Monday, September 24, 2018

Dark Chocolate, Coconut and Chia Granola

It took me a few tries to perfect this recipe! I was hoping for something with a lot of chocolate flavor, some nice granola clumps, and good nutritional value.

It all started with my favorite granola - Bakery on Main's Bunches of Crunches. I had it for the first time after a race I ran in CT last year. Bakery on Main is a local CT company and there are usually samples of their products at the CT races. We picked up a few samples of their granola and I was just blown away by the flavor. It was also the first time I had seen chia seeds used in a granola recipe.

For a while I was buying bags of the coconut version on Amazon (although the dark chocolate sea salt was my favorite). At $4.50 - $5 for an 11 oz bag, it wasn't cheap, but I made the bag last as long as I could and considered it one of my few indulgences. However, lately it has been $8 for a bag and that's an expense I can't really justify. I decided instead I would try to make my own!

I read through a lot of recipes for chocolate coconut chia granola, and found that they all started with coconut oil. After that, there was a huge variation in the amount (and type of) of cocoa powder/chocolate, oats, sweetener, and chia.

My first version was okay - it smelled fantastic, but the chocolate flavor was pretty weak, and the coconut oil dominated too much. The chia seeds didn't stick to the granola itself, which was annoying.


In my second version I added an egg white (like Deb does from Smitten Kitchen) as well as adding additional cocoa powder, and that helped, but I still had chia seed fallout.

In my third version I think I got it right! I needed a second egg white to hold those chia seeds to the oats, and I added even more cocoa powder to really boost the chocolate flavor. This is a very lightly sweet granola - I eat mine with greek yogurt that has neen sweetened slightly with some protein powder, as well as ripe sweet berries. If you prefer a sweeter granola feel free to add more maple syrup or sugar. This recipe can also be doubled if you want more servings! I made it in small batches when I was recipe testing so I wouldn't waste too many ingredients if it didn't turn out well.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate, Coconut and Chia Granola
Yield: ~3 cups (12 1/4-cup servings)
Prep time: 10 minutes, Bake time: 30-34 minutes, Total time: 40-45 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tbsp coconut oil (28 grams)
1/4 cup cocoa powder (21 grams)
2 tbsp brown sugar (add more if you want a sweeter granola)
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey (add more if you want a sweeter granola)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp chia seeds (25 grams)
2 egg whites (~65 grams)
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup crispy rice cereal (rice krispies)
1/4 cup chopped almonds (28 grams)
1/4 cup shredded coconut (I use sweetened)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 F and line a small baking sheet with foil, then lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large heat-safe bowl, microwave the coconut oil in 5-10 second bursts until it is melted but not hot. Stir in cocoa powder, brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt and chia seeds until it forms a thick paste. Add the egg whites and mix well until smooth.

Pour in the oats, rice cereal, almonds and coconut, and stir well until everything is evenly coated.

Dump onto the foil-lined sheet and press down so it is all in one even layer. If your baking sheet is large, try to keep it all on one side of the pan - if it is spread out too much, some might burn.

Bake for 30-35 minutes at 325 F, stirring every 10 minutes, until dried out and crispy.
If you like big clusters, then try to flip over portions at a time rather than stirring - it will keep the clusters intact.
If you prefer a loose granola, then stir well each time.
Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


Pre-Baking

Post-Baking - nice big clumps


Greek yogurt with 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1 tsp chia seeds,
topped with chopped strawberries, fresh figs, and 1 serving of granola

Notes:
1. Like I mentioned above, if you would prefer a sweeter granola, feel free to add additional brown sugar or maple syrup/honey. It will change the nutritional information below.
2. I like using a cocoa powder that is a blend of unsweetened and Dutch processed, like Hershey's special dark or Saco. However, it will turn out great with whatever kind of cocoa powder you have on hand.
3. While I have not tried this recipe with liquid egg whites (in a carton), I don't see why it wouldn't work. Your mixture might be slightly more wet, since liquid egg whites tend to be loose and less "gel"-like than fresh egg whites.
4. I use sweetened shredded coconut, but feel free to use unsweetened if that is what you prefer, or flaked coconut to add additional texture.
5. I use almonds because they are pretty healthy when it comes to nuts (and inexpensive), but feel free to add your favorite! Pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and peanuts would all work really well.
6. I use coconut oil because I wanted to boost the coconut flavor, and I have a giant jar of coconut oil that I had never used before. Feel free to use melted butter or oil instead.

Nutritional Information (based on 12 servings, sweetened coconut, and the listed amounts of sweetener):
116 calories
6 grams fat
15.5 grams carbohydrates
3 grams fiber
3.8 grams sugar
3.4 grams protein

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce

This delicious and cheesy pasta dish is comforting while still being healthy!


My husband came up with the idea to make a pasta sauce from butternut squash. He will come up with recipe ideas from time to time, and then I help him try to implement them. He thought of putting ricotta in the sauce (he really likes ricotta) and I suggested the roasted garlic. We went through a few iterations, and actually decreased the amount of pasta in the end, to make more room for delicious roasted vegetables.

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce
Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients:
Cheesy sauce:
1 medium butternut squash (or other winter squash), about 2 1/2 lbs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 head of garlic
10 oz ricotta cheese (2/3 of a 15 oz container)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 - 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

Veggies:
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
2 medium heads of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Pasta:
8 oz short pasta (penne, rotini and cavatappi work well) - whole wheat is healthiest!
1 cup shredded cheese (use your favorite)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Peel the butternut squash and cut into rounds. Spread out in a single row on the baking sheet, spray well with cooking spray, and season with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and cinnamon. Bake squash for 30 minutes, flipping over every 10 minutes and re-spraying, or until soft and caramelized.

Roasted butternut squash
Gently remove the outer papery edges of the head of garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so, just to expose the individual cloves. Put on a piece of foil and drizzle with a little oil, then wrap up the foil so it is completely covered. Roast at 400 for around 45 minutes, or until soft and caramelized but not dried out. To save time you can put it on the same baking tray as the squash, and check on it after the squash has finished cooking. Let garlic cool, and then squeeze out the individual cloves.
Roasted and caramelized garlic
Put the squash, garlic, and ricotta in the bowl of a food processor. Add about 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth to start, as well as 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Process until very smooth. Add additional vegetable broth, if necessary, to make a sauce-like consistency. I try to make mine similar to a thick marinara, or almost like a can of pumpkin puree. Depending on the water content of your squash, you may need more or less liquid.

Once the sauce is made, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Line two baking sheets with foil, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread out the onions and cauliflower on one tray, and the zucchini and broccoli on another tray. Drizzle the veggies with some olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until veggies are soft and caramelized. The zucchini might cook faster than everything else, so remove it before it falls apart if the rest of the veggies haven't cooked.

Reduce oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, stir well to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom, and cook according to instructions on the box. Check 1-2 minutes before the recommended time. Once the pasta has finished cooking, reserve some of the pasta water and then drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add the squash ricotta sauce and all of the roasted veggies, and mix well. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add a few splashes of the pasta water.

Pre-baking
Spread out well in a 9x13 pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle cheese evenly over the top. If the pasta looks a little dry, add a few splashes of the reserved pasta water (don't stir after you add it). Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Notes:
Feel free to use any vegetables that you love or that are in season! Sauteed greens would be great, as would some roasted eggplant or sauteed mushrooms.

The squash ricotta sauce can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days before mixing together the pasta.

You can make this entire dish in advance, and store it in the fridge for up to 1 day before cooking. Increase covered baking time to 30 minutes, and you may have to increase uncovered baking time to 20-25 minutes (keep an eye on it).

Store leftovers in the fridge - they reheat really well!

For anyone counting containers (21 day fix or 80 day obsession), this is:
1 yellow 
2 green 💚💚💙 
1 blue 

Just pair your favorite protein with it and you have a full meal!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts


Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts



This is my FAVORITE fall dish! It has all of the best parts of fall - delicious squash, caramelized brussels sprouts, apples, cranberries! As listed below, it makes a giant amount. Feel free to cut everything in half if you don't want as much food. Also feel free to switch out any of the ingredients. Want to use chopped figs or raisins instead of the craisins? Want to use pear instead of apple? Go for it!

Harvest Rice Bowl with Squash and Brussels Sprouts
Yield: 10-12 side servings
Adapted slightly from Iowa Girl Eats

Ingredients:
1 medium butternut or acorn squash (or 2 big sweet potatoes)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
2 lbs brussels sprouts
salt and pepper
1 1/3 cups brown rice
3-4 oz sharp cheddar cheese (white or yellow)
½ cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
½ cup dried cranberries
1 large (or 2 small) apple

Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 clove garlic, minced (or ½ tsp crushed garlic)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and dice the squash into ~1/2 inch cubes. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper. Spread out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring a few times throughout, until soft and caramelized.

Trim brussels sprouts, and then shred (cut each one in half, and then slice the halves). Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until tender and slightly charred.

Meanwhile, cook brown rice according to package instructions. If you have it, replace some of the water with vegetable stock. (We cook brown rice in our Instant Pot and it turns out perfectly every time - for this recipe you would want 1 2/3 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth or water)

Dice the cheese. Core and dice the apple (you can leave the peel on). Toast the nuts until golden brown and fragrant (5-7 minutes at 350 F usually works well).

Mix up the dressing – it works well to add everything to a mason jar and then shake up really well. Just make sure the lid is screwed on tight. 

Using a GIANT bowl, add rice, squash, brussels, cheese, apple, nuts, and cranberries. Toss well. Drizzle over some of the dressing and toss until everything is coated. You probably won’t need all of the dressing, so don’t pour it all on at once. Store leftover dressing in the fridge – it is good on salad.

Serve warm or at room temperature. 
If you are bringing this somewhere, the rice, cranberries, brussels sprouts and butternut squash can all be made and mixed up in advance. I would then re-heat that portion, and then mix in the cheese, nuts, apple and dressing right before leaving.