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It’s rare to come across a cookbook where the recipes, photographs and stories capture such attention and evoke such a desire to get in the kitchen and cook that you simply can’t resist cracking open the book in your every spare moment to ooh-and-ahh over the pages. Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors is one such masterpiece.

The book is an artful combination of recipes and musings illuminating the brilliance of America’s farmers’ markets. Madison aligns the chapters of the book with the seasons, beginning with spring’s plentiful greens and ending with storage foods—foods that keep through the winter. The book jacket sums up Local Flavors perfectly:

“By going behind the scenes to speak with the farmers and producers, Deborah Madison connects readers directly with the people who grow their food. Full-color photographs of gorgeous produce, mouthwatering dishes, and evocative scenes from the markets will entice readers to cook from the  farmers’ market as often as possible.”

I’ve already made a handful of recipes from the book, including Harriet’s Hot Roasted Cauliflower (who knew roasted cauliflower could be so good?) and a variation on the Chickpea Salad with Coriander and Cumin. I’m aching to try the Pea and Spinach Soup with Coconut Milk, but might get to the White Beans with Black Kale and Savoy Cabbage first.

To be honest, I don’t know if there’s a recipe in this book that doesn’t look good. (As I’m flipping through the cookbook now I’ve just come across the Three-Beet Caviar with Endive and Goat Cheese, which really contains no caviar at all. The beets themselves are the caviar, and the photograph is making me swoon.)

With nothing but farmers’ market abundance ahead in the next six or seven months, Local Flavors will be one of my go-to sources for inspiration of what to make with all of the treasures stacked high at the market. There’s nothing more satisfying to me, both physically and spiritually, than taking the gems of the earth—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes—and transforming them into delicious and nourishing dishes both sweet and savory. Produce itself is inspiring with its vast array of colors, textures and flavors. But I love it when I stumble upon a book like this one that harnesses all of those colors, textures and flavors and heightens them to a new level of deliciousness.

Madison writes in the epilogue of her book,

“We need to use our markets deeply if farmers are to continue to farm and we are to continue to eat well in the deepest sense, being nourished by our immediate landscape and community. How fortunate that meeting this need is one of the most pleasurable obligations we can assign ourselves.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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In other news…

Have you checked out the round up of guiltless gluten-free recipes yet over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free? The March theme for the “Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free” blog carnival inspired some of the best bloggers on the web to come up with creative and delicious gluten-free pleasures made a little bit healthier. I entered Two-Bite Pistachio and Chocolate Chip Cakes. Head on over here to see the 30+ other gluten-free entries!

I also wanted to share some info with you all about an interesting film project I heard about recently. The movie, FRESH, is designed to highlight and celebrate the farmers, thinkers, and business people in America who are changing the face of our food system. FRESH is all about re-inventing the way we eat in this country and emphasizing the importance of small farms, local food, and sustainable agriculture. For more information about this exciting project or to view the trailer, visit the website.

A few weeks ago when I read Heidi’s post on Figgy Buckwheat Scones, I nearly fell out of my chair in utter adoration. They were beautiful. I could almost taste them just by looking at the pictures.

I left a comment saying that I might (timidly) attempt making a gluten-free, white-sugar-free version. And that’s just what I did. And guess what? It worked! They aren’t swirled like Heidi’s and call for some different ingredients, but I think that same concept of robust, deeply flavored buckwheat paired with earthy dried figs is still there.

It’s funny how something as simple as creating a successful recipe can send you on a high for the week. When I took my first few bites of these scones and concluded that they were good, my heart swelled for days afterward. The sense of accomplishment—”look at me! I made a gluten-free scone that doesn’t taste like a doorstop!”—really got me pumped.

Several days later, I (quite cockily, I’ll admit) attempted making a gluten-free, whole grain buckwheat pizza crust. Surely, after conquering something so monumental as a whole grain scone, a pizza crust would be a walk in the park. I’ll have you know that I was humbled—brought low, you might say—by my pizza-making experience. The look on my mom’s face, bless her heart, as she was eating the pizza with me said one thing: never again, Hallie. Never again.

So I’ve decided to stick with scones for now. And soups and salads, because they are pretty hard to mess up. I’ll leave pizza for the adventurous, experienced chefs with the minds for culinary greatness. As they knead their dough and flip rounds of crust high up in the air, I’ll be perfectly happy whipping up batches of fig butter and nibbling on these scones.

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Buckwheat and Fig Butter Scones - Makes 10

Note: these scones are not super sweet. They are more like a subtly sweet biscuit with bits of fig running through them. If you’d prefer a sweeter scone, add additional honey to the fig butter recipe. You may also make additional fig butter to serve with the scones once they are baked.

1 cup buckwheat flour

¾ cup millet flour, plus extra for flouring work surface

¼ cup tapioca starch

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 recipe Fig Butter (below), cold and cut into ½ inch cubes

½ cup plus 2 tbs. cream (half and half)

1/3 cup dried Black Mission figs, chopped small (stems discarded)

1-2 tbs. light or heavy cream, for brushing

Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, combine buckwheat flour, millet flour, tapioca starch, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle fig butter cubes over top and pulse about 20 one-second pulses until mixture looks like wet sand with the largest butter pieces the size of small peas. Transfer mixture to mixing bowl.

With the side of a wooden utensil, scoot the flour-butter mixture to the edges of the bowl creating a well in the center. Add ½ cup plus 2 tbs. cream to the well. Gently mix into flour. When ingredients are just moistened, stir in Black Mission figs until just combined. Do not overmix.

Transfer mixture to a work surface very lightly floured with millet flour. Pat scone dough into a 10×7 inch rectangle, flouring your hands lightly if needed to keep dough from sticking to them. Cut dough into 10 evenly sized square scones. Arrange scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet spacing about ½ inch apart.

Bake at 400-degrees for 18-22 minutes until deep golden brown and crackled on top. Can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Fig Butter

½ cup dried Black Mission figs, cut into quarters (stems discarded)

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

½ cup butter, softened to room temperature

¼ cup honey

Combine figs, water and cinnamon stick in a small pot over medium heat. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until figs are rehydrated and liquid is deep maroon in color—about 8-10 minutes.

Drain figs, reserving 2 tbs. cooking liquid. Discard cinnamon stick. Transfer figs and 2 tbs. cooking liquid to food processor fitted with the S-blade. Process for 10-15 seconds to puree. Add butter and honey. Process for 15-20 seconds until mixture is fairly smooth. If a few small chunks of fig remain, that’s okay.

Transfer fig butter to plastic wrap or a plastic baggie and form a log or rectangle out of the mixture. Seal it up and chill until ready to use.

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This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

I know that nuts really aren’t a seasonal food, but I still tend to associate different types with different seasons. Pecans and hazelnuts work their way into my holiday recipes at Thanksgiving and Christmas, while pine nuts tend to show up in the warmer months as I whip up batches of pesto and pasta salad with summer’s bounty. Walnuts and almonds are my go-to snacking nuts any time of the year. And pistachios? Well, to me, those just sing spring.

Usually I enjoy pistachios more in savory dishes than sweet. Their buttery texture and snappy crunch offer a lovely addition to salads of many kinds or platters of roasted vegetables dressed simply in lemon juice and olive oil. One of the pricier nuts on the market, I reserve pistachios for spare but savored use in only a handful of recipes. And yet, for the past few weeks on my trips to the grocery store I’ve eyed the pistachios every time, dreaming up some fancy way I could use them. Nothing came to me. Then, at least.

Last week when I was on my way to check out my groceries, I paused in the Whole Foods bakery section to peer into the glass case and feast my eyes upon all of the beautiful spring desserts. Three-layer carrot cakes, lemon curd tartlets, tiramisu, chocolate cupcakes, lattice-topped pies. And on the top shelf, tucked away in a corner as if they were too shy to take center stage, a cluster of tiny two-bite cakes almost too cute to imagine eating. Almost

If I could have, I would have bought a few of those little cakes on the spot and eaten them right then and there in front of the bakery case. But, cute as they were, the wheat flour and refined sugar in them simply wouldn’t do. While I’ll occasionally—rarely is a better word—make a treat or two with granulated white sugar, I avoid gluten completely. My body gets very upset if I don’t! But with the two-bite cake theme whirling in my head, I left the grocery store that day with the goal in mind to come up with a gluten-free, white sugar-free alternative that was tasty and, if I was lucky, just as cute as those little cakes in the case.

The two-bite cakes I came up with not only turned out adorable; they also gave me the prime opportunity to use luxurious pistachios in a new and different way. As you may already know if you’ve been around this blog for a while, I don’t like my “sweets” to be super sweet. In this recipe the actual cake batter is sweetened only subtly with a bit of honey. The real burst of sweetness comes from the chocolate. If you prefer a sweeter sweet, feel free to try bumping up the honey to your liking.

I can’t think of a better way to welcome the spring season than by popping down a few of these tasty morsels and heading outside for some sunshine. If you’re looking for more gluten-free, guilt-free treats to try this spring, check out “Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free” hosted by Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free. Celebrate the season with delicious, guiltless pleasures!

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Two-Bite Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cakes - Makes 16 mini cakes 

1/2 cup raw shelled pistchios, chopped

1 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 cup millet flour  

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted, plus extra for greasing the pan

1/4 cup honey

2 eggs

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease 16 cups of a mini-muffin tin with coconut oil and set aside.

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, grind 1/4 cup pistachios to a fine powder. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add almond flour, millet flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.

Separately whisk together coconut oil, honey and eggs in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Fold in remaining 1/4 cup chopped pistachios and chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into the greased muffin tin. Bake cakes for 15-18 minutes until deeply golden brown. Cool completely before removing from pan. (For easy removal, run a sharp knife around the edges of each cake and gently lift out of pan.)

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

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One stretch of warm weather—by which I mean 60-degrees—and I’m already cranking out salads for every meal! With the balmy temps and sunny skies, my thoughts have turned to lighter cuisine airing on the cleansing side. Nothing tastes better than a big entree-size salad after a long winter of warming, hearty foods.

Last week I posted about greens and how they are such a delicious facet of spring. Shortly after I wrote that post I came up with the recipe for this salad featuring a tender mix of baby greens as the base. Use whatever blend of greens you like or that are in season. I made the salad with a few handfuls of spicy baby arugula, some tender spinach, and a little bit of romaine for some crunch.

Regarding the fish for this salad, feel free to use whatever is available and suits your tastes. I used tuna steaks, which I marinated in a splash of orange juice, olive oil, orange zest, and black pepper and then grilled. I’m eager to make this salad again with wild salmon or halibut, both of which I prefer over tuna but just didn’t have around at the time I first made the recipe. Of course, if you’re not much of a fish eater you could certainly swap in grilled chicken as well. But with spring on it’s way and, yes, even summer not far off, my tastebuds are asking for the light but satisfying flavor of fresh fish these days.

The dressing here is just your basic vinaigrette sweetened up a bit with some orange juice and made a tad crunchy with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a salad is over-dressed—in other words, swimming around in a gallon of dressing on the plate. So if the dressing here doesn’t seem like enough to you, that’s why. I air on the side of less when I dress things, especially vegetables, since I like to taste the flavor of the actual ingredient being dressed and not just a plateful of dressing. But if you prefer a more heavily dressed salad, I give you permission to double the dressing recipe and douse on as much as your heart desires. I’ll never know.

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Grilled Fish and Baby Green Salad with Orange Sesame Dressing – Serves 4

For the salad:

7-8 cups mixed baby greens such as arugula, spinach, and romaine

3/4 – 1 lb. firm fish such as cod, halibut, tuna or salmon, grilled or broiled and flaked into bite-sized chunks

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/4 medum red onion, thinly sliced into rounds or half-moons

1 avocado, diced

For the dressing:

2 tbs. olive oil

Juice of 1/2 large orange

1 tbs. red or white wine vinegar

1 tbs. sesame seeds

1 tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Arrange the greens on individual plates or a large platter. Top with the flaked fish, shredded carrot, peas, red onion slices, and avocado cubes.

In a small bowl whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until emulsified. Drizzle evenly over the salad and serve.

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Looking for more delicious recipes as you usher in the spring season? Check out Slightly Indulgent Tuesday over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.

 

Collard greens

With St. Patrick’s Day just behind us and spring knocking at the door, I can’t think of a better time to talk about greens than right now. As the world comes to life again (or at least my corner of the world here in Wisconsin) after an eternally cold winter, the spring season offers up some of nature’s most nutritious and attractive foods: colorful, vibrant greens.

I’m in love with them. And for good reason. Green produce is packed with nutritional benefits, cancer-fighting compounds, vitamin and mineral rich chlorophyll, and fiber. More and more health experts, natural doctors, nutritionists, and even celebrities are waving the “eat your greens” banner. But if you’re still not convinced, here are five more reasons I’ve pulled from various sources to get you piling greens on your dinner plate:

  1. “Fruits and vegetables have yet another disease-fighting weapon to offer you: Lutein. Studies show this carotenoid prevents and, to some extent, reverses vision loss, immune system problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. With that in mind, load up your plate with foods high in lutein — carrots, corn, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, red peppers, dill, parsley, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and red, blue and purple fruits.” Read the rest of the article on lutein’s benefits here at Natural News. 
  2. Love your liver and feed it greens! They are especially helpful in the body’s detoxification process. Ali over at

    Kale (lacinato variety)

    The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen posted a great summary of liver supportive nutrition here. There’s also a wonderful green smoothie recipe to help you use up all of spring’s abundant greens!

  3. Kale has long been considered a “power food” because of it’s rich source of vitamins A and K, carotenoids, sulforaphanes (antimicrobial substances that can combat tumor growth), iron, and calcium. For a comprehensive guide on kale’s nutritional breakdown, how to buy and cook it, and some wholesome recipes, click here.  
  4. Spinach “tops the list, along with other green leafy vegetables, as a food most eaten by people who don’t get cancer,” writes Dr. Ed Bauman in the the book Recipes and Remedies for Rejuvenation. Spinach is “a super source of antioxidants and cancer antagonists, containing about four times more beta-carotene and three times more lutein than broccoli.” High in fiber, spinach also helps lower blood cholesterol, Bauman says. To preserve the most nutrients, eat spinach raw or lightly cooked.
  5. Pack a nutritional punch with parsley. Loaded with vitamin C, iron, copper, and manganese, parsley is an excellent blood purifier. It also is high in antioxidants and may help stimulate brain cell activity. “While parsley is a wonderfully nutritious and

    Baby spinach and parsley

    healing food, it is often under-appreciated. Most people do not realize that this vegetable has more uses than just being a decorative garnish that accompanies restaurant meals. They do not know that parsley is actually a storehouse of nutrients and that it features a delicious green and vibrant taste.” Read more about parsley here at WH Foods.

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As a greater variety of greens becomes available with the new season, I’ll be testing and tasting plenty of recipes in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled as I may post a few of my favorite green recipes here soon!

This post is linked up to Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade.

For the past six weeks, give or take a day or two, my days have begun with a regular exercise routine. Here’s how it goes.

I roll out of bed—sometime between 6 and 6:30 usually—and head to the bathroom to splash cool water on my face and scatter any lingering dreams away with a wet wake-up call. I change (often quite sluggishly) from my snowflake patterned pj’s into stetchy work-out wear. With my eyes still squinty and tired, I tie on my shoes, grab my water bottle from the bedside table and half-sleepwalk out to the family room where I pop in a DVD and begin the insanity.

I’m not being dramatic. The exercise program is actually titled Insanity. It’s a 60-day, 6-day-a-week routine designed to increase endurance, lung capacity and cardio strength. And, as a surviving witness, I can tell you firsthand that it can truly get downright insane. They claim it’s the hardest workout ever put on DVD. I’ve never done other DVD programs before, but I’m pretty sure they’re not lying.

The first five or ten minutes of the workout is the worst part. Once I get my joints loosened up and the sleep shaken from my bones, it’s kind of invigorating. In an oh-my-gosh-my-quads-are-burning, when-will-this-ever-end sort of way.

To keep my energy up and my body nourished for the past six weeks, I’ve made a point of trying to incorporate enough protein into my diet. Adequate protein intake when you’re working out at a high intensity is critical to building muscle and staying strong. For many hard-core exercise gurus, high intensity exercise means pounds and pounds of animal protein. While lean meats like poultry and fish or something like eggs are dense sources of high-quality protein, they lack fiber and often a lot of vitamins and minerals. So as I’ve upped my protein intake, I’ve made a point of trying to incorporate as many vegetarian sources of protein as possible.

Beans and legumes top the charts for vegetarian protein while delivering an excellent amount of fiber and micronutrients. Nuts and seeds also offer protein (and healthy fats) as do whole grains—especially ones like quinoa and millet. In addition to providing protein, beans, legumes and whole grains are complex carbohydrates that help to fuel the body and give it energy. Just what you need as you power through insane workouts!

In my effort to fortify my diet with high-quality protein, I came up with this recipe for a Spicy Black Bean Ragout with Quinoa and Avocado Crema. It’s simple to make and supplies—according to my rough nutritional calculations—about 15 grams of protein per serving. Pretty good for a vegetarian, vegan meal.

Wish me luck as I continue jumping and jacking and pulling-up and pushing-up over the next few weeks! I’ll try my best not to go too insane.

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Spicy Black Bean Ragout with Quinoa and Avocado Crema – Serves 3-4

For the quinoa and ragout:

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

2 cups water

2 tbs. olive oil

1 small-medium yellow onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juices

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (or one 15-ounce can)

1 (4-ounce) can whole green chilies, drained and chopped

1 cup frozen corn (use fresh if in season)

1/3 cup water

Salt, to taste

For the avocado crema:

1 medium ripe avocado

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup canned coconut milk (see *note below)

Pinch of sea salt

For garnish:

Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

Chopped scallions

Start by making the quinoa: bring quinoa and water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to very low and simmer 12-15 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.

While quinoa cooks, make the ragout: heat olive oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery. Cook 3-5 minutes until becoming soft, then add garlic, serrano, chili powder, cumin and coriander. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes with juices, black beans, green chilies, corn, water and salt to taste. Cook until heated through over low heat, about 8-10 minutes.

As quinoa and ragout finish cooking, make avocado crema. In a food processor or blender combine all ingredients for crema. Blend until very smooth.

To serve, arrange a bed of quinoa on large platter or individual serving plates. Ladle ragout over top and dollop with spoonfuls of avocado crema. Garnish with chopped parsley (or cilantro) and scallions.

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*Note: if you do not use coconut milk often in your cooking and are wondering what to do with the milk remaining in the can, here are some suggestions:

  • Try it in smoothies as you would use almond or soy milk for a delicious creaminess and tropical flavor.
  • Stir into curries at the end of cooking to make the sauce extra creamy and luxurious.
  • Drizzle over fruit bowls of chopped mango, pineapple and bananas for a tasty dessert. Garnish with macadamia nuts.
  • Whip a few tablespoons of coconut milk with heavy cream for a tropical twist on basic whipped cream.
  • Oh, and here’s how to store coconut milk for best flavor and freshness: transfer milk from can into a glass jar or other glass container. Cover with a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

It seems to me that coconut has been popping up all over the place these days in recipes for everything from cookies and cakes to curries and casseroles. I think it might be one of those “vogue” ingredients that’s becoming stylish, kind of like sriracha hot sauce among gourmet cooks or green smoothies among healthy foodies. There’s even a whole blog devoted to all things coconut (which has some delicious looking recipes, by the way). 

So it’s about time I jump on the coconut bandwagon, I guess. But here’s the deal, and I’ll speak plainly: I just don’t like it. A splash of coconut milk here or there I can handle, but the shredded stuff? Eeeek. The thought of it alone makes me wrinkle my nose.

This is the stand-point I was coming from a few days ago when I stopped by the store to pick up a few ingredients for a new fig cookie bar I wanted to try. They were out of almost everything I needed from the bulk bins…black mission figs, dates, blanched almonds. Nada. What they did have was a full bin of prunes and raw walnuts along with plenty of my white, flaky nemesis—unsweetened shredded coconut.

I eyed the coconut with resistance, but in the end swallowed my fears and bought a small bag. I’ve given other ingredients a shot in the past—take black beans, for instance—and have turned out to love them. Maybe the case would be similar with coconut.

At home I whirled together the nuts and dried fruit along with some spices and orange zest to form the dough of what would become coconut-encrusted, bite-sized cookies. They’re a no-bake treat, which means I could sample one just minutes after they were formed (although I’d recommend chilling them first like the recipe says, since they hold up better that way). The verdict? A perfect blend of sweetness and spice with just a hint of coconut crunch, these cookies are tasty little morsels. Definately not over-coconut-y, which to me is a good thing.

While I don’t think I’ll ever be a coconut “nut,” I certainly think I can stomach a little here or there like in this recipe. Who knows? The more I incorporate coconut into my cooking the more I may grow to like it. I’m not sold on coconut quite yet, but this little lesson in experimentation definately reminded me that giving an ingredient a second (or third or fourth) chance sometimes isn’t so bad after all.

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Zesty Coconut Cookies – Makes 1 dozen bite-sized cookies

3/4 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup pitted prunes

2 tsp. orange zest

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ginger

1/4 – 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, for coating

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process walnuts until finely ground. Add prunes and process until finely chopped and incorporated into the walnuts, about 20-30 seconds. Add the orange zest, cinnamon and ginger. Process until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a parchment-lined work surface. Divide dough in half. Divide each half in half so that you have quartered the mixture. Out of each quarter form three small bite-sized balls. Flatten the balls into round cookie shapes. Place unsweetened coconut in a bowl and turn the cookies in the coconut to coat evenly.

Chill the cookies until firm, about 15-20 minutes in the freezer or 1 hour in the refrigerator. After this intial “firming” time, the cookies can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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This post is linked up to Fight Back Fridays.

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