Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Protein Bites

Summer is drawing to a close and I for one, am NOT into it. As much as I love Fall, I want to keep Summer around for as long as possible (Pumpkin Spice Latte, I’m looking at you. You are TOO SOON).

While August has been hot and lazy days, my weekdays have been taken up with a new Boot Camp class and Meal plan. Five days a week, I pull myself together for a 5:30am class of Inchworms, Planks, Mountain Climbers, Burpees and other horrors fun.

Along with Boot Camp, I’ve been following the coordinating meal plan: 6 small meals a day of clean eating. Think lots of chicken, greens and berries. No sugar. Nothing processed.
While it makes for an easy plan to follow; it does not make for an exciting food blog.
Sorry, friend.

But fear not, over the weekend I was yearning to make something sweet. A treat that would fit in the meal plan but still satisfy as a treat, darn it, I have standards.

I found inspiration in Annie-Eats Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bites.
I loved the simple ingredient list and I had most things on hand.

But…..
I don’t really like chocolate
I didn’t want to add honey
I wanted to increase the protein content

So after a bit of tinkering, I made…

Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Protein Bites

The verdict? These came out more like a delicious toasted Butterfinger candy bar than a granola bar. The texture had that melt-in-your-mouth, slightly crunchy quality of a buttery shortbread cookie. Toasting the oats, coconut and almonds really pulled out the flavor. Plus, peanut butter.  I had some Sugar-Free Salted Caramel Torani syrup at home, so I added some to amp up the sweet/salty contrast, but it’s completely optional.

These are on the healthy side with lots of good fat and protein and they’re perfect as pre-workout fuel or an after-dinner treat.  Or you know, taking to the beach as a snack.

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Because Summer ain’t over yet.

Sweet & Salty Peanut Butter Protein Bites
Adapted from Annie’s Eats  ~ Makes 24 – 36″ bites
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What You’ll Need: A positive attitude, you know, just in general. Shredded Coconut,
Sea Salt, Peanut Butter, Coconut Oil, Quick Oaks & Almonds. Torani syrup, optional. Decorative vase of lemons, not needed.

Ingredients:
2 c. Quick Cooking Oats
1/2 c. Unsweetened or Sweetened Coconut, shredded
1 c. Raw Almonds (Slivered or Whole)
5 tbs Coconut oil (plus one extra)
1/2 c. Creamy Peanut Butter (or Almond Butter)
1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 tbs Torani syrup (Sugar-free Salted Caramel, optional)
Coarse salt for sprinkling

Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 350.  Line two baking sheets with tin foil.

On one of the baking sheets, spread oats, coconut and almonds, each in its own layer (ok if they overlap). Toast for 3 minutes, take pan out, shake/rotate and toast for another 1-2 minutes. The coconut and oats will toast FAST so do not leave these, they will burn and you will be sad. Once lightly toasted, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

In a food processor, quickly pulse toasted oats, coconut and almonds together until roughly ground. Pour toasted mix into large bowl.

In a medium saucepan, melt coconut oil and peanut butter, whisking until smooth. Stir in protein powder, vanilla (Toroni syrup if using) and pinch of salt and whisk until completely incorporated. You may want to add another tablespoon of coconut oil here to help everything smooth out.

Remove saucepan from heat and pour the peanut butter mix over the toasted mix and combine well (once it starts to cool, you can mix by hand to ensure all the liquid has been absorbed).

Shape dough into 1″ balls and place on the second baking sheet.
Sprinkle coarse salt over the tops. Refrigerate until set-up, about an hour.
Store in refrigerator or freezer.  Makes 24 – 36 bites.

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My artistic (shadowy) attempt at food styling.

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Get in my face, you gorgeous, non-chocolate, summery thing, you.

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You Say Banana, I say Muffin

I hope summer has been treating you right. The last few weeks have been stuffed with champagne, sunny neighborhood runs and lots of delicious meals. There were also trips to Vegas and Cabo in there, but we’ll get to that another time.

Today, we’re talking about muffins.  Fruity, slightly sweet and crunchy muffins.
It all started last Friday afternoon. My office very generously provides fresh fruit every day (so nice); but by Friday, most of the bananas are sad looking. I took a few sad bananas and made happy muffins over the weekend.

I love it when things work out.

These muffins have definitely been funked up. But I know you like your muffins funky (what?). In addition to the banana base, I used coconut oil and coconut sugar.  There is hype around the wunderkind of the oil world, as a health powerhouse, but I like that it adds a slight coconut flavor while also adding moisture to the muffins. I used coconut sugar…because I had it. You can absolutely substitute vegetable oil and cane sugar. I’m just a fool (for coconut). I also experimented with Almond Flour for part of the four. I think it added great texture and a bit of moisture; but again, using All-Purpose flour is totally fine.

Now for the really fun part: I split the batter, and added MORE coconut in the form of shredded coconut to one batch, and fresh blueberries, a bit of ginger and a stresuel topping to the second batch. Both equally delicious, with a tender crumb and tons of flavor. A fantastic way to use sad bananas (and get in your coconut fix).

Let’s make these.

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Banana Base Muffins
(Triple Coconut & Blueberry Ginger Streusel variations)
Makes 20-24 muffins

1.5 c. Almond Flour (or All-Purpose Flour)
1.5 c. All-Purpose Flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly (or vegetable oil)
1-1/2 c. coconut sugar (or cane sugar)*
1 tbs vanilla
2 eggs
4 very ripe bananas, mashed

IMG_9698Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
In a medium bowl, sift together: flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, beat coconut oil and sugar together until smooth. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Stir in mashed bananas until the bananas are incorporated into the mix (I like leaving a few larger pieces, but you could whisk until smooth if you prefer).

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, until just combined. Do not overmix.
At this point, you can bake as-is and have delicious Banana Muffins. Or you can stir in your favorite mix-ins as these muffins are equal opportunity delicious. However, keep reading for the variations I made.

Split the batter into two bowls and add the following to make the variations:

Triple Coconut Banana Muffins
1 c. shredded unsweetened coconut (*if using sweetened, lessen the amount of sugar)
1/2 tsp rum extract (optional)

Blueberry Ginger Streusel Muffins
1 c. fresh blueberries
1 tsp ground ginger
Streusel Topping (to be added after the batter has been scooped into the tin):
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. AP flour
pinch of ground ginger
3 tbs cold butter, cut into small cubes
In a small bowl, whisk sugar, flour and ginger together. Cut in the butter until crumbles form.

Prepare muffin tins: either insert muffin liners or coat with non-stick spray.

Fill muffin tins 3/4 of the way with batter. For Blueberry Muffins, sprinkle streusel topping on just before baking. Bake 10-14 minutes until tops are golden brown. Makes 20-24 muffins.
IMG_9700I’m sorry, did someone say these bananas were once sad?  IMG_9702 IMG_9704

I didn’t think so.

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Shrimp, Tomato & Zucchini Pizza with Herb Pesto

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The best thing about summer produce is that EVERYTHING is delicious.
The local corn from Kroger? Excellent! The peaches from the office fruit bowl? Fresh!
The tomatoes from the farmer’s market? Outstanding!

You can’t go wrong with summer produce.

Which is why tonight’s dinner is going to be delicious. Promise.

Fresh green pesto, farmer’s market tomatoes and zucchini (so fresh! so crunchy!), delicate Gruyere cheese and a few baby shrimp all slathered on a rustic whole wheat pizza crust.
YES.

Let’s talk pesto: Pesto is traditionally a basil, garlic and olive oil spread. Pesto to me is usually “whatever semi-wilty greens I have that need to be blended to make something delectable to spread on bread”. Tonight’s pesto is cilantro, parsley and green onion. But you can pesto (yes, its a verb) other sturdy greens: basil, baby spinach, arugula, kale or even collard greens.

And for the pizza. Ah homemade pizza. I know you. I’ve loved you. I have even tried cooking you on a pizza stone. Oh the STONE: One pizza came out doughy, the next one burned and the third involved an unfortunate incident where half the dough ended up on the stone and the other half on the floor. The stone and I? Not cool. I finally threw the pizza stone in the trash can with such a satisfying crash I almost wish I had another one to do the same with.

Ahem…..if you have a pizza stone, by all means, use it! (and you have my utmost respect). For everyone else, a baking sheet and oven work just fine!

Shrimp, Tomato & Zucchini Pizza with Herb Pesto

Herb Pesto
1 small bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 small bunch parlsey, stems removed
1 green onion, diced, green & white parts
1 tbs pine nuts
2 tbs Parmesan cheese, shredded or shaved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
zest of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tbs olive oil
Black Pepper

Pizza:
1 whole wheat dough ball (or make your own)
1-2 tbs AP flour for rolling
10oz Gruyere cheese, shredded
8oz Shrimp (de-veined, tails off)*
4-5 baby zucchini or 1 medium zucchini, cleaned and sliced into rounds or half-moons
5 mini heirloom tomatoes or 1 large heirloom, sliced into rounds or half-moons
Extra cilantro and lemon juice for serving
Sea Salt, Black pepper
*To make this super easy, I used frozen (thawed) pre-cooked shrimp. You can also lightly saute your fresh shrimp in a little olive oil until just opaque if you prefer.

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Make pesto:  In a food processor; combine all ingredients except oil. Sprinkle in some black pepper (but hold off on the salt until you see how salty the cheese makes the pesto).
Whir until a paste forms.

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Slowly stream in the oil until pesto comes together. I prefer my pesto on the drier side, so I only used 2 tbs of oil, you may want to use 3 or even 4 tbs, up to you!
Taste here, add salt or pepper as needed. Set aside.  IMG_9258
For the pizza:IMG_9261Sliced tomatoes, zucchini, tails-off (cooked) shrimp, lemon zest, pesto and Salt and Pepper (un-pictured Gruyere).

Preparing the dough:
Line a baking sheet with a silpat or spray with olive oil. Flouring your hands/rolling pin, roll dough out to about 1/2″ even thickness. Using the back of a spoon, spread your homemade pesto evenly over entire pizza (don’t forget the corners!)

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Sprinkle cheese evenly over entire pizza. Next layer on zucchini, tomatoes and shrimp.
You can be all nerdy like me, and make rows of each; or you can simply toss all your toppings on there. Either way, it will be delicious.

Finally, sprinkle lemon zest and black pepper over the pie. IMG_9264
Bake for 20 minutes until cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

To serve, sprinkle with more cilantro and lemon juice; it gives it that extra pop of flavor.

Speaking of lemon, I want to share my lemon trick for getting zest and juice out easily:
Using a hand-held microplane, zest lemon to desired amount. Flip the plane over (to the non-rough side) and squeeze the lemon. Juice goes through the plane, seeds stay on it. Genius! (in my book)IMG_9277

Slice pizza into thick squares and dive in. IMG_9272Summer produce, never leave me.

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Vinegar Tomatoes with Sautéed Fava Beans

IMG_9210So, I went a little wild with the mini heirloom tomatoes this past weekend. They were just so pretty! And to think, up until 2 years ago, I wouldn’t TOUCH a raw tomato.
My, how times have changed (clearly for the better).

IMG_9161Since I recently made caprese and salsa, I was thinking about what else I could do with my pretty little gems. I thought quickly brining the tomatoes would bring out their natural flavor as well as add some tang. In fear that the Artisan Pickle Police (HQ: Williamsburg) will crucify me for calling these pickled, I’ll just call these Vinegar Tomatoes.

Fava beans have also been overlooked in my life.
If you grew up in a Middle Eastern household, Fava Beans meant Ful, a fava bean appetizer (which is not my favorite when there is raw meat to eat). If you grew up in the 90’s, Fava Beans meant something scary.

I’m here to reclaim the Fava.

IMG_9200Such a pretty green color. So not terrifying.

So armed with Vinegar Tomatoes and Fava beans, I set out to whip up this colorful, nutrient-dense dish. I love this as a side dish to other picnic favorites; but honestly, it was fantastic all on its own.

Vinegar Tomatoes with Sautéed Fava Beans
Time: 3 hours including brining ~ Serves 2 as a starter
7 mini heirloom tomatoes, sliced into rounds
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp sugar
1 tbs olive oil
1 c. fava beans (8 pods), shelled
2. water (for boiling)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 green onion, green and white parts, diced
1/4 c. shaved Parmesan cheese*
Salt, Pepper
*Got vegans? Hate Cheese? Skip the cheese and drizzle a really nice finishing oil  (like a roasted walnut oil) and bit of lemon juice.

Vinegar Tomatoes:
Add sliced tomatoes to a large glass bowl. In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, salt and sugar until dissolved.  Pour mixture over tomatoes to ensure they’re covered. Allow to sit room-temperature for 2-3 hours. You can loosely cover if you’re worried about icky things getting in there.  After marinating, drain liquid and set tomatoes aside.
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Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Throw in fava beans and boil lightly for 5-6 minutes. Drain favas and pat dry. After being shelled, the fava beans have an inedible outer coating that has to be removed before eating. The boiling will par-cook the beans and allow the outer shell to “wrinkle” allowing you easily slide them off, leaving just the pretty beans.
IMG_9202 In a skillet over medium heat, add oil. Once oil is hot, sautee beans with salt and pepper, until they get some color (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat.

To serve as a composed salad, you’ll need a medium-sized platter.
Lay tomatoes in a circular single layer. Spoon fava beans over the top. Sprinkle green onion, lemon zest and Parmesan cheese over the top. Taste. Add additional salt/pepper lemon as needed.

Of course, you can toss all the ingredients together and make a tossed salad, but I loved the composition of this as a plated salad. Up to you, boo.

IMG_9204IMG_9213Nope, nothing scary here at all.

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Homemade Pita Chips

Sooo, I made some homemade pita chips to go along with the Fresh Cherry Salsa I made.
I brought it all into work; and people were digging the chips as much as the salsa.
Who knew?

This is so ridiculously easy and a great way to use any extra pita bread you may have that’s on its way to being stale. You’re welcome.

Ridiculously Easy Homemade Pita Chips
3 small (sandwich size) loaves Pita Bread (the thinner the bread, the better)
Olive Oil Spray (like PAM)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Garlic Powder
2 tbs chopped cilantro or parsley

Other things you’ll need:
2 Cookie Sheets
Clean kitchen shears (or a pizza cutter)

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Using kitchen shears, cut a pita round in half. Cut each half-circle in half, then each quarter into halves. Basically, you’re making 8 triangles from one round. Gently pull apart each of the triangles, so you have 16 individual triangles. Repeat with remaining loaves.

Spray a cookie sheet liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle sea salt, pepper and garlic on the sheet. Place individual triangles on the sheet. Spray with olive oil, sprinkle heavily with more sea salt, pepper and garlic. Bake for 5-7 minutes until just light brown. WATCH THESE, as they will burn faster than you can say “I’m running to get the mail”.
No need to flip over.

While the first sheet is baking, prepare the second sheet. Once the first sheet is done, swap out and continue the process until all chips are done. While still warm, sprinkle chips with herbs. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 50 chips.

Notes: You may want to wipe down the cookie sheet between bakings if the seasoning has burned onto the pan. I like those extra crunchy bits so I don’t.  I also prefer to do one sheet at a time, so I can watch to make sure each sheet doesn’t burn. 

IMG_9276Stacy who?

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Fresh Cherry Salsa, Feta & Summer Squash Napoleons

As the long holiday weekend comes to a crashing halt, let’s take a small joy in that it’s cherry season.

Yes, best friends, the sweet, tangy little antioxidant powerhouses are in season, affordable and everywhere.

Last week, I greedily snapped up a 2 lb box of Rainier Cherries (the sweet, light pink/yellow variety) and have happily been devouring them since.
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After browsing and buying through Findlay Market on Friday,  I came home with all manner of fresh, local produce: mini heirloom tomatoes, jalapeno and squash.

Salsa, I decided would be the perfect marriage of the gorgeous cherries and my market finds. I loved the idea of the sweet rainier cherries with the kick of the jalapeno, all tied together with tons of cilantro and lime. Drool.

While this salsa is incredible with chips or sprinkled on shrimp, I made Vegetarian Napoleons with thin slices of tangy feta and grilled summer squash.

A tower of spicy, sweet salsa, creamy feta and mellow squash.
You’re gonna love it.
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Fresh Cherry Salsa
2 c. Rainer Cherries (pitted and then chopped)
1 c. (about 10) mini heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 small bunch of cilantro, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
2 green onions, green and white parts, diced
3 small garlic cloves (1 or 2 if large), minced
zest of one lime
1 large jalapeno pepper, diced*
Salt/Pepper to taste
I am a heat-wimp, so I’m careful to remove all seeds and most of the membrane in the jalapeno; this brings the heat level to mild. Leave membrane/seeds as you wish to increase heat. As the salsa ripens, it will get hotter.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly. Taste and season with salt/pepper as needed. Add more lime/cilantro as you prefer. Like most salsa, this recipe is very flexible. Allow to set-up for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Makes about 2 cups.

IMG_9182Fresh Cherry Salsa, Feta & Summer Squash Napoleons
A perfect first course or light entree

1 recipe Fresh Cherry Salsa (see above)
2 large yellow summer squash, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea Salt, Black pepper
1 block (8oz) feta cheese
zest of one lime
IMG_9195 Pre-heat oven to 350 or Pre-heat grill to 500. Slice squash into thick 1″ rounds. Brush both sides with Olive Oil and sprinkle with salt/pepper. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes, flipping once or grill for 10-12 minutes, flipping once. In either case, squash should be firm, but fork-tender. Remove from heat and allow squash to cool completely.  Slice feta cheese vertically to make (8) 1 oz sheets. Slice squares diagonally to make triangles.

Assemble Napoleons:
Use a large squash round for the bottom, add one feta triangle and 1-2 tbs of salsa. Top with a medium squash round and repeat feta and salsa. Top with a small round and either a small piece of feta or a bit more of the salsa. If your squash is uniformly cylindrical, simply make a same-size stack with three rounds. Repeat process with rest of squash, feta and salsa. Garnish with lime zest. Makes 6-8 Napoleons, depending on squash size. 
(Leftover squash rounds are fantastic on top of salads or thrown into omelets).
IMG_9199Oh happy cherry day.

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Fourth of July Foods

Coming up to that all important Fourth of July holiday.
Red, White & Blue foods, smoking grills, fireworks and beers during the day.
‘Murica at its finest.

My holiday weekend is shaping up to be a casual one with a friends’ grill-out and some pool time. I never say no to beers pool time.

I’m making my Greek Cous Cous salad (with orzo instead of cous cous) for the festivities. #getinmyface

grkcouscousI’ve also been happily devouring this Tomato & Nectarine Caprese with Balsamic Glaze. Thanks to a co-worker’s exploding basil plant, I’m stuffing basil into everything like Lucy with the chocolates. This would be a gorgeous addition to any party spread. IMG_9088

Other Fourth favorites from years past?
Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad
watermelon.fetaFresh Antipasti Salad
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Grilled Pineapple Sundaes
grilled pineapple sundaeWhat are you making?
Be safe out there, party-goers! 

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