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 & Spinach Balls

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I have very little self-control when it comes to delicious foods. Whether we’re talking about a basket of fries or a big bowl of mac and cheese, I just can’t put on the brakes. Unfortunately though, this predicament seems to only affect me around unhealthy, indulgent foods. Carrots or spinach? Not so much.

It figures that I have no problem inhaling inhuman quantities of foods that are bad for me, but I never have that problem with healthy stuff. Why can’t it be the other way around? Life is so very cruel. However, I did find an exception, a 100% healthy and good-for-me treat that I can eat dozens of without batting an eyelash: my Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls.DSC_1469-2

Oh man, I lose all self-control around these babies. Luckily, I don’t have to feel guilty gorging ‘em. Made with sweet potatoes, quinoa, fat-free ricotta, spinach, and more, these Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls are jammed-packed with nutrients. They’re hearty and rich in flavor, so they’ll fill you up and give you energy too.

I’ve got to say, these sweet potato-filled cuties are just as addicting as cake pops or chocolate truffles. It ain’t often I pick something healthy over treats like that, but in the case of these Sweet Potato Spinach Balls, I would .They’re chewy, lightly crisped on the outside, and creamy all at once. For something so simple, they are crazy flavorful. Serve them up at a party, give ‘em to the kids as a snack, or make a delicious lunch for yourself. Everybody will love these sweet and savory bites.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Kale would be wonderful in place of spinach.
  2. Try some delicious dip for these balls like marinara sauce or Alfredo sauce.
  3. Got leftovers? Just keep them in the fridge and heat ‘em up when you’re hungry. They taste just as delicious several days later as they did when you first made them.DSC_1429

Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa rice blend
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • ¼ cup fat-free ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup egg substitute, like Egg Beaters
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (I used 3 good shakes)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray liberally with nonstick spray.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Use a fork to poke holes in the tops of the potatoes. Cook in microwave on high for 6 minutes. Flip potatoes and microwave for another 6-8 minutes, or until tender (stick a knife through the center of the potato to test).  Slice potatoes in half and let cool for a few minutes before removing and discarding skins.
  3. Place the potatoes a large mixing bowl and use a large fork to mash them up. Add all remaining ingredients and thoroughly mix together until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Be sure to break up the chunks of ricotta.
  4. Use your hands to roll tablespoons of potato mixture into balls. Be gentle; the mixture will be soft and sticky. Place balls on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 20-30 minutes or until just beginning to brown. They should be sturdy when you poke them. Carefully remove from tray and enjoy.DSC_1475

Fried Mac & Cheese + How-to Video

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The first time I ever tried fried mac and cheese was at a Cheesecake Factory. I knew it would be a sin to see the words “fried” and “mac and cheese” beside one another in some sort of glorious partnership and not order it. It was like Marvel’s The Avengers, assembling history’s greatest heros (and hottest actors); you can’t not go witness such an epic assembly.

Turns out, The Cheesecake Factory makes some stellar FM&C, and by stellar I mean oh-my-god-I-must-be-dreaming-somebody-slap-me-this-is-so-darn-GOOD. If you ever go to Cheesecake Factory, you must get yourself some fried mac and cheese. Period.

With just one bite, my world was changed. I love deep-fried food, wrong and unhealthy as that love may be, and adding to that repertoire gave me joy. From that bite on, I wanted to try making my own at home. I’m the Smart Cookie Cook; I could make my own Fried Mac and Cheese as good as or better than the old CF.DSC_9826

And so, I did. My Fried Mac and Cheese is one of the best things to come out of my kitchen yet, and it is going to rock your culinary world. Why is it so awesome? Because you get my cheesy Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese encased in a delicious, crunchy, golden brown breadcrumb shell; That’s like having 360 degrees of breadcrumb topping!

I specifically designed the mac and cheese filling to be extra creamy and saucy so you aren’t overwhelmed by pasta. Instead, there’s tons of molten, gooey cheese and just the right amount of pasta to compliment it. You can make a whole batch of my Mac & Cheese to fry, or even better yet, you can make it for dinner the night before and turn the leftovers into these incredible Fried Mac & Cheeses the next day.

If you’ve not tried Fried Mac & Cheese yet, now is the time. It’s crunchy, deep-fried, creamy, cheesy heaven, and it tastes like a dream come true. Everyone’s favorite comfort food just got a whole lot better.

 A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. As I noted in the recipe, box mac and cheeses (and most other mac and cheese recipes) will not work well for the filling because the sauce dries up a bit while frying, and you’ll wind up with a lot of pasta, and not much cheese. I specifically made my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese for the filling so that it would still be good and saucy after frying.
  2. The seasoned breadcrumbs add a lot of flavor here, so don’t replace them with plain breadcrumbs or Panko.
  3. You can make a whole batch of my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese for this like I did then chill it before frying, or you can make the mac and cheese for dinner one night, and fry the leftovers the next night. Just cut the frying ingredients in half.
  4. You MUST chill the mac and cheese until firm and solid or these will not hold together.DSC_9827-2

Fried Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – about 2 dozen mac & cheese patties, the size of your palm (if you use the whole recipe of Mac  & Cheese)

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
  • 1 batch Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe follows), chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Salt, for sprinkling
  • Optional: marinara sauce, for dipping

*I do not recommend using another recipe or boxed mac and cheese for this. I specifically designed that mac & cheese to be extra saucy so it won’t dry up when fried and isn’t too heavy on the pasta. Other recipes, and especially boxed mix, are likely to dry up and just be deep-fried noodles.

Directions:

  1. Make Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe below). Let come to room temperature then cover and chill in fridge for at least 5 hours or overnight until firm and solid.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Pour oil into a deep frying pan so that it’s 2 inches deep. Bring to medium-high heat.
  4. Meanwhile, put the flour, milk + egg, and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls (one for each). Whisk the egg & milk mixture together.
  5. Take a generous scoop of the chilled mac and cheese (it should be nice and firm) and form into a patty. It should be about the size of your palm. Dip it first in the flour, flipping it so it gets completely covered, then into the milk/egg mixture, and finally the breadcrumbs. You should completely coat the patty with each layer; you should not be able to see any mac and cheese underneath.
  6. Drop one breaded patty into the oil carefully. If it sizzles, proceed to put a few more patties into the oil (about 4 or 5 per batch). If the oil does not sizzle, it’s not hot enough, and you need to wait a few more minutes.
  7. Allow patties to cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then use a spatula to gently flip and let the other side brown. Once both sides of patty are browned and crisp, use a spatula to transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil. The patties are fragile, so be gentle.Once you have a batch completed, transfer to the aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm while you finish the rest of the fried mac and cheeses.
  8. Sprinkle finished fried mac and cheeses with salt and serve immediately. Dip in marinara sauce, if you’d like.
    Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese

    • 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
    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. Enjoy some for dinner and cover and chill in fridge for frying the next day or cover and chill whole batch in fridge for 4 hours to overnight, until solid and firm. The longer you chill, the better off you’ll be.

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White Chocolate-Maple Almond Butter

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Some people dream of accomplishing grand feats like curing malignant diseases or becoming president. Me? I dreamed of making homemade nut butter. Perhaps my dream seems petty to you, but there was a fierce fire within me that desired to achieve it.

Much like anyone else chasing a dream, I had many obstacles standing in my way. Okay, so I only had one obstacle, but it was progress-halting all the same. As you might’ve heard me complain about before, my “food processor” was a big fat piece of poop, and did about as much food-processing as I could if I chewed things up with my mouth and spit ‘em back out.

But like a gift from God (or Santa), I received a REAL food processor for Christmas. It was the tool my dreams required in order to be realized. It didn’t take me long to bust that baby out and get down to nut butter business.

Get a look at my smooth White Chocolate-Maple Almond Butter. If I had made that in my old “food processor,” the texture would be more resembling of play-doh than butter. But here, we have a creamy, dreamy consistency that’s still rich and thick like nut butter should be.DSC_9212

But friends, this ain’t your ordinary almond butter. It’s kissed with buttery maple flavor and laced with a touch of sweet white chocolate, both of which wonderfully compliment the almonds’ natural salty flavor. I also added some pecans to the mix, so this is technically Almond-Pecan Butter, but that’s just making things too wordy now.

With all those wonderful components, you wind up with a very complex flavor, where each individual flavor is identifiable while simultaneously working in harmony with the others. How does that work? You have to taste it to understand.

The most awesome thing about almond butter is that it’s one of these easiest things you can make at home, and you can save tons of money doing so. Store-bought nut butter’s expensive, so save yourself a buck or two, and you can whip together this addicting White Chocolate-Maple Almond Butter in minutes.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. It’s going to take a few minutes to get to the right consistency, so be patient.
  2. Also, wait until the almond butter has processed a while before adding a second teaspoon of oil because it might just need a few minutes to let the nuts’ natural oils release.
  3. Almond butter, and nut butter in general, is super flexible. Mix up flavors and add-ins as you please, or keep it plain!
  4. Mother Cookie asked me, “What do you do with almond butter?” It’s just like peanut butter; spread it on anything you like, or dip stuff in it. Possibilities include, but are not limited to: bread, celery sticks, pretzel sticks, apple slices, crackers, graham crackers, pound cake, brownies, or warm crescent rolls.DSC_9194

White Chocolate-Maple Almond Butter
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups whole raw almonds
  • 1 cup raw pecans
  • ¾ cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1-2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • Pinch salt, optional

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, process nuts until they resemble a fine crumb. Add white chocolate chips and continue to process, scraping down sides occasionally, until it starts to smooth and clump up like paste.DSC_9126DSC_9130-2
  2. Add maple extract and 1 tsp. vegetable oil, and salt if desired, and continue to process until totally smooth and peanut butter-like in texture. This may take 5+ minutes. If yours is too thick, add another tsp. of olive oil.
  3. Store in an air-tight container and enjoy!

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Tortellini Dippers w/ 4-Cheese Fondue & Pesto Sauce

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When I am in the presence of tortellini, I feel honored. Why? Because tortellini is the King of All Pasta. Although every kind of pasta is wonderful and delicious in all its starchy goodness, none could hold a candle to the majesty of tortellini.

Why does tortellini reign supreme? Because it’s filled with cheese! How could any plain pasta compare to pockets of cheesy stuffing? You don’t have to dress tortellini up with fancy sauces to make it fun and delicious. In fact, they’re a tasty snack when eaten plain. But did you know that this pasta royalty is good for more than just piling in a bowl and eating with a fork?

My Tortellini Dippers with your choice of 4-Cheese Fondue or Pesto for dipping take tortellini to a whole new level. This isn’t some bland pasta entree; it’s a fun appetizer with two delectable and decadent dipping sauces to dunk skewered tortellini into. This beats chips and dip any day!_DSC8327

Here, you can choose the homemade route with an easy but divine 4-Cheese Fondue, or you can go the pre-made route with some pesto from the store (or you can make your own pesto too). I used both so everyone could dip what they wanted, and because both sauces are delicious. But the best part about using both sauces is that their flavors are so complimentary you can combine the two, if you’re feeling adventurous.

The 4-Cheese Fondue is smooth, creamy, and cheese-loaded to the max. With melty Fontina, sharp parmesan, mild Monterey jack, and gooey mozzarella, you’ve got a harmonious quartet with which you can’t go wrong. Everybody works together beautifully, each bringing their own flavor element and amping up the cheesiness to an extreme level. The ooey gooey fondue is a perfect pairing for those tender little tortellinis, and also with the pesto if you take my advice and combine a little bit of each._DSC8249

Forget the same old boring appetizers that no one actually enjoys; step outside the bag of chips and experience delicious little tortellinis dunked in heavenly 4-Cheese Fondue and robust pesto. It’s fun, fresh, and a welcome change to the typical finger foods.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Pick whatever kind of tortellini flavor you like, and if you want to add some nutritional value, go whole grain.
  2. I did experiment with ravioli instead of tortellini, but they were a bit too big for dipping.
  3. Make sure to cook your tortellini al dente, meaning that it still has a bit of bite, so that it isn’t limp and falling off your skewers.
  4. There’s a lot of cheese in that fondue because it’s FONDUE, not a sauce.
  5. You can pop the tortellinis in the oven to bake up nice and crisp after boiling. Then they have some crunch, like a chip would, when you dip ’em._DSC8317

Tortellini Dippers with 4-Cheese Fondue and Pesto Sauce
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Generously serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 20-oz. packages tortellini, your choice of flavors (I used spinach & cheese and five-cheese, but there are a ton of fun flavors of there)
  • 1 7-oz. container basil pesto OR buy 2 containers if not making the fondue

For the Four-Cheese Fondue:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup shredded Fontina cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, cook tortellini just until al dente. This will literally only take a minute. Drain. Pour tortellini onto prepared baking sheet and keep warm in oven until fondue is done.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and saute until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in flour until free of lumps and let cook for one minute, continuing to whisk. Whisk in cream until free of lumps then cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and pepper until completely smooth. Taste test to make sure it’s to your liking. If it’s too thick, whisk in 1/4 cup of milk at a time. Transfer to fondue pot to keep warm while serving or serve straight from pot if you don’t have a fondue pot, keeping lid on so it stays warm. You may heat up the pesto in the microwave before serving or eat it as is. Serve sauces with the tortellinis on fondue forks or skewers.

Which scrumptious sauce…

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…will you choose?_DSC8328