Friday, February 26, 2010

Peanut Butter Energy Balls

One of my favorite healthy foods is natural, unsweetened peanut butter. It's delicious and packed with 'good' fats. I often eat it on whole wheat toast or celery for a pre-workout boost. However, ants on a log gets old after a while, so I set out to create a new grab-and go energy snack. I came up with these Peanut Butter Energy Balls. Very chewy, with just enough crunch from the nuts. A perfect amount of sweetness from the raisins and coconuts, and very east to make. Want to make them your own? Try adding oats, protein powder, almonds, dried cranberries, and other various nuts and dried fruits. If you like, the energy balls are easily cut in half, or when softened in the microwave for 15 seconds, can be spread on toast or used for an apple dip. However, I prefer to eat them directly out of the fridge!

For one Energy Ball: Calories: 107.5 Total Fat: 7.8 g Saturated Fat: 2 g
Carbohydrates: 4 g Dietary Fiber: 1.4 g Protein: 5 g
Have fun experimenting, and enjoy!
Peanut Butter Energy Balls
Makes about 19 balls

1 cup unsweetened, smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons unsalted soy nuts
1/2 ounce cashews
1 tablespoon milled (ground) flax seed
1 ounce raisins (2 miniature boxes)
2 tablespoons shredded, sweetened coconut
1. Chop or roughly grind the cashews and soynuts and set aside. 2. Place the peanut butter in a double boiler, and heat over low heat. The peanut butter should just start to glisten, and should be soft enough to stir. (If you don't have a double boiler, place a glass bowl over a small saucepan filled with water, careful that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.)

3. Using a spatula or wooden spoon stir in the cashews and soynuts. This may be difficult, but will become easier as the peanut butter softens as you stir.

4. Stir in the flax seed.5. Remove from heat, and stir in the raisins and coconuts (and any additional ingredients you may want to add).6. Move the mixture to a bowl and into the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled and thickened- about 1 hour.

7. Cover a cookie sheet or plate with wax paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the peanut butter mixture, and quickly roll in your hands to form a ball. Place on the waxed paper and repeat for a total of about 19 balls...If you need an even number of balls...Just eat one!

8. Finally, place the balls in the fridge to 'harden' about 20 minutes. Enjoy! Note: The protein balls should be stored in the refrigerator, preferably in an air-tight container.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

10 things to start TODAY for a healthy body

As much as possible, I try to live an alternative lifestyle? Before you start thinking that I'm healing myself with crystals or praying to rocks, hear me out. Before I turn to vitamins, supplements or other pills which claim a healthy body, I turn to more natural means of wellness. For example, I believe that everything our bodies need can be found in foods, most of which can be found at the local grocery store. So, here's my list of ten things which I personally do, to stay well and have the healthiest body possible.

1. Exercise. ....Need I say it? Exercising is the best thing you can do for your body. All you need is 30 minutes each day, which (NO EXCUSES!) everyone can make time for. Whether it's running on a treadmill, mowing the lawn, jumping on the trampoline with the kids, or walking on your lunch break, do your body a favor and get moving!

2. Add lemon to your water ....When I first started living a healthier lifestyle, the thing I struggled with most was drinking water. Yes, one of the FEW things we must do as humans to stay alive. It's bland, and I forced myself to chug it to get it down...Which then made my stomach feel like I had swallowed a bunch of chlorinated pool water. I hated water. So, I tried mixing it up a bit, and added lemon to my bottles of water. Not only was it delicious and easier to drink, but it seemed to help me lose weight. I'm not promising that you'll lose ten pounds only by adding lemon to your water. However, I personally noticed I had an easier time losing weight when I added lemon water to my healthy diet and exercise plan.

Not looking to lose weight? Lemon is packed with Vitamin C, which can help ward off colds and other infections. Lemons are also believed to be a diuretic, which can be helpful for people with history of kidney stones and other urinary tract ailments. Want even more health benefits? Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to each bottle of water. Doing this helps increase circulation and can aid in weight loss.

3. Start Stretching ....Most people think of stretching as a warm-up or cool-down before and after exercise. Have you ever thought about stretching to start and end your day? All day every day, your muscles are working. Walking, talking, eating, driving, playing with the dog, picking up the baby; these are the daily activities you need healthy muscles to perform. Stretching promotes flexibility, which can prevent strains, sprains, pulled muscles and other injuries. Stretching also increases circulation, which improves blood flow to muscles. Finally, stretching can relieve stress by stretching tight, tense muscles. To keep muscles in tip top shape, make sure to stretch in the morning to prepare for the day and at night to release tension from the day's activities.

Lightly stretch your calves and thighs by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and reaching for your feet. Stretch your quads by standing on one foot, and pulling your lifted foot towards your buttocks. Stretch your arms and shoulders by reaching each arm across your chest and pulling back with the opposite hand. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, and complete each stretch twice. Breathe deeply, to deliver oxygen to the muscle being stretched.

4. Eat Flax.... Flax seed has been around for centuries, but it's powerful health benefits are often over-looked. Flax seed contains Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s are the 'good' fats, which are known to aid in weight loss, as well as promote a healthy heart. Flax seed is also packed with Lignans, which have antioxidant properties. Finally, flax seed is practically pure fiber, which can aid in digestive regularity and health. This tiny seed packs both insoluble and soluble fiber. So, how do you incorporate flax into your diet? Flax doesn't have a particularly strong taste, but it is easily disguised in many dishes. Fruit smoothies, oatmeal, even homemade bread and pizza dough are great foods to add flax seed. If you're concerned about any grittiness, try ground flax. Many readily available breads and cereals also contain flax, tasty and easy ways to get huge health benefits!

5. Exercise your brain....Everyone knows that exercise keeps your body in shape, but have you given much thought about your brain? Keeping your brain sharp and active can promote overall health and wellness. Studies have shown that keeping an active brain via math and word puzzles and games may help delay or decrease your risk of Alzheimer's. I, personally, have found that when my brain is sharp, I feel better overall. So what are some fun ways to give your mind a workout? Crosswords, scrambles, Sudoku, solitaire, even thought provoking board games, and of course reading! Want to kill two birds with one stone? Play solitaire on your Ipod while you're on the treadmill or read a book while you're on the stationary bike.

6. Eat your veggies...(And fruit)!....You've probably heard it a million times, so why aren't you getting the recommended 5 servings of both fruits and vegetables? Life can be stressful, so many people reach for the quick and easy frozen dinners and packaged foods, instead of fresh fruits and vegetables. Though packaged foods may contain 'natural' ingredients, they're lacking the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which fresh produce has to offer. To get the most out of the health benefits from fruits and vegetables, follow the Rainbow Rule: Eat a different colored fruit or vegetable with every meal. Each colored vegetable and fruits contains unique health benefits. For example, red foods contain lycopene which can lower the risk of cancer. While blue foods offer fiber and Vitamin C. Try making smoothies with fresh berries, or make chili with fresh beans and tomatoes.

7. Get Fat!.....No, I'm not telling you to start eating chocolate and gain weight. It's time to swap out the saturated fats with 'good' fats. Saturated fat raises the levels of cholesterol in your blood, and can lead to weight gain. Also, it's time to get rid of Trans Fat, which was invented to make foods taste better and last longer. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, such as beef, poultry, pork, eggs,and butter. Trans fat are very prominent in fast food. So what are the good fats? Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats lower cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol-the good cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts, avocados and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fat also lowers cholesterol and is found in fish such as salmon, and corn and soy oils. So instead of snacking on cheese or other fatty foods, try a handful of almonds or walnuts.

8. Get your 8!..... It can be difficult, impossible or even inconvenient to get 8 hours of sleep every night. You might rethink your schedule, though, because sleep may be more important than you thought. A good night of sleep does a whole lot more than just keep you alert the next day. Studies have shown that sleep can reduce stress, aid in weight loss, help your body overcome illness and injury, even reduce your risk of cancer. For many of us, 8 hours of sleep is unrealistic. Between work, kids, and other obligations, it can be impossible to get a full night of sleep. So how can you get the most out of your typical night of sleep? Here's a few ideas.

  • Refrain from caffeine after 3PM.

  • If you exercise at night, be sure to end at least an hour and a half before bedtime.

  • Cool off your room, it's been proven that most people sleep better in a cooler room than a warmer room.

  • Avoid before-bed-snacks, and eat your last meal at least one hour before bed.

  • Get relaxed before getting into bed: try a warm bath, light stretching, reading or a warm mug of chamomile tea.

  • Turnoff all distractions: If you like to fall asleep with the TV on, set it on a timer, to go off shortly after you fall asleep. (Even if the volume is muted or low, the light can affect your sleep)

  • Set a gentle alarm: Being woken up by what seems like a bomb siren is not a good way to end an otherwise good night of sleep. Try a medium-volume radio alarm, an alarm that starts quiet and progressively gets louder, or a spoken alarm.
9. Meditate.... There are many misconceptions about meditation. It's portrayed in movies and TV shows as something only monks, new agey people and yogis participate in. Some people also think of meditation as a quiet time in which you think of nothing, become enlightened, and levitate. Sorry, guys, but so off base. For me, meditation is a quiet time, but that's it. In a busy, hectic life, I rarely have time to just sit and breathe. It's a great way to start the morning, regroup anytime, or end the day. Don't feel like you need to come out of meditation feeling like you've connected with a higher power or you've finally 'understood' the world. You should, however, feel cool, calm, collected and ready for whatever is next.
Never meditated before?

Here's the basics: Sit on the floor with your legs criss crossed. Straighten your back and place your hands lightly on your knees. Close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe slowly in through your nose, and out your mouth. Do not try to think about 'nothing.' If your thoughts wander, bring yourself back to concentrating on your breathing. Without moving, try to individually feel the presence of each body part, starting from your toes, and working your way up. Continue to concentrate on your breathing. Once you feel you have regrouped and slowed both your heart rate and breathing, slowly open your eyes and stand, and continue on with your day. Once you have practiced basic meditation, try to quiet your mind so that you can hear your heart beating. This take ultimate relaxation and quiet, so do not get frustrated if you can't hear it for a while.

10. Drink your tea.... Finally, drink your tea. Black, green, white and oolong teas are all jam-packed with antioxidants. These antioxidant can help ward off cancer, lower cholesterol levels and even prevent blood clot. Green tea is also a very common aid for weight loss. Be careful, though: Studies have shown the adding milk or cream to your tea can deplete the antioxidant levels in your tea. Be ware of caffeine in tea, and if you're drinking a cup before bed, choose a decaff variety.

These ten things are what I am doing to improve and work toward the ultimate healthy body, without pills, products or any unnatural means. Try them out, some may work for you better than others, some you may not like at all, but all of them lead to a healthier you in one way or another!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Greek Style Butternut Squash and Lamb

Yesterday I was in the mood for something new, so when I saw the lamb loins in the fridge, Greek was a no brainer. I ran to the store and bought everything I would need for lunch, and set to work. This recipe is really tasty, and of course really healthy. The squash offers 'good' carbs, and the lamb is packed with protein. I loved using the fresh herbs and citrus throughout the whole dish. It made everything taste light and fresh! Keep in mind: 8 ounces of butternut squash is 90 calories, 2 ounces of lamb (without the bone) is 114 calories, and 1 ounce of fat-free feta cheese is only 35 calories. A whole tub of fat free Greek yogurt is only 80 calories, and I used 1 tablespoon at the most! This whole recipe is about 239 calories, without the mint sauce. I really liked this recipe and hope you will too. Happy cooking, and enjoy!
Greek Style Butternut Squash and Lamb With a Mint-Greek Yogurt Sauce
Makes 2 servings
2 medium lamb chops or loins (about 3 ounces each)
1 medium sized butternut squash (about 1 pound)
2 oz Fat free crumbled feta cheese
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil (about 1 large leaf)
1 teaspoon olive oil
sea salt
Squash Seasonings:
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil (about 2 large leaves)
1 garlic clove, minced
olive oil
black pepper
Greek Yogurt Mint Sauce:
2/3 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (1 store bought single serving)
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
pinch pepper
Preheat oven to 350 F
1. For the marinade, combine garlic, lemon juice, basil, olive oil and a pinch sea salt in a zip-top bag.
2. Place lamb loins or chops into the bag, shake to coat each with the marinade, and refrigerate until needed.
3. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and then chop into cubes about 1 to 1 1/2 inches
4. In a large bowl toss the squash with the paprika, orange zest, basil, garlic and black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
5. Arrange squash onto a foil-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until tender. 6. To make the Mint sauce, simply combine the Greek yogurt, olive oil, mint, lemon and orange zest, lemon and orange juice, honey and pinch pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
7. 10 minutes before the squash is done, heat a large skillet with a light coating of olive oil.
8. Cook both sides of each piece of lamb until lightly browned, and the center is light pink, about 3-4 minutes each side.
9. Evenly distribute the squash between two plates, and sprinkle an ounce of feta cheese over each.
10. Place lamb over squash, and serve with the mint sauce on the side. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Wrap

This afternoon, I had made up my mind to make a roasted red pepper pita for my newest post. After preparing everything I needed, I grabbed the package of pita pockets that have been sitting in our pantry and set to work. That is...Until I realized the pitas were FAR past their expiration date. I substituted the pita for a whole wheat tortilla and the result was surprisingly delicious. Dare I say, it was better than my beloved Pepper Pitas! The best part? It's insanely low calorie for such a big wrap. In total, the whole wrap (which kept me full until dinner) summed up to around 175 calories. Really. And the tortilla that I used had tons of fiber, and only 6 net carbs.

The flavors of the wrap blend perfectly together. The natural sweetness from the roasted red peppers and balsamic vinegar play off each other perfectly. The feta adds just enough tang and creaminess. This wrap is simple, quick, tasty and seriously healthy. Just a note, it's much easier to eat this with a fork! Have fun and enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Wrap
Makes 1 serving

1 red bell pepper
1 ounce onion, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 whole wheat, low carb tortilla (I like La Tortilla Factory Whole Wheat low carb)
1 ounce fat free crumbled feta cheese (I like President brand)
Olive oil

1. Place the red pepper on the burner, directly on a medium flame.

2. Char the pepper on each side, turning until the whole pepper is black

3. Once the pepper is charred, place it in a zip top plastic bag, and seal. (This softens and steams the pepper.) Leave in the bag for 5 minutes.
4. Rinse the black skin off the pepper under cool running water.
5. Slice the pepper into about 1/4 inch wide slices, and pat dry.
6. In a small sauce pan, heat balsamic vinegar over very low heat to reduce. (Reducing creates a thick sauce. Vinegar should simmer until reduced to about 1/2 the volume)
7. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over low heat.
8. Lightly grease the skillet with olive oil, and add the onions, stirring for about a minute, or until the onions are barely translucent.
9. Add the pepper slices to the onions, and stir for about 2 minutes.
10. Once the vinegar has reduced, pour it in with the onions and pepper, stir and remove from heat.
11. Let the vegetables cool for a minute or two, then spoon them onto the tortilla in a line about 1/2 way to the middle.
12. Sprinkle the feta cheese evenly on the vegetables. 13. Roll the tortilla and serve the wrap with the crease side down, for easy eating!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lemon and Herb Whole Wheat Pasta

All the 'Eating' holidays have passed: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Valentines day. Whoever made up these holidays were smart to place them in the winter- when those extra pounds you gain are hidden under your sweaters and coats! As quickly as Valentines day has passed, so has my chocolate craze; It's back to healthy eating, and that means healthier recipes, too!

Many people who follow a healthy diet tend to avoid pasta. It's filled with starchy carbs and little nutritional value. I love pasta, and it was one of the hardest foods to 'give up.' However, I recently discovered Whole Wheat pasta. I always saw it in the grocery store, but I expected that common aftertaste that accompanies many wheat foods. What I found, though, was a flavorful spaghetti that I happen like better than the white pastas. And it's packed with fiber and protein and just 180 calories per serving.

This recipe goes beyond being good for your figure: Garlic is potent with antioxidants and is known to help prevent cancer and heart disease. It's also a natural antibiotic, helping to ward off colds. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, the 'good' fats. Olive oil also contains antioxidants which can promote heart health. Lemon also contains antioxidants which have anti-cancer properties, as well as tons of Vitamin C! Rosemary ALSO contains anti-cancer properties and can act as a mild diuretic, helping reduce inflammation in the body. Besides this recipe being delicious, it's great for your weight and health...So get cooking!

Lemon and Herb Whole Wheat Pasta
Makes 1 serving
2 ounces (or 1 serving) Whole Wheat spaghetti (I like Ronzoni Healthy Harvest)
1 medium clove garlic
1 teaspoon total of dried or fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, oregano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh lemon juice
sea salt
pinch black pepper

1. Prepare the pasta as according to the package, making sure to generously salt the water.
2. While the spaghetti is cooking, finely mince the garlic.
3. Combine herbs, a pinch salt and black pepper and garlic.
4. Using the side of a large knife, form a paste by dragging the knife repeatedly over the garlic mixture. (Use a few drops of olive oil if needed)
5. Combine the lemon zest and garlic paste together.
6. When the spaghetti is cooked, drain and rinse.
7. Empty the water from the spaghetti pot, and return to medium-low heat.
8. Heat the olive in the pot, and stir in the garlic, lemon and herb paste.
9. Finally, add the pasta to the pot, and toss with the oil and garlic and herbs, until heated.
10. Serve with a pinch of lemon zest, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chocolate Cake With Espresso Ganache and Buttercream Frosting

Usually when I bake, I make sugar cookies or almond pastries. Lately, though, everything I've been baking has been chocolate. Maybe it's because nearly every show on Food Network is about chocolate in honor of Valentines Day. Or maybe it's just because I'm in the Valentines spirit. Either way, all I can think about is chocolate chocolate chocolate. So when I came up with the idea for my latest cake, I got to baking as fast as I could- I couldn't wait to see how it turned out. I've never been huge on extremely sweet cake. I think the sugary frosting found on many cakes can over power the taste of the actual cake, and therefore make it a chore to finish the whole piece! So what I had in mind when I designed this cake, was a tame, moist chocolate cake, with a semi-sweet espresso whipped ganache filling, and the sweetness would come from the buttercream frosting.
This cake is a bit time consuming, but definitely worth it! Everyone who tried it loved it and came back for more. When storing the cake, make sure to keep it refrigerated and covered. And I promise there will be some healthy recipes after this one! I'm listing all of the ingredients first, and then the steps for each part. You may want to make the ganache before you make the cakes, or while they are in the oven. Make the frosting right before icing the cake. Have fun and enjoy!
What you'll need for...
2/3 cup butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cup sugar
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 1-ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 1/2 cups MINUS 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups icy cold water
Espresso Ganache:
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Buttercream Frosting:
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream

To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour 3 round cake pans.
1. In a mixer, cream butter. Gradually add sugar and cream together.
2. Mix in vanilla and eggs one at a time, beating after each.
3. Melt the unsweetened chocolate, and cool completely.
4. Blend in the chocolate until totally combined.
5. Sift together cake flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, cinnamon and espresso powder.
6. To the chocolate mixture, add the dry ingredients alternately with the cold water, beating after each addition. 7. Evenly distribute the batter between the three floured cake pans.
8. Smooth the tops of the cakes with a spatula and tap the pans on the counter to release trapped air.
9. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.
10. Cool the cakes completely before removing them from the pans.
To make the ganache:
1. In a double boiler or a glass bowl over a pan of water, gently heat the chocolate.
2. Meanwhile, over low heat, heat the whipping cream. Bring it to a simmer, and remove from heat.
3. Once the chocolate is melted, add the cream a little at a time, combining with a spatula between each addition. (If the chocolate seizes, or hardens, the cream was not hot enough. Add a bit of vegetable shortening and stir until melted again. Reheat the cream until it is hotter.)
4. Once the chocolate and cream is combined and smooth, whisk in espresso powder and vanilla.
5. Next, whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth.
6. Remove from heat, and let cool thoroughly.
7. Once cooled, cover and place in the refrigerator. (If ganache has solidified after being in the refrigerator, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you use it.)
To make the frosting:
1. Cream together butter and vanilla until fluffy.
2. Slowly add powdered sugar, combining thoroughly between each addition.
3. Once all the sugar is added and the frosting looks like a dough, slowly add in whipping cream.
4. Beat for 3 minutes, cover and refrigerator until needed. (If you are frosting the cake right away, do not refrigerator. If you are using it out of the fridge, let it soften for 10 minutes first.)
To assemble the cake:
1. After the cakes have cooled completely, remove them from the pans.
2. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off each cake to make a level top.
3. Cut all the way around each cake to take off any crispy edges.
4. Using an electric mixer, whip the cooled (but not hard) ganache until it is a frosting consistency.
5. Line a cake stand or plate with small pieces of wax or parchment paper around the edges.
6. Place 1 cake on top of the paper pieces.
7. Spread half of the ganache on the top of the cake, making sure it is even.
8. Place another cake on top to form the second layer.
9. Evenly frost the top with the remaining ganache.
10. Place the last cake on top.
11. Spoon about 1/4 of the frosting into a bowl, and lightly frost the entire cake. This is the crumb coat
12. Refrigerate the cake for 10-20 minutes, until the frosting is set.
13. Using the remaining frosting, frost the rest of the cake, spreading very evenly and smoothly.
14. Pull out the wax paper pieces for a clean cake stand or plate!
If there is any remaining ganache, you may put it into a decorating bag and pipe the top of the cake to decorate. You may also sift cocoa powder or espresso powder over the cake.
Make sure to keep the cake refrigerated and covered. And most of all, enjoy!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

My favorite vegetable is squash, you could say I have an obsession. I've loved it ever since I was little. My mom would bake an Acorn Squash and fill it with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup- delicious to say the least! But since I've started my healthy eating habits, I've rediscovered this fabulous veggie, and created some of my favorite healthy dishes. One being Roasted Acorn Squash Soup. It's easy, healthy, and of course delicious! It took a bit of experimenting to get the flavors right, but I think the spices and herbs all blend very well with the naturally sweet squash.

When it comes to cooking, I've never been a fan of recipes. Formulas maybe, but unlike baking, I think cooking should be more about adding more or less of certain ingredients to the dish to fit taste preferences. So for this recipes, I'm not going to include exact measurements. It's all about how much of each spice or herb you, the cook, would like to add. If you like a bit more spice in your soup, add more black pepper. If you like a deep smokey flavor, add a tad more paprika. Cooking is all about preference, besides, you're the one eating it!

A few things I would like to note: 1 small to medium acorn squash will make about 1 serving of soup. If you would like to make 2 servings, a large squash will easily make two bowls of soup. If you want only one serving and you are using a large squash, the unused half can be stored in a zip top bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. It's definitely one of my quick, favorite go-to meals. Have fun cooking, and of course, enjoy!

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup
Serves 1 person

1 small or medium Acorn squash
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Black Pepper
Skim Milk
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 375. Cut the Acorn Squash in half, and clean out seeds and strings with a spoon. (I find a serrated grapefruit spoon works well.)

Next, lightly coat cut sides of both halves with olive oil. Sprinkle the minced garlic into the center of the squash. Season the squash generously with dried rosemary and thyme. Next, season to taste with paprika, pepper, and salt.
Place squash in a baking pan and bake the squash, uncovered, for 30-50 minutes. To test if the squash is done, poke the sides and bottom of the center with a fork. The squash is done when it is tender thoroughly.
Next, scoop out the flesh of the baked squash, and place in a food processor or blender. Add about 1/4 cup of water, and blend. Add nonfat milk about 1/4 cup at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. For a medium squash, I add 1/4 cup water, and half cup of milk. Taste, and add more spices or herbs if needed and blend. Serve in a warmed bowl with a pinch of rosemary and paprika to garnish.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes

My favorite breakfast food is pancakes. Before I started being health conscious, I would eat pancakes night and day. Walker Brothers in Lake Zurich was my go to spot: Their chocolate chip pancakes are to die for, and the bacon pancakes satisfied my salty and sweet cravings all in one. I remember a particular time I was at the ER for my back, and all I wanted was pancakes. I was released around 9PM and my mom drove me straight to Walker Brothers so I could have my pancakes before they closed. I had a plate of bacon AND a plate of chocolate chip pancakes. Those pancakes made me feel better than any medicine I've ever been given at the hospital!

This morning, my pancake craving came back- and with a vengeance! However, I didn't want to ruin my healthy eating streak, so I set out to make a healthy pancake recipe. I flipped through my mom's big, red Better Homes and Garden cookbook, looking for a semi-healthy recipe I could use. All of the recipes contained outrageous amounts of fat, sugar, and carbs! Finally, I decided on the basic pancake recipe, and completely revamped it. Instead of white flour, I used buckwheat. I cut the oil in half, and substituted the rest with apple sauce. I added a bit of ground flax seed for some extra fiber, and a bit of apple for some crunch!

I was ecstatic as to how well the pancakes turned out! I was expecting an aftertaste from the buckwheat flour, but instead I was pleasantly surprised with a subtle nutty flavor! There was just enough cinnamon and it married wonderfully with the apples. Unlike fluffy 'white' pancakes, these hotcakes are a bit dense, only because they're jam-packed with nutritious ingredients. But they taste so great, you would never know that their healthy!

Since my first three recipes can make you gain 10 pounds by just looking at them, I feel it necessary to share a heart-attack free recipe. These pancakes are a mere 76 calories EACH, with two grams of protein and only 13 grams of carbs! These pancakes make for a heart, guilt-free breakfast, that will fill you up until lunch! Some of the measurements are a bit hard to measure, as they were cut in half from the original Better Homes and Garden recipe. The half tablespoons and half beaten egg can easily be eyeballed, though. Enjoy!

Apple Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes
Makes 6 pancakes

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons Buckwheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground flax
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 beaten egg
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon apple sauce ( I used all natural, sugar-free)
1/2 apple, grated

In a mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk egg, milk, oil, and apple sauce until combined. Stir in the grated apple. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk until just combined. Heat a griddle over medium-low heat, and lightly grease with shortening or vegetable oil. Using a 1/4 measuring cup, drop the batter on to the griddle, leaving 1-2 inches between each pancake. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. The pancakes are ready to flip when the edges have slightly pulled away from the pan, and the batter on top starts to release bubbles. While cooking the pancakes, place cooked pancakes on a plate and cover. This keeps them warm, and softens the crispy sides. Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

If I had to pick one food to live off of the rest of my life, I would pick cupcakes. Not versatile potatoes or protein-packed meat. Simple, homemade, cupcakes with vanilla frosting. My love of these mini-cakes started Valentines Day, about 7 years ago. My brother's girlfriend at the time made a batch of cupcakes, complete with red frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles. Since my brother has never had a huge sweet tooth, he ate a few, put the rest in a container and packed them away in the basement freezer.

Not long after, I was helping my mom put away groceries and was sent to the basement to store various meats. As I moved around boxes and containers in the freezer to make room for the groceries, I came upon the container of cupcakes. Knowing my brother would be upset if I ate his precious cupcakes, I warmed one in my hand and quickly wolfed it down. It was delicious. Still slightly frozen, it was chewy and melted in my mouth. It was perfectly sweet and I was in love. I rearranged the remaining cupcakes to fill the empty space and closed the freezer door.

For the next few weeks, I secretly made my way to the basement to privately enjoy my forbidden fruit. I was hooked. And just as quickly as I had discovered them, I had eaten nearly all of the cupcakes. When my brother found his barely filled container in the freezer, he was beyond upset, but I just smiled as I denied his accusations of eating his Valentines Day gift. And ever since, cupcakes have been my weakness.

Since the first two recipes I've shared have both been chocolate and cookies, I decided it was time to mix it up a bit. It wasn't hard to decide on what to bake next. I racked my brain on how to mix up my all-time favorite dessert. I decided to incorporate the vanilla beans which I bought a few weeks back (which have been sitting on my counter waiting for an opportunity to be put to use) and make Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting.

I found a basic cake recipe, replaced the given amount of vanilla with the beans and added a pinch of salt. The cake is heavenly soft that falls apart in your mouth like the perfect cupcake should. The frosting is a completely original recipe with a delicious tang from the cream cheese.

The vanilla bean makes a HUGE difference in taste. When my boyfriend and mom tried a spoonful of batter, they both exclaimed that it tasted like Breyers Ice Cream. It's far from 'Vanilla Flavored.' And the wonderful black specks of flavor are carried throughout the whole cupcake, from the cake to the frosting. And the best part? It's so easy.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves 16

For Cake Batter:

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
2 eggs
1 vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
pinch salt

For the Frosting:

1-8 ounce brick of Cream Cheese
1/4 cup butter (1/2 a stick), softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk

To prepare the batter:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with paper liners. (This recipe makes about 16 cupcakes.) Slice open the vanilla bean, and using a knife scrape all the seeds. Place vanilla seeds and bean pod into a 1/2 cup milk, stir, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and pinch salt. Slowly add to the creamed mixture. Squeeze out any moisture from the vanilla bean into the milk, and discard. Add the milk to the batter.
Evenly spoon the batter into each cupcake liner and bake for 20-25 minutes. The edges should be lightly browned, and a toothpick should come out clean from the center of each cupcake. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese well. Slowly add the powdered sugar. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean. Mix well, and discard of the bean. Finally, beat in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract.
Use a small spatula to frost each cupcake. Refrigerate frosted cupcakes or any unused frosting.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Downright Dangerous Mocha White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I always love to bake for my boyfriend Cody, especially for special occasions. Tomorrow is our 20 month anniversary. We enjoy celebrating anniversaries, and since our 1 year was 8 months ago, and our 2 year is still 4 months away, we were eager to celebrate number 20-a substantial number when you're 17! My mother has always told me that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This could not be more true for Cody. The hours I've spent baking various desserts and treats for him is well worth those priceless moments of grunts of approval between chewing and smiling.

I never have had a lot of money, so I'm very lucky that I found a guy that graciously accepts food over anything from the mall. Our one year anniversary, I made Caramel-Marshmallow brownies, white chocolate dipped strawberries, and his all time favorite- buffalo wings. I've never seen a boy eat so much!

So tomorrow I plan on surprising him with these cookies I developed tonight. They're wonderfully chewy, just enough chocolate and coffee, and absolutely delicious- If I do say so myself! I promise you, you cannot have just one! Enjoy!

Downright Dangerous Mocha White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 1/2 cup Crisco
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
3 eggs
3 3/4 + 1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
3 teaspoons instant coffee powder
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
8 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 375. In an electric mixer, cream Crisco, sugars and vanilla. Add eggs and brewed coffee. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder and instant coffee. Slowly add the flour mixture to the creamed Crisco, occasionally scraping the side of the bowl with a spatula. Add the melted chocolate and mix well. Finally add the white chocolate chunks and mix until just incorporated. Using a medium sized cookie scoop, drop uniform balls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, and lightly press the dough flat. Make sure to space about 2 inches apart, as cookies spread. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle left over shavings of white chocolate on to the cooled cookies as decoration. Makes 40 decently sized cookies.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chocolate Coconut Snowballs

Today, my mom asked my boyfriend and I to make cookies for my dad who was having a business meeting at our house. I had just spent two hours baking a coffee cake this morning so I was a bit hesitant-that is until my mom mentioned who would be attending the meeting. The MAYOR of our town! I quickly agreed to bake for the meeting, when would I have another opportunity to share my treats with the Mayor?! So I found a Chocolate Crinkle recipe, and decided to adapt it to make the recipe my own.

Luckily, the cookies came out fabulous! I baked three cookie sheets worth, and when the meeting was over, only 4 cookies were left! The best part? After the Mayor left, he called just a few minutes later. He had set aside a few cookies to bring home, and forgot them when he left. He drove back to our house to pick them up! I'm so excited that I had a chance to share my passion for desserts with people who enjoyed them so much!

Here's the recipe, let me know how you like them, enjoy!

Chocolate Coconut Snowballs

2- 1 oz melted unsweetened chocolate (or 6 Tablespoons cocoa powder & 3 Tablespoons melted butter, combined)

1/2 cup Crisco

1 2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extracr

2 eggs

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut + coconut to roll coat cookies

1/3 cup milk, minus 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon coconut milk

Confectioner's sugar

Cream Crisco, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs and chocolate. In a seperate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the 1/2 cup coconut into the flour. Mix milk and coconut milk together. Add flour mix alternately with milk to chocolate mix. Preheat oven to 350. Refrigerate cookie dough for 15-20 minutes. Place enough confectioner's sugar and shredded coconut in seperate bowls to cover each cookie. Using a small cookie dough scoop, roll the cookie dough into balls. Roll each ball in coconut, and then in confectioner's sugar. Drop each cookie on a greased cookie sheet, and lightly press with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Makes about 36 cookies.