April 15, 2014

Healthy No-Sugar Carrot Cake Date Balls

Healthy No-Sugar Carrot Cake Date Balls

With Easter rapidly approaching (how is it this weekend already?!), I spent some time this past weekend trying to come up with a new Easter recipe to share.  Last year I stuck with an Easter egg theme with egg-shaped breakfast naan pizzas and Easter egg cheesecake bars, but this year I wanted to do something with carrot cake, which I consider a pretty standard Easter dessert and which is one of my favourite types of cake!

It seems like a carrot cake version of everything already exists though, like carrot cake oatmeal, carrot cake banana bread, carrot cake pancakes, carrot cake cheesecake, carrot cake whoopie pies, carrot cake rice krispie treats, etc., all of which look absolutely amazing, of course.  I haven't seen too many carrot cake versions of healthy no-bake balls, though, and after recently trying these oatmeal cinnamon truffles which I loved, I decided to make a carrot cake version!

Healthy No-Sugar Carrot Cake Date Balls

These are super quick and easy to make, with oats, dates, and walnuts as the main ingredients, along with shredded carrots (obviously needed for carrot cake, and with a bonus of added nutrients!), and vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt to bring out the carrot cake flavour.

The end result is a sweet treat with a taste that really reminded me of carrot cake, even though dates are the predominant flavour.  I couldn't really taste the carrots, but I realized carrot cake doesn't taste like carrots either; you could always add more and adjust the ratio of other ingredients if you like though.  These would be a great sugar-free snack to have around this coming weekend to help balance out all the chocolate!

Healthy No-Sugar Carrot Cake Date Balls

No-Bake Healthy Carrot Cake Date Balls

Makes about 18 balls

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups large-flake rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
12 medjool dates, pits removed, chopped into pieces
1 cup grated carrot (about 2 large carrots)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Optional: raisins, unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

Add oats, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger to the large bowl of a food processor.  Process until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Remove from food processor and set aside in a bowl.

Add dates to the food processor and mix until smooth.  I added 1 tablespoon of water to help them blend.  Add the carrots, vanilla, and oat mixture back to the food processor and pulse everything until combined and sticking together.  Taste mixture and add more spices or carrots if desired.

Remove mixture from food processor and roll into balls about 1” in diameter.  Keep covered in refrigerator and let refrigerate for at least a couple hours before eating for better texture.

Options:  If desired, you can add raisins to the balls to resemble carrot cake more; the date taste is already strong and sweet though so I didn’t feel it necessary.  Another option is to roll the balls in shredded coconut if you like; I’m not a huge fan of shredded coconut so I didn’t do this with all of mine but it sticks easily to the balls if you wish to roll them in it.

April 10, 2014

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Chickpea & Roasted Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Healthy "bowls" seem to becoming more and more popular these days both across the internet and in cafes and restaurants.  They have many names and variations, but the basic concept is that you combine a base of grains (like rice, quinoa, barley, etc), several different vegetables (raw or cooked), a protein or two (chicken, tofu, beans, nuts, or cheese), and a delicious sauce to tie it all together, thus giving you a complete meal in a bowl.

I find myself drawn to any healthy meal that ends in "bowl" because I love a meal with different textures, flavours, and colours that all fit together in one dish, and these bowls are easy to make super nutritious.

Chickpea & Roasted Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

The problem with ordering them in a restaurant is that they're usually pretty expensive, and while making them at home can require a bit of effort, it's cheaper and you can make a lot so that you have delicious healthy bowls for lunches through the week!

For my version, I combined the following:

Chickpea & Roasted Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Base - a mix of brown rice, barley, and spelt (I used a PC blend of the three for convenience!)
Veggies - steamed broccoli, roasted beets and sweet potatoes, sauteed spinach with garlic, and grated raw carrots
Protein - I forgot to include this in the picture above, but I used chickpeas
Sauce - tahini dressing with soy sauce and sesame oil for flavour!

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Another nice thing about these is that they're highly adaptable, so if you don't like the ingredients that I used, you can make whatever substitutions you like, as long as you maintain a variety of colour and textures!

Try using quinoa as a base if you don't like rice; substitute the chickpeas for chicken or tofu if you like; grate raw beets instead of roasting them; sautee brussels sprouts or kale instead of spinach; roast squash instead of sweet potato ... you get the idea!

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

This makes a filling lunch or dinner that will leave you feeling great.  If you're making enough to have leftovers (which I recommend you do!), just be sure to store the sauce separately or else it will get absorbed and leave the dish feeling sauceless, which won't be as good as sauce is the most important part!

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

Inspired by several recipes, such as ones seen on Paint + Tofu, Dishing Up The Dirt, and Grace Bezanson

Makes 3-6 servings, depending on serving size

Ingredients:

For the Toppings:
~1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large sweet potato, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 large beets, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch of baby spinach (however much you like; I used a small container)
2 large carrots, grated (a food processor with the grater attachment works well for this!)
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For the Base:
3-4 cups cooked brown rice and/or barley (I used a bag of mixed brown rice, barley, and spelt) or your favourite grain, such as quinoa (about 1 to 1-1/2 cups uncooked)

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey or agave
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Toss sweet potatoes and beets with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until tender.  The sweet potatoes will likely be done sooner than the beets; just transfer them to a bowl and put the beets back in the oven.  I prefer roasting beets whole but this takes longer; if you have time, just roast the whole beet for 1 hour, drizzled with oil and wrapped in foil, then peel and chop it after.

Meanwhile, you can cook the broccoli, spinach, and your grains.  Steam the broccoli in a steamer basket over boiling water, covered, for about 2-3 minutes until bright green and tender.  Rinse with cold water and drain.  For the spinach, heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds (this is optional; you could also use a different oil if you like), then add spinach and cook just until wilted.  Remove from heat.  Cook your grains according to package directions; I cooked mine uncovered in simmering water for around 18 minutes, then seasoned with salt and pepper.

Prepare the dressing by whisking all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth.  Taste and adjust any amounts to your liking.  Note that this makes a lot of dressing and likely more than you’ll need; just save any extras for another use!

Prepare bowls by adding grains to the bottom, topping with vegetables (beets, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach) and chickpeas, and drizzling tahini dressing on top.  Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper, if desired.  You can eat this warm or at room temperature.

If you have leftovers, you can portion out everything together into containers except the sauce - that should  be kept separate and drizzled on right before eating so it doesn't get absorbed.

Chickpea & Veggie Brown Rice Barley Bowl with Tahini Dressing

April 04, 2014

Peanut Butter & Jelly Baked Oatmeal

Peanut Butter & Jelly Baked Oatmeal

As a kid I used to love all the flavours of those little instant oatmeal packets that I'm sure are full of sugar and everything kids love.  Now the only instant oatmeal I'll occasionally buy comes from the organic aisle, but I need to eat at least two packages to sustain me for breakfast and even then I'll still be hungry a couple hours later.  I love making my own oatmeal on the stovetop, especially versions that are full of ooey gooey delicious things like bananas, peanut butter, or pumpkin.  Unfortunately, I don't do this often as I'm usually in too much of a hurry or too lazy in the mornings to make anything that requires effort.

Which is why I've become obsessed with baked oatmeal lately.  Sure it requires some effort to make, but you end up with a lot of leftovers that can be stored as individual servings in the fridge so all you have to do later on is reheat.  Perfect for busy mornings, and also for people who don't like the mushy texture of a bowl of stovetop oatmeal, as the baked version is a lot firmer.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Baked Oatmeal

This peanut butter and jelly version of baked oatmeal is Ryan and my current favourite.  It has a strong peanut butter flavour with the perfect amount of jam to sweeten it up, and it's nice and filling.  It's pretty easy to throw together too - just add your wet ingredients (egg, milk, vanilla, peanut butter) to your dry ingredients (oats, a tiny bit of brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt), drop some jam on top, and throw it in the oven.  The hardest part is waiting for it to be ready! 

I've made this with both grape and strawberry jam before and we love it both ways; I always try to choose a low sugar jam as I usually find regular jam way too sweet.  I consider this a reasonably healthy breakfast so I don't mind eating it for several breakfasts in a row or that Ryan now asks for it all the time!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Baked Oatmeal


Peanut Butter and Jelly Baked Oatmeal

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups large flake rolled oats
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups skim milk or almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter - I usually use regular smooth peanut butter but natural would work too if you want slightly less sugar and salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup low-sugar jam – strawberry, grape, or mixed berry all work

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9x13 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla, and peanut butter. You can warm up the peanut butter for about 20-30 seconds in the microwave first to make it more liquid so it will mix in better.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. 

Spread mixture into pan and spread evenly with a spatula.  It will look like oats floating in a lot of liquid – that’s normal; the liquid will all be absorbed during baking.  Drop spoonfuls of jam evenly on top of the oatmeal.  If you like, you can leave the jam in little pockets, or take a butter knife and try to swirl the jam around to cover more surface area (that’s what I like to do).  Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until edges are golden brown and middle is cooked through.  Divide into at least 6 servings and serve warm, with maple syrup if desired.

Leftovers can be stored covered in the fridge for a few days and reheated.

April 01, 2014

Monthly Recap - March 2014

March has flown by and I haven't posted much this past month because I haven't been cooking much.  I spent half the month away staying with my fiance's family throughout the sudden and unexpected passing of his father after a hard-fought and very optimistic battle with pancreatic cancer.  I debated whether or not to share this news here as I don't share many personal life details on this blog, but as my father-in-law was always a strong supporter of my blog and photos, I just want to take a minute to let my readers know that he was a kind, generous, loving, and amazing man, incredibly loved by every person who had the good fortune to have met or known him, and he will be deeply missed as he was taken far too soon at age 58.  I also encourage you to do some reading on pancreatic cancer as it's one of the lesser known types of cancer (I knew nothing about it a year ago) but is one of the most cruel, and to hope and fight for a cure to cancer, which I'm sure has affected almost all of us in some way.

As I mentioned, I was fortunate to have most of my meals prepared for me this month (thanks to all those who helped out!) so I don't have a whole lot to share, but the food I have tried this month has all been great!  

senegalese peanut stew

At the very beginning of the month I made this Senegalese peanut stew with spinach and sweet potatoes, which was actually for my father-in-law, so it's a bit difficult to think about it now.  But we all really enjoyed this stew; it's thick, creamy, hearty, but still healthy!  The recipe is from Weight Watchers and the only changes I made were to use red pepper instead of green and I served it with brown rice.  I'll definitely make this one again as it's perfect comfort food.

mustard chicken and pasta

The only meals I prepared while I was away were skinny chicken enchiladas from Skinny Taste, which I've made before and loved; they're easy to prepare and great for feeding a crowd.  I also made the mustard chicken with pasta and broccoli pictured above, which does not look appetizing from my quick iphone snap, but was actually quite good!  The sauce is made with low-fat sour cream, white wine, shallots, and mustard, and is served overtop chicken and pasta with a side of broccoli.  The recipe is from Eating Well and the only changes I made were to add a bit of garlic and use thyme instead of sage.

peanut butter lentil bars

I also made a couple healthy snacks to have around, including these peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip lentil blondies from Ambitious Kitchen.  Everyone really loved these blondies which were dense and fudgy with a nice peanut butter flavour and no taste of lentils (just the added protein and fiber from them!)  I definitely recommend these if you're looking for a healthy treat to have around - you can get the recipe from Ambitious Kitchen; the only change I made was to use carob chips instead of chocolate chips.

oatmeal cinnamon date balls

I also made these oatmeal cinnamon date balls which are basically just oats, walnuts, dates, and cinnamon processed together and rolled into balls.  I was skeptical of how good they would taste but they were delicious and reminded me of oatmeal raisin cookies.  They were easy to prepare so I'll definitely be making these again!  The recipe is from Oatmeal With A Fork.

chipotle chicken unwrap

I also had the chance to grab some food from one of my favourite restaurants, Growing Season.  The chipotle chicken unwrap is so, so good, with greens, sprouts, roasted chicken, sesame snaps, red peppers, and a chipotle dressing, all atop warm naan bread.  I highly recommend this place if you're ever in Thunder Bay!

deer in thunder bay

I also had to share a picture of what the view out the front window looked like in Thunder Bay - so much snow still and a couple of cute visitors!

peanut butter chocolate swirl pancakes

Earlier in the month I remade my chocolate peanut butter swirl pancakes for Ryan's birthday.  I just love the swirled look to them and the combination of two flavours in one!

broccoli apple chickpea salad

Some version of the salad pictured above usually makes it into my meals whenever I don't feel like cooking something and/or am craving something healthy and fresh for dinner.  I simply chop up some raw broccoli, toss it with chopped apples, chickpeas, cranberries, nuts or sunflower seeds, and a bit of lettuce or slaw if I have some in the fridge.  For the dressing I whisk together extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, salt, and pepper.  I make a big bowl so I can have leftovers for lunch the next day!

sweet potato mac and cheese

A new recipe I tried this month was a light sweet potato mac and cheese, based on a recipe I saw on Cookin' Canuck.  I made a few changes, including throwing in roasted parsnips along with the sweet potatoes and leaving out the breadcrumb and baking part, so my version was a bit different than the original but I still really enjoyed it!  It definitely did not fool me into thinking I was eating a traditional rich mac and cheese, but it was still creamy and comforting!

buffalo hummus

Hummus is one of my go-to snacks that I usually eat with carrots, crackers, pita chips, or pretzels.  One of my favourite versions is this buffalo hummus that I've made countless times and always love!

detox shredded vegetable salad

One of my not-so-successful recipe experiments this month was a shredded vegetable and quinoa detox salad.  I pulsed together raw carrots, beets, and broccoli, and tossed them with quinoa, currants, sunflower seeds, and a basic vinaigrette dressing.  I loved eating it because it was full of nutrition and made me feel good, but I didn't think the taste was something everyone would enjoy as it tasted just like a bunch of raw vegetables.  I might still work on this recipe to share a better version of it one day!

sugar bush

When I returned from my trip I found it was important to stay busy, and luckily my family came up for the day so we could watch an ABBA tribute band (love!) and go on a maple sugar bush tour.  We learned how maple syrup was originally made from sap a long time ago and how it's made today (if you can see the blue lines in the trees on the top picture, those are all sap lines).  It definitely gave me an appreciation for why pure maple syrup is so expensive!

pancakes

Our tour finished with hot pancakes that we could enjoy with three types of fresh maple syrup (light, medium, and amber - they vary in darkness and maple flavour and differ due to the time in the season they were produced from trees).  It was perfect on a chilly day!

The last couple of days the weather has been warming up here and it's finally starting to feel like Spring - fingers crossed it's actually here and warmer, brighter, happier days are ahead!

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