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Healthy snack for toddlers (and mom and dad too): chocolate almond no-bake snack bites

It was hot and humid today, around 38 degrees with the humidex. Like a greenhouse. Hot, sticky, uncomfortable.

Bee had played outside in the morning. It was after nap. I didn’t feel like going outside, and didn’t want Bee running around our sunny backyard in the heat. I had to find an indoor activity before letting her loose for some more fresh air.

Meanwhile I’m on a mission to stock up on healthy snacks. We’ve been in a snack rut, relying on what I considered “less bad” packaged goods from the store shelves. They did the trick — and I still have them as back-up — but I knew I could do much better and provide Bee with healthy, wholesome, homemade snacks.

The no-bake energy bites recipe I came across earlier this week (thanks to a Facebook post by Raspberry Kids) was the perfect activity.

I switched up the ingredients to come up with my own version for Bee. She loves them! I think both David and I will be snacking on them too — they seriously satisfy any sweet tooth. They are super easy to make too. Next time I’ll double the recipe!

Toddler making no-bake snack bites

After pouring the ingredients in the bowl and pushing the button to pulse, Bee tests the resulting mixture… many times!

Recipe: Chocolate Almond No-Bake Snack Bites

Makes 25-30 snack bites (approx. 1-inch balls).

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted (I toast mine approx. 12 minutes at 325° F, stirring every 4 minutes)
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup cacao (I use a raw cacao)
1/2 cup finely chopped dried pear or apricot
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Form 1-inch balls. [If the mixture seems sticky and difficult to shape into balls, then refrigerate for 30 minutes before making the balls.] Refrigerate or freeze.

[I used a food processor, because I wanted the oatmeal to be a bit finer. The method is the same: combine all ingredients in the bowl. Pulse to combine, scraping down the sides if necessary to make sure all ingredients are well mixed.]

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Chocolate beet muffin made with hazelnuts, hemp hearts and avocado instead of oil/butterSometimes recipes I work out in my head turn out beautifully. This chocolate beet muffin recipe is one of them!

I’ve wanted to try a chocolate beet recipe for a while. I used my Banana Carrot Muffin recipe as a starting point, swapping the beets for the carrots, adding cacao, and tweaking other ingredients to complement the chocolate and beet flavours. Instead of ground flax seed, I used ground hemp hearts. In place of ground almonds, I used ground toasted hazelnuts. I replaced the dates with prunes.

I’ve also been reading about using avocados in baking to substitute some or all of the fat in a recipe. The ripe avocado I had on hand made its way into the muffins too.

These chocolate beet muffins are healthful and satisfying, gently sweetened (read: may not satisfy a sweet tooth). The flavours of all ingredients come through, including the earthiness of the beets, without it being off-putting.

Recipe: Chocolate Beet Muffins

I made a combination of mini and regular size muffins; the recipe made 24 mini muffins and 9 regular-size muffins. These muffins are dense and moist, and taste better the day after baking. I suggest refrigerating or freezing them for longer storage. 

Dry:
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup old fashioned oats
2/3 cup ground toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup ground hemp hearts
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup cacao
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped pitted prunes
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Wet:
3 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 medium-large ripe avocado, mashed
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
2 medium-small beets, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line/grease 12 regular size muffin cups (or combination of mini and regular-size muffin cups).

In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Combine all wet ingredients in a second bowl. The chopped prunes will tend to stick together. With your fingers separate them once they are in the flour mixture; coating each piece with the flour mixture will prevent them from sticking together.

Pour wet ingredients into dry, and blend until flour mixture is just moistened.

Fill muffin cups. Bake 35-40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. (Mini muffins will be done sooner, in approx. 30-35 minutes.)

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Breastfeeding toddler

My view several times per day. (Not easy to snap a picture of an easily distracted and very-interested-in-the-camera toddler while breastfeeding!)

Before having Bee, I wasn’t committed to breastfeeding. I’d heard stories of problems and pain. I thought “If it works, then good. If it doesn’t, oh well.”

Yet here I am with a 19-month old nursling, who shows no signs of giving up the boob. Nor do I have a need to stop nursing her for the time being. In fact, I’m happy to continue breastfeeding her for the health benefits to both her and myself until there is a compelling reason or circumstance for me to stop.

I feel lucky that I never had any breastfeeding problems, though the path was a bit rocky sometimes.

Like most new mothers who are feeding on demand, it started with having to get used to being in constant demand, coupled with uncertainty. The nagging question of “Am I doing it right?” despite the fact that Bee was gaining weight regularly. Then it was getting over my hang up of breastfeeding in public. Since I overcame that discomfort, it’s been smooth sailing.

I also feel lucky to live in a neighbourhood, and be part of a community, that is open and supportive of breastfeeding.  All of my closest momfriends are still breastfeeding their toddlers.

One of my momfriends decided that this extended breastfeeding was worthy of celebration. Last Sunday I was invited to a “boob celebration” along with another still-nursing mother. Of course, husbands (whose breastfeeding support is invaluable) and toddlers (the raison d’être of our breastfeeding) were invited too!

I’d heard of lactation cookies, but had never made any. This event became the perfect opportunity to bake some to share with these lactating ladies. The recipe is a mash-up of the ones I found on Peaceful Parenting and The Progressive Parent. Both sites do a good job of explaining what the key ingredients oats, flax and Brewer’s yeast do to boost milk production — not that we really need the extra help at this point. Aside from the main benefit, I really just wanted them to taste good.

I’m happy with the results, and think they are nourishing cookies for anyone. David and Bee certainly approve, and so do the lactating ladies!

Lactation cookie made with oats, flax and Brewer's yeast to boost milk production, and other ingredients to make them taste good!

Recipe: Lactation Cookies

This recipe makes approx. 5 dozen cookies. These cookies are not overly sweet; they taste “nutritious”. The chocolate chips and dried apricots add sweetness, but if you prefer sweeter cookies, increase the brown sugar to 1 cup.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tbsp Brewer’s yeast
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ground ginger
3/4 cup ground/milled flax seed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped almonds (or cashews or macadamia nuts)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (or raisins, if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375° F. Line or grease baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, Brewer’s yeast, baking powder, salt and spices.

In a second (small) bowl, combine ground/milled flax seed and water. Mix with a spoon to make a thick paste. As the mixture sits, it will thicken into one lump.

In a third (large) bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add almond butter and beat until combined. Beat in sugar, then eggs one at a time. Mix in flax seed mixture, molasses and vanilla.

Mix in flour mixture, then oats and finally the chocolate chips, chopped almonds and chopped dried apricots.

Make small balls of dough and place on cookie sheet. Press down balls with a spoon or fork. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.

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Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)You know those Ferrero Rocher balls, the white ones called Raffaello? I like them. They’re the inspiration for this cookie.

I’m delighted with how these macaroons turned out. Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. The flavours marry beautifully, yet there’s still a subtle taste of each individual ingredient.

Recipe: Raffaello Macaroons (Almond Coconut White Chocolate Macaroons)

Makes approx. 36 cookies. This recipe is gluten-free!

1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 1/4 cups finely shredded coconut (unsweetened)
3/4 cup coarsely grated white chocolate
1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine egg, egg white and sugar in a bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until thick, light coloured and frothy. Gently mix in the ground almonds, shredded coconut and shaved white chocolate.

Make 1-inch size balls and place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

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Curious baby "baking" cookiesCurious baby "baking" cookies

I first made these cookies (and froze a huge batch) while I was waiting for Baby to make her appearance. I was already on maternity leave, but she was “late,”  taking her time, getting ready for the world. Once she was here, they provided me with nourishment in the middle of the night while I was providing her with hers; breastfeeding builds up an appetite.

More recently I made them with Baby in the carrier. She’s so curious, looking from the mixer button to the bowl, watching the beater turn. Soon enough she’ll be taking her first bites and eventually be able to eat one of these cookies herself. And we’ll continue to bake them together. I look forward to that day!

I wanted to name these cookies after my baby. But to preserve our privacy, I opted for “6A” instead. 6 As like in her complete name. 6 As like all the good ingredients in these cookies. Tasty little nuggets of nourishment.

Recipe: 6A Cookies: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut Cookies

6A Cookie: Oatmeal, Dark Chocolate, Pear (or Cranberry) and Walnut CookieThis recipe is adapted from the Bon Appétit cookbook’s Oatmeal cookies with raisins, dates, and walnuts. They freeze well. Makes approx. 30 cookies.

1 cup flour (I use a combination of spelt and whole spelt flours)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
25 mL honey (liquid)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried pear cut into small pieces or dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a standing or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is well combined. Incorporate egg on low speed, then beat in honey and vanilla and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Finally, mix in oats, chocolate chips, walnuts and pear pieces/dried cranberries.

Drop batter by tablespoonful onto prepared cookie sheets. Moisten fingertips and flatten cookies slightly. Bake approx. 10 minutes until golden brown.

Baby reaching for cookie

Sorry Baby, I shouldn't have tempted you, but you'll get to eat one soon enough.

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Bread pudding

I admit, the portion I ate was twice this size!

Baby already knows her mother well. One of the only daytime tv shows I consider worth watching on the few channels we receive is In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita. I only recently discovered it, because it happens to coincide with one of Baby’s feedings. Now I watch it as long as Baby’s feeding schedule allows.

The other day Stefano did a show about using leftover bread. The last recipe of the episode was a bread pudding. He brought back memories of my childhood.

When I was little, we had bread pudding for dinner every once in a while. My mom would diligently let dry every scrap piece of bread and collect them in an old ice cream container. When the container was full, it was time for bread pudding. She’d soak the bread in a milk and egg mixture, then mix in some sliced apples and raisins. Only lightly sweetened, she’d serve it with homemade vanilla sauce.

Inspired by Stefano and with memories on my mind, I decided it was time to make bread pudding. We would eat it for dinner/dessert following a hearty soup. I admit that I purposely bought bread for the recipe, because I wanted to use an appropriate egg bread. (We ate a light rye bread at home when I was growing up. Inevitably this old rye bread found its way into the bread pudding and the flavour of the bread was a bit too pronounced for my taste… What I always expected to be a more dessert-like meal just wasn’t.)

Since the loaf was big enough for two dishes, I made two versions (on separate occasions); both were much less healthy than my mom’s. The first was a dark chocolate and sour cherry bread pudding and the second was a white chocolate, blueberry and hazelnut bread pudding. I’d make them both again. So simple, so yummy, and a perfect way to use old bread 😉

Recipe: Dark Chocolate and Sour Cherry Bread Pudding

Dark chocolate and sour cherry bread pudding

Makes one 9″ x 9″ dish. Tastes great – almost better – the next day!

4 cups egg bread (day old; I used Rideau Bakery‘s egg bread; one loaf was good for two dishes)
1½ cups sour cherries (I used frozen ones, but I think preserved ones (from a jar) would work too)
2 tbsp rum (optional)
½ cup chopped dark chocolate (I used Lindt)
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream (35%)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9″ x 9″ square baking dish.

Combine sour cherries and rum. Set aside. (If using sour cherries from a jar, drain them first, although it’s ok if there’s a bit of cherry juice in the mix.)

Bread pudding before baking

Bread pudding before baking.

Tear bread into pieces and place in a large bowl. Add sour cherry mixture and chocolate. Toss lightly to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs with sugar until combined. Whisk in milk and cream. Pour egg custard mixture over bread and stir to evenly combine. Let stand for 15 minutes so that bread absorbs the egg mixture.

Pour bread and custard mixture to the buttered dish; it will fill the dish to the top. Bake until custard is set, and top of bread pudding springs back lightly when touched, approx. 45 minutes.

Recipe: White Chocolate, Blueberry and Hazelnut Bread Pudding

White chocolate, blueberry and hazelnut bread puddingMakes one 9″ x 9″ dish. Tastes great – almost better – the next day!

4 cups egg bread (day old; I used Rideau Bakery‘s egg bread; one loaf was good for two dishes)
1½ cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup chopped white chocolate (I used Callebaut)
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream (35%)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9″ x 9″ square baking dish.

Tear bread into pieces and place in a large bowl. Add blueberries, white chocolate and three-quarters of the hazelnuts (keep the rest to sprinkle on top). Toss lightly to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs with sugar until combined. Whisk in milk and cream. Pour egg custard mixture over bread and stir to evenly combine. Let stand for 15 minutes so that bread absorbs the egg mixture.

Pour bread and custard mixture to the buttered dish; it will fill the dish to the top. Sprinkle reserved hazelnuts on top. Bake until custard is set, and top of bread pudding springs back lightly when touched, approx. 45 minutes.

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2010 Christmas BakingI spent much of last week preparing bags and tins of cookies and giving them away. My Christmas baking is pretty traditional. I make a bunch of cookies that are typical for the season in Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Some recipes are hundreds of years old! Except for one: Thomas Haas’s Chocolate Sparkle Cookie.

Thomas Haas's Chocolate Sparkle CookiesThomas Haas is a fourth generation pastry chef from Germany who set up shop in Vancouver. Around 2002, he created the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie, which became all the rage in Vancouver and beyond. My mom always has her ear to the ground for this kind of thing, and she is the one who introduced me to the cookie. A delicious introduction indeed!

The Chocolate Sparkle Cookie is crisp on the outside, densely moist inside, and seriously chocolatey. What I like most about the cookie though, is how it lends itself to other flavourings. Thomas Haas himself did a chocolate-garam masala version using Vij’s, the well-known Vancouver restaurateur for inspired Indian food, garam masala mix. And there are so many other possible combinations:

  • chocolate-ginger using ground and crystallized ginger;
  • chocolate-spice flavoured with cinnamon and cardamom;
  • chocolate-orange using orange zest and a touch of Grand Marnier, decorated with some julienned candied orange peel;
  • chocolate-hazelnut made with freshly roasted ground hazelnuts in place of the almonds;
  • “smokey hot chocolate” flavoured with cayenne and a touch of chipotle;
  • chocolate-mint using mint flavouring or maybe crushed candy cane;
  • ….

I’m not sure yet if the Chocolate Sparkle Cookie falls into the non-traditional cookie category or is simply a new tradition. What I do know is that it’s one of the most popular cookies I bake every year!

Recipe: Chocolate Sparkle Cookies

This cookie was created by Thomas Haas. He shared the recipe with the L.A. Times. It was subsequently reprinted in Western Living’s March 2004 issue. The dough must be refrigerated overnight. Makes approx. 36 cookies. This recipe is gluten-free!

1/2 lb (225 g) bittersweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45 mL) butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1 tbsp (15 mL) honey, preferably blackberry
1/3 cup (75 mL) sugar, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup (175 mL) ground almonds
2 tsp (10 mL) cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
Powdered icing sugar, for garnish

Chocolate Sparkle Cookie dough after chilling overnight.

Ready to roll! Chocolate Sparkle Cookie dough after chilling overnight. A small ice cream scoop would probably work well to portion the balls.

Rolling the Chocolate Sparkle Cookies in sugar.

Rolling the Chocolate Sparkle Cookies in sugar. Work quickly! The warmer the dough, the stickier and more difficult to manage it gets.

Combine the ground almonds, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate on top of a double boiler, over (but not in contact with) simmering water. Remove from heat. Mix butter pieces into the heated chocolate and stir until melted.

Beat eggs with electric mixer, gradually adding the honey and sugar until light and the mixture falls in thick, smooth ribbons from the beaters (5-10 minutes). Fold egg mixture into chocolate-butter mixture. Gently add the ground almond mixture to the chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Form the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls. Working quickly, roll the balls in granulated sugar. Place on sheet about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Bake for 12 minutes, until the cookies begin to crack and the centres are moist but not wet. Cool slightly. Dust lightly with powdered icing sugar.

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