Easter Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

2014-04-20 16.27.22Hello from the other side of Easter (and Passover) weekend! I hope it was fantastic for all of you. I, personally, just about died of happiness when it actually reached 75 DEGREES yesterday here in the windy city; what an absolutely beautiful day to spend with friends, and with food, of course.

This year being my first in Chicago, some of my newest acquaintences invited me over for an early Easter dinner, complete with fresh ham straight from a farm in Ohio and an incredible array of side dishes, everything from spinach and cheese quiche to potatoes au gratin to kale and farro salad. We were all stuffed to the brim, but of course everyone saved just a bit of room for dessert!

My contribution to the feast was (you guessed it!) a classic Easter treat: carrot cake! This awesome recipe is made a bit on the lighter side than the traditional carrot cake, using applesauce to replace some of the oil as well as egg whites. Yet it still turned out wonderfully moist and delicious! And while definitely not low-calorie, the cream cheese frosting is a mandatory addition, in my opinion. Sometimes you just have to indulge for a special occasion 😉 Enjoy this elegant confection at your own Spring Fling event, or any old time of the year, for that matter!

2014-04-21 08.23.34Nutty Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg plus 4 egg whites
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups shredded carrots (5 medium)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts
  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

2014-04-19 22.39.30Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of 13×9-inch pan with shortening or cooking spray.

In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, applesauce, vegetable oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed about 30 seconds or until blended. Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla and the salt. Beat on low speed 1 minute. Stir in carrots and nuts. Pour into prepared pan.

2014-04-19 22.44.50Bake cake for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

For frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a medium bowl with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, on low speed until smooth and spreadable. Frost cake. Top with mini Easter eggs or other festive treats. Store covered in refrigerator.

Namas-tasty!

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Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

2014-02-09 15.47.02Happy Friday, readers! Let me just say, it feels great to be writing to you all again! I know I have been distant lately, but I really want to work on our relationship. 😉

Things have gotten a little chaotic…. the past month or so has been a blur of trying circumstances and tough decisions, and that’s not to mention my hectic daily work schedule and quite a bit of travel mixed in. I have no doubt that life, fickle as it is, has thrown some lemons at some of you in the past few weeks, too!

I admit that, under these kind of circumstances, my first instinct is to drop those activities that I usually deem less “urgent” than my daily to-do list; for me, these include working out, reading for pleasure, and, of course, cooking.  I have done little of any of these tasks in the past few weeks, meaning that, on top of just generally feeling stressed, I noticed that I have also been just plain unhappy. That is, until I finally got a much-needed reality check from a friend and reader: “You can’t stop cooking your way through life!”

My friend was completely right. I realized that when life gets crazy, the absolute last thing anyone should do is drop those activities that provide the most happiness; they are what drive us to keep wading through the muck to get to the other side of the turmoil. So, I have decided to rededicate myself to the cause I set out to write this blog about, and I empower you to do the same, readers. We can get through this together!

2014-02-09 15.20.21As of today, I am officially recommitting myself to being kind to my body, both by feeding it well and by exercising it regularly. I will continue to search for and find pleasure even in the most unexpected places. And, finally, I pledge to keep cooking through the crazy! And to document it all here on these (virtual) pages.  While we each, of course, will have our own goals and means to achieve them, the end result is, hopefully, exactly the same: happiness and inner peace.

So, readers, I hope you enjoy making (and eating) these delicious strawberry chocolate chip muffins as much as I did, and prepare yourselves for the landslide of yummy, joy-inducing and (hopefully semi-) healthy recipes coming your way in the coming days and weeks!

2014-02-09 15.47.37Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Adapted from Damn Delicious

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup strong coffee, cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup diced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

2014-02-09 15.21.15Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.

In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together butter, coffee, sugars, egg and vanilla. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined (do not over mix). Add strawberries and chocolate chips and gently toss with rubber spatula to combine.

2014-02-09 15.29.18Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tray. Place into oven and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Namas-tasty!

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2014-02-01 09.17.49WOW, I don’t know about you but I’ve had about as much as snow as I need for a lifetime this winter! If I have to dig out my car from a mountain of snow one more time…. I don’t even want to see the movie Frozen, which everybody (well, mostly those of the age 3-11 demographic, as that’s pretty much the majority of the folks that I hang out with these days) claims is the movie of the decade!

Pretty much the ONLY advantage of cold, snowy, drizzly, wet, slushy weather is that I get to bake to my hearts content. Not only does it warm my kitchen (AKA my entire apartment, since it’s basically just one big room), but, as I like to think, it gives me a little extra insulation 🙂

I decided during the last storm to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I wanted to make them a little more hearty (and healthy) by adding some oats and, again, substituting the vegetable oil for applesauce (yes, I know, there is still butter in the recipe. Sometimes you just have to indulge!). These turned out super yummy and were a major mood boost/substitute for sunshine; I hope you try them out at home as well!

2014-01-27 17.24.43Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups oats (I typically use quick cook oats but only had old fashioned on hand this time; you can use either. With old fashioned the cookies still turned out fine, they just have a slightly crunchier consistency)
  • 6 ounces (half a bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease cookie sheets.

2014-01-27 17.18.33Melt butter in the microwave and cool slightly to avoid cooking the eggs. Add the applesauce, sugar, brown sugar and eggs and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Add the oats and chocolate chips and mix until just combined.

Drop onto cookie sheets in heaping teaspoon size dollops, about 1 1/2 inches apart.

2014-01-27 17.54.25Bake on the top oven rack until the edges just start to turn brown and the center is barely set–about 12 minutes or so. Time will vary slightly by oven.

Keep an eye on them, and rotate the pan halfway through if they look like they are browning unevenly.

Namas-tasty!

Guilt-Free Banana Chocolate Fudge Muffins

2014-01-15 20.14.07Happy hump day, readers! Today I decided I needed a little pick-me-up to get me through the rest of this busy week. Chocolate usually does the trick, but I wanted something that I could eat a couple of without instantly feeling the need to make a dash to the gym (which, much to my dismay, isn’t always possible thanks to this lovely — make that disgusting — weather Chicago has been experiencing lately).

2014-01-15 21.20.39You all know how much I love “healthifying” recipes by replacing oil and butter with unsweetened applesauce; these yummy, fudgy chocolate muffins accomplish not only that, but they allowed me to utilize some bananas that I had on hand that were slightly past my preferred stage of ripeness. Guilt-free and nutritionally delicious, eat one for breakfast, dessert or even a mid-day snack!

No-Guilt Banana Chocolate Fudge Muffins

adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

  • 3 large, very ripe bananas
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus more for topping

2014-01-15 19.55.03Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas until there are no more big lumps. Stir in the sugar, egg, and applesauce with a whisk. Fold the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder into the wet ingredients. Lightly mix to combine (in order to obtain nice fluffy muffins, it is important NOT to overmix). Fold in chocolate chips. Don’t worry if the batter is slightly chunky.

Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups, filling all the way to the top. Bake for 17-19 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

2014-01-15 20.14.25Once the muffins are out of the oven, top with a few more chocolate chips, if desired. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Muffins stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Namas-tasty!

Mini Baked Brie, Pear and Pecan Tarts

2013-12-26 12.32.53In my old age (HAH, good one right?!), I have really come to appreciate a good glass of wine. We all know that a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away, and I recently found an article from Health magazine that boasts even more health benefits of delicious vino. According to the article, regular consumption might help keep the pounds off, reduce forgetfulness, boost immunity, and prevent bone loss.

This being said, I fully support and regularly partake in wine & cheese nights (no surprise, I’m sure, since I have also previously mentioned my affinity for cheese). I wanted to add a little extra flavor to the most recent event I hosted (and, I’ll admit, I wanted to impress my guests by putting in a little more effort than simply setting out some cheese and crackers), so I whipped up some of these delicious savory/sweet mini tarts. The melted Brie and pear blend together inside of the puff pastry, and the nutty pecan and slightly sour balsamic drizzle on the outside make for a deliciously complex combination of flavors in every bite.

2013-12-26 12.30.31Mini Baked Brie, Pear and Pecan Tarts

adapted from Unsophisticook.com

  • 1 pkg. (9.5-oz.) Puff Pastry Cups (the only ones I was able to find at my grocery store were Pepperidge Farm® brand)
  • 8 oz. Brie cheese, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 lg. pear, diced
  • whole pecans, toasted
  • balsamic vinegar

Prepare the puff pastry cups according to the package directions.

Turn the oven to down 350 degrees. Remove the “tops” from the pastry puffs and fill the inside with a piece of Brie cheese and some diced pears. Return the tops to each of the pastries and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

2013-12-26 12.33.52Let the pastry cups cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Top with a whole toasted pecan and drizzle balsamic vinegar over the top.

Namas-tasty!

Cinnamon-Vanilla Spiced Almonds

2013-12-23 14.29.39I realize, of course, that this is embarrassingly after-the-fact (for which I am very sorry and hope you forgive me, readers), but I wanted to share with you the recipe for some awesome Cinnamon-Vanilla Spiced Almonds that I made as gifts for friends and family over the holiday season. Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good spiced almond any ol’ time of year??

I, for one, think that “fancied up” nuts should be enjoyed year-round. Not only are they a great healthy snack that, when consumed wisely, help prevent obesity; additionally, nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts and pistachios have been proven to help protect your body against the damaging physical effects of stress, maintain cholesterol levels, and improve heart and brain health. Now that is one powerful fruit!

For these reasons (and also because they simply are delicious!), I usually keep some sort of nuts around for snacking, and I decided to use these crunchy little buddies when it came time to make my holiday gifts. Because they contain a lot of (heart-healthy) monosaturated fats and natural flavor, raw nuts are really easy to dress up with some simple spices and seasonings (besides the counterproductive yucky salt) to make extra delicious. Plus, I got to use my crock pot!! Talk about a win-win situation 🙂

2013-12-23 08.43.23(Crock Pot) Cinnamon-Vanilla Spiced Almonds

adapted from Polka Dotted Elephants

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg white
  • 6 cups raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup water
In a large bowl mix together sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. In another large bowl beat egg white and vanilla by hand or with an electric  mixer until mixture is frothy. Add the almonds and coat thoroughly. Once your almonds are thoroughly coated with the egg mixture, pour the sugar mixture over the almonds and stir to coat.
Prepare crock pot by spaying it with cooking spray. Turn the crock pot on to low and add almonds to pot. Cook for 4-5 hours, stirring every 20 minutes to prevent burning.
2013-12-23 14.28.59In the last hour, add 1/4 cup water to the almonds and stir. Continue to stir every 20 minutes until done. Spread the almonds out onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Once they begin to cool the cinnamon sugar glaze will harden. Wait several hours before packaging.
Namas-tasty!

Challah French Toast

2014-01-01 10.49.21HAPPY NEW YEAR my faithful, fabulous readers!! I hope Father Time helped you all usher in a fantastic and fun 2014. I, personally, have vowed to make this year the most fit and fabulous one yet (don’t you love the alliteration?? Twenty-fourteen is now officially the year of the ‘F’), and have come up with lots of resolutions to keep myself motivated in the new year — one of which is writing more frequently to you wonderful people! Another is to run a half marathon… we’ll see which one is more successful.

Yet another resolution of mine is to try lots of exciting, new and exotic foods. After all, isn’t that one of the major perks of living in Chicago, the ethnic food mecca?? I decided this resolution will have to wait until tomorrow, however; today, January 1, 2014 would not be the day for New and Exotic. Instead, I elected to make breakfast this morning following the theme of Tried and True. During my first waking moments of the new year I went back to the basics, back to my roots, and whipped up some phenomenal Challah French Toast. This recipe, though a rare treat reserved only for special occasions, is an absolute favorite of mine and it is genuinely simple to make. The braided challah, in my opinion, is the secret ingredient because it is so deliciously fluffy and light (it is even better if you use bread that’s been sitting around a few days, because it absorbs more of the egg batter before cooking). But the richness of the batter and the combination of textures from the crispy fried shell and the slightly sweet, moist interior made it the perfect way to say “Hello” to a florid 2014!

And, if you’re looking for some inspiration for your own resolutions for the upcoming year, check out this great list I found on Pinterest to help get your ideas flowing.

Challah French Toast

  • 12 slices challah, sliced 1 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup lowfat milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • unsalted butter or cooking spray

2014-01-01 10.49.34In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, flour, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the liquid mixture into a shallow baking dish or pie plate. Soak slices of challah in the liquid for about 60 seconds, turning once, until the bread is soaked through on both sides.

Heat skillet over medium heat or griddle to 350 degrees. Grease the surface with butter or cooking spray. Fry the toast in batches, sprinkling a bit of extra cinnamon over the top, if desired, for a fancier look. Let the slices brown on each side for 3-5 minutes.

Plate the French toast with fresh fruit and garnish with powdered sugar.

Namas-tasty!