Monday, February 28, 2011

Almond Butter Cookies

It's been a cold weekend, folks. I felt compelled to bake just because the oven kept my apartment warm. (excuses, excuses)

These are a variation of traditional peanut butter cookies. I used almond butter and added a splash of almond extract in addition to the vanilla, to play up the almond flavor. I also switched up some of the all purpose flour for almond meal (count 'em, three different almond ingredients in these cookies!) and spelt flour.

These cookies were the perfect thing to warm up a cold weekend. Crunchy edges, chewy centers, nutty and buttery.

Almond Butter Cookies
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes about 40 2-inch cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup each all purpose, spelt, and almond flours)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if your almond butter contains salt)
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup almond butter

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour(s), baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then add the egg, extracts and almond butter. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Form 1-inch balls of dough and space about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press down on each ball with a fork to make a criss-cross pattern. Bake for 12-15 minutes until edges are golden brown.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Easy Pumpkin Red Lentil Soup

I opened a giant can of pumpkin puree in order to make my savory pumpkin curry granola bars, so I wanted to incorporate pumpkin into my lunch this week.

Here's a quick and easy soup for those times when you want a hot lunch without a lot of work. The pumpkin doesn't really stand out in this soup, but adds a small amount of sweetness and lots of vitamin A. The tahini makes the soup very creamy - a tasty, vegan, high-protein alternative to actual cream.

Easy Pumpkin Red Lentil Soup
Makes 4 servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons tahini paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds (for topping)
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot and cook the onion, carrot and celery for 8-10 minutes until well softened. Add the garlic and spices and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Rinse the lentils and add to the pot along with the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 20-25 minutes until lentils are very tender.
  3. Add the pumpkin puree and the tahini and heat through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve soup with pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top.
Question: What is your favorite thing to make with pumpkin puree?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Savory Pumpkin Curry Granola Bars

I've been trying to cut back on sweets a bit and have been wanting to have more savory breakfasts and snacks instead of sweet ones. I came up with a few ideas for savory granola bar flavors and this is my first attempt at making them.

This was truly an experiment. I wasn't sure what to use for the liquid component of the bars, since I normally use honey, brown rice syrup or some other liquid sweetener when I make granola bars. I decided to go with a small amount of brown rice syrup along with some pumpkin and an egg. These turned out more cakey and less chewy than I expected, but still pretty tasty and definitely worthy of further experiments!

Dry ingredients

Wet ingredients

I love the yellow color from the curry powder!
Cakey, chewy, seedy

Savory Pumpkin Curry Granola Bars

  • 2 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup tahini paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry powder (I used 1 tsp, which resulted in a very subtle curry flavor. Go with 2 tsp if you want a stronger flavor or if you just love curry!)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9"x13" pan with parchment paper.
  2. Roughly chop the cashews and almonds. Mix all of the dry ingredients (oats through chia seeds) in a large bowl.
  3. In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), heat the olive oil and brown rice syrup over medium heat for a few minutes until the mixture is very runny. Remove from the heat and stir in the pumpkin puree, tahini, salt and curry powder.
  4. Lightly whisk the egg in a small bowl. Add a spoonful of the pumpkin mixture to the egg and stir (to gently heat up the egg without "cooking" it), then add the egg to the rest of the pumpkin mixture and mix well.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for about 25 minutes until the edges are golden brown.
  6. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.
Nutrition facts:
I cut these into 24 snack-sized bars, about 2" squares. One of these bars contains less than 4g sugar, more than 4g fiber, and nearly 8g protein! I know that both pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds (and tahini) are high in calcium, too, so I want to look up exactly how much calcium these provide (I'm usually low on calcium so I'm always trying to add more). They are a bit high in fat, but it's all super healthy fats, lots of omega-3s, and after all, higher fat means a more satisfying snack.

Question: Have you ever eaten or made a savory snack bar? What flavors would you like to see?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Weekly Lunch: Millet Salad with Swiss Chard and Roasted Squash

One of the new-to-me ingredients I picked up last weekend was millet. I was really only familiar with millet as either bird food or some kind of 70s hippie vegetarian casserole, but I'm willing to try almost  any food once or twice. The "almost" is referring mostly to organ meats. I was a vegetarian for 8 years after all.

So I picked up a couple of veggies that were on sale, Swiss chard and delicata squash. Added my old standbys, hard boiled egg, chickpeas and feta, and I am all set for the week. The nutty millet, slightly bitter greens, sweet squash, and salty feta makes a great combo and doesn't get boring after eating it for a few days. Plus the millet turned pink after mixing it with the chard! How appropriate for the week of Valentine's day.

Millet Salad with Swiss Chard and Roasted Squash
Makes 4 main-dish servings

  • 1 1/4 cup millet
  • 2 3/4 cup water plus a pinch of salt, or use vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard
  • 1 medium delicata squash
  • 1 (15 oz.) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 oz. feta cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch of smoked paprika (not critical if you don't already have some, but nice) 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring the millet and water/stock to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the millet looks fluffy. Remove pot from the heat and keep the lid on for another 10 minutes or so. Empty into a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Separate the chard leaves from the stems. Chop about 1/2 cup of the stems, and roll up the leaves and slice into very thin strips. In a large pan over medium heat, cook the chopped stems in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the leaves and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Add the chard to the millet and mix well.
  3. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Cut each squash half into 1/2 inch slices, and place them on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, flipping them over after about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Assembly: layer the millet-chard mixture on the bottom of your reusable container, followed by some squash slices, chopped egg, chickpeas, and crumbled feta.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Figgy Buckwheat Scones

I went a little overboard in the bulk section of the grocery store last weekend. I picked up grains (millet, quinoa), baking supplies (buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, demerara sugar), lentils, almonds, and dried fruit. Lots of fun.

I bought the buckwheat flour in order to make a scone recipe from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain, which I saw on 101Cookbooks. I've had a jar of fig-sesame jam sitting around for a few months and I wanted to use it up, so I didn't make the fig butter in the recipe (although it sounded fantastic).

I didn't get any pictures of this step, but you roll up the dough into a log, cut it in half, refrigerate until cold, then cut each half in six slices (twelve slices total) and bake. The dough logs can keep in the fridge for up to two days, so these would be great for make-ahead breakfast or brunch.

The scones turned out really well, not too sweet, with deeply caramelized edges from the jam.  I've heard good things about this cookbook and now that I've tried one of the recipes, I definitely want to check out the whole book.

I did make a couple of changes to the recipe. It includes both buckwheat and all purpose flour, I reduced the all purpose and added in some brown rice flour. I also used the recently-purchased demerara sugar, which added extra crunch.

I am just a sucker for new ingredients sometimes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Favorite Granola Bars

When I started graduate school I started trying to make various bars to help fuel my long days (I was also working part time). I tried baked bars, unbaked bars, crunchy, chewy, you name it. Ingredients from textured vegetable protein to applesauce to wheat germ came and went as I experimented to find the combination I liked best. After many many batches of different bars, I now have a formula that I can adjust depending on my mood and what ingredients I have on hand. 

Even though I'm done with school I still love these granola bars. They are great for travel, of course, but I frequently eat them for breakfast, usually with some nonfat or 2% Greek yogurt. They are incredibly hearty (nutrition facts at the end of the post if you're interested) and this keeps me full for hours.

I make a large batch of these, enough for two people to eat them for 2-3 weeks. You can easily cut the recipe in half and use a 9"x13" pan.

The first step is to chop 3-4 cups of nuts. I typically use almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts but you could also use macadamias, pecans, cashews, or pumpkin seeds, anything that can be toasted.  Add some buckwheat or quinoa if you like, and toast it all in the oven.

Mmm, nice and toasty.

Next you toast some oats and unsweetened coconut.

While these things are toasting, you mix together some other ingredients that will not get toasted, like dried fruit and various seeds. I like chia, hemp and flaxseeds but also sometimes add sesame seeds. I usually like to add some wheat germ, although I am (in theory) trying to cut back on wheat. I use a giant 8-quart bowl to mix the ingredients.

When the nuts and oats are toasted, add them to the giant bowl and mix everything together. Then, melt some butter and different liquid sweeteners until it bubbles for a couple of minutes, then add some almond butter or other nut butter. This binds everything together and makes the bars really chewy.

Stir and stir and stir until it's all mixed together.

Dump onto a 11"x17" pan that has been lined with wax paper and spread it around with a spatula. Then cover with another piece of wax paper and use a rolling pin to flatten them. 

When they are completely cool, cut them into bars. Store them in an air-tight container between layers of wax paper.

Rachel's Favorite Granola Bars
Makes one 11"x17" pan

Ingredients (more like a formula):

Toasted ingredients:
  • 3-4 cups nuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup small grain or large seed, such as buckwheat, quinoa, or sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 5 cups oats
  • 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
Untoasted ingredients:

  • 1 cup small seeds, such as flax, sesame, hemp, or chia (definitely recommend a mixture)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (can substitute for more seeds or coconut)
  • 1/2-1 cup dried fruit, your preference on type and amount. I prefer 1/2-3/4 cup, usually golden raisins or dried cranberries.
Liquid ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, walnut oil, etc., whichever you prefer
  • 1 1/2 cups liquid sweetener, such as brown rice syrup, honey, golden syrup, maple syrup, molasses, whatever. I prefer using more than one type of sweetener, as it seems to make a chewier (and more interestingly flavored) bar.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup nut butter, again, your choice here. I prefer almond as it has a mild flavor and doesn't overshadow the other ingredients.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Chop all of the nuts, one cup at a time, and place on a 11"x17" baking sheet. Toast them, along with the small grain/large seed, at 350F for 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice.  
  3. Toast the oats (my oven is a piece of crap, you may be able to toast your nuts and oats at the same time) for another 8-10 minutes. After 3-5 minutes, add the coconut and toast it as well.
  4. While you're toasting the other ingredients, mix together the small seeds, wheat germ and dried fruit in a very very large (at least 6 quarts) bowl. After the nuts and oats are cooled, add them to the bowl and mix together. Line that same 11"x17" baking sheet with wax paper, and set aside a second piece of wax paper of the same size.
  5. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the liquid sweetener and heat until it starts to bubble, then let it simmer for about 2-3 minutes.
  6. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the salt and the nut butter until it is completely blended. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix very well until thoroughly combined.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread fairly evenly with a spatula, pressing gently. Place the second piece of wax paper on top and use a rolling pin (or your hands, or a wine bottle) to flatten. When they are completely cooled, cut into bars. I cut them into 32 bars, but you could easily cut them smaller if you want bite-sized snacks.
  8. Store in an air-tight container between layers of wax paper for up to 2 weeks (I have stored them for up to 3 weeks, their taste didn't suffer but they started to dry out).

Nerd time!

I love spreadsheets and keep a spreadsheet of all of my commonly used granola bar ingredients and their nutrition facts, acquired from either the package or Then I can keep a second spreadsheet with my current combination of ingredients and it calculates everything for me. Very handy. 

It also makes it easy to see how to change the ingredients in order to change the nutrition facts, such as using exclusively almonds (instead of other nuts) to increase the protein, cutting out the coconut to reduce the fat, or using more brown rice syrup and less honey to reduce the sugar. 

I'm thinking of trying a baked version with pumpkin and 1-2 egg whites. What's your favorite granola bar flavor? 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Apple Almond Muffin Cookies

I saw these on Oh Healthy Day and thought they sounded fantastic - seasonal with the apple, high in protein with the almond flour, and (most importantly) easy to make. I don't follow the paleo diet but I am trying to cut back on wheat flour, so I thought I'd give these a try.

Based on Maria's comments and my own preferences, I made a few changes, so I am posting the whole recipe below. The changes were designed to help the mixture stay together better and to have a texture more similar to flour-based baked foods, which is always a challenge when working with almond flour and coconut.

The first change was to add some oats into the mix. This means the recipe is no longer paleo, but I'm ok with that. I put the oats and coconut in my food processor in order to even out the texture.

This is what the oats and coconut looked like after about 20 seconds of processing. I might try processing longer next time.

Maria said hers turned out a little crumbly, so I tried chopping only half of the apple and shredding the other half to help the batter stick together. This seemed to help.

After baking, these were soft and warm like a muffin but with a tiny bit of crispiness around the edges. And easy to eat like a cookie.

I definitely to plan to experiment more with these! I can see a lot of possibilities for variations - pumpkin, banana walnut, etc.

Apple Almond Muffin Cookies
Adapted from KnitFit via Oh Healthy Day

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 large apple
  1. In a food processor, combine coconut and oats and process until finely ground (I would probably process longer next time)
  2. Add almond meal, salt and spices and pulse a few times to mix.
  3. In another bowl, mix eggs, almond butter, brown rice syrup, walnut oil and extracts. You may need to heat your almond butter slightly if it is very cold.
  4. Peel the apple and cut it in half. Shred one half and cut the other half into a fine dice. Mix all of the apple into the wet ingredients.
  5. Combine dry and wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Scoop scant 1/4 cups of the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, then bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Travel Food

I had a short layover on my trip last week, too short to pick up lunch, so I brought a simple lentil salad to eat on the plane. I packed it in a disposable (recyclable) plastic container so I didn't have to worry about bringing it back with me.

I mixed some green lentils with some of my favorite balsamic-roasted delicata squash and a few toasted walnuts. I was inspired by Laura Jayne to mix tahini with yogurt for a dressing. I also added white wine vinegar and a touch of olive oil. A dollop of extra dressing on top. This was such a nice meal to have on hand during my flight!

Maybe because of all of the crappy weather this week, I was paranoid and brought tons of snacks just in case I got stuck in an airport for a while. I brought almond butter, an apple, a packet of oatmeal, a tiny packet of honey (for the oatmeal!), my water bottle, some chips, and some homemade granola bars (I will be sharing the recipe very soon!). I didn't end up eating half of this stuff but I'm okay with lugging around extra snacks when I travel.

Do you have any favorite travel snacks? 

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It's funny that Atlanta is actually colder and rainier than Portland right now.  I'm traveling for work this week, and I'm having fun trying to eat healthy-ish in airports, meetings, etc. I'll share some of my tips and eats after I get back. For now, I'll share one of my favorite features of my hotel, which is the fitness center, located on the top (19th) floor.

After a long day of flying, it was great to come upstairs and move around. There are also some very nice views from up there. FYI, if any of you get into the hotel business, I would love to see more penthouse fitness centers.

And the view down to the lobby ain't half bad either.

To be honest, I never sleep as well in hotels as I do at home. Hotel beds may be fancy and comfortable, but they're not my bed. Keeping up with my workouts is one way to help me sleep better, especially when a time difference is involved.
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