Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies (Repost from Nutrish and Delish)
As a former pastry cook at fine dining restaurants, I created and tasted numerous desserts primarily made with refined sugar, butter and heavy full fat cream. I won’t lie, most of them tasted pretty great, but day after day of taste testing (which a cook has to do to ensure dishes are made correctly for the guests) got to me both physically and mentally. I remember one day when my co-worker Maggie and I looked at each other while we were preparing the evening’s desserts and we both had the look of dread on our faces. Did we really have to taste the freshly made raspberry coulis on the warm and fluffy beignets one more time?!
I know, I know…poor us. Trust me, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I did and learn about traditional baking and dessert making from world-renowned experts. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But overtime, my body learned the power of over indulging in not-so-good-for-you foods.
Despite getting sick of buttery and sugary treats, I still crave and love baked goods and dessert. Baking will always be one of my main passions. It’s just nowadays, I really try to cut back on the refined ingredients and add as much nourishment as I can to whatever I’m creating without compromising its taste or texture. Some of my trials are major errors and others are just simply delicious while being quite nutritious!
Here’s one of my most recent examples: Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies.
Oatmeal cookies are usually thought to be healthy because they contain whole grains (aka fiber) and typically fruit, but a lot of times these cookies are also loaded with butter and refined flour and sugar. If you haven’t noticed by now, the first thing I usually do is try to see how much whole wheat flour I can use in a recipe without it becoming too dense or tough to chew. Why choose whole wheat flour? It is closer to its original grain form and contains more protein and fiber than its nemesis: unnecessarily overly processed white flour.
Check out the list below of the remaining key ingredients in this recipe and the reasons I chose them:
Coconut oil: Yes this is a saturated fat but unlike butter, coconut oil may help the body’s immune system, regulate blood sugar levels and raise good cholesterol (HDL) instead of just raising bad cholesterol (LDL), which high levels of can lead to heart disease.
Honey: Yes this is a sugar and yes it is nutrient dense with a decent amount of calories per serving, but the reason honey makes the cut into my cookies is because it is naturally made as opposed to fully stripped and refined like white sugar. Honey also contains flavonoids and antioxidants, which can help protect against inflammation, cell damage and chronic illness such as heart disease, while sugar only offers calories. That said, honey should still be used in moderation because of its sugar content, and you'll see I often use pure maple syrup too since it has about 25% less sugar content.
Cranberries (dried): Any dried fruit is calorically dense because each piece of fruit keeps it’s calorie content despite shrinking in volume. It is especially important to exercise portion control here and choose dried fruit that is 100% natural with no added sugar, which is often found with dried fruits. Fruit itself contains enough natural sugar that it does not need anymore to taste sweet.
Cacao nibs: This is chocolate in its purest form – literally just cacao beans crumbled into teeny tiny fully flavorful pieces. And as I’ve stated before, chocolate (without a lot of added sugar and fat) has many health benefits, including antioxidant and fiber filling powers.
Hemp hearts: These little seeds are not only adorable with a delightful nutty taste to them, but they also have over 3 grams of protein per Tablespoon. Additionally, they have both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential fats (i.e. our body cannot make them and we must get them from foods) needed for our brains and nervous system to function.
These cookies are just as easy to make as a traditional oatmeal cookie recipe, but instead of just being a treat to satisfy your sweet tooth, they also exclude a lot of typical processed ingredients and include more protein, fiber, healthy fats and antioxidants. A much healthier (and just as tasty) dessert! I hope this post helped you guys get a better feel for how I think and what my goals are for my recipes and this blog.
Cranberry Cacao Nib Oatmeal Cookies
(with vegan sub suggestions)
Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Preheat the oven to 350*F.
Combine the coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a bowl (if it doesn't fully mix it is okay and will become more cohesive in the next step).
Add the egg, vanilla and almond extract and mix well.
Stir in the oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until combined.
Mix in the cranberries, cacao nibs and hemp hearts.
Drop the dough by 2 Tbsp placed about 2 inches apart on a nonstick baking pan (I typically use a Silpat or parchment paper).
Place the sheet tray in the oven and bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool and devour! :D
How yummy does these cookies look?! Nom nom nom... They were fluffy yet chewy with a nice nutty flavor from the hemp hearts, chocolate crunch from the cacao nibs and pure sweetness from the cranberries. So I packed some up for my future snack attacks so I wouldn't eat them all right away! Thank you mason jars - the kitchen accessory with a million joyful uses. ;) Enjoy!!
Sweet Potato Cannellini 'Hummus' with Basil Walnut Pesto
It's easy to see that I don't really contribute too much to the savory recipe world but this little concoction is something I'm not afraid to share!
Last weekend I vowed to not leave the house for one day because I'm always on the go and was beginning to feel homesick. And it was one of the best days I've had in a long time. I played in the kitchen for hours, cleaned and organized a long awaited list of things too boring to mention and just simply chilled out with the big screen. For which I needed some snacks...
I'd been jonesing for some sweet potato chips (because anything sweet potato is my vice) but similar to my cookie rule: if you want chips, makes chips. So I made chips! Just a basic paprika spiced sweet potato crisp with some olive oil and Maldon sea salt. But I figured if I'm eating chips, I should pair them with something a bit more nutritious for me and that would provide some protein since meals and snacks should be a nice balance of protein and fiber. Given this time of year, it's only natural I needed my chip dip to be seasonal so I shook up a simple white kidney bean dip with my left over sweet potato puree, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm!! Tasty treat loaded with protein, fiber, healthy fats, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, iron, magnesium, potassium and more.
So why the pesto if the 'hummus' was so yummy? I was Sunday meal prepping and made pesto to use in a pasta dish. After tasting it, I quickly realized it really complimented the 'hummus.'
You never know until you try, so always try because you might be pleasantly pleased! :)
For the Basil Walnut Pesto, I sort of just used what I had in the house and didn't really measure the amounts. It was probably about 1 cup of fresh basil, 2/3 cup walnuts, 1 clove of garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Just threw everything but the oil into the food processor and blended until nearly smooth. Added the olive oil and kept processing the pesto until it was smooth.
Then seasoned to taste and voilà!
Sweet Potato Cannellini 'Hummus'
Yields: ~2 cups
Puree all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth (or desired consistency).
Pour into a bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil if desired. Serve with crudité or freshly baked chips.
A long time ago when I found myself reaching for more sweet treats than my body needed, I instated the house rule: if you want a cookie, then make a cookie. Why? Well for starters if I'm really craving a cookie, then I would be happy to put the work into making one fresh from scratch instead of lazily darting to the nearest store for an unsatisfying quick fix. Secondly, so many store bought cookies are laced with processed ingredients and words I cannot pronounce, so if I am going to have a dessert snack, I am going to have one that will not harm my body but rather provide some nourishment.
This said, at any given time there is at least one type of cookie dough in my freezer! ;)
Except for last week... All week long, I wanted a chocolate chip cookie but with the usual hectic lifestyle we all lead, I had no time to bake until the weekend. So sadly no cookies for me!! :*(
By the time the weekend came, my craving was still in full force but changed slightly as I was reminded of how hard I tried last year to make a really flavorful pumpkin cookie. Many trials and tasty cookies later, I still wasn't completely satisfied. And then winter was over...
But here we are again, embracing crisp weather and decorating the house with mini pumpkins and gourds! As expected, I had some sweet potato puree, whole wheat flour, coconut oil and dark chocolate chips in the house, so away I went creating my wholesome treat. The sweet potato not only provides the main flavor, but is also loaded with vitamin C to help fend off the fall cold, B-vitamins for basically everything, potassium for my muscles and fiber to keep my heart healthy, my gut moving and my hunger tamed. The whole wheat flour also adds some fiber and protein to the cookies but most importantly doesn't spike and drop my blood sugar levels as quickly as a baked good made up of refined white flour. Essentially, even after eating my sweet treats, my mood will remain much stabler! The coconut oil, while still a saturated fat, unlike butter is known to raise HDL 'good' cholesterol and is a great substitute for anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance. And lastly, the dark chocolate chips provide antioxidants and a richer chocolate taste with less added sugar than milk chocolate.
These cookies are my best turn out ever! The sweet potato flavor is alive and kicking and the texture is soft and moist (almost fudgy but not fudgy). If you like crispier cookies, I recommend flattening the dough a bit before baking and leaving them in the oven for a couple of extra minutes. Also, while I usually avoid refined sugar, I did use brown sugar with a mix of maple syrup and vanilla for the sweetener, but I think if you tried you could cut the sugar down. I'm okay with the amount because I rarely consume refined sugar and believe that moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies (vegan optional)
(recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addition)
Yields: 20 cookies
Combine the coconut oil and sugar until smooth. Stir in the puree, maple syrup and vanilla. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices.
Pour the liquids into the dry goods and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop the cookie dough by 1 Tablespoon portions on a Silpat (or parchment paper or greased cookie sheet). Bake @ 350*F for ~10 minutes, rotating halfway for an even bake, until the tops of the cookies start to crack.
Cool and gobble up!
Goes great with coffee... ;)
with Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
You will quickly learn that I care a tremendous amount about breakfast, am a self-proclaimed breakfast-pusher and still believe it IS the most important meal of the day despite arguments and studies against the age-old saying.
This is why: breakfast jumpstarts my day and ultimately motivates me to end the day as well as it starts.
Eating breakfast is a daily reminder that I begin the day on the right foot, nourishing not just my body but also my mind. The positive start to the day gives me more energy physically and mentally, allowing me to concentrate better knowing that I am prepared to work or study without dealing with mood swings or cravings from lightheadedness due to low blood sugar levels. Choosing to have a healthful breakfast not only gets your engine going, but also prompts good decision making from the moment you get up. You are more likely to avoid the worse for you foods and prevent overeating at lunch or dinner.
Even if there are clashing studies on breakfast's physiological benefits, there are plenty of studies showing that skipping breakfast is associated with eating more throughout the day, greater BMI (body mass index), weight gain and metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes (1,2,3,4). Those risk factors include a large waist circumference, low HDL cholesterol levels (high-density lipoproteins aka ‘good cholesterol’), high triglyceride levels, high fasting blood sugar and high blood pressure (5). Earlier this year a prospective study from Sweden also reported that adolescents who skip breakfast or have "poor breakfast habits" are at increased risk for metabolic syndrome later in life. Eek! Too young!!
If your main excuse to skip breakfast is that you don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare, then try making it the night before (ex. overnight oats or yogurt parfait) or making something that is easy to eat during your commute (ex. veggie omelet wrap, homemade smoothie or nut butter on toast). Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be huge or even comprised of traditional breakfast foods, but it does need to be a nutritious combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, and limited in sugar and saturated fats.
Check out one of my favorite balanced breakfasts that you only need to make once but can eat for a week (i.e. meal prep) when you know your schedule is going to be extra busy. My Hearty Apple Almond Crisp is loaded with fiber (whole grains, fruit), protein and omega-3 fatty acids, all necessary nutrients to keep my brain focused, my hunger managed, my mood stabilized, my digestive system running and my heart healthy.
And the recipe is easy peasy: place the fruit mixture in the pan, top with the oats mixture and bake in the oven until the crisp turns golden brown and the fruit liquids start to boil through the top. This recipe includes apples (yes, I am still using my Annual Farm Crawl apples - 13 pounds is a lot!), plums and blueberries, but feel free to get creative and switch up the combinations to your fruit preferences.
Hearty Apple Almond Crisp
Yields: 8 servings (7" x 11" glass baking pan)
Preheat oven to 375*F.
Combine the topping dry ingredients in a bowl. FYI - the flaxseeds have a strong nutty flavor to them so if you don't want that to stand out, cut the amount in half.
In a separate bowl, chop up the apples and plums into 1"-2" pieces and combine with the blueberries. Add all of the spices, orange juice and maple syrup from the first list of ingredients and stir until all of the fruit is coated. Spread the mixture into the bottom of a baking pan (make sure to grease it - I misted it with olive oil).
Add the almond milk, maple syrup and olive oil to the dry mix. Spread the oats mixture evenly on top of the fruit base.
Bake the crisp for ~45 minutes until the topping turns golden brown and the liquid starts to bubble through.
Eat alone or top with some nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Enjoy!! :D
All last month I was swamped (but very happily swamped) with work for National Nutrition Month. On top of the full-time job at the hospital, I was creating and presenting lectures to students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors and teaching them about healthy eating habits and the importance of starting now.
I LOVE teaching! Opening minds to new ideas and getting people to really think about how ‘you are what you eat’ is very rewarding and also hopeful that the newer and current generations will start making smarter choices and rates of obesity and related health conditions will start to decline.
My favorite moment came at the end of discussing the sugar content in popular beverages. A teenage girl looked at the 20-ounce bottle of ice tea she was sipping throughout the presentation and declared: “I am never drinking this again.” She had no idea that it basically was liquid candy nor did she realize the consequences of drinking it everyday.
Sometimes we take for granted what we know in our specialties, but it is so important to remember that not everyone is privileged to the same knowledge. And sadly, nutrition is one of those subjects that is not a standard in curriculums, which is why I jump on any opportunity I can to spread the health and wellness lifestyle message.
One of the main themes in all of the presentations was choosing healthier snack options. These are kids and their seemingly endless growing requires lots of snacks on tops of meals. Simply put, a healthy snack should include fiber, protein and healthy fats while excluding excessive amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fats and definitely without ingredients you cannot even pronounce. A snack’s goal is to provide you with enough energy to keep you full until the next meal so you can get through your busy day while being properly nourished. Oh, and it should also taste good!
Below is a new snack I made the other day that is just the perfect healthy sweet treat for any day, especially a warm day, and can even be served as dessert! There’s a bit of preparation, which is totally worthwhile because it has all the nutrients I just listed, is made from only three ingredients and natural sugars, and is about 150 calories per serving (perfect amount for a snack). This will definitely satisfy a juice or soda craving but actually provide positive benefits to your body! ;)
Try it out but also stay tuned for a future post on my favorite and go-to snacks!!
Mango Coconut Chia Pudding
Combine the chia seeds and coconut water. Stir well, wait five minutes and stir well again. Let the pudding rest over night (or at least a few hours until it begins to become gel-like).
When you are ready to eat your pudding, puree the mango. If you would like some texture, take 1/3 of the mango and dice.
Pour the puree over the chia pudding and top with the diced mango. Add additional toppings if desired (I used 1 Tbsp. of hemp hearts to add some additional protein. This brings the calories up to about 200 per serving - still okay for a snack.).
Serve and enjoy!
Yields: 1 serving