Easter Week: Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars

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It’s Easter Week here at Smart Cookie, and we’re diving down the rabbit hole of Day 2 (check out Day 1 if you missed it: Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups).

It’s no secret that bunnies love carrots. In fact, the only thing bunnies love more than carrots is carrot cake. What, you didn’t know that? It’s common sense. I mean, what’s better than taking something you love and baking it into a cake? Nothing. Therefore, carrot cake is like crack for bunnies, and for people like me who just love them some carrot cake.

How do I know all this for certain? Because I happen to be good friends with a very prominent bunny: Peter Cottontail; perhaps you’ve heard of him. Lucky for you and me, Mr. Cottontail generously shared one of his favorite carrot cake-themed recipes with us today: Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars.

Ol’ Cottontail loves these bars because he gets all the deliciousness of carrot cake and then some without spending hours and hours in his itty bitty bunny kitchen baking and frosting an elaborate cake. In fact, these Carrot Cake Bars are a one-bowl treat that bakes up fast with no fuss or muss. No wonder the head honcho bunny approves; they’re delectable AND simple.DSC_3568

I’m thrilled Cottontail passed this recipe my way to whip up because these Carrot Cake Bars are chewy, moist, and irresistible. Their texture is a cross between cookie and cake, almost delving into blondie-like territory. The spiced and subtly carroty flavor of the bars is perfectly complimented by a combination of White Chocolate M&Ms and Carrot Cake M&Ms. Yes, they make both of those (you can buy the white chocolate ones at Target and the carrot cake ones at Wal-Mart). They give an extra kiss of sweetness, like frosting would on cake, and also adds a pretty pastel punch of color. And of course, some springy sprinkles brighten the palette as well.

These bars have everything good going for them: they’re delicious, easy, and quick. I highly recommend giving Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars a try this Easter and seeing what all the fuss is about. That bunny knows how to bake!DSC_3536

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Like any sweet, it you overbake these, they’ll dry out. Just keep an eye on them, and you’ll be fine.
  2. As I mention in the recipe below, if you can’t get your hands on the special flavors of M&Ms, just replace them with white chocolate chips. It’ll still be completely delicious.
  3. Kids will go crazy for these between the fun colors, the M&Ms, and the fact that they’re approved by their favorite furry bunny.
  4. These would also be delicious if you skipped the M&Ms and added a vanilla glaze instead.
  5. Do not bake these in an 8×8. They will not cook evenly because they’ll be too thick.DSC_3426

Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 box carrot cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup White Chocolate M&Ms,* plus more for topping
  • ½ cup Carrot Cake M&Ms*
  • ½ cup Easter sprinkles, divided

*The White Chocolate M&Ms are available at Target, and the Carrot Cake M&Ms are at Wal-Mart. If you can’t find them, replace with equal parts white chocolate chips.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together cake mix, butter, eggs, and vanilla on low speed just until well-combined. Fold in the M&Ms and half of the sprinkles (1/4 cup).
  3. Transfer batter to prepared pan (it will be thick like cookie dough). Spray your hands or a spatula with nonstick spray and press the batter down into an even layer (push batter to the edges, but it doesn’t need to shape to the pan perfectly). Sprinkle with a generous ¼ cup more White Chocolate M&Ms and the remaining sprinkles. Press down lightly.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and set and a knife inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs (it shouldn’t be too gooey anymore). Let cool completely then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.DSC_3521

Healthy Cookie: Double Bean Enchilada Soup

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I didn’t think I’d be interested in enchilada soup of any kind when my mom made it for dinner a few nights ago. Her version was made with chicken, so I couldn’t have eaten it even if I wanted to. But when I walked through the door after getting home from the gym, my stomach growling like a ticked-off grizzly bear, all I could smell was the intoxicating scent of that soup, and I wanted it.

Of course, like I said, I couldn’t eat any because of the chicken. But I instantly decided I would make my own meatless version instead: Double Bean Enchilada Soup. I’m so glad I did too, because that wonderful aroma of the soup my mother mad would have haunted me forever if I never got to try it.

My soup is just slightly tweaked with two kinds of hearty beans taking on the role of protein in place of chicken. I also added some green chiles, which bring serious heat to the table. Make sure you have a big ol’ glass of water at the ready. The heat might slow you down, but the delicious, warm flavors will keep you pressing on, inhaling spoonful after spoonful in a state of soup-induced euphoria.DSC_2126

I can’t even explain how good this soup is, especially because one big fat cupful is less than 130 calories. Seriously? Yes, seriously. I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t made it. This soup is so hearty and thick from the cornmeal, singing with saucy Mexican flavors, and it’s even got some creamy American cheese. Can all that goodness come with a teeny-tiny calorie count? Yes, sir!

This is officially my favorite low-cal soup ever. Why? Because it doesn’t taste like a really good low-cal soup; it just tastes like a really good soup period. I also adore how quick and easy it is; no day-long simmering required. Make it in under 30 minutes with just a few ingredients.

If you don’t have this Double Bean Enchilada Soup for dinner tonight, then you’re missing out. Down a big bowlful, and you can feel satisfied without feeling an ounce of guilt.DSC_2131

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Need your meat fix? Trade the beans for 2 cups shredded chicken.
  2. All black beans or all kidney beans is fine if you only have one kind on hand.
  3. Tailor this to meet your diet needs: use all vegetable stock if you’re a vegetarian instead of the combination I used.
  4. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you like. I hate the stuff, but some people love it.
  5. Red onion instead of yellow will kick this up even more.
  6. You can skip the green chiles and use a can of Ro-tel instead, which will give you the heat plus diced tomatoes.DSC_2033

Double Bean Enchilada Soup
Adapted from Eat More of What You Love

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup vegetable stock (or use all vegetable stock if vegetarian)
  • ¾ cup enchilada sauce
  • ¼ cup + 2 tbsp. cornmeal
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsp. diced green chiles, drained & rinsed
  • ¾ cup black beans, drained & rinsed
  • ½ cup kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 4 slices 2% milk American cheese singles
  • Optional garnish: diced tomatoes, lettuce, crushed tortilla chips, sour cream

Directions:

  1. Add about ¼ cup of chicken stock to a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in both stocks, 1 cup water, and the enchilada sauce and bring to a low boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the cornmeal with ¾ cup water in a small bowl. Once soup is boiling, whisk in cornmeal mixture, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Let simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in green chiles and beans. Let cook for another two minutes then stir in cheese until completely melted. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

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Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese

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There’s nothing more disappointing than a dry mac and cheese. On the list of Life’s Most Devastating Disappointments, dry mac is right up there with when the pizza you ordered doesn’t have enough cheese or getting a half-filled container of fries from the drive-thru. It’s like you were robbed of what you longed for and deserved.

In theory, pasta and cheese should always be a winning combination, but it’s not that simple. If the sauce is dry and crumbly, then all you’ve got is a flavorless pile of clumpy mush, and that ain’t appetizing.

I learned a long time ago that the best way to avoid Chronic Dry Mac & Cheese Disappointment Syndrome (CDMCD Syndrome) is to stop trusting restaurants’ macs or other people’s recipes. Occasionally, I find a good mac, but it’s not worth the 9 out of 10 times I don’t.

I specifically designed this Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese to be have a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, yielding a sea of super creamy, rich cheese sauce. I guarantee you’ve never had a mac this luscious in your life.DSC_9633

Here are the secrets to super sauciness: Firstly, I used an epic quantity of four kinds of cheese, each one specifically selected for its creamy meltibility (with the exception of the parmesan, which I chose for its strong flavor). Sharp cheddar is a must-have in a classic mac. Then we’ve got super smooth and soft Muenster and slightly tangy, crazy melty Monterey Jack. The complimentary quartet of cheese is then complimented by a secret ingredient: hot sauce. It doesn’t make it spicy; just a tiny touch adds a hint of something special to each bite.

My second secret to sauciness is making a slightly larger quantity of sauce than most mac and cheese recipes yield, so you get more creamy cheesiness for every noodle. I also used just a bit less than the whole box of noodles, unlike most recipes, so you again get more sauce per noodle.

The final secret is making the mac and cheese stovetop. Oven-baking is a common offender in drying out sauces or making them curdle, so we keep our sauce nice and velvety smooth on the stove. Best of all, this is a MAJOR time-saver, so you can have this indulgent, heavenly mac on the table in 30 minutes or less.

End result? Crazy creamy and gooey mac and cheese like you’ve only dreamed of, loaded with cheese and bursting with the perfect medley of flavors.

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A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Never made mac and cheese from scratch before? This recipe’s a great place to start.
  2. Get a visual on building the roux for the sauce with this quick video.
  3. You can switch out cheeses, but try to pick ones with good meltibility.
  4. Choose whatever pasta shape you like, but I highly recommend sticking to multigrain and whole wheat pastas. They have a more al dente texture, more protein and fiber, and personally, I think they taste better.
  5. Still want the breadcrumb topping you get with a baked mac and cheese? Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Stir in 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs and cook until toasted and brown. Sprinkle over the top of the mac!
  6. Need more awesome mac and cheeses? Try these:
  7. You’ll be surprised how much more delicious mac and cheese is when you don’t overcook pasta. People think you can boil it forever, but limp, mushy pasta is no good. Stop cooking when it has just a teeny bit of bite left in it; this is called al dente.DSC_9614

Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Stovetop Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • About 12 oz. cavatappi or elbow pasta (use ¾ of a 16-oz. box, it doesn’t have to be exact)
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 4 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 – 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. hot sauce

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to box directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour so that it’s free of lumps and let cook for one minute, continuing to whisk.
  3. Whisk in 3 cups cream and all the milk until free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
  4. Once sauce is thickened, whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and hot sauce until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Test taste to decide if you’d like any more cheese. If sauce is too thick for your liking, whisk in more cream, ¼ cup at a time.
  5. Turn off heat and immediately fold in pasta until well-coated. Serve immediately.DSC_9638

Healthy Cookie: Mediterranean Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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I’m the type of person who does not like to fail. It comes with a perfectionist type-A personality, the need to be successful at whatever I’m doing, even if it’s something I don’t like or care about.

For example, I hate college, but I have to get 4.0’s to be happy. And if a new recipe I try doesn’t turn out, I’m crushed, even though I know it’s darn near impossible to get recipe perfection on the first shot. This even carries over to the gym, despite my loathing for everything exercise related. I feel compelled to take all the “high” options in classes and excel at them. And if I’m physically incapable of doing so, then I obsess over it until I achieve it.

Failure? It’s just not an option for the Smart Cookie Cook.

So imagine my frustration when I tried to master the coveted cauliflower pizza crust not once, but twice, and failed. It’s not that either time was bad; I just couldn’t achieve my desired texture. This bothered me to no end; I was determined to make a perfect cauliflower crust, and no one could stop me.

I guess it’s true that third time’s the charm because I finally succeeded with my third cauliflower crust. And instead of just topping it with plain old cheese, I went for a Mediterranean Cauliflower Crust Pizza topped with not one, not two, but THREE kinds of cheese, plus eggplant and black olives for a seemingly decadent yet sneakily healthy meal. Because of that cauliflower crust, I’d say this is actually more substantial and satisfying than a regular nothing-to-it crust. Plus this whole pie’s clocking in around 200 calories. You can’t even get one slice of pizza for that!

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Now, I did something different with my crust than most cauliflower crust recipes do. All the ones I saw called for gobs of mozzarella cheese in the crust. Okay…do you realize that adding a ton of cheese to the crust TOTALLY defeats the purpose of it being a “healthy alternative” to a regular pizza crust? It’s just as bad! Cheese is extremely high in fat and calories for just a teeny tiny amount of it. So by adding a ton to the crust, yes you at least get some extra nutrients from the cauliflower, but it’s almost, if not equally, as bad for you as a normal crust.

To solve this conundrum, I traded calorie-loaded mozzarella for fat-free ricotta. It serves the purpose of binding the crust, gives it a nice texture, and adds protein, but you’re only looking at about 22 calories for that as opposed to hundreds of cals in mozzarella.

Yay for win-win situations!

This triple-cheesy pizza is loaded with tasty toppings, great flavor, and is a perfect way to silence those nasty pizza cravings without feeling the guilt trip after. It’s worlds better for you than a traditional pizza, not just in calories and fat, but in nutrients as well. If you love pizza, you’re going to be one happy camper after trying my answer to the cauliflower crust pizza craze. So cheesy, so flavorful, and so filling!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You’ve got to dry out that cauliflower good unless you want a soggy crust.
  2. Can’t find the Ragu tomato sauce I used? Any light marinara would do. But if you still can’t find a light tomato sauce at all, you’re better off making your own than buying a sugar & calorie filled kind.
  3. If you’re not feeling the toppings, this crust can be used for a plain cheese pizza, or whatever toppings you prefer.
  4. This makes a personal pizza, but easily double or triple it to make multiple pizzas or one big pizza.
  5. Why do I use the light cheese sticks instead of just getting fat free shredded mozzarella? Because fat-free mozzarella tastes like NOTHING. It’s a complete waste of calories. The light cheese sticks are like a compromise between tasteless fat free and calorie packed full-fat cheese. You get flavor, but for less calories. DSC_8848-4

Mediterranean Cauliflower Crust Pizza
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp. fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
  • 1/4 cup chopped eggplant
  • 3 tbsp. – 1/4 cup light Tomato Basil sauce (like Ragu)
  • 1 50-calorie light mozzarella cheese stick (like Sargento)
  • 3 tbsp. reduced fat feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. sliced black olives

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray liberally with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. Chop cauliflower and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Fill 3/4 with water. Cover with a lid and cook on high in microwave until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and run under cool water for a minute.
  3. Use paper towels to squeeze as much water out of cauliflower as you can. Transfer to a blender or food processor and pulse until cauliflower is the size and texture of rice; do not puree.
  4. Transfer 2 generous cups of the riced cauliflower to a mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, garlic, ricotta, and Egg Beaters. Stir with wooden spoon or spatula until well-combined. Make sure that ricotta is broken up and distributed.
  5. Pile onto the center of the prepared baking sheet and use the bottom of a spatula to press down into a 1/2-thick circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just make sure it’s packed tight and there are no holes.
  6. Bake crust for 20 minutes, or until set and starting to brown around the edges. During the last 5 minutes, add the chopped eggplant so it can soften a bit.
  7. Spread desired amount of sauce over crust, using more or less depending on your preference. Then add the cheeses in an even layer, followed by the eggplant and olives. Return to oven for another 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is good and golden brown. Slice and enjoy.

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Healthy Cookie: Spicy Southwestern Veggie Soup

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Most of you are starting your New Year’s diets, but I’ve been trying to eat better since Thanksgiving. Naturally, having a food blog often deters my progress. The only way to keep me from eating my own treats is to not make them at all. But there is a compromise in making healthy recipes to post on here. I get to eat it and share it with you, but I don’t have to feel guilty (and neither do you!).

I concocted this low-cal, full-flavor Spicy Southwestern Veggie Soup after eating a similar soup from a can. It was okay, but being a canned soup, I knew I could make a fresh version much better. My soup is packed with fresh veggies like carrots, celery, and corn, plus it’s got hearty black beans for protein. What really packs a punch in this soup is a blend of kickin’ seasonings and some heat  from the Rotel. It’s spicy, savory, and soul-warming, perfect for a cold winter night.

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Best of all, you can pile the ingredients in the pot and walk away. So not only is this a healthy, filling, deliciously satisfying dinner; it’s easy too. After a long day, you can come home and count on a quick, effortless meal that doesn’t involve the drive-thru or the delivery guy. Rejoice!

Put down that can opener and back away. There ain’t no need for Campbell’s in your kitchen tonight. You can make soup that’s ten times as delicious, with fresh ingredients and great flavor, and it won’t cost you any effort at all.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you don’t like any of the veggies I chose, feel free to sub them with something you prefer.
  2. Looking for more healthy but awesome recipes? Head over to the Healthy Cookie recipe page.
  3. Add just a light sprinkle of cheddar cheese or fat-free sour cream.
  4. Want even more heat? Add red pepper flakes.
  5. Easily double or triple this to serve a family, or if you’re cooking for yourself, you can save the leftovers for lunch the next day._DSC8439

Spicy Southwestern Veggie Soup
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce (the plain stuff from a can)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 a medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes & green chiles (like Rotel) <- this is where the heat comes from
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup black beans

Directions:

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, bring veggie stock, water, and tomato sauce to simmer. Add celery, carrots, and onion. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. You may allow it to come to a low boil, but no higher.
  2. Add spices, diced tomatoes & green chiles and corn. Cover and let cook at a low boil until all veggies are almost tender to your liking, stirring occasionally. Add beans and reduce to simmer until veggies are tender to your liking. All in all, it should take about an hour. Serve immediately.

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