Sweet Coconut Milk Bars.

“Healthy desserts.” Let’s be honest for a second: I’ve tried making a lot of healthy and healthy-esque dessert recipes at this point, and I’m convinced that they’ll just never be as good as the really decadent stuff they’re supposed to replace. Because, surprise! other fats don’t taste as good as butter, other sweeteners don’t cut it when compared to sugar, etc. Since I do have a sweet tooth, but don’t want to “splurge” every time I crave something sweet, I try to work with what I’ve got by making something that hits the spot without sabotaging my otherwise healthy day. So if you’re looking for a recipe that rivals key lime pie or chocolate chip cookies in its delectable sweet treat power, I’ll level with you—this is probably not gonna be it. But if you’re looking for a really good low-sugar, low-carb dessert option, then I highly highly recommend these Sweet Coconut Milk Bars! Inspired by a recipe from a great blog called Living Healthy with Chocolate, these are creamy and rich and just sweet enough to do the trick, with a bunch of nuts and very little added sugars. Good stuff. I’m looking at you, New Years Resolution-Makers!

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INGREDIENTS

1 can full-fat coconut milk (this is a different type of coconut milk than the stuff you get in a carton – do not substitute)
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted in a pan and ground to a fine meal in a food processor
3/4 cup ground almond meal
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, melted (or use coconut oil)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Just the Recipe link: Sweet Coconut Milk Bars

DIRECTIONS

First, get the sweetened condensed coconut milk going. Empty the can of coconut milk into a sauce pan and stir in the honey. Bring to a boil, stirring pretty consistently, and then reduce to a mellow simmer. Stir occasionally and cook for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by half and has darkened slightly in color. It should coat a spoon thickly and be the consistency of gently whipped cream.

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To prepare the crust, first preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together ground walnuts, almond meal, vanilla extract, butter, and cocoa powder. Line a small baking dish with parchment paper and transfer the crust mixture to the dish. Use your fingers to press the crust into a thin layer that covers the bottom of the pan. Bake for 5 minutes.

To assemble the filling, mix together the almonds, shredded coconut, and chocolate chips. Spread the condensed coconut milk over the crust and sprinkle the chocolate chip mixture over the top. Bake for 15 minutes.

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Take the bars out of the oven and carefully lift the parchment paper up and out of the pan and set it on a wire rack to cool for one hour. Then transfer to the refrigerator. Let them set in the fridge for at least an hour before cutting into squares. To make sure the squares hold their shape and don’t fall apart, keep them refrigerated.

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Nutty Cinnamon Cream of No-Wheat, a.k.a. “Faux-tmeal”

Cream of No-Wheat: a hot cereal made with nuts, dried fruit, seeds, and cinnamon – but with no wheat and no oats. Considering how I’ve altered the way I eat pretty dramatically over the past few months, moving away from processed grains and sugar and toward protein, fruits, veggies, and the like, this recipe is the answer to my breakfast dreams! That’s because, while I really haven’t looked back following these big changes, I have to admit that there are a few things I have truly, truly missed, and one of those things is my morning oatmeal.  When I saw a recipe from A Girl Worth Saving via salixisme that looked like a great hot cereal compromise, I had to give it a try. And it is absolutely delicious: creamy, nutty, with just enough sweetness from the dates, and a slightly chewier consistency from the nuts and seeds. It’s a very flexible recipe, and you can swap various ingredients in or out as you like: pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, pecans, dried apples, or brown sugar would all do a little something special if you wanted to try them out in here. And because this recipe makes about 8 servings, you can prep the “oatmeal” dry mix ahead of time, and just cook however many servings you need that morning. I calculated it out, just to see what this dish looks like from a protein perspective: each 3/4 cup serving has about 8g of protein, plus about 10g from the milk, making this a breakfast with about 18g of protein. Yay for hot breakfast!

UPDATE: I recently made another version of this – I was out of sunflower seeds, so instead of the 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds, I used about 3 tbsp of chia seeds and an additional 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. The chia seeds were awesome here, thickening the consistency to that it more closely resembled cream of wheat. I’m definitely adding chia seeds to this every time I make it from now on!

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INGREDIENTS:

the dry mix*:
1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds, chopped
1/2 cup flaxseed meal (or use whole flax seeds and grind them)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, slivered
1/2 lb pitted dates, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
*NOTE: chop your ingredients finer if you want a smoother, more cream-of-wheat-esque finished product, or leave them bigger for a chunkier consistency. I tried to opt for a middle ground.

to cook the oatmeal:
3/4 cups of dry mix per person
1 1/4 cup milk per person (dairy milk, almond milk, whatever you like)

Just the Recipe link: Nutty Cinnamon Cream of No-Wheat, a.k.a. “Faux-tmeal”

DIRECTIONS

Combine all the dry mix ingredients in a bowl and stir together.

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Measure out the amount you’d like to make now (about 3/4 cups per person should do it), and store the rest in an air-tight container in the fridge, for future use.

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To cook the oatmeal, bring the milk to a gentle bubble on the stove and stir in the dry mix.

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Stirring occasionally, simmer gently until thickened to your liking (mine took about 10 minutes, give or take). Remove from heat.

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Spoon the good stuff into a bowl and stir in any extras you like – more milk, fruit, nuts, whatever! Then dig in.

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Clementine Cake.

Rosy lips above the water
Blowing bubbles mighty fine
But, alas, I was no swimmer,
So I lost my Clementine.

Maybe Clementine had a slice of this dense, nutty-sweet almond cake in her pocket the day she “fell into the foaming brine,” because she sank straight to the bottom, poor thing. This cake is named after the fruit, not the miner’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less melodious. And as it bakes, the whole house smells wonderfully of toasty almonds and fresh citrus.

INGREDIENTS

1 3/4 cups raw almonds
6 eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 cup sugar
3 clementines
splash of vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a food processor, blitz almonds to about the consistency of wet sand. A few small chunks are okay.

Combine sugar and egg yolks in a large bowl and beat until they form a pale cream.

Add vanilla, the zest of the 3 clementines, and the juice of one of them (save the other two), and stir until combined.

Then stir in the ground almonds.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Take a spoonful of the whites and stir it into the yolk mixture to even out the consistencies a bit.

Then, gently fold in the whites until combined.

Pour into greased spring-form pan and bake for 40 minutes, until cake has set and is golden brown. Cool for 15 minutes before icing.

In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and juice of the remaining two clementines, adding more powdered sugar as needed to reach desired consistency. Spoon or drizzle icing over the slightly cooled cake and allow it to soak in. Just before serving, dust cake with powdered sugar. Enjoy a big slice, but wait an hour before going swimming, lest you end up like poor Clementine.

Summer Carrot Salad.

While wandering around the farmers market on Saturday morning, I encountered a little boy standing in front of a big pile of purple carrots. He was trying so hard to make sense of these strangely-colored vegetables, and both his mother and the man behind the table were indulging his curious questions. I love to see little ones engaged in farmers market culture, so I decided to play along, too. “I think I have to get some of those,” I said to the boy. “Would you pick me out a nice bunch?” He looked back at me with wide eyes and then started to dig through the purple carrots, handing me a bunch that he seemed to have chosen for no reason in particular. I thanked him, smiled at his mother, paid the $3, and went home to make this salad for my family. Goes great with flank steak. A good day.

INGREDIENTS

1 small onion, diced
2 bunches orange carrots, grated to thin, long strips
1 bunch purple carrots, grated to thin, long strips
2 cloves garlic, minced almost to a paste
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for sauteing the onions
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
parsley for garnish
handful of raw almonds, crushed with the back of a knife

DIRECTIONS

Heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat and add onions and a pinch of salt. Saute until soft and translucent. Set aside to cool.

Combine garlic, the rest of the olive oil, vinegar, cayenne pepper, coriander, sugar, and salt and pepper. Mix well with a fork.

Combine carrots, onion, dressing, and almonds, and toss. Refrigerate for 4 hours before serving. Garnish with parsley and enjoy with steak or burgers as a healthier replacement for cole slaw.

Cayenne Pepper and Orange Brownies.

Remember that Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche movie called Chocolat? About a mother and her daughter who move to a little French town and open up a patisserie? It was a pretty cute movie, but more importantly, it was about chocolate. There’s one scene where a character drinks a cup of hot chocolate with some kind of chili pepper in it, and she loves how exotic and surprising the flavor is. This scene really stuck in my head–what an interesting combo that would be! I’ve wanted to try the chocolate-and-chili flavor duo ever since I first saw Chocolat, and when I decided to make brownies yesterday, I gave it a try. They turned out really well–the tiniest hint of pepper and orange gives these brownies a really deep and complex flavor.

INGREDIENTS

200 g unsweetened bakers chocolate
1 1/4 sticks softened butter
1 scant cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup almond meal (all-purpose flour works too)
1 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
4 eggs, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a pan over very low heat, carefully melt butter and chocolate until smooth. Don’t burn it!

In a separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, almond meal or flour, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in the melted butter and chocolate and mix well.

Add cayenne pepper and orange zest and juice and combine.

Add to batter and stir until smooth.

Pour into greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Cool 1 hour before cutting into them. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy with a frosty glass of Blue Moon and an orange wedge…yum.

Russian Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

Yesterday it was my turn to bring breakfast for our weekly work Breakfast Club. Taking a more traditional approach than I did last time, when I brought in my quesadilla maker (Olé), I volunteered to bring in two coffee cakes.  One had to be Sicilian Orange Cake, because it just might be the king of all coffee cakes. But I wanted to try something new for my second offering, so I made this Russian recipe. Its sour cream base makes it creamy and moist, and the nut topping gives a little bit of texture and spice. And if the “king” title is already taken, this one can be the coffee cake Tsar.

*Wondering where the photo of the finished product is? Well, in the chaos of my cake-laden commute that morning, I forgot to give it its proper photo shoot. I guess that means I’ll just have to make it again!

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar, plus 1/2 cup, divided
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/8 tsp powdered ginger
pinch of nutmeg

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream together butter,  sour cream, 1 cup of the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, stirring well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, combine the walnuts, ginger, nutmeg, and the 1/2 cup of sugar.

Grease a baking pan. Spread half the batter into the pan and top with half the nut mixture. Then spread the rest of the batter over the top and add the rest of the nut mixture. Using a knife, make several slashes through the batter; this draws some of the nut mixture deeper into the cake.

Bake on middle rack for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Priyatnogo appetita!