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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).

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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.

Crunch on this: Baked apple chips

8 Mar

First batch (thinnest slices=flattest crispest)

First batch (thinnest slices=flattest crispest)

I made a batch of these on a whim, with the idea that if they turned out well they could be crumbled and used as a dessert topping, similar to toasted coconut. For whatever reason I was super skeptical that I could bake these at home and get the crispy texture I was looking for. I’ve only ever had dried apple slices, which have a more rubbery texture, and I had this mental block where figured that that was the only way to snack on them. Well, my mind is officially unblocked. Mind blown, in fact. These baked apple chips are so easy to make, so yummy, and so crisp (like seriously about the same texture as Pringles). I was shocked at how much flavor they retained even after baking. The only downside is that you can only make about an apple’s worth at a time, which are all too easy to devour in 5 seconds. Still though, if you’re having a lazy Sunday it’s easy to just keep popping batches in the oven. Also, I got a mandoline for Christmas last year and I don’t know if I could have gotten these results without one, but I’m sure those of you with better knife skills can make do without. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of these waiting for me! Pics then recipe.

My new favorite toy

My new favorite toy


image
Before

Before


After

After


Second batch (thicker slices=curlier chip, smaller, more crunch but longer baking time)

Second batch (thicker slices=curlier chip, smaller, more crunch but longer baking time)


Pretty

Pretty

Baked Apple Chips
*my variation is adapted from multiple sources

1 granny smith apple
1 lemon slice (or just cut a lemon in half and use one half)
1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar (optional)
Tools: mandoline slicer (recommended) or a very sharp knife and two steady hands

Instructions:
Remove two of your metal oven racks.

Preheat oven to 200 Farenheit.

Slice your apple very thin*. Briefly rub each piece with your lemon slice (I used half a lemon and squeezed gently as I went). Lay a large piece of parchment paper on one of your removed oven racks and lay out your apple slices, in a single layer. Use as much paper/space as you have room for. Repeat with second oven rack if one isn’t big enough. Sprinkle slices with cinnamon sugar, if using. Gently replace prepared oven racks in oven, towards the middle if possible. After you close the oven door, take a wooden spoon and gently wedge the handle in the oven door so that it stays very very slightly ajar (it just needs a crack so that the moisture from the apples will vent). Bake for 1-1.5 hour**.

These are best eaten immediately (not hard to do, trust me). They should keep overnight, but longer than that and they get gradually chewier (I tried to counteract this by keeping them in an airtight container with some rice, but not totally successful).

*My mandoline slicer has three settings, so I tried the first batch on the thinnest setting, which produced chips just a little thicker than tissue paper, which was delicious, though more fragile if you need to transport them. For the second batch I used the middle setting, resulting in slices about 1/16 inch thick. If you are using a knife, aim for 1/16. Finally, a note on texture/chip shape: I found that my tissue-paper-thin slices stayed relatively flat and didn’t shrink as much as my thicker slices, which curled noticably. This might be because they were more adhered to the parchment paper (and needed to be removed carefully, as opposed to the thicker pieces, which did not stick). I still can’t decide which batch I liked best, and will let you decide for yourself.

**Baking time may vary depending on the thickness of your apple slices. For my first, tissue-thin, batch I checked them after 55 minutes, thinking I would need to flip them and keep baking, and was surprised to find that they were perfect. For my second, thicker batch, they needed about an hour and 15 minutes. You’ll have to use your judgement. If they are not totally chip-like when you check them, note that they will crisp up a little as they cool, but they should be browning (in my experience the pieces that are still white/light don’t crisp up completely). Also, if you are using both oven racks, you may want to switch their positions halfway through for even baking.

New favorites: Oatmeal banana cake with salted caramel topping

22 Dec

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Guys.  New favorite.  And I’m proud to say it’s pretty much the product of my own kitchen intuition, kitchintuition if you will.  Actually, the banana cake part of this recipe is part accident, part intuition.  I spent a little over a month in Italy last Summer while finishing up grad school, and found myself limited in both the supplies and the appliances that I was familiar with, however I couldn’t just not bake for five weeks.  I found a trusted banana bread recipe and took it to the market with me, however my Italian is pretty much nonexistent and I couldn’t find either brown sugar or baking soda or powder.  I also didn’t have a loaf pan.  I ended up buying white sugar only, and a few disposable tart pans (secret: anything I baked during those five weeks came out of those tart pans).  With that and the bananas, flour, and butter at home, I was able to improvise, and the result was this amazingly moist, dense (but soft) cake, that me and my two roommates demolished in less than 24 hours.  After that I kept thinking of all the ways I could dress it up once I was back in familiar grocery store territory.  What you have here is the first of what I’m sure will be many variations. Recipe to follow after the pics.

 

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Banana Oatmeal Cake:

3 overripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of flour

¾ cup quick-cooking oats

Mini chocolate chips for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and oats, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered tart pan or spring-form cake pan lined with foil (I used one with a 10-inch diameter. If using the mini chocolate chips, sprinkle a layer over the top of the cake now (I’d recommend enough so that you are mostly seeing chips on top), and press gently into the batter.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Caramel Topping (+assembly):

1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon heavy cream (*optional if you don’t have it)
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sea salt for sprinkling

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, then add cream and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for 2-3 more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add vanilla, and then quickly pour it over cooled banana cake. It will begin to set as soon as it is poured, so quickly spread it over the top of the cake (it remains pliable, but hard to spread evenly once it cools).  Sprinkle fairly generously with flaky sea salt over the top.  Et voila! Socks will be knocked off.

**Other possible additions to try: adding a layer of chopped nuts or toasted coconut, making a chocolate or peanut butter ganache instead of caramel sauce, adding a leavener for a more traditional fluffy cake, etc, etc.

 

Seasonal experiments: Cranberry caramels

11 Dec
Delightful.

Delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I recently bought myself a candy thermometer and have been pinning a bunch of ideas for caramels and other candies.  The apple cider caramels from Smitten Kitchen have been getting a lot of attention and look amazing, however the urge to make something came over suddenly the other day and I couldn’t find raw unpasteurized cider in my neighborhood.  Plus, I knew if I made them they would be perfect as-is and thus not really require a separate Hungry Bear blog post.  What I did have on hand were some frozen cranberries, which I decided was worth a try in adapting to the SK recipe.  Overall I think they were hugely successful.  The texture came out perfect, and the color is pleasantly surprising (kind of a mauve) for a caramel.  They also taste great, though less cranberry-y than I would have expected given how tart the syrup is.  If I make these again I might use less sugar to compensate for the sugar in the syrup.  The final product is rich, but subtle, and I think a great alternative to regular caramel or toffee, perfect for this time of year.  Enjoy! (Recipe to follow after the pics)

Strained syrup.

Strained syrup.

All the components, getting friendly.

All the components, getting friendly.

Heating up to boil.

Heating up to boil.

C'mon firm ball stage.

C’mon firm ball stage.

Can you say "yum"?

Can you say “yum”?

Looking suspiciously like raw meat here, but much better!

Looking suspiciously like raw meat here, but much better!

Half dozen yummy treats for a friend.

Half dozen yummy treats for a friend.

Give them to your friends in little handmade paper boxes!

Give them to your friends in little handmade paper boxes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cranberry-infused caramels:

*Adapted from Smitten Kitchen apple cider caramels.

-One batch of cranberry syrup, via Smitten Kitchen. *Optional: add 1 tsp of vanilla while simmering for a subtle added flavor.
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or apple pie spice, alternatively)
1 teaspoons flaky sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Vegetable oil for knife and parchment

First whip up a batch of the cranberry syrup.  I followed the SK recipe (plus 1 tsp vanilla), strained it through a small metal strainer, and was left with just shy of a half cup of syrup (if you get more than half cup I would discard the extra or even cook it down a little further). *Bonus: the cranberry bits you strain out make about 1/3 cup of yummy cranberry relish that would be great to save and use on pancakes, in oatmeal, with turkey, etc.

Before starting the caramel, prep the ingredients and assembly.  Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment, and brush with oil.  *Warning: do NOT use aluminum foil, as I did, or you will spend an hour picking out the bits that stick to the finished product (even if you butter/oil it). Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Get your butter, sugars, and cream ready.  Now you can pour the cranberry syrup back into the pot you used to make it (just make sure there are no chunks left), and heat it on low for a few minutes to warm it up again.  Stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream.  Heat on medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 250 degrees.  *This should only take 5-10 minutes, but I strongly advise you don’t guesstimate if you are lacking a thermometer.  It’s worth the $10 to have one around.  If you do go ahead without a thermometer, you can test it by dropping a spoonful into cold water.  If it is firm, but malleable, it’s ready.  But be warned, the process goes fast, and if you leave your mixture boiling while testing, it may get to hot and become hard when it cools.

At 250 degrees, immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and stir to combine. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm.  This takes a few hours, or you can speed things up in the refrigerator (if left too long it will be hard, but softens up again in room temperature). Once cool, lift the caramel by the parchment paper onto a cutting board. Use an oiled knife, re-oiling as needed, to cut the caramel into a size/shape of your choice (I used a pizza cutter to finish up). Wrap each one in waxed paper or plastic wrap, twisting the sides to close.

Gift idea: I used some decorative paper to make little folded boxes to put these candies in as stocking stuffers/party handouts.  I used this video tutorial , adjusting size to a 25x25cm paper, for a 5x5x5 cm box.  Also, in the last steps, instead of closing both ends, I closed the bottom side, and pinched the top together, punched a hole, and tied a bow.  The fit about half dozen candies in each.  So cute!

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