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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beet Hummus (Mutabal Shawandar)

Beet Hummus is a traditional Syrian appetizer known as "mutabal shawandar," literally translating to "beet dip."  I'm classifying it as hummus because of the parallel to traditional chick pea hummus with the inclusion of tahini and lemon. As a child my mom did not make this and we would only eat it occasionally on trips to the Middle East, so I've put this together using only my sense of taste and memory and when my older family members (who are TOUGH critics when it comes to authentic cooking) tried it they gave a thumbs up...after some constructive criticism of course ;)

If you buy your beets boiled and peeled to save time (Trader Joe's and Costco both sell them in the refrigerated section of their markets) this is literally done in 3 minutes. easy and I LOVE the POP of color! This is a great side dish for game nights, bbq's or as a snack. Serve it cold or at room temperature...prepare it in advance and give it a quick stir before matter how you eat it the bright hues will cheer you up and satisfy your eyes before you even take a bite.

I'm a huge fan of using seasonal produce throughout the year and beets get major points because as a root veggie they are easy to get a hold of at any time. During the winter I love to eat this because I find it fun and refreshing, and during the summer its really satisfying because it's light and doesn't require any heated preparation. Anytime I can spend less effort for great results I'm in! Who's with me?

Funny story about the picture above. I took this plate out to photograph it and my boys came running after me wanting to get in the shots. One was dressed in an Iron Man costume and the other was mid costume switch lol.  They each grabbed a pita chip and cucumber and took a dip into the hummus. Without thinking about it Iron Man took a bite and exclaimed in surprise "Wow, I actually like it!"  When I finished my photos they eagerly polished off everything on the plate...needless to say I was thrilled because beets are SO HIGH in vitamin c and are an excellent immune booster and form of potassium and fiber! Go make this!!!

Serves 4-6

-1 pound peeled and boiled beets
-1/4 cup Greek yogurt
-2 tablespoons tahini
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
-1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Optional garnish: chopped parsley, walnuts, olive oil or black sesame seeds

*Serve with pita chips, pita bread, crackers and a variety of veggies

To make
-Place you boiled and peeled beets (make sure they are cold and you have drained them from any liquid) into a food processor and pulse the mixture together until they are in small chunks. Do not puree to a complete paste to retain some texture in your dip.  If you do not own a food processor, you can grate the beets using a vegetable grater on the coarse side of the grater.
-Add the remaining ingredients (Greek yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and salt) and mix together. Taste and adjust salt/pomegranate molasses content until it is tangy enough for your taste. If your dip is too watery, add more tahini. If it is too thick, add a little more Greek yogurt. Do not add water!
-Transfer to a bowl and add optional garnish.
-Serve with pita chips/bread/fresh veggies and enjoy!

Try these other delicious dips!

Olive and Garlic Cheese Dip

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

No-bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bars

This is one of those awesome treats that doubles as breakfast (oats and banana) and dessert (chocolate) with a special ingredient that ties them both together (thanks peanut butter!).

Whenever I can I like to brown the butter I use in recipes to give a depth of flavor and make my kitchen smell awesome in the process. The caramel-y and nutty notes of the browned butter are absorbed nicely by the oats and these bars don't end up feeling too healthy that way.

It's always a bonus when you can skip the step of baking, and by browning the butter and using the same pot to cook the oat mixture, these only require 1 pot to prepare. Less dishes and no baking time means you can get to eating a lot faster, and I don't know anyone who minds that ;)

Some days we'll grab these on the way out the door in the morning as breakfast, some afternoons they come in handy as a snack between meals and they're an awesome ready dessert to enjoy after dinner. I've served them for brunch and included them in school lunches. They last a while in the fridge and still hold up great flavor and texture, so give these a try and let me know what you think!

Makes 16 bars

-4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
-3 cups old fashioned oats
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium sized RIPE bananas)
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-1/2 tablespoon cinnamon powder
*optional: add 1 tablespoon flax or chia seeds to give these a nutritional boost*

-1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1/2 cup peanut butter

-1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

To make
-Heat a pot and add butter. Let the butter melt and whisk over medium heat until the butter foams and turns a light brown color. You will be able to smell a toasty and caramel like flavor, that is when your butter is browned. Be careful not to burn the butter.
-Add the oats, brown sugar, salt, mashed banana, vanilla and cinnamon powder (plus optional flax or chia seeds) to the pot of browned butter and cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes, until the oats are soft and have partly broken down.
-Line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Reserve 1 cup of the oat mixture and press the rest of the oat mixture into the pan, making sure to pat it down into an even layer. I butter the back of a silicon spatula and use it to press down the oat mixture. Place the pan in the freezer to firm up the bottom layer while you prepare the chocolate.
-Using the same pot you used to cook the oat mixture (make sure its empty) add the chocolate chips and peanut butter and cook on the lowest heat until the chocolate is melted and they are mixed together. Spread the chocolate mixture over the oat layer and smooth out to even.
-Using the reserved oat mixture, dallop in pieces over the chocolate. Alternatively (this is how I make it but it is a little more difficult), butter you hands and take chunks of the reserved oat mixture and flatten with the palm of your hand. Carefully lay the flattened pieces on top of the chocolate until you have covered the entire surface. Sprinkle with optional mini chocolate chips
-Cover and refrigerate or freeze until the mixture is firm. In my freezer it takes less than an hour.
-Cut into 4 rows diagonally and horizontally and serve.
-Enjoy and tag #savvychef in your instagram pictures to share :)

Try these other popular oat bar recipes! 

Raspberry Oat Bars

Nut and Seed Granola Bars

Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chili Tater Tot Casserole

There's so much to love about this dish. Most importantly, its delicious. Second most importantly, its easy! Comfort Mexican-American food ready in about 30's become a staple dish around here, especially on nights when the fresh produce part of my fridge is running low.

The chili is made of 3 components: ground beef, spices and picante sauce. The picante sauce is incredible because the chopped onions, peppers and tomatoes already in it do all the work so your chili will have a chunky texture that you didn't have to to do anything to get! Control the spice level in your chili by taking care to purchase picante sauce that is at your preference...I've made the mistake of buying hot picante instead of mild and the kids couldn't eat it...and the adults were gulping water after every bite! Using frozen tater tots means no peeling of potatoes and I've found that people get a little excited at the idea of eating tater tots for dinner, plus the kids are more likely to give this a try that way.

Serves 6 adults

-1 pound ground beef
-2 tablespoons taco seasoning OR (1 teaspoon EACH: ground cumin/salt/paprika + 1 tablespoon ground coriander)
-1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
-2 1/2 cups mild picante sauce
-1 cup water
-20 ounces frozen tater tots
-1 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend, cheddar, monterey or pepper jack)

-1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (optional)
-sour cream, for serving (optional)

To make
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Heat a pot or skillet and add ground beef, seasonings and cumin seeds. Cook on medium heat, breaking the meat up as it browns until it has cooked through. This will take about 5-10 minutes.
-Add the picante sauce and water and bring the meat mixture to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until the picante sauce thickens and you have a chunky meat mixture. Taste the chilli and add more salt or spices to your preference.
-Place the frozen tater tots in a 9x13 inch baking dish and add the chili. Stir it around to coat all the tater tots with chili.
-Bake uncovered in a preheat oven for 25 minutes until the potatoes have cooked and the tops are toasted. Remove from the oven and add shredded cheese, then return to the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted.
-Remove from the oven and garnish with optional green onions.
-Serve with a side of sour cream.

3 ingredient chili!
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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

I consider this the dessert that changed my life. (How's that for drama?) I'll never forget the first time I tried it. A fellow baker friend brought it to a dinner party and it was the STAR of the dessert display. It was everyone's first exposure to this treat and watching the facial expressions as each person tried it was something awesome to witness!

My friend had found this recipe online and recreated it with her special flair. You'll find different versions of this floating around, and I've played with the ingredients and measurements until I've come up with what I consider the perfect ratio of everything. It's very rich and decadent, a little slice will take you far...but what a journey it will be!

Let me tell you a little something about this cake. Imagine yourself biting into a soft, crumbly, sweet, cozy bite of cookie dough with a sophisticated fresh cream....this is even better! You absolutely, positively, without a doubt, MUST refrigerate this in advance...I prefer 24 hours but overnight is acceptable. If you serve it right away you'll have 2 distinct textures in this cake. Firm cookies and cream. But...if you chill it as long as you should, the cookies will soften into the form of cookie dough and the cream will allow itself to meld into the cookies for one cohesive cake. Personally I love this cake the most on day 3 so if I'm preparing this for a party I'll get it safely layered and tucked in the fridge a couple days ahead of time. There's nothing more helpful for a hostess than pulling finished things out to serve on the day of an event!

Since I started making this, I've learned a few things (I estimate that I've made this over 100 times now). When I bake my cookies, I brown them extra...about 3-5 minutes past the point of a chewy cookie. This way they hold up better in the cake. Speaking of baking cookies, making the dough from scratch is a waste of effort on this one. I either use refrigerated cookie dough and bake it at home or I buy the cookies freshly baked from a local market. That's my preferred way for making this cake because then its just a matter of whipping the cream and layering. Less dishes and no baking! Even better, leftover cookies that have gone hard are PERFECT for this cake. Wrap them up tightly and throw them in the freezer until you're ready to make this. I'm sure that day will come sooner than you think because this is absolutely the MOST requested dessert recipe from my family and friends.  I always feel sorry for any other dessert on the table when this is part of the display because of the concentrated praise this one gets.

I've prepared this cake with every flavor cookie you can imagine. Peanut butter, white chocolate macadamia, chocolate brownie, red velvet, carrot cake, m&m....the list goes on and on. So play around and give it your special touch!

Serves 12

-2 cups heavy cream, very cold!
-1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-4 ounces mascarpone cheese
-2 pounds raw cookie dough, baked by 1 tablespoons OR about 42 pre-baked 2 inch cookies (from fresh bakery section of market, NOT packaged cookies like Chips Ahoy).
- optional: 1 cup chocolate chips (I use a variety of milk, semi sweet and white chips)

To make
-If working with raw cookie dough, bake cookies until browned, about 3-5 minutes past what you consider perfectly soft cookies. Let them cool completely.
-Using a whisk attachment on a mixer, combine CHILLED heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and whisk until the mixture is well combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes. DO NOT over-mix past the point of a fluffed whipped mixture or your heavy cream will separate and you will have to start over. Once the cream is whipped, add the mascarpone cheese and whip for 30-60 seconds more, until the mascarpone is mixed well with the whipped cream.
-In a 10.5 inch springform pan, place 10 cookies (depending on exact size) into the bottom. You will have to break up some of the cookies to fill the gaps around the edges and in the middle.
-Once you have a layer of cookies, take about 2/3 cup mascarpone cream and spread it over the cookie layer. I like to use a frosting spatula to keep this process smooth and even.
-Repeat the layers of cookies/cream/cookies/cream/cookies/cream until you have 4 layers of cookies and 4 layers of cream. Crumble the remaining 2 cookies on top of the final layer of cream and sprinkle chocolate chips.
-Cover and place in refrigerator for AT LEAST 12 hours. I never serve this before the 24 hour refrigeration mark.
-Once ready to serve, carefully run a butter knife along the edges of the cake to release cream from the sides. Release the springform latch and place the cake on a platter.
-Serve cold and enjoy!

Step 1: Layer the cookies in a flat layer, breaking them up to fill the gaps
Step 2: Spread a layer of cream, nice and smooth
Step 3: Repeat the layers until the cookies and cream are done!

Step 4: Refrigerate until ready to serve!

This cake has been to more parties than I can count!

Engagement parties!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

5 Ingredient Asian Noodles

Here's a QUICK and simple meal where all the ingredients come from one store...Trader Joe's! There is no chopping of veggies involved, so everything comes together very fast with little mess and no clean-up.  I'm going to compare it to as close as you can get to chow mein without adding powdered mixes or making your own sauce with lots of weird things like fish sauce/oyster sauce.  My kids love eating at fast-food Chinese places solely for this dish, and it drives me crazy to see how enthusiastically they dig into those heavy and unhealthy noodles. This pacifies their craving and they call it "fake chow mein". The irony that it's more "real" food than the fast-food version is lost on them, but oh well.  The crunch of the brocolli slaw and carrots is just like what you'd get from the restaurant version, and leaving the veggies mainly raw retains their nutrients and saves preparation time.

I've had a hard time finding teriyaki sauce that does not include alcohol, so I was thrilled when I read the list of ingredients on the Trader Joe's version of teriyaki, called "Soyaki". I ALWAYS have a jar of this ready to be used, and I've tried it in many recipes with great success. Here is my children's favorite way to enjoy it, with plain noodles. I'm going to be honest with you, the kids like this dish prepared simply as only noodles and sauce, without the veggies. But being who I am, I'm always shoving healthy stuff wherever I can so when I've got the broccoli slaw, it goes in. And when I don't...well, the kids don't complain ;)

The exact moment I knew I needed to make my own noodles
 (these are from a local Chinese restaurant)

Tips for success:
Feel free to leave out the veggies for a 3 ingredient dish, or add your favorite protein to the noodles. Chicken and shrimp are my favorites but tofu and steak would also work great. I also frequently use whole wheat spaghetti with great results. Hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes really elevate the flavor!

Serves 4-6

-1 pound spaghetti noodles (cooked al dente according to package instructions).
-2 tablespoons sesame oil
-12 ounce package Trader Joe's broccoli slaw
-10 ounce bag of shredded carrots
-1 1/2 cups Trader Joe's Soyaki sauce (3/4 of the jar)

To make
-Boil a pot of salted water. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions, al dente  (usually around 9-11 minutes on my stove). The pasta will cook for an additional few minutes later on when you add the sauce.
-Once the pasta has cooked, drain in a strainer. Do not rinse.
-In the same pot you boiled the pasta, heat the sesame oil and add the broccoli slaw, carrots, boiled spaghetti and Soyaki sauce. Cook the mixture for about 3-5 minutes, until the noodles have absorbed the sauce.
-Remove from heat and serve.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cookies n' Cream Oreo Bars

I've got a good one for you today. 5 ingredients (I'm even generously counting the salt and vanilla in this number!) + 10 minutes = HAPPY HAPPY eaters!

There's no baking required, and no special tools! I love these bars for so many reasons. Here are a few:

1) They're made with Oreo cookies. Enough said.
2) They have marshmallows, which makes them a fancy version of a Rice Krispy Treat.
3) There are no complicated ingredients required, meaning you can throw them together in the spur of the moment.
4) They travel very well. No refrigeration or special care is needed. Take them with you anywhere!
5) Probably my favorite reason to love can make these and get their hands dirty in the process! Anything that gets the kids in the kitchen gets a thumbs up in my book!
6) It should go without saying that these TASTE INCREDIBLE! ;)

My sister, the same one behind these addictive cookies, made these one day into a bark-like form. I was skeptical because they were very thin, but the flavor was REALLY yummy, so I begrudgingly ate more but complained about how they looked. Then my other sister re-made them, but about 1000000% thicker, and they were just as good but now way too rich and heavy. This is where I came in and evened them out into what we all consider the perfect ratio of thickness, sweetness and indulgence.

Feel free to add mini-marshmallows when you add the Oreo cookies for extra texture in your bars. I've also made these with flavored Oreo cookies (the most recent trial was mint Oreo) and they're all good!

Makes about 16 bars

-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-14 ounces marshmallow fluff
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-26 Oreo cookies (2 sleeves from large package)

To make
-Line a 7x11 inch pan (or 8x8) with parchment paper and butter the pan and paper, making sure to butter the sides of your pan.
-Heat a pot on the stove and add butter. Once butter is melted add the marshmallow fluff, vanilla and salt. Stir until everything is mixed together. (I use a silicon spatula so the mixture doesn't stick to my spoon).
-Remove the pot from the heat. Roughly crush Oreo cookies with your hand and put them into the pot. Stir them into the marshmallow mixture until all the cookies are well coated with the marshmallow.
-Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top to make sure it is even.
-Allow the cookie bars to cool, then cut into desired sizes and serve. Store leftovers tightly covered at room temperature.

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Reader favorites! Try some other bar recipes:

Smore's Bars

Chocolate Date Bars

7 layer Cookie Dough Bars
7 layer cookie dough bars
Cookie Butter Rice Krispies

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Biscoff Cookie Butter Rice Krispies

My favorite kind of baking/cooking revolves around throwing things together with no regard to recipes or measurements...kind of hard to cook like that when you've got a food blog and success depends on proper recipes and measurements...but every once in a while I abandon reason and go with the flow of my energy. The problem is when the creation is so yummy it must be shared and I haven't got a clue how to recreate it! Usually in baking, measurements are really a must, but these cookie butter bars are a lot more forgiving. Recreating them was easy because there is no risk of underbaking, overbaking, etc.

I LOVE these bars because at heart they're just a rice krispy treat...except so much more sophisticated. The addition of cookie butter alters the whole texture into something soft and chewy, with proper structure and shape. They last a while and even taste better a few days after being made, which makes them an ideal candidate for a prep ahead dessert. Another bonus? These ingredients can easily be pantry staples since nothing is refrigerated, which means you pull out
the ingredients and work with what you have.

 Little kids can even make these on their own by microwaving the ingredients instead of melting them over stove top. Recently my 10 year old has been asserting her independence by looking up her own recipes online and refusing any assistance in the kitchen, and I've noticed a lot of her search terms start with "kid-friendly/one bowl/easy" and its gotten me thinking of ways to simplify my *easy* recipes.

If you love marshmallows, these are for you! If you love cookie butter, these are really for you!

Yields between 24-48 squares, depending on how you cut them up

-1/4 cup butter
-14 ounces marshmallow fluff
-1 cup creamy cookie butter or biscoff spread
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-7 cups rice krispy cereal
-1/3 cup salted caramel chocolate chips + 1/2 teaspoon oil (OR use extra white chocolate chips)
-1/3 cup white chocolate chips + 1/2 teaspoon oil
-1/4 cup crushed Biscoff or Speculous cookies (about 2 cookies)

To make
-Line a 9x13 (for thick rice krispies) or 11x15 rectangle pan with parchment paper and butter/spray parchment paper with non-stick cooking spray. You can use whatever size you have or split the mixture into 2 pans if you don't have anything big enough.
-Heat a large non-stick pot over medium heat and add butter. When the butter is melted, stir in marshmallow fluff, cookie butter/biscoff spread, salt and vanilla. Mix until smooth and creamy.
-Remove the pot from the stove and stir in rice cereal. Mix until all the cereal is well coated with the marshmallow mixture.
-Being careful not to burn  your hands, pour the rice krispies into the buttered pan and press down firmly until you have packed the mixture down into an even layer. I spray a silicon spatula with non-stick spray to help out during this step. The proper texture to these bars depends on packing the mixture down tightly, so work those biceps!
-In a a small bowl, mix the salted caramel chips and oil in 20 second increments and stirring between until smooth and melted. Using a fork or a ziplock bag with the bottom edge snipped slightly, drizzle the mixture on the rice krispies.
-Repeat the step above for the white chocolate chips.
-Crush the cookies and sprinkle them all over the rice krispies. Wait for your chocolate to harden and slice and serve!

*I enjoy these when I make them a day ahead because the mixture softens into a delicious bar. I keep them out for about 4 days (tightly sealed) then transfer them to the fridge. They still taste AMAZING a week later!

Try these other popular no-bake bars! I'm sure you'll love them as much as I do!

Smore's Bars! 

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