autumn oatmeal cookie bars

Another squash recipe, but this time – a sweet version!

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I don’t know if it’s the cooler nights, seasonal flavors, or the fact that it’s no longer “swimsuit season” {LOL} but this time of year I start craving desserts. There’s something so special about sitting down at the end of the day, dinner cleaned up and dishes put away, and enjoying the perfectly sweet bite of dessert. For some people – ice cream {year round!}, others – cookies and cakes. I am not going to say no to any of those options, but boy…do I love me a good cookie.

This particular recipe was inspired by…as mentioned above…squash. I LOVE pumpkin, y’all! It’s a great ingredient to work with; packed with vitamins and minerals, full of flavor, and it serves as a great way to scale back on some of the typically not-so-good items that go into cookies. Paired with tangy Greek yogurt, the resulting cookie is perfectly moist and chewy, and loaded up with spices. A combination of rolled oats and all-purpose flour lends a hint of nutty flavor, which is beautiful with the pumpkin and brown sugar. The little nuggets of chocolate chips and raisins don’t hurt, either ; )

Once you bake up a batch of these, don’t expect them to last long. BUT! If you want to, portion of a section of the pan to freeze; your weeknight self craving something sweet, but not overly indulgent, will be glad you did.

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Autumn Oatmeal Cookie Bars {recipe adapted from Averie Cooks}

Traditional chocolate chip cookie meets pillowy pumpkin cookies. They taste every bit delicious as they look: perfectly fluffy, with crispy edges and bursting full of flavor and goodies. Ideal for any autumn get-together; I promise, they won’t last long. 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed {light or dark is fine}

1 large egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree {not pumpkin pie filling!}

1 Tbsp. molasses

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

pinch salt

3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour {I used a combination of 2 cups AP flour and 1-1/4 cups oats, just for extra texture and flavor}

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2-1 cup assorted dried fruits…cherries, apricots, cranberries, raisins, etc. *nuts of your choice can also be used

*optional: for a sweeter cookie, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar 

**optional topping: 1/3 cup granulated sugar + 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, mixed together

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine plain Greek yogurt, brown sugar {optional granulated sugar to be added here, if using}, and beat on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes to cream ingredients together; stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the egg and vanilla, and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes or until mixture is light and fluffy.

Add in the pumpkin, molasses, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, pinch of salt, and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.

Add in the flour {or combination of flour and oats} and baking soda, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips {and any add-ins you might like} by hand. Cover the mixing bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 90 minutes {I only chilled for about 30 minutes because of time constraint}. Dough can be chilled for up to 4 days.

Prepare your 9″ x 13″ baking dish by coating liberally with nonstick spray. Evenly distribute the batter into the dish, making sure to spread it out evenly and ensuring that all corners are filled. Top with optional cinnamon/sugar mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes {edges will be golden and set, and the top will have just set; they will continue to firm up as they cool}. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into bars.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to three months.

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healthy ranch dressing

When preparing a salad, it deserves nothing but the best. Fresh, wholesome ingredients that a full of flavor. Toppings that complement the salad itself, but don’t weigh it down. And of course, there’s the dressing – for many, a necessary component. And more often than not, it’s what takes a salad from fresh, healthy and fabulous to a total calorie bomb. Why waste all that wonderful nutrition and flavor, just to be topped with something that essentially eradicates all the goodness you’ve prepared?

That’s where this salad dressing comes to play. In college, I did my fair share of overdressing my “healthy” salads with many a preportioned dressing – seemingly so innocent in its neat little package, but erasing all the healthfulness of my dinner with each satisfying squeeze of said packet. I do wish that I could go back and tell my previous self “NO!!” but alas, it’s a lesson learned. These days, I look for flavor in other ways – tangy mustard, olive oil and {lots!!} of fresh lemon juice, and today’s recipe…ranch dressing.

image c/o hcuforu.com

image c/o hcuforu.com

Yes! It’s true! Ranch dressing can be healthy, and delicious all at the same time! After stumbling upon this recipe, I tentatively tried it {you see, I was not a big fan of cottage cheese for some time, but that’s another store for another day} and both the hubs and I immediately fell head over heels for it. The texture is perfect, it’s bursting with flavor from the fresh ingredients and herbs, perfectly tangy from the buttermilk. A total win. And the bonus? – you get a pretty hefty dose of protein from the cottage cheese itself! Your salad won’t be complete without this on top from now on, trust me on this.

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Healthy Ranch Dressing {recipe adapted from Eating Well}

By making a sneaky {and healthy!} swap into one of the most beloved salad dressings, the classic Ranch gets a face lift! Cottage cheese, when pureed into a silky texture, makes the ideal replacement and base for a healthy salad dressing. The addition of fresh ingredients and plenty of herbs result in a salad topper sure to please anyone! 

…and why stop there!? Use this condiment for dipping baked French fries, drizzled into sandwiches and wraps – the possibilities are endless!

Ingredients:

1 small shallot, peeled

3/4 cup nonfat cottage cheese

1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise {I like to use the olive oil/mayonnaise combination, available at most stores}

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/4 cup buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

*the amount may vary, depending on how thin or thick you prefer your dressing; simply adjust as desired

To Prepare:

With the food processor running, add shallot through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Add in the cottage cheese, mayonnaise and vinegar. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary, about 3 minutes. Pour in the buttermilk while the processor is running. Scrape down the sides again; add in the dill, salt and pepper. Process until combined.

make ahead tip: cover and refrigerate for up to one week. 

The Wynn, Las Vegas

I love a good challenge, and a few weeks ago when my friends over at Vegas.com contacted me with just that opportunity, I knew I had to take them up on it!

More recently, the Wynn resort has paired up with renowned vegan chef Tal Ronnen to create dishes catered towards those who have chosen to adopt a vegan-or-vegetarian-based lifestyle. So what does this have to do with little ol’ me, you might ask? I got to pick a dish, any dish on their menu {the vegan/vegetarian menu is available all throughout the Wynn} and put my own twist on it. How fun is that, y’all!?

After hungrily perusing their menu and website, I knew I was going to stick with the one that jumped out at me right off the bat – the ‘Mushroom Risotto’, an offering at the Lake Side restaurant. Rustic and simple, but full of rich and earthy flavors, I knew that it was something I would want to recreate.

Now, all of you already know that risotto, while insanely delicious and enjoyable, is not exactly a “weeknight” friendly dish. While therapeutic and comforting to prepare, it requires a good amount of time and careful watching during the preparation; you can go from perfectly done to overcooked in the blink of an eye. So as I was thinking about how I wanted to change this up, my mind wandered over to the concept of…dumplings! Brilliant!

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By keeping the structure of the sauce {caramelized onions and fresh herbs, lots AND lots of mushrooms} the dish stays true to its roots, but is made a bit simpler for weeknight enjoyment. It takes only a few minutes to assemble, and only requires one dish for cooking! For my dishwashing hubby, that is the ultimate dream.

I also developed a bit more flavor in the base of the stew by caramelizing the onions with a splash of white wine – the bright notes {I used a chardonnay} make the dish lean a bit more towards spring flavors; it also helps you scrape up those wonderful bits of goodness on the bottom of the pan. The dumplings get an herbal punch with fresh thyme and sage, and nutritional yeast pumps it up with a subtle cheesy flavor and a bit of added protein.

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Be sure to check out @Vegas to see what other bloggers have come up with! Enjoy, and happy cooking!

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Mushroom Stew & Herb Dumplings 

You can’t mess with a classic like this dish. Perfectly wonderful served piping hot, right off the stove top. I’ve noted where options can go from vegetarian to vegan; feel free to adapt as you like! 

Ingredients:

5 to 6 cups vegetable stock {amount will vary on how thick the stew becomes when cooking the dumplings}

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried thyme

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup white wine

4 cups assorted seasonal mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

Herb Dumpling Ingredients:

2 cups flour {I used gluten-free}

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter {for a vegan option, a buttery spread can be substituted}

1-1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk {for a vegan option, a nut milk of choice can be used}

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon fresh sage

pepper, to taste

Stew Directions:

In a large sauce pot over medium heat, add in the olive oil. Once hot, add in the onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Saute until golden brown in color, about 10 minutes. Add in the wine, scraping the bottom to loosen up any bits. Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, oregano and thyme. Cook until the mushrooms have softened and darkened in color, about 10 minutes. Pour in the stock; raise the heat and bring to a boil.

Prepare the dumplings while waiting for the stock mixture to boil – in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, nutritional yeast, baking soda, fresh thyme, fresh sage, and salt. Whisk to combine and then add in the butter, buttermilk and pepper.

Once the stock mixture is boiling, drop the dumpling dough in using two large spoons {like making drop cookies}. Boil until the dumplings are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Ladle into large soup bowls and enjoy!

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shepherd’s pie

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a delicious and hearty meal?

Shepherd’s Pie has long been a favorite in our household; it’s easy to prepare, utilizes common ingredients most of us have on hand, and can be stretched to feed anywhere from a few people to an entire army. I love sitting down to a piping hot serving after a long day at work; the aromas are so therapeutic, and seeing the steam wafting from the bowl just brings about the most soothing feeling.

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When I decided to make this, I decided to veer slightly from tradition, but still maintain the integrity of the dish. After all, you can only adjust a recipe so much before it takes on an entirely new face, no? So rather than go all crazy and try to tweak every little aspect, I picked the common denominators – the ground meat and the usual mashed potatoes – and decided to just play around with those.

The result? Lean ground turkey and mashed cauliflower!

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This take is full of flavor, texture, and…it just makes you feel good. In my humble opinion, that is the best kind of dinner – fresh, simple, and leaves you feeling good; maybe wanting more, or…maybe just reach for a Guinness and call it a night. Your call!

Slainte!

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Shepherd’s Pie {adapted from Epicurious}

What better way to ring in the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day than with a traditional dish? Quintessential in our household, this will satisfy the pickiest of palettes. The best part? – it’s healthy and good for you!

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. ground meat {I used a 93% lean ground turkey – but feel free to use ground beef, ground lamb, etc.}

1 to 1-1/2 cups tomato sauce

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 Tbsp. dried parsley

1 to 1-1/2 cups frozen peas, cooked and cooled slightly

mashed cauliflower {here’s my version!}

salt and pepper, to taste

optional: grated cheese of your choice for topping 

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a glass baking dish {8″x 8″ or 9″x 9″} with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Alternatively, like I did, you could use two individual baking dishes.

In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the onion, carrot, garlic and meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain the fat and then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste and herbs. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.

In the baking dish{es}, layer in the meat mixture, then the cooked peas, and finally top with the meat mixture. Garnish as you like with cheese.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes.

garlic parmesan wings

I’ve been so, so excited to share this recipe with y’all.

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One look and you’re in love, am I right? At least, that was how the hubs and I felt after devouring this meal for dinner.

These are a fun twist on my wings I made awhile back – they’re certainly a staple in our household; a quick and easy dinner to throw together during the week, full of flavor, and significantly healthier that traditional wings that are deep fried {so gloriously wonderful, but so naughty at the same time}. But for this particular recipe, we’re combining the Italian staples of Parmesan cheese and garlic but jazzing it up with loads of dried herbs, and two types of tangy mustard {!}. Is your mouth watering yet?

This batch of wings pack a flavor punch like no other. I am such a huge fan of explosive flavors, and these do not disappoint. As mentioned, we get that distinctive garlicky flavor from {almost} too much garlic, nutty undertones from Parmesan cheese, and more herbal notes than your taste buds will know what to do with. Both mustard types that I used – a classic, spicy Dijon and a sweet Honey Champagne – pair perfectly together, but you can easily sub in whatever your preference is. Baked until crispy and falling of the bone, the only thing that can take these one more notch above perfection is some dipping sauce on the side.

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Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings {adapted from Steamy Kitchen}

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lbs. chicken wings {I like to use the large ones}

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried rosemary

2 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for baking

1/4 cup mustard {I used a combination of Dijon and Champagne mustard}

salt & pepper, to taste

non-stick cooking spray

serving accompaniments: hot sauce, homemade blue cheese dressing, celery, carrots – whatever you like! 

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the herbs and grated cheese. Mix in the mustard, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the wings in the sauce, making sure to ensure a generous coating. Line up the wings on the prepared baking sheet, and drizzle any remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese.

Bake 45-60 minutes, or until juices run clear and internal temperature has reached 165 degrees. Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.

homemade wonton soup

I have long strove to find and make a wonton soup worthy of sharing. And today, y’all, I’ve finally done it!

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Wonton soup and I go way back. As in, I can still remember the first time that I had it – the hubs and I had spent the weekend camping with friends, and after coming home cold, wet and famished, there was simply no time to cook dinner {gasp!}.We had to eat, and we had to eat NOW. I let him pick, and after settling on Chinese delivery, the doorbell rang not five minutes later with the traditional box full of goodness. When he passed me a tupperware of soup, I looked at it curiously. We didn’t do Chinese much when I was a child, but it was a cuisine that I enjoyed. So I ladled myself a bowl and dug it. And, y’all, I demolished the.entire.bowl. I couldn’t help myself; it was so good!

I look back on this memory fondly, but now that I’ve got more experience with cooking {and recipe developing} I realize that this was probably not all as comforting as it could have been. As much as we all love it, a lot of delivery food is oftentimes high in sodium and other ingredients we may not want to enjoy. I’m in no means knocking it, because we still looooove a good Chinese takeout, but this recipe for wonton soup is going to knock your socks off. It’s unbelievably delicious, for real.

I kept the ingredients super simple, and used what I had on hand. Traditionally, wontons are filled with a mixture of pork and shrimp, but I personally like to use ground chicken instead. It’s super lean, so there’s less of a risk of fat/grease leaking out when you boil them. Paired with the minced shrimp, they make the perfect canvas for the spices we will be adding in. Low-sodium chicken stock lets us control the amount of salt we add in, making it easy for anyone to customize according to their taste. Ad the add-ins once the wontons are complete totally take this dish to the next level.

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Yes, preparing wontons at home is a bit of a process, but I promise you, it’s totally worth it. I like to make double or triple for what I need when making this soup, because they freeze beautifully. Simply prepare them as followed, them placed them on a sheet tray in the freezer for about 30 minutes. After that, transfer them to a baggie and they will last until you next need them! That way, whenever you have a hankering for wonton soup, you’ll be one step ahead of the game. Enjoy!

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Homemade Wonton Soup {recipe adapted from The Little Kitchen}

Deliciously warm and comforting, with the perfect amount of spice, this wonton soup is absolute perfection. 

Ingredients: Wonton Filling

1 lb. ground chicken

1 lb. shrimp {peeled, deveined and washed, finely diced}

1 cup of your favorite greens, finely shredded

3 green onions, finely diced

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

wonton wrappers

salt and pepper, to taste

Ingredients: Broth/Soup Base 

8 to 10 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 large onion, peeled and sliced in half

1 lime, washed and sliced in half

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

1 head baby broccoli, washed and cut into florets

sliced green onions

optional add-ins/toppings: soy sauce, sriracha, soft-boiled egg, sesame oil, kale, arugula

To Prepare:

Add wonton filling ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl and mix together, being sure to incorporate well. Everything should be smooth and well combined.

Add water to a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil.

In another {larger} pot, add chicken broth, onion, lime and garlic. Turn onto low heat.

To make the wontons: Add 1/2 Tbsp. filling into the middle of a wonton wrapper, and fold it so that forms a triangle. Flatten out to ensure that there are no air bubbles when boiling. Using your fingers and thumb, pinch the wrapper shut. I find it helpful to lay out an entire baking sheet, brush all edges with a big of egg white, and make an assembly line of sorts…scoop all filling out, then go back and triangle, then go back and pinch shut.

Boil wontons 6 to 8 at a time for about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to platter.

While cooking the wontons, increase the heat of the broth to high and allow to boil for about 5 minutes. 1 to 2 minutes before you are ready to serve, add in the baby broccoli florets and green onions.

To serve: place desired amount of wontons into a large soup bowl, and ladle broth over. Garnish with additional toppings.

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roasted asparagus

Sometimes the simplest of preparations result in the most delicious dishes, no?

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I don’t know about y’all, but give me a plate of roasted vegetables, dressed simply with olive oil and herbs, over those “other” dishes – move aside, gratins, casseroles and all your friends…I’m looking at you.

The method of roasting vegetables, for some, may seem slightly boring or mundane. After all, you’re doing so little – what makes them shine, when standing on a table next to a bowl filled to the brim with steaming mashed potatoes, or crispy fried bits? That is just it, y’all! The expression, less is more, couldn’t hold more true with this discussion today.

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables to use with this preparation. The earthy, rich flavor is highlighted when exposed to the high roasting temperature. And the best part is that you lose none of the nutrients! Think of this dish as asparagus, elevated. It makes for a beautiful presentation, piled high on a crisp white plate with some lemon wedges. It couldn’t be more simple, or more delicious.

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Roasted Asparagus

Whether served alongside an entree, placed along the top of pizza, or tossed with pasta, roasted asparagus makes any dish shine. Super simple and quick to prepare, this comes together quickly. It packs a vitamin punch, too! 

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus, cleaned and trimmed of woody edges

1 lemon, halved

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spread the asparagus out in a single layer. Toss generously with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place in the middle rack and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and toss to roast the other side, another 10 to 15 minutes {make sure to keep a close eye!}.

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Place on a serving dish and squeeze the fresh lemon halves on while it’s still hot. For additional flavor, you can add a few shavings of Parmesan cheese.

Let’s Discuss: what are some creative ways you like to serve vegetables, particularly asparagus?