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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Chocolate Superfood Energy Bars

Just a quick disclaimer before reading this post - I have not gone all crunchy granola on you. Just bought a fun new cookbook called "Superfood Kitchen" by Julie Morris, and I have been trying out some of the recipes which use ingredients found in natural food stores and that aisle in Whole Foods that I'm usually too intimidated to walk down.

These energy bars are ridiculously easy to make and taste rich and delicious. Nick grabbed one right before heading to an intense boot camp and said they kept him energized throughout the workout.  You can play around with the recipe, adding in your favorite blend of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. I loved the chocolate-blueberry combo paired with the crunchy pumpkin seeds. 

The bars get their chocolate flavor from cacao powder (the cacao beans are milled at low temperatures to protect the nutrients and flavor) which is an excellent source of antioxidants, magnesium and iron. I paid about $20 for a 16-ounce bag.

While my food processor definitely struggled to process the dates and nuts, the dough came together nicely. I recommend freezing the dough for about a half an hour before you are ready to cut it into bars.  Bring this healthy snack to the office to ward off those 3:00 trips to the vending machine!

Chocolate Superfood Energy Bars
Makes 6 bars
Adapted from Superfood Kitchen

  • 1 cup soft Medjool dates (about 12), pits removed
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • 1/4 cup cacao powder (you could also regular cocoa powder)
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried blueberries

Grind all ingredients together in a food processor except for the last 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds and the dried blueberries, until a coarse dough has formed (could take a few minutes). Stop the machine and check the consistency to make sure it sticks together easily. If the dough is too dry, you can add about a half teaspoon of water and blend again.

Add the pumpkin seeds and blueberries and pulse several times until just coarsely chopped to give the bars a nice texture.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on a flat surface and spill out the dough on top. Gather into a solid mass in the center; then use the sides of the plastic to wrap over the dough as tightly as possible, pressing and shaping into a compact 1-inch rectangle.

When solid, remove the wrap and cut into 6 bars (for extra clean cuts, you can place the bar in the freezer for 30 minutes before cutting). Wrap and keep in the fridge (will last about a week). You can freeze them as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sticky Ginger Cake

Even though the holidays are nearly over, I can't get enough gingerbread-flavored baked goods.  The spices make my kitchen smell wonderful, and the heat from the oven provides a little extra warmth on these blustery winter days.  This dessert is the perfect all-purpose snack cake.  Kids will love it as an after school treat, and I found myself eating a square (or two) for breakfast.  It would make a great addition to your New Year's Day brunch too!

The cake itself is delicious, but the honey-molasses glaze keeps the cake moist and chewy for several days.  I recommend you make the cake  a day ahead of when you plan to serve it to give the molasses and ginger flavors some time to intensify.

The original recipe from Cooking Light uses all-purpose flour, but I swapped out half of the white flour for whole wheat flour.  I liked the nuttier flavor and denser texture that whole wheat flour provides, but I'm sure it would be just as delicious when using white flour.

I usually cringe when reading recipes that use fresh ginger because I inevitably have to buy a huge ginger root when I need only a few teaspoons.  Fresh ginger actually freezes really well, so just cut off what you need and store the rest in a plastic baggie in the freezer.  It will keep for about three months.  Problem solved!

This cake brought back memories of time I spent in England while on a mini-student exchange program in high school.  My host-mother would make these delicious snack cakes to serve with our after-school tea.  Whether it's served with tea or a tall glass of milk, make this cake and enjoy it with someone you love.

Sticky Ginger Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 16


  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 5 tablespoons honey, divided
  • 5 tablespoons molasses, divided
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400°.
Lightly coat an 8-inch square metal baking pan with cooking spray. Set prepared pan aside.
Combine both flours and next 5 ingredients (through salt); stir with a whisk.  Combine buttermilk and eggs.  Combine 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup molasses, brown sugar, butter, and fresh ginger in a pan over medium heat.  Stir constantly until sugar melts.  Remove pan from heat; cool 5 minutes.  Add egg mixture to honey mixture, stirring with a whisk.  Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir until well combined.
Pour batter into pan.  Bake at 400° for 25 minutes. Place on a rack; pierce surface with a skewer. Combine 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon molasses, and 1 tablespoon water; brush over hot cake. Cool.  Dust with powdered sugar.
Approximately 210 calories per serving, 2.5 grams of fat.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Smoky Turkey Bacon Chili

It's been awhile since my last post, but I am excited to be blogging again! I am the Reluctant Home Cook after all. We've had a busy couple of months, and it's finally getting to be the perfect weather for staying inside and cooking and baking!

Nothing goes better with crisp fall weekends and football than a hearty bowl of chili. I made Eat Live Run's Beef and Bean Chili a few weeks ago and have been inspired to try some new chili recipes ever since. Fortunately, my sister-in-law Anne had given me a turkey chili recipe for my bridal shower cookbook. She and Andy are expecting a baby girl in December, and I am so excited to become an aunt! I've been drooling over Restoration Hardware's baby collection ever since her shower. Baby M - prepare to be spoiled!

Anyway - back to the chili . . .

Anne's recipe is delicious and filling but low in calories and fat because it uses ground turkey and is packed full of vegetables. I decided to add some bacon, chipotle chili powder and smoked paprika because that smoky flavor just screams fall to me. Each spoonful greets your palate with a subtle smoky flavor followed by medium heat from the chili powder and hot sauce. Carrots and peppers add some crunchiness. The chili is light enough (around 270 calories) that you can load it up with some creamy avocado, light sour cream and a few sprinkles of shredded cheese.

Add this to your list of go-to chili recipes for fall and winter. Make it on Sunday night, and you'll have plenty of leftovers for lunch on Monday.

Smoky Turkey Bacon Chili
From Anne's Kitchen
Serves 6


  • 2 slices applewood smoked bacon (chopped)
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers (any color - I used yellow)
  • 2 medium carrots (chopped into coins)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 can black-eyed peas (or whatever bean you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

In large skillet or 5.5 quart dutch oven, saute chopped bacon until crispy. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

Saute onions, garlic, bell pepper and carrots in the bacon drippings over medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add ground turkey and cook until browned and no pink remains.

Add remaining ingredients (including the cooked bacon) and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. 

Serve plain or topped with avocado, sour cream, and cheese.

Per serving (approximate): 267 calories; 8.3 grams fat (2.4 grams saturated fat); 1,011 mg sodium; 29.7 grams carbohydrates; 21.7 grams protein.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Southwest Crispy Chicken Sliders

I am on a Cooking Light sandwich kick. This time we're making Southwest Crispy Chicken Sliders on a cheesy jalapeno cornbread muffin. While bacon, avocado, crispy chicken breast and cheese are on the ingredients list, two of these colorful sandwiches are just over 400 calories! We had them for lunch, but they would also make great appetizers or a fun addition to your next small plates dinner.

The recipe suggests you make your own cornbread muffins, and I was surprised at how quickly I mixed up the batter and got them into the oven. Not gonna lie - these muffins are on the "mini" side, but they stand up to the challenge of holding together some guac, chicken, and a thick tomato slice.

While the cornbread muffins are baking, I made some guacamole with chopped bacon and also prepared the crispy chicken pieces. Simply bread the chicken cutlets in panko breadcrumbs and then pan fry in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Building this towering slider is fun and easy - cut the muffins in half, layer on some guacamole, chicken, and a tomato slice and then finish with the muffin top! We enjoyed the subtle spice from the jalapeños in the cornbread and the crispy, salty bacon in the guacamole. The chicken stayed moist on the inside thanks to the crunchy panko bread coating. Nick and I both thought the chicken needed more seasoning, so next time, I am going to sprinkle some salt and pepper on the chicken breasts before breading them.

For a time-saving tip, you could also make the cornbread muffins in advance. They will stay fresh 2-3 days in an airtight container. If you have leftover muffins, serve them with some barbecued chicken and baked beans.

Southwest Crispy Chicken Sliders
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 6 (serving size - 2 sliders)


Muffins -
  • 3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup)
  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup reduced-fat buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • Cooking spray
Chicken -
  • 2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 6  skinless, boneless chicken cutlets, cut in half 
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
Additional ingredients -
  • 1 ripe, pitted, peeled avocado
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices small, ripe tomato
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare muffins, weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, butter, and 1 egg, stirring well. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Stir in cheese and jalapeño. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 17 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove muffins from pan; cool on a wire rack. Cut muffins in half crosswise.

To prepare chicken, place panko in a shallow dish. Combine fat-free milk and 1 egg in a shallow dish, stirring well. Cut each cutlet piece in half, crosswise, to form 12 pieces. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Dip chicken in egg mixture; dredge in panko. Coat panko lightly with cooking spray. Add 6 chicken cutlets to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden and done. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 6 chicken cutlets, and cooking spray.

To prepare additional ingredients, combine avocado and lime juice; mash to desired consistency. Stir in bacon. Place 2 muffin bottom halves on each of 6 plates. Divide avocado mixture evenly among muffins; top each slider with 1 chicken cutlet and 1 tomato slice. Sprinkle tomato evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper; top with muffin tops.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lightened Up Shrimp Po'boy Sandwiches

We can't drive by a Popeyes without Nick trying (I'll be honest, begging) me to stop and let him feast on fried shrimp and chicken with a side of biscuits. I will undoubtedly turn up my nose and start lecturing him about the insane about of fat, calories and sodium in the food. Just call me the fast food cop - saving the world one Bacon Double Cheeseburger at a time.

Cooking Light magazine's "Recipe Makeover" section may just keep me from turning into a complete food nag. Each month, the magazine makes a healthier version of our favorite calorie-bomb foods that we just can't live without. This month's makeover is the Shrimp Po'boy sandwich. I had to try it given my husband's fried shrimp obsession.

We made these hearty (yet healthy) sandwiches on the Fourth of July, so I had a bit more time to mess around in the kitchen. They are relatively easy, but preparing the sandwiches will take you about an hour or so. Be sure to get the pre-packaged coleslaw mix to save some time as well (shredding your own cabbage is messy business). I used pre-cooked shrimp to make these, but I think raw would be better. The extra cooking time would allow for a crunchier cornmeal coating on the shrimp.

After an intense morning spin class, we tore into the po'boys like there was no tomorrow (I was even practicing my Guy Fieri "hunch" to get the entire baguette into my mouth). The spicy Cajun flavor from the slaw was balanced by the crusty French bread and juicy tomato slices.  Grated lemon rind adds a nice brightness to the shrimp as well.

Serve the po'boys alongside some baked chips and a fruit salad, and you've got yourself a delicious and guilt-free meal, y'all. I'm collecting recipes for our family vacation in the Outer Banks, and I think this one will definitely be in the running for lunch or a light dinner!

Lightened-Up Shrimp Po'boys
Adapted from Cooking Light (July 2012 issue)
Serves 4


For the Rémoulade slaw -
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-fat canola mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon wasabi powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups packaged cabbage-and-carrot coleslaw

For the Po'boys -
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 (2 1/2-ounce) pieces French bread baguette, split and toasted
  • 3 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices tomato
To prepare rémoulade slaw, combine first 9 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add coleslaw; toss to coat. Cover and chill.

To prepare po'boys, combine cornstarch and next 4 ingredients (through egg white) in a medium bowl; whisk until blended. Add shrimp; toss well. Marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes, stirring once.

Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Place torn bread in a food processor; process until very fine crumbs form. Set aside 1/2 cup breadcrumbs; reserve remaining breadcrumbs for another use. Combine 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and black pepper in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and shake to combine.

Remove shrimp from bowl; discard marinade. Add shrimp to breadcrumb mixture. Seal and shake to coat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done.

Arrange tomato slice on bottom half of bread. Top with 1/2 cup slaw and one quarter of shrimp. Cover with top half of bread.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dirty Banana Ice Cream

Let me introduce you to a delicious St. Lucian frozen concoction called the "Dirty Banana." You'll find Lance and Jonathan serving them up all day long at the pool bar at our honeymoon spot, Calabash Cove Resort near Castries. Though we never knew exactly what was in the drink, I believe it consisted of a ripe banana, lots of dark rum, milk and simple syrup. Good thing it was banana season in St. Lucia as Nick drank a few of these each day we were there!

I wasn't trying to recreate the drink in ice cream form when I tried making this recipe, but the finished product brought us right back to the glorious infinity pool with the swim-up bar. Most of you probably don't have an ice cream maker lying around the kitchen, but I encourage you to invest in one NOW. We got ours on sale at Crate & Barrel for $60. I even reorganized our cabinets so that we could find a spot for it! There's nothing better than homemade ice cream, and the ability to create new and interesting flavors is a fun project for a relaxing summer weekend.

You will love the mixture of the fresh banana, crunchy toasted walnuts and the hint of dark rum flavor. It couldn't be easier to make - just mix the base together and throw it in the ice cream maker for about twenty minutes or so. Then add the bananas and walnuts. Sounds like my kind of summer dessert. I also used light cream in the recipe, so that cuts down on the fat and totally justifies an extra half-scoop.

Dirty Banana Ice Cream
Makes about 5 cups
Adapted from "The Best Ice Cream Maker Cookbook Ever"


  • 2 cups half-and-half or light cream
  • 1 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 overripe medium bananas
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 3/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts 


In a large bowl, combine the half-and-half, condensed milk, and vanilla. Whisk to blend. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least three hours or as long as three days.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas, lemon juice, and rum to form a coarse puree; there will be about 1 cup. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Whisk the half-and-half mixture to blend and pour into the canister of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions. When the ice cream is at the soft serve stage, add the mashed bananas and toasted walnuts and process 2 minutes longer.

Serve with vanilla wafers or caramel sauce.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Uncle Paul's Rhubarb Crunch Cake

I am about ready to jump in the car and drive the five hours up to Portland, PA to go through my Uncle Paul's stash of recipes and interview him for some baking and cooking tips. My uncle is a trained chef and clearly knows how to create amazing baked goods. I found this crunch cake in the recipe book from my bridal shower. It is getting to be the end of rhubarb season, so this cake was the perfect seasonal treat to try. I was a little hesitant to use strawberry Jello in a coffee cake, but no one is ever going to guess you used it! 

Nick and I agree that this is probably one of the best fruit coffee cakes we've ever had. The sour cream in the batter provides some density without compromising the lightness of the cake. Though the recipe has plenty of sugar, the rhubarb provides a hint of sourness that cuts through the sweet cake. The cinnamon, sugar and nut layers provide the satisfying crunch, balancing out the layers of fluffy cake and spongy rhubarb. This cake would be a delightful addition to a weekend brunch, afternoon tea, or a light summer meal. Add a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream to put this treat over the top.

I only used the two larger stalks of rhubarb. Fortunately, Nick stopped me from grabbing about five stalks at Whole Foods! This cake is relatively simple to make, but I did have some issues spreading the sticky batter into the greased pan. I think an offset spatula would work well. The layering is just batter, rhubarb, nut mixture, batter, nut mixture. It's okay if some of the rhubarb is peeking out along the edges. This just adds extra color to the top of the cake.

True confession - I forgot to add the first layer of the walnut / sugar mixture on top of the rhubarb. Hence, we had only half the crunch, but this cake was still amazing! Be careful not to over-bake it as the walnuts will start the burn.

I hope that the family chef will share some additional dishes with us - his recipes may become a permanent feature on the blog! We're praying for you . . . get better and get back in the kitchen soon.

Rhubarb Crunch Cake
From Paul Lebkuecher
Serves 18-20

  • 3 cups rhubarb pieces, 1/2" or smaller
  • 3 oz strawberry Jello
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix rhubarb pieces thoroughly with strawberry Jello. Set aside to absorb color.

Make batter with next eight ingredients. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs well. Stir in remaining batter ingredients (sour cream, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt). 

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, remaining sugar and walnuts in a small bowl.

Spread half of batter in greased 9 x 13" pan. Spread rhubarb mixture lightly over batter. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture over the rhubarb. Spread on remaining batter. Sprinkle the batter with the remaining nut mixture. 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until browned.