Apricot Ginger Energy Bars (LARA Copycat Bars)

I have been a big fan of LARA bars for a while now; they have a million flavors, are usually on sale for $1 at the grocery store, and are the sole reason I survived the Whole 30 this past January. I love having healthy snack options like energy bars stashed at my desk for weekday afternoons that are dragging, because they save me from caving to the unhealthy options in the break room.

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When my friend Annie texted me to tell me she bought a 5 lb bag of sun dried apricots at Costco and then realized she didn’t like them (I love her), I immediately thought of trying home-made LARA bars. Obviously flattered that I was the first person she thought of, I told her that I’d put her sad, unwanted apricots to use.

You might be wondering why it’s worth making your own at home, and that’s a good question… why mess with a good thing, right? Let me tell you, everything is better home-made. This recipe comes together very easily, and you can literally use whatever dried fruits and nuts you have sitting in your pantry- just keep the ratios similar to the recipe below. They are the perfect snack to toss in your lunch box, to enjoy before or after a workout, or for breakfast on the go.

I love the combination of the apricots with ginger and cinnamon, but you can experiment here as well! Almond extract, fresh ginger…whatever you’re feeling. But the lemon zest is a must. Don’t leave that out!

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Apricot Ginger Energy Bars

Makes 18 bars

3 C dried apricots

3/4 C pitted Medjool dates

1/4 C Chia seeds

1 t cinnamon

1 t ground ginger

1 C raw unsalted cashews

1/2 C unsweetened dried coconut

1 t lemon zest

2 t lemon juice

1/4 C honey

Pinch of salt

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Method:

Line 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with nonstick oil.

Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until ingredients are well-distributed. Mixture should be sticking together easily. If it’s too dry, add 1 T more honey at a time until it comes together. Turn mixture into prepared pan and spray your (clean!) hands with more nonstick oil. Pat it down in even layer. Place into freezer for 20 minutes.

Take out of freezer and cut into ~18 pieces with chefs knife (I used a Norpro Scraper and it worked perfectly!) I also cut off the scraggly ends and ate those for quality control. Important step. Wrap individually with plastic wrap and store in fridge or freezer. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I thought everyone would be over butternut squash by this point, but I was wrong! I took a poll on my Instagram page last week to decide between Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta and butternut squash soup, and it resulted in a tie. Since I couldn’t possibly let half of you down, here’s the recipe for one of my favorite fall soups, just in time for #soupsunday!

A couple reasons I love this recipe: it takes less than 30 minutes to make, and you don’t have to spend any time stirring a pot or dirtying extra dishes! It’s vegan, but is so wonderfully creamy and filling, you’d never know it. You can use whatever broth you have on hand, but I used vegetable broth to keep this soup vegan. It’s perfect paired with a kale salad or some avocado toast for dinner, and reheats nicely for weekday lunches.

I was extra excited to make this soup today because of my new found affinity for crispy sage leaves. It’s not fall without the inclusion of sage in every vegetable dish, am I right? Taking the extra few minutes to “fry” some of these fuzzy little herbs in ghee to top your soup will result in a delicious and beautiful garnish for your roasted butternut squash soup.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Makes 4-6 servings

6 C butternut squash, diced

1 T olive oil

Salt & pepper

2 C leeks, roughly chopped

5 cloves garlic, roasted

2 1/2 C vegetable broth

1 C full-fat coconut milk

1/4 t crushed red pepper (optional)

Garnishes for soup- pomegranate seeds, crispy sage leaves, pepitas, etc.

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Method:

For crispy sage leaves, heat small skillet on medium heat and add 1 T ghee. Add sage leaves and fry for about 60 seconds on each side. Remove carefully with a fork and set on paper towel to absorb excess ghee.

Preheat oven to 375°. Toss butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread onto rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Roast in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and toss squash for even cooking. Add chopped leeks to baking sheet and return to oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes until veggies are golden brown.

Tip** If you don’t have roasted garlic already prepared, here are the Cliff Notes from my last post – slice the very top off of a whole head of garlic, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until fragrant.

In high speed blender, add roasted butternut squash, leeks, garlic, vegetable broth, and coconut milk. Blend for 20 seconds on low, and another 30 seconds on medium.

Tip** If you’d like to serve this soup right away, make sure to heat broth and coconut milk before adding to blender so soup is nice and hot!

If soup appears too thick, add 1/4 C more broth. Season with salt, pepper, and optional crushed red pepper. Enjoy!

Vegan Sun Dried Tomato Risotto with Roasted Vegetables

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Ever since I finally caved and bought a sturdy dutch oven last month, I have found myself looking for any and every excuse to make one pot meals. Matt’s parents had us over for lunch on Sunday and I decided to experiment with a vegan risotto. The finished product was vibrant and comforting, but still healthy with the addition of colorful roasted vegetables on top. I brought this risotto along with us to my in-laws, and this is what I learned:

  1. If you put a bowl of fresh Parmesan alongside the dish, no one cares that it’s vegan.
  2. Rainy Sunday afternoon + comforting risotto for lunch + wine = me falling asleep on the car ride home.

The sun dried tomatoes lend a really nice texture and acidity to the dish, which balances out the creaminess of the risotto. If you aren’t vegetarian, you can use any kind of broth you happen to have on hand. The best part is that you can top risotto with anything! I used fresh parsley, pine nuts, and store-bought pesto. This would be great with Italian sausage as well (definitely not vegan, I know.)

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I think some people are intimidated by the thought of making risotto at home, but it is truly hard to mess up. Risotto can be time-consuming because it requires standing over the stove as you stir the broth in a little at a time, but as long as you have hot broth ready to add in along the cooking process, it shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes. You can also view this time you’re spending stirring the risotto as quiet time in the kitchen, drinking wine. That’s what I choose to do 🙂

Risotto is my go-to dish for Pot Lucks because it’s a crowd pleaser, and you can use just about anything in terms of vegetables and seasonings. I love bringing this extremely heavy Dutch oven with me with the hot risotto inside because I make Matt carry it and I can just throw it in the oven at a low temp to warm back up when we get where we’re going! Easy as that.

Vegan Sun Dried Tomato Risotto with Roasted Vegetables

Makes 4-6 main course servings or 6-8 side dish servings

2 1/2 T good olive oil

Salt & pepper

2 small zucchini, quartered and diced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 red onion, chopped

2 shallots, finely diced

1 C Arborio rice

4 C broth of choice

1/3 C dry white wine

1/2 C sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 t dried basil

1/4 C nutritional yeast (optional) or 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese if not vegan

Toppings such as fresh parsley, pine nuts, pesto, etc.

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and red onion with 1 1/2 T olive oil, salt and pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

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Heat Dutch oven or medium pot and add remaining tablespoon of oil. In a separate pot, heat broth on low/medium heat.

Saute shallots in Dutch oven for about 4 minutes, until they turn translucent. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Cook for about 2 more minutes. Add wine and let simmer for 3-4 minutes.

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Add broth, one ladle at a time, stirring frequently and cooking until rice absorbs liquid fully before adding next ladle of broth. When the broth is about halfway gone, add sun dried tomatoes and dried basil and continue adding broth one ladle at a time and stirring until fully absorbed. When all broth is used and liquid fully absorbed into rice, turn off heat and stir in nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese. Serve with roasted vegetables and toppings of choice and enjoy!

Apple Cobbler (GF)

My friend Jillian and I have been avoiding gluten and refined sugar for 3 weeks now in an effort to get our eating habits back on track, and the goal was to make it to Halloween. I’ll say it’s been a pretty valiant effort, despite the beer (or two) I’ve had along the way, and the hot dog I saw Jillian eat at the 5k we organized…

This weekend, I was really craving apple cobbler, and this presented a challenge because traditional apple cobbler contains flour, butter, and at least one type of refined sugar. I have been searching for coconut sugar to use in paleo recipes and finally found some yesterday at Whole Foods. I thought apple cobbler would be the perfect chance to  experiment with my new ingredient, and turns out it perfectly enhanced the natural sweetness of the apples in this warm, gooey dessert! Lemon juice adds some balance to the sweetness and keeps the apples from browning as you make the crumb topping, and the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg comes through really nicely in the finished product.

This recipe makes about 4 servings if you’re anything like Matt and I,  but you could probably stretch it to serve up to 6 people, especially if you’re serving it with ice cream or whipped cream. It  reheats so beautifully, I might venture to say it’s even better the next day!

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Apple Cobbler

Makes 4 servings

4 medium apples (Granny Smith or McIntosh work best)

Juice from 1/2 lemon

2 t cinnamon

3/4 t nutmeg

2 T coconut sugar

1 T arrowroot powder (or corn starch)

For the topping:

3/4 C old fashioned rolled oats

1 t cinnamon

1 t vanilla extract

Pinch sea salt

4 T butter of choice, melted (I use Earth Balance vegan butter)

1 T coconut sugar

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Method:

Preheat oven to 325° and grease 8×8 square pan.

Peel and thinly slice apples, adding to greased dish. Sprinkle lemon juice on top of apples and toss. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut sugar, and arrowroot powder and toss again.

In medium bowl, combine oats, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, melted butter, and coconut sugar and mix until it clumps together. Sprinkle evenly on top of apple mixture, and top with a few more teaspoons of whatever butter you’re using.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the apples are nice and soft and it’s bubbling around the edges. Your whole house should smell like Thanksgiving 🙂 Let cool for 15 minutes before serving warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped coconut cream. Enjoy!

 

Spicy Squash Hummus

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Last week, our friend Kelly brought over a Hubbard squash fresh from her family’s farm in Wisconsin, effectively adding to my No Squash Left Behind Challenge. It had a beautiful bright orange bumpy skin, and looked like a sweet potato/pumpkin hybrid. Kelly mentioned Hubbard squash is best mashed, and I remembered a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa I’ve been meaning to try…

In celebration of the fact I am seeing Ina Garten IN PERSON on Tuesday, I thought her hummus recipe would be the perfect way to use this squash. I made a couple tweaks; using my Hubbard squash instead of butternut squash, roasting the garlic before adding, taking the Greek yogurt out of the recipe to make it dairy-free, and including some cayenne pepper to give it more of a kick. The Hubbard squash was perfect in this recipe, but many different squashes would work in this. You can use butternut squash like Ina does, or even use pumpkin puree if you don’t have time to roast a squash.

I brought this hummus to my friend’s Halloween party last night, and it was a hit! I surrounded my little hummus pumpkin with freshly cut veggies and some crackers, but this would also be amazing with warm pita bread. This hummus is healthy, flavorful, and great for snacks throughout the week or for a festive appetizer!

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I served the hummus in my hollowed-out Lumina pumpkin. Is that considered cheating my squash challenge?

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Spicy Squash Hummus

Makes 6-8 servings

1 squash, about 1 1/2 lbs (I used Hubbard)

1 can chickpeas, drained and liquid reserved on side

1 small head of garlic

4 T good olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 t sriracha

1/4 C tahini

1/2 t cayenne pepper

1 t cinnamon

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut squash lengthwise, remove seeds and brush flesh with 1 T olive oil. Salt and pepper and place on foiled baking sheet, flesh side down. Roast for 50-60 mins, until soft. Set squash aside to cool.

While oven is still on, slice top off of whole head of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake in oven for 15-20 minutes (you’ll know it’s done when you can smell it). Remove foil and set aside to let cool slightly.

Scoop roasted squash out of skin and add to food processor. Add drained chickpeas, 6 roasted garlic cloves, 3 T olive oil, lemon juice, sriracha, and tahini. Pulse until combined but not smooth. Add spices and salt and pepper to taste, and pulse a few more times. If it’s looking too dry, add 1 T of reserved chickpea liquid at a time until desired consistency is achieved.

Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with veggies and pita. Store in airtight for up to a week. Enjoy!

Cranberry Oat Bars (GF)

This morning, I needed a break from apple and pumpkin everything. Don’t worry, I’m okay… I think. I had some fresh cranberries in the fridge that I’ve been meaning to use, and the thought of warm oat bars fresh out of the oven to enjoy with my coffee was just too good to pass up. It’s Friday but my brain is already in weekend mode.

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These bars came together quickly and easily, and I love the way the crunchiness of the slivered almonds and the warm soft bursts of fresh cranberries is dispersed throughout the baked oatmeal. Cinnamon and ground ginger add some spicy warmth, making it a perfect companion for your Saturday morning coffee.

As with any breakfast I make, the goal is usually to have leftovers that I can store for on-the-go breakfasts. I think these will be perfect warmed back up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. I’ll pat myself on the back now; breakfast for next week is ready to go!

 

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Cranberry Oat Bars

Makes 9 squares

2 C old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 C coconut flour

1/4 C tapioca flour

1/2 t sea salt

1 1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t ground ginger

1/3 C coconut oil, melted

1/4 C pure maple syrup

1/4 C agave (or you can just do a full 1/2 C of maple syrup)

2 eggs

1/3 C  milk of choice

1 1/4 C fresh cranberries

1/2 C slivered almonds

Tip** If you have an orange laying around, try adding a teaspoon of fresh zest to this recipe!

Method:

Preheat oven to 350° and grease 8×8 square baking pan with nonstick spray.

In large mixing bowl, combine oats and both flours. Add salt, cinnamon, and ginger and whisk together until combined.

In separate bowl, beat coconut oil, maple syrup, agave, eggs, and milk together. Pour into dry ingredients and fold together until combined. Fold in cranberries and almonds and mix until evenly dispersed.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until edges are golden brown. Cut into 9 squares. Serve warm topped with yogurt and nuts, or freeze individual squares for busy weekday morning breakfasts! Enjoy.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

I will start by saying that this recipe is magical because it’s the ONLY way my husband will consider eating brussels sprouts. Yes, he is a grown man. When we met, Matt convinced me that he wasn’t a picky eater, but as the years went on, it became  clear to me that this was just a courting strategy. The man has a list of things he really dislikes, and most of the time I’m nice enough to avoid them in my recipes. Brussels sprouts are probably #1 on that list. However, there is a pizza place down the street from us that makes Detroit style pizza, and they have one non-pizza item on their menu; brussels sprouts salad. I’m pretty sure Matt didn’t know exactly what he was eating the first time we shared it as an appetizer, but now that he associates brussels sprouts salad with pizza, it’s fair game.

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I used my food processor to shred fresh brussels sprouts as the base for the salad, and then just added whatever I had sitting in the fridge. Fresh cranberries, parsley, radishes, and a simple balsamic dressing made for a vibrant and fresh salad that I will now be making all the time! The one thing I wish I remembered to add would be slivered almonds for a nice crunch, so I’ll be sure to include those next time. Pecans or pine nuts would also be great in this.

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This salad will be a great side dish for holiday parties, but is simple enough for any weeknight meal! You can add your protein of choice on top- grilled chicken or crumbled bacon would be delicious- and swap out the vegetables and fruit based on  what you have available. It’s very versatile and colorful. In fact, with all that red and green in there, I couldn’t help but notice it looked a lot like Christmas…TOO SOON, I KNOW.

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Brussels Sprouts Salad

Makes 4-6 servings

For the Salad:

6 C washed fresh brussels sprouts, shredded

1 C sliced radishes

1 1/2 C fresh cranberries (chopped apples would also work)

1/3 C finely chopped flat leaf parsley

1/3 C slivered almonds

For the Dressing:

1/3 C balsamic vinegar

2 T dijon mustard

2 T honey

1/3 C good quality olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Salt & Pepper to taste

Method:

Assemble salad by layering shredded brussels sprouts with sliced radishes, cranberries, parsley, and almonds.

Whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with salad. Enjoy!

Tip** If you won’t be finishing the salad in one sitting, keep dressing on the side or leftovers will be soggy.