Zucchini Chips

Veggies = crisp and savory snack. That equation doesn’t always add up with non-vegetable eaters. But try serving up a bowl full of these tasty treats and you’ll win over even the most staunchly adamant vegetable hater.

These were my second new recipe effort with a monster zucchini that had been bestowed upon me. They were best straight out of the oven, and within a few hours of being baked. I brought them to my zucchini gift-giver to try the next day, and they’d absorbed moisture from the air and gone soggy. So if you can bake and eat same day, go for it! (This recipe from allrecipes.com didn’t offer any suggestions for how to make them good Day 2.) I will tell you, you have to bake these to total crispness—any hint of bendability in the chips, and they will start to get soggy as they cool on the racks.

Makes 4 baking sheets of zucchini chips

1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or Kraft grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced (1/8″ works best)

Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour milk into a bowl. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and black pepper in a food processor and pulse until combined into fine crumbs. Place zucchini slices in the milk and soak for 1 minute. Remove zucchini slices from milk and press each into the bread crumbs mixture until coated on both sides. Arrange coated zucchini slices on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake 2 sheets at a time in the preheated oven until chips are totally crisp, about 30-40 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Repeat with 2 more sheets of zucchini chips. Best eaten first day.

Date, Cashew, and Coconut Bars

IMG_1550The name says it all…only three ingredients needed to make these delicious Lärabar fake-outs. Having just finished week one of the Whole30 cleanse, I was missing “treats,” meaning bars or cookies, so I went searching for something to scratch that itch. (I know you aren’t supposed to feed your “sugar dragon,” but you are allowed to do snacks for when you’re on the go. So let’s just pretend I’m on the go. A lot.)

I had taste-testers at work and at home try these no-bake bars, giving no explanation other than that they were gluten-free. Everyone who tried them—GF, DF, or not—thought they were really good, and did NOT think they tasted like they were gluten-free. The dates provide both sweetness and glue for the other ingredients, and the nuts and coconuts give them good flavor and crunch. (Since I found this recipe multiple places online, I don’t really know who to give credit to, so pardon me for not citing my source!)

You will need a food processor to mix these, and I don’t think a blender would work as a substitute. These can be pricey ingredients, so I looked around before buying. I found the best price for pitted dates at Costco (if you get your kicks pitting dates, go ahead and do that—I’ve been cooking and chopping my butt off this week, and pitting my own dates would have put me over the edge). I got my raw cashews and unsweetened coconut at Trader Joe’s, as the price was better than Whole Foods or Cub. Next time I purchase ingredients, I’ll take note of the exact prices and figure out how much these cost per bar.

The first time I made these, I used just three ingredients, which worked great. I just made these again, and added the zest and juice of one whole lime, and it helped them stick together better, and made a moister bar. But if you aren’t in the mood for citrus, you can certainly leave that out! Word of warning: you have to keep these refrigerated. They stay chewy if kept cold, and get mushy and fall apart if left at room temp. That’s where packaged Lärabars have these beat—those are more portable.

Makes 12 bars

1 cup whole pitted dates (Medjool or Deglet Noor)
1 cup raw cashews*
1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
Zest and juice of one whole lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Layer the raw cashews on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring once. Toast until golden brown. May sprinkle cashews with salt before toasting. Let cool.

Combine all dates, nuts, and coconut in food processor. Add lime zest and juice, if using. Pulse for a couple minutes, until the ingredients are in bits, and start to stick together. (See below.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and transfer date mixture to pan. Push together to form a ball, then flatten into rough rectangle. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top, then continue pressing into a smoother rectangle, until about ½” thick. (See below.) Chill for 30-60 minutes. Cut into bars, and wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Store in frig to grab as needed.

*NOTE: Why toast the nuts yourself? Because most pre-roasted nuts are cooked in canola oil, and that’s not Whole30 approved. If you’re making these for a nutritious snack and not as part of Whole30 cleanse, then go ahead and purchase the roasted nuts.




Carrot Cake Cookies

FullSizeRenderI love carrot cake, but it seems like a special-occasion dessert, not a make-any-old-day deal. So when I ran across this recipe for carrot cake cookies that promised the same moist deliciousness without the cake fuss, I thought I’d give them a spin in the old KitchenAid. The recipe from the December 2014 issue of Real Simple said it made only 16 cookies, which is a snack for two at our house, so I doubled it. But then I ended up with 32 frosted cookies, which can’t be stacked in a container. So I brought them to my friend (and fellow blogger) Kathy’s house when she invited us for dinner, asking them to consume a few so I didn’t have to get creative with storage. No hardship on their part! We were barely home before she was texting to ask for the recipe, saying her husband was craving more of the tasty muffin-like morsels. Since you may have similar trouble with storage, the recipe here is for a single batch. Oh, and I added cloves to the spices, and used more confectioners sugar in the frosting than there was in the Real Simple version. They had also suggested these be made as sandwich cookies—two cookies with frosting between thembut my taste-testers decided that wasn’t nearly enough frosting-to-cookie ratio. And you gotta give the people what they want! And they want these perfect autumn spice cookies.

Makes 16 cookies

Ease rating: medium

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1-2 large eggs (1 makes them more cookie-like in texture, 2 makes them more cake-like. If doubling recipe, 3 eggs is perfect amount.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups coarsely grated carrots (2-3 medium)
1 cup chopped pecans
½ cup raisins


8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk—whatever is needed to get frosting to spreading consistency

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in a mixing bowl. Set aside. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high. Add sugar and cream again until light and fluffy. Beat in egg (or eggs—one at a time if using two), then vanilla. Scrape down bowl occasionally. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add in flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in the carrots, pecans, and raisins. Cover and chill for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, 12 per sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown around edges. Let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For frosting: Whip cream cheese in mixing bowl. Slowly add confectioners sugar until it’s all incorporated. Add vanilla, and milk, if necessary, to get frosting to spreading consistency. (You do not want this too runny, as this is not intended to be icing.) Frost cooled cookies. Store frosted cookies in airtight container. As this frosting recipe will frost a double batch of cookies, store any remaining frosting in frig for next time you make these cookies.

Black Bean Brownies

IMG_1093If it wasn’t in the title, you wouldn’t believe the secret ingredient in these moist and chocolatey gluten-free brownies was a can of black beans! I found this recipe on food.com, and it  had been raved about by many-a reader. I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet, and have been going crazy for some baked goods, preferably something that didn’t taste like ground chalk had been used in lieu of flour. (Those of you who’ve had to avoid gluten for a while know what I’m talking about…) This looked intriguing, and as it only makes a 9″x9″ pan, I figured I didn’t have much to loose if they were nasty. But surprise, surprise! They weren’t a waste of ingredients or time—they went together in just minutes, and tasted pretty good.

IMG_1080The first time I made these, I added both a teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to the mix, as other reviewers suggested it would make them more cake-like. That was too much leavening, and they tasted metallic. (They also sunk in the middle, another sign of too much soda or powder.) I dusted them with powdered sugar instead of frosting them, and as my co-worker Darin said, they looked so rich and dark, you expected a little more chocolate taste than you got. (Darin is SUCH a whiner… Not!) So the next time I made them, I frosted them with half a recipe of buttercream frosting (from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container), and that gave me the rich chocolate flavor I was lusting after. Using only 1 teaspoon baking soda worked better, too. The next time I make them, I think I’ll try them without any soda, and see if they come out fudgey, or just gooey. 

Note that you will need a blender or food processor to have success with this batter, and you’ll want to puree until no grains of bean remain before baking. Other than that, this recipe is a piece of cake! Or more accurately, a chunk of brownie. 

1 (15½ ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar

Buttercream frosting

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until completely pureed. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting or cutting.

For frosting, cream butter in medium mixing bowl, using wire whisk attachment for mixer. In separate medium-size bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. Add about half of sugar and cocoa to creamed butter, then drizzle some milk into bowl and stir. Add the rest of sugar/cocoa, and the vanilla, and as much milk as needed to make frosting a good spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies. Lick bowl, spatula, beaters, etc. Wipe face to remove evidence.

Better-Than-Take-Out Pizza Dough

IMG_0927You can make—and bake!—pizza made from this dough in the time it takes to order and pick up a pizza. I’ve been using this recipe to make personal pan pizzas for about 15 years now, and it’s always warmly welcomed by family and guests. This summer, my husband and I have used this dough to make and bake a couple pizzas in the Big Green Egg, and those are definitely killer. (Greek pizza pictured here—full recipe to come.) I’m posting this not only because it’s so easy and tasty, but because my scrawled pen and paper recipe is worn and tattered beyond legibility. My daughter-in-law Jess wanted to make this dough once, but she couldn’t make heads or tails of the faded chicken scratching on the recipe once she found it. So before this family fave is lost for all eternity, I’ll post it. And run a hard copy for back up. Cause that’s how I roll.

Oh, and where did I find this super simple gem? It was featured in a Family Fun magazine in the 90’s. It uses yeast, but really people, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the yeast! It’s your friend! This dough is no more difficult than mixing up a batch of Play-Doh. Only this, you can eat.

Makes 8 personal pan pizzas, or two 12-inch pizzas

1 cup warm tap water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (or 1 package, if using individual packets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
olive oil
corn meal

Preheat oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Rinse large mixing bowl with hot water to warm it. (Especially important in winter to take the chill off the bowl, which could reduce water temp and keep yeast from rising properly.) Add warm water to bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of water. Let stand 5 minutes, or until yeast is dissolved (water will be cloudy and/or foamy).

Stir in olive oil, salt, and 1 cup of the flour with large wooden spoon. Add remaining 1 1/2 cup flour and stir until dough begins to cling to spoon, and most of flour is incorporated into loose ball.

Sprinkle butcher block or large cutting board with flour. Drop dough down onto board, and knead by bringing outside edges in and punching them into the center of ball. Sprinkle flour on top when dough gets sticky. Repeat until dough is smooth and elastic. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium bowl and rotate to coat. Drop kneaded dough into oiled bowl, and then flip dough, so that whole ball is coated in oil. Cover with damp towel, and place in sink. Fill sink about a quarter or third with very warm water. Let dough rise for 30 minutes.

Punch dough down and toss onto floured board. Divide into 8 pieces for personal pan pizzas, or 2 pieces for a couple of 12-inch pizzas.

To make personal pan pizzas:

Lightly oil 3 baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form dough pieces into balls by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 8 inches in diameter. Place up to 3 crusts on a baking sheet, zig zagging to fit. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings such as grated mozzarella cheese, chopped green peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, etc. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, with pans on top, middle and bottom racks. Rotate pans half way through baking – top to bottom, bottom to middle, and middle to top. Move to wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Serve.

To make two 12-inch pizzas:

Lightly oil 2 round baking sheets, and sprinkle with a light dusting of cornmeal. Form each dough piece into a ball by binging outside edges in to center a couple times. Roll a ball out flat with rolling pin, about 12 inches in diameter. Move dough to prepared pans. Top with purchased marinara sauce, spreading to within 1 inch of edges. Add other toppings as desired. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, rotating pans in oven halfway through baking. Slice and serve.

P.S. Changed the name of this recipe from Easier-than-take-out to Better-than-take-out, after reading my friend Peggy’s hilarious synopsis of her attempt at this dough in the comments below. In the end, she loved it! So it’s worth trying to get this one right.

Peanut Butter Protein Balls

IMG_0905Great for packing in a school lunch, taking camping, or simply for snacking, these peanut butter balls have been a family favorite of ours for years. This simple recipe was published in Family Fun magazine a bazillion years ago, part of an article on school lunch boredom-busters. Super easy to make—mom or grandma can measure, and kids can mix and shape balls. If spheres are too boring for your bunch, shape into snakes and spirals, or whatever your little heart desires.

My now 20-year-old son still loves these, and I’ll make him a stash to store in his dorm room, where he can enjoy them after a brutal physics exam. So these aren’t just for wee ones! We’ve also served them in little petit four cups along side chocolate truffles, and they hold their own with the fancy foods. They keep their shape best if you freeze them, and then they’re perfect for packing in a lunch or bringing on a picnic—they thaw quickly and are ready for consumption by the time you reach your destination.

Makes 12-15 balls

1 cup super chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup raisins (optional—they make these more challenging to shape)
1/4 cup honey
2 graham crackers, crushed into crumbs

Combine peanut butter, dry milk, and honey (and raisins, if desired), and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Scoop out teaspoonfuls of dough, and roll into balls. Put graham cracker crumbs in small bowl, and roll balls in crumbs to coat. Serve as is, or refrigerate or freeze in airtight container. (We prefer to freeze them.)