Red Velvet Cookie Cake

I’ve never really thought about it before, but cookie cakes have played kind of a major role in my life.

It started in high school. Junior year when my husband and I were dating, there was a Sadie Hawkins’-style dance called MORP (backwards prom). Everything about it was supposed to be the opposite of the regular protocol for school dances. Instead of dressing up in our fancy best, couples were supposed to dress exactly alike. (This was much trickier in the ’90s, before the age of gender neutralized clothing.) The dance was casual instead of formal; even the photo backdrop was a departure from the usual Grecian columns and silky fabrics:

Ah yes, here we are, dressed alike and casually hanging out on our garland-draped ATV. (Who comes up with this stuff?)

The final detail of MORP was that the girl was supposed to ask the guy to the dance in some clever way. I guess food has always been my love language, because I decided to present my then-boyfriend-now-husband with a cookie cake popping the question in frosting. Unfortunately, “Will you go to MORP with me?” was too long to fit on the cookie I ended up ordering, and instead, I remember it just had the word MORP with a giant question mark.

MORP?

Good thing he knew what I was talking about, or he probably would have thought I was suffering from some sort of delicious aphasic episode.

Fast forward several years. When we found out I was pregnant with our first child, we figured we’d break out the old cookie cake communication trick to inform my husband’s parents of their new grandparent status. We had been tasked to bring dessert to Sunday dinner. Imagine my in-laws’ surprise when they read the happy news in frosted lettering. Good memories.

With this history, cookie cakes have always held a place in my heart as special occasion desserts. So the other night when a friend and her daughter joined us for dinner, I decided a red velvet cookie cake sounded like just the delectable treat to serve after dinner.

When our visiting friend and I took our first bites, we looked at each other and went, “Oh. WOW.” The subtly flavored chocolate cookie dotted with white chocolate chips and covered with smooth cream cheese frosting made for an amazing finish to dinner. Cookie cakes for the win once again!

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, or for any special occasion, consider this decadent dessert. You don’t even have to spell out any messages on it. It’s special enough all by itself.


Print Recipe
Red Velvet Cookie Cake
Perfect for Valentine's Day, this frosted red velvet cookie cake is a decadent treat!
Servings
small slices
Ingredients
Servings
small slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch tart pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla, food coloring, and vinegar and mix to combine.
  2. Add flour, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined. Stir in white chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan, smoothing the top of the batter until even. Bake 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then vanilla and milk, until smooth and spreadable.
  4. When cookie cake has completely cooled, spread frosting in a smooth layer on top. Sprinkle with colored sprinkles, if using. Keep refrigerated.
Recipe Notes

Cookie cake adapted from Just So Tasty. Frosting from Betty Crocker.

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Cranberry Salsa

How often do you eat cranberries in their fresh, raw form? It seems to go without saying that sweetened dried cranberries have pretty well monopolized the Cranberry Market in recent years, edging out their plump, juicy originators by a long shot.  I’d wager few of us ever go around eating raw cranberries as our go-to fruit of choice. As a matter of fact, when my six-year-old daughter saw them in our fruit crisper the other day and asked to try one, I told her to do so at her own risk. Raw cranberries are so stinking tart, they’re almost inedible on their own.

Not surprisingly, it took about two seconds before she made a horrible face and spit it into the trash.

That’s why this Cranberry Salsa–which I had the fresh cranberries in the fridge for–is so special. It features raw cranberries combined with apple, jalapeño, red onion, and a couple of other fresh ingredients for an unexpected, interesting appetizer that’s sure to be a hit at holiday parties. (It was at mine last night! The bowl I served this in was practically licked clean.)

Being a nutritionist, I’m a bit self-conscious about the food I serve when I entertain. Maybe no one is thinking about it but me, but I feel like my title obligates me to make at least some fairly healthy options for my guests. Plus, the nutritionist in me likes to offer allergy-friendly options for friends and family in the “something-free” club. This salsa fit the bill for both, since it’s vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free–basically everything-free, since it’s made entirely with fresh fruits, sugar, and salt. Heck, it’s even RAW, if you’re into that, too.

Oh, and it’s easy. And make-ahead. And a balanced blend of sweetness and spice. And seasonal.

Can you tell I’m sold? Give this one a try for any upcoming Christmas parties and tell me how it goes!

 


Print Recipe
Cranberry Salsa
This Cranberry Salsa is a festive, healthy, allergy-friendly holiday appetizer.
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, process the sugar until very fine (to create superfine sugar). Pour into a serving bowl and set aside.
  2. Place cranberries, apple, red onion, and jalapeño in the food processor and process until the mixture reaches a finely chopped pico de gallo-type consistency. Add to the bowl with the sugar and stir to combine.
  3. Add orange zest and juice, lime juice, and salt and stir to combine. Cover and chill 2-24 hours. Stir in cilantro just before serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Home is Where the Boat Is, who adapted it from Southern Living.

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Cinnamon Sweet Potato Muffins

I’ll be honest and say I had pretty low expectations when I decided to make sweet potato muffins. In terms of baking, sweet potatoes have always seemed to me like pumpkin’s stringy-haired, less charming step-sister. I have no evidence to back up this notion. Maybe it’s just that in this country, in all the months that end in -ber, pumpkin gets all the glory in baked goods, while sweet potatoes dutifully play side dish. Probably there’s a Pumpkin Baking Lobby at work beneath this phenomenon.

At any rate, sometimes it’s good to get out of a rut, even if it’s just a pumpkin baking rut. So when I realized I had a heaping helping of leftover cooked sweet potatoes nobody in my family was chomping at the bit to consume, I went hunting for a recipe to repurpose them as breakfast. Am I glad I did? Well, I’ll just say, Cinnamon Sweet Potato Muffins, that…

These muffins come out with flavor as bright as their color. A hint of orange zest in the recipe adds just the right counterpoint to the heartier tubers’ taste. And despite the heft of sweet potatoes’ texture, these are light, moist, and even–dare I say–fluffy? With a dusting of cinnamon sugar on top, I’m kind of sad I only made about a dozen.

So there you have it. I’m a sweet potato baking convert. Are you? Next time you have extra cooked sweet potatoes leftover, remember to try out this recipe, and I think you will be in no time!

 


Print Recipe
Cinnamon Sweet Potato Muffins
These Cinnamon Sweet Potato Muffins will make you a sweet potato baking convert! They're surprisingly light, not too sweet, and only 150 calories each.
Course breakfast
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20-25 minutes
Servings
muffins
Course breakfast
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20-25 minutes
Servings
muffins
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 14 muffin cups with cooking spray.
  3. In a small bowl, combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder.
  4. In a large bowl, mix eggs, sugar, orange extract or zest, oil, and milk. Add the sweet potatoes and mix until thoroughly combined.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  6. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the tops spring back when touched. Store in an airtight container.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Williams Sonoma.

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Almond Milk Nutella Pudding

Nutella pudding

Are you a milk drinker? If you are, how much milk do you drink a day? If you’re not, how much dairy do eat in a day?

At last year’s Nutrition and Health Conference in Denver, I heard a fascinating talk from Walter Willett, Department Chair of Harvard’s School of Public Health, about how much dairy we all actually need on a daily basis. The marketing messages we grew up with that milk “does a body good” and to get “3 A Day” servings of cheese, milk, or yogurt may have been simply that: marketing. Willett’s conclusion, based on numerous studies, was that one serving of dairy a day is probably plenty for most adults. We do of course need to be mindful of consuming enough calcium and vitamin D overall, but as an animal product, dairy has a pretty high calorie and fat price tag for the delivery of these vital nutrients.

While there’s still more research to be done on the merits (or pitfalls) of eating lots of dairy, and what fat percentage to choose when we do, since hearing Willett’s talk I’ve tried to simply become more conscious of how much dairy I consume daily. It’s led to the discovery that I’m a bit of a dairy-oholic. While drinking straight milk frankly grosses me out, my daily cheese/yogurt/ice cream consumption can overstep its bounds even before lunchtime.

Yesterday, for example… I was craving something sweet. The jar of Nutella in my pantry was seductively calling my name, but, wanting to at least maintain my illusion of refinement, I thought, what if I make something with the Nutella instead of just eating it straight from the jar like a desperate PMS-ing college student? Something like a pudding, perhaps! As I thought about my day of eating up until that point, however, I realized it had already been pretty dairy-heavy. So, while there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with dairy, would it be heretical to make a pudding without something other than regular milk, thereby cutting some fat and calories? Could it turn out creamy and delicious if you made it with, say, almond milk instead of cow’s milk?

Why yes, it could!

I didn’t miss a thing in this Nutella pudding using almond milk in place of regular dairy. When I asked my husband for his thoughts, he said it was very tasty, too, and didn’t realize it didn’t contain regular milk. (Though it should be noted that there is a small amount of dairy in Nutella itself. If you absolutely need to be 100% dairy-free, you would need to find a different chocolate hazelnut spread than Nutella–which is possible!)

So whether you need to limit dairy in your diet for some reason, or just don’t mind shaving off a few calories in your dessert, this pudding is your answer. Dollop with a dairy or non-dairy whipped topping to your preference.

Nutella Pudding

By the way, recently on one of my tours at the Halle Heart Children’s Museum where I work, I asked a group of second graders which animals provide dairy products. With utmost confidence, one kid raised his hand and shouted: “Ducks!” If duck milk ever becomes a thing, I’m gonna call it non-dairy and say you can make this pudding with it, too.

Print Recipe
Dairy Free Nutella Pudding
A Nutella pudding made with almond milk that's still creamy and smooth!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Course Dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn starch, cocoa powder, and salt. Add almond milk and bring almost to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently to break up any lumps.
  2. When the mixture begins to thicken and almost boil, turn heat to low, add Nutella, chocolate chips, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
  3. Pour into 4 individual bowls or ramekins, or one large bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve chilled with non-dairy whipped topping.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Oranges with Vanilla Syrup

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

January in Phoenix brings many things: the Phoenix Open, the famous Barrett Jackson car auction, citrus fruits up the wazoo, and of course, snowbirds…

snowbird-7

But let’s get back to the citrus (because it’s not even February and I’ve already had enough of snowbirds).

As I always say, whenever this time of year comes around, Arizonans will do almost anything to offload their overabundant citrus fruits. Neighbors don’t want them, schools have had enough of them, and the food banks refuse them, because even the poor and needy will balk at lemons, oranges, and grapefruit breakfast, lunch, and dinner after awhile. We get to the point where we start looking around for a Citrus Drop-off Safe Haven, like they do for babies.

citrus-safe-haven

NO QUESTIONS ASKED!!!

So yesterday when the guy who takes care of our lawn all too eagerly handed me a shopping bag brimming with oranges, I knew I’d have to form a plan. Thankfully, the stars aligned and a way to use up my newly acquired citrus gift presented itself almost immediately: our church’s annual picnic. With my “G” last name, the church bulletin assigned me and the other A-L’s to bring a side dish to go along with the hot dog lunch being served at the picnic. I *could* have been a lame-o and simply dropped off the Little Orphan Oranges on the buffet table in the hopes that the good people of the church would find them all their forever families, but I decided to be a bit more responsible and make them into an actual side dish.

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

This fresh and different stacked orange salad is the result. Sprinkled with almonds and coconut and drizzled with a sweet vanilla syrup, it’s a hybrid side dish/snack/dessert that disappeared fast from the sea of chips and same ol’ veggie trays at the church picnic. And since it came together quickly, easily, and attractively with minimal ingredients, I know I’ll make it again–especially when I have oranges to use up.

Orange Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Print Recipe
Oranges with Vanilla Syrup
A fresh and easy orange side dish for brunch or lunch.
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Slice peeled oranges into equal pieces and arrange on a platter.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring sugar, water, and vanilla extract to a boil over medium-low, stirring constantly. Simmer 5 minutes, then let cool.
  3. Sprinkle orange slices with almonds and coconut, then drizzle with the cooled syrup. (If you have extra syrup, save for another use--I'm sure it would taste great in coffee!)
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