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Breakfast or dessert: Healthy chocolate cherry drop biscuits

24 Apr

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I initially envisioned this as a cookie recipe, however the texture of the result was more akin to a biscuit: just a bit crisp on the outside, and soft and pillowy on the inside. The shape in the image above is cookie-like, but that was a result of me sort of shmooshing the batter into a cookie shape out of stubbornness. I recommend you just drop the batter as the recipe instructs. It will puff a bit, but not really change shape or spread as it bakes. If you really wanted to go nuts and play with shapes, I think it would make a dense, but fantastic, muffin or coffee cake.

The reason for the softer biscuit-y texture I attribute to the proportion of wet to dry ingredients. For the time being I’m continuing to indulge my natural sweetener experimentation, which I only possess in the form of various syrups and liquids. The thing I miss about white sugar is the way it caramelizes when baked. I am eager to try this recipe with dry natural equivalents, like natural maple or date sugar, where the excess water has been removed, leaving only the powdery sugar crystals. However, it is prohibitively expensive for me to play too much with those at the moment. But enough talk…

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Healthy chocolate cherry drop biscuits
My own recipe

Ingredients

¼ c. maple syrup
24 drops liquid stevia
1 c. all natural dried tart cherries, chopped*
½ c. almond meal
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil**
¼ c. 2% plain greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ c. oat flour
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c. dark chocolate chunks (or nuts if you’d prefer a healthier option)***
2 eggs

* I used a food processor to make almost a cherry paste, which I hoped would add fruit flavor to the overall batter, however it was largely masked, so I’d advise simply chopping so that you retain the flavor of the mixed-in cherry chunks.

**If you’re strongly opposed to a (very slight) olive oil scent/flavor, I think you could omit it entirely, and maybe double the yogurt.

***I will probably get some side-eye for calling these healthy when there’s a cup of chocolate chunks, but look at alllll the other ingredients and tell me, is that so bad??  Plus, as always, I recommend using the darkest chocolate available (I use 72% discs).  In my world that’s a healthy choice.

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

1)Add your maple syrup, chopped cherries, stevia, almond meal, evoo, vanilla, and eggs to a stand mixer with paddle attachment, and mix thoroughly (or by hand if no mixer).
2)Add greek yogurt, baking soda and salt, and mix thoroughly.
3)Add the flour, in small additions, mixing to incorporate.
4)Add chocolate chips and mix to incorporate.
5)Drop by large tablespoonful onto parchment lined baking sheet.
6)Bake for 8-12 minutes until edges start to become a golden color. (watch carefully as the bottoms will be susceptible to burning before the outside).
7)Let cool and enjoy!

If you want just a few at a time, consider freezing the dough, wrapped tightly in plastic, and pressed into a rectangle, cutting off chunks as you need them, and baked according to the same time/temperature. I always do this now, and the batches baked straight from the freezer are almost like scones since they retain their shape and get slightly crisp on the outside while the inside stays soft (Almost underbaked, but in a yummy way. Refrigerate these if you have leftovers).

What’s for breakfast: DIY energy bars

9 Apr

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Really I like to call this the DIY Bonk Breaker, but I’m afraid to get sued. Don’t sue me, Bonk Breakers, I love you.

I decided to try these recently because I’ve been making an effort to cut back on processed sugars (and on spending money).  I have always had a sweet tooth.  I can sit down and eat an entire bag of candy, or pint of ice cream, or plate of cookies, in a single sitting.  Not just once in awhile, but often.  This started when I was a kid and started making some allowance money and friends and I would go to the 7-11 after school and buy candy (I’m from a small town, we were bored.  At least we weren’t doing drugs).  I became kind of a hoarder of sweets, and still am.  This surprises some people because I am also an athlete who runs and/or bikes 5-6 times a week.  When I’m being active, I need sugars to fuel me, so what I’m really trying to curb is my “off-time” indulgence, when I’m hanging around the apartment, etc.

I’m doing this by limiting my intake to my mostly own baked goods and confections, using natural sweeteners with a lower glycemic index.  As with fats, America’s relationship to sugar is complicated, and it’s hard to parse the research.  Start looking at labels on the store bought food you buy, and you’ll see that added sugar is in practically everything, so I’m trying to be more conscientious.  At the end of the day, not all sugar is created equal (sucrose/glucose/maltose/whatever are broken down differently in your body), but sugar is still sugar and should be consumed in moderation.   Anyway, on to business…

The first step in this recipe (for locals) is: go to Sahadi’s.  Their bulk food section is a magical place, and one of the reasons I may never leave Brooklyn.  This recipe was (lightly) adapted from the beautiful Minimalist Baker blog recipe, which uses only 5 ingredients.

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Ingredients:

1/2 cup packed dates (pitted) + 1/2 cup dried cherries or other dried fruit of choice (look for all-natural, no added sugar)

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup or agave, or combination

1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter (add ¼ tsp salt if unsalted)

1 cup raw unsalted almonds, loosely chopped

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (I use quick-cooking)

Optional add-ins:  1 scoop protein powder of choice (I use vanilla whey protein and it’s tolerable but somewhat overpowers the overall flavor), other kinds of nuts, vanilla extract, sunflower seeds, chia seeds (I usually add 2-3 tbsp), raw cacao nibs (I add another couple tbsp, for crunch), flaked coconut, toasted oats, etc.  The recipe is very forgiving so you can adjust ingredients pretty freely if you stick to similar proportions of wet/dry.

These are no-bake bars, but you’ll need a food processor*.
Instructions:

1. If the dates don’t feel sticky and moist, soak them in warm water for 10 minutes and drain.

2. Meanwhile, process your oats and almonds together to grind them more finely, which should take less than a minute (this part is optional, but the finer grain helps keep the bars from being crumbly and really closely matches the softer dough-like consistency of a bonk breaker). Add to a mixing bowl.

3. Add your drained dates (and other dried fruits, if using) to the processor, and process until only small bits remain (a minute or so). Should be very sticky and dough-y.  Add to the oat/almond mixture, along with the PB, honey (or other natural sweetener), and any other optional ingredients.

4. Mix either by hand (have fun with that), or with a stand mixture and paddle attachment.

5. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8 dish.

6. Press down very firmly until densely packed and level.  Set in ‘fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm up.

7. Cut into 6 even bars or serving size of choice**.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week (room temp is probably fine if just for a few days).

*If you don’t have a food processor and are very determined, you can try chopping the dates/fruit as finely as possible.  Your end result will be less doughy and potentially crumbly, so make sure to press into the pan firmly, or add a bit more PB/honey for hold.

**I’ve been increasing this recipe by 50% and it’s my breakfast for a week.  At that serving size, it’s a lot of calories, but it’s a whole meal (most important meal of the day!), and keeps me full all morning.

Nutrition breakdown, for the recipe and generous serving size given above (approximated):

325 calories
7 g fiber
13 g fat
9 g protein (even without protein powder)
48 g carbohydrate
28 g sugars

How it stacks up against a Bonk Breaker:

Very similar texture.  Main difference is the protein source.  This recipe gets most of it’s protein from nuts, which makes it higher in total fat (but still low in saturated fat).  Bonk Breakers use rice protein isolate, brown rice flour, etc, which I haven’t gotten my hands on yet. This recipe is also high in fiber, so depending on what you’re used to, you may want to limit your intake during exercise. They also have a decent amount of sugar, although as natural sweeteners they come with a few nutrients and are lower on the glycemic index, compared to table sugar.  It’s still less than what’s in a bottle of Gatorade, and not much more than a large apple.

Best brunch: Pumpkin monkey bread

20 Nov

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to apologize for a couple things in advance.  First of all, I am already repeating myself. If this dough recipe looks familiar, that’s because it comes to you from my inaugural post of ancient times (read: three weeks ago, or, ancient, in an online forum).  BUT I had a good excuse.  My roommate and I hosted a potluck brunch over the weekend.  What kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t make the thing that I knew would guarantee me years of future brunch gatherings?  For real, this thing has the power to make and solidify friendships.  You’ll see.  However, once you make monkey bread, you can never un-make it.  You can never go back to the days when you didn’t know how good it was, and you can never again balk at the quantities of butter and sugar that would give pause to the likes of Paula Deen.  In most of my kitchen forays I really do try to go easy on that kind of thing.  I’ll cut back if I think a recipe is too heavy-handed, or I’ll experiment with healthier substitutes to achieve similar results.  This is the one recipe for which I will put my hand on your book of choice and swear that I will never try to make it better or healthier that it is (or isn’t…).  All of that is probably why I only make this about once a year.

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Now, when I describe this brunch dessert to people, the reaction is either that it’s been a much-loved staple in their family for years, or that they’ve never heard of it at all.  My own connection is the former, and in fact for a long time I thought this was some kind of secret family recipe unbeknownst to the rest of the world.   I have many memories of helping my grandma make this when I was little (she would let me carefully cut the dough with kitchen scissors, which I thought was about the most fun use of scissors ever).  My grandma was a great cook, but I think also valued expedience, which is probably why she always used store bought biscuit dough as the base for this.  In the spirit of tradition, the first several times I made this on my own I also used the store-bought dough.  This I felt the need to put my own spin on it by making the dough fresh and incorporating pumpkin.  In doing so I hope to establish my own tradition and encourage others to have fun with it as well.  Adding toasted coconut?  Spiced apples?  Other glazes (cream cheese, maple, chocolate)?   The possibilities are endless.

Pumpkin Monkey Bread

(Why is it called monkey bread?  It is formed with small balls of dough, ideal for pulling apart with your hands, much like a monkey would do.  I’ll also add that, as with monkeys, social decorum goes out the window when this treat starts being devoured)

Dough:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but 2% or whole would be great, warmed (if you have to yank your finger out when you touch it, let it cool a bit)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1 .25-ounce or 7 gram envelope yeast)
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
½ cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup (packed) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cups pumpkin puree (I used canned)
1 large egg
Oil for coating rising bowl

Glaze:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick) + , melted
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon, in separate bowl

Instructions:

Melt your butter. In a separate bowl, combine your warmed milk and yeast and set aside. After five to seven minutes, it should be a bit foamy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugars, salt and spices. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Add yeast-milk mixture, pumpkin and egg and mix until combined. Switch mixer to a dough hook and run it for 5 minutes on low.

Scrape mixture into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 1 hour in a draft-free place; it should just about double.

After the dough has risen, dump/scoop/smoosh it onto a well-floured surface and flour the top of it well. With a rolling pin, roll the dough as close as you can into a square, it should be about 1/2-3/4 inches thick, but don’t stress too much about it. Now, with a pizza cutter, cut your dough vertically in 1” slices, and then horizontally in 1” slices, so that you have little dough cubes/rectangles.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly even or you have tiny corner pieces mixed in, I even prefer them to lack uniformity so that the final product is a hodgepodge of mismatched shapes.

In the next step we need to coat our dough balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  You can either do this in batches by shaking the dough and sugar in a large ziplock bag, or you can use a large bowl or pan to toss them until they’re coated. 

Now place the dough balls in a 9 x 13 pan or on a cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap.  If you’re doing this the night before, you can put them in the refrigerator now and remove them an hour before baking the next day to finish rising (they may be more moist in the morning, but that’s fine). If not doing ahead of time, let dough rise for another 45 minutes.

When the 45 minutes are almost up, heat the oven to 350°F. While preheating, spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray. Melt the ½ cup butter for the glaze, and add brown sugar, stirring vigorously to combine.  Add pumpkin puree and stir.  Now add your dough to the bundt pan and pour the butter/sugar/pumpkin mixture over the top. Bake for 25-28 minutes or until puffed and golden (I used the toothpick test in a few different places to make sure it wasn’t still doughy in the middle).

Let cool for 10 minutes and then turn over onto a plate to serve.  Watch the other monkeys go berzerk.

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