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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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