Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Super-Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

It's fall, which means it's time to use the oven again! In fact, this is my second baking post in a row, which is quite a record. (I am usually a cooker, not a baker.) Fall also means a welcome onslaught of pumpkin desserts. I am a fan of incorporating tons of this healthy canned veggie into anything I can think of. Just look at my pasta with pumpkin cream sauce or my three-ingredient whoopie pies. Problem is, most pumpkin breads and cookies are mostly flour and sugar, with just a token amount of pumpkin. I set out to make a healthy pumpkin cookie that was more veggie than any other ingredient. My confidence came from my knowledge that a whole can of pumpkin mixed with a box of cake mix will substitute for the eggs, oil, and water that is usually required to make a deliciously moist, fat-free dessert. I looked up some pumpkin cookie recipes online and substituted in more pumpkin for the butter or oil that were normally called for. Then I added even more. 

What you have here is a delicious, rich-tasting, moist, and slightly muffinlike cookie. It's a delicious way to get your veggies with dessert, or it could be a breakfast cookie--a portable way to get your oatmeal and a serving of veggies in the morning! My husband even likes them, and he is usually wary of pumpkin-related things.

UPDATE: When I first posted these in 2011, I used to make these cookies using juice or milk instead of oil. I have now decided that I prefer the texture when using a small amount of healthy oil or nut butter, which changes from a bit gummy in the middle to richer and creamier. Try it out and see which you like better. This recipe is very flexible!

Super-Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup (130 g) oat flour (or just whizz some oats in a food processor until flour-like. Measure AFTER grinding) or whole wheat flour
1 cup (100 g) old fashioned oats
2 t baking powder
1 cup sweetener of choice (sugar, brown sugar, Splenda, etc)
1 T ground flax or 1 egg
2 t cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/8 t salt 
handful dried fruit, nuts, and/or seeds (optional). I like dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds)
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1/3 cup milk, water, juice, oil (e.g. olive, coconut), or nut butter of choice (e.g. almond, cashew)
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Mix dry ingredients and add wet. Mixture will be very thick. Drop by the spoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake approximately 25 minutes, until center is solid but moist. Makes about 20 cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Honey Cardamom Scones, Chai Scones, and Earl Gray Tea Scones

Honey Cardamom Scones
There is something so special about having warm biscuits or scones in the morning. I have them for breakfast often because I usually take some help from Bisquick. I also cook them in the toaster oven, which preheats quickly and doesn't heat up the whole house. I also love to add chia seeds to my scones. They add a poppyseed-like texture and a bit of extra nutrition. I like to make 5-6 giant scones out of this for a hearty breakfast. Here are some variations I love:

Cardamom is one of my favorite spices. It has such an exotic, spicy, flowery quality to it. My honey cardamom scones really showcase its flavor well.

Honey Cardamom Scones
2 cups Bisquick or other biscuit mix
1 t ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2-2/3 cup milk of choice (to get dough to the right consistency)
Optional add ins: chia seeds (I like 2-3 T), chopped pistachios, pumkin seeds, or golden raisins

Mix dry ingredients together and then combine with wet. Drop biscuits onto cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

These scones are made with whole tea leaves! I love the delicate spices that Chai or Earl Gray teas bring to these snacks. 

Chai Tea or Earl Gray Tea Scones
Fresh out of the toaster oven!
1/2-2/3 cup milk of choice
Contents of three bags Chai or Earl Gray tea (or 1T and 1.5 t loose tea, ground finer in a mortar and pestle)
2 cups Bisquick or other biscuit mix
1/4 cup honey, sugar, or Splenda
Optional add ins: chia seeds (I like 2-3 T), chopped walnuts, pecans, or golden raisins

Empty tea bags into milk and heat until just simmering in microwave or on the stovetop. Let steep and cool for a few minutes. Add wet ingredients (tea leaves and all) into try ingredients). Drop biscuits onto cookie sheet, and bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

Who doesn't love spinach and artichoke dip? Glutenless Goddess shared a recipe for it with me that we are both obsessed with. (One of us really should post it one of these days...) I wanted to turn that spinach and artichoke dip into a meal, so I modified it slightly and poured it over pasta! This recipe is super simple, and you could serve it straight off the stovetop, or sprinkle more cheese on it bake in the oven for a few minutes. It's really creamy and satisfying, and probably better for you than your average mac and cheese since it involves spinach, whole wheat pasta, and low-fat dairy.

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

16 oz frozen spinach, defrosted in microwave
13-16 oz whole wheat pasta (I used fusilli, but any short, robust pasta shape would work, such as penne, bow-tie, or shells)
8 oz package of low-fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella or Italian mix cheese

1 cup milk

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 t Tony Chachere's seasoning or other seasoned salt
salt and pepper to taste
1 12 oz can artichoke hearts

Defrost spinach in the microwave for approximately 6 minutes, until warm. While pasta is boiling, dump all ingredients except pasta and artichoke hearts in food processor, and process until spinach is finely chopped and ingredients are well-mixed. Add artichoke hearts and pulse a couple times until they are roughly chopped. When pasta is al dente, drain, and combine with sauce mixture. If the mixture is too try, just add a bit more milk. You can just heat this on the stovetop for a few minutes and serve, or if you'd like a baked pasta dish, just pour it into a baking dish, top with some additional cheese, and bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until the center is hot. Serves 5-6.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken and Veggie Brown Rice Biryani: Instant Pot and Stovetop versions

I think my love for biryani comes from growing up in Louisiana and eating jambalaya. Biryani really is the jambalaya of India. Vegetables and sometimes meats are cooked together with warm Indian spices, and rice is cooked in this mixture, soaking up all the flavors. Much like when making jambalaya, it is crucial to get just the right ratio of rice, liquid, and seasoning so that the rice absorbs all the liquid as it cooks to create fluffy, perfectly seasoned rice.

I use brown basmati rice in this recipe. Basmati is that delicious, ultra-long grained rice that is typically served with Indian food. Before cooking, it should be rinsed to remove excess starch, and soaked for up to 30 minutes, which helps it to cook more evenly. It's also important to avoid stirring the rice as it cooks. Doing so will break the long, delicate grains and turn it gummy.

Most traditional biryani recipes call for parcooking the rice separately from the other ingredients, and mixing it together halfway through. I wanted to streamline my recipe, because I love the simplicity of a one-pot meal. To keep it healthy, I add a lot more vegetables than a traditional biryani. I like to add peas and cauliflower. The cauliflower is a real dark horse in this recipe. I'm normally not a huge fan, but in this dish, it steams in the spicy broth and becomes nutty and creamy.
I like to serve my biryani with a simple cilantro chutney.

Update: now that I have my Instant Pot, I am in love with this recipe all over again. The Instant Pot really excels in cooking rice dishes to the perfect consistency quickly. 

Chicken and Veggie Biryani
2 cups brown basmati rice
1 T butter
1.5 lbs chicken thighs, bone in or out
1 large onion, diced
4 jalapenos, diced
1 T minced garlic 

2 t minced ginger
1 1/2 T garam masala (or make your own: 2 t cumin, 2 t coriander, 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/2 t cardamom, 1/4 t cloves)
1 t tumeric
2 bay leaves
1/4 t chili flakes (omit if you don't want it spicy)
lots of black pepper, to taste
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 t salt
1 t sugar or splenda
3/4 lb cauliflower florets
1 1/4 cups chicken broth

2 T lemon juice
1/2 lb frozen peas

Stovetop version: 

Rinse rice and soak while prepping the rest of the dish, approximately 20-30 minutes. In a Dutch oven, melt butter and brown chicken. Remove and set aside. Saute onions, jalapenos, garlic, and ginger until caramelized. Add spices and saute, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients except rice, peas and cilantro chutney. Cover, bring to a simmer, and pour in drained rice. Return to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to very low. After 50 minutes, stir and check the rice to ensure it is cooked through. If not, cover for a few more minutes until rice is cooked through. Remove chicken and shred it gently. Pour in frozen peas (don't worry, they will warm up instantly) and stir gently.

Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker version:
Rinse rice and soak while prepping the rest of the dish, approximately 20-30 minutes. In the Instant Pot, melt butter and brown chicken. Remove and set aside. Saute onions, jalapenos, garlic, and ginger until caramelized. Add spices and saute, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients except peas and cilantro chutney and stir. Set Instant Pot to manual pressure for 20 minutes. Use natural pressure release for 5 minutes, then release pressure manually. Remove chicken and shred it gently. Pour in frozen peas (don't worry, they will warm up instantly) and stir gently.

Simple Cilantro Chutney (optional):
1 T lemon or lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, stems included, brown ends removed (cilantro stems are soft and flavorful, so waste not want not!)
pinch of salt 

While biryani is cooking, put cilantro chutney ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve with cilantro chutney. This makes a lot; serves approximately 10 people.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Homemade popsicles, for your health!

My husband is making an effort to eat healthier and lose weight. The mainstay of this plan is to eat more of my homecooked food and go out to eat less. Just from eating my cooking and watching his portions, he's already lost 10 pounds last month! You can find some of the recipes I've been making by clicking the "healthy" label on the right side of the blog.

Creamsicles and pomegranate popsicles
We crave dessert after dinner, so we were trying to come up with low calorie things to satisfy our sweet tooths. My husband came up with the brilliant idea of homemade popsicles. Remember when you were a kid and your mom would freeze fruit juice in a cup with a popsicle stick? We bought popsicle molds like these and have been experimenting with freezing all sorts of fruit juices, smoothies and teas. There is something about the fact that popsicles are solid and take a while to eat that makes them infinitely more satisfying than what amounts to about half a cup of fruit juice. Plus, they're so much fun! Here are some of the wacky ideas we've come up with!

Fruit juice popsicles: orange, pomegranate, cranberry, pineapple, etc., or any combination

Smoothie popsicles: freeze my Orange Julius smoothies to make Creamsicles, or you could do strawberry banana, etc.

Kool-aid or Crystal Light popsicles: mix up any sugar-free drink mix flavor and freeze it.

Pudding pops: remember these from the 80's? Jello makes low calorie sugar-free flavors. My husbands' favorite is chocolate and banana pudding blended with a banana.

Sweet tea popsicles: one of my proudest inventions. Sweeten your favorite tea with Splenda and freeze. So refreshing and low calorie

Chai popsicles: add a touch of milk and sugar to chai and freeze.

Coffee popsicles: same idea as the chai ones

You get the idea. Share your ideas for homemade popsicles with me!