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Monday, December 29, 2014

Peanut Butter Oreo Truffles

The only thing better than chocolate? Chocolate + peanut butter. Peanut butter lovers rejoice at this addition to the classic Oreo balls, and peanut butter haters are also pleasantly surprised at how well the flavors mix together. My daughter refuses to eat anything with PB but makes an exception for these truffles. Don't be discouraged if you're completely anti the peanuts, I've included the measurements for traditional Oreo truffles as well.

These are easy to make and are a good activity to involve kids in the kitchen because there is no stove top or oven required to make them. The hardest part about making these truffles is not eating the mixture before its complete, because it really tastes that good! The flavor of the Oreo mixture intensifies the longer it mixes with the cream cheese, so these are a GREAT dessert to make ahead of time! You can even keep the mixture in your freezer (as a whole portion of dough or pre-sized balls) and just dip them in chocolate when you're ready to serve.

A variation to dipping the mixture in milk chocolate is to use white chocolate chips. It tastes incredible...however white chocolate is annoying to work with and if the Oreo truffles are not super firm when you dip them in the chocolate the truffle dough will mix with the white chocolate as you dip them. Milk chocolate is much easier to dip, so for the sake of ease I've included the measurements for that here. When I have extra time I like to dip half my truffles in milk chocolate and half in white for the variety and color contrast :)

-36 Oreos (chocolate wafer cookies filled with cream)
-8 ounces cream cheese ( I always use reduced fat)
-2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
-1/4 teaspoon vanilla
-1/8 teaspoon salt (if using salted peanut butter don't add extra salt)
**You can make regular chocolate Oreo truffles by reducing the amount to 30 Oreos with 8 ounces cream cheese and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Leave out the peanut butter and salt**

-1 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips (my favorite brand is Guittard)
-1 tablespoon vegetable oil

-1/3 cup peanut butter chocolate chips (I usually buy the Reese's brand or buy them during the winter season from Trader Joe's)
-1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil (I've found it takes more oil to make peanut butter chocolate chips smooth than it does for regular chocolate chips)

To make
-Using a food processor (not necessary but this will give you the smoothest texture) grind the Oreos until they turn into a fine crumble. Add cream cheese, peanut butter, vanilla and salt and pulse the mixture in your food processor until smooth and well mixed. Place mixture in your freezer for about 30 minutes to set. You can leave it in your food processor bowl or transfer it to something else if you like to add more dishes to your sink ;) (Alternatively you can skip this step of freezing the mixture if you're pressed for time and move on to the next one, but your shaped truffles may not be as smooth because the soft mixture is sticky and messy).
-Remove your Oreo mixture from the freezer and shape into balls using a tablespoon scoop. Place the rounded truffles on a tray lined with parchment paper and refreeze for another 30-60 minutes until the truffles are firm.
-Place milk chocolate chips in a bowl with vegetable oil and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth and melted.
-Remove frozen truffles from the freezer and dip each ball in the chocolate and gently remove with a fork and tap off the excess chocolate, then place on the parchment lined tray. Repeat the process until all your Oreo truffles are coated. As the truffles start to come to room temperature dipping them will get messier, so try to work as fast as possible.
-Place the peanut butter chocolate chips with the vegetable oil in a bowl and melt in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring every 30 seconds until well melted. You may need to add more vegetable oil to get a smooth consistency. This mixture needs to be thinner than the milk chocolate coating. Place the melted peanut butter chips in a ziploc bag and close tightly, letting out the extra air. Snip the bottom of the bag and drizzle neatly across each truffle, until your truffles are all coated.
-Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. These keep well for about a week.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Raspberry Oat Bars (or any other fruit jam!)

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I bake all these sweets and who eats them...the simple answer is that the unhealthy stuff is only made for special occasions or to be taken somewhere...I can honestly say that I've probably never made a batch of brownies or a cake just for my immediate family to snack on. What I do constantly bake is healthy stuff that still tastes delicious, like these banana muffins or my personal favorite thing in the whole world. I love enjoying healthy sweets in the mornings, and streusel oat bars are near the top of my list. Clearing out my fridge after my Thanksgiving re-do dinner got me thinking about cranberry sauce beyond turkey, and I decided to create a healthy oat bar. Most of what I found online had a minimum of 1 cup butter or 1 cup peanut butter. I'm all about healthy fat, but I didn't want a strong nut flavor in my fruit bars just to replace the butter. Oat bars should be chewy, dense and have a little crunch on top to balance out the soft sweetness of the fruit filling. These are just that, with a nice inclusion of healthy fats and complex carbs.

If you don't have cranberry sauce lying around, use any fruit spread you'd like...I'll be making these a lot and my next fruit flavor will be strawberry, after that is fig and then I'm planning on that I don't have to feel guilty when I eat these they'll be around here often! The first time I made these bars I used my cranberry sauce but each time after that as I continued to develop the recipe I used different jams, and raspberry with lemon zest was a huge success. Experiment with different toppings, I sprinkled shredded coconut and pistachios on half my pan and the adults enjoyed those a lot. I contemplated chocolate chips but decided to stay true to the fruit flavor, although I'm not making any promises for the next batch :)

These are easy to make, require only 1 bowl, no mixer and are vegan! Even if you don't mind using dairy products, its nice to be able to bake when you're out of eggs. This is a great activity to get kids into the kitchen and my boys had a lot of fun sampling the oat mixture and pressing it into the pan.

-1 cup flour
-1 cup old fashioned oats
-2/3 cup brown sugar
-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-2 tablespoons cold coconut oil
-2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used a variety called Better 'n Peanut Butter, a 85% less fat spread I buy from Trader Joes)
-2 tablespoons orange juice (or almond milk, regular milk, water)
-1 teaspoon lemon zest
-1 tablespoon flax seeds (optional)

-1 cup raspberry jam (or other fruit)
-1 cup cranberry sauce
-1 teaspoon cornstarch
-1/2 teaspoon orange zest

To make
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 11x7 inch (2qt/2L) pan with foil (for easy removal) and spray with non stick cooking spray.
Jam is spread and the oat topping is next
-Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt and stir until well mixed. Then add the vanilla, coconut oil, peanut butter, orange juice, orange zest and flax seeds and mix well with a spatula until fully incorporated and crumbly.
-Using your hands, knead the oat mixture a minute and reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Pat the rest into your greased pan evenly and create a slight crust on the edges (this prevents the jam from spilling over the edges).
-Evenly spread the jam mixture over the oat layer, leaving about 1/4 of an inch all around the edges. This will spread out while baking. Sprinkle the reserved 1 cup of oat mixture on top of the jam. Sprinkle with optional toppings.
-Bake on the lower rack of a preheated oven for 28-33 minutes (I took mine out at 30 minutes) or until the crumbled streusel topping looks puffed in the middle and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool, then cut into bars and enjoy. These do not need to be refrigerated and stay delicious for about 3 days (after that refrigerate or freeze to preserve freshness).
-Enjoy and don't forget to tag me in your pictures!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Green Bean, Pomegranate and Sweet Potato Lentil Salad

So...maybe I'm on a lentil craze lately, but I can't help myself, the fiber content is just too awesome to ignore. I thought about this recipe a lot before I put it together. I wanted to create a salad that was different yet highlighted seasonal produce at their peak. Many of us are recovering from Thanksgiving and markets in America have readily made sweet potatoes and green beans available, so I put them together with some of my favorite ingredients for this satisfying, unique and unforgettable salad. Every ingredient will have you pausing in delightful surprise...who knew that green beans went well with pomegranates? Or sweet potatoes with lentils? Or that you could throw dates and maple syrup into a savory salad? Apparently I did, and I'm so excited to share it with you! A bonus perk is the fact that its paleo, gluten-free and vegan...score!

This is a sophisticated salad for the developed palette..."frou frou" ;)  The portion is just right for my husband and I to lunch on for a few days before its gone. The leftovers are BEAUTIFUL...nothing soggy or wilted, amazing for a salad! It also tastes great cold or at room temperature, which makes it a great picnic or potluck item to take and leave out without worrying about it going bad.

Serves 2 as dinner or 4 as a starter

-2/3 cup dry brown lentils or 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (any color works, I just used brown for color contrast to other ingredients)
-6 cups salted water
-One piece of red onion (optional, but this flavors the lentils while cooking)
-8 ounces (about 2 loosely packed cups) fresh green beans
-1 cup diced sweet potato
-1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
-4 medjool dates
-2 tablespoons thinly slivered red onion
-2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
-1 teaspoon cumin seeds
-1 scant tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1 scant tablespoon maple syrup

To make
-Wash and strain lentils. Place in a a saucepan with salted water and a piece of the onion and bring to a boil. Once mixture is boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 30-35 minutes, or until the lentils are soft with a slight chew.
-While lentils are boiling, wash, stem and chop green beans into 1/2 inch pieces. Bring another pot of simmering water to a boil and drop green beans into the water. Boil for about 2 minutes then immediately strain from hot water and place into a bowl filled with ice and cold water. This is called blanching the beans and prevents them from over cooking to retain their bright green color and a crisp texture. Let the beans cool in the water for a minute then strain well from the water and place into your serving bowl.
-Heat the same saucepan used to boil the beans and saute (I didn't use any oil but you can if you'd like) the chopped sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently. Cook for about 5 minutes, until browned on the outside and softened when you taste a piece. Once these are finished cooking, remove the pot from the stove and allow the sweet potatoes to cool completely, then add them to the green beans.
-Add the pomegranate seeds to your serving bowl.
-Pit the medjool dates and then cut into thin, long slivers. I cut about 7-8 slices from each date. Add the slivered date slices to the serving bowl.
-Chop the red onion and add to the serving bowl.
-Break up the walnuts into small pieces and add to the serving bowl.
-Add cumin seeds then drizzle olive oil and maple syrup to the other ingredients and gently mix the salad. Taste and adjust the salt seasoning. Salt really helps bring out the flavors and cut back on the sweetness, so make sure to season properly.
-Serve cold or at room temperature and enjoy!

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Musakhan: Middle Eastern Chicken Rolls

These are pretty much the Middle Eastern version of taquitos :) Musakhan chicken wraps are based on a classic Palestinian dish that has gained in popularity all over the Middle East in sandwich form. Traditionally whole chicken pieces are seasoned and cooked in a clay oven then placed on top of fresh flat bread. Classic musakhan (msakhan/imsakhan) is a special meal shared with a group of  family and close friends where everyone gathers around and gets their hands dirty eating the chicken and bread...often times straight from the large platter it is served on. It is truly a delicious meal to eat and one that I will share with  you sometime. This version is for a beginning or busy cook, looking for something fast, delicious and e.a.s.y. I love to prepare a batch of these and keep them unbaked in the freezer, ready to be grilled at a moment's notice for a quick lunch or on the go meal.

Using rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and this is also a great recipe for leftover chicken. Simply scale back on the portions to make as much as you need, my general rule is 1 cup onions/1 cup shredded chicken/ 2 tablespoons sumac seasoning and you can take it from there. The measurements I've listed make about 18 tortilla wraps. and usually each tortilla is cut in half or in thirds. If I'm making them as a main meal I leave them whole, otherwise I do cut them. The pictures in this post show the rolls cut in half.

Typically there is no lemon juice added to musakhan but I like to include it to provide juiciness to the filling while cutting back on the oil and enhancing the sour tang of sumac. If you're not trying to make this as healthy as possible, go ahead and use more olive oil. I add a tablespoon at the end of the cooking process because I've found that it enhances the olive oil flavor without having to use too much in the beginning. Many people will just saute onions, add chicken and sumac and call it a day...but that's not the way we roll at SavvyChef. Our food has texture, flavor, complex layers of subtlety, and you just can't get that without spending a little extra effort on the filling. This dish is almost guaranteed to be present at any Middle Eastern dinner party because of its simplicity and popularity, but I promise you: all musakhan rolls are not created equal.

The main flavor in the filling is the sumac, a seasoning that comes from sour berries that are dried and ground into a spice. It is purple in color and has a tangy flavor similar to lemons. You can buy sumac from any Middle Eastern market or online. The spices that are listed as optional are not traditional and many people leave them out, but I never do as they really provide for a flavorful filling, I encourage you to use them. My children like to dip these in plain yogurt, which is a little blasphemous for traditional  musakhan eaters, but hey...whatever provides for a peaceful meal around here is fair game...

Makes about 18 full wraps (feeds 6-8 for dinner or 20 for an appetizer)

-2 tablespoons olive oil
-4 cups thinly sliced red onion (or other variety)
-4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (Rotisserie chicken is a GREAT short cut)
-4 tablespoons lemon juice
-1 cup sumac seasoning
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon allspice
-optional: 1 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
-optional: 1 tablespoon ground coriander
-optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

-optional: 1 cup toasted nuts (usually pine nuts, but slivered almonds are a good substitute)
-1 tablespoon olive oil
-about 18 flour tortillas

To make
-Heat oil in a large pot then add sliced onions. Saute until caramelized, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. This is a good time to shred your rotisserie chicken.
-Add shredded chicken, lemon juice, sumac, black pepper, allspice, coriander and ground cardamom. Break up the chicken as you cook and mix the ingredients together, letting the chicken soak up the flavors and seasonings. Cook mixture on low heat for about 5 minutes. Add optional toasted nuts and then remove the pot from heat.
-Place the pot aside to cool the mixture and add final tablespoon olive oil. Use the best quality you have.
-Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Spread between 1/3-1/2 cup of chicken filling along the longest length of your tortilla in a horizontal line, starting 1/2 inch up from the bottom. Make sure your filling is spread evenly across, then bring the bottom edge of the tortilla up over the filling and wrap tightly. Place the rolled tortilla seam side down on the baking sheet. Continue this process until you have finished your chicken filling.
-Optional: Brush the wrapped rolls with olive oil to enhance crispiness when toasting. (You can cook these in a skillet, griddle, panini press or in the oven. When I make them for a crowd I always place them in the oven because I can do them all at once. Sometimes I'll skip preheating the oven and just place the tray on the middle rack of my oven on broil, watching CAREFULLY for a few minutes while the tops toast). Bake on the middle rack of a pre-heated oven for about 10-15 minutes or until toasted to your liking.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before you cut them in half or in thirds. Another option is to cut them before toasting as this will give you toasted edges on all the pieces.
-Serve and enjoy!

Evenly spread 1/3 cup chicken filling across tortilla
This is a perfect starter recipe for beginning cooks
Brushed with olive oil and ready to bake
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My daughter shared her finished musakhan with friends

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

Syrian cooking does not include many varieties of soup, possibly because most of the dishes are 'soupy' and served with rice. However, this is a very traditional soup (with my little twists of course!) and is often served with kibbeh. I like to prepare a pot of this at the beginning of the week and heat some up for a quick lunch or after school meal. It is common to add shredded beef to the soup but in an effort to 'health-ify'  our food I almost never do that. Using vegetable broth will make this delicious soup vegan and I'm seriously in love with the high fiber and protein content in lentils! This soup is so easy to customize...feel free to add some leafy greens or celery...I like to switch up my additions and if I puree the soup at the end no one ever knows ;) 

Serves 6

-1 teaspoon olive oil
-1 medium onion, chopped into small cubes (about 1 cup)
-1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or a spice mix called "panch puran" which consists of fenugreek, mustard, fennel, black caraway and cumin seeds)
-3 cloves of garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
-1 cup small red lentils
-1 cup shredded or finely diced sweet potato (or carrots)
-2 tablespoons uncooked rice
-6 cups broth (you may need 1 more cup if your heat is too high as the lentils cook)
-1 teaspoon ground coriander
-1 teaspoon ground or fresh ginger
-optional: 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
-salt to taste

Optional garnishes: 

-lemon wedges 
-fresh parsley or mint leaves
-pita chips

To Make
-Heat oil in a deep pot and add onions and cumin seeds. Sauté until onions are translucent, then add garlic and continue to sauté until onion and garlic have browned. 
-Add lentils, carrots, rice, broth, coriander and ginger (plus optional lemon pepper) and bring to a boil. Taste the broth mixture and add salt as needed. Once boiling, give the mixture a stir and then place the lid on the pot and turn heat to low. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so as the lentils will settle on the bottom as they cook. If your mixture looks too thick, add more broth. The soup is ready when the lentils and carrots are soft. The ingredients will have cooked together and will have sort of 'melted' into the broth. You can either puree the soup for a smooth texture or keep it as is for a chunky consistency. I like to leave it slightly chunky.
-Serve with optional garnishes.

*You can easily make this in a slow cooker by throwing all the ingredients together and cooking on low for about 3-4 hours*

*If you are going to reheat the soup you will probably need to add a little water or broth because the lentils will cause the soup to thicken when cooled*

Warm up this winter season with some of my other SOUP recipes...I'm a huge fan of all them! 

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies combine two of my favorite velvet and cheesecake :) The vibrant color-contrast between the cream cheese and red velvet is especially gorgeous when swirled together on the top layer, making these bars a show stopper dessert perfect for entertaining. Typical cheesecake can be a lengthy and tricky process, but these cheesecake bars are a lot simpler. I did my research while creating this recipe, and most of what are available online have almost identical brownie ingredients. I tried those recipes and although the end result is yummy, I always felt like the brownie layer alone was sickeningly sweet and didn't taste amazing. The use of butter didn't contribute much to the base flavor of the brownies, and using oil like I do in my recipe will produce moist brownies and cut back on the saturated fat.

Not that these bars are healthy by any means...this is definitely a special occasion dessert...preferably to be shared immediately and without saving any at home ;)  The first time I baked these they were gone within the hour and I thought of them everyday until I made them again...

Makes 24 brownies

-1 cup oil
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-2 tablespoons red food coloring
-2 teaspoons white vinegar
-4 eggs
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup cocoa powder
-1 1/2 cups flour
-1/3 cup white chocolate chips (optional)

-16 ounces cream cheese (I used 1/3 reduced fat)
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 teaspoon lemon juice
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-dash of salt
-2 eggs

To make
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a bowl, cream together oil and sugar, then add vanilla, food coloring, vinegar and eggs in the order listed. Add salt and cocoa powder and mix well. Add flour and mix with a spatula (by hand, not using an electric mixer at this point) just until combined. Place about 1 cup of the batter aside.
-Line a 9x13 pan with foil, pushing it into the grooves of the edges completely and letting 2 inches of foil extend over each end (this is so you can easily remove the brownies after they have baked). Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray and then gently spread the brownie batter into the pan (minus the 1 cup batter that is placed aside).
-Sprinkle the brownie batter with optional white chocolate chips.
-Wash your mixing bowl and dry. Using the whisk attachment of a mixer, blend the cream cheese to avoid lumping. Add the vanilla, sugar, lemon juice and salt and continue whisking. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until well blended.
-Spread the cheesecake filling over the brownie batter until it smoothly and evenly covers the surface. Spoon the reserved brownie batter in sections over the cheesecake filling and using a butter knife, carefully make swirls in the batter to combine the cheesecake and brownie. Be careful not to go all the way down to the bottom layer of brownie batter.
-Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (I took mine out at 33 minutes) or until a toothpick in the middle comes out slightly wet. This can be tricky because the cheesecake layer will firm up as it cools and you do not want it to be completely set while baking otherwise your brownies will be dry.
-Refrigerate until cool and then cut into bars and serve. Store leftovers in the fridge.

*This recipe can easily be halved by cutting all the measurements in half and baking in a 8x8 pan for about 20 minutes

It was so hard to wait for these to cool!
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Monday, November 24, 2014


Babbaganoush is a versatile salad, dip, appetizer or side dish consisting of roasted eggplant and fresh vegetables. It has gained in popularity as a healthy vegan option in the past few years and there are lots of variations out there. I'm sharing the traditional Middle Eastern way as prepared in Syria. Other versions that are made with tahini are actually an eggplant dip (imtabal) while this is more of a chunky salad. I love having leftovers of this salad sitting in my fridge for a quick lunch. Babbaganoush is a sensory experience of different flavors and textures, and lots of bright colors that enhance any food display.

Serves 2 as a main salad or 4 as an appetizer or dip

-1 large eggplant (aubergine). Mine weighed 1.25 pounds
-1 cup diced tomato
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1 cup chopped parsley
-1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
-2/3 cup finely diced green onions
-1-2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (plus more to drizzle at the end)
-1 teaspoon lemon zest (or lemon juice, but I like the flavor of zest more)
-salt to taste
-Optional: drizzle of olive oil at the end

To make
Roasted, cooled and ready to be peeled
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the eggplant and pierce all around with a knife, creating pockets for the steam to emerge while roasting. Place on a baking pan and put in the center rack of your preheated oven for 45-60 minutes until the peel looks dry and the eggplant is very soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let it cool before handling. As it cools and the steam emerges it will collapse. If you are preparing this in advance at this point you can refrigerate it for several days.
-Peel the cooled eggplant and place the insides into a mixing bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes, walnuts, parsley, pomegranate and green onions. Add pomegranate molasses, lemon zest and salt. Stir and taste. Adjust pomegranate molasses and salt to your taste.
-Top with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and optional olive oil. Serve with pita chips or pita bread.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sweetened Whole Wheat with Walnuts and Pomegranate

My kids really like this unique dish. We eat it for breakfast or a snack throughout the day and it's a great boost of energy that really fills us up. Traditionally it is a cultural treat called
Slee'a that Syrian's eat to celebrate the first tooth of a baby, signifying the baby's ability to chew foods.  Years ago a family friend introduced us to it with the addition of pomegranate and I was impressed with the flavor combination. Now, we only make it with these edible rubies and sweeten it with honey for added health benefits.

The flavors are simple yet complex, and you really only need 3 key ingredients (wheat, walnuts and pomegranate seeds) to make this. Feel free to swap out the honey with agave for a vegan option. Anise seeds or vanilla beans would be a good substitute for the fennel if you're looking for something different. Whole wheat is sold in many different forms, and I buy the peeled kind because it cooks faster. You can get 10 minute farro from Trader Joe"s and follow the simmer instructions on the back of the bag for boiling, then proceed with the rest of this recipe. You can also use unpeeled wheat, but will need to increase the boil time to about 40-45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

-1 tablespoon fennel seeds
-2 cups rinsed and drained peeled whole wheat
-5 cups water
-1/3 cup honey (you can add more to sweeten to your liking)
-2 cups walnuts
-3 cups pomegranate seeds
-optional: 2 tablespoons flax seeds

To make
-Place walnuts in a bowl and break into small pieces. Soak in water while completing the other steps. (You can skip this portion but I like to do it because it washes away some of the bitterness from the skin and gives the walnuts a fresher taste)
-Heat a medium sized pot on the stove and dry toast the fennel seeds until lightly browned and fragrant.
-Add 5 cups of water and 2 cups rinsed and peeled whole wheat.
-Bring the water to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Loosely place lid on the pot (allowing some steam to escape) and simmer for about 15-20 minutes (stir every 5 minutes or so) until the whole wheat is tender with a chewy texture. There should be a little liquid left in the pot. If the wheat soaks up all the water, add a little more.  Remove from heat.
-Sweeten with honey and allow the mixture to cool completely.
-Once the wheat mixture is at room temperature, drain the walnuts from their soaking water and add them along with the pomegranate and flax seeds to the wheat. Stir to combine.
-Serve at room temperature or cold. Store in refrigerator for about 1 week.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Beef, Pea and Carrot Stew

Busy weeknights have me turning to this quick meal time and time again. Most of the ingredients are staples in my fridge/freezer and it comes together in about 30 minutes. Wholesome, hearty and enjoyed by all, I love cooking this and my family loves eating it. Typically it is served with white rice, but I always cook it with bulghur and vermicelli instead to really provide some whole grain nutrition. The sauce soaks up into the bulghur really well for a very satisfying dinner.

-1/2 large onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
-1 lb lean ground beef
-1 tablespoon ground coriander
-1 tablespoon allspice or 7-spice
-2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
-1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
-2 cups chopped fresh carrots (sweet potatoes are a great alternative)
-1 lb frozen peas
-1 6 ounce can tomato paste
-6 cups beef broth or water (I like to make my own broth and freeze it for easy access, if I don't have any handy I use water)
-salt and pepper to taste

To make
-Heat a large pot on the stove and add onions and ground beef. Break up the beef into small chunks as you cook. After about 2 minutes add the coriander, allspice, salt and ground cardamom. When the meat is about halfway cooked add the fresh carrots and let them soften as  the beef juices dry up.  Cooking the meat should take a total of 10 minutes or less.
-Once the meat is cooked, add the frozen peas, tomato paste and broth (or water) and bring to a boil. At this point taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning to your liking, adding more of the spices listed in the ingredients if you find it necessary. If you are using water instead of broth you will likely need to add more seasoning.
-Lower the boiling mixture to medium low heat and let it simmer until the carrots are soft and the sauce has thickened up a bit. If your sauce is too thick add more broth, and if your stew is too runny let it boil a little longer.
-Serve with rice or bulghur.  I like to add freshly cracked black pepper or hot sauce to the adult servings for an extra kick.

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Bulghur and Vermicelli Pilaf

Most Middle Eastern dishes are served with a side of white rice and vermicelli. As a kid it was always my favorite part of the meal and I used to beg for a plate of plain rice without whatever stew it was accompanying. As I've become more health conscious over the years I've started to replace white rice with bulghur and I really enjoy it. I've watched from the side lines during the quinoa craze as I continue to cook my bulghur because it is in fact higher in nutrients than brown rice, couscous and even quinoa. Bulghur is a cracked whole wheat that is most commonly known for it's use in tabbouleh. It comes in various sizes and I use the largest size when I cook it as a pilaf.

Serves about 3 (as a side to a main entree)

-1 tablespoon olive oil
-1/3 cup vermicelli noodles
-1 cup bulghur #4
-2 cups water (preferably boiling)
-salt to taste

To make
-Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Place bulghur in a strainer and wash it well. Toast vermicelli noodles for about 2 minutes on high heat, until they become golden brown (careful not to burn, it happens quickly!)
-Add washed and strained bulghur to the pot and saute until toasted, about 5 minutes. If you have a perculator I recommend heating water during this time so you don't have to wait for it to boil in the pot. 
-Add water to the toasted vermicelli and bulghur mixture and bring to a boil. Add salt to your liking and taste the water. It should be a bit saltier than you like it as the salt flavor will lessen when the bulghur absorbs the water. 
-Place the lid on your saucepan and reduce the heat to medium low (just above the low setting) and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes.  On my stove it is always cooked at 22 minutes. Once 20-25 minutes have passed, uncover the pot, stir the bulghur and cover again and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. The pilaf is ready when the water is absorbed and the bulghur looks fluffy and has a soft and chewy texture.
-Serve with your main entree and enjoy!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vegan Orange Poppyseed Muffins

You want a bite of this.
These are fun muffins that feel like a baking experiment. I'm always intrigued with vegan recipes, and back when I first started making these 5 years ago, quality, simple vegan recipes were just starting to emerge. The first time I made them I followed the cookbook instructions and made a cake...and it would not set. The flavor was delicious so I tried again two more times and got the same results...a runny cake that stayed liquid in the center even after baking 3x longer than instructed. After the third failed attempt I switched these to muffins and victory was achieved ;) 

Took these to a play-date and went home with none ;)
These have held their own through the years and these little muffins have developed quite a following among my taste testers. I like to introduce this recipe in my cooking classes for beginning cooks and young children learning to bake because of the weird use of apple cider vinegar and the healthy inclusion of turbinado sugar. No cracking of eggs, no mixer required and these muffins are mixed, baked, cooled and glazed in under an hour! What surprises me every time is how much KIDS love these muffins. I even bake these for them when they're sick for a sweet dose of vitamin C ;) It's totally worth noting that I'm not a huge fan of citrus desserts but make a happy exception for these muffins!

Slightly adapted from Alice's Teacup cookbook.
Makes 16 muffins

-2 1/4 cups flour
-1 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional)
-1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
-1 1/2 cups orange juice (fresh tastes awesome, but refrigerated from concentrate also works)
-1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest
-1/2 cup of melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
-1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
-1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Orange Glaze
-1 tablespoon orange zest
-1 tablespoon orange juice
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
-1/2 cup of powdered sugar

To make
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Line a cupcake pan with liners or spray cavities with a non-stick cooking spray. 
-In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, poppy seeds and chia seeds. 
-In a medium bowl combine the orange juice, zest, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and vanilla. If the orange juice is cold and causes the coconut oil to harden microwave the mixture for 30 seconds until the coconut oil is in liquid form again.
-Add the wet (orange juice mixture) ingredients to the dry (flour mixture) ingredients and stir until well blended. 
-Fill the lined cupcake cavities 3/4 full and bake on a middle rack in oven for 13-18 minutes (mine were perfect at 15) or until a few moist crumbs stick to a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin.
-Remove the muffins from oven and allow to cool.
-While the muffins are baking, in a small bowl blend together the orange zest, juice, vanilla and powdered sugar mixture. I use a mini whisk to get a smooth texture. When the muffins have cooled, dip each muffin top into the glaze and hold upside down while the extra glaze drips off back into the bowl. I like to dip each muffin twice for a nice glazed coating.  Allow glaze to harden and serve.

Cooled down and ready to be double GLAZED!
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Please, help yourself :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roasted Garlic Acorn Squash Soup

I have this weird thing where as soon as it rains my brain thinks "SOUP." I can only eat soup when its cold out, otherwise I avoid it completely but in the back of my mind I'm dreaming of when the weather will allow me to enjoy it again. Like I said, weird. I'm a huge fan of all types of textured soups, from broth-y kinds to smooth purees to super chunky one-pot meals. Last year I made an acorn squash soup and have been waiting to make it again, and this year I've really perfected this recipe. Acorn squash is a good winter vegetable (I know it's really a fruit, because it has seeds...) to cook with because unlike it's cousins the pumpkin and the butternut, it's less sweet and therefore works extremely well in savory dishes. 

This squash is so good roasted that we ate half of it without even pureeing it. Roasting the squash on its own is a delicious side dish and you could stop at that part of the recipe and still have a winner. If you're weird like me and have been waiting for soup all year, I recommend you finish the process to the end and really enjoy yourself.

Pureed soups have a depth of flavor but can be lacking in texture. Since food is a sensory experience, I find the toppings are very important and add a lot to the finished product. Have fun experimenting with different topping combinations! 

-10 cloves garlic, peeled
-1 acorn squash, washed and cut in half
-1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
-1 tablespoon ground ginger
-1 tablespoon salt
-1 tablespoon pepper
-1 teaspoon curry powder
-1 teaspoon mustard powder
-1 teaspoon marjoram
-1 teaspoon cumin seeds
-cooking spray or 1 tablespoon olive oil

-1 teaspoon olive oil
-1 cup chopped red onion
-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
-1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
-1/2-1 cup whole milk

-shredded parmesan cheese
-fresh chopped parsley
-toasted pumpkin seeds (or another toasted nut)
-pomegranate seeds
-pesto or nut oil

Good enough to eat straight from the oven
To make
-Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
-Line a pan with foil and place acorn squash cut side up on the pan.
-Fill the squash cavities with garlic and evenlu sprinkle pumpkin pie spice, ground ginger, salt, pepper, curry powder, marjoram, mustard powder and cumin seeds all over the squash and garlic. Drizzle with oil or spray non-stick cooking spray over the seasoned squash.
-Place the pan in oven and roast for about 45-60 minutes, until the squash in tender and browned on the top.
-Heat a large pot on the stove and add 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add chopped onions and cook until soft and golden.
-Scoop out the acorn squash from its shell and place the squash and roasted garlic into the the pot.
-Add the broth to the pot. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until smooth. (See * if you do not have an immersion blender)
-Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
-Stir in black sesame seeds and slowly add desired amount of milk. Using more milk will take away from the flavors of the spices.

*If you do not have an immersion blender, I recommend pureeing the squash and garlic with some of the broth and THEN adding it all together in a pot and bringing to a boil.

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