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Recipe Hack: Lower-Sugar Christmas Treats!

One of the things I love about Christmas is the excuse to start baking and keep it up beyond what would otherwise be considered the bounds of reason. Although I love to cook family favorites for the holidays, I also love the excuse to be experimental and somewhat “fussy,” making the types of putzy things I never have time for during the rest of the year.

This past week, I experimented with a few new items while looking for some lower-sugar options for diabetic friends and family. I call this a “recipe hack”; cracking the chemistry of cooking to understand what gives a recipe its yum and consistency while also making it work for what you need. In this case, the need was less sugar! Sadly, all this hacking leaves me pressed for time to take and process pictures, but, since I modified existing recipes, please feel free to go admire the pictures on the recipes linked below! This is going to be a quick and dirty explanation, just to give you an idea of how you can play with recipes on your own to work with your guests’ needs and preferences.

First up: Savanna cheesecake bars by Paula Deen.

Yes, Paula is usually more known for decadent yumminess more than healthier options, and no, this isn’t a health food, but it does have several redeeming qualities over many other holiday baked goods. My version packed the cookie crust with pecans and whole grain flour, I used lower-fat Neufchatel cheese instead of cream cheese in the cheesecake part, and I slathered the completed bars with a homemade fresh cranberry glaze spiced with ginger and cinnamon. We love cheesecake, and I have a thing for fresh cranberries; this one was a big hit in the taste testings in our house.

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The Episode in Which I Go Granola…Again

A few weeks ago, the Unicyclist was tapped to bring in food for an evening seminar he’s taking. He said the group has been on something of a hummus kick, so he decided to stick with the theme and whip up a batch of homemade hummus. I chose to balance it with a sweet treat and made a couple pans of granola bars for him to take along.

Apparently, the granola bars were a huge hit, as my husband came home with nary a granola bar and a heaping pile of requests for the recipe. Of course, when he delivered this news to me, the Unicyclist shook his head ruefully. He knows me and recipes…particularly where a staple like granola is concerned. All this meant, however, was that our household wound up with another batch of granola bars this week, as I had to make and measure in order to pass on instructions! So, without further ado, this one goes out to the hungry grad students. May you have long life and abundant supplies of granola. Wo0t!

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Agave-Sweetened Spiced Pumpkin Cake

The trees are heavy with apples, the raspberry canes are fading, and the fragrant bushes of basil we enjoyed all summer were sacrificed to the first frosts this past week.

Despite the summery temperatures of the last couple days here in Wisconsin, autumn has arrived. Even though it’s sunny out, the light has a different quality to it. Filtered through leaves of gold and rust, it’s thinner, paler.

It’s the time of year when steaming bowls of soup seem perfect, and the smell of fresh bread and cinnamon warms you far beyond the ability that another sweater possesses. It’s the time of year when the folks in our household start craving baked squashes and the rich texture of pumpkin in casseroles, risotto, muffins, and cakes. As the sunlight grows loses its muscle and the days shorter, the golden and orange colors grow more and more appealing. Our household is no exception. Specifically, I have been given orders from mum to get going on the pumpkin goods and to keep ‘em coming until I hear otherwise. Based on last year, I might hear otherwise sometime in April.

And I might not.

My mom has diabetes, so finding a way to create pumpkin baked goods that actually taste amazing without causing a crazy blood sugar spike has involved some trial and error. At this point, we have a couple keepers: spiced pumpkin cake and mom’s own agave-sweetened pumpkin pie. Both of them use raw agave nectar instead of sugar. I’ll get to the recipe for this pumpkin cake in a moment, but I figure some of you might like some background on agave nectar first.

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But…but…but…Peanut Butter Cookies!!

Despite all the press about salmonella, I have to say it:

I do love me some peanut butter.

To celebrate my salmonella-free jar of peanut butter bliss, I am posting my all-time favorite peanut butter cookie recipe.  It’s all-natural, but it’s not likely to help you lose weight, if that’s what you’re looking for.  It does, however, make a very delicious cookie.

Eat some cookies.  Move your body doing something you love, like cycling, snowshoeing, visiting a rock gym, sledding with the kids, taking the dog out, or shooting hoops.  Call it even, and love your life.  (Simple, right?)

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Easier than You Thought: Almond Milk

As I’ve pointed out before, processed and prepackaged foods usually have something in them you’d prefer not to be eating.  In the case of many non-dairy “milks” such as soy, rice, or almond milk, that’s the seaweed-derived thickener carrageenen.  Carrageenen is interesting enough to me that I’ll devote an entire post to it in the near future so you can revel in all the gory details, but for the moment I’ll just say that I have not been favorably impressed with the results of the research on carrageenen.  Because our household attempts to keep dairy consumption as a pretty small part of our diet, that meant that I took some time last weekend to whip up some homemade almond milk.  It’s surprisingly simple, and it does have some side benefits beyond carrageenan avoidance, as you’ll see at the end of the post.

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Recipe: New Moon Quinoa Coconut Cookies (gluten-free and vegan and diabetic-friendly, oh my!)

I don’t really have a good reason for calling these New Moon cookies, except that I personally think they are both novel and out of this world.  Oh, and they’re round.  Like the moon.  And they’re brimming with quinoa, which is also orbish.  So, they’re round at several levels.  And tasty.  And that’s what matters.

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Sweet and Savory Kabobs

Early this morning, awakened by the dulcet tones of one Mr Hippo singing to the sunrise, I got up, got dressed, and headed to the farmers’ market to see what I could scavenge for our Dark Days Challenge meal.  The fridge was a little bare, since our CSA pick-up last week was canceled due to the holiday.  However, the Unicyclist and I had an inkling of what we wanted: kabobs.  Rich and savory kabobs to slather with the leftover muhammara from our Christmas Eve shindig.  Last night over dinner, just as we’d decided this, the Unicyclist was struck with a bolt of inspiration.

“What about dessert kabobs?”

Brilliant.  And timely.  As everyone knows, nothing makes a party like food on a stick, so consider these recipes my belated Christmas gift to you.  Both the savory and the sweet kabobs we made would be a wonderful, healthful addition to any New Year’s Eve fiestas.

Let’s get into it.  First: the ingredients.

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And So it Begins…Christmas Sweets in the Making

Audience, meet my Darkest Mint Stars:

And have you yet made the acquaintance of my diabetic-friendly, cinnamon-sprinkled, maple-kissed mixed nuts?

Did I mention yet how delicious December was going to be?  Mmmm…

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Apple and Sweet Potato Bake with Greens

Apparently last week over at Urban Hennery, some murmurings started sneaking in about how many of the Dark Days Challenge recipes people had been submitting seemed…well…complicated.  It seems some of the folks taking the challenge for the first time were taken aback by the ambitiousness of multi-course dinners and fancy sauces created by those who have been local fooding and cooking from scratch for a good long while.

I’m sure you all know my stance on that.

I dig fancy-pants meals sometimes.  I really do.  But simple is also good.  Very good.  And tasty.

I can do simple.

So, this week, I decided to keep my Dark Days meal extra-simple and use some ingredients that more folks would be able to find without, you know, having to move to the desert.  With the exception of the orange, I think I done good. Basically, I am excited that so many people did sign up at Urban Hennery for the challenge, and I hope they keep it going.  You know, sometimes you have scrambled eggs for dinner  or squash and a salad.  That counts, too!  And so does this week’s project: sweet potato apple bake with a side of wilted winter greens.

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Healthy Christmas Dinner–Success!

The Challenge: Pull off Christmas dinner for seven in a one-butt kitchen without tripping over any one of the five dogs underfoot

The Menu: Lentil soup, roasted root veggies, green bean casserole, fresh bread, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed greens salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and pecans, pumpkin and pecan pies, and the requisite turkey and gravy for the omnivores in the group

Mom and I had a pretty elaborate choreography going on in the kitchen.  As mentioned, it’s a one-butt kitchen, and there were two to three human butts in it at most times, never mind the doggie butts…or the extremely hopeful doggie faces.  Despite the occasional butt bump, everything went extremely well.  So, ready for the skinny on a couple of the dishes?  After the jump, find out how I modified some classics for vegetarians and those concerned about blood sugar.

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