Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

Not sure what to do with all those leftover carrots from Easter? Well, I have just the answer for you. Make this homemade carrot cake baked oatmeal! But not just any baked oatmeal - vegan, oil and white sugar free oatmeal. Have I scared you now? Please don't run away just because I said vegan. I promise this oatmeal is good. Otherwise, why would I share it with you and pretty much tell you that you need to make this ASAP. Okay, maybe the latter part scared you. Nevertheless, this baked oatmeal is a must make. Whether it's because you want something simple and delicious for quick breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack or for desert (yes, you could eat this for dessert!), this baked oatmeal is for you. Plus, it's full of carrots and any extra veggies I can get in is a plus in my book.

I am going to be the first to tell you that I don't make a lot of vegan dishes. Not because they don't sound good, but because I just never really think about it all that much. Maybe I should think about it more. Especially after how good this oatmeal was! This oatmeal is super simple to whip up. All you need is oats, carrots (of course), honey or maple syrup as your sweetener, vanilla, cinnamon, a few other ingredients, nuts, raisins and almond milk. Of course I used my homemade almond milk here, but you can use whatever milk you like here. Do note that if you use good 'ol regular milk, this will no longer be vegan. But that's okay too. As long as you are not serving this to vegans. You literally mix everything together, pour it in to a baking dish and bake away. In about 30 minutes your home will be filled with the best carrot cake smell. In oatmeal form, of course.

The best part about this oatmeal is that you can prep everything the night before and just mix it up the morning of and bake. You can also bake the oatmeal the day before and just reheat the next morning. That's what the hubby and I like to do. It makes a super quick, healthy and delicious morning breakfast treat for us. We like to serve it with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt or a splash of our favorite milk. Yes, I know neither of those are vegan, but I am okay with it, so I hope you are too. The best part about this oatmeal is that I feel really good about eating it - it's loaded with carrots, oats and no white sugar. It's super delicious and to be honest, you'd never know there weren't eggs or milk in this dish. It's a winner and I think I may even try to add some crushed pineapple the next time I make it. And by next time, I mean next week. Because this was so good and I have been eating it almost everyday this week....for lunch! It doesn't matter what time of the day you eat this oatmeal, you are sure to love it. 

beautiful ingredients

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal (slightly modified from Oh She Glows)

2 1/4 cup oats (not quick cooking)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 1/2 cups almond milk (or any other non-dairy (for vegan) or regular milk (for non-vegan)
1/3 cup honey (or pure maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger)
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 8x11 (9x13 will work just fine here too) pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, add the milk, honey and vanilla extra. Mix well and then pour over the dry ingredients. Give everything a big stir to combine and pour in to the prepared pan. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Enjoy!

This baked oatmeal will also freeze really well once baked. Just remove from the freezer the night before to defrost and enjoy the next morning!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Homemade Almond Milk

Homemade almond milk is something I've been wanting to try for a very long time. I've heard how easy it was to make and since I was buying a carton from the store almost every week, I thought, why not try to make it at home. Seemed logical enough to me. Right? So, I started doing a search for what I would need to make almond milk at home and here's what I found - almonds (duh), dates or other natural sweetener, vanilla beans (or extract) and a nut bag. Yes, I said a nut bag. Don't laugh. It's a real thing. I promise! You can use cheese cloth in place of the nut bag, but I recommend a true nut bag. You can find a variety of them on Amazon and any one of them will work. They are around $10 each and are reusable! This is the one I bought. It worked great and was easy to clean. That's a win in my book.

Okay, back to making the milk. It's super easy. First, you take one cup of almonds and soak them for 8-10 hours with enough water to cover them. Make sure you use a big enough bowl as the almonds will expand a bit. Once 8-10 hours have passed, drain and rinse the almonds. You don't want to use that soaking water. Then, place the almonds and fresh water in the blender. At this point, you can blend away or if you want to add a bit of sweetness and flavor, you can add in a few pitted dates and some vanilla. I threw in a whole vanilla bean pod, but if you don't have those handy, vanilla extract will work just fine. You can also use honey or pure maple syrup instead of dates, if you wish. Or leave out the natural sweetener altogether. It's up to you. Once everything is in the blender, whip it up for a minute or so. Make sure everything is really well blended. Give it few extra seconds if you think it needs it. It won't hurt it.

Then comes the fun part and where the nut bag comes in to play. Take a big bowl (enough to hold the liquid from the blender) and place the nut bag in the bowl. Pour the contents of the blender in to the bag and squeeze it for as long as you can to get milk out of it. Warning - if you squeeze too hard, it will squirt all over. Ya, that happened to me. Apparently I don't know my own strength. Once all of the milk is out, you can keep the ground up mixture for granola, muffins or to use as a flour replacement in your baking. More on that later. I threw mine away before I knew you could use it. Darn it!

Give the blender a quick rinse and then pour the milk back in. Now, add a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon. You can leave the  cinnamon and salt out, but I think it gives it a little something something and definitely takes it over the top from store bought almond milk. But if you are purest, then you can leave it out. Give the mixture one more whirl and you are good to go. You can pour it in any container you like (I bought this cute reusable milk jar!) and enjoy for up to a week. If it lasts that long. When all is said and done, this recipe makes about three and a half cups of fresh almond milk. Enjoy it with cereal, in your baking, or just in a big cold glass! 

how good does that look!?

Homemade Almond Milk (Oh She Glows)

1 cup raw almonds
3 1/2 cups fresh water
3-4 pitted dates
1 vanilla bean (whole) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Soak the one cup of raw almonds in enough water to cover them for 8-10 hours. Once the soaking time has passed, drain and rinse the almonds. Add the almonds to a blender with the 3.5 cups fresh water, dates and vanilla. Blend for one minute on high until everything is well blended. If you feel it needs a bit more, blend for another 15 seconds. 

Then place the nut bag in a bowl big enough to hold the contents of the blender. Then, pour the mixture in to the bag and squeeze to get all the milk into the bowl. Once you've removed all the milk, you can dump the contents of the bag or save them for another use (more on that to come, but you can also Google it too!). Rinse out the blender and then pour the milk back in. Add in the salt and cinnamon and give it one more quick whirl - 10 seconds or so. Then, pour in to whatever container you have and enjoy!

Who knew making homemade almond milk would be so fun and delicious!.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Best Black Bean Brownies EVER

Black bean brownies get a bad rap. Probably because they contain black beans and typically taste nothing like a brownie. But, I am about to change your mind about black bean brownies. Like, I am going to make you want to make these black bean brownies all the time and eat one almost everyday. Don't be scared, okay? Just hear me out. Now, I've tried several black bean brownie recipes out there. The first one I tried had flecks of bean skin (so gross!) throughout the brownie and it gave it such a strange texture. And, it really tasted like beans. Of course, I knew it would, but it was more bean-y than I thought it would be. Not very good in my books. The second version I tried was a bit more chocolaty, but the beans were definitely still there. I made several batches for others, and they loved them, but they still weren't "the one". And definitely not the brownie I would eat in place of an every day ooey gooey chocolate brownie.  Now I want a brownie. With ice cream. And berries. And hot fudge. Oh my!

Okay, back to black bean brownies. One weekend afternoon when I needed a study break (as you all know, I stress bake), I decided to do some more research on black bean brownies. That's when I came across a new and different way of making black bean brownies from Gina, the wonderful food blogger of Skinnytaste. If you have not checked out her blog, you must! It's AMAZING. Just like these brownies. I am not going to lie. I was a bit skeptical trying out yet another black bean brownie recipe, but these have changed my life. I kid you not. 

These brownies start with one can of black beans and a food processor. A blender would work well here too. You add the beans, a couple of eggs, some sugar (not too much), a splash of oil, milk, baking powder and soda, cocoa powder and then the two ingredients that take these brownies over the top - balsamic vinegar and espresso powder. I first thought, "vinegar in brownies?", but let me tell you, there is something about the combination of the balsamic and espresso powder that just works. If you ask me, it really amps up the chocolate flavor! And the best part of these brownies, there is not one sprinkle of flour! You just whirl up everything in the food processor until it's nice and smooth (no bean skins here!).  Then pour the mixture in to a bowl, add some chocolate chips, mix them in and pour everything in a baking pan. Top the mixture with the rest of the chocolate chips and bake away. In just about 30 minutes, you'll have some of the best brownies you have ever had. Ever! They are so rich and chocolaty, you'd never know they were made with beans. I've fooled quite a few people with these! Now that's saying something.

These black bean brownies have become part of my weekly baking rotation and something the hubby and I always have on hand. I keep these bad boys individually wrapped up so they are easy to grab and go. Especially when I need a sweet treat I can feel good about. And so I don't eat half the pan in one sitting. Not that I would, but you never know. Each brownie is about 140 calories and will curb that afternoon sweet craving in no time. Trust me, you'll never think about black bean brownies the same way again. These are a game changer.

Yes, these are really made with black beans!

The Best Black Bean Brownies (slightly adapted from Skinnytaste)

Recipe makes 16 brownies - each at just about 140 calories!

1, 14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon milk 
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee
Dash of salt
1 cup of chocolate chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9x9 square pan with foil.

Drain and rinse the can of black beans and place in a food processor (or blender if you don't have a food processor). Add in all of the remaining ingredients, except for the chocolate chips. Blend everything together until the mixture is nice and smooth. About one minute. Once everything is well mixed, pour the mixture into a bowl and add half of the chocolate chips. Stir to combine and pour everything in to the prepared pan. Then, sprinkle the other half of the chocolate chips over the top, making sure they are evenly distributed.

Bake brownies for about 28-32 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Do not over bake! Allow them to cool slightly and then cut in to 16 even squares.I like to keep them in the fridge until they are nice and cold, but if you can't wait that long, let them cool for about an hour or so before cutting in to them. Enjoy!

These brownies will change your life. You'll never look at black beans the same again!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lightened Up Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

This is hands down the best chicken soup EVER. Seriously. For the longest time, I've been trying to find a chicken noodle soup recipe that was just like the fresh chicken noodle soup I love from Whole Foods. Nothing ever came close, until I found this one. It was like a dream come true. It was creamy (but not loaded with cream, if that makes any sense), it had tons of veggies, chicken and just so so so good. It's one of those soups that you can make over and over again and you will love it more each time. It's perfect for those cold and rainy days or for when you or a loved one has come down with a cold. It's like a hug in a bowl. Wow, did I really just say that? It's true though. There is just something so comforting about homemade chicken noodle soup.

Now, I need to let you in on a secret. The noodles. Of course you can use any noodle you want (egg noodles would work great here!), but my noodle of choice is frozen egg noodles. You are probably wondering what the heck I am talking about. Right? I don't even know how I found these, but they really do make the soup and come to find out, they are almost at every grocery store in the frozen section! The brand I use and highly recommend is Reames. Just Google it and you'll be able to see exactly what I am talking about. They are simply the best and take the soup to the next level. Don't feel like you have to use them, but if you can find them, you should definitely try them out. They'll be a game changer, I promise.

Okay, back to making the soup. I'll get off my noodle high now. The chicken soup starts off just as any other chicken noodle soup - onions, celery, carrots and garlic. You've got to have garlic. Once the veggies are nice and soft, you sprinkle a little bit of flour over them (this will thicken things up) and add in lots of chicken broth. The broth and veggie mixture will simmer for about 20 minutes or so to let all the flavors to combine. After the 20 minutes are up, add in seasonings, shredded chicken (a store bought rotisserie chicken works great here!) and the noodles. Stir everything together and cook the soup for another 10-15 minutes, or until the noodles are just about done. Then comes the best part. The creamy part. Once the noodles are cooked, add in a can of low fat evaporated milk. This is the creamy part without having to use heavy cream and adding in tons of extra calories. Give everything one more big stir and this delicious pot of creamy chicken noodle soup is ready to enjoy. 

Do note that this soup will last for up to five days in the fridge. If it doesn't all get all gobbled up right away. The noodles tend to absorb the liquid from the soup, so I like to keep some extra chicken broth on hand to add when I reheat the soup. Those chicken broth boxes are super handy and something I always keep in my pantry!


Lightened Up Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup (slightly adapted from Well Plated)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup flour
8 cups chicken broth (or stock)
3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 can (12 oz) skim evaporated milk
2-3 cups uncooked noodles (egg noodles or the frozen ones are great here)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a large pot, over medium heat, add the oil, carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Cook about 10 minutes until the veggies are soft and just starting to brown. Then add the flour and stir for one minute to cook out the flour and coat all the veggies. Then add in the chicken broth and mix to combine. Add in the salt, pepper and oregano and bring the entire mixture to a simmer for 20 minutes. Then add in the shredded chicken and noodles, and cook the noodles according to the time on the package. Once the noodles are cooked, add in the can of evaporated milk, stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper, as needed. Enjoy!

You can enjoy a big bowl of this soup on its own, or it's also great served with a grilled cheese sandwich or homemade biscuits!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Bars

Three ingredients is all it takes to whip up these no-bake peanut butter oat bars. THREE INGREDIENTS! Now we are talking. I am always trying to find (and perfect) a granola bar for my hubby. I've tried and tried again only for them to be too crunchy, too soft, or crumble apart. That or they take a million ingredients and who wants to buy all of that. Not me. There are a few store bought bars we love, but I just can't give up hope on making one at home. I am determined to make one that is easy, delicious and husband approved.

I can't recall if I saw one of my fellow food bloggers post about these bars or if I saw it on Pinterest. Probably both. Who knows. Nevertheless, I knew I needed to try them. I had everything I needed and home and I did not need to turn on the oven. Double win. For these super easy, no-bake bars, you'll simply need honey, peanut butter and oats. Three ingredients. That's it. Nothing fancy here and no need for me to go out and get oodles of ingredients (one of the recipes I tried called for brown rice syrup and I had to go on a wild goose chase to find it!). You simple heat up the peanut butter and honey on the stove (or slowly in the microwave) until you can mix it all together and it is nice and smooth. You don't have to heat it up, but trust me, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stir when you add in those oats. Once the pb and honey mixture is all ready to go, stir in the oats until they are all nice and coated. Then, just simply plop the oat mixture into a lined pan (I used non-stick foil), press it down and let rest to cool. You can speed up this process by placing the pan in the fridge. I usually do this because I am impatient. Just ask my husband.

Once the bars are ready to go, cut them up and enjoy! You can keep them in the fridge if you like them firmer or you can keep them out if you like them softer. Either way, they are just as good. I like to keep mine in individual snack bags so they are grab and go ready for a quick snack. Plus, portion control so I don't eat them all. Because if they weren't cut up, I'd probably eat half the tray in one sitting. 

uh oh, someone took one!

No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Bars (from Cookies & Cups)

1 cup peanut butter (smooth works best here, but chunky would be just fine too!)
1/2 cup honey
3 cups old fashioned oats (not the quick cooking kind!)

Line a 9x9 pan with foil and lightly spray with non-cooking spray 

Place the peanut butter and honey in a pan on the stove (or in a microwave proof bowl if you want to do this in the microwave) and melt until smooth. Then stir in the oats until combined.

Press the oat mixture into the prepared pan and place int eh fridge until set. Enjoy!

It doesn't get more delicious than three ingredients!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lightened Up Grilled Shrimp Scampi

If you are anything like me, you are exhausted after a long day of work and usually have no idea of what the heck to make for dinner. Especially if you've had your head in a book (last semester of grad school here I come) and are figuring out when and were you can fit in your workouts to remain sane.  Yes, I am crazy, but you knew that already. At least I hope you did. Needless to say, when you are looking for a quick, easy and super delicious meal, these grilled shrimp scampi skewers are the way to go. Plus, they look so fancy that your family and friends will think you took hours to whip them up. When in fact, it took you five to make them and just about the same time to cook them. Seriously! Can't ask for better than that. And if you don't have a grill, or the weather isn't best for outdoor cooking (hello El Nino), you can just sear these up in a pan on the stove. Easy peasy.

To whip these up, you need just a few basic ingredients - olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, red pepper flakes, a bit of parmesean and shrimp (duh). You'll also need bamboo skewers too. If you don't have any, you can typically find these at your local grocery store in the veggie isle or where they have the grilling items. Before you start assembling the shrimp, you'll need to soak the skewers. This will prevent them from burning (especially on the grill). Once they are soaking, then you can start the shrimp. Add everything but the parmesan to a bag and toss to coat the shrimps. You'll want to let them sit and marinate for about 30 minutes. This will allow the shrimp to get nice and flavorful. Once 30 minutes has past (don't let it go too much longer than that or the lemon may start to "cook" the shrimp), you'll layer  shrimp, lemon slice, shrimp. lemon slice, shrimp, lemon slice and shrimp. Wow, say that three times fast. Whether you are cooking on the grill or stove, you'll want to cook these about 2-3 minutes per side. When they are done, squeeze some more lemon on them and top with the parm. So easy and so delicious. 

You can of course enjoy these shrimps by themselves, but I like them best served with a little bit of parmesean risotto and veggies. They would even be good on a salad too! No matter how you enjoy them, you are sure to love them as much as I do. And the best part (I have been holding out on you) - two skewers (that's eight shrimp, ya'll!) is only 170 calories and almost 25 grams of protein. Now we are talking. That's my kind of meal. Quick. Easy. Delicious. Healthy.

how good does that look?!

Lightened Up Grilled Shrimp Scampi (SkinnyTaste)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large lemons cut in half
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped (fresh or dried would be just fine here)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more if you like it HOT)
about 32 large shrimps, cleaned and deveined (about one pound)
3 large lemons cut in to slices
16 bamboo skewers, soaked in water
1 tablespoon parmesean cheese

In a large bag, combine the olive oil, juice from 1 1/2 lemons, parsley, garlic and red pepper flakes. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Let marinate for about 30 minutes.

While the shrimp marinate, prep the grill or your stove top. Get it nice and hot. Beginning and ending with shrimp, thread the shrimp and folded lemon slices onto eight pairs of skewers to make eight total.

Spray your grill or pan with nonstick spray (or oil, if you like) and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes. When the shrimp are cooked (they will be opaque!), set on a plate, squeeze remaining lemon on top and sprinkle with the parm cheese. Enjoy!

Who knew shrimp could be so easy and so delicious!