Archive for the ‘Snacks’ Category

Carrot Cake Bites

These Carrot Cake Bites, featured in my guest post today over at Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, taste like carrot cake in a snackable ball with none of the refined sugar, flour, gluten, or dairy found in most carrot cake recipes.

I love keeping a batch of these at the ready in my refrigerator during the warmer months because they have such a refreshing flavor. In addition to making a great snack or simple dessert to enjoy yourself or with your family, these are also a tasty treat to pull out when friends or neighbors stop by for an afternoon chit-chat. This seems to happen more often in the spring and summer, so it’s great to have some simple little recipes like this one tucked away in your repitoire for unexpected guests.

Be sure to visit Simply Sugar and Gluten Free today and check out my guest post on the importance of fruits and vegetables in the gluten-free diet. Big thanks to Amy for inviting me to post on her blog!


Carrot Cake Bites – Makes 12-15 balls

2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (about ¾ cup)

½ cup raw walnuts

¼ cup raw cashews

¾ cup dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 5-6 large dates)

1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

½ tsp. cinnamon

Zest of one orange, optional

Sesame seeds or unsweetened shredded coconut, for rolling

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process carrots until finely ground. Remove and set aside.

Process the walnuts and cashews in the food processor (no need to clean it out) until finely ground. Add the dates and process until finely chopped and incorporated into the nuts. Add the reserved carrots, ginger, cinnamon, and orange zest (if using) and process until dough forms.

Shape the mixture into 12-15 small balls. Roll in sesame seeds or shredded coconut to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve, or up to five days.



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You’ve gotta love a cookbook that makes you smile—even laugh—as you read it. Rebecca Katz’s The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen is food for the soul.

The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery

I picked it up a few weeks ago on the recommendation of some other Bauman College grads. I don’t have cancer or know anyone close to me who does, but that doesn’t matter in the least. Rebecca’s recipes for delicious, nourishing fare are perfect for anyone seeking to eat healthfully and support their immune system—whether they have cancer or not.

Along with the tasty recipes and sensational photographs in the book, Rebecca’s writing is a delight to read. Riddled with humorous stories and plenty of culinary and kitchen tips, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen presents healthful cuisine in an engaging and “easily digestable” package. While the book caters to the physical needs of those undergoing cancer treatment or recovery, the recipes will tickle the tastebuds of foodies both ill and healthy alike.

I’m particularly eager to try the Thai It Up Chicken Soup, Middle Eastern Chickpea Burgers, and Mediterranean Lentil Salad. Before I get to any of these, however, I want to share with you an adaptation I made of Rebecca’s Anytime Bars.

In the headnotes of the recipe, Rebecca writes:

“The great thing about this recipe is that you can change the ingredients to fit your taste preferences. You can even split the batter and make half with currants and cranberries and the other half with walnuts or whatever you’d like.”

I took her advice and shook up the recipe a little bit to my tastes, including making them gluten-free. The results are scrumptious—er, were scrumptious. They’re long gone already…and it won’t be long before I’m making another batch.


Hallie’s Energy Bars – makes 20 bars

(Inspired by the Anytime Bars found in The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen)

 1/4 cup millet flour

2 tbs. flaxseed meal

Pinch of sea salt

1/8 tsp. baking powder*

1/8 tsp. baking soda*

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup raw, whole almonds

3/4 cup raw pecan halves

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup quinoa flakes or gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup (loosely packed) medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped

1 cup (loosely packed) dried Turkish apricots, roughly chopped

1 egg

3 tbs. honey or maple syrup

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process the millet flour, flaxseed meal, salt, baking powder and soda, and cinnamon until combined. Add almonds, pecans, and seeds and pulse 5-6 times to chop coarsely. Add quinoa flakes, dates, and apricots and pulse 10-15 times until everything is chopped and incorporated. (Mixture should still be fairly coarse.)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and honey. Stir in the nut and fruit mixture until evenly moistened. Press into an even layer in the prepared 9×9 baking dish. Bake at 325-degrees for 20-25 minutes until set and lightly golden brown on top. Cool completely in pan, then cut into 20 squares.

Bars will keep at room temperature for up to 4 days or refrigerated for 5-7 days.

*Note: I do not have an eighth-teaspoon measuring utensil—I don’t even know if they make those! So I just used half of a quarter-teaspoon and it worked perfectly.


Hungry for more cookbook recommendations? Check out my post on Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors. Find more great recipes for healthy food at Amy’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.


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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.


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.


This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

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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.


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.


This post is linked up to Fight Back Fridays.

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A few years before I entered high school, I developed in avid interest in chocolatiering. After months of reading about chocolate and experimenting with dozens of recipes, I eventually started cranking out some pretty tasty candies. In my early teens, I actually catered 500 chocolates for the grand opening ceremony of a high-end European design center. The following summer I prepared close to 200 custom-packaged party favors for my cousin’s wedding. After those big confidence boosters, I went on to sell chocolates to a group of loyal customers every Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day for several years.

With time and the inevitable progressions of getting older, I turned my attention to other pursuits and gradually drifted away from chocolatiering. But those years—years of painting chocolate into candy molds and whipping up peanut butter creme filling and packaging dozens of chocolates every day at my dining room table—those were formative, influential years for me. It was during that time that I began to delve deep into just one teensy fraction of the vast culinary world and discover that food and cooking were integral parts of who would I someday become.

Of course, my life looks a lot different now than it did then, but once in while I slip down memory lane and allow myself to recall the days when all I did was melt chocolate, test recipes, and package candies from morning till night. A few days ago I found myself in the kitchen testing a candy recipe of different kind—a truffle made with dates and nuts—when a montage of memories—sweet, chocolatey ones—rolled over me like a salty wave…

I saw myself tempering a bowl of chocolate at the kitchen counter and carefully spooning it like liquid mahogany into candy molds. I saw myself jot down a list of ingredients I needed to pick up for tomorrow’s batch. I watched my nimble fingers work lengths of satin ribbon into perfect bows atop box after box.

…And the thought occured to me then: it’s what you’ve done in the past that shapes who you’ll be in the future. It’s who you were then that makes you who you are now

Just think. Someday, a few years from now perhaps, I’ll look back on my life—maybe even this very post—and realize just how much I’ve grown, how much I’ve changed, how much I’ve learned. The passage of time will be evident, but the future will radiate with a glowing hope of what’s to come.

And I like to think that when I look back on it, the thread of my life will be knotted with recipes here and there—recipes like the one I’m posting today—that remind of who I was then, who I am now, who I’ll be tomorrow. Because that’s really what it’s all about. Finding joy in the journey. And someday glancing over your shoulder to see where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’re capable of as you step forward.   


Orange Sesame “Truffles” – Makes 12-15

3/4 cup raw walnuts

4-5 large dates, pitted and roughly chopped

Scant 1/4 cup raisins

2 tbs. good quality unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp. grated orange zest

Raw sesame seeds, for rolling

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, grind walnuts to a powder. Add dates and raisins. Process until well combined and very finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Add the cocoa powder and orange zest. Process until incorporated and mixture is an even deep brown color.

Shape mixture into bite-sized balls about 3/4-1 inch in diameter. Roll in sesame seeds to coat.

Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve, or up to 1 week.


This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays.


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Trail Mix Clusters

There is only one thing I love eating more than nuts, honey, and cinnamon. And that is eating all three of them together.

A few months ago I posted a recipe for Pan-Roasted Honey Nuts. Today’s recipe is somewhat similar, but is more of a wink and a nudge to granola rather than roasted nuts. I’m not one to pat myself on the back very often, but I must say: I make a killer granola. It’s full of crunchy nuts, sweet dried fruit, and a few pinches of my favorite baking spices. Of course, it has oats in it as well. Since I’ve learned over the past few years that oats and my body don’t get along very well, I only make my granola for others and never actually get to enjoy it myself. 

It is my love for granola and inability to eat it that sparked the inspiration for these Trail Mix Clusters. You could use any combination of your favorite nuts here, so feel free to tailor the recipe to your tastes. Just make sure you use raw, unsalted nuts and seeds. Also, it’s important to let the clusters cool completely before eating so that they can set up and hold together. I ate one before it was cool and it crumbled up in my hands. (I also burned my tongue.) But after letting the clusters set for about 20 minutes, they were nice and sturdy and good to go.


Trail Mix Clusters – Makes 16

1 large or 2 small-ish egg whites

1 tbs. honey

1 cup raw unsalted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds

2 tbs. raw unsalted sunflower seeds

2 tbs. raw sesame seeds

1/4 cup raisins or other chopped dried fruit of choice (such as apricots, dates, or dried cranberries)  

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together egg white and honey in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to thoroughly coat everything with the egg white mixture.

Spoon tablespoon-fuls of the nut mixture onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until deeply golden brown and fragrant, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before eating or storing.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.


This post is linked to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.

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Here we are at week four of the 5 Pantry Essentials series. The past few weeks have flown by with so many tasty ingredients and recipes to share. I’ve been busy testing and tasting recipes in my kitchen, trying to decide which ones to post for this series and which ones to put on the back burner to share with you at another time. My favorite so far has been the Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa from last week. It’s super flavorful and colorful….a perfect pick-me-up in the middle of winter!

This week I want to highlight a humble and often overlooked pantry ingredient, one that deserves a second-glance. Drumroll please……..onions.


Nutrition Spotlight

  • Heal with Onions: consumption of any foods in the Allium species (which include garlic, leeks, scallions, and onions) have strong healing abilities for major diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer of many kinds, and diabetes. Onion extract has, in some studies, also been shown to destroy tumors, tumor cells, and pathogenic growths.
  • Lower Blood Sugar: onions may have a blood-sugar lowering effect, one that is comparable to some drugs and medications given to diabetics. It is believed that the flavonoids in onions (particularly quercetin) contribute to this effect.  In addition, onions have been known to prevent blood clot formation and lower overall blood pressure.
  • Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Inflammatory: along with quercetin, onions contain other flavonoids that help to kill harmful bacteria in the body. Add onions to soups, stews, and salads in the winter months when colds and flus are at their peak to help support immunity. Not only are onions anti-bacterial, but they are also anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful for those suffering from joint pain and arthritis. Onions contain compounds that inhibit the enzymes that cause inflammation, stopping it before it starts.


What Makes it Essential

The lowly onion often takes a backseat role in cooking, serving as nothing more than the base of a soup stock or pasta sauce. But it’s this “behind the scenes” role that gives onions their essential quality. Have you ever tried making an onion-less marinara sauce or a pot of warming soup with no onions at all? Chances are the end result lacked a layer of flavor and depth that only onions can provide.

When you need to add some zing to a salad, nothing does the trick quite like a few rings of red onion. This time of year, when soups and casseroles frequent the dinner table, onions are an absolute must. I use them daily in my cooking and rarely start a sauce or soup without them. To keep turkey meatballs moist without adding eggs or breadcrumbs, I rely on a combination of fresh herbs and finely chopped red onion. This keeps the lean meat flavorful and prevents that dry, crumbly texture common with overcooked poultry.

The best part is that onions keep forever in a dark pantry or even in a bowl on the countertop. Eventually they’ll start to sprout if they are exposed to long periods of daylight, but it will be weeks (or probably months) before that starts to happen. They are easy to store and buy in bulk, too. In the late autumn, farmer’s markets often sell 5 , 10, or even 15 pound bags of onions for just a few dollars. Stock up while you can!


The Recipe

It’s hard to come up with a recipe for something other than French onion soup that really showcases onions as the star ingredient. Today’s recipe for Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip doesn’t “scream onion” at you when you take a bite but certainly does offer a layer of savory-sweetness that can only come from caramelizing onions until they begin to wilt and brown in the skillet. The onions are pureed with hearty chickpeas and some fresh herbs and lemon juice to brighten it all up, turning it into a knockout dip perfect for adding to vegetable platters, topping crostini, or serving with whole grain pita chips or flatbread for dipping.


Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip

2 tbs. olive oil

1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt-free dried herb blend (I use Mural of Flavor from Penzey’s Spices)

1 (14 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well

1/4 cup parsley leaves

Juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until beginning to get tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook—stirring occasionally—until onions are soft, wilted, and brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes more. Stir in garlic, dried herb blend, and chickpeas; cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process onion and chickpea mixture with parsley, lemon juice, and salt and pepper until smooth and spreadable in consistency.

Can be refrigerated up to 3 days before using, although flavor is superior if used within 1-2 days. For a pretty garnish, top with a few whole chickpeas and a sprig of parsley before serving.


Next Tuesday we’ll wrap up the Pantry Essentials series with a fifth and final ingredient, one that’s super tasty and versatile. Don’t miss it!

This post is linked up to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Fight Back Friday.


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I feel like such a hypocrite.

Yesterday, the day that I talked all about the common sweet tooth and how to kick it, I myself got a hankering for something sweet that just wouldn’t go away. It hit me after lunch. I tried the water-drinking technique that I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Warning: that trick doesn’t work every time! I mentioned that it works 90% of the time for me…well, today must have fallen in the other 10% because it certainly did nothing to scatter my craving for sweets.

The more I tried not to think about a shard of chocolate or a crumb of a cookie, the worse it got. At about 2 o’clock, I’d had it. I marched up the stairs and pulled out my food processor, determined to make myself a healthy, gluten-free, sugar-free candy bar. Inspired by the Lara Bar concept, I set to work with a few dates and some cashews hoping to eek out a treat that would satisfy my sweet tooth guiltlessly. To my surprise, the result did just that.

After testing one of the candy bars (and enjoying every succulent bite), I was amazed at how similar it tasted to the Cashew Cookie flavored Lara Bar. I’m not a numbers girl, but curiosity sent me to my calculator to do a little price comparison between a homemade “Lara Bar” and a store-bought one. Here’s what I found: at my local grocery store, one bar costs $1.75. One homemade bar comes in at approximately $0.75.  Now how’s that for a deal?! 

You’ll find the recipe for Cashew Candy Bars below. The recipe yields 2 bars, but I will be doubling or tripling this the next time I make them because I want lots on hand! I imagine they would keep for about 5-7 days in the refrigerator, but I doubt they will ever last that long in my house.

I’m sure there are a gazillion variations that a creative cook could make of these, and I’ll definitely be trying out some of them soon. If you happen to whip up a tasty twist on this recipe, be sure to share it here in a comment!


Cashew Candy Bars – Makes 2

3 tbs. raw cashews (about 1 1/2 oz.)

2 dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 2 oz.)

Place cashews in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the S-blade. Process until finely ground like a powder. Add dates and process until very finely “pasted” and incorporated into the cashews—about 25-35 seconds.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Shape each into a long, rectangular bar and chill in the refrigerator for 30-40 minutes until firm. Wrap each bar tightly in plastic wrap or store bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to eat.



Heads Up: on Tuesday, January 19, I will be starting a five-week series of posts called “5 Pantry Essentials.” Every Tuesday for five weeks, I will post a different ingredient that’s an essential staple to stock in your pantry. Posts will cover nutritional highlights, what makes the ingredient so essential, and suggestions for using it. Of course, I will feature a recipe showcasing the ingredient as well.

So stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this exciting series filled with great nutrition info, cooking tips, and tasty recipes!

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Cocoa Jingle Balls

There’s a story in my family that goes something like this…

It was early on Easter morning. My sister and I eagerly darted through the house peeking behind chairs and beneath beds in search of candy-laden baskets that the Easter Bunny had filled and hidden for us the night before. A shout came from my sister in the other room as she exclaimed, “I found mine!” She emerged carrying a basket mounded high with delicious candies and treats in a hundred shades of pastel purple, yellow, and blue. My mouth watered longingly, urging me to continue the hunt for my own basket.

With my sister trailing behind me oohing and ahhing over her basket, I pranced around the living room in my raggedy Snow White pajamas (they were my favorite) with my eyes peeled. Alas, there it was: a basket filled to overflowing with mouthwatering, teeth-rotting goodies tucked behind the corner of our out-of-tune piano. My little sugar-loving heart sang within me.

That Easter Sunday was a particularly lovely spring day that beckoned my parents to spend the afternoon outside setting up lawn furniture and garden ornaments for the summer season ahead. My sister joined in on the work eagerly and passed the hours helping them with projects in the backyard. As for me? I slipped away quietly, retrieved my Easter goodies from inside the house, and planted myself on the front porch with a basket-ful of chocolates and peanut butter cups. And no one to watch me devour it all.

The story goes that I sat there unfolding each wrapper with my chubby little fingers and eating each and every piece of candy in that basket. By late afternoon when my parents realized I was missing and came looking for me, I was sitting on the porch steps in a pile of wrappers next to an empty Easter basket with chocolate staining my lips and cheeks.

It’s a true story. Honest.

I’ll admit that my sweet-tooth certainly did not subside over the next few years of my childhood. Not just at Easter but at every holiday I remember looking forward to the array of delicious desserts that would always crowd the kitchen counter,  just begging me to eat them. At Easter it was candy from the Easter Bunny. At the Fourth of July it was blueberry pie and root beer floats. At Thanksgiving, my mom’s blue-ribbon-winning caramel apple pie and vanilla ice cream. And at Christmas…well, need I say more about Christmas? Heck, we’re in the middle of the season right now. We all know what delicacies go along with this holiday. (In case you’ve forgotten: pecan pie, glazed nuts, pumpkin cake, fruitcake, chocolate truffles, chocolate-dipped pretzels, chocolate-covered-nuts, chocolate-covered-anything for that matter.)

Over the years, me and sugar became well acquainted friends. It wasn’t like I was a sugar-holic or anything. At the same time that I ate donuts and pie, I also piled my plate with fresh fruits and vegetables. (Because carrots and celery cancel out donuts and pie, right?) But several years ago when I was battling awful seasonal allergies, I went to a holistic nutritionist for help. And you know what she found out? I’m allergic to sugar. All those runny noses and watery, swollen eyes could clear right up if I cut the sugar from my diet, she told me.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for a good 6 or 7 years now. Gradually cutting back on the sweets and terminating the friendship with my old pal, sugar. My seasonal allergies haven’t totally disappeared, but they are now much more mild and tolerable. In light of giving up the sugar, I’ve developed new friendships along the way with fresh fruit, dates, dried figs, smoothies (mmm!), and a variety of other naturally sweet treats. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post. (Sorry, I know that took a while.)

You may recall that I posted a recipe for Date-Nut Balls a few weeks ago. Well today I’m offering another date-ball recipe, this time featuring cocoa powder. These things are a great alternative to traditional sugar-laden candies that are so hard to avoid during this festive season. Make a plate of these puppies and watch them disappear at your next holiday gathering. Yep, they’re that good.

If you love chocolate, you’ll love these. Trust me. I’m a used-to-be sugar lover, remember? Though they may be sugar free and white flour free and artificial-ingredient free and, well, free of anything bad for you, they certainly are not free of chocolatey deliciousness. Take one bite. You’ll see what I mean.


Cocoa Jingle Balls

3/4 cup raw walnuts

5 large dates, pitted and roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup raisins

2 tbs. unsweetened, good quality cocoa powder

In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, grind walnuts until they are a grainy powder. Add dates and raisins. Process 20-25 seconds, or until combined and very finely chopped. Add cocoa powder and process until incorporated and the mixture holds together when you pinch it with your fingers.

Shape the date-nut mixture into bite-sized balls, placing in candy cups if desired. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week. Serve at room temperature.

(This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays. Check it out for more great recipes!)

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Almond Griddle-Cakes

We’ve been having a cold snap here in Madison. The past several days have only warmed up to a toasty 10 degrees by mid-afternoon. The roads are caked with ice and snow (we got dumped with 15 inches a few nights ago!), which makes it difficult to drive anywhere without fearing your death.

So I’ve been sticking pretty close to home the past week and spending an especially large amount of time in the kitchen. Something about the heat of the oven has called me to draw close to it’s warmth. I made a batch of hearty granola yesterday for a friend’s Christmas present, baked my mom a chocolate birthday cake the day before that, and have been dreaming up new creations to try this weekend. But as the sun rose this morning and temperatures climbed to a blistering 14 degrees, I let the oven rest and turned my attention to the stovetop. On the docket: pancakes.

I was inspired to make pancakes by this recipe. After tweaking a few things to my own preferences and giving the new recipe I whirl, I was quite pleased with the result: thin (but not too thin) cakes with a nice golden brown coloring and a texture that was just right, not too dense but not too spongy either. Drizzled with a bit of honey or some berry jam, these tasty morsels make a great breakfast alongside a big bowl of fruit or a just on their own as a snack.

After a bit of thought and few more bites of this recipe, I decided to call them “griddle-cakes” instead of pancakes since they aren’t exactly a clone of traditional wheat pancakes. While they still have eggs and a dash of baking soda, they do not contain white flour, sugar, or milk—and therefore have a different texture, flavor, and overall look than regular pancakes do. To distinguish these gluten-free cakes from their wheat-containing cousin, I thought it best to give them a separate title, something more fitting for what they actually are. Thus, the term griddle-cakes was born.

Warming comfort foods like pancakes—or, in this case, “griddle-cakes”—seem to taste even better on bitter cold mornings like what we’ve been having lately. So I recommend that you enjoy these when the weather is chilly and the morning is bright with rays of glittering sunshine. It makes for one sweet start to a winter’s day. Enjoy!

Almond Griddle-CakesMakes 12

2 eggs

2-3 tbs. honey

1/2 cup water

1 cup almond flour (also called almond meal)

1/2 cup millet flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking soda

Butter or coconut oil, for cooking

In a blender, combine eggs, honey, and water. Blend until smooth. Add almond and millet flours, cinnamon, and baking soda. Blend again until smooth and batter-like.

Heat butter or coconut oil in a large skillet until melted. Pour batter into pan (I cooked about 4 pancakes at a time in my skillet). Cook until pancakes begin to bubble and turn golden brown underneath, about 1 minute. Flip and cook another minute or so. Remove griddle-cakes from pan and continue making more cakes until all batter is gone.

Serve topped with jam, pure maple syrup, or fresh fruit.

Note: these cakes cook more quickly than regular wheat pancakes. Cook only about 1 minute per side so that they don’t burn.

 (This post is linked up to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays and Friday Foodie Fix.)

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