Recommended Reading (before you do your eating)

I’ve got some recommended reading for you today.  My first recommendation is an article from the NY Times: How Square Watermelons Get Their Shape, and Other G.M.O. Misconceptions.  Then I want you to read your food label.

A few days ago President Obama signed a bill into law that will require the disclosure of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on food packaging.  This is in response to a major consumer movement to know what is in the food we eat.  In 2014 Vermont became the first state to pass mandatory written labeling on foods with GMOs. This law finally went into effect July 1st.  Unable to only label the products they sell in Vermont without driving up prices, many of the big food companies initiated GMO labeling nation-wide, which spurred on federal legislation.  The problem is that labels become confusing marketing tactics rather than informational if consumers don’t understand what the label means.

The NY Times article highlights some of the major misconceptions about GMOs.  It also explains how creating a meaningful label is easier said than done and how the label may not end up actually even being a reliable indicator that all ingredients have not been genetically modified. Furthermore, just because something is labeled GMO-free doesn’t necessarily mean it is any different from a different brand of the product not labeled as GMO-free.  For this the article gives the example of oats which have never been genetically engineered. Labeling oats as GMO-free is equivalent to labeling products that traditionally never contain gluten, like water or tomatoes, as gluten-free. (More on what it means when a product is labeled as “gluten-free” can be found here.)

Only after you understand what GMOs are, know how you feel about the proposed health risks/benefits, and recognize what is actually indicated about a food product’s contents by a GMO-free label can you knowledgeably read a food label and make an educated decision on whether or not to purchase the product. The same is true for the nutrition facts panel*. Food labels are only a helpful tool when consumers know how to use them.  Food label literacy is the key to being able to navigate confusing marketing claims. Below are some marketing phrases used to make consumers think they are purchasing a healthy product, but, in reality, mean nothing.  If you see any of these, know they’re trying to make you think it is healthy:

  1. Natural The FDA is currently working to define natural, as of right now it means absolutely NOTHING.
  2. Nature This one is in a lot of product names, ex: Nature Valley Granola Bars, and in no way indicates that the food is healthy
  3. Green Green as in the color of the packaging or as a descriptor meaning it is environmentally friendly…neither of which means the food inside is good for you
  4. Clean Eating clean is trendy, but the word clean doesn’t actually mean anything nutritionally
  5. Low-fat or fat-free Defined by the FDA respectively as <5 grams fat and <0.5 g fat, often low fat foods substitute the fat with a lot of added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients, so the product is probably still not your best option, just for different reasons now.
  6.  Gluten-free Gluten-free food is only healthier if you need to avoid gluten for medical reasons.
  7. Low calorie Low calorie is defined by the FDA as <40 kcal/serving.  Remember when something is low calorie it may also be low in the nutrients your body needs. So even though it might not be many calories those are still empty calories. The big exception to this is fruits and vegetables which are low calorie and full of vitamins and minerals….but unless frozen or canned, these guys won’t have a label.
  8. Multigrain or wheat Neither of these definitely indicate that you are eating a 100% whole grain product, but, boy, do they sound like it!
 …I know there are others but those are the ones popping into my head right now.
What other ones can you think of?  Food marketers are paid to be sneaky.  Don’t be embarrassed if they get you, but if you don’t know what a claim or label means on a product, look it up or ask a registered dietitian.

*The nutrition facts panel will soon be changing.  The new nutrition facts panel has a number of changes.  Notably, calories will be listed more prominently, serving sizes have been changed to reflect the typical amount of food Americans consume in a serving (ex: a 20 oz bottle of soda will be 1 serving instead of 2.5 servings), the amount of added sugars in the product will now be listed (a BIG improvement, in my opinion!), and the amount of potassium and vitamin D of the product will now be listed (in place of vitamins A and C). More information about the new nutrition facts panel can be found here. Manufacturers have until July 2018 to comply.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

Skip the foreplay and head straight to the recipe

I am extremely fortunate to be in a dietetic internship that satisfies my love of traveling and trying new things through a variety of rotations in different locations.  My most recent rotation was at a hospital in Chicago.  Not only did I realize that I enjoyed clinical dietetics–something I previously wasn’t so sure about–but I had a fantastic time in Chicago hanging out with family and friends I don’t regularly get to see!

While in Chicago I was also able to eat at some amazing restaurants. One such restaurant was Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, a tapa spot with a thirty year reputation for reliably providing delicious spanish cuisine.  Not only did Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba satisfy the craving I’ve had for patatas bravas since my trip to Barcelona, but it introduced me to an AMAZING salad.  The salad consisted of shaved brussels sprouts, almonds, and manchego cheese with a light dressing that perfectly complemented  the heavier bread and potato dishes we had also ordered.

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Weeks later I still can’t stop thinking about this salad–yes, it was THAT GOOD.  Back in Cleveland and unable to get my fix, I’ve attempted to recreate it.  The dressing I made isn’t exactly the same and I added kale, but I’m really happy with how it turned out!

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad Recipe

  • Servings: 4 side salads
  • Difficulty: easy peasy
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Ingredients:
Salad:
3-4 cups shaved brussels sprouts (can buy pre-shaved)Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
1 cup kale, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup carrots, julienned
1/4 of a large onion, finely diced
1/4 cup almonds, roasted and chopped
1/4 pound manchego cheese, shaved

Dressing:
1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic (1 small clove)
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
Notes on ingredient preparation:

  • You want the onion to be finely diced to achieve the onion flavor without any big bites of onion.  Alternatively you could grate the onion.
  • The manchego cheese is, in my opinion, the star of this salad and worth the extra few dollars.  But, if necessary you could substitute parmesan.  The cheese could be grated instead of shaved, but I like the bigger chunks of cheese.
  • Roasting the almonds is a must-do.  To roast, put almonds in a skillet on medium heat (no oil needed) until start to brown and be fragrant, about 3 minutes. Alternatively, place on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 min at 375 until brown and fragrant.  The almonds might also start to “crackle.”

1. Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to emulsify.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Toss salad with dressing.  This salad is tasty right after preparation, but this is one of those salads that is even better after it has sat for a little while because the sprouts and kale get softer and more flavorful as they absorb the dressing!

Pass the bread; I’m not a glutard.

{Skip the foreplay and head straight to the black bean-sweet potato soup recipe that pairs oh-so-well with a crusty piece of glutenous bread.}

My college swim coach was always encouraging our team to go see a sports nutritionist.  He knew that nutrition was a critical element in our training.  Brief pause right here: HE WAS SO RIGHT.  I don’t generally like to play the what if game because I find it gets me into trouble, but the more I learn, the more I can’t help but wonder what if.  What if  I had realized the importance of nutrition and had made sure that I was properly fueled when I was swimming?  How much faster could I have been?  Would I have been able to recover in between workouts and after meets faster?  Would I have felt better?  Been stronger?  If you’re reading this and training for anything I STRONGLY urge you to consider the role nutrition could play in your performance.

But to continue my glutard story: In the Fall of 2011 I went to see a dietitian who specialized in sports nutrition.  The appointment was similar to going to the doctor–I filled out a form with my medical history and checked boxes next to symptoms I was currently experiencing.  But, instead of taking my weight and height (actually she never even measured me, just asked me how tall I was), the registered dietitian determined my body composition with a Bod Pod and measured my metabolic rate with a Medgem indirect calorimeter. She also had me tell her what I typically ate in a day.  The big take-away she gave me from my appointment was that I likely had celiac disease or a wheat intolerance and should stop eating gluten for 6 weeks to see if I felt any better.  She said that if I was going to see a difference, I would see it in 4 -6 weeks.  Not really sure how to avoid gluten because, as she told me, it’s in practically everything I was eating, I pony-uped the extra hundred and something dollars (okay, my parents did) for her personalized meal plan….which, I was very disappointed to find, ended up not being very personalized.  After following it for two days, I couldn’t deal.  I went online.  My mom went online. And we figured out what I needed to avoid and what foods I could have, and how I was realistically going to do this.

The first week was really hard.  I was kind of scared to eat and was extremely cautious about what went into my mouth.  Even so, I sometimes slipped up and would realize after I had eaten something, that it actually had wheat in it.  Did I need to avoid food that didn’t contain gluten itself but was manufactured in a place that also made food that did contain gluten?  How big a deal was this cross-contamination thing? Did I need to stop sharing peanut butter with my roommates because the knife they used to scoop out the peanut butter might have also touched a piece of bread?  It was SO confusing.  I ended up just avoiding most processed  and shared food.  I began baking gluten-free bread.  Which is not the same thing.  At all.  But can be tasty, as long as you don’t think of it as bread.

My roommates were incredibly supportive and nice as I went through this process.  I don’t think I ever thanked them.  But, if you’re reading now, thanks guys!  You really were so great.  One of the most difficult parts about not eating gluten is dealing with social situations and you guys helped alleviate a lot of that stress for me by being so accommodating and supportive.  My now brother-and-law, on the other hand, called me a glutard.  My sister scolded him.  I wanted to be offended, but I was laughing, so that just wouldn’t have come across very genuinely… Continue reading “Pass the bread; I’m not a glutard.”

Super bowl….of soup!!!

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the roasted butternut squash soup recipe}

As we all prepare for this upcoming Sunday evening with Tom Brady, I want to encourage you to think about serving this truly SUPER BOWL of soup during the game! Delicious sunshine in a bowl, this soup only has 1 gram of saturated fat and less than 200 calories per serving**, but that’s not the only reason why it’s perfect for the game:

IMG_2345Vitamin A

Why it’s important: Eyesight (particularly night vision), immune function, gene expression, fetal development, red blood cell production

How much we need per day* (males/females): 900 µg/700 µg

Amount in a serving of this soup**: 1052 µg

(Some other good sources: Sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, collard greens)

bottom line: you’ll still be able to see Tom–even if the lights go out

Vitamin C

Why it’s important: Wound healing, resistance to infection, antioxidant

How much we need per day* (males/females): 90 mg/75 mg

Amount in a serving of this soup**: 35 mg

(Some other good sources: Citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, broccoli)

bottom line: you can offer Tom a bowl if he gets scraped up during the game

 IMG_2346

Iron

Why it’s important: Oxygen transport, infection resistance, DNA synthesis

How much we need per day* (males/females): 8 mg/18mg***

Amount in a serving of this soup**: 2 mg

(Some other good sources: Oysters, beef, lentils, tofu, chicken, kidney beans, potatoes with skin)

Eating vitamin C with iron helps increase the bioavailability of iron, or how well the body is able to actually use the iron that is taken in. Oh, and look at that; this SUPER BOWL of soup has both!

bottom line: Tom is hot.  Iron will help you catch your breath.

Magnesium

Why it’s important: Nerve impulse transmission & muscle contractions, energy production, DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis

How much we need per day* (males/females): 420 mg/320 mg

Amount in a serving of this soup**: 59 mg

(Some other good sources: Brown rice, spinach, almonds, lima beans, peanuts, swiss chard)

bottom line: you need your heart to be able to contract when it drops every time Tom is on the field

Here’s to hoping the Patriots are on offense most of the game! Happy Super Bowl everyone!

IMG_2347

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

  • Servings: 5 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
roughly 24 oz prepackaged butternut squash cubes or a 1.5-2 lb whole squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced (~1 clove)
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small apple, peeled and chopped OR 1/3 cup applesauce
2-3 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 teaspoons ground ginger
32 fl oz box chicken or vegetable stock (~4 cups)
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Roast the Squash:
–Preheat oven to 400°F.
–Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

If you bought a whole butternut squash:
a. Wash squash.
b. Cut squash in half and remove seeds and stringy bits (you can save the seeds to roast later if you’d like or just toss)
c. On the inside, flesh side of each half of squash, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Rub olive oil and s&p into the squash a little, making sure the oil covers all of the squash.
d. Place on baking sheet inside/flesh side down and place in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft. (you can put the squash in before the oven is preheated)
e.  Allow the squash to cool until you can touch it and scoop the flesh out of the squash and into your soup pot and mix.

If you used pre-packaged squash:
a. Place on prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper and mix, so all sides of the squash cubes are coated.
b. Roast for 30 minutes or until the squash cubes are soft and slightly browned. (you don’t have to wait until your oven is preheated to start roasting)
c. Add roasted squash to your soup pot and mix.

2. While the squash is roasting, chop the rest of the ingredients.  Add the olive oil to large soup pot and heat on medium-high.  Add garlic, onion, carrots, and if using apple (not applesauce) add apple.  Cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add chicken stock, thyme, and applesauce if you used that instead of the apple.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, continuing to cook until carrots are soft and your squash is roasted.
4. Once squash is roasted and mixed with the rest of the soup, use either an immersion blender to blend the soup right there in the pot, or divide the soup into batches and use a blender.
5. TASTE!  Add salt and pepper as you’d like…I ended up adding probably a teaspoon or so of each.
6. Garnish with toasted almonds and extra fresh thyme.  Enjoy!

*These amounts are the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). This is the average daily dietary intake amount of a particular nutrient recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine (in 2001) to ensure adequate stores of the nutrient for proper body function in a healthy person. (see a full RDA chart here)
**Recipe nutrition facts from USDA (www.SuperTracker.usda.gov).
***18 mg for pre-menopausal women is recommended and 8 mg for post-menopausal women is recommended.

Source: Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute (http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/)

Shoveling Snow like a Grown-Up

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the brownie recipe}
photo 1 (5)I shoveled my driveway yesterday–and I really wouldn’t mind if I never had to do it again.  The thing is, I’m really proud of myself.  I’m proud, but embarrassed to be proud of something so, well, average.  It’s not like I can go brag to my friends how I shoveled my driveway and expect them to say, “Woah! Way to go!  Let me buy you a drink to celebrate this extraordinary accomplishment!” I’m not proud because my driveway is large (thankfully, it is actually quite small).  Nor am I proud because I doubted my ability to shovel snow.   I have snow shoveling experience.  Although, my siblings would be quick to point out here that I have not received the amount of experience they were privy to during their “regime” before my parents got soft.  One of my brothers also claims that back in the day my parents had him mowing the lawn when he was 6 years old.  I’m sure.  It is true, though, that as the youngest of five, I often found ways around shoveling.  It also helped that after all of my siblings had grown up and moved out of the house, my father bought a snowblower, and during the winter would obsessively check the weather forecast to determine when he might be able to use his toy, often not even waiting for it to stop snowing before going out to the driveway “because no one else around here was gonna do it.”

But, back to my driveway:  I can’t even be proud that I went the extra mile or did a really through job.  Don’t get me wrong, I shoveled the whole driveway, but I didn’t shovel the sidewalk, and those spots where the snow/ice was cemented down from being driven over, I just left alone.  If the cars made it over that patch before, they can do it again.  I only really shoveled in the first place because I woke up to go to the gym and realized my car couldn’t get out of the driveway because the nice snowplow men that take care of the streets (which, I have to say, they do really do a good job here) had created a snow mountain in the apron of the driveway.  At first, I took the snow mountain as a sign that I shouldn’t work out. The problem is, though, that if I wanted to leave the house to go do anything I was going to have to shovel.  See, I can’t even be proud because I voluntarily shoveled.  It was a necessity.

So I bundled up and went out.  While I was shoveling, two more snowplow guys came by and pushed more snow onto the mountain, and a lady walking by asked me whether or not I was aware that I could pay a service to shovel my driveway.  I don’t know if she mentioned that because that’s how she opts to handle this lake effect snow business or if she mentioned the service because I looked like I was struggling (should probably try to go to the gym more often).  It wasn’t miserable, but my nose was running as noses tend to do in the cold, and there is a kind of big chance that the lady saw the impulsive, semi-nasty glare I gave the snowplow men as they drove by. I understand that these gentlemen were just doing their job, but their job made my task at least five shovel-fulls longer.  However, I do apologize, snowplow men.  Please continue to clear my street.

I think, though, that the reason I’m so proud is that shoveling my driveway all by myself because I had no other choice just seems like a very grown up thing to do.  I didn’t have another choice in the sense that my parents told me to go shovel, so I had to shovel.  I didn’t have any other choice because I just didn’t: It was shovel, or stay at home all day and miss other things that I had to get done.  The older I get, the more I realize being a grown up kinda stinks sometimes.  Really, a lot of the time–and I’m only a fake grown up.

So, as fake grown ups do, I finished shoveling, took a selfie, and sent it to my dad so he could be proud of me too.shoveling selfie

Then, I went inside and made these brownies.  They were really tasty.  Extra tasty after shoveling, but I had one for breakfast this morning so I can vouch that the shoveling isn’t necessary for them to taste delicious.  

Flourless Brownies Recipe

  • Servings: 9 brownies
  • Difficulty: easy
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Adapted from Natalie’s Rich Fudgy Flourless Brownies from Life Made Simple
Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butterphoto 2 (5)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate (chopped or in chips)
  • 2 eggs, room temperature–the room temperature thing is important for this recipe!
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (mine was dark, but regular is fine too)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • optional mix-ins: nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, etc

Directions:

1. Get your eggs out of the refrigerator.
2. Put a cup or so of water in a sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Place a ceramic (or a different type of heat safe bowl) on top of the sauce pan to create a double boiler.  If you have a double boiler then use that.  Add butter, chocolate, and sugar, and stir until melted and combined.  You want to stir so that there aren’t a lot of lumps, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Remove the bowl from the heat.
3. While you let the chocolate mixture cool, preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8 inch square baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
4. In a separate bowl, whip the two eggs like you were making scrambled eggs.  Add vanilla and scrambled eggs to the chocolate mixture, whipping the batter kind of vigorously so that the eggs don’t start cooking from the heat!  This may sound intense–but you will really be fine and is very easy.  After you do it, you’ll probably think I was crazy for making such a big deal out of it.  But if I didn’t caution you, and your eggs cooked, you’d be mad at me.  After the eggs and vanilla are added, the batter will be smooth and glossy and much thicker.
5. Next add in the cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt and mix a little bit longer.  The batter should once again be glossy.
6.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes.  These brownies are really fudgy.  When a knife is inserted in the center it won’t come out clean–but it shouldn’t be liquidy.  If you like brownie batter, this type of brownie is for you!
7. Wait (if you can–I couldn’t) until they are completely cool before cutting.  This just helps prevent the brownies from being a little crumbly.  

Morning Muffins

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the recipe}

My roommate is crazy.  Now, when I say crazy, I really just mean completely different from myself.  My approach to morning time is to sleep to the absolute last possible minute and not talk until a sufficient amount of time has passed and coffee has been drunk.  My roommate, however, is the definition of a morning person.  She is out of the door by 5am to go workout before work.  She doesn’t get up at 5, she leaves at 5.  Her alarm is set in the 4’s of the morning.  THE 4’S! On the reg.  THE 4’S! The sun isn’t up yet, but she is.  And she LOVES it.  I believe her to be insane and think she should probably talk to someone.
Banana Morning Muffins Now, understandably, my roommate likes to eat on the go or have a breakfast packed so she doesn’t have to come back home in between the gym and going to work.  Her go-to for a packed breakfast was overnight oats.  Lately, though, she has been complaining of being tired of oatmeal.  Here is something I understand and for which I have a solution.  I am the queen of quick and on-the-go breakfasts.  Why take the time to make and eat breakfast at the kitchen table every morning when that time could be spent still sleeping??  So this one is for you, my crazy, morning-loving roommate.  Added bonus?  These muffins are vegan, gluten free, ridiculously healthy, and, of course, DELICIOUS!

Banana Morning Muffins Recipe

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
1 tablespoon chia seeds
3 tablespoons water
3 super ripe bananas (I’m talking brown bananas with yellow spots kind of ripe!)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauceIMG_2274
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4+ 2 tablespoons cup chopped toasted nuts of your choice (divided)
3 tablespoons oats (make sure they are gluten free oats if that is of concern)
1 tsp honey

Directions:
1. In a small bowl whisk together the chia seed and water to create a binding gel (this will serve to replace eggs in this recipe).  Whisk vigorously for a minute before putting the bowl in the fridge.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with liners, parchment paper, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Sift together oat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of toasted nuts.
4. In a separate bowl, peel and mash the banana.  Then beat using an electric mixer or your strong arm and a fork until the banana releases its sugars and is a liquid-ish mush.  Mix in applesauce and vanilla extract.
5. Take the chia and water gel mixture out of the refrigerator and whisk for another minute before adding to the banana mixture.
6.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the banana mixture, mixing in between additions.
7. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins with a 1/4 cup measure.
8.  In a new bowl mix together the rest of the toasted nuts, oats, and honey to make a crumble.  Top each muffin with the crumble mixture.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they become golden brown and pull away from the edge of the muffin tin.  A knife/toothpick will come out almost clean when inserted. To avoid mushy-bottomed muffin remove from the muffin tins to cool.  Enjoy!  They’re particularly tasty with some nut butter!

peanut butter jelly time

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the recipe}photo 3 (3)Peanut butter and jelly isn’t just a classic combination; it’s a comfort combo and perfect for all of the snowy cold weather we’ve been having lately.  Everyone has their own way of making a PB&J, some people are more of PB fan than the J.  Others want more J.  The best thing about these cookies is that you can decide your PB-to-J ratio.  Not a J fan, don’t put the jelly glaze on (they’re still fantastic, soft, peanut butter cookies).  Like a lot of jelly?  Load the cookie up!

photo 2 (3)photo 3 (2)photo 1 (3)
If you’re making these for a crowd, make some cookies with a lot of jelly and some with only a drizzle.  I used raspberry preserves to make the glaze today, but if grape, or maybe strawberry, is your jam (ha!) then use that instead.

So, this cookie is super easy to put together. However, you’ve got some options when making these.  Personal preference: do you like crunchy or smooth peanut butter (or as my nephew insists on having, “that peanut butter with no peanuts!”).  You can use either kind here.  I opted for creamy peanut butter (because that was what I had).  These would be fantastic with almond butter, or use sun butter if there is a peanut allergy concern.

I said above that this makes a really soft peanut butter cookie–which was a partial lie because the cookie is actually pretty flexible with baking times.  If you like a crisp, crunchy cookie, just leave the cookies in the oven a little longer.  I personally usually enjoy soft, chewy cookies better than the crisp, crunchy ones–and this recipe, thanks to the cream cheese, has the ability to be really soft, AND stay soft.  I’ve found that other peanut butter cookies, quickly loose their softness after a day or so.  These don’t–although, full disclosure: I’ve never actually had much experience with them really staying around for long!

photo 1 (4)The size of the cookie that you make is also up to you, giant cookies need to bake longer (15-17 min for soft, chewy giant cookies, a few min longer for a crisp cookie) than tablespoon-sized cookies (10-ish minutes, and more like 12-13 minutes for a crisper cookie).  You’ll know the cookies are done (for a soft, chewy one) when just the bottoms and the edges of the cookies are starting to brown.  Don’t take the cookies out of the oven, however, until they start to crack on the top.  These cracks on top provide perfect crevices for the jelly glaze to get stuck.

photo 2 (4)While the cookies bake you want to have done two things: mix up the glaze (powdered sugar+jam+milk) and set up your decorating/cooling station with a sheet of newspaper or wax paper (something you can throw away) underneath a wire cooling rack.  When the cookies come out of the oven transfer them to the cooling rack that is on top of something to catch the stray jelly glaze and immediately spoon on/drizzle on the jelly glaze.  If you don’t have something to catch the excess jelly glaze, you’ll have a sticky mess.  The cookie will absorb some of the glaze and just be super delicious, which won’t happen as well if you wait until the cookies are completely cool.  Here is where you can play with your PB-to-J ratio.  You can also make them into thumb print cookies by pushing your thumb/backside of a spoon into the cookie while its still warm and fill with the jelly glaze/or just plain jam.  I like some jam in every bite, however so I opted for the spoon over method.  The glaze works well drizzling with a fork or whisk.  It is a glaze (considerably more liquid than an icing) so the ziplock pastry bag method doesn’t give you a huge amount of control, but more than just a fork would, if you are so inclined.  Enjoy with a big glass of milk and a buddy!photo 4 (3)

 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies Recipe

  • Servings: 2.5 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
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photo 4 (3)photo 4 (2)photo 3 (3)Peanut Butter Cookies:

  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups (Gluten Free) Oat flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Jelly Glaze:

  • ¼ cup your favorite flavor fruit preserves
  • 2 tablespoons milk or almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (a little more or less depending on how sweet your jelly is)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Cream together the peanut butter and cream cheese.
  3. Add the sugars, egg, and vanilla extract.
  4. Sift together the oat and almond flours, baking powder, and salt.   Then add these dry ingredients to the wet ingredient mixture and mix until blended.
  5. Roll the dough into tablespoon sized balls and place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat…or make big cookies with roughly 3 tablespoons worth of dough.
  6. Bake for 10ish minutes (or 15-17 minutes for the big cookie size) at 350 degrees.  You just want the cookies to be browned basically only on the bottoms and maybe a little on the edges. When there are cracks all over the tops of the cookies they are probably done. While the cookies are baking, make the jelly glaze by beating together the powdered sugar, jelly, and milk. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven spread/drizzle them with the glaze.

Inspired by Auntie Fee: LPT Salad

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the recipe}

My friend and I spent this afternoon watching Auntie Fee’s cooking videos on YouTube.  If you haven’t seen Auntie Fee in action, take a look:

She was recently featured in a segment on Jimmy Kimmel as well.   Auntie Fee swears (repeatedly) that parsley will make anything taste good, which got me thinking that maybe I should make something with parsley for dinner. The result is this Lentil Parsley Tomato Salad.

Now, forget Auntie Fee’s parsley and let’s just chat about how great lentils are for a second:  Considered a legume (think peas, beans, some nuts), lentils give you a lot of bang for your buck.  Just a 1/4 cup (uncooked) of lentils packs 8 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, and 9 grams of fiber into less than 100 kcals AND will cost only about $0.10!  Tender and with a slightly nutty flavor, lentils will absorb most any flavor you want to pair them with making them perfect for salads, soups, mashed into dips, or used as an alternative to rice or potatoes.  Alone, lentils can be kind of bland, but cook in chicken stock–or I like to add some wine–season with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a great sidekick to any meal!

I used green lentils but you could use brown.  I wouldn’t use red lentils, though, because they tend to get mushy when they’re cooked.  Make sure you sift through the lentils to ensure that there aren’t any small pebbles and you want to wash the lentils to remove excess grit.  Like with rice, you use a 1:2 lentil to liquid ratio to boil the lentils.  Which type of liquid you use to cook the lentils is really flexible, but using a chicken or vegetable stock in addition to water really helps to add some flavor.  I used a combination of chicken stock, red wine, and water to cook my lentils tonight.

The process of cooking lentils is the same as rice: bring to boil and then reduce to medium heat and let cook for 35-40 minutes.  While the lentils are cooking, chop parsley (use fresh, the cost will balance out because the lentils are cheap and it’ll taste so much better), a red onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, and tomatoes (I just sliced cherry tomatoes in half).  Quickly rinse the black eyed peas and white northern beans to remove all of the gross can juice (also cheap items btw).  Add everything to a large bowl (to save some dishes, go ahead and mix everything in the serving bowl).  Then just add in the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and the lentils when they are done cooking.  When they’re done, the lentils will be soft but will still hold their shape, and almost all of the liquid will be gone.  Just drain and discard any excess liquid.

This made a lot of salad because I just used a full can or bag of everything, but it will last for a while in the fridge and I bet it will only get tastier as it sits with the dressing.  It can be served hot or cold.  Maybe Auntie Fee has a future in the food show business after all if she’s inspiring dishes like this!

LPT Salad

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:
1 lb bag of green or brown lentils, sorted and washed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup red wine
4 1/2 cups water
1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed throughly
1 can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed throughly
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 small-medium red onion, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced (or more)
1/2 tsp salt (more or less to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper (again, more or less to taste)
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil

Directions:
1. Add lentils, water, chicken/vegetable stock, and wine to a large pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the lentils are soft but still hold their shape and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.  This will take about 35-40 minutes.
2. While the lentils cook, combine the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl.
3. Add the cooked lentils (draining and discarding any remaining liquid), and mix.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  The salad can be served hot or cold.  Enjoy!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Carrot Cake

{skip the foreplay and go to the recipe}

Let’s start at the very beginning:
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi
{When you bake you begin with mom loves me}

While Julie Andrews regrettably omitted this last line to the initial stanza of her song–an exclusion which might have had something to do with the movie already being almost 3 hours long–it is exactly how I started to bake.

Eleven years whimsical bakehouseold, I picked up  The Whimsical Bakehouse–Fun-To-Make Cakes That Taste as Good as They Look by Liv Hansen and Kaye Hansen at our local library because the cake on the front of the book was bright and colorful and I knew that my mom could show me how to make it.  Turns out, my mom didn’t have any idea how to decorate a cake like that, but she was willing to help me try.

My mom always says that year was the year in which I really got interested in baking.  That year a shoulder injury sidelined–or poolsided–me from swimming.  Unable to participate in any other sport, I turned to the kitchen.  While it makes no sense from a weight management perspective to replace physical activity with dessert creation and consumption, my gravitation toward the kitchen will make perfect sense to any swimmer.   For those who have not swam competitively,  the swimmer lifestyle can be generalized by a lot of time in the pool and a lot of time eating.  I surmise now that I probably turned to baking back then because it was a comfortable extension of something I had a lot of experience doing: eating.  Plus it was fun, delicious, and my mom always helped me with the dishes….injured shoulder, remember?

So we baked (and my mom cleaned up after) almost all of the cake recipes in the cookbook, but there was one recipe that we wrote down and continued to make long after the cookbook was returned to the library.  This is that recipe.  Well, sort of.  One of this cake’s best attributes is the ease at which it accepts gluten-free flours.  Seriously, though, this is one gluten-free recipe that can’t be screwed up.  It is just that good.  This carrot cake is sweet and spiced and everything nice.  It manages to be light while still carrying substance.  The creamy tang of the cream cheese frosting perfectly compliments the soft, rich cake.  And, with a vegetable in its name, the cake practically demands guilt-free indulgence.

cropped-img_1808-e1414553645679.jpgBaked as written by the mother and daughter Hansen duo or adapted to the gluten free version my mom and I bake now, this cake is a tried and true crowd pleaser:

Carrot Cake

  • Servings: depends how much you like it
  • Difficulty: easy, honest.
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Ingredients:
For the cake:
4 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups oil (I’ve successfully used canola, vegetable, and melted coconut oil before)
2 cups white sugar
2 cups gluten-free flour mixture with a gum in it (or use 1 cup oat flour, 1/2 brown rice flour, 1/4 cup sweet sorghum flour, 1/4 cup potato starch, and 2 teaspoons xanthum gum)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
For the cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (use real butter, don’t use margarine)
9 oz cream cheese (yes, opening the new package for just that one extra ounce is worth it)
6 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Grease (spray) two 9 by 3 inch round pans.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Beat the eggs, oil, and sugar for a few minutes (or if you know what “light and fluffy” looks like, beat until light and fluffy”) Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet batter at a low speed. When the mixture is 75% incorporated and carrots, walnuts, and raisins and mix until smooth.
Divide batter between pans. (We always used three 8 by 2 inch pans because we didn’t have the two 9 by 3 inch round pans the Whimsical Bakehouse called for. I think that this is actually a strength of our version of the recipe because the extra layer means more of that cream cheese frosting in every bite!) Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until tester in center comes out clean. Don’t worry about over cooking the cake. I promise it won’t come out dry, but if you take it out too early, getting it out of the pans will become a nightmare. Similarly, it is important to cool the cakes on a wire rack until they are cool (about 20 minutes) or it will be extremely difficult to get the cakes out in one piece.
While the cake cools, in a mixer bowl at medium high-speed beat butter until creamy. Then add and cream the cream cheese. Add powdered sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract all at once and beat at a low speed until the frosting is smooth. Increase the speed of the mixer and continue beating for another minute or so until the frosting is thick but light.