Apple Chai-Spiced French Toast

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One of my all-time favorite seasonings for fall is chai spice – similar to the flavorings used in apple or pumpkin pie, it is a rich mix of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, with the added zing of allspice and cardamom. A spiced chai latte or iced chai with milk are perfect companions to a crisp fall day spent amongst the colorful leaves.

This weekend, however, I decided to use some chai spice in a more creative way: to jazz up my typical Sunday morning french toast! This recipe also makes use of all those fall apples you might have lying around, and will fill your kitchen with a phenomenal combination of autumn aromas.

Apple Chai-Spiced French Toast

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs Chai Spice
  • 1/2 tsp + a pinch ground cinnamon
  • 6 thick slices French bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter, plus more for serving
  • 3 apples, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • whipped cream and powdered sugar for topping

Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, chai spice and a pinch of ground cinnamon in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add the bread in a single layer, turning until all the egg is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter, and add apples and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, stirring to coat until starting to caramelize. Add the water, cooking until water has evaporated and apples are tender, about 4 minutes. Pour in the maple syrup; simmer for a minute to combine.

In a large, heated nonstick skillet or griddle (I like to spray mine with cooking spray to further prevent sticking), saute the soaked bread until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes. Place French toast on a plate and top with apple-maple mixture, plus whipped cream and/or powdered sugar if you’d like!

Namas-tasty!

Easy-as-Pie Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal

photo 1Happy first day of fall, readers!! Today is officially the autumnal equinox, and thus begins my absolute favorite season of the year.

Though we slowly lose our precious sunlight as the end of Daylight Savings Times approaches in November, the crisp, cool, “just-right” air still makes autumn a comforting time for many. And did you know that without the increasing darkness in the Northern Hemisphere during this time of the year, we wouldn’t be able to witness the beautiful golds, yellows, reds and oranges that are the defining features of fall foliage?!

photo 3According to National Geographic, plants can sense the waning daylight and deduce that winter is coming, so they begin to retrieve materials from their leaves before they drop off. Evergreen trees have ways to protect their needles from freezing, but leafy plants do not; therefore, they shed their leaves, typically after the first frost. Beforehand, trees such as the gorgeous Aspen that are characteristic of my beloved Colorado attempt to store up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, much like bears packing in food before they hibernate for the winter. This natural process is what causes the springy green leaves to transform into dazzling displays of autumn color.

2014-03-02 10.43.28Enough of my rambling about changing leaves (although I do enjoy them so!). As many of you may have read last year around this time, I also absolutely adore fall because of the unique and comforting ingredients: pumpkin, apples, cranberries, I love it all! So I wanted to start the season right with a hearty recipe that is sure to keep you warm on the chilly fall days to come: pumpkin oatmeal! Simply throw a handful of ingredients into your slow cooker and let it whip up overnight. In the morning you’ll wake up to a thick, creamy and deliciously flavorful dish to rev you up for the day to come.

Easy-as-Pie Slow Cooker Pumpkin Oatmeal

Adapted from Around My Family Table

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 4 1/2 cups water (you can adjust this depending on if you like thicker or thinner oatmeal)
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (about half a can)
  • 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsps pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup brown sugar

2014-03-02 10.33.18Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stirring occasionally if you can.

Season to taste with brown sugar and top with a few dried cranberries for an extra pop of fall color!

Namas-tasty!

Mini Zucchini Muffins

imageSpeaking of fresh produce… having my own garden at home has afforded me TONS of naturally grown, raw veggies to use in my cooking. Squash and zucchini are always abundant during the late summer months; we’ve practically got them coming out of our ears! My autumn motto has quickly become “A zucchini a day keeps the doctor away.”

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve managed to find some pretty creative ways to use these colorful gourd varieties, from zucchini noodles to sauteed zucchini and even zucchini nachos. One of my favorite techniques not only uses a lot of this healthy ingredient, it is also cleverly disguised by sugar and spices: baking with grated zucchini!

The first time I tried this recipe was with the after-school cooking program I helped to run for first through eighth graders in suburban Chicago. It yields enough of these bit-sized and flavorful muffins to feed an army, works great even at high altitude (now that I’m back in mountainous Colorado) and is super easy and fun to make with kids! I’ll definitely be keeping this one around for years to come.

Mini Zucchini Muffins

(Makes 3 dozen 1-oz mini muffins)

  • image (2)2 large eggs
  • 1⁄2 cup white sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1⁄2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease muffin pans or prepare them with baking cups.

image (1)Whisk 2 eggs; add sugar and oil. Beat until all three ingredients are well incorporated and mixture is very smooth. Mix in vanilla and zucchini. Slowly add flour, whisking until there are no flour lumps. Add remaining ingredients. Mix until batter is smooth (other than zucchini!).

Pour into prepped pans and bake for 15 minutes. To check for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the muffin—it’s done if the toothpick comes out clean.

Namas-tasty!

Scrumptious (and Easy) Blueberry Muffins

2014-02-15 11.16.36One of my favorite things about summer is all the fresh produce – from the farmers market to my own backyard, there’s never a shortage of awesome organic fruits and vegetables to cook up. Nothing feeds my baking addiction better than freshly picked fruit!

A few weeks ago I decided to take advantage of some delicious looking blueberries that I managed to snag for dirt cheap. Always a favorite in my family, these blueberry muffins are deliciously thick, moist and flavorful. The best part? I manage to keep them health(ier) by replacing buttermilk and oil with 1% milk and applesauce! Not to mention all the antioxidants from those juicy ripe berries. All in all, a fantasticly wholesome way to start the day!

Scrumptious (and Easy) Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

  • 2014-02-15 09.40.563 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, room temperature preferred
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray your muffin tin of choice with non-stick spray or line with muffin liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, gently toss together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Mix until all dry ingredients are combined.

2014-02-15 11.00.04In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined. Mix in milk, applesauce, and vanilla. Mixture will be pale and yellow. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand. Avoid overmixing. Gently mix until all the flour is off the bottom of the bowl and no big pockets of flour remain. The batter will be VERY thick and somewhat lumpy. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 25-26 minutes until tops are lightly golden and centers appear set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in pan before enjoying.

Namas-tasty!

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!

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!

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!