bringing the grocery store home – diy clif bars

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Recently, I’ve been accused of being a little snack-heavy, it’s true.   I was actually thinking the same thing myself, I mean, a person can only eat so much whipped cream and sugar, right?  Especially during bikini-season!  While not entirely “healthy” (or un-treat-like), these homemade “Clif” bars are a great snack to sneak a bit of nutrition into your child (or lover, or own)’s lunchbox.  I mean, they’re certainly less bad for you than, say, peanut butter pie.

We all know what “Clif” bars are, right?  Those individually-wrapped bars they sell at the store for us to eat as a healthy snack?  I’d heard that they weren’t hard to make at home, but never really had a reason to make them.  Well, not until I was on this whole “no-bake” kick that I’ve been on.

I made a big batch and then stuck them in the freezer.  I’ve been sneaking a couple into the BF’s bag before he goes to work, then they’re thawed and ready to eat by the time he needs a snack!  (Not to mention taking them to work and storing them in my desk for “’emergencies”)  I mean, this is a totally normal desk drawer, right?

They aren’t exact replicas of the Clif bars you find in stores, they’re a bit crunchier (which I actually liked) but I’m sure you could get the texture a bit closer if you reduce the crisp rice cereal (or increase the dates) a bit.  I also like that I could make these smaller than the bars you find in the store.  I can’t be the only one who thinks that they are a bit big (and calorie-dense) for a snack, but still too small to be a meal-replacement.  You can cut these into any size you like, and I find these bite-size squares to be the perfect size for snacking.

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I really wish that I had mini chocolate chips on hand, but I had apparently ran out, so i had to use regular size instead.  They’re definitely not as pretty.  Plus, with mini chips, the chocolate would be able to distribute more evenly throughout the bars.  I guess I could have whirled the mixture a bit more in the food processor to chop them  up a bit…

Another great thing about these bars is that they are infinitely adaptable, you could make combos like dark-chocolate-almond, peanut-butter-“jelly” (by adding other types of dried fruit), cashew-cherry, or even a berries-and-cream version with dried fruit and yogurt or white chocolate chips!  Of course, I’m sure that you will all be shocked to learn that I went with peanut butter & chocolate for my first batch.  What can I say, I’m addicted predictable.

A warning though… when I tried to switch back to the regular store-bought Clif bars, I got a text asking where the homemade ones were, and why didn’t I put those in the bag, was I hoarding them for myself?  So… yeah, if you are going to start making these, be ready to keep making them, because the regular ones just won’t do.

Of course, the reason these are here, you don’t even have to turn on the oven!

DIY Clif Bars

Makes 16 to 25 bars, or as many as you slice 😉

Printable Recipe

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1¼ cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped nuts (I used cashews)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ⅓ cup brown rice syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips; plus an extra tablespoon or two, separated

1. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with saran wrap and set aside.

2. Combine peanut butter and brown rice syrup in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on 50% power for one minute and stir until combined.  If you need to microwave longer, microwave in 30 second intervals until the peanut butter is melted.

3. Process pitted dates in a food process until pureed.  Add oats, flaxseed, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla and continue to puree.  Once uniform in texture, add rice cereal and process until combined.  Add peanut butter mixture and continue processing until incorporated, you will probably have to scrape down the sides.  Note: It will be very sticky.

4. Finally, add the nuts and process again until they are chopped to the desired size, then add chocolate chips and pulse just a few times to distribute them through the “dough”.  Once processed, scrape into 8-inch pan and press firmly to mold to the shape of the pan.  If desired, sprinkle the extra tablespoon or two on top and gently press into the date mixture.

5.  Chill bars in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, or until firm. Cut into bars, then wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze up to a couple months. (I keep mine frozen and pop one or two into my bag before I head to work, by the time I need a snack they’re thawed and ready to eat!)

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[ Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker ]

 

healthy choco-nana protein muffins

 

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Since I’ve been working on my fitness lately, I’ve been trying to work more nutritious items into my life.  So I’ve been reworking some recipes that would normally cause me to feel guilt, and finding a way to make myself feel less guilty after eating them.  So, I got some vanilla protein powder, and I’ve been pretty much putting it into everything with reckless abandon.  You know, for science.

It’s basically the recipe-equivalent of throwing everything against the wall and “seeing what sticks,” so to speak.  I’ve been mixing it with granola bars, shakes, my morning oatmeal, and even rice krispy treats.  Seriously.

So far, pretty much everything has been a success.

So when I saw these “skinny chocolate banana muffins” on Sally’s Baking Addiction, clearly my first thought was to add protein (since they’re already “skinny,” part of the work has already been done for me!

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Of course I modified the recipe a bit, I was worried that the extra protein from the protein powder would make them gummy or dry.  If you’ve ever eaten a packaged protein snack, you probably know exactly what texture I’m talking about here.  I was torn between using some cake flour or additional oil (since the oil would add fat), but ended up going with a little bit of vegetable oil, which should help with both the crumb and the density of the finished product.

I swear you wouldn’t even know that these were healthy.  I took the leftovers to work and left them in the break room for my unsuspecting coworkers…  and I waited.  Everyone was raving about how good the muffins were, none the wiser that they were actually “healthy*”

*Note, by “healthy” I mean “healthier than your average muffin”

Chocolate Banana Protein Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Printable Recipe

  • 3 large over-ripe bananas
  • 2 scoops protein powder (I used vanilla ViShake mix)
  • ⅔ granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 Tablespoons applesauce
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup + ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, separated

1. Preheat oven to 375F and line a muffin tin with liners.

2. In a medium bowl whisk the flour, protein powder, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with sugar and applesauce until smooth.  Stir in egg and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.  When the batter is almost fully mixed, fold in 1 cup of chocolate chips.

4. Divide batter evenly between 12 muffin cups, filling them almost to the top.  Sprinkle with additional ½ cup of chocolate chips (if desired).  Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean with just a few crumbs sticking to it.

5.  When done baking, cool in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

[ Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction ]
protein-muffin pin

 

fruit smoothie with a secret

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I’m no beacon of health or anything, but it is a new year, and I know some of you may have health-related resolutions, or still have a bit of a sugar hangover from the holidays, and maybe you don’t want to stare at pictures of pie all day.  I understand that.  I get it.  I’m sensitive to your needs (for today, at least).  Besides, I’ve got resolutions too, ya know.

Well, probably more “goals” than “resolutions”.  I’ve never really been known for my strong will.

My main goal is pretty simple: eat more fruits and veggies.  I noticed that the majority of my vegetable-eating occurs at dinner, and is mostly just whatever side vegetable I have selected for our meal, or perhaps some sad, hastily assembled salad.  As for my fruit consumption, that can be described as abysmal at best.

That means not only more veggies at the dinner table, but packing (and remembering to grab) healthy snacks for work, and maybe even sneaking in a vegetarian meal or two (if I can find a way to do that without the BF noticing)… but the easiest way I could think of to get more fruits and veggies into my diet?  Putting a whole bunch into a blender and pulverizing them into oblivion.  Plus, I got this shiny new blender for Christmas and this seemed like the perfect excuse to use it.  At least until margarita season arrives (yes, there is such thing as a margarita season).

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The verdict?  Success!  Great success, even!

Not only did my blender perform beautifully, but I had a breakfast consisting of purely fruits and vegetables!  AND IT WAS FILLING!  I could drink these things all day long.  This particular smoothie tastes like your typical berry smoothie, but it has a secret ingredient:  Spinach!  It might sound weird putting spinach in a fruit smoothie, but you don’t even taste it.  Honest, I swear you wouldn’t even know the spinach was in there if you didn’t put it in there with your own two hands!

Oh, and remember guys and gals, this is a smoothie, not a chemistry experiment, so approximation and experimentation are OK here.  Use any fruit or leafy green you like!

Sneaky Fruit & Veggie Smoothie

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • 1 cup water or fruit juice (apple or orange juice might be a good touch)
  • 1 cup pineapple, cut into even chunks
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach, about 2 cups loosely packed
  • 1/2 cup sliced banana (about 1/2 medium banana or 1 small banana)
  • 1/2 cup fresh berries (I used some blackberries and blueberries that I had in the freezer)
  • Bonus: 1 oz B12 liquid for an energy boost (since drinking this AND my morning coffee would be too much)

Put water or juice in the blender, and pile everything else on top of it.  Blend at low-speed (1 on my blender) for one minute, then at medium speed (3 on my blender) for another minute. 

Makes about two 10-oz servings

*Note – the smoothie had darkened significantly by day two, so I couldn’t bring myself to drink the rest of it.  I think I will try adding a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to it next time to see if that helps to keep the smoothie nice and bright.

spider cupcakes

I actually succeeded in my attempt to make something Halloween-y before Halloween… twice!  Exciting, right?

These spider cupcakes adorably creepy (if that’s a thing?) but one thing that’s NOT scary?  Their nutrition stats!  That’s right, cupcakes that aren’t terrible for you!  Believe me, I know that right about now we are all looking for a reduced-guilt way to enjoy our sweets (before we go overboard on Wednesday).

So now you can make these adorably terrifying not terrible for you spiders for your Halloween party, whether it’s at home, work, or school!

I used a lightened-up recipe from skinnytaste that replaces all the oil and eggs with pumpkin, which means, according to me, these cupcakes are actually GOOD for you (since pumpkin is good for you).  According to skinntaste these cuddly little guys come in at about 140 calories a piece (I think that is excluding the extra candy).  You can use any cupcake recipe or boxed mix you like.

You could use a whole can of pumpkin (instead of a mix of pumpkin and water), which I hear makes the cupcakes super rich and ooey-gooey.  I’m no scientist but I was pretty sure a whole can of pumpkin had more calories than half of it, so I opted for this “healthy” recipe and plan to save the other version for a time when I have extra canned pumpkin to spare.

The verdict?  These were pretty darn good, but I could definitely tell they weren’t “regular” cupcakes.  The tops ended up a bit crackly, and I could slightly taste the pumpkin, but I think if I had used a richer, more chocolatey mix it would’ve masked the flavor better.  With all the binging I’m going to be doing on Halloween candy and potluck food (not to mention the holidays coming up), I’m in desperate need of something a little… lighter.

Side note: since everyone in the world hates black licorice, I was able to find this Wilton licorice made just for decorating.  It looks like black licorice but tastes like red! Win!

I like him.  And how he his shaking his tiny spider fist in a menacing fashion.  BF would definitely scream for me to come squash this little guy.

Adorably Terrifying Spider Cupcakes

Ingredients

    For cupcakes:
  • 16.5 oz Duncan Hines Cake mix (I used Devil’s Food)
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
  • For glaze
  • 3 oz chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ½ tablespoon light corn syrup
  • For decorating
  • Eyeballs, chocolate sprinkles, and licorice legs

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line 18 muffin tins with cupcake liners.
  2. In a medium bowl, blend pumpkin and water together with an electric mixer. Add cake mix and beat until well-mixed. The batter will be very thick.
  3. Cool completely before decorating.
  4. Make the glaze:
  5. Heat chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir until all the chocolate has melted. Add corn syrup and stir until the mixture is smooth and shiny.
  6. To decorate:
  7. Dip the cupcakes in the glaze and use a spreader if necessary to smooth the top. Sprinkle chocolate sprinkles over the cupcakes before the glaze sets and add the eyeballs.
  8. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke four holes on each side of the cupcake for the legs. Insert the licorice and voila – spiders!
http://wee-eats.com/2012/10/29/spider-cupcakes/

[ Cupcake recipe adapted from skinnytaste ]

summery chicken pasta

summer chk pasta

I AM BACK! Well, I’ve been back, but have still been recovering from vacation. You know how vacation just makes you more tired than you were before you went on vacation? Not only that, but it also sucked all the joy out of my regular life, as I don’t want to do anything except keep being on vacation.

Where you get to hang out on boats…

enjoy scenic views…

and hike through colorful canyons…

Anyway, since it is summer, and I had to be in a bikini, I decided to take a break from the sweeter things in life for a day and post this [ relative-to-what-i-usually-post ] healthful pasta recipe instead. Just a simple pasta filled with fresh veggies, lean chicken, and garlic. Lots and lots of garlic.  😉

I do variations of this pasta all the time with different veggies … no real measurements. But this should serve as a good “jumping off point” for you. It’s actually one of BF’s favorite dinners, depending on what I throw in, of course. A splash of cream and a bit of butter never hurt anyone, though you may want to skip those depending on how far away your bikini date is.

Summery Chicken Pasta

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • 1 (1-lb) box pasta, whole wheat if you want to feel a little better about it
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (thin cut will cook faster)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup white wine (optional)
  • ½ cup (1 cup if you skip the wine), low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bag baby spinach (~ 6 oz)
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, I like to halve some and leave some whole
  • ½ cup loosely-packed basil, torn, plus more for garnish (if desired)
  • Splash of heavy cream (optional, but recommended)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Italian cheese – Parmesan, Pecorino, Asiago, whatever you’ve got.

Cook pasta in salted water per package directions. Drain and set aside.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides. Bash your garlic cloves with your hand or a knife, you want them to be “broken” but not chopped or separated.

Preheat pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle oil to coat the bottom and add chicken, cooking in batches if necessary. Cook until done and transfer to a plate; tent with foil while you cook the veggies.

Add another drizzle of oil if necessary. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned. DO NOT let the garlic burn. Once the garlic is lightly browned remove the cloves of garlic and add your onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Sauté until translucent, then add your wine and cook until almost evaporated, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add your broth and bring to a boil. (Sometimes I throw my garlic cloves back in, just remember to fish them out again before you serve it).

Chop chicken to desired size pieces and return chicken, with any accumulated juices, to the pan.

Reduce heat to low and add spinach, basil, tomatoes, and cooked pasta to the skillet. Add a healthy dose of grated parmesan to the pasta. Throw in a tablespoon of butter and a dash of cream if you’re feeling saucy, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Toss until the spinach is wilted to your liking.

Serve sprinkled with extra parmesan and basil.

TIPS

  • You can also sauté bell peppers with your onion for an extra ‘punch’ of flavor
  • I like to drop a few strands of saffron into the broth while it boils as well
  • I also like to add half of my tomatoes while the broth is boiling so they burst and flavor the sauce, then the other half at the end so they are more “fresh”.