Cookie Dough Bites

If you read my blog with any consistency, you probably know that many of my recipes are posts for Recipe Redux, the first and only recipe challenge that is focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for you. Recipe Redux was founded by RDN’s extraordinaire: Regan Miller Jones, Serena Ball and Deanna Seagrave-Daly, and this year is turning 6 years old. We’re celebrating with cake small bites of dessert, which is a good thing because a baker I am not. I hung up my baking apron (?) after years of making dozens and dozens of chocolate chip cookies with my high school BFF Toni in my parents’ kitchen. Actually, we probably made enough cookie dough to make thousands of cookies, but how many actually turned into the final product likely numbered only in the hundreds. Why? Well, cookie dough of course. That sweet, addictive flavor that, 30 years later, is now an actual flavor of products like ice cream, candy bars, and even protein bars.

Thirty years ago of course, I was not a dietitian. So eating the dough of what undeniably made the best cookies ever (my dad used to tell me Mrs. Fields had nothing on me) would never cross my mind. I’m almost embarrassed to say that we actually used a combination of Crisco (when Crisco was still 100% trans fat) and butter as the fat. And then there’s the whole raw egg thing. I may live in Philly (ish), but Rocky Balboa I’m not, nor do I down raw eggs because – Salmonella. There’s actually a vegan solution to using eggs in a recipe called “Flax egg.” But these bites are raw, so you don’t even need the egg to achieve cookie dough consistency and flavor. I will admit, this recipe took about 4 tries. Which is annoying and oh-so-typical of baking even though these bites are technically raw. Go figure. I tried to make them all raw and vegan and “natural” sugar-y and then asked myself who I was trying to kid. There’s no way one is going to make good-for-you ingredients taste like a combination of flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, Crisco and eggs. You’re just not. So I compromised, substituting high fiber chickpeas and oat flour for white flour, using a LOT less sugar and medjool dates to increase sweetness. I didn’t mess with the chocolate chips – semisweet chips will not be replaced in my world, but you could use cacao nibs to make the recipe vegan.

The days of raw cookie dough consumption are long gone. Like piling way too many friends into a car to “ride around” all night or swinging from ropes into swimming holes of depths unknown, it was fun while it lasted, and we’re lucky we all survived. So here’s a much healthier walk down memory lane…

(P.S. Each time I post a Recipe Redux recipe, be sure to scroll to the end and check out my fellow bloggers’ recipes on the same theme. It’s like getting a FREE cookbook of up to 100 recipes each and every month!)

Cookie Dough Bites

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (about 1/2 of a 13.5 ounce can), drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup oat flour (you can grind Old Fashioned oats to a fine powder in a coffee grinder)
  • 2 T. packed brown sugar
  • 4 medjool dates
  • 2 T. nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew butter; smooth or crunchy, I used crunchy peanut butter)
  • 2 T. water, divided
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. Himalayan pink salt (or other fine salt)
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips* + 1/3 c. chocolate chips, divided
  • *to make these bites vegan, use cacao nibs

Instructions

  1. Add to the bowl of a food processor: chick peas, oat flour and dates. Pulse until course.
  2. Add to chick pea mixture: brown sugar, vanilla, salt, and peanut butter.
  3. Only as necessary, add water one tablespoon at a time, processing after each addition until smooth. Scrape sides of bowl and pulse again. Dough should resemble cookie dough batter.
  4. Remove dough from food processor and place in a medium bowl.
  5. Stir in 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips.
  6. Roll dough into approximately 18 (tablespoon-size) balls, and replace them on the wax paper-lined baking sheet.
  7. Place baking sheet in freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  8. In the top of a small double boiler, melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips. (Or melt chips in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave).
  9. Remove cookie dough balls from freezer. Using tongs, dip one end of the cookie dough bite into the melted chocolate, then replace on baking sheet on the bare/flattened side. Repeat until all bites are topped with the chocolate.
  10. Store in an air-tight container in refrigerator or freezer.
http://colleengerg.com/cookie-dough-bites/

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Why Meditate? You Decide.

YOU DECIDE.

It would be really easy to answer the question “Why Meditate?” by simply listing the benefits – both anecdotal and research-based –  of a regular meditation practice. But in my 22 years of experience as a dietitian-nutritionist, I’ve learned that simply listing the benefits of doing something (say, eating a nutritious diet for example) is very often not a good enough motivator to get people to do it.

DOING IS BELIEVING

I recently finished several months of traveling to nearly every major city in the northeast U.S., presenting on a variety of wellness topics. During the stress reduction and “Mindfulness Matters” presentations, I had the groups participate in a brief, guided meditation. At first I assumed that these people who don’t normally meditate might think even a brief meditation was a waste of time. What I learned from the evaluations, however, was that the guided meditation was the participants’ “favorite” and “most useful” parts of the seminar. I hoped that they would use the experience to begin their own regular practice, but like any daily habit or practice -like leading a horse to water- you can’t “make” someone meditate.

BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Maybe you know someone with a regular meditation practice who has told you they don’t know how they functioned in life without it. I’d say the same about my personal meditation practice. I have become as passionate about sharing the benefits of meditation as I have about sharing the benefits of eating vegetables…maybe more so. A regular meditation practice can:

  • Reduce stress and improve response to stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Aid in weight loss
  • Improve creativity
  • Cure insomnia
  • Increase optimism
  • Improve mood
  • Improve digestion
  • Increase mental clarity
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Promote calmness
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve relationships

And the list goes on. But unlike my captured audiences in my corporate seminars, I can’t force you to close your eyes, focus on counting deep breaths and simply notice and dismiss thoughts without judgement. So rather than try to convince you, I’ll suggest that you watch this short video (click here) . If celebrity endorsement is not your thing, consider that meditation has been the focus of thousands of peer-reviewed studies over the past several decades, and is now widely accepted as a standard therapeutic tool employed in medicine, psychology, education and self-development.

Many people tell me “I tried meditating, but I’m not good at it, my mind is constantly racing.” Remember, meditation is a practice…with cumulative beneficial effects. If you’re skeptical, start small and short but consistent. Consider taking 5 minutes – JUST 5 MINUTES – to participate in this guided meditation (click here). Maybe you’ll continue with the full 21 day program. Maybe you’ll download Insight Timer or Head Space on your phone for other guided meditation options. Or maybe you’ll check out the Transcendental Meditation program (like I did) and learn how to meditate pretty much anywhere, anytime, with no guidance. Meditation itself is free. And there is no wrong way to do it.

I can’t think of a single person of any age, who wouldn’t benefit from a meditation practice. It’s even being taught in some schools which is a wonderful thing because unless the internet, technology and our hyper-connectivity is going away anytime soon (which it’s. so. not.) meditation will continue to help humans not only cope, but live their best lives in this fast-paced, stressful world. Try it. I’m convinced you’ll be glad you did.

Happy Centering 🙂

 

Grilled Softshell Crab Salad

In case you haven’t already heard this proud aunt gushing (in blogposts, on Facebook), my nephew “Wiggy” (a.k.a. William Kirk) is a chef. At age 23 and just two years out of culinary school, he’s an extremely talented, creative, dare I say amazing chef. I used to fancy myself as sort of knowing my way around the kitchen, and pride myself on not needing a recipe to turn out a decent meal. But then suddenly, my no longer “little” nephew graduated from culinary school and I gained a whole new appreciation for intuitive cooking and the genetic transition of creativity…(my late, beloved “Uncle Jim” comes to mind). This post is just one example of the creations Wiggy whips up – seemingly, in minutes and out of thin air. Truly chef-magic which I’ll attempt to demystify so we lowly cooks might imitate the genius. Softshell Crabs in Marinade

Softshell Crab Season: late April to mid-late July  –  The only time softshell crab has ever passed my lips is when it’s been well-disguised within a maki sushi Spider Roll. So when Wiggy mentioned that he was making “Grilled Softshell Crab on Greens” I thought “Wow. Now that’s something I’ve never thought of and probably never would.” For as many times as I enjoyed eating Blue Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay, I never really thought about the fact that all those Large and Extra Large Crabs I “picked” (read: devoured) during my years living in DC and spent in Annapolis, were the result of several molts.According to Wig, shellfish should be purchased live whenever possible to ensure optimum freshness. After he did just that at the local farmer’s market for an admittedly relatively pricey $6 each, he marinated them for approximately two hours in a marinade he created, of course, sans recipe. There is a whole tutorial on cleaning softshell crabs, but I suggest you do as I’d do and as Wiggy did, and have the fish monger do it. The vegetable garden’s earliest bounty.
Garden Fresh Lettuce – Late spring/early summer is also a great time of year to enjoy the tender, deliciousness of homegrown lettuce. Home grown lettuce is also superior in terms of taste and nutrition, boasting a higher Vitamin A content than varieties purchased in the supermarket. Fresh Herbs – One of my favorite things about spring, summer and early fall cooking is plucking fresh herbs right out of the herb garden. Wig used fresh basil, thyme, parsley and oregano in the marinade because that’s how he rolls…but you can use all, none or any combination. He also used cilantro because…”Why not? It was in the fridge.” 🙂Fresh avocado adds a creaminess and balances the heat from the garlic and siracha in the marinade.Fresh, ripe, sweet mango also helps to balance the heat. After the crabs marinate for at least one, preferably two hours place shell side down on a medium-hot grill. This longer than usual for seafood marinating time is important to allow the flavors to permeate the shells. When heated, the crab shell will lose its opaque/blue color and turn a pink-ish brown.The Salad – At approximately 1.5 crabs per person, this is definitely a “light meal.” Blue or Softshell crabmeat is only 112 calories per cup, so the addition of white beans to the salad provides a bit more protein and some high fiber carbs which also increases the satiety factor.

When a dish is particularly flavorful, my dad has a saying that the rest of my family has adopted and is apropos for this Grilled Softshell Crab Salad: “Man, there are a lot of flavors running around!” That’s definitely the case in this dish. Between the spicy siracha and garlic, the sweetness from mango, the umami from well, umami paste and the grill-flavor from the crispy crab shell, the flavors work so well together and there’s nothing not to love.How do YOU love your softshell crabs? Let me know in the comments below!

Grilled Softshell Crab Salad

Ingredients

  • 5 - 6 fresh softshell crabs, cleaned
  • 6 cups red or green leaf lettuce
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 medium avocado, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-large fresh, ripe mango, cubed
  • 3/4 white beans, rinsed and drained
  • MARINADE:
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 T. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 T. Umami paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 T. Siracha
  • 2 t. sesame oil
  • 2 T. brown sugar
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • SALAD DRESSING:
  • 1/4 cup "good" olive oil
  • 3 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 T. low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T. Umami paste
  • Optional: fresh basil, parsley, thyme, oregano - any one or combination, to total about 1/2 cup

Instructions

  1. Prepare marinade by whisking all marinade ingredients together. Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade and set aside.
  2. Marinate crab in a shallow dish in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
  3. Place all salad dressing ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and using a spoon, gently stir the white beans into salad dressing, set aside.
  4. Place crabs, softshell side down on a preheated medium-hot grill. Close grill cover and do not touch crabs for about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Gently flip crabs to the reverse side. Crabs should be losing their opaque color and turning pinkish-brown (a.k.a orange). Close grill cover and continue to cook for 3-4 more minutes. Total crab cooking time should be about 7-9 minutes. Do not overcook.
  6. Remove crabs from grill and allow to rest on a cutting board.
  7. In a large bowl, add lettuce, avocado and mango and toss gently. Using a slotted spoon, add white beans to the salad...allowing extra dressing from spoon to drip into bowl greens, but avoid "over-dressing." Gently toss again. Cover remaining salad dressing, refrigerate, and use in a future salad.
  8. Divide salad into 4 serving bowls or plates.
  9. Using a sharp knife (and, all your knives should be sharp 😉 Cut crabs into 4 - 5 pieces or "chunks" and divide crab pieces evenly among the plated salad.
  10. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of reserved marinade over each dish.
  11. Serve immediately.
http://colleengerg.com/grilled-softshell-crab-salad/

Spicy Lentils and Eggs

How many times have you needed to get a meal on the table but so did not feel like going to the grocery store for ingredients? If you’re like me, I’m going to assume – a LOT. I believe there are two types of cooks in this world: people who follow recipes and people who can “wing it.” Some people are really good at winging it and others never will be (Sorry, in my opinion, it’s more a personality trait than anything). But I believe that -like anything- the more you try, the better you get.

Despite last week’s nor’easter, Spring is in the air…according to the calendar, anyway. So this month’s Recipe Redux challenge is to Spring Clean The Kitchen: Cook with at least 3 ingredients that are actually in your refrigerator or pantry right now. Try not to go to the store to buy anything new. So I grabbed potential items from both the fridge and the pantry, and most of them ended up in the recipe!

When considering meal-planning, I always think: vegetables and protein, first. I had spinach, scallions (green onions), and fresh herbs on hand and two protein sources: eggs and lentils. Unintentionally, this meal turned into a great option for “Meatless Monday!”I understand that not everyone is going to have fresh ginger and fresh turmeric in their fridge. I just happened to, and used both not only for the great flavors but also for the health benefits of each. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a strong anti-oxidant. Those suffering from arthritis and even post-athletic workout soreness would do well to incorporate more into their diets. I used a zester with each spice which worked great. I estimated how much of each I used for the recipe and “zested” each spice right into the saucepan to capture all of the essential oils and essence of the spice. Here’s where “eyeballing” is a skill you can develop over time because a little too much of these two spices is never going to hurt. The aroma of sauteed ginger, turmeric and scallion in coconut oil is divine and confirms that something good’s about to happen…

No well-stocked pantry is without chicken or vegetable broth. Either one of these will do in this dish. It also can’t hurt to always keep high fiber, oh-so-easy-to-prepare lentils on hand as well. Because I am such a fan of Thai-inspired dishes (and have a Pinterest board with tons of great recipes) I also like to keep a couple of cans of coconut milk on hand. The Umami paste, I’ll admit, is a bit random. I saw it in Trader Joe’s a couple of months ago and picked it up despite having no real idea what I was going to do with it. Click here to read a great review on exactly this product that I found from Epicurious. It could probably be omitted, but I like how it adds complexity and flavor to the lentils without having to add much salt, or God-forbid, MSG. You can pre-soak the lentils to reduce cooking time, or not. This dish’s prep time is largely unattended as you allow the lentils to simmer in the coconut milk and broth. Simmer the lentils until softened. Wilt the spinach in the hot broth just before serving. In a separate pan, cook your eggs to desired doneness and top the lentils. If a runny yolk is not your favorite, cook it to your desired consistency. Easy, delicious and nutritious!

Spicy Lentils and Eggs

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed and sorted (I used French Green)
  • 1 tablespoon + 1-2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided
  • 1 can coconut milk (I used reduced fat, regular will add fat, calories and probably some nice flavor to your dish...Next time I will use Regular)
  • 3-4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 green onions, choppped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/4 tsp. powder)
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or "zested"
  • 1 tsp fresh turmeric, minced or "zested"
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 4 cups baby spinach, washed
  • 1 tablespoon Umami paste
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, washed, leaves and stems separated
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a large saucepan or skillet.
  2. Add cumin seeds and saute until fragrant- about 1 minute. (If using cumin powder, just add with ginger and turmeric).
  3. Add green onion (scallions), ginger, turmeric, and saute until fragrant - about 2 minutes.
  4. Add lentils, coconut milk, 3 cups broth, Umami paste, lime juice, lime zest, 1/2 tsp. salt and cilantro stems. Reduce heat to low and simmer until lentils are softened, about 30 minutes for lentils that have not been pre-soaked.
  5. If liquid completely reduces before lentils are softened, add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time.
  6. When lentils have reached desired texture, heat another skillet and sprayed with cooking spray or with 1 teaspoon coconut oil. Add eggs and cook until desired doneness.
  7. While eggs are cooking add spinach and cilantro leaves to lentil mixture.
  8. Divide lentils onto 4 plates. Top each with 1 egg. Serve immediately.
http://colleengerg.com/spicy-lentils-and-eggs/

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Fish Tacos with Tomato/Avocado Salsa

You know those people in your life with whom you rarely spend time or see, but when you do, you remember “Oh yeah, they’re great – I love them!” Well that’s pretty much my relationship with fish tacos. I just tend to forget about them. When I see them on a menu, however, I ask myself “why do you always forget about fish tacos?” Then I ask the server in a “When Harry Met Sally” kind-of-way: “What kind of fish is it? Is it battered? Fried? What kind of tortilla?” Because of course, I only love fish tacos the way I love fish tacos. (Imagine that?) Often the answers: “The fish is tilapia” (no offense, but blech). “Yes, they’re beer-battered and fried” (not calorie-worthy) and/or “The tortillas are flour and no, we don’t have corn tortillas.” And-Poof! Just like that, my brain, belly and memory have all moved on.

So how surprised/happy was I to see this month’s Recipe Redux theme: “Show us your healthy and creative take on the taco.” I am not sure how “creative” this recipe is, but I can assure you they’re tasty, healthy and super easy to make. The Tomato/Avocado salsa can also be served as a party app. as it combines all the deliciousness of salsa and guacamole but is lower in fat and calories than straight up guac. 

I am not why sure dinner “theme nights” tend to make dinner a little fun, but I think they do. Akin to “Meatless Monday” I think I might bring back “Taco Tuesday.” When you scroll to the bottom of this post you’ll find tons of really creative taco creations from my fellow Recipe Reduxers. I assure you, neither you nor your taste buds will get bored any time soon! Draining the tomatoes makes for a thicker, less watery salsa consistency. I like cod because it’s a firm, mild fish whose flavor lends nicely to the Tex-Mex spices. I bought 6 (6-ounce) portions of frozen, wild-caught cod for $17.99 at Whole Foods. Three dollars per serving for sustainable seafood is a great deal in my book!

Fish Tacos with Tomato/Avocado Salsa

Ingredients

  • 2 (6 ounce) cod fish filets (or any firm white fish of your choice: red snapper and halibut work well too)
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
  • FOR THE SALSA
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup scallions (or red onion), chopped
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • 1 cup cubed avocado
  • 2 T. jalapeno, seeded, finely chopped (less if you don't like spicy)
  • Lime wedges for garnish
  • FOR THE RUB:
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle chili powder (or regular chili powder if you prefer less spicy)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, combine tomatoes with lime juice and salt. Allow to "marinate" for 15 minutes, or while you're prepping the other ingredients.
  3. Put tomato mixture in a sieve or fine bore colander and place over a bowl to drain out excess juice.
  4. While tomatoes are draining, combine the Rub ingredients.
  5. Pat the fish filets dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle rub ingredients evenly onto each filet, turning to coat other side. Allow filets to rest.
  6. Add avocado and jalapeno to tomato mixture. Combine well.
  7. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat.
  8. When hot, add fish to pan. Do not touch (do not move, flip or adjust fish) for TWO minutes. Sear for one more minute, then flip each filet. Sear for another 2-3 minutes on the second side, depending on how thick your filets are. Flip fish only ONCE. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness - 135 degrees. Do not over cook.
  9. Remove fish from pan, place on an oven proof dish and keep warm in the oven.
  10. Wipe out skillet and return to heat.
  11. Heat each tortilla one by one flipping once. As each tortilla is warmed or toasted, whichever you prefer, place on a plate covered with a warm, wet, clean dishcloth or paper towel.
  12. Remove fish from oven and cut each filet into 4 portions.
  13. Place two portions of fish in each tortilla, top with avocado salsa.
  14. Add a teaspoon or two of yogurt and sprinkle with cilantro.
  15. Garnish with lime wedges and serve with a green or cabbage salad.
  16. Serve immediately. NOTE: Sear fish and warm tortillas just before you're ready to serve. Don't leave the fish in the oven more than a few minutes or it will dry out.
http://colleengerg.com/fish-tacos-with-tomatoavocado-salsa/

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