I didn't want to go the entire 10 days of the Pledge without sharing a new recipe with you! I thought this one would be perfect for any weekend entertaining or movie nights you may have planned. These Whole Wheat Pretzel Bites are the product of a slightly modified recipe from King Arthur Flour. For most of my baking I use KAF's White Whole Wheat Flour, but for these pretzel bites I really love using the darker, red Whole Wheat Flour. Feel free to use whatever you like or whatever you have on hand.
When I typically make these we wind up 'sampling' quite a few before they make it to the freezer. For the ones that do make it to freezer bags, I've eaten them several different ways:
I have often heated up a few Pretzel Bites and added them to my lunch. Here I had them with a salad and some red pepper slices. On my 'To Try' list is finding a good, clean cheese dip to serve with these yummy nuggets!
Whole Wheat Pretzel Bites
Makes about 6 dozen
10 1/2 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
7/8 - 1 cup warm water*
*Use the greater amount in the winter, the lesser amount in the summer and somewhere in the middle in the spring and fall.
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons baking soda
Coarse salt - I use kosher salt and some black salt from the bulk section of my grocery store
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Place all dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix until combined. Switch the mixer to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
While the dough is rising, combine the boiling water and baking soda and stir until the baking soda is dissolved. Pour into a 13x9 brownie pan and allow to cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with a silicon making mat or parchment paper and set aside.
Transfer the dough to a large cutting board and divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll the pieces into 12" to 15" ropes. Cut each rope into 12-15 equal-sized nuggets. Once all the bites are cut, place them in the baking soda solution and 'swish' the nuggets around so they are evenly covered. Allow to sit in the solution for 3-4 minutes. Remove the nuggets from the solution (draining slightly) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with the melted butter. After a few minutes, transfer the pretzels to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days or in the freezer in freezer-safe bags. Reheat in the oven for a few minutes or enjoy thawed from the freezer at room temperature.
Adapted from King Arthur's Flour
When I started learning about 'Clean Eating' earlier this year I quickly realized that the phrase can be interpreted many different ways. For some people it means no gluten, for others it means no sugar and for others it means all organic foods. The definition that made the most sense for me and my family is the one that Lisa Leake used during her 100 Days of Real Food pledge. Here is a quick summary of the 'rules' she followed:
Now, these are the rules the Leakes used during their pledge and though I'd LOVE to live this way 100% of the time, I realize that it's not realistic for me. However, I do try to eat by these rules most of the time. Rather than commit to 100 days of real food like the Leakes did, they offer a different challenge to their readers - A 10 Day Pledge! For as much as I've learned about and talked about Clean Eating over the past 8 months I've yet to take this pledge myself. That's all about to change! I'm excited to announce that I am going to take the 10 Day Pledge beginning August 12, 2014! ( We have this little event coming up known as my daughter's 9th birthday...so I thought I should wait til after that!) I invite YOU to join me and sign up for the pledge yourself so we can do it together!
So, now that we've defined what Clean Eating means to me, I'd like to share a recipe with you. I thought that a great way to start off the blog would be with dessert, of course! Brownies! I first tried these brownies a few months ago when my friend made them for her diabetic daughter. Only after my non-diabetic kids devoured these brownies she told me that they were gluten free AND sugar free! Since my older daughter has a major sweet tooth and has never met a carb she didn't love, I thought these would be a fantastic addition to her lunchbox in a few weeks.
These are made with a high quality almond flour (I find mine at Costco) and honey which my kids love! The original recipe calls for chocolate chunks and orange zest. Though I really enjoyed the orange zest, it got mixed reviews in my house so I omitted it. Also, in an effort to make these completely sugar free I omitted the chocolate chunks as well. If I were making these for a special occasion I would totally use them, but for an everyday lunchbox treat I think they are just fine without them. Also, to add a little extra depth to them, I topped them with a little fleur de sal when they were done baking.
Fudgy Brownies (Gluten Free and Sugar Free)
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (or other flaky sea salt)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut oil
Pinch of fleur de sel (for garnish)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line an 8x8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment or spray with extra virgin olive oil.
Place almond flour in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and any chunks have broken down. Pulse in cocoa powder and fleur de sel until mixture is well blended, about 10 seconds.
Add eggs, one at a time, and process until mixture is smooth. Add honey and coconut oil and continue blending until the mixture is smooth and all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool about 15 minutes before removing from the pan using the parchment to lift it out. When brownies are completely cooled, sprinkle with additional fleur de sel and cut into 16 squares.
How was your St. Patty’s Day? Did you celebrate with green beer? Or Irish food? Or a local parade? How about all three?? I didn’t indulge in any green beer this year and (sadly) didn’t make it to Pittsburgh’s awesome St. Patty’s Day parade. I DID, however, attend a fun St. Patty’s Day party and enjoyed some good Irish food! My contribution to the party was this Guinness and Cheddar Dip. Come to think of it, I may have brought this exact same dip to last year’s party….hmmm…no one seemed to mind! I’ve actually made this dip several times over the past year and it’s always quite popular! I’ve tweaked the original recipe a little so that the Guinness flavor really stands out. I like to serve it with hearty crackers or some veggies. So, even though the celebrations are over for this year, please don’t wait until 2014 to give this recipe a try!!
Guinness and Cheddar Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons half-and-half
1/4 cup Guinness
1 scallion, greens and whites, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mustard and half-and-half. Blend until smooth. With the food processor running, slowly pour the Guinness through the pour spout and blend until combined. Add the scallions and parsley and pulse a few more times to combine. Adjust flavor by adding salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a bowl and cover. Chill at least one hour before serving. Serve with crackers, pretzels or veggies.
I know, I know. Crazy long title for a little cookie. But I didn't want to leave any one, delicious ingredient out of the name. Brown butter - just like regular butter, but toasty and nutty and filled with awesomeness. Dark chocolate chips - just like regular chocolate chips, but richer and a little bitter and a little better for you, too. Sea salt - my second kitchen love (after butter, of course) that comes in so many unique varieties. They are all important players in the game. What you end up with here is a basic Nestle Toll House cookie that's been dressed up all fancy and treated with extra love. Yeah, that's exactly what you have here.
I've been trying to think of ways to take something simple and well-known and really amp it up and make it mine. I had been thinking about fancifying the basic chocolate chip cookie for a while now since seeing all of those brown butter, Nutella-stuffed, sea salt cookies all over Pinterest. I finally had a chance to give this idea a try since we hosted out of town guests this past weekend. The cookies were made Friday night with the intention of taking pictures Saturday afternoon when we had a rare sun-filled PA day. Let me tell you, by Saturday afternoon they were almost gone! Can you say "Success"? I couldn't stop eating them on Saturday - so much for cutting back on sugar. I ran 7-miles on Saturday morning so I sort of gave myself a free pass! Ha!
Browning butter is a relatively easy thing to do. You just heat the butter over medium-low heat until it starts to turn brown and smell nutty. Watch it very carefully because no one wants cookies made with burnt butter! Check out this tutorial here.
You can use any sea salt you have or kosher salt, but I used this fancy Maldon Sea Salt I bought a while ago. It's so neat looking - almost looks like little pyramids - so cool! I think it really imparts a nice, balance salt flavor to these salty-sweet dishes that are so popular now.
Brown Butter Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
Makes about 30 cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, I used Maldon
2 sticks of unsalted butter, browned (see this link) and slightly cooled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces dark chocolate chips
Additional sea salt, for topping
Preheat oven to 375° F. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine brown butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Mix until well-combined. Add in the eggs and mix until blended. In two or three batches, add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold the chocolate chips into the batter.
Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.
Sprinkle hot cookies with additional sea salt. Allow to cool on the cookie sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Adapted from Nestle Toll House
My current food focus these days is healthy, easy and tasty. Portability never hurt, either. I'm also trying to cut back on my consumption of meat, sugar and dairy. I will NEVER cut these things out of my life entirely - I simply love food too much - but I'm doing my best to pick mostly whole foods for most meals and snacks. Last summer I came across these Energy Bites on Pinterest and they were a huge hit! However, they contain chocolate chips and sweetened coconut, which are fine, but in trying to limit my sugar I decided to avoid making them for a little while. So I kept searching. Thank you to all of you bloggers out there who do "Best of" posts at the end of each year! Thanks to Anne at fannetastic food I found these tasty little morsels as well as inspiration for lots more healthy meals in the months to come!
This particular recipe is as easy as they get. You will need a food processor to get the best results. You simply combine almonds and raisins together in the food processor to form a paste, then flavor the paste and form into balls or bars. That's it! Anne's original recipe flavored the balls with ground cinnamon but I used a little imitation rum extract for the rum raisin flavor I was looking for. Anne's recipe is gluten-free and vegan. To the best of my knowledge I believe the addition of the imitation rum extract does not change this fact. If anyone out there knows otherwise, I would love some education on the matter!
As you can imagine, these are highly customizable. You could use vanilla extract in place of the rum extract or you could swap out the nut/fruit combo. I plan to try an cashew/date version soon to simulate my favorite LARABAR!
Rum Raisin Balls
Makes 12 balls or 6 bars
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
Put almonds and raisins in a colander and rinse with water. Drain. Place wet almonds and raisins in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until a thick paste has formed, about 30 seconds.
Form into 12 balls or 6 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Adapted from fannetastic food
After the craziness of the second half of 2012 with the move and the overblown holidays (self-imposed...I know) I vowed to sit back and relax in January. Besides running and playing in the kitchen I succeeded in doing very little last month. By the end of the month I was starting to feel like a shut-in! All that's changed in February. How is it that the 31 days of January drug by so slow and then I blink and it's already February 20? Where did this month go? I have a good idea - it's called back to reality! After-school activities, meetings, doctor appointments, birthday parties, school parties.....like I said, reality. This past weekend I was lucky enough to spend 48 glorious hours with my hubby and our little princesses at Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio. This is an indoor waterpark and resort about 3 hours away from us. It was so much fun and such a great feeling to wear flip flops and bathing suits again for a little while! I love weekend getaways but they always leave me feeling flustered and 'behind' on things.
Tonight my 2nd grader had her First Reconciliation and each parent was asked to bring a dozen cookies for a little reception afterwards. Now, you all know me, so there was no way I was running out to the local grocery store for said cookies! In lieu of how much I have on my plate right now I chose to make a simple shortbread cookie and dip them in chocolate for a little something extra. They are so easy and delicious that I wonder why I don't make shortbread cookies more often. Oh wait, I know why - because I would eat them all! They are chewy and crumbly: buttery, salty and sweet. They are simple perfection! And after a quick dip in melted chocolate they are just that much better!
Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound milk chocolate, wafers
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, salt and sugar together for about 2 minutes. Add the flour and mix just until combined and a cohesive dough is formed. Roll the dough into a long roll, 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and freeze until very firm, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Set aside.
Remove the log of dough from the freezer and slice into cookies, no thinner than 1/4 inch in thickness. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are a light sand color. Allow to cool on the baking sheets a few minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Place about 2/3 of the chocolate wafers in a microwave safe bowl, preferably glass. Put the bowl in the microwave and cook for 40 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. Place the bowl back in the microwave for 20 seconds, then stir again. Continue heating the chocolate for 20 seconds and stirring until the chocolate is smooth and reads about 110° F. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, add the remaining 1/3 of the chocolate wafers to the melted chocolate and stir gently. Any clumps remaining should melt slowly.
Dip 1/2 of the shortbread cookie into the melted chocolate. Place on a wire rack to cool and harden the chocolate.
Cookies adapted from King Arthur's Flour Baker's Companion
Chocolate melting technique provided by the Foodies at Market District
Here we are, almost halfway through the school year and I've accomplished a big feat! My 2nd grade daughter has been a fan of school lunches and, for the price, I never minded her buying them. At a little over $2 a day she can get a pretty decent, balanced, kid-friendly lunch. Well, the problem with that is, well....she doesn't! I surprised her during lunch one day last April and I caught her eating an ice cream cone while her otherwise healthy lunch items sat there on her tray untouched! When I questioned her about it she had a perfectly logical answer: "I have to eat the ice cream first Mommy. It would melt if I didn't." Doh! How many times had she done this? I couldn't be too upset, she was only 6 after all. After a doctor's visit over the summer I'd discovered the my petite little girl had gained a whopping TEN pounds in first grade! Whoa! Time to 'Mom Up' and start packing lunches for her. We have a little system in place to keep mommy and daughter happy. Some things have worked, some haven't. A few things that are a constant are 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 sandwich and 1 'junk' each day. Thankfully, she DOES eat those fruits and veggies so when she was asking for a jelly sandwich every single day I kind of let it slide. About a month ago I started reading labels more carefully. Yep, as suspected, high fructose corn syrup in her little jelly sandwich (cut out in the shape of a heart these days!). Time to make another change and give DIY jam-making a try. How simple! Just combine some fresh fruit, sugar and lemon juice and let it thicken up a bit and you have jam!
This is only a small batch so you don't have to worry about getting into the canning game - I'm certainly not there yet! This recipe produced a nice, thick, fresh tasting blueberry jam. It tastes like summer on a spoon! Anything that tastes like summer is much needed in Pennsylvania these days. Ugh...don't even get me started on how much I hate winter and how I feel like it's never going to stop snowing or if I'll ever see my toes again.... Anyhow, I digress! This jam takes about a half hour of your time and makes about 2 cups. The only downside to this recipe is that it only lasts in your refrigerator about 3 weeks. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem. Just pair it up with some homemade almond butter and reinvent your PB&J for a yummy throwback lunch!
DIY Blueberry Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound blueberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place a metal spoon in the freezer to chill.
Combine blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. While bringing the mixture to a boil mash the blueberries with a potato masher or a fork to release the pectin of the fruit. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce to medium. Simmer vigorously until the mixture thickens and is jamlike, about 8-12 minutes.
To test for consistency, remove the spoon from the freezer and dip into the jam. Allow the jam to run off the spoon. Jam should fall off the spoon slowly, in one thick clump. If it does this, it is done. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. If the jam is too thin, continue simmering another 2-4 minutes until it reaches desired consistency.
Once jam has cooled to room temperature place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
Have you all heard about the current almond butter craze? I've known that almond butter has existed for years and though I love it, I've always steered away from buying it simply because of the cost. With my health kick/lifestyle change over the past month I've been reading some health & fitness blogs in addition to my running magazines and can I tell you something? Almond butter is EVERYWHERE!! It's packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein and tastes great in place of peanut butter on a sandwich, celery or pretzels or even in a smoothie. I decided to just suck it up and buy a tiny, overpriced jar of this awesomeness during my next grocery run. As I stood there in the nut butter aisle I pondered my choices. I could either buy a $10 jar of almond butter, or the cheaper $8 alternative. I went with the $8 choice. I had it in my hand. I put it in my cart. Then, it hit me! I recently bought myself some new cookbooks and I had remembered seeing a super easy recipe for making almond butter at home!!! I immediately put the little jar back on the shelf and hauled butt over to the nut aisle where I found a 1 pound bag of roasted almonds for $5! Score! Let's give this a try!!!
I made a few modifications to this recipe. The most notable being using already roasted almonds instead of raw. Since the recipe stresses the importance of having warm almonds when processing to bring out the oils I decided to still throw them in the oven for a few minutes. If you use raw almonds, roast for 10-12 minutes until they are fragrant and slightly darkened.
DIY Almond Butter
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound whole, roasted almonds
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375° F. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast about 6 minutes, until fragrant. (Be very careful with this step. It only takes a few seconds for nuts to go from perfectly roasted to burnt.) Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, until they are cool enough to handle - about 15-20 minutes.
Place almonds in a food processor for about 1 minute, until they resemble coarse meal. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue processing. After another minute or two you will have a very firm mass. It will be difficult to scrape down the bowl at this point - that's perfectly ok. Continue processing for another 2-3 minutes. The oils in the nuts will begin to break down and the mixture will start to look like a paste. Stop to scrape down the bowl. It should be pretty easy to do at this point. Add the salt to the nuts and process for about another 30 seconds. This whole process should take about 5-7 minutes. What you will be left with is gorgeous, tasty, pure almond butter!!
Store in an airtight container. It can be kept at room temperature or refrigerated for up to 2 months.
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
It's finally January 31st. Hooray for making it through the seemingly longest month of the year! For me this month was long and cold but mostly restful and rejuvenating. The last half of 2012 was such a whirlwind for me and my family that January was a much needed 'down' month for us. Besides playing taxi-mom and going to the grocery store I practically became a shut-in during January! I'm proud to say that my month of rest and dedication has netted some great results! I'm down 7 pounds and up to 4-mile "long runs" and I feel great! I've been SO GOOD about Weight Watchers until....well, until this cake! Stupid cake. I mean, awesome cake. No, cake-that-broke-my-resolve. Er....healthy, tasty, not-too-sweet cake. Ugh....DELICIOUS CAKE! I'm still craving veggies and citrus so when I came across this recipe on Pinterest I knew I had to make it soon. It's moist and slightly tangy and I managed to work it into my Weigh Watchers plan. One piece...yes. Two, three and four pieces...not so much. *sigh* Oh well. Weight Watchers is great, but I love cooking, baking and food too much to commit to it much longer. It gave me a great jump start to the new year and Half Marathon training so we're all good!
Carrot Zucchini Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 24 pieces
For the cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chopped pecans
For the frosting
8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
**Tip: Zest your lemons while they are whole, before juicing. It is MUCH easier this way!
Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, ground ginger and baking soda. Stir with a whisk. Set aside.
In a large bowl combine the eggs, brown sugar, canola oil, honey and vanilla extract. Fold in carrots, zucchini and pecans.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour batter into an ungreased 13x9 baking pan. Bake for 25 or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Once the cake is completely cooled make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat until light and fluffy. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake. Cut into 24 pieces.
Adapted from Real Mom Kitchen
In 1998 I spent 15 days in Rome, Italy visiting my mom's aunt and uncle - Zia and Zio. The food, or 'magic' created in Zia Lucia's kitchen inspired me in so many ways. I was fortunate enough to take my now-husband back with my family in 2001 for 10 days. Zia Lucia's cooking was still out of this world and now Mike could finally understand just what it was that we all loved about her, them, Rome...all of it! Though I didn't get to cook with her I will forever be influenced by the love she put into every single creation she brought out of that kitchen. The simple "Italian Orange" as I like to call it, is a perfect example of how she can put together a fantastic tasting dish out of things you already have just sitting around your kitchen. At first I'm sure this combination sounds a bit odd do you, but TRUST ME! It's so delicious, refreshing and healthy! You'll make it again and again. I've been enjoying it at home for so long and decided it just wasn't fair to keep this little gem to myself, so today I'm sharing it with you!
The Italian Orange
1 orange, peeled and segmented
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of sea salt, I use Fleur de Sel
Place the segmented orange in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt. Enjoy!
Zia Lucia's original
Pittsburgh area mom striving to provide clean, healthy, REAL food for her family!