Recipe: No Added Sugar Banana Zucchini Date (Smash!) Cake

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They say that with age comes wisdom. But, for me, it took being responsible for another little life to finally smarten up about my eating habits.

Sure, Ben and I have always tried to eat healthy, which mostly meant forgoing sugary treats until we’d eventually cave into temptation…only to start a cycle of guilt, restriction and inevitable relapse.

But it wasn’t until I got pregnant that I decided to cut myself some slack and relax when it came to cravings. Although with space in the belly at a premium, you’ve got to make every calorie count.

When I stopped thinking of foods as “good” and “bad” and started judging them on their nutrient density, I felt empowered instead of deprived. Not to mention it felt great to fuel my body — and my baby — with whole foods that would help both of us thrive.

Enter Bard Valley Natural Delights Medjool dates. I’ve partnered with them this year to help our family make the swap from refined sugars to a more natural alternative: whole foods that the body can recognize and pull nutrients from.

My 2015 almond milk experiment started what has become a passionate love affair with these little gems. Medjool dates deliver sustained energy from their combo of fiber and natural sugars, plus they’re packed with potassium to support muscle fuel and recovery.

So Wyatt’s first birthday “smash cake” became an experiment of sorts in substituting date paste for processed sugar. It may have taken me a few attempts — the first was too moist, the second was too dense — but the third time was a charm, as you can see from the shot below.

This recipe works for birthdays, but I think it’s even better made into muffins for a quick energy boost throughout the day. Finally, you can have your cake — and eat it (along with some very valuable nutrients), too.

No Added Sugar Banana Zucchini Date Cake

Ingredients: 

  • 2 small zucchinis, grated & squeezed dry (about 2 cups)
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup date paste
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease muffin cups with coconut oil (or use muffin liners).
  2. In large bowl, mix together zucchini and banana. Add eggs one at a time.
  3. Blend in date paste, peanut butter and vanilla.
  4. In small bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add slowly to wet ingredients, stirring to incorporate.
  5. Spoon into muffin cups, filling each 3/4 of the way.
  6. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into muffin come out clean.

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Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a sucker for anything pumpkin, regardless of the season. The same goes for chocolate, so it was love at first bite with these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

With just a few small tweaks, I made them a bit healthier (less sugar, some wheat flour) and even tastier — there’s nothing like a little salt in sweets.

They’re not your typical crispy-chewy cookie; the consistency is much softer and more moist. But they’re delicious and (somewhat) nutritious, thanks to the oats and pumpkin.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

(adapted from Taste of Home)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teastpoon salt
  • 1 15-oz can of pumpkin
  • 1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions: 

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.
  2. Combine the flours, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl; stir into creamed mixture alternately with pumpkin.
  3. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
  4. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12-13 minutes or until lightly browned.
  5. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 4 dozen.
What do you think about pumpkin — worth the hype, or overrated?

Recipe: Lemon Raspberry Greek Yogurt Muffins

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When life hands you lemons…MAKE MUFFINS!

It’s good to have a go-to recipe in your back pocket, whether someone stops by unexpectedly, you want to take a crowd-pleaser to an event or you’re looking for something special — yet simple — on a weekend morning.

Mine just happens to be lemon blueberry muffins; not only do I always seem to have the ingredients on hand, but they’ve never earned less than rave reviews (seriously, yogurt is the secret to tangy, moist, yummy muffins).

No blueberries? No problem. I experimented recently with a raspberry version that’s just as lovely — plus it’s lower in sugar and includes some extra nutrients and fiber thanks to the addition of wheat flour.

Lemon Raspberry Greek Yogurt Muffins

(recipe adapted from Running with Spoons)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. juice from 1 medium lemon
  • zest of 1 medium lemon
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a muffin pan by spraying cavities with cooking spray or greasing them with oil. Set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate large mixing bowl, combine Greek yogurt and sugar, mixing until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes smooth. Add oil, honey, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest, mixing until well incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to yogurt mixture, mixing gently until just combined. Fold in berries.
  5. Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling about 3/4 of the way full. Batter will be on the thicker side, so use a spoon to scoop it in. Sprinkle with additional berries, if desired.
  6. Bake muffins for 20-22 minutes, or until top is firm to the touch and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool in pan for ~10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Got any go-to recipes that you’ve relied on over the years?

Recipe: Best-Ever Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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If you’re looking for one of the most delicious, nutrient-dense treats out there, this recipe just may be the Holy Grail of chocolate chip cookies.

Full disclosure, though: They’re actually “lactation cookies” meant for increasing a nursing mom’s milk supply. But dads and everyone else, don’t worry — they will not spontaneously produce lactation!

Even if you’re not breastfeeding, these cookies deliver important nutrients that all of us need, such as zinc, fiber, good fats, iron, protein, B vitamins, chromium, selenium and various other trace minerals.

Not to mention, they’re absolutely delicious…

Best-Ever Chocolate Chunk Cookies

(adapted from HowSweetItIs.com)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup unbleached organic all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cut whole-wheat flour
  • 5 tablespoons brewers yeast
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened coconut chips/flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons organic unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons unrefined organic virgin coconut oil
  • 1 1/4 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips/chunks (I chopped up a few king size Hershey’s bars we had lying around, just to use them up)

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven the 350° F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together both kinds of oats, flours, yeast, flaxseed, wheat germ, coconut, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and coconut oil on medium speed until creamy. Add in the sugar and beat on medium to high speed until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. Add in the egg and egg yolk, beating until combined. Add in the vanilla extract and beat until combined again. Gradually add in the dry ingredients, beating on low speed until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips with a spatula until they are evenly dispersed.
  4. Form the dough into 1-inch rounds and place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the bottoms are just golden. Let cool completely before storing in a sealed container.
If you have a great lactation recipe, please feel free to share below! 

Recipe: Three Ingredient Nutella Brownies

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While these aren’t exactly healthy, per se, they do hit the spot when you’re hit with a craving for super-fudgy brownies and have very few ingredients on hand.

Just three, to be exact: Eggs, salt and Nutella. Yes, Nigella Lawson is a genius.

And if Nutella’s not a staple in your pantry, well, then it’s a great excuse to stock up because this dessert is a surefire crowd-pleaser!

Three Ingredient Nutella Brownies

(original recipe here)

Ingredients: 

  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 2 pinches of fine sea salt
  • 1 cup Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line the base and sides of an 8-in.-square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat eggs and one pinch of salt on high until mixture doubles in size and is pale and mousse-like (about 5 minutes).
  3. Place Nutella in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for about 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds, or until slightly runny.
  4. With mixer on medium-high, slowly drizzle all of the heated Nutella into the eggs until fully combined (the volume of the eggs will decrease).
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan, sprinkle with another pinch of sea salt, and bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Cool completely in the pan (about an hour) before removing from pan. Cut into 16 squares and serve.
Are you a Nutella fan, or no? If, so, what’s your favorite way to savor the spread?

Recipe: Zest Nutrition’s Cookies in a Jar

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When the ladies of Zest Nutrition whipped these little wonders out at their holiday party in December, it was love at first bite. And worth sharing now, even post-holiday, because I believe so strongly in their credo that “we deserve to eat food that tastes amazing and makes us feel good all year long.”

Since they’re so easy to make, I’ve been sharing them with friends who become seem to become equally obsessed (you’ve been warned). The first few batches were by the book, but I’ve since experimented by trying coconut flour in place of almond flour, adding half an extra banana and a tablespoon of chia seeds, and replacing the regularly-sized chocolate chips with mini morsels.

The Zest ladies also suggest swapping out the dried cranberries, chocolate chips and coconut for any other ingredients you like. Go wild, and indulge without guilt!

Cookies in a Jar

(original recipe here)

Ingredients (in jar):

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients (to add):

  • 2 ripe bananas

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350F.
  2. Mash bananas with a fork, then mix in jar ingredients until combined.
  3. Form cookies on baking sheet and bake for 20 min.

The best part? Each batch is perfectly proportioned for storage in your standard mason jar.

Mix ahead and save for a rainy day when cravings hit, or get crafty and share something nourishing — yet delicious — with your friends and family.

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Ever thought a vegan, gluten-free cookie with no refined sugar could be so tasty? Me, neither!

Recipe: Apple, Sausage & Cheddar Monkey Bread

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Fall means a lot of things, but perhaps the one I get most excited about is…APPLES! Squeezed into cider, drizzled with caramel or melted down into sauce in the crockpot, they’re delicious (and nutritious!) any which way you can get your hands on them this time of year.

This recipe stopped me in my tracks, though, as I was flipping through the latest issue of Real Simple magazine. Could my favorite fall-themed fruit also play well with biscuits, sausage and cheese?

Only a taste test would tell. So I made this dish one Sunday for a football-watching brunch with Ben. It says it serves 12, but we may have eaten half the pan by noon…using the excuse that it was good pre-workout fuel, of course.

Apple, Sausage & Cheddar Monkey Bread

(recipe adapted from Real Simple)

Ingredients: 

  • 16-oz. turkey breakfast sausage
  • 2 diced red apples
  • 16-oz. can biscuit dough, cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Cook sausage in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until browned.
  2. Stir in apples. Cook until the apples are soft; transfer to a bowl. Stir in biscuit dough.
  3. Spread mixture into the skillet, and top with cheddar. Bake until golden, about 22 minutes.

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What’s your favorite out-of-the-box apple recipe?