whole-grain fruit bars

Wow, it’s been a long time.  Way back to August, right after school started.  What happened to September and October?  That’s a very good question.  I’m not sure about September, but October was fondly dubbed “The Month of Lisa,” by my family.  It was my birthday month.  A BIG birthday month, and my peeps surprised me with a long weekend in southern Utah in St. George and Zion National Park.  My oldest niece lives in Utah and she drove down to spend the weekend with us.  So grateful for her and for my husband and daughter.  They made it a really fun birthday.

If that wasn’t enough, I took a week and headed back to our house in Michigan…by myself!  It was a week of work, for the most part, gardening, doing some weatherizing projects before closing up the house for winter, and knocking around with some great friends enjoying the fall color, good food, wine, etc.  It finally culminated in a birthday celebration I shared with the son of some friends of ours who shares the same birthday.  He was game to do a combined party, so they came for dinner, cake, ice cream, and a quiet evening where he turned 10, and I turned…well…let’s just say it was a BIG birthday.

So, before I head off to the post office to mail my AARP membership application (ha ha), I thought I’d at least share a recipe.  These are really delicious fruit bars, perfect for lunch snacks, after school treats, or with a cup of coffee in the morning.  Unlike my last attempt at a granola-type bar (which I ended up using as crushed granola over yogurt), they held together really well.  They’re still flaky because of the crumble crust (and I probably could have pressed the top layer a little more firmly), but didn’t fall apart when eaten.

They’re not too sweet and I used Smucker’s Simply Fruit fruit spread, which has no added sugar, unlike typical preserves or jam.  Whole wheat flour and whole rolled oats keep them in the realm of “minimally processed.”  Will definitely make these again.  Enjoy!!

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Whole Grain Fruit Bars (recipe courtesy Two Peas And Their Pod)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 c rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c cold, unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp ice-cold water
  • 3/4 c fruit preserves or jam (your choice, I used strawberry)
  • 9×13 baking pan
  • parchment paper

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Combine first four ingredients (in food processor or mixing bowl) and mix well, making sure brown sugar doesn’t have any lumps. (If using food processor, pulse for about 30 seconds.
  3. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in cold, unsalted butter and ice-cold water until dough just holds together.
  4. Line 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Dividing dough in about half, press half firmly into bottom of pan.
  5. Spread jam or fruit preserves evenly over pressed dough.
  6. Sprinkle remaining dough over top of jam, pressing down very gently.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Cool completely before cutting.

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white bean dip with rosemary and sage

Well, hello there,  2014!!!  By my calculations, I’m only about two weeks late to the party, but, hey…life has a way of being lived sometimes and I have to admit there’s been little time for cooking AND photographing.  Just cooking, lately, and Brownie meetings to supervise, and piano lessons to patiently sit through, and puppy obedience classes to attend.  Also, believe it or not, it gets dark really early this time of year in the desert.  By 5:30, if I haven’t cooked, plated, and photographed, there’s just not enough natural light.

Ahhh, excuses, excuses, excuses.  Enough of that, on to the bean dip.

I made this for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2012.  It was a huge hit with our guests and, even though it was just going to be the three of us this year (one of whom wouldn’t touch the stuff with a ten foot pole), I decided to do it again for our New Year’s Day feast.  We already had too much food, but this dip is so good (and gets better with each passing day), I was happy to have the leftovers for some post-celebration snacking.  It’s low in fat, high in flavor (lots of garlic goodness), and a good source of protein and fiber from the beans.  It’s also really fast and easy to assemble.  Put it together the day before you plan to serve it for maximum flavor mingling!  (I hear there’s a big football game in the not-too-distant future).  Serve with the crackers or crudités of your choice.  Enjoy!!

White Bean Dip with Rosemary and Sage (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, Aug 2007)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  • Fresh sage sprig (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Serve with pita wedges crackers, fresh veggies. Garnish with sage sprig, if desired.

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healthy pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip muffins

I’m shaking my head at myself for even considering posting a recipe with pumpkin in it as the calendar pages sweep quickly into spring, but I had some canned pumpkin left in my pantry.  It was either bake with it now, or bake with it in November after its been sitting in my pantry for a year.  I chose now based on my admitted neuroses about expiration dates.  Also, it’s hardly spring in other places.  Winter weather is persistent and it’s possible there are readers out there who will still face a spring blizzard, or two.  In that case, you’ll be happy to have pumpkin muffins in March, I believe.
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Usually when I hear the word “muffin,” though, I run for the hills.  Muffins are not good for you.  Muffins are just a polite way to avoid admitting you had cake for breakfast.  Muffins go straight to your hips and, frankly, I work out too hard to un-do it by eating muffins.
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But these are not your ordinary muffins.  These are healthy muffins:  no butter or oil, minimal sugar, no egg yolks, no dairy.  All the decadence and guilt of eating a muffin is replaced with applesauce and unsweetened almond milk.  To be perfectly honest, even I was skeptical.  But there is some brown sugar, and the applesauce and almond milk keep them plenty moist.  I thought they had nice depth of flavor and were a satisfying snack after my morning gym workout.  There are even some mini chocolate chips for those of you who don’t mind eating cake for breakfast.
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If you’re working on modifying your diet, reducing processed sugar, adding more fiber, or lowering your cholesterol, this is a super recipe.  Tuck it away for next fall.  If you like cake for breakfast, you’ll probably react the way my husband did when I ticked off the list of ingredients:  “So you’re saying they’re dry and grainy?”  Not dry, but definitely grain-friendly.  And heart-friendly, too!  I think they should at least get bonus points for that.  Enjoy!
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Low-Fat Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins (recipe courtesy Monique of Ambitious Kitchen)
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 egg whites, slightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened all-natural applesauce
  • 1/2 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons
  • Extra oatmeal, for sprinkling on muffins
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 12 muffin cups with paper cups or spray with nonstick spray. If you use muffin cups, make sure to spray the inside of the cups.
  2. In a large bowl mix flour, oatmeal, pumpkin pie spice baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. In a separate bowl combine pumpkin, mashed banana, brown sugar, almond milk, egg whites and applesauce. Add the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full so that each is even. Sprinkle a tiny bit of oatmeal over each top of the muffins. Place into the oven and bake for 23-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean. Muffins are best served warm.

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Baker’s Notes:  Refrigerate whatever muffins aren’t eaten immediately.  You can always give them a quick re-heat in the microwave if you prefer to eat them warm.

applesauce chocolate chip bars

This is an easy recipe to throw together, has relatively low quantities of added sugar, and gave me that first hint of fall baking.  The combination of cinnamon and nutmeg just had that “it’s not going to be summer forever” effect on me.  These bars serve well as a healthier after-school snack or lunchbox treat, or with a warm cup of coffee on a cool fall morning (winter, if you live in the desert).  Kat gave them two thumb’s up so that’s a win in the Mom Column, if you ask me.  I thought, given this recipe’s decidedly autumn-ish undertones, you could easily substitute raisins for the chocolate chips and they’d be just as tasty.  Enjoy!

applesauce chocolate chip bars

Ingredients:

  •  1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg (may use 1/4 cup egg substitute instead)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts or nuts of your choice (optional)

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 325°.

Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, or line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides for easy release after baking.Combine the shortening, brown sugar and egg in a mixing bowl until well incorporated, then add the applesauce and mix well.

Combine 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon and the 3/4 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and set aside.  Combine flour, baking soda,, salt, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and the nutmeg, mixing well.   Fold flour mixture into the combined butter/sugar/egg.  Add chocolate chips (and nuts, if you choose), stirring to mix well.  Pour the batter in the prepared pan and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until browned or a toothpick comes out clean. 

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool, then run a knife around the edges and cut into bars.  If you like, wrap each bar individually and freeze, then pop a single-serving in to your kids’ lunchboxes.  It’ll be thawed and ready to enjoy by lunchtime.

homemade granola

I love granola. Yet, I hate granola. I love it because it’s easy to grab a handful for a quick pick-me-up before heading to the gym, or toss it over yogurt for a little texture and crunch. I hate granola because it’s super calorie-dense and, even though it has a lot of really good ingredients, it has a lot of not so healthy ingredients, too; which means even though I want to stand over the bowl and eat serving after serving, I can’t. Well…at least I shouldn’t.
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The dilemma is only compounded by the fact this recipe is super yummy and delicious. So use your best judgment. I take absolutely no responsibility if you are will-power challenged and consume the entire quantity in one day. Besides, if you pace yourself, you’ll get to enjoy this heavenly deliciousness a little longer.  Enjoy!
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Homemade Granola
Ingredients:
1/4 c unsalted butter
approx 1 tbsp canola oil
approx 1 tbsp honey
approx 1/2 tbsp vanilla
several generous shakes of cinnamon
1 1/2 c rolled oats (organic/gluten free)
1 1/2 c puffed brown rice cereal (I used Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice from Sprouts)
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c sliced almonds
1/4 c sunflower seeds (husked, unsalted)
1/4 c flax seed
1 c dried cherries
1/2 c dried apricots, diced
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Procedure:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat and add next four ingredients,
    mixing well. Remove from heat and add the dried ingredients (holding back dried fruits), stirring until well combined.
  2. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 baking pan. Transfer combined ingredients into the baking pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 15
    minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and add dried fruit, stirring in evenly. Let cool/harden before eating – if you can wait, that is.

***Cook’s Notes: Like all good recipes, this one was sentto me in partially cryptic
measurements. You know how it is when you bake or create something in your
kitchen? It’s always, “Well, I just add it until I think I’ve added enough,” or,
“Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake.” So this recipe is simply my
approximate equivalents. Do what you will. It is granola, after all. There are
no hard and fast rules.