Monday, January 27, 2014

Better Morning Breakfast Bars

One of the best things about graduating from college was the break from early mornings. I hated 8am classes and figured any new job I got wouldn’t require me to come in until at least 9am. Then I got a job at the county library here in Texas. Here I was again getting up at 8am. Honestly it wasn’t so bad as the two months from October to December was the longest period since I was 15 that I wasn’t working or going to school. I actually missed being tired as it was then difficult to go to sleep at night.

The downside to waking up early is not having much time to have a healthy breakfast. For awhile I was drinking banana peanut butter smoothies or milk with protein powder but I wanted something I could grab and go and will keep me full.

That’s where these breakfast bars come in. I first saw them on the fabulous Lindsay’s blog, The Lean Green Bean. (She also has some great ideas for healthy food prep to last all week long.) While I didn’t have all of the ingredients, I did have most of them including some decent substitutes.

I am over the moon over these bars. Granola bars I get in stores never have everything I want in them (a.k.a. taste and health.) So, working with a base of  quinoa, gluten free oats and sweet potato, the gluten free vegan breakfast bars were born. I changed a few things from Lindsay’s original recipe out of necessity but if you’d like to try her’s, here is the link.

These bars remind me a lot of Fall and Thanksgiving, due to the sweet potato, cranberries, and spices. I love sweet potatoes. They are full of vitamin C and are so good for you. Plus, if you simply roast a couple for a dinner and keep a leftover one along with leftover quinoa for these bars. Or you could be like me and use the leftover sweet potato from a restaurant’s veggie side. (How convenient!) There are also several ways to make it your own with add ins like omega-rich walnuts for healthy skin, dried dates, your favorite type of GF flour, and lots more! I don’t like mine super sweet, but if you do, simply add a little bit more agave or mix in some chunky apple sauce. No matter what, these soft, chewy baked bars are perfect for the busy morning.

Once these babies cool, you can simply bag them up for an easy on the go morning meal or snack. With all this good stuff, these bars are low-fat and full of fiber. What’s not to love?

Better Morning Breakfast Bars
(adapted from the Lean Green Bean)

1 cup cooked quinoa (about ½ cup dried once prepared)
1 cup gluten-free oats
¼ cup gluten-free flour such as chickpea, all-purpose, or almond (you can use traditional wheat or all-purpose if you aren't GF)
½ cup mashed cooked mashed sweet potato or pure mashed pumpkin
¼ cup peanut or other nut butter ( I used prepared PB2 at only 70 calories)
1 large egg or flax-egg
2 tbsp. agave nectar or honey
2 tbsp. dark coconut sugar or natural brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tbsp. chia seeds
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup roasted pumpkins seeds or ½ cup chopped walnuts
Optional: ¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

Add-ins: 1/4 cup chopped dried dates or 1/3 cup chunky apple sauce for additional sweetness.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, combine sweet potato, nut butter, honey, coconut sugar, egg, and vanilla extract. Slowly add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until well combined.

Spoon mixture into an oiled 8x13 aluminum foiled lined pan. With a wooden spoon, smooth out top of mixture until even and flat.

Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Bars are done when a toothpick put into the center comes out clean.

Allow bars to cool and cut into eight bars. Transfer to individual plastic bags and store bars in the refrigerator.

Variation: These bars are also delicious as baked oatmeal. Serve warm and pour vanilla almond milk over top.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Californian Margarita Pizza

I love, love homemade pizza crust. I find myself spending every other Sunday prepping homemade pizza crusts and pitas for the weeks ahead. But what is there to do on alternate weeks when I’m too tired to spend the majority of the afternoon kneading and baking homemade flat breads, but still want homemade pizza.

I cheat. That’s right, once again this month I provide you with an at-home semi-homemade alternative to the store-bought. First, If you have time to make your own crust—go for it! If you don’t, this recipe is a good way to go. I also recommend using pita bread as a quick alternative. Just not those horrible vacuum sealed pre-made crusts you see next to the pepperoni at your grocery store. I’m sorry, those will ruin your pizza.

For a fresh baked alternative to making your own, I really like Pillsbury’s roll up Thin Crust in the refrigerated section. No, it’s probably not the healthiest option for you but we are already eating pizza so at this point it’s okay to live a little.

I love the classic Margarita pizza with mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, but I wanted to take it up a notch by adding delicate prosciutto and ripe avocado. With that I sensed a pretty clear California vibe going on with my pizza. You probably know what I mean by that. Californian cuisine is known for its fusion of ethnic and fresh ingredients; such as Wasabi Salmon on a cedar plank, etc. etc. Hence, the California Margarita was born.

I love how the classic flavors of the margarita goes so well with the ripe avocado and the buttery prosciutto. All together this pizza has a light, almost sweet undertone to the savory. A.ka. delicious.

This is definitely perfect for summer when all of these ingredients (tomatoes, basil, avocado) are at their peak of freshness. But, here in Texas I was missing summer so instead I used the grocery store staple-cherry tomatoes, prepackaged basil, and a ripe avocado. Please don’t judge me, I had a craving.

Whether it is mid-August or mid-January, this pizza will be a crowd pleaser hands down.

Californian Margarita Pizza
Makes one large pizza, 8 slices

1 roll Pillsbury thin crust
1/2-2/3 cup pizza sauce (homemade is the best)
10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
6 leaves Basil, snipped
1 ripened avocado, thinly sliced, and in chunks
1 1/2 cup five cheese mix
1.2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
2-3 slices prosciutto, Parma ham, cut into slices
Truffle oil
Black pepper
1/2 tsp. Garlic powder

Substitutions: If you don't eat pork products like me, tried crisped turkey bacon or just skip for vegetarian.

For gluten-free, make your own gluten-free crust such as this super soft, chewy one from King Arthur.


If using Pillsbury’s thin crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unroll pizza crust unto pan and prebake for 5 minutes.

Take out of pan and cover with sauce. Sprinkle with half of cheese and arrange tomatoes and prosciutto over pizza crust. Cover with remaining cheese and sprinkle garlic powder and black pepper.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and top with basil and avocado and more black pepper.

Cut into eight slices and drizzle with small amount of truffle oil.

Serve immediately with side salad.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tips for Study Abroad European Travel

I’ve mentioned this before, I’m alright with the occasional pandering. That’s because my London Study Abroad posts, specifically my tips and what to wear and the most viewed posts on this blog. Why? Well, I like to think the tips are helpful! But, really there aren’t many lists out there for people making the leap across the Pond.

Another important aspect of studying abroad in Europe is of course TRAVEL! There are so many amazing places to go and so little time and money to see them all. That’s why I’ve enlisted the help of a few of the girls I lived with in London to help me out. Between us we’ve been to nearly 20 countries in Europe (That’s including all four separate countries in the UK.) This is the first post with a little help from Laura, Julie, Mary-Kate, and Beth. 

 I’ve compiled some of our place specific tips including where to travel, how to travel, and where to stay.

Best cheap airlines:
Ryan Air
Wizz Air for Eastern Europe

Once in the lifetime travel:

Eurostar to Paris
Why? Because the view from the window is incredible. The Eurostar, also known as the Chunnel, takes you directly into the heart of the city, unlike the Paris airport which is over an hour outside the city. The Eurostar isn’t cheap but it’s definitely worth it to take from St. Pancreas to Paris. It also goes to Amsterdam.

Ferry to Ireland from London
Why? Beth says it was one of the most fun things she did and you can also get very reasonable rates.

Best places to Stay:

Our Apartment in Prague with full kitchen, etc.
Apartment Share-, how we got an amazing apartment in Prague.
Hostels- just make sure if they certified from a hostel website. Depending on what city you are visiting they can vary from $15-$75 a night per person. Also, if you are traveling with a group of 4-5, try to get a private room by booking all the beds together so your personal items are more secure.

Favorite Blogs, Tips, and Websites:
Beth's favorite blog, The Londoner

Real London Reflections:

Tips from my travel buddies:

“Check out local places like coffee shops and just hang out. It really allows you to be immersed in the culture and see what the people around you are like!” -Laura

“I'm also a huge fan of trains.  Traveling by train is a wonderful experience because you can see a lot of the countryside (or the town or city) in a way you might be able to on a bus or a plane."- Mary-Kate

“One of my favorite things to do in London was go to markets! All of them. Definitely just go to a museum and after you finish, just get lost around the neighborhood.  you're more likely to find a hidden gem that way.”-Beth
       “Getting lost can be the perfect opportunity to find the best hidden gems (as long as you it is a safe place of the city to get lost in...).  I also agree that Markets are the best thing - taste test your whole way through and buy your favorite things!”- Mary-Kate

Favorite places to travel:

“Ireland is a country I found, in particular, that it was really easy to talk to the locals and those are the people that sometimes have the best advice.  If for nothing else it is nice to just have another person to talk to when traveling.” –Mary-Kate

“(We knew people who) stayed in a hostel on a houseboat in the Amsterdam canal which sounds so cool, I wish we did that.”- Julie

“For students, look for as many deals as you can. We got into all the ruins and museums in Athens for free with student IDs.”- Julie

Julie’s place specific Advice:

“Definitely go to the Anne Frank House (but try to go early to avoid the crowd). We went to the Van Gogh museum, which was great.”

-Everything is expensive...
- We randomly went to the European Union museum and I loved it, I wish we could've stayed longer. And it was free!

- Go to the BMW factory! I have little to no interest in cars but it was really cool and cheap. You have to call to get tickets, which is kind of weird but just Google it.
- We went to Dachau concentration camp, which was very somber but fascinating
- Definitely go to a beer hall
- Walk through Englisher Garten. See if you can find the artificial wave where people surf, we watched for like a half hour...
- I think in the summer you can do stuff in the Olympic park

- there's all the usual stuff, Berlin Wall, WWII memorial, Checkpoint Charlie. Don't go to the checkpoint Charlie museum, not worth it
- The holocaust museum is great.
- We rented bikes and went all the way to the 1936 Olympic stadium. If it's open do a tour.
- Get Black Forest cake! It's the national dessert.

Come back soon for advice on Eastern Europe, Morocco, and more!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cheater Cookie Butter Button Brownies

Two weekends ago, Aaron and I decided it would be a good idea to drive nearly four hours each way to Austin on dirt roads to spend five hours there on a dreary day…on a Sunday. Basically it was cold and very few things were open. The trip included a walk though of the Whole Foods Flagship store, the LBJ presidential library, and the best part…Trader Joe’s. You should know by now that I love Trader Jo’s, but they don’t exist here in West Texas. So Austin’s new store is the closest there is. I was very excited to get the pantry items I missed so much.

Brownie mix, Thai chili paste, $5 wine. You know, the essentials. So when I finally have in a bought a jar of the infamous cookie butter, I knew I had to do more than eat it with a least in addition to that. That’s where brownies came in.

My high school friend said anything out of a box was cheating. As in cheater cookies or cheater brownies. My response was always, "I'm baking for you, stop complaining."

On that note this is as true of a “ cheater college recipe” as you've ever seen it. And it's amazing.

This is based in a recipe for real brownies with cookie butter so if that is more appealing, than all means, be my guest. But when my husband informs me we were invited to 6pm barbecue at noon, I decided to get creative....and cheat. Cookie butter brownies were born and they were a hit. So if you are short on time and what something that'll impress everyone, these babies are the answer.

Cheater Cookie Butter Button Brownies
Makes 24 bite sized brownies
(Adapted from Baker Girl)

1 box, Trader Joe’s Brownie Truffle Baking Mix (16 oz.)
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (6 oz.)
2 large eggs
½ cup Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter or Biscoff spread
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. unsalted melted butter
extra butter for greasing 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together cookie butter, powdered sugar, and melted butter in a small bowl, until well combined and the consistency of cookie batter.

Roll cookie butter batter into balls about ¾ inch thick, making about 24 balls. Place balls on a parchment  lined baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Transfer to the fridge until ready to bake brownies.

Grease a 8x11x2 baking dish with extra butter, up the sides and all over the bottom.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan, stirring often and brown butter until it smells nutty then immediately take off heat and transfer to a heat safe bowl. Cool slightly before using.

In a large bowl combine butter and eggs until creamy. While mixing stir in brownie mix a little at a time into just combined.

Pour wet brownie mix into the prepared pan in a smooth layer. Carefully press cookie balls into the brownie mix, evenly four in a row and six across so balls are still sticking out of the batter but haven’t touched the bottom of pan.

Bake pan for 20-25 minutes until brownie batter has risen to the level of the balls and is set in the center when tested with toothpick.

Allow brownies to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan. Once brownies are cooled cut into bite sized squares around each cookie ball.