed. So, what do I do when it looks like the world is ending outside? I bake of course. Wouldn't you?
    I first made my kids some homemade hot chocolate (cocoa powder, milk, vanilla and pure maple syrup), at their request, and then got to baking. I had a few cups of fresh pumpkin puree ready to use, so I got out my cookbooks and started searching. I came across a recipe for Pumpkin Bars in my local church cookbook, but as I was reading the recipe I saw that it was full of highly processed ingredients (white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil) that I'm trying to weed out of our diet, so I decided I would change things up. I used whole wheat pastry flour, pure maple syrup and butter as substitutions. Yes, I still use butter. It's not as processed as vegetable or canola oil and it's good for you. I promise. Look it up. :)
    Well, the end result was delicious. A moist cake that is just sweet enough, but not cloyingly so, that is topped with a delectable cream cheese frosting (or whipped cream if you prefer). I just had to share it with you. I bet you're thinking, "Wait. I thought this was supposed to be a bar recipe. Why did she just say it's a cake?" Well, while reading through the original recipe I noted that it seemed to me that it would be more of a cake than a cookie bar (because of the amount of eggs, and the inclusion of a fair amount of both baking powder and baking soda) and I was right. This is definitely a cake, but if the original author can call it a bar, then I will too. (You can cook it on a sheet pan if it makes you feel better - like you are making a cookie bar, instead of a cake. But don't be mad at the end result. It will be soft, moist and tender like a cake. Not at all crispy, gooey or chewy like a cookie.)
    Ok, now down to the recipe. As I mentioned before, I swapped out less processed ingredients to fit our healthier life style, and I also added some ground flax seed for extra nutrition. I reduced the amount of sweetener, not only because I wanted to keep it on the healthier side, but also because I opted to use pure maple syrup instead of white sugar, and it's pretty pricey. (100% Pure Maple Syrup is my sweetener of choice, though, so if you haven't tried it you really should. I find the best price in my area is at Costco, but definitely shop around to find a good deal where you are. I keep jugs of it on hand, since we only use that and honey for most of our sweetening needs anymore. I should really buy stock in it!)
Do you have any favorite healthy swaps? I'd love to hear about it.

Here's the recipe:
adapted from Shauna Young's Pumpkin Bars 

Pumpkin Bars

1 1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (I always use salted)
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (can sub 16 oz can pumpkin)
1/2 cup ground flax seed (I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together all the ingredients, except the flour, until smooth. Slowly mix in the flour until fully combined. Spread the batter evenly into a prepared 10x15 baking dish, or a sheet pan. Bake 20-30 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). All ovens are different. Check after 20 minutes, and then go from there. Cool, and serve with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows) or sweetened whipped cream.
Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup salted butter, room temperature
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup (to taste)

Blend with an electric mixer until all ingredients are smooth. Mix for an additional 5 minutes on high (to get it light an fluffy). Refrigerate if the frosting gets too runny, and then whip again before icing the cake/bars.  


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bake Sale

   Tomorrow, the elementary school that my kids go to is having it's annual Fall Festival. It's the biggest fundraiser for the year, and this year they are going all out. They are having a rock wall, inflatable slides and obstacle courses, a magic show, a book fair, dancing, games, food, and a silent auction for some amazing prizes. For the past few years, the Ball Room Dance group at the school also does a bake sale at the festival. My son is a proud Ball Room Dancer and so I do what I can to support him and the group in any way I can. My task today is to bake copious amounts of goodies for the bake sale. So, while I know these things aren't healthy, and they don't fall in line with my healthier lifestyle that my family and I have been living recently, I am making desserts. I actually had to make a run to the store to buy some white flour, because I haven't had a need for it since I made Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls. We only keep 100% Whole Wheat Flour in the house anymore.
  So, after I got everything together, I decided to make a few of my favorite sweet indulgences that could easily be portioned out for sale at the festival. These are the recipes I decided on:
Texas Canyon Lemon Bars, Snickerdoodle BlondiesNutella Pumpkin Swirl Bread (that I'm actually making as little muffins), Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze (I replaced the sweet potato in this recipe with pumpkin and added 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice). I love these recipes and I'm sure they'll stand out from the usual chocolate chip cookies, and store bought cupcakes sold at your everyday bake sale.
   If you try any of them, or have a favorite, let me know! What's your favorite thing to eat/buy at a bake sale?

Texas Canyon Lemon Bars,

Pumpkin Scones with a Maple Glaze
(Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

German Chocolate Fudge Bites

So, last month I was asked to talk a little about healthy eating to the women in my church. I was honored and flattered, of course, but if you've ever looked at the countless sweets on my blog than you know I'm not a complete health nut. It is true, however, that over the last year or so I have been steering my family onto a journey of better health. This includes only eating "real" food (no weird chemicals or preservatives that I can't find in a normal household kitchen), and trying to cut out highly processed foods (like white flour and most sugars). Most people call this "clean eating." We do have occasional treats with the "bad stuff" (white flour/sugar) but we try to stay away from those ingredients in our day to day meals and snacks. Becuase they aren't completely "bad" they are just empty calories without any benefits.
  The whole family has taken to this way of life pretty well, and the kids are even checking the ingredients lists on packages before they ask me for anything in the grocery store! (Win!) Watching the movie Fed Up with them was all it took for them to be on the no sugar band wagon with me. (Even if we take occasional hops off the wagon and jump back on, it's much better than the way we were previously eating.) If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it.
   While on my journey to discovering better health and "real" food I was in desperate need to find substitutes for my chocolate desserts that I love so much. I actually made my own chocolate (another story for another day), and I am finding new ways to get that chocolate flavor without using the factory produced chocolate chips and bars that are so near and dear to my heart. These German Chocolate Fudge Bites are one of those ways.
   This recipe was shared with me by a friend, Chelsi, that was heading up a clean eating challenge. I did the challenge, tried this recipe and I fell in love with it. My kids call them "chocolate balls" and have no idea that they have NO processed sugar in them at all. These treats are only sweetened with dates! They are raw, gluten free, and can easily be made nut free if needed. I knew this was going to be the dessert that I shared with the ladies at church. (If you're curious, these are the other 4 recipes I shared with the group.) You should definitely try them, because they are delicious, not because they are healthy. That's just a bonus!

This is how it starts: It's all made in the food processor. You'll need a package of Majule dates. I multiplied the recipe by 5 for the church group, so when you make yours it won't be as many ingredients. But it will be the same ingredients as what's in the picture.
These dates were HUGE, so a normal recipe would only need 3 of these giant guys, or 6 of the normal size. (3/4 cup)

Don't forget to take the pit out of the dates! Just break the date in half. See the pit inside?

Then take the pit out. The pit is discarded and the rest of the date goes into the food processor.

For a single recipe you will need 3/4 cup of pitted dates. But, like I mentioned before, I multiplied the recipe by 5 so I have a lot more here.

I like to blend the dates up a bit, just to make more room in the food processor, but this step isn't really necessary.

Then all the other ingredients are added: Unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey's Special Dark), or you could use raw cocao powder if desired.

A little salt,

pure vanilla extract,


and pecans go into the bowl of the food processor with the dates.

Just turn the sucker on and let it go. When the mixture comes together it's done!

You can make your fudge bites as big or as small as you would like, but I find that a rounded teaspoon full is perfect for us.

Just scoop them, and roll them in your hand.

It's a messy job, so beware! This was after about 40 balls. :)

When all the balls are rolled out, then just store them in an airtight container. I usually put them in a zip-top sandwich bag, but since I was making so many I opted to put them into a glass Pyrex container with a lid.
When it was time to serve it to the ladies I put each one into a mini muffin liner. They were adorable. (I regret not taking a picture.)
   I hope you enjoy them and they inspire you to find healthier alternatives to your every day treats/snacks. :)

Here's the recipe:
from Chocolate Covered Katie

German Chocolate Fudge Bites

3/4 cup pitted dates 
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/16 tsp salt
2 tbsp cocoa powder (or raw cacao powder)
2 tbsp shredded coconut (sweetened or not is your choice)
1/3 cup raw pecans

*If you really need more chocolate, you can add some chocolate chips, but I don't.
Blend all ingredients in a food processor, until the mixture comes together in a ball. Scoop and roll into desired sized balls. Store in an airtight container

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Whole Wheat Pita Bread (With Crock-pot Chicken, Garlic Tahini Sauce and Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce)

So about a month ago, I participated in a clean eating challenge. Part of eating clean is to only eat "whole" ingredients. That means nothing that is highly processed, and definitely no white flour or refined sugar. It was during this challenge that one of the participants shared a recipe for whole wheat pita bread. Since whole wheat flour is perfectly acceptable while eating clean, it was a great recipe to share. I had never made pita bread before, but I was anxious to try my hand at it. I made the recipe she posted and it was very salty, and a little dry tasting. So, with a little tweaking I came up with a recipe that I am happy with.
   About a week ago I was asked to talk to the ladies of out church about healthy eating. I gave them a few general healthy eating rules to live by, and talked about some foods to consider adding into their every day diets. At the end I was going to talk about all the yummy food that I had brought for them to sample, but I ended up running out of time so I basically just said: here you go. I served a basic crock-pot chicken recipe (that can be used in any number of healthy eating recipes), and had all the fixings to eat it as a pita sandwich. Of course, I made the whole wheat pita bread and had it for everyone to use. Everything was well received, and I got numerous requests for the recipes. I had hard copies for the people in attendance, but I thought that I would post them on my blog as well, so that everyone who wanted the recipes could have them. (I will be posting the chicken and sauce recipes at the end of this post, and then later I will be posting the German Chocolate Fudge bites that I served as well.)
   Unfortunately, there are no step by step pictures for the pita bread, but the recipe and directions should serve you well. If you have any questions/comments just let me know and I will help you out as always. :)
   I consider pita bread to be one of those recipes that is like culinary magic. You roll out the dough and put it in the oven (sure that there is no way it will puff and turn out like it should) and then magically it does. The dough rounds puff up like little pillows and turn out wonderfully. I hope you enjoy making (and eating) them as well!

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

2 cups warm water (110F-115F)
4 tsp dry yeast (I like rapid rise/instant yeast)
1 tsp honey (optional)
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 ½ -4 cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour)
½ cup ground flax seed meal (I use Bob's Mill Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal)

Combine water, yeast and honey into a bowl and set aside to get foamy. (5 minutes). Whisk in the ground flax seed, 1 ½ cups of the flour, and the salt until smooth. Add 2 cups more flour and knead until a smooth, slightly sticky, dough forms. (Use all 4 cups if the dough is too sticky.) Put in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (about 1 hour). Roll out dough and divide into 11 balls. Let sit for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 500F while the dough is resting. After resting, roll each dough ball out into circles (6 -8 inches) with as few strokes as possible, making sure NOT to roll the edges flat. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake on the bottom rack for 5-6 minutes, until puffed and slightly browned. When cool, cut in half and fill with desired ingredients.

I like to eat the pita bread with this crock-pot chicken, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and both the garlic tahini sauce and the lemon dill yogurt sauce. (recipes follow)

Crock-pot Chicken

3 lbs boneless skinless chicken (breasts or thighs)
½ small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ cups greens, finely diced (I like to use a mixture of baby spinach, baby kale, and baby           chard, labeled as "power greens" at the grocery store. Measure after cutting, it's about 4 cups before cutting)
1 tsp whole dry thyme
½ tsp ground dry rosemary
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Juice of ½ lemon (about 2 Tbsp, plus more to taste)

Put all ingredients into the slow cooker. Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high 4-5 hours. Cut or shred the chicken and use in any recipe. Taste and add more salt and/or lemon juice if desired.

Garlic Tahini Sauce

¼ cup water
½ cup tahini
3 tsp minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
¼ tsp ground cumin
Juice of ½ lemon (about 2 tbsp)
Salt and pepper

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. All ingredients are to taste. 

Lemon Dill Yogurt Sauce

½ cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ tsp dry dill (can use mint if you prefer)
1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 clove)
¼ cup grated cucumber (without juice)
Salt and pepper

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. All ingredients are to taste.

Caprese Salad

Heading into the warmer months, this is a salad that my family enjoys all summer long. It's light, refreshing, and is a cinch to make. There's not one true, hard and fast recipe to use for Caprese salad. The basics are tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. What really makes this salad, though, is making sure to use the BEST ingredients possible. It really does make all the difference. I recently had a caprese salad at a local restaurant, and I was sorely dissapointed. So, I came home and made my own which is almost always better (and cheaper!)

Isn't this salad so pretty? It's impressive enough to serve to company, but easy enough to have on a regular week night with the family. I've made it with a ball of fresh mozzarella (pictured), but I've also made it with the little round balls of mozzarella (bocconcini), and not cut them at all. Both ways are delicious!

Here's my "recipe"

Caprese Salad

3-4 large heirloom tomatoes (organic if you can)
1 pound fresh mozzarella
1 small bunch of fresh basil
extra virgin olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper
aged balsamic vinegar

Cut the tomatoes and the cheese into 1/4 inch slices. Arange them on a plate, alternating tomatoes and cheese as you like. Tear or cut the basil into small pieces and sprinkle on top. Drizzle on a little olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls (AKA 1 Hour Cinnamon Rolls)

Ramona took this photo of her own cinnamon roll. 

So, in case you've been viewing my last couple posts of Fudgey Black Bean Brownies, Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew, Whole Wheat Sourdough Waffles, Whole Wheat Carrot Applesauce Muffins, etc. and were afraid that I've gone completely "health nut" on you lately, have no fear. My cravings for bad for me food are still very much alive and thriving. They say if you go without sugar long enough then you won't crave it anymore. Yeah, I haven't had that experience. It could be that I just haven't been able to stay away from it long enough to find out for sure, but I don't think I could live my life without sweetness. (And don't even get me started on chocolate. That food will be my companion for life!) 
   So, back to the topic at hand, these cinnamon rolls. Today and tomorrow are the General Conferences for my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). That means that most of us get to stay home, lounge around in our pajamas all day and enjoy hearing the inspired words of the apostles and prophet streaming right through our televisions or computers. And, because of our freedom from having to get up and ready for church, many of us make a decadent breakfast of overnight french toast or cinnamon rolls to enjoy while watching conference. So, I decided that today would be the perfect day to try out Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls. 
   Ramona is an inspiring friend of mine who also happens to be a goddess in the kitchen. She is an exceptional cook and baker and I love seeing (and eating) all of the yummy foods she makes. Well, back in January (when most people are trying to eat healthier and stay away from all the guilty pleasure foods they really want to indulge in) she posted this delicious looking photo (above) of the cinnamon roll that she had just made and was enjoying. She said that these rolls are "the best cinnamon rolls" she has ever made! Now that's saying something. Having made multiple recipes of cinnamon rolls in the past, but never being able to find the "perfect one," I was dying to give this recipe a shot. Well, I was one of those people who was trying to stay away from bad for me food (and I still am), so I didn't try them back in January. I was actually doing a two week detox where I couldn't have any sweeteners of any kind (sugar, honey, maple syrup, dates, etc). Nothing! Well, I made it through those two weeks and have been trying to limit my sugar intake ever since. I'm definitely not perfect, and I do have occasions where I allow myself to indulge like today, but I try to not make it the way I eat all the time. I mean, I want to keep fitting into my clothes and stay healthy while I'm at it. And I don't run marathons like Ramona does. :)
   So, yes, these rolls have refined white flour, refined sugars, unhealthy oil, and lots of butter, but look at it for what it is a rare indulgence. And a very delicious one at that!

Oh! I also wanted to mention that this recipe has A LOT of yeast in it, but it is because of all this yeast that these rolls can be made from start to finish in 1 hour. Perfect for those days you are in a hurry.

Here's how I made them:

In the bowl of my 6 qt. stand mixer, I added the warm water, sugar

yeast, (A lot of it! 6 TBSP! But this is what makes them ready in 1 hour from start to finish.)

and oil. I turned the mixer on and started adding the other ingredients. (If you are not using instant, or rapid rise, yeast like me then you will want to let your yeast mixture get foamy before proceeding, to make sure that your yeast is alive and active. Mine is already starting to bubble so no worries there.)

Next, I added the salt, eggs, 

and flour. The recipe says 10 1/2 cups, but I think it can vary a little depending on the weather and how exactly you measure all your ingredients. I ended up adding 11 cups of flour, but I always add 1 cup at a time to make sure the consistency is right.  

You want the dough to still be a little sticky, but starting to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  (See below) At this point I turned the mixer on low and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes to finish incorporating all the flour and ingredients, and to develop the gluten.

After kneading the dough for 10 minutes, let the dough rest for 10 minutes. I just drape a towel over my mixer and let it rest that way. 

While the dough was resting, I mixed up the filling ingredients. Brown sugar and cinnamon. I just mixed them together with my fingers until they were completely combined. 

Then I set it aside.

After the dough was done resting it had grown in size considerably! 

I took half of the dough and rolled it out onto a large, oiled cutting board. I rolled it into a large rectangle.

Then came the messy part. One stick of softened butter goes down. Yes, I said 1 stick. 1/2 a cup. I like salted butter, butter but I'm sure unsalted works fine too. (And yes, my butter is a little melted, because I always forget to take it out and let get soft on it's own, so I always end up microwaving it for a few seconds. This results in a partially melted stick of butter, but that's just fine.)

I just use my clean hand and spread the butter all over the dough. 

Next comes the cinnamon sugar mixture. Make sure to spread it out from edge to edge.

Then, I rolled up the whole thing. I like to start at the long side closest to me, and roll away from me to the other side. 

Then, I placed the roll seam side down and cut the rolls. I like to cut it in half, and then cut each half into thirds.

Then, each third gets cut in half. So each half makes 6 rolls. You will have 12 cinnamon rolls total for this rectangle. 

Then I placed the rolls onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and let them sit for 10 minutes. (This was new to me, because I usually bake my rolls in a 9x13 or 10x15 casserole dish. But, I was following the recipe and didn't want to deviate. I'm glad I did it this way, because the rolls grow exponentially! They were HUGE when they came out of the oven! They wouldn't have been able to be contained by the casserole dish.

After 10 minutes. this is what they looked like. They rose a little, but they will rise even more in the oven! I put them into a 400F degree oven and baked them for 20 minutes (The recipe says 13-15 minutes, but I like to go by temperature to make sure that they are not gooey in the middle. Bread is done at 200F degrees so that I what I look for.)

While the rolls were baking, my son made the frosting. 1 stick of butter, 8 oz of cream cheese, 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract, and 3 cups of powdered sugar. (The recipe calls for 6 oz of cream cheese, but after tasting it, we thought it needed more cream cheese and decided to add the entire 8 oz.) He just mixed them together in a bowl with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, until the frosting was light and fluffy.

We set the frosting aside for later.

When the rolls came out of the oven, they were brown and HUGE!

I frosted them with a little frosting right out of the oven and then frosted them again after they cooled a bit. This is the tray that I took to the fire station for my amazing husband and his crew. They were beyond happy to get them! :)
Thankfully the recipe makes two trays of rolls so the kids and I still had plenty to eat at home during conference. :)

Here's Ramona's recipe, in her own words. :)
Ramona's Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 24

Note: Recipe may be halved. If making 12, use 2 eggs, and approx. 6 cups of flour. Unless making overnight rolls, these should only take about an hour to make, start to finish.

3 1/2 cups warm water
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
6 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt
3 eggs
10 1/2 cups flour

1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon

In a stand mixer, combine water, sugar, oil, and yeast and let sit for 15 minutes. It should puff up. Add salt, eggs and flour and knead with dough hook (or by hand) for 10 minutes. Dough should pull away from sides, but may stick to the bottom of the mixer bowl. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. Put about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on the counter or cutting board. Divide dough in half. Press one half out into a large rectangle. Spread with half of butter, half of brown sugar, and half of cinnamon. Roll up tight, but not too tight. Divide into 12 rolls and place on greased or parchment lined cookie sheet. Repeat with other half of dough.

For overnight rolls, cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator overnight. Take out of fridge about 1 hour before desired bake time. Rolls will rise in the fridge, and even more as they come to room temperature - mine were huge! Bake for 12-15* minutes at 400 degrees. Turn the pan once during baking. Immediately after removing from the oven, frost with a little of the frosting. It will melt into the rolls. After they have cooled slightly, frost again with desired amount.

To bake immediately, let rise until desired size. Because of the amount of yeast, these rise quickly. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 400. Turn the pan once during baking. Frost with a little of the frosting. It will melt into the rolls. After they have cooled slightly, frost again with desired amount.

1/2 c. Butter
6 oz cream cheese*
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 c. Powdered sugar*

Place butter and cream cheese in stand mixer and beat for 1 minute until combined. Add vanilla and 3 cups of powdered sugar. Beat for 3 minutes. Check for your desired consistency, and add one more cup of powdered sugar if needed. (I used all 4 cups).

*When I made the frosting I found it wasn't tangy enough for me, so I added 8 oz of cream cheese, instead of the 6 oz it calls for. Also I only used 3 cups of powdered sugar, where Ramona used all 4.
*I baked my rolls for 20 minutes - until they were an internal temperature of 200F, and brown on the outside.