Healthy Pumpkin Bars

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I can still remember my first drive up to East Lansing, Michigan. My parents were taking me to Michigan State University for a college tour, and I was a bit apprehensive. All I knew about MSU was that they had a great hospitality business school, and everyone who went there seemed to be a football or basketball fanatic. And since I’ve never been a real sports enthusiast, I wasn’t quite sure if Michigan State could ever feel like home to me. But sure enough, I started my freshman year at Michigan State, and quickly fell in love with the beautiful campus and the camaraderie of the student body and alumni. And a few years later, I fell in love with a boy who loved Michigan State Football. Fast forward 8 years, and believe it or not, one of my favorite weekends of the year is our annual MSU Football tailgate. All of our college friends get together for at least one home game a year, to celebrate our alma mater. And although I still wouldn’t consider myself a football fanatic, I do love putting together a stellar tailgate. Thanks to our “head ring leader,” Arielle, we typically have a pretty impressive set up. Everyone brings a different dish to share, and we end up with everything from bagels, to sliders, to assorted cookies and salty snacks. This year I tried to provide a healthier breakfast option that was still delicious and seasonal. And I knew I could find a delicious and healthy recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, Ambitious Kitchen. This recipe results in decadant tasting pumpkin bars, that are healthy enough for a nutritious breakfast. Plus they feature pumpkin, making it the perfect fall treat.

Ingredients: Makes 16 bars. Recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 8×11 or 9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Make oat flour: Place oatmeal into blender or food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes until oatmeal resembles flour.
  3. Measure out just 2 1/2 cups of the oat flour and place in a medium bowl. Whisk in baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices; set aside.
  4. In a separate large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla extract, oil, and applesauce for 1-2 minutes until the consistency is smooth and creamy. Slowly add in oat flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  5. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. Bake for 25 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs attached. Once finished baking, cool 10 minutes on wire rack. Cut into 16 slices.
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Double Chocolate Banana Muffins

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It always seems like summer is completely filled to the brim with fun events and outings. Whether it’s a quick vacation or local festival, I have something planned nearly every weekend through the end of August. But as much fun as beer festivals, vacations Up North and constant dinners with friends are, the summer habit of eating out more often has left me feeling a little less than healthy. So to make up for our weekend fun, I’ve been trying to eat as healthfully as possible during the week days. I find it gives me a lot more energy, and stops the awful stomach-aches I often get from too many meals away from home. But even in a healthy diet, I think it’s important to leave room for dessert. And it just so happens that I found a recipe that is both nutritious and decadent at the same time. These chocolate banana muffins taste more like fudge brownies than your run of the mill banana bread, yet they are healthy enough to eat for breakfast. They contain no butter, oil, eggs or added sugar, and with the use of gluten free oats, can be made completely gluten free. But again…they taste like fudge brownies. In my book, you can’t get much better than that.

Ingredients: Makes 12 muffins, recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 1 cup gluten free oats
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 medium to large ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. Place oats in a food processor and pulse until oats are ground up and resemble flour, set aside
  2. Place oat “flour”, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl
  3. In a large bowl, combine mashed bananas, vanilla extract and honey. Use an electric mixer to blend wet ingredients until just combined
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips
  5. Place paper muffin liners in a muffin pan and lightly spray with cooking spray. Pour batter into 12 prepared muffin cups and bake at 350 for 10 minutes

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Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies

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Recently my dad has had to make some changes to his diet. His doctor let him know that steak dinners should be a rare occurrence and those high cholesterol snack cakes he loves may have to fall by the wayside. So far he has been a very good sport with his sudden diet overhaul. He didn’t cringe when I threw away his potato chips and he hasn’t complained about swapping red meat for fish. But one of the items I’m sure he’s been missing is his beloved Bumpy Cake. There was a time in his life that he would polish off an entire bumpy cake each week. By the way, he somehow managed to never put on a single pound during “The Bumpy Cake Diet” which my mom and I found extremely annoying. But nowadays, despite his speedy metabolism, the bumpy cakes are no longer a diet staple. But, since I hate to see the man go without dessert completely, I went searching for a sweet substitute. Initially I bought him a box of whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, but they turned out to be pretty dry and tasteless. So to the blogospehere I went. And I stumbled upon this recipe for Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cookies that is devoid of flour, butter, sugar and oil. The result was an incredibly soft cookie that tastes deceivingly decadent.  Chocolate cravings= satisfied. Now to somehow get him to eat kale….this might be a tough one.

Ingredients: Makes 18 cookies, from Ambitious Kitchen

  • 1 cup all natural creamy almond butter (or natural peanut butter, if desired)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3.5 oz dark chocolate bar coarsely chopped
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Preparation:

  1. In a large bowl, place almond butter, honey and egg and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy
  2. Add vanilla, baking soda and sea salt and beat until well incorporated
  3. Chop up dark chocolate into coarse pieces and stir into batter
  4. Drop batter by the tablespoon onto a greased cookies sheet
  5. Sprinkle each unbaked cookie with a touch of sea salt
  6. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes

Gluten Free Brownies

As you all may know, I’m all about sweets. Cookies, cupcakes, candy…if it counts as dessert I’m bound to be a huge fan. But it is dense, chocolatey brownies that would really be my weakness. But seeing as I would prefer not to abandon my usually healthy lifestyle, I don’t often make my favorite dessert due to their not so healthy stats. But then I discovered the following recipes. Dark chocolate brownies that satisfy even the most devoted chocoholic’s sweet tooth…without costing you hundreds of calories. These brownies are not only low in fat and calories, but they are also gluten free. A win-win…win. So what is the secret? A rather unusual ingredient that is most often found in burritos. Black beans. But before you roll your eyes and write off this recipe as some crazy health trend, I beg you to just try these babies out. The result is an incredibly moist brownie studded with gooey melted chocolate chips. I even fooled one of my favorite dessert snobs into falling in love with this recipe before I revealed the secret ingredient. And they could not be easier to prepare. Throw all the ingredients in a blender and bake. And just like that you are only 30 minutes away from one of the most decadently healthy desserts out there.

Ingredients: Makes 16 brownies

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  •  1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Dark Chocolate Chips

Preparation:

  1. Place black beans in a fine sieve and rinse well, draining excess water
  2. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor
  3. Blend in blender, Scrape sides as needed.
  4. Pour in Lightly Greased 8×8 Pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for 25-30 Minutes