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chewy chocolaty peanut-buttery protein bars

010I’m really not sure why I’ve always been so intimidated by baking, but I have. And while I fully believe in conquering the things in life that hold us back, for some reason I haven’t felt the need to apply that notion to this area of my life yet. Maybe it’s because, well, not to down-play it or anything, but it’s just baking. Just baking?! I don’t think I really mean that. After all, what could be better than a fresh, buttery croissant right out of the oven… or a slice of indulgently rich chocolate cake… or heck, even a hot and gooey glazed donut? There clearly is something magical that happens when flour is mixed with some combination of sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. The joy is most certainly not lost on me.

This does seem like something I need to tackle at some point. If for no other reason than to open up an entirely new world of food, which sounds quite motivating. I just haven’t ventured there yet. One step at a time I suppose. And while I’m openly sharing my apparent struggle over this issue, I may as well get to the heart of the matter. I think I carry the belief that baked goods, as delicious as they may be, just aren’t as healthy. I also know that I can’t resist breads, cookies, or sweets in general with much discipline (if there’s chocolate involved, it’s just over), so making them is almost like setting a diet trap for myself. But I think that’s being pretty small minded, not something I aspire to be. So rather than close myself off to an entire method of cooking, and basically an entire food group, maybe it’s time I prove myself wrong and find a way to make healthy versions.

Consider these no-bake protein bars my very first step into the world of baking – irony intended – but hey, I used flour; it’s a start. The hemp seeds were a bit of a splurge, but they are loaded with healthy fats, fiber, and protein, and give a nice nutty flavor and texture. Sunflower seeds would probably work just as well, and save a few bucks. The bars are really everything you could want… chewy, crunchy, salty-sweet, additive-free and packed with protein. Let’s just say, I made them last night, and I’m down to one. I’ll be sad to see it go.

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(Recipe adapted from oh she glows)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole grain oat flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)

1/2 cup Garden of Life RAW protein powder (or powder of your choosing, unflavored is best)

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp chocolate covered hemp seeds (or plain hemp seeds for vegan)

1/2 cup rice based cereal (I used Nature’s Path Sunrise Crunchy Vanilla and crushed up into pieces)

1/2 cup all natural peanut butter

1/2 cup agave syrup sweetener

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp mini dark chocolate morsels (for vegan, use vegan brand chocolate)

1 tbsp coconut oil

Steps:

1. Use an 8 x 8 pan, lined with parchment paper

2. Mix together dry ingredients in a bowl:  flour, protein powder, 1/4 cup hemp seeds, cereal, and salt

3. Add in peanut butter, agave syrup, and vanilla, mix to combine – can splash in a little water or almond milk if too dry

4. Press down into pan then put in freezer

5. Melt chocolate chips with coconut oil in small sauce pan over low heat, careful not to burn

6. Cut frozen dough into bars, drizzle with melted chocolate and top with remaining hemp seeds

7. Place back in freezer to set, keep stored in freezer (bars soften as they get warmer)

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spicy sweet potato and lemon garlic butternut hummus

bshum

butternut squash hummus

Ever make a mistake, but the end result turns out to be better than originally planned? That’s not exactly what happened here… but more on that later. A few Sundays ago, I decided to join in on the Super Bowl food frenzy madness – by the wayAmericans consume about 2,400 calories during the game alone, and 1.25 billion chicken wings… yep, you heard me – and contribute a healthy option: homemade hummus. Having never made hummus before, it seemed like an interesting yet not too challenging task, but leave it to me to complicate things…

I love traditional hummus, in all its chick pea-tahini-garlic glory, but I wanted an ingredient twist. A quick survey of the kitchen revealed a couple of sweet potatoes sitting idly by, right next to a lazy little butternut squash. Seemed like a good place to start, so I searched for some ideas to see which would make a better hummus. Well, as with most internet searches, down the rabbit hole I went into a world of endless hummus possibility. After some narrowing down, and a little inspiration from two of my favorite blogs, the adventurous foodie in me just couldn’t resist, and I knew I had two… um, hummuses? hummai?… two types of hummus to make.

Needless to say, I got too swept away in my kitchen world to make it in time for kickoff, but I think I enjoyed playing with the recipes more than the game anyway (I’m a real football fan, I promise). I guess when you experiment with something, mistakes can happen. When making the butternut squash hummus, I accidentally picked up the pumpkin spice seasoning bottle instead of the paprika, and dumped in a tablespoon before realizing, and having an oh sh*t moment. But I have to say, it certainly didn’t hurt. The spicy sweetness combined well with the savory squash, after all I suppose pumpkin is a squash. I would probably make the same mistake when making it again, except like, on purpose. Bottom line: when you see pumpkin spice OR paprika in the ingredient list, that’s why, and it’s your moment to decide if you like pumpkin spice enough to see what it tastes like in hummus. I say go for it.

And while things should have stopped there, they certainly didn’t. Heck no, I was on some crazy hummus experiment binge at this point. After I made the sweet potato hummus, and then the butternut squash, I stood there dipping veggies and pita into each, unable to decide which I liked better. The taste and consistency of the sweet potatoes mixed with tahini and everything else was almost like eating peanut butter. Win. The butternut squash came out much more like traditional hummus, mixed with chick peas, garlic, and lemon, plus the secret ingredient… giving it a smooth tangy richness. In the end, I mixed the two together, creating the best hummus I think I’ve ever had, and called it a day.

sweet potato hummus

sweet potato hummus

Ingredients: spicy sweet potato hummus

2 medium sweet potatoes

1/4 cup tahini

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tbsp paprika

salt and pepper to taste

Steps: (I roasted the sweet potatoes and squash together on the same baking sheet to save time)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper

2. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and place face down on baking sheet, bake for 35 minutes

3. Let sweet potatoes cool, then remove skins (they should slide right off)

4. Mash sweet potatoes in a bowl with a fork, mix in tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings, stir until smooth

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Ingredients: lemon garlic butternut squash hummus

1 medium butternut squash

1 can low sodium chick peas, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup tahini

1/2 lemon

2 tbsp plain soy milk

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp paprika or pumpkin spice

1/2 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, line baking sheet with parchment paper

2. Cut squash lengthwise and scrape out seeds, spray inside with cooking spray or rub in a little olive oil, place halves face down on baking sheet and roast for 35 minutes

3. Remove from oven and let cool, scoop out insides and transfer to a high speed blender

4. Add chick peas, tahini, juice from lemon, soy milk, and minced garlic to blender, blend on high until smooth

5. Add paprika or pumpkin spice, cumin, salt and pepper, and blend

sweet potato and butternut squash hummus on toast

sweet potato and butternut squash hummus on toast