Thursday, September 22, 2016

Apricot Pecan Oatmeal Bars

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a morning person. Once I’m up, I enjoy watching the sky lighten as I sip my coffee and work my way through the newspaper. I also feel more productive if I wake up early.

It’s just the getting up part that is difficult. I hate to leave my soft, cozy bed.

Recently, I’ve learned there is a 5 o’clock in the morning as well as the evening. A few weeks ago, I started a new job at a local middle school. I’m working in a program that helps students improve their reading skills…perfect for a writer who wants to encourage kids to enjoy reading as much as I do! Books have brought fun and joy to my life ever since I discovered The Boxcar Children in elementary school. Now I hope to pass that joy on to this generation.

The only obstacle is waking up in the mornings. I’m also not much for eating breakfast, which wasn’t a problem when I was working full-time from home and able to grab something from the kitchen whenever my stomach growled. Now, I head out the door at 7:15 a.m., so by 8:30 or 9, I start getting pretty hungry.

These Apricot Pecan Oatmeal Bars are a great solution. They are adapted from a video made by Ree Drummond—The Pioneer

While her recipe sounded yummy, I wanted to up the nutrition level a bit more by adding pecans and some whole wheat flour. Her original recipe called for strawberry jam, which would taste great. But on Facebook, she suggested apricot, which is one of my favorites. You can use any flavor jam you like. Just make sure it’s jam, which is easier to spread than jelly. Also, if the jam is still a little stiff, try zapping the jar in the microwave for 10 seconds to warm it up a bit. Just don’t let it get too runny.

These bars are a tasty way to stave off hunger in the morning. Just put one (or two!) into a plastic bag and go!

Apricot Pecan Oatmeal Bars
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups quick oatmeal
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for the dish)
1 10-ounce jar (or larger) apricot jam
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut the butter into the mixture to make small, crumbly pieces. (The mixture will look like coarse, damp sand with bits of oatmeal.)

Pour half the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Using your fingers, pack the mixture firmly into the bottom of the dish to form a crust. Spoon the jam on top and gently spread it on the surface in an even layer.

Stir the pecans into the remaining oatmeal mixture. Spread the mixture over the top of the jam and press it down to form a crust.

Place the baking dish into the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is golden brown. Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Make-Your-Own Trail Mix

Does this happen to you: While working at your computer/reading an engaging novel/watching a favorite television program, you are attacked by the snack gremlins? It happens to me a lot! My stomach…or is it my brain…keep saying, “Wouldn’t a snack be nice right about now?”

What snacks do you reach for? If you’re anything like me, your choice isn’t always (i.e.: hardly ever) healthy. 

In an effort to correct that situation, I decided to buy a bag of trail mix. While looking at the vast variety of mixes on my grocery store shelves, I had a revelation: Most of the ingredients I like in a trail mix were already in my home pantry.

So I tossed together peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, dried cherries, dried cranberries, raisins,
and dried apricots. Then I added some dark chocolate chips…those are good for you, right?  Then I dumped the whole mixture into glass jars to keep on hand when the snack gremlins pay a visit.

What are your must-haves in a trail mix? 

Or do you have a different go-to snack?
Healthy or not?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

White Chocolate Chip Lime Cookies

In my mind, summer and limes make a perfect pair. Perhaps my way of thinking comes from my childhood when Mom would take my sister and me to a local drugstore that still had a soda fountain (and an amazing penny candy display!) We would order limeades, made with fresh squeezed limes, simple syrup, and soda water. These beverages were nowhere like the ones you occasionally find today made by adding limes to lemon-lime soda. These were made in the style of lemonade using limes instead…the perfect remedy for a sweltering Midwest summer day.

 I wanted to celebrate limes this summer, but this time in cookie form with these White Chocolate Chip Lime Cookies. The recipe is a twist on a Lemondoodles one I created a few years ago.

The lime flavor pairs nicely with the white chocolate chips. I also like how the pecans help balance the sweetness of the chips and the tartness of the lime, but you could leave them out if nuts in cookies aren’t your thing.

White Chocolate Chip Lime Cookies
Makes 3 1/2 dozen

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla, eggs, lime zest and lime juice until blended, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Slowly stir in the powdered ingredients until they are just blended. Fold in the chips and pecans.

Roll the cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 1/2-inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies just begin brown on the bottom. Don’t over bake. Cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, and then finish cooking on a rack. Store in an air-tight container. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kicked-up Burgers for Summertime

Whenever a summer holiday comes along, my first craving is for a hamburger. (With a hot dog not a too distant second. Okay, I’ll admit to having one of each!) Did you know Americans eat about 14 billion burgers each year? I guess I’m not alone in my craving for this meat patty on a bun.

If you’re having guests over to celebrate the holiday, consider setting up a hamburger and hot dog bar. Then everyone can have fun trying out different flavor combinations on their meat of choice. Cook up some hot dogs and hamburgers, and then set up a condiment bar so people can choose their own toppings. (You may want to hold a fun contest for the most creative hamburger and hot dog, with prizes.) Also, condiment combinations, such as how to make a Chicago Dog, can be printed and framed to set on the bar, or written on a chalkboard.

Here are some hot dog and hamburger bar suggestions:
  • Regular and poppy-seed hot dog buns
  • Regular and onion hamburger buns
  • Ketchup
  • Mustards, yellow and brown
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salsa
  • Sweet pickle relish
  • Dill pickle slices
  • Dill pickle spears
  • Diced onion
  • Sliced purple onion
  • Sautéed onions
  • Banana pepper slices
  • Jalapeno pepper slices
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tomato slices
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Chili
  • Coleslaw
  • Crispy bacon, sliced and crumbles
  • Nacho cheese
  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Sliced American, cheddar, and pepper-jack cheeses
  • Grated cheddar cheese

While I love a simple hamburger cooked with just a sprinkle of salt and pepper, once in a while I like to kick them up in flavor. I first came across this recipe in a diet book, of all things. I’ve tinkered with it a bit. The original version of the recipe called for cilantro, but I like parsley better. But, if you’re a cilantro fan, by all means, give it a try. 

For other summertime holiday recipes, check out the links on this blog post from last year!

Kicked-up Burgers
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon dried mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
4 hamburger buns

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients together, and then shape into patties. Cook the burgers any way you choose—on the grill, or with a broiler or skillet—to the desired doneness. (I love them cooked in my cast iron skillet!) While the burger cooks, spread butter on the cut sides of the hamburger buns. Toast them either on the grill, under the broiler or in a skillet. Once the burgers are done, place on a toasted bun and top with your favorite condiments.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Veggie Succotash

Does anyone eat succotash anymore? Traditionally made with corn and beans (usually lima beans), this side dish seems a bit old fashioned…or it did until this recipe came along!

Succotash’s history reaches back to the early days of our country. A Native American stew made from corn, beans and a bit of meat, it was adopted by the early English settlers as a way to ward off starvation when other food sources weren’t available. Succotash was probably on the menu that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  

Recently, the Kansas Museum of History featured an exhibition called What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet. Created by the National Archives and Records Administration, the exhibit detailed the Government’s impact on how we eat every day, from what is grown on farms to recipes served on dinner tables across the country. It also explained how economic hardships, wars, and other historical events impact our food choices.

A cooking class was part of the exhibit, featuring recipes inspired by ones in Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives, which was published to go along with the What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? exhibit.

The succotash recipe in the book was from an 1879 Army cooking manual and called for the cooked vegetables to be made in a cream sauce. My mom told me that is how she remembered it being made, but growing up we often had corn (or hominy) combined with lima beans on their own and called it succotash. At least, that’s how I remembered it.

At the cooking class, dietician Amber Groeling came up with a modern-day version that works both as a side dish or a main course. Her version added many more vegetables, swapped the Lima beans with shelled edamame, and dressed it with fresh basil, olive oil, and tarragon vinegar. 

Since tarragon vinegar isn’t something I keep around, I swapped it for red wine vinegar. I also upped the amount of bacon from 2 slices to 3 for more flavor, and used cherry tomatoes instead of one whole tomato. That’s what is great about this recipe…you can tinker with it to fit your own tastes very easily. Soon I plan to try it with lima beans instead of edamame.

I enjoy this succotash as a one-skillet supper on warm summer evenings, but it would also work well as a side dish to grilled or barbecued meats. You can make it a vegan dish by skipping the bacon and using olive oil instead. It tastes wonderful both served warm or at room temperature.  

Summer Veggie Succotash       
Serves 6

3 slices bacon
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 12-ounce package of frozen corn, defrosted
2 cups zucchini in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups yellow squash in 1/2-inch dice
1 12-ounce package frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons.

In a 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside. Into the skillet in the hot bacon fat, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Next, add in the corn, zucchini and squash. Cook until the zucchini and squash start to become tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the edamame, cook until warmed through. Chop the crisp bacon and stir into the mixture, along with the sliced tomatoes. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and basil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Greek Salad Turkey Wrap

In much the same way my body and spirit crave comfort foods in colder weather (mac and cheese, pot roast, hearty soups), the longing turns to fresh veggies and fruits as the temperature rises. Maybe it’s the plethora of fresh produce at the farmers market and grocery store? Maybe it’s just the heat? For whatever the reason, my crisper drawers and hanging wire baskets are bursting with freshness.

This Greek Salad Turkey Wrap is a wonderful way to pack a lot of veggies into one meal. It's based on a sandwich I always order at a local coffee shop. It makes a great sandwich for a picnic, lunch at work, or a light summer supper. There are no exact measurements with this recipe since everything can be added to fit your personal tastes. Just be sure to not overload the wrap or you’ll have trouble rolling it all up. 

To be honest, I’m terrible at filling a wrap. I always put in too much.

Greek Salad Turkey Wrap
Makes one sandwich

1 wrap (I like spinach wraps.)
1 to 2 slices deli turkey
Mixed greens
Feta cheese
Red onion, thinly sliced
Sliced olives
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Tomato, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced
Greek salad dressing (I found this in the produce section of the grocery store.)
Lay the wrap on a flat surface. Layer on the remaining ingredients. Roll up the wrap, cut in half, and enjoy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Diabetes-Friendly Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of my personal traditions is to make treats for my friends and family on their birthdays. Sometimes I let them pick whatever they want, and other times I know their favorites and I just whip up a batch of goodies. I’ve made everything from whoopie pies and brownies to chocolate chocolate chip muffins, and buffalo wings.

However, there is a small glitch to my birthday treat tradition: Diabetes is common both in my Thompson family line and the Ditch family. I was faced with this dilemma recently when my brother-in-law’s birthday approached. Since he has diabetes, how would I give him a festive treat and without causing blood sugar issues?

The Picky Eater always loved chocolate chip cookies for his birthday, which made me wonder if a diabetes-friendly version was available. I also wanted a recipe that didn’t use artificial sweeteners. (Right or wrong, I just believe real sugar must be better for you than chemicals.)

An internet search came up with this recipe from Diabetic Living magazine. Since I don’t have diabetes, I’m not sure what makes these cookies more blood sugar friendly than regular ones. The recipe calls for real brown sugar! If I had to guess, it’s the additional complex carbs in the ground toasted oatmeal, a smaller sugar amount than traditional recipes, and the smaller serving size that makes these cookies work.

Each cookie made using the original recipe has 12 grams of carbs and 7 grams of sugars. I tweaked the recipe a bit by using whole milk yogurt instead of low-fat, and adding chopped pecans. So be aware! I don’t have any knowledge how my changes may impact healthfulness of the cookies. When in doubt, go with the original recipe.

These cookies are soft, moist and chocolate-chip-cookie delicious. They don’t spread out while baking like traditional cookies, which gives them a tasty, cake-like texture.

This recipe is now a part of my cooking-making repertoire.     

Diabetes-Friendly Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 60 cookies
1 cookie per serving

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt (I use the whole milk variety.)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pour the oatmeal onto a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake until oats are toasted, approximately 5 to 10 minutes, stirring once. Pour the toasted oats into a food processor and blend until finely ground. Set aside.

Using a mixer, blend together the butter, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt until combined. Mix in the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually add in the flour and mix until just combined. Mix in the ground oats, and then add in the chocolate chips.

Spoon rounded teaspoon-sized portions of the dough 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. (I used a teaspoon-sized ice cream scoop.) Bake for 9 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are golden brown, rotating the baking sheet in the oven halfway through. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then transfer them to a cooling rack.