Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Layered Oatmeal Date Bars

I have a confession to make. I have become obsessed with dates. Noooo, not the romantic kind (although that kind of date is obviously nice too! haha). I am obsessed with dates, the fruit! For the last couple months they have been a staple in my kitchen. In fact, I've been buying them in bulk at BJ's because I have been eating them so much! Did you know that dates are packed with all sorts of good nutritional value? Some highlights include that they're high in fiber, low in fat, high in potassium, easily digested, and are a great source antioxidants...and due to all these great qualities, they may help fight cancer, lower blood pressure, and lower the risk of digestive disorders. However, they are slightly high in calories (not too bad though), so be sure to enjoy them in moderation! You can read more about the nutritional benefits of dates here and here. Of note, I just noticed that the first of those two sites says that dates are low in calories, but the second one says they're high in calories. One date is about 25 calories or so...for a low-calorie, energy boosting snack, you can definitely enjoy four or five dates. Just don't eat 15 or 20 at a time, I guess!!

Phew! I didn't mean for that to be a science or nutrition lesson. :-P

Back to business...the bottom line is that I am lovin' dates these days! Lately, I've mainly been eating them as a snack at work or for a burst of energy before heading out for a run. However, I recently thought to myself, I really should bake some sort of delicious treat with dates! So I did. ;-)

I don't remember how I came across this recipe for date bars (I actually wasn't on the hunt for a date-related baking recipe at the time), but I'm glad I found it! You can check out this "keeper" of a recipe here on a blog called "Miss Anthropist's Kitchen."

All in all, this was a pretty simple recipe. The most time consuming part was chopping the dates. If you look at the recipe, you'll notice that it calls for 3/4 pound of pitted dates. What does that mean in terms of typical baking measurements?! Well, I do not own a kitchen scale, so I just took a guess! I made this recipe with two cups of chopped dates, and it seemed to work out perfectly. The huge bag of dates from BJ's that I have is 40 ounces, which is 2.5 pounds, so I chopped up what I estimated to be about 1/3 of the bag....or slightly more than 3/4 pound. And that ended up being the equivalent of two cups after I chopped them. Maybe not the most scientific method, but it worked!

It's time for the part when you can take a break from reading my rambling and look at some pictures. :)

DATES! How I love thee.

Roughly two cups of chopped dates are in that bowl...

Time to cook them on the stove! This was what they looked like when they began cooking.

And here they are, ready to go in the baking dish....much "mushier" than when they began cooking.

Layer of dry/crumbly ingredients on the bottom...

Next comes the layer of the date mixture!

Evenly spread. :)

And finally, one more layer of the dry/crumbly mixture.

In the oven! My photo wasn't exactly centered. Whenever I open the oven to take a picture, I make it quick and clearly don't pay close attention to whether my item is centered!

The finished product, golden brown on top.

Check out those layers!

Here's a nice close-up view of the layers!

A few thoughts on these layered oatmeal date bars. 1) They're delicious and nutritious! Sure, there are a few ingredients in them that aren't the best for you, but I think they're much more of a guilt-free dessert than many other bars out there!  2) The date layer is the middle is SO tasty...and the top and bottom layers are darn good too! At first, I was afraid that the crumbly mixture was going to be too dry and crumbly. As it turns out, it wasn't. However, next time I make these, I think I'll try experimenting with putting less flour in the recipe (maybe just 1 cup instead of 1.5 cups?). I think I'd keep the quantity of oats the same though.  3) I did not use any applesauce in place of some of the butter, like "Miss Anthropist" did. Maybe next time! I did use half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour though. Also, I added about two tablespoons of brown sugar early on when the dates were cooking on the stove. Then, when they only had a couple more minutes to go, I added a couple tablespoons of flour to thicken the mixture. 4) I greased my baking pan. The recipe doesn't explicitly say to do that, but I decided to...not sure that the bars would have stuck if I did not grease the pan, but they definitely didn't stick after I greased it, so I say go ahead and grease the pan - just lightly is fine.  5) I have had at least one of these bars every day since I made them... And I think I'll be continuing my love affair with dates into the future. ;-)

So long for now from the Barbershop!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

Hi friends! I hope those of you who live in the northern latitudes are staying warm. BRRRR. It sure is cold out there this weekend!! You know, you can always warm up by making the split pea, carrot, and cannellini bean soup I posted about a few days ago. ;-) And then, for a dessert option, how about these quick 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies? I tell ya - these are the easiest cookies EVER!! 

Can you guess which three ingredients go into these tasty treats? I bet you guessed peanut butter...I mean, that's pretty obvious. The other two? Egg and sugar! That's all. I promise. This link will show you the recipe that I followed. If you're like me, you always have pb, eggs, and sugar on hand, so you can make these in a flash at anytime! 

Another nice quality of these cookies is that they're flourless, so they're friendly to anyone who eats gluten-free. Also, a quick note...although the recipe calls for 1 cup of regular white sugar, you could split that to be 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar. I did not do that for my first time making these, but I plan to try it next time!

As you can see, I did the whole criss cross with a fork thing with some sugar sprinkled on top for a classic peanut butter cookie feel. :)

Do you know what I'm holding up here? It's a bowl scraper, and it's an amazing little tool you should have in your kitchen if you don't already have one! My sister gave me this little guy from King Arthur Flour.

Look at how clean that bowl is!

Now, I decided to not just make the traditional peanut butter cookie. I made about one-third of the batch into regular cookies, and then I added two different toppings to the other two-thirds. On some, I pressed down on top of the cookies with my thumb to make room for some Heath toffee bits.

And on the others, I put dark chocolate Hershey kisses, so the cookies were like peanut blossoms! If you haven't made peanut blossoms before, simply have the unwrapped kisses ready to go when the cookies come out of the oven, and then gently press a chocolate kiss onto each cookie!

Here are my final products. :)  I got about 2 dozen cookies out of one batch, but they were pretty small cookies. I think they're fun to eat that way though - they're practically bite size! These were super simple and super yummy...what's not to love about that? ;-)

Linking up with Sweet as Sugar Cookies! Check it out!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Split Pea, Carrot, and Cannellini Bean Soup

Hi! I am back...just one day after my last post! :)  And I'm back with a soup recipe that I made last night for the first time and just loved! As I've said, I have all sorts of recipes on deck to share with you, but a few people have asked me already about this soup, so I wanted to get it out to you sooner than later. All the other recipes will have to wait a little longer still...

The inspiration for this split pea, carrot, and cannellini bean soup came from both a food blog and a couple of my own cookbooks that I was browsing. The initial recipe that I followed, generally speaking, can be found here. As you can see, this recipe is for a vegetarian soup - no ham bone required as is the case in many traditional split pea soup recipes. I did not make it fully vegetarian, however, since I used chicken broth in mine. But you could easily use vegetable broth if you wanted! I decided to also add the carrots and beans after looking at a few other soup recipes that contained various veggies and other ingredients.

To begin, you cook a couple sliced onions in olive oil on the stove. I decided to add carrots too; I used approximately four large carrots, peeled and chopped. As you can see here, I cooked the carrots with the onions in the beginning.

After cooking the onion and carrots for just a few minutes, I added about five cups of chicken broth (low sodium) and about two and a half cups of rinsed split peas (the recipe calls for just two cups). 

This mixture is brought to a boil and then left to simmer for about 20 or 25 minutes. With about five to 10 minutes left to simmer, I added a drained/washed can of cannellini beans for an extra punch of protein and fiber! The original recipe didn't call for the beans...

When the soup is done simmering, you then puree it in a blender in batches (just like the technique I used in my homemade tomato soup). At this point, I did add a bit more water because it was a little too thick to blend well on its own. To each half of the soup, I probably added 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water when blending.

And then...voila! You have delicious, pureed split pea soup!

This made a lot too, friends! I'd guess it made about 8 to 10 servings.

A few of my own thoughts on the soup... I am glad I decided to add broth instead of just water. Although it still may have been yummy with just the water, I do think a lot of the great flavor I tasted in the soup came from the addition of the broth. The carrots and beans were fun additions as well. You can probably add other veggies too....spinach? broccoli? It's up to you - have fun experimenting! I really enjoyed the thicker consistency of this soup, but if you wanted it thinner, you could simply add more water when you're blending it. Oh, and I also added some garlic powder and thyme during the simmer (I didn't have fresh garlic, sadly). My final version also had some small bits of carrot in it, which added a nice texture. The bowl of soup I had for dinner kept me full all evening too....gotta love a filling, healthy meal!

Serve it up with your favorite crackers or bread, and enjoy!! :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oatmeal Craisin Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Hello! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I've been meaning to blog all weekend but am only getting to it now... I've been a busy gal! I have several recipes I've been wanting to share with you, including a couple yummy dinner ideas, but since it's been a few posts since I've shared a dessert recipe with you, I decided on a sweet treat for this post...oatmeal craisin cinnamon chip cookies! They're a mouthful to say and a delicious mouthful to eat (that was really corny, I know ;-)).

This was the first recipe I tried from a new cookbook I received for Christmas - Bon Appetit Desserts. It's a cookbook FILLED (like 600+ pages worth) of delicious, tried and true dessert recipes from Bon Appetit magazine. Yummm! This particular recipe was actually for just oatmeal raisin cookies, but I changed up the recipe a bit to make them oatmeal craisin cinnamon chip (of course I did!).

Here are your ingredients:

-1 cup all-purpose flour (you could probably use whole wheat flour if you wanted, or half of each)
-1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. salt
-1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light not dark)
-1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (I did use real butter - not margarine)
-1 large egg (I brought my egg to room temp before adding it, like the butter)
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-1 and 2/3 cups old-fashioned oats
-1 cup raisins

So, that is the original recipe from the book. Here are my small changes to the "add-ins."
-1 cup oats
-3/4 cup craisins
-3/4 cup cinnamon chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or, you could grease them; I chose to use parchment). Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter in large bowl until very well blended. Beat in egg and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture, then stir in oats and raisins (or your choice of add-ins).

Now, this dough was a bit sticky after all the ingredients had been added. So what did I do? I popped the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes! It worked like a charm; the dough was less sticky and much easier to drop by spoonfuls onto the sheet!

(here they are, mid-way through baking!)

Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets, spacing 2 inches apart (this is important as these cookies spread more than some cookies!). Bake until golden brown, approximately 14 minutes (I'd say check them after 11 or 12 minutes though). Transfer cookies to cooling rack and cool completely.

For me, this recipe made about 28 cookies, although the recipe says the yield is 2 dozen. 

What I really liked about this cookie was that it had a slight crunch to it, but ultimately it was a very chewy and soft cookie - the perfect combo of textures! And the flavor combination of oats, craisins, and cinnamon chips was just perfect too. Love this cookie! Ya gotta make it! :)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homemade Tomato Soup with Garlic Twist Breadsticks

Welcome back to the "shop." ;-) I've got another super simple recipe for you here for homemade tomato soup. In fact, this recipe would pair well with my last post about English muffin bread! However, you may be able to tell from the title of this post that I served this soup with some breadsticks when I made it last week. :) Maybe next time I'll go for the soup and English muffin bread pairing! Or even better yet, soup and a homemade grilled cheese sandwich made with the English muffin bread...

The colder, winter months in New England make me think more about soups and stews, and I always love a bowl of classic tomato soup! This recipe must be one of the easiest soups to make at home. It calls for just six ingredients, two of which are olive oil and salt, which barely count as ingredients...right? ;-) The other four ingredients are garlic, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, and basil. This soup could easily be made into a vegetarian recipe too by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth. I didn't actually add the salt to this recipe because I figure the broth adds enough salt on its own (even if the broth is low sodium). And besides, if someone wants more salt, they can just add it to their own bowl of soup!

Start to finish, this takes about 30 to 35 minutes or so...and 20 minutes of that is just letting the soup simmer on the stove! The other preparation time involves cooking the garlic on the stove top in the beginning and then pureeing the soup at the end. That's all, folks! Oh, and guess what else is great about this recipe? It's very low-calorie! One serving (which equals 1 and 1/2 cups of soup) is just 103 calories and 2.8 grams of fat. Check out the recipe, instructions, and the rest of the nutrition stats here

Would you like to see some pictures? I thought so!

The ingredients minus the broth!

Garlic, cooking on the stove in olive oil... (by the way, I just used garlic that I sliced/chopped; the recipe calls for minced garlic, but it all gets blended in the end anyway, so it really doesn't matter, I say!)

Tomatoes and broth!

Tomatoes, broth, and garlic!

Blending time :-D

There's the final product! I blended the soup in two batches and poured it into this nice, big glass bowl after it was pureed to the consistency I wanted.

I added some shredded mozzarella on top for a treat. ;-)

Are you wondering how I made the garlic twist breadsticks?! Well, let me tell you! Or, you can also read it here on Pillsbury's website since I semi-followed this recipe.

I started out with Pillsbury crescent rolls (bought them on sale with a coupon!).

I mixed together some olive oil, pepper, garlic powder, and a bit of parmesean cheese (sorry, I didn't really measure how much of each!).

The dough will be in four rectangles. Brush each with the olive oil and spices mixture.

Cut each rectangle in half so you have eight pieces...

...and then twist each one!

Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 - 15 minutes (mine were done after 10 minutes though, so check them early!).

Finally, dunk your tasty breadstick in your delicious tomato soup. ;-)

See you again soon!