Monster Granola Bars

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Let’s be real: they don’t call them “Monster Cookies” because they’ve got a monstrous amount of delicious ingredients; that’s just what they want you to think. They’re really called Monster Cookies because you turn into a monster upon eating the sinfully addicting devils. You need more and more, and you’ll do anything to get them, like the Cookie Monster but with a more severe problem.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Regardless, Monster Cookies can be a monster problem if you’re watching your waistline. Cookies, delectable as they may be, are not the most satisfying treat, so you often wind up eating 20 in one sitting. Or maybe that’s just me again.

What I need is the salty-sweet goodness of Monster Cookies in a heartier snack that can satisfy my black hole of a stomach with just one or two. What I need are these Monster Granola Bars.

With crunchy pretzel bits, salty peanut butter, and chocolaty M&Ms, these ain’t your average granola bars. In fact, I must warn you that once you try one of these chewy delights, you’ll never want sub-par store-bought again. Sorry, Quaker, but I’m running you out of town with my salt-sweet monsters.DSC_4097

What I really love about these bars is that you get all the components of Monster Cookies but in a much more filling and satisfying snack. So, you only need one bar to fill you up. However, that is not to say you won’t wind up eating five of them in one sitting simply because they’re that delicious.

And don’t worry; you might think homemade granola bars would be a bothersome task, but they’re actually one of the easiest treats to make. Just mix everything together, give it a quick bake, and let it cool. The hardest part is not digging in when they’re right out of the oven and hot enough to scold your tongue, simply because they smell too overwhelmingly delicious to ignore.

Back away from the piping hot granola bars; I promise you can make it through the 20 or so minutes it takes for them to cool. And your tongue will thank you for it.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Marshmallows are the secret ingredient here that makes these nice and chewy.
  2.  Sub the almonds for whatever nuts you have on hand.
  3. These are great for kids; they love granola bars!
  4. Use the base of this recipe to build upon and add whatever mix-ins you like. For a simple variation, leave out the M&M’s and pretzels, and sub in mini peanut butter cups.
  5. Add a little more brown sugar if you’d like these sweeter.
  6. These are way better for you than store-bought granola bars since they don’t have all the preservatives.DSC_4075

Monster Granola Bars
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pretzels
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 cups quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 cups marshmallows
  • 1 cup M&Ms, plus more for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 baking sheet with nonstick spray then line with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides.
  2. In a food processor, pulse nuts until they start to break up. Add pretzels and pulse a few times more until everything is broken into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the almonds, pretzels, egg whites, oats, peanut butter, brown sugar, and honey until well combined and everything is evenly distributed. Set aside.
  4. In a medium pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows and cook, stirring continuously, until completely melted. Immediately pour into the oat mixture and stir until well-combined. Gently fold in the M&Ms so they don’t melt.
  5. Transfer to prepared pan. Use waxed paper to press down into a firmly-packed even layer. Press about ¼ cup more M&Ms into the bars. Bake 12 minutes or until fragrant and just turning gold around the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes then use the parchment paper to lift out the granola and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.
  6. Slice into bars. Store in an air-tight container.

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Healthy Cookie: Sweet Potato & Squash Brown Rice Medley

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Sometime last year, the Sweet Potato Bug bit me. And ever since, I just can’t get enough sweet potatoes to combat the fierce cravings that seize hold of me. The Sweet Potato Bug is known for leaving strong addictions in its victims, and I got hit hard. I could eat a sweet potato for every meal and never get sick of it. Curse you, Sweet Potato Bug!

But I guess this new addiction’s not all bad because sweet potatoes are unbelievably good for you. In fact, they say sweet potatoes are the most nutritious thing for you in the produce section. It just happens to be a major plus that they taste delicious too. If you haven’t been bitten by the sweet potato bug yet, then I have a feeling it’s only a matter of time. On their own, sweet potatoes are awesome. But even better yet is adding them to other things, and there isn’t much that doesn’t go well with a sweet potato. You might have noticed this from all the sweet potato recipes I’ve posted lately (see: Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls, Sweet Potato & Squash Marinara Skillet, and Ma’s Sweet Potato Casserole).

With Sweet Potato Bug venom pulsing through my veins, I need as many sweet potato fixes as I can get. So, I whipped another tater-themed recipe to curb my cravings: Sweet Potato & Squash Brown Rice Medley. For me, this hearty sweet potato-packed dish was the perfect meal, but it makes a great side too.DSC_3125

The tender brown rice, fiber-rich squash, and endlessly nutritious sweet potatoes make this one very filling and satisfying dish. But there’s a difference between the kind of full you feel after devouring a bowlful of this beneficial medley and scarfing down 4 slice of pizza; this makes you feel good and content, whereas filling up on junk just makes you feel gross and uncomfortable. If both options are delicious, why wouldn’t you pick the one that’s going to make you feel as good after as you did while you were eating it?

I can’t even begin to describe the bountiful flavor of this comforting dish, especially considering the short and simple list of ingredients. Don’t you just love when that happens? No need to get fancy here; you can make this marvelous meal loaded with chunks of tender sweet potato, fresh zucchini and summer squash, hearty brown rice, a light sauce, and a hint of tangy parmesan cheese in about 30 minutes. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Butternut squash can easily be subbed in for sweet potatoes.
  2. And, if you don’t like zucchini/summer squash, try using broccoli, spinach, Brussels  sprouts, or just about any veggie you desire.
  3. The leftovers are just as delicious as the fresh stuff.
  4. Reduced-fat mozzarella can be subbed in for the parmesan.DSC_3091

Sweet Potato & Squash Rice Medley
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable stock
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 medium summer squash, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moon
  • 3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook the rice according to boxed directions, replacing water with vegetable stock. If all the stock does not absorb, but the rice is fully cooked, then drain the excess stock.
  2. Meanwhile, place the potato on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Poke holes in the top of the potato with a fork. Microwave on high for 5 minutes then flip and poke holes in the other side with the fork. Microwave for another 3-4 minutes until tender (stick a knife through the center to test).
  3. Slice potato in half so it will cool faster. Let sit until cool enough to touch. You should be able to squeeze it right out of the skins. Discard skins (or save for a snack). Chop potato into small chunks. Set aside.
  4. Bring a medium skillet to medium heat. Add the chicken stock, onion, and garlic and simmer for 5 minutes. Add squash and zucchini. Cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.
  5. Removes from heat and stir in rice, potatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately.DSC_3137

Easter Week: Bunny Rabbit Cauliflower Pancakes

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Welcome to Day 3 of Easter Week at Smart Cookie! Did you miss Day 1 or Day 2? Never fear; check them out right here: Day 1 – Baby Chick Lemon Mousse Cookie Cups / Day 2 – Peter Cottontail’s Carrot Cake Bars.

I knew I wanted to bring you a savory, healthy recipe during Easter week, which presented quite a challenge because all of my Easter inspiration involved decadent sweets. As I was trying to brainstorm, my mind kept drifting to pancakes, fluffy ones shaped like bunny rabbits. I remembered an Easter long ago, way before Smart Cookie time, when I whipped some up using good ol’ Bisquick and marshmallows for noses. I think they even had bacon bow ties. I was quite the little chef, even at the age. The Smart Cookie has always been in me.easterbunny pancake

Of course, those cute childhood p-cakes were neither savory nor good for you, so I unfortunately could not reincarnate them for this post. But they did inspire the recipe that follows: Bunny Rabbit Cauliflower Pancakes.DSC_3371

These are savory p-cakes, like potato pancakes but better for you. I am in love with these floppy-eared cuties because they’re adorable, delicious, and nutritious. If you want a good way to get your kids to eat veggies, this is the way to do it. In fact, I recommend getting them in the kitchen for this. Let them decorate their own bunny, and feel free to try different veggies as the facial features, like cherry tomatoes for the nose or chives for whiskers.

Although the cute factor seems like the star of this recipe, it’s really the taste that shines. These guys are unbelievably yummy. Much like a cauliflower pizza crust, these cauliflower pancakes disguise the veggies inside. It tastes so garlicky and flavorful that you forget about the cauliflower. A little bit of cheese doesn’t hurt either.

Best of all, these babies are low in fat and calories, so you can enjoy some Easter eats without all the guilt, and you’ll feel good about making them for you family. Cute, tasty, and healthy, these guys are a triple threat.DSC_3383

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. See all of my Easter recipes on the Smart Cookie Easter page.
  2. As I said above, get creative when decorating these. Try peppers, shredded carrots, broccoli florets, zucchini slices, mushrooms, and more.
  3. You’ve got to be gentle when taking these off the pan. Slowly work your spatula underneath, and once you have the whole pancake detached and supported, move it to a place carefully.
  4. This would be delicious with mashed potatoes instead of cauliflower. Of course, it won’t be quite as healthy.
  5. Use reduced-fat mozzarella instead of parmesan if you like.DSC_3319

Bunny Cauliflower Pancakes
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – 4 pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tbsp. fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. Egg Beaters
  • 4 carrot slices
  • 8 black olives
  • 12 bean sprouts

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray liberally with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. Place cauliflower in a large microwave-safe dish and fill halfway with water. Cover and microwave on high for 3 minutes then stir. Keep microwaving for 3-minute intervals, stirring in between, until tender.
  3. Drain cauliflower. Squeeze and pat as dry as you can with paper towels. Transfer to a food processor and add the onion. Pulse until fine, but not yet pureed.
  4. Transfer cauliflower mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, basil, ricotta, parmesan, and Egg Beaters and mix well with a spatula until everything is evenly distributed. Make sure you break up the chunks of ricotta.
  5. Drop about a cupful of cauliflower mixture onto the baking sheet and press down gently into a ¼-inch thick circle. Add two dollops of mixture on top then press out into the shape of ears. Repeat with remaining batter, leaving about 1 inch in between each bunny. You may have to use two pans.
  6. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until set and golden around the edges. Let sit for 2 minutes before very carefully using a spatula to transfer bunnies to a plate. Make sure you have the entire pancake supported before lifting or it will break. Place one carrot “nose” on the center of each pancake then put two black olive eyes above the noses. Use the bean sprouts to make whiskers. Serve with marinara sauce or enjoy plain.

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Stuffed Mediterranean Eggplant & a Giveaway

 

NOTE: This contest is now CLOSED. The winner will be announced on Sunday, March 17. Thank you to everyone who participated!DSC_2751

I normally don’t do giveaways because, often times, they are simply a cheap tactic blogger use to get people to go on their site. However, if there’s a good cause or reason for the giveaway, then that is a different story.

Extra Gum contacted me about being a part of their Simple Swaps campaign. The idea is that you make simple swaps throughout your day that add up to a healthier life. For example, if you eat any one of their dessert-inspired gums instead of giving into a craving, you can save tons of fat and calories. Now, that is not to say you should replace all your meals with gum; you still need a healthy, balanced diet. But at midnight, when your late-night cravings kick in, you might consider a stick of gum instead of a carton of ice cream you don’t need.

I will give details for how to enter below, but first, I want to talk about my Simple Swaps with this Stuffed Mediterranean Eggplant. Last week, I was craving some Eggplant Parmigiana. That stuff is heavenly, but it’s not too kind to my thighs. So instead, I crafted this Stuffed Mediterranean Eggplant to fill me up and kick that craving in the butt without pushing me over the fat and calorie edge.

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I stuffed a fresh baby eggplant with all kinds of delicious, hearty ingredients like a whole chopped Mediterranean Chickpea Burger, tangy black olives, and fresh spinach. Then, I made a few simple swaps to keep it flavorful but still good for you. Instead of a higher fat and calorie cheese like the typical mozzarella, I used reduced-fat feta. I love that stuff because a) it doesn’t taste reduced fat at all and b) a little goes a long way, so you save major calories. Then, I used a light marinara sauce that cuts out all the sugar you’d typically find in a jarred sauce.

Put it all together and you’ve got one filling, nutritious, and dare I say meaty meal that will satisfy even my unruly Eggplant Parmigiana cravings. Not to mention, you can make it in just 30 minutes.

This is a healthy swap that won’t feel like a swap at all. In fact, it’s more like a treat. It’s bursting with robust flavors, it’s filling, and it’s even got cheese. Talk about a dream come true.

My Healthy Cookie recipes are all about making simple swaps. You trade one ingredient for something healthier, so you retain the integrity and deliciousness of the original recipe while doing something better for yourself. If you’re ready to make some Simple Swaps in your life, then this Stuffed Mediterranean Eggplant is the perfect place to start.DSC_2740

Stuffed Mediterranean Eggplant
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 baby eggplant, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 Morningstar Farms Mediterranean Chickpea Burger
  • ¼ cup light marinara sauce, like Ragu (60 calories per ½ cup or less)
  • 2 tbsp. black olives
  • 2 tbsp. reduced-fat feta, divided
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • ¼ tsp. minced garlic
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch red pepper flakes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray.
  2. Place the eggplant skin side-down on the baking sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until tender.
  3. Meanwhile, place the burger on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Flip and microwave 30 seconds more. Chop into small chunks.
  4. Let eggplant cool just enough to work with. Use a spoon to scoop out the innards, leaving a thin layer inside so the shell is sturdy. Chop eggplant innards into chunks.
  5. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the eggplant chunks, burger chunks, sauce, olives, 1 tbsp. feta, spinach, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes until well-combined. Scoop back into the eggplant shells (pile it high!).
  6. Bake for 5 minutes then sprinkle remaining feta on top and bake another 5-10 minutes or until hot in the center. Enjoy.DSC_2799

NOTE: This contest is now CLOSED. The winner will be announced on Sunday, March 17. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Now, on to the giveaway. In order to get you guys moving towards healthier choices, Extra was kind enough to provide me with a big tote bag filled with a month’s supply of their delicious gum in assorted mouthwatering flavors and a $40 giftcard to Whole Foods.

I will select one winner via random.org on Saturday, March 15. I will then announce the winner on Sunday, March 16’s The Weekender post and also via Facebook & Twitter and email the lucky duck themselves. Then, I’ll just need the winner to send me their address so I can ship the tote bag full of goodies their way.

You have until Friday, March 15 at midnight to enter, so good luck! No entries will be accepted after that.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Leave one comment telling me one or two Simple Swaps you make in your life to be healthier. Please leave your email address so I can contact you.
  • For an additional entry, leave a SEPARATE comment telling me what your favorite Healthy Cookie recipe is that you’ve made or want to try (click the link to see all my Healthy Cookie recipes). Please leave your email address so I can contact you.

*That means no more than 2 entries per person.

That’s it! Feel free to tell your friends, and make sure you like Smart Cookie on Facebook and follow me on Twitter to stay updated with the giveaway.

Disclosure:  I received product within a gift bag as part of the Simple Swaps challenge with Extra® gum. All opinions are my own.

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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