no-bake apple and carob chip granola bars

A recipe caught my eye on Pinterest the other day and I thought I’d give it a go.  We go through a fair number of granola bars in any given week, between the husband’s lunches, Kat’s snacks, my pre-workout snack, etc., and let’s be real:  your garden-variety, store-bought granola bars can be the equivalent of eating a candy bar.  So, I spend a lot of time reading labels while I shop, searching out the healthiest options on the market.  Frequently, I’ll just make my own.   I have a great crispy granola recipe I’m pretty fond of,  but I’ve never tried to make granola bars.

True confessions?  These didn’t successfully turn out as bars.

More true confessions?  You might as well eat a candy bar as eat this granola.

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Don’t get me wrong.  It’s tasty.  And, although granola is pretty widely known for being very calorie dense, my go-to recipe had a lot of sugar in a variety of forms (brown sugar, molasses, honey, dried apples, etc.).  Even though I substituted a few ingredients, I wished later I’d cut down on some of the other sugar (see Cook’s Notes, below).

The finished product was sweet (a little too sweet for me), but deliciously chewy.

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The instructions were very strict about the 60 second boil, indicating less than 60 seconds would result in granola that fell apart, or more than 60 seconds would result in bars that ended up too hard.  I clearly failed to meet the required 60 seconds, despite my best efforts (how hard can that be, really?), because my granola didn’t want to stay in bar form.  While I managed to successfully cut and wrap a few to photograph, the rest we ate out of hand or I sprinkled over Greek yogurt and berries at lunch.  That was my preference with this particular recipe.  Give it a shot making bars, though.  I’d love to hear if anyone has any real success.  Enjoy!

 No-Bake Apple and Carob Chip Granola Bars (recipe adapted from My Small Potatoes)

 Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 2 c rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 c puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1/2 c dried apples, chopped
  • 1/3 c carob chips
  • 1/8 c sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/8 c chopped almonds, toasted

Directions:

  • Toast sesame seeds and almonds over medium heat, stirring regularly so as not to scorch.  Remove from pan when golden.
  • Combine oats, brown rice cereal, dried apples, carob chips, toasted sesame seeds, and toasted chopped almonds.  Mix well and set aside.
  • Line 9″ x 13″ baking pan with wax paper.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray to make removal of the bars easier.
  • Melt butter over medium heat.
  • Stir in brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, honey, and molasses.
  • Bring to a boil for 60 seconds then immediately remove from heat and pour over dry ingredients.
  • Working quickly, mix wet and dry ingredients until evenly combined.
  • Scoop into lined baking pan and spread evenly, packing the mixture hard with your hands.
  • Let cool before removing from pan and slicing in to bars.

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***Cook’s Notes – this granola was too sweet for me.  Don’t get me wrong, it tasted fine, but when I make it again, I’ll reduce the brown sugar to 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  I’d also probably reduce quantities of honey, as well, from six tablespoons to four, because I don’t think the additional two tablespoons add anything significant to the recipe other than more sweetness.  And honey is naturally sweeter than refined sugars, so you can use less of it.  Also note, when using dried apple rings, make sure you buy apples with no sugar added.  We’ll see.  This one definitely needs some tinkering to get it just right, but I think it would be worth it in the long run.

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easy black bean soup

Like anyone who prepares meals every night of the week, I don’t always have time to languish over a pot of soup.  Some days, there’s just not time for all the chopping and dicing and stirring required.  If you feel my pain, you’ll appreciate how fast this black bean soup comes together.  Classic flavor reigns with the cilantro, red bell pepper, and cumin.  Optional toppers, aside from the yogurt (or sour cream, if you’re so inclined), include some shredded pepper jack cheese, a dash of hot sauce to kick it up a notch, or some baked tortilla chips.   My only qualm with the recipe was it didn’t make enough to put it to the “yesterday’s soup” test.  We all know things like this taste even better the next day.  But this one tasted pretty darn good the first day!  Nonetheless, next time I’m going to double the batch to insure some leftovers.

Also, this soup is only a couple of substitutions away from being a perfectly acceptable vegetarian meal:  swap out the chicken stock for veggie stock, and bulk it up with tofu or more beans.  Personally, I’d go with the beans.  Tofu is just…well.  Tofu is just tofu.  However you make this your own, you’re sure to enjoy!!

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Easy Black Bean Soup (recipe adapted from: Cooking Light Superfast Suppers)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c onion, chopped
  • 1/4 c red pepper, chopped
  • 1 low-fat turkey kielbasa (Hillshire Farms), cut into pieces
  • 1 15 oz can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 oz can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp basil/garlic/oregano flavored tomato paste
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 Tbsp reduced -fat Greek yogurt (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat until hot.  Add onion and pepper; saute 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender.
  2. Add chopped sausage, beans, and chicken broth to onion mixture.  Stir in tomato paste and cumin; bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 to 6 minutes or until soup is slightly thickened.
  3. Ladle soup into individual bowls; dollop each serving evenly with yogurt, and sprinkle with cilantro.
  4. Serve with home-made tortilla chips (optional).

 

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sausage and egg fried rice

One of my favorite things to order at our neighborhood Chinese restaurant is chicken fried rice.  Even better, wrap it up in a soft tortilla and call it a Chinese burrito.  Either way, it’s comfort food through and through.  But we all know the fried rice at your favorite carry-out is, while incredibly delicious, not exactly scoring high marks for health food.  Also, we don’t eat out that much – have you seen the portion sizes?  And, frankly, we get a healthier meal at home.  Which is why I’ve always been curious about making my own fried rice.

Last night was the perfect night.  My people had gone off to have dinner with relatives.  Earlier in the day, in anticipation of dinner-for-one, I cooked up some rice (halving the recipe below) and set it aside to cool.  Fried rice is a great way to use up leftover rice from a previous dinner, but since I’m apparently so good at portion control, I rarely have leftover rice on hand.  Note to selves:  If you’re ever just hanging out with an hour to spare, make some rice and tuck it away in the fridge for dinner later that week.

The original recipe called for diced ham, but I used an organic turkey sausage, instead, since it’s what I had on hand.  I think it’s a perfectly good substitute, lower in sodium and fat, while still adding a nice boost of protein.  Since it’s a recipe that loans itself to personal adaptation, pick your protein for what suits your lifestyle.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since I believed it would be nearly impossible to recreate the goodness of Chinese carry-out in my own kitchen.  But this recipe came pretty darn close.  I thought it was delicious…and much, much healthier.  The green beans added crunch and a pretty burst of color.  Onion and garlic gave it nice, heady flavor in combination with the soy sauce and sesame oil.  Prep first and it all goes together really fast, as a stir-fry should.  Can’t wait to try the leftovers after the flavors have a chance to mingle, a bit.  Definitely a keeper on the first run, though.  Enjoy!

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Sausage and Egg Fried Rice (recipe adapted from Cooking Light, September 2008)

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cold cooked long-grain rice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup thinly horizontally sliced green beans
  • 3/4 cup diced turkey kielbasa (about 4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup (1-inch) slices green onions

Preparation:

  1. 1. Break up rice with hands to remove large clumps, if necessary.
  2. 2. Heat a 14-inch wok over high heat. Add canola oil to wok, swirling to coat. Add 1 1/2 cups onion and garlic to wok; stir-fry 1 minute or until onion begins to brown. Add beans and ham; stir-fry 2 minutes or until ham begins to brown.
  3. 3. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add cold rice to wok; stir-fry 2 minutes. Stir in soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper. Push rice mixture up sides of wok. Pour eggs in open space in center of wok; cook 30 seconds or until set, stirring to scramble. Gently stir scrambled eggs into rice mixture. Sprinkle with green onions.

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baked s’mores – not just for the campfire

Kat and I had a girl’s night last night while Daddy-O was at the Stanford/ASU game.  We baked homemade mac/cheese (her all-time favorite meal) and settled on the animated version of A Christmas Carol for after dinner entertainment.

But what of dessert?

Ice cream?  Too cold.

Popcorn?  Too last Friday night.

Baked S’mores?  Why, yes, please and thank you!

These are pretty much a no-brainer.  You don’t really need a recipe.  Just keep your eyes on the s’mores at all times lest they quickly turn to ash under the broiler.

©zouptonuts

©zouptonuts

Baked S’mores

Ingredients:

  • Graham Crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate pieces (Hershey, Dove, you choose)
  • Parchment paper for easy clean-up

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat broiler to 500° F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Break crackers in half, placing one half on baking sheet and reserve other half to top your S’more.  (Or, bake both sides and eat them open-faced.)  Place one marshmallow on each cracker.  Heat under broiler until tops of marshmallows are golden brown.  Turn off oven and remove pan.
  3. Top melted marshmallow with the chocolate pieces of your choice.  For these I used dark chocolate Dove candies.
  4. Slide pan back in the oven for 25 -30 seconds, or until chocolate starts to melt.
  5. Remove and top with remaining graham cracker halves to complete your S’mores.
  6. Indulge!

©zouptonuts

©zouptonuts

cucumber peanut salad

Labor Day weekend is fast approaching and we’re having guests for dinner, so I’m experimenting with some new salads.  This one hit the spot.  It’s picnic or barbecue  perfect, has great flavor, texture, appearance, and goes together super fast.  The original recipe called for an English Cucumber, but the ones in the store were so enormous I opted for a package of mini cucumbers, instead.  I actually think they were more colorful, too; the green being brighter and more cheerful.  Because a cheerful salad is a delicious salad, right?

Adapt as you please.  With the exception of the delicious dressing (lime juice and a little brown sugar) this isn’t one of those stuffy recipes where a minor change will make any difference in the finished product.  Enjoy…and have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend.

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Cucumber Peanut Salad (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups thinly sliced English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

Directions:

  1. Combine cucumber, onion, lime juice, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle evenly with peanuts.
  2. Step 2?  There is no Step 2.  So easy.  Serve and enjoy!

Serves four.

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***Cook’s Notes:  The peanuts make this a salad you either have to finish the day you make it, or eat any leftovers within a day.  They don’t hold up well refrigerated and stored in the dressing.  So eat it all up, or make sure you eat the remaining salad within 24 hours.

shrimp tacos with roasted corn salsa

Tired of the same ol’ same ol’ of fish tacos?  This is a no-brainer substitution:  just add shrimp.  But you’ll find the real magic to this recipe is in the roasted corn salsa.  It was bursting with flavor and really pretty to the eye.  The original recipe called for avocado instead of tomato, but no one in my house is really a big fan of the avocado, and the tomato added lovely color to what would have been a fairly bland looking salsa.  Roasting the corn really enhanced its sweetness, and that was nicely complimented by the tanginess of the lime and the pungent cilantro.

There’s a fair amount of chopping for prep, but once you have all that finished the dish flies together pretty quickly.  The shrimp cook rapidly, so pay close attention otherwise they’ll be chewy and overdone.  It’s a perfect recipe for weeknight dinners when you don’t have a lot of time to slave over the stove, too.   I’ll definitely be putting this one in the rotation and the salsa has a lot of potential for use in other dishes, as well.

I hate to type and run, but I have to hurry off and pick up the kiddo from a friend’s house.  Let me know if you give it a try.  Enjoy!

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Shrimp Tacos with Roasted Corn Salsa (recipe adapted from Cooking Light, August 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 large ear)
  • 1 teaspoon Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas

Directions:

  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Combine corn and oil in small bowl; toss gently to coat. Arrange corn in an even layer on a jelly-roll pan; broil 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Combine corn, onions, cilantro, 1 tablespoon juice, salt, pepper, and avocado in a medium bowl; toss gently.
  3. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon juice, and honey in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Add shrimp to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until done.
  4. Combine sour cream and remaining 1 tablespoon juice in a small bowl.
  5. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Place 2 tortillas on each of 4 plates. Top each tortilla with about 1/4 cup corn mixture, about 4 shrimp, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sour cream mixture.

plated_tacos©zouptonuts

marcella hazen’s four ingredient tomato sauce

I’m not a superstitious person.  Breaking mirrors?  Walking under ladders?  Black cats crossing my path?  Pppplllbbbhhhh…..whatever!

I do, however, believe in signs.  Ok, this might sound freaky, but when my dad passed away suddenly 16 years ago, my contact lenses would consistently be in the wrong compartments.  You know, the left would be in the right and the right in the left.  I wouldn’t notice, obviously, until I put them in my eyes.  But it occurred more than regularly.  It was incredibly frequent, in fact.  Now, I know it’s possible I was simply rattled by the sudden death of my dad and grief can make us absent-minded, but, really – I’m sure it was a sign.  A little, humorous calling card from Dad that everything would be alright.

When my mom passed away suddenly right after Thanksgiving 2011, I had a house full of people at her home in Michigan for most of a week.  My mom’s alarm clock never went off during that week.  The first morning I was alone in the house, after all the guests and family were gone, the alarm clock went off!  It still gives me chills.  Call me crazy, but that was a sign!!!  Everything’s gonna be alright.

So….the long and short of it, when this recipe appeared in different searches, and different websites three times over the course of a week, well, that’s a sign:  Make This Sauce And Everything Will Be Alright!

Friday night I was short on time because Kat had been at a friend’s house after school, and the weather was crazy: rain, hail, high winds, flooded washes (desert living at its best).  Since my pantry is always stocked with canned tomatoes of some variety or another, butter, kosher salt, and onions, this was my go-to meal plan.

Yes, you heard me:  canned tomatoes, butter, kosher salt, and an onion.  Sounds like it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans, but don’t let minimalist fool you.  This sauce is spectacular!  Maybe it’s the butter, but it was intensely creamy and delicious and savory, with great depth of flavor.  And it took me all of three minutes to put in the pan (only because I had to photograph it), and 45 minutes to simmer.  Life doesn’t get more alright than this.  Enjoy!

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Marcella Hazen’s Four Ingredient Tomato Sauce

Recipe Courtesy Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, no salt or herbs added
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, peeled and cut in half
Kosher salt

To serve
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Put a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat. Crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, and stir occasionally. Simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes. Remove and discard the onion.

Serve over hot pasta with Parmesan and black pepper, if desired.

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Cook’s Notes:  I also smashed a great, big garlic clove and let it steep with the tomatoes and onions, as well.  And, as you’ll see from the pics, I didn’t use canned plum tomatoes, either.  I used what I had on hand and the sauce was wonderful.  Next time I’ll probably try it with the plum tomatoes and see if “wonderful” could somehow be transformed to “out-of-this-world.”  Not that it matters much.  Wonderful is pretty darn good in my book!