Healthy Cookie: Butternut Squash Sage Pancakes w/ Mozzarella

In the aftermath of the diet-destroyer that is Thanksgiving, I think we’re all in need of a healthy fall meal with the delicious flavors we love from Thanksgiving, but without all the calories. After you eat such enormous quantities of rich, indulgent food, it makes it even harder to get back on track. In order to do so, you need something really good, like these Butternut Squash Sage Pancakes with Mozzarella cheese.

The pancakes are tender yet golden and crisp around the edges. They’re packed with sweet butternut squash and savory fresh sage for a wonderful pairing of fall flavors. Top off the delectable pancakes with gooey mozzarella cheese and sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, satisfying meal to quell your cravings and give you the nutrients you need.

What makes these pancakes light? There’s no flour or butter; the p-cakes rely on low-calorie, high-protein Egg Beaters to bind them together. Plus, we use light mozzarella cheese instead of full-fat. These little changes still give you BIG flavor, but one whole cheese-covered pancake clocks in at under 200 calories. Score!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. I use light mozzarella cheese sticks because the fat-free shredded mozzarella tastes like feet. These sticks give you less fat and calories than full-fat mozzarella while still retaining flavor. It’s a great compromise.
  2. Fresh sage is essential in this recipe.
  3. Grating squash is a pain, I won’t lie. But it’s well worth it in this recipe!
  4. Also top with spinach, kale, or anything else your heart desires.
  5. Easily double or triple this recipe to feed more mouths.

 

Butternut Squash Sage Pancake with Mozzarella
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups grated butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup Egg Beaters or 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 2 light mozzarella cheese sticks like Sargento (about 5o calories each)
  • 1 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together grated squash, Egg Beaters, salt, pepper, and sage until well-combined. Divide in half and flatten out to 1/4-inch thick pancakes on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes or until they start to turn golden on the edges.
  3. Meanwhile, pull the cheese stick into strings then roughly chop. Sprinkle over the cooked pancakes and top with parmesan and tomatoes. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Top with more fresh sage if you’d like and enjoy.


Pumpkin S’mores Bars

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get enough pumpkin. I can’t imagine what October through December is like for people who don’t like it, not necessarily because they’re missing out, but because they must be so annoyed by pumpkin everything persistently popping up in every aspect of their lives. I have a friend who’s allergic to pumpkin, as well as all other squashes, and I truly pity her during this time of year.

I guess the one good thing about pumpkin haters is that it means more for me. And with amazing pumpkin treats like these Pumpkin S’mores Bars, why would I ever want to share? These are like the love child of good old-fashioned pumpkin pie and s’mores, taking the best qualities from each. The filling is creamy and studded with all those warm fall spices. It tastes almost identical to the custard that fills pumpkin pie. Then, the filling is layered atop tender, chewy graham cracker cookie, and buried beneath melty milk chocolate and gooey toasted marshmallows. All these magnificent flavors act as a team. They work together, each bringing something delicious to the table, and creating an entity that’s even better together than individually.

Basically, these Pumpkin S’mores Bars are the definition of ooey and gooey. There’s really no better way to describe them. They’re pure messy, gooey goodness in the best possible way. Be prepared to get your hands messy when eating these spiced pumpkin stuffed s’mores. All that good stickiness is well worth it.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Mini marshmallows make cutting the bars much easier and less messy.
  2. Prefer dark chocolate over milk? Go for it!
  3. The graham cracker cookie base is the same recipe for my Homemade Brown Sugar Graham Crackers and slightly adapted Pumpkin Pie Spice Graham Crackers, a must-make!
  4. These are great warmed up in the microwave and topped with ice cream.
  5. Telling when these are done is a bit tricky, because if you use the toothpick test, you’re going to get goo from the chocolate and pumpkin, and won’t be able to tell if the cookie is done. Trust your instincts. You can tell by how a knife feels sinking into the cookie layer.
  6. You will have extra dough. This isn’t a bad thing because you can make it into graham crackers!

Pumpkin S’mores Bars
Graham Cracker Cookie Base adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures who adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones; rest of recipe by The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

For the Graham Cracker base

  • Heaping 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups graham flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey

For the topping & filling

  • 5 1.55-oz. milk chocolate bars (like Hersheys)
  • 1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Half a 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows

Directions:

  1. Whisk both flours, the baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and honey on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary). With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and beat just until the dough comes together.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper so that it hangs over the sides.
  3. Reserve 1/3 of the dough. Form the remaining dough into a disk and place in baking dish. Flatten out into an even layer. Lay the candy bars over top in an even layer, breaking them apart as necessary so they fit the whole pan and cover the pumpkin completely.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, granulated sugar, and sweetened condensed milk. Pour over top the graham cracker layer and smooth out. Bake for 20 minutes then sprinkle marshmallows over top and bake for another 10 minutes, or until marshmallows are browned and a knife inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs.
  5. Let cool on wire rack for 20 minutes then use the parchment paper to lift out the bars and let cool completely. Slice and enjoy.
  6. With the extra dough, you can roll it out, cut it out, and bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes for homemade graham crackers; or, you can freeze it for later use.

Pumpkin Pie Spice Graham Crackers

Store-bought graham crackers are usually the last thing on my “Stuff I Want to Eat” list. They never excited me growing up, and even now, the only way I enjoy them is in a s’more. However, that all changed a few months ago when I experienced Homemade Graham Crackers for the first time.

That moment was mind-blowing. Everything I knew about graham crackers was shattered into one thousand little crumbs. New doors swung open before me, revealing an array of graham cracker-related possibilities. If I had known that graham crackers could be like that, then I would’ve turned away from the cardboard they sell at grocery stores and switched over to homemade without a second thought.

Since the Homemade Graham Cracker recipe I tried was so versatile, I decided to make it fit for fall by turning it into Pumpkin Pie Spice Graham Crackers. With the addition of sweet and warm pumpkin pie spices plus an outer-coating of cinnamon-sugar, these guys go from plain Jane to flavorful and fall-fied. They taste like the holidays; in fact, they remind me of a Christmas cookie, but with that classic graham cracker flavor. These homemade guys are so much better than store-bought. They’re crisp, chewy, and buttery, Like the decadent and refined cousin of what you get in a box. Perhaps my favorite part is that the dough is egg-free, so I can eat all I want.

Will I still turn my nose up at graham crackers from a box? Most likely. But no longer shall I shun all graham crackers from my diet; these homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Graham Crackers are good enough to make again and again.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. This dough freezes well.
  2. If you don’t have a pumpkin-shaped cutter, use a round cutter or rectangular cutter.
  3. The extra of sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar is optional.
  4. The longer the dough chills, the more flavorful it gets.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice Graham Crackers

Adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures who adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

Ingredients:

  • Heaping 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups graham flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. clove
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon-sugar

Directions:

  1. Whisk both flours, the baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and honey on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary). With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and beat just until the dough comes together.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into a disk. Wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or up to 5 days). Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before proceeding.
  3. To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  4. Unwrap the chilled dough, and on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Using a pumpkin cookie cutter (or a ruler and a pastry cutter or a sharp knife), cut the dough into your desired shapes; use a spatula to transfer the rectangles to the prepared baking sheets as you go, leaving about 3/4-inch space between them. Reroll the scraps of dough, and cut out more cookies.
  5. Using a fork, gently poke dotted lines onto the graham crackers. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake the graham crackers, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until they are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 8 – 10 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and allow the cookies to cool for a minute or two before removing them to the racks to cool completely. The cookies will crisp up as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Pumpkin Pesto Grilled Cheese

Oh grilled cheese, you can do no wrong.

No matter what kind of bread encompasses your cheesy center, no matter what variety of cheese comes oozing from your innards, no matter what extras I slip into the mix, you are always so good.

Even when a particular grilled cheese pales in comparison to other ones that I’ve sampled, it’s still pretty damn delectable. Unless there’s mold growing on the sandwich, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with bread and cheese. If you know your Smart Cookie here well, then you know I have a special infatuation with bread (and all-things starch). Give me a good hunk of bread, and I can chomp on it plain, no butter or toppings required. Of course, those make it all the better.

So when you slather my beloved bread in butter, stuff it with gobs of gooey cheese, and fry it until it reaches golden, melted perfection, I can’t help but swoon. It’s nature’s perfect pairing, a match so comforting and delicious that you just can’t go wrong. I’ve tried endless variations, and just when I was looking for something new, Mother Cookie came home with a jar of pumpkin pesto.

Of course, the idea for a Pumpkin Pesto Grilled Cheese followed naturally. I paired the sweet and savory spread with fresh mozzarella, which is quite possibly the gooiest kind of cheese in existence, and melty Muenster. Muenster is a seriously under-appreciated cheese. If you’ve never tried it, it’s mild, but still has a little bit of tang and flavor, so it’s far from dull or boring.

I’ve got to tell you, nothing is more gratifying than to tear these Pumpkin Pesto Grilled Cheeses in half and watch the cheese come oozing out in all its melted glory. The first bite of a grilled cheese, I believe, is always the best. Your teeth chomp through the golden brown, buttery bread, from the crispy exterior to the tender interior, and then into the mound of melty cheese that I know you’ll have piled on thick. The mellow mozzarella and slightly tangy Muenster are just perfect with the sweet and zesty pesto. And if you’re a smart cookie like me, you’ll use a good quality garlic bread from your grocery store’s bakery to really amp up the flavor.

Oh wow.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Parmesan would be delicious in place of the Muenster.
  2. The better quality bread you buy, the better your grilled cheese will be. You want something crusty & sturdy outside but soft inside. And I highly recommend going the garlic route!
  3. If you can’t find garlic bread but still want garlic flavor, rub the slices of bread with fresh garlic.
  4. Fresh mozzarella and the shredded stuff in the bags are NOT the same thing. Fresh is a whole different world, and much better if you ask me. Find it in the specialty cheese section.
  5. Sage would add great flavor to these sammies.
  6. If your bread browns before the center of the sandwich gets hot and gooey, you can pop the sandwich in the oven for a few minutes.
  7. I found pumpkin pesto at William-Sonoma. If you can’t find any, mix 1 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix) with salt, garlic, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and 2 tbsp. olive oil.

Pumpkin Pesto Grilled Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 8 thick slices good-quality, fresh garlic bread (I used Tuscan Garlic Bread from Wegmans)
  • 4-6 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 4-6 tbsp. pumpkin pesto
  • 10 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded muenster cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring a skillet or grill pan to medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place bread butter side-down and spread 4 slices with about 1 tbsp. of pumpkin pesto. Cover with a generous amount of mozzarella and muenster (about 3 slices of mozzarella and 1/4 cup of muenster) and top with a plain slice of bread, butter side-up.
  2. Cook one or two sandwiches at a time until golden brown and cheese is melted, flipping so that each side gets good and brown. Serve immediately. If you’d like to keep finished sandwiches warm while you cook the others, place in an oven at 200 degrees F.

Pumpkin Ice Box Cake + How-To Video (Ft. My New Kittens!)

Making a Pumpkin Ice Box Cake and videotaping with two furry balls of fire underfoot is not a simple task.

You’ll find my 8 week-old kittens interrupted the video several times, and I’m lucky I made it through the process without any injuries. The babies, as Mother Cookie and I call them, are so quick and quiet that they dart in and out, under my feet, and all around me before I have time to process. The only time there’s any relief is when the babies tire themselves out and settle down for a nap. They look so serene and adorable that they fool you into thinking they’re angelic. But I know better.

I finally understand what the phrase “full of piss and vinegar” means.

What really matters is that my babies are happy as clams in their new home, and despite their shenanigans, I love them to death. Plus, the Pumpkin Ice Box Cake turned out amazing, so all’s well that ends well. In fact, this super simple recipe is actually one of the best desserts I’ve made in a while. I mean, it’s really good, lick-the-plate-without-an-ounce-of-shame good. And yet it’s a no-bake dessert requiring minimal ingredients. Don’t you just love when that happens?

My babies and my doggy Reese loved it too. I might’ve let them lick a spoon…

How’s an ice box cake work? You layer something dry, like cookies or graham crackers, with something wet, like whipped cream or a cream filling. Then you let that good stuff take a chill pill in the fridge for six hours or more. The longer it sits, the more flavorful it gets. And soon, like magic, the cookies or graham crackers you used soften up like cake. Viola! You’ve got a cake without ever turning on the old oven.

In this cake, we layered chocolate graham crackers with an absolutely heavenly pumpkin cream mousse. It transforms in the fridge so that the graham crackers become soft as cake, and the whole thing is exponentially more flavorful. Considering it’s pretty damn delicious to start with, that’s saying quite a lot. The fluffy, creamy pumpkin filling and the soft chocolate graham cracker melt in your mouth effortlessly. Plus it looks so pretty with that beautiful black and orange.

You put in next to no effort to make this cake, but wind up with something incredible that gets more and more delicious as time passes. That’s a good deal, my friends.

Check out how truly easy this cake is to whip up in my video below. The new kittens make several apppearances as well!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. As I mentioned, the longer this cake sits, the better it tastes. You need at least 6 hours for the graham crackers to soften properly, but I recommend making it at least 12 hours ahead so you really get the full flavor impact.
  2. The filling of this cake would make an amazing pie filling.
  3. You can use regular graham crackers or chocolate wafers in place of the chocolate graham crackers.
  4. This cake isn’t that naturally orange, so I recommend adding food dye to achieve a bright orange hue.
  5. All your ingredients must be super cold for everything to set up!

Pumpkin Ice Box Cake
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 8-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup super duper ice cold water, and I mean COLD
  • 1 cup CHILLED pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie mix
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. clove
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 3 – 4 sleeves of chocolate graham crackers, broken into small pieces

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, beat the cream with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll have butter. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat together the pudding mix, sweetened condensed milk, and water until thickened. If it is not completely thickened like pudding should be, place in the fridge until it sets up completely. Fold in the pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice. Retrieve  the whipped cream from the fridge and gently fold in until well-combined.
  3. In a spring form pan, put a thin layer of the filling down. Layer an even layer of graham cracker pieces down so it’s completely covered. Add half of the pumpkin mousse and spread out in an even layer. Top with another layer of graham crackers so the mousse is completely covered. Finish with the remaining mousse and spread out evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours, until the graham crackers are softened. The longer you refrigerate, the better.
  4. Slice and enjoy.