What’s Cookin’? The Christmas Edition

From Thanksgiving until Christmas, I turn into a cooking machine. I bet you do, too!

I thought I’d share a few things that have come out of my kitchen and the recipes that made them great:

Date, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Ball from Cooking Light

Cheese Ball

Gingerbread Boys from Southern Living

gingerbread

Eggnog Ice Cream from Use Real Butter

Eggnog Icecream

Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake from Cooking Light

Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

I’ve also made Honey Yeast Rolls + Baby Blue Salad from Southern Living and Legendary Bookout Dressing + Gran’s Birthday Bread Pudding from yours truly. And that just scratches the surface! What is coming out of your kitchen?

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Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars

_BBR1625 2

With little Sprout on the way, my sweet tooth is raging stronger than ever. Who am I kidding? All my “teeth” are pretty strong. I’m eating everything like a trucker! But still, sweets taste better than ever right now. This has caused an onslaught of baking around our house.

I’ve tried to be semi-well-behaved, not eating batter with raw eggs and reducing refined sugar where I can. That’s how these Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars came into being. I took a look in the cabinet, pulled out a few things that sounded like they’d go well together, and got experimenting. Three batches later, I think it’s safe to say our family is into the results.

Now then, how shall I describe this delicious little bar cookie? Perhaps a Hello Dolly would be its closest cousin? Think crunchy crust on the bottom, creamy, caramel tasting middle and cake-y top–everything a layer bar should be.

I’m not going to call this dessert “healthy,” because I’m rarely a fan of sweets that fall into that category. But I did replace butter with heart healthy coconut, most of the flour with oats, and a good bit of sugar with dates. Can we settle on “healthier?”

Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars

Base Layer:

1 cup oats

1 cup unsweetened coconut shreds

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons coconut oil

Place the oats and the coconut in a Vitamix or food processor. Grind until you’ve almost got a flour. Add in the brown sugar and coconut oil, and pulse a few times. You should have a yummy crumble.

Press firmly into a greased 8 x 8 metal pan, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Layer 2:

12 large mejool dates, pitted

2 tablespoons almond butter

1/2 cup full fat coconut milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup dark chocolate chips

No need to clean out the Vitamix/food processor! Add the dates, and process at a high speed until crumbly. Add the almond butter, coconut milk and salt to make a creamy, delicious carmel goo. Pour this over your crust then sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.

Layer 3:

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut oil at room temperature

1/4 cup full fat coconut milk

1/4 cup organic sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the sugar, egg, coconut oil and vanilla. Beat with a mixer until fluffy. Add the flour in 3 additions, until just combined. Pour over the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool, then place in the fridge before cutting. We store ours in the fridge, freezing about half so we don’t eat the entire batch…Because it’s entirely possible and it wouldn’t be pretty. Enjoy!

In other news, we have a winner for The Cooking Light Lighten Up, America! cookbook giveaway. #3 was Polynesian delight:

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 4.59.28 PMTeri K on October 29, 2013 at 12:37 am

Loco moco…hamburger and an over easy egg placed on rice and smothered with gravy. So ono-licious (delicious), as we say here in Hawaii.

I am ridiculously excited to mail this package to Hawaii! Congratulations, Teri! I think anything “smothered in gravy” is a winner.

GIVEAWAY: Cooking Light’s Lighten Up, America! Cookbook

People, I love a cookbook. When I get my hands on a new one, I read it cover to cover like a novel. I’m thinking this is not normal? A few of my most loved/used cookbooks include:

Super Natural Every Day

Peas and Thank You

The All New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

The Best of Cooking Light

Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita

I might have a new favorite to add to the list. A few weeks back, Cooking Light sent me their new cookbook, Lighten Up, America! to try. The premise is super fun. Allison Fishman Task traveled the country finding regional specialties, then headed back to the kitchen to slash calories, fat and sugar.

_BBR1591 effect

Once again, I read it cover to cover like a weirdo. What an engaging book! It’s scattered with stories about delicacies from all over the United States and great pictures of the original treats in action. I had a blast seeing if I had tried or even heard of the combinations.

In an effort to give the book a fair review (beyond pretty pictures and captivating back stories) I decided to try three recipes: St. Louis Butter Cake, Broccoli-Cheddar Soup and Butternut Squash Agrodolce, subbing acorn squash. We loved all three.

The butter cake was super decadent and the squash had a unique flavor profile. Vinegar + honey? Yes, please! The soup was probably our favorite. It gets a rich, creamy texture from potatoes. In short, I found the cookbook delightful, and the recipes easy to follow. The results were fabulous!

Broccoli

To win a copy for yourself, please reply to this post by midnight CST on 11/2/13, telling me your favorite food from your region or state. I’ll use random number generator to pick a winner and notify you by Monday.

Now then, to get this party started, my favorite Southern foods all seem to involve fried cornmeal! I love fried green tomatoes and hushpuppies the most. I also adore buttermilk biscuits, potato salad, and black eyed peas + cornbread. I could keep going forever, but I’ll suffice it to say that my cooking and tastes are definitely heavily influenced by my Alabama roots. Now then, your turn! What’s your favorite food from home? 

Crispy Cauliflower Cakes with Herb Sauce.

We’re baaaaack! Vore and I were gone for a week, exploring the food scene and sites in New York and Philly. We ended our vacation with some family time in beautiful Beach Haven, NJ. What a week! I’ll be back with updates on our travels, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share tonight’s dinner. It is What I Ate Wednesday, after all!

photoI ran across these fabulous looking cauliflower cakes in the August issue of Cooking Light and had to give them a try. I–gasp–followed the recipe almost exactly, subbing Monterey cheese for the Fontina and basil for the parsley. (We didn’t have Fontina and I loathe parsley.)

The cakes where delicious! I ate mine as an entree, along with sweet potato fries and asparagus fresh from the company garden. Vore added a grilled chicken breast. Easy peasy!

What was on your table tonight? Have you ever thought to make patties out of cauliflower? Because you should….

Chewy Protein Squares

Oatmeal square--plate emphasis

Around here, snacks are in high demand, and often in short supply. I pretty much never buy packaged crackers, cookies, bars, etc., because even the stuff at Whole Foods is full of sugar, refined flour and excess salt. We make what we eat, for the most part, which brings us back to square one: Aside from fruit and nuts, there are rarely formalized “snacks” in the house. Oops.

Yesterday, I set out on a mission to make a good nibble–something with protein to get me from 4 o’clock growl to 7 o’clock dinner. I got inspiration from the granola portion of this Cooking Light recipe for a breakfast parfait. After tinkering a bit, I adapted the basics to become a chewy square, not entirely unlike that Quaker Oatmeal to Go business, or a Cliff Bar.

BUT our squares are high in protein and low in sugar. They pack healthy fats and whole grains. I ran the numbers, and if you cut the pan into 9 portions, you can expect 210 calories, 9 grams of good fat and 10 grams of protein. Take that, Cliff Bar!

Chewy Protein Squares

1/2 cup buckwheat

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup vanilla rice protein powder

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/4 unsweetened shredded coconut

1/4 cup salted pepita seeds

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons almond butter

3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. (buckwheat through salt)

In a large bowl, combine the wet ingredients. (almond butter through vanilla)

Add the dry ingredient to the wet and stir well, until a thick batter forms.

Cover an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper. Add the batter and work it around to evenly cover the base of the pan. Push down hard! You don’t want your squares to fall apart.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Lift the parchment paper (and hence the bars) out of the pan. Allow them cool, then cut into 9 bars. Store in the fridge.

Tropical Basil Vinaigrette

Dressing Lo-Res

Is that a creamy tropical drink? Why no, friends. It’s a bright, fresh salad dressing, just begging to become your summer favorite.

As I mentioned last week, I am entirely obsessed with orange oil. It’s beyond easy to make, and it adds a little something extra to whatever you’re cooking.

I set out to make a dressing putting the delicious oil to work, adding miso as the salt component. Have you tried this Japanese goodie? As Naomi Duguid writes for Cooking Light, miso is for more than soup:

Like soy sauce, (miso) is a fermented food…It gives a satisfying depth, the flavor that we know by the Japanese word “umami.”

Unami? Sign me up!

I am smitten with the final product, a vinaigrette with a twist. I’m so smitten, in fact, I went through two jars last week. Oops. This vinaigrette is lightly creamy, fruity and chock full of fermented goodness. Use it on salads, tossed with whole grains or as a fruit and veggie dip. I’m convinced I’ll be making this all summer long!

Orange Basil Miso Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup orange oil

1 tablespoon white miso

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 cup basil

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place all the ingredients in a blender or mini food processor and whirl them together until well combined.

Store leftovers in a mason jar, and give it a little shake before using. I store mine in the fridge, then pull it out a few minutes before I’m going to use it.

What Do I Feed a Vegetarian for Dinner? Part 2

Bottega 1

Fabulous example of a veggie plate at Birmingham’s Bottega

Yesterday, I shared a few tips for hosting a vegetarian. Now then, are you ready to eat? I pulled out my trusty recipe files to find favorites I’ve called on again and again, and have listed them below. There are two ways to approach this: vegetarian main course or side items paired to make an entree.

Option 1: We’re All Eating Veggie! 

These robust recipes shouldn’t make meat eaters feel like they’re missing anything. Each can be paired with a simple salad to make a complete meal.

Vegetarian Chili, Cooking Light

Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf, Oh She Glows

Spinach-Mushroom Skillet Enchiladas, Cooking Light

*Artichoke, Spinach and Feta Stuffed Shells, Cooking Light

Spinach and Black Bean Lasagna, Southern Living

Crepes with Ratatouille, Cooking Light 

Mushroom and Roasted Red Pepper Tarts, Cooking Light

*This was the first meal I ever served Vore. Turns out, he doesn’t love tomato sauce, yet he still ate his entire plate. He must have liked me!

Option 2: Make a Meat Main Dish and Plenty of Sides

I love a vegetable plate. Choose three of these and voila–you have a meal! For example,  Baby Blue Salad + Roasted Cauliflower + Pink Eyed Peas would make a delicious plate.

Baby Blue Salad, Southern Living

Zesty Broccoli Casserole, Cooking Light

Feisty Green Beans, 101 Cookbooks

Pinked Eyed Peas with Smoked Paprika, Cooking Light

Cheesy Black Bean Mash, Southern Living

Roasted Cauliflower with Browned Butter, Cooking Light

Creamy Light Macaroni and Cheese, Cooking Light

What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe?