Smoky-spicy bar mix (~3.5 cups)

I don't know about all of you, but if I'm ever going to be caught off guard by a social event or expectation, it's going to happen in November or December. Between thoughts of, "That party is this week?" and, "I thought you were getting the hostess gift," I find myself scrambling at least once a week from now until after New Year's.

And yes, I do recognize the irony of working part-time as an executive functioning coach while I struggle with time management and organization myself.

But anyway, whether you're fumbling to figure out what to serve as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, bring to a friend's holiday housewarming, give to your coworker for a Secret Santa gift, or present to that tough-to-shop-for relative, I've got the solution: A jar of crunchy, salty, smoky, spicy nuts and seeds from Oh She Glows. The recipe is dairy-free and vegan, and it can be made gluten-free by swapping out the soy sauce for coconut aminos. And it takes almost no time to put together!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted cashews
  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted almonds
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips (Something like this -- not traditional sweetened, shredded coconut)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or hot sauce (I used chipotle-flavored hot sauce)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Mix the cashews, almonds, coconut, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl (or even a mug), mix the remaining ingredients with a fork or small whisk.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the nuts mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet in a thin layer.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes; stir, and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the coconut flakes are golden brown.
  7. Allow to cool; store in an airtight container (if it makes it that far).

I made a few tiny changes to the original recipe; I increased the cashews and almonds and decreased the liquid smoke slightly. The original author recommended running the range fan and opening a window, so that made me a little leery of using the full liquid smoke amount. Even with the smaller amount, it was still pleasantly smoky, especially since I used chipotle hot sauce in addition to the smoked paprika.

By the way, if you're on the fence about the coconut, don't skip it! Yes, it's unusual, but in the oven, it becomes crispy and golden, and it lends a beautiful flavor without being too assertive. I wouldn't say it tastes coconut-y at all, really!

Zucchini chips (or How to Eat a Whole Zucchini Without Really Trying)

These were thin and light enough that the breeze blew a couple out of my hand after I took a picture!

I read somewhere once that people crave crispy foods when they're angry because the crunch provides a physical release for stress. In that case, I must be angry all the time, because as long as I'm awake, there's a pretty good chance I'm craving something crunchy and salty.

And thanks to a recipe sent to me by my lovely mother-in-law, I've found a healthy, low-calorie way to satisfy that craving! Zucchini chips are easy to make (although they do take quite a while to bake in the oven), crispy, golden, and delicious. And since they require only a tiny spritz of oil, I can't imagine they'd rack up many calories at all. So what are you waiting for?

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • Zucchini
  • Oil in spray form (I used olive oil in my Misto sprayer, but if you don't have one of those, I'd imagine any olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil in spray form would work well.)
  • Kosher salt
  • Optional seasoning, such as garlic powder, crushed oregano, or chipotle powder

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 225° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick foil and set aside.
  2. Slice the zucchini very thinly -- I recommend a mandoline slicer if you have one. Lay the zucchini slices between two paper towels for several minutes to draw out some of the moisture.
  3. Lay the zucchini slices in one layer on the baking tray. Spritz them with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt (this will help draw out more moisture to make them crispy.) If desired, sprinkle with a tiny bit of seasoning (I used roasted garlic powder).
  4. Bake zucchini chips for 1-2 hours, depending on thickness of the slices. (I sliced mine at 2 mm and they took an hour and 20 minutes to get crispy.) You'll know they're done when they're golden brown and dry.

Supposedly, these last for three days in an airtight container, but I wouldn't know, since I downed them all in less than 10 minutes.

Chocolate-peanut butter protein "fudge" (16 squares)

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Thanks to a Groupon offer, I've been spending a significant chunk of my summer vacation at the gym, trying to whittle away a significant chunk of myself. (No, this isn't a guest post; it's really me!) In addition to working out more often, I've also been trying to eat healthier, especially by avoiding mindless eating. Of course, it's hard to avoid snacks when I'm home alone for most of the day, but I'm finding that if I keep healthy snacks on hand, I can give in to my cravings without getting too off-track.

Desserts have always been my weakness. I find myself craving sweet things when I'm stressed, bored, or tired. For the most part, I've purged the apartment of the things that I give in to the easiest; I don't keep ice cream at home, and I buy Bryan desserts that he loves but I don't (banana twin pops... yuck). A few weeks ago, I found an Allrecipes version of protein balls and decided to give them a try. They seemed sweet enough to be satisfying but healthy enough to be acceptable. I made mine into squares instead of balls, partly because I wanted them to resemble fudge, but mainly because I didn't feel like getting my hands messy!

You will need:

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 scoop (approx. 1/3 cup) chocolate protein powder (I used Whole Foods' soy stuff)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 Tbsp flax seeds, ground

Steps:

  1. Mash all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. When it's all blended, it should be soft and smooth and feel a little thicker than buttercream icing.
  2. Line a square baking pan with wax paper or non-stick foil. Spread the peanut butter mixture evenly across the pan and cover with plastic wrap; press down lightly to squeeze out any air bubbles.
  3. Stick the pan in the freezer for at least two hours. Remove the pan from the freezer and cut the "fudge" into 16 squares. Transfer the squares to an airtight container or bag, separating layers with foil or wax paper. Keep the squares in the freezer until you're ready to eat them.

It's really a very simple recipe. To be honest, the toughest part was cutting them into squares after they were frozen! I think the thinner they are, the easier they are to cut. I have a bag of them in the freezer now, and I've been eating one at a time as I feel like it. I've eaten them right out of the freezer and also waited for them to thaw, and I definitely like them better frozen. When they thaw, they get so soft and gooey that they're difficult to handle.

Do they taste just like fudge? Ofcoursenot. But they are sweet, creamy, and chocolatey, so they're a pretty good substitute. According to Sparkpeople's recipe calculator, each square has 112 calories, 8.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of protein, which is way better than you'd do with a cookie or candy bar. 

Vegan chocolate chip cookies cookie bars

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I was so, so excited when I found this recipe at the Vegetarian Times website. I love the combination of walnuts and chocolate, and I was intrigued by the use of oat flour instead of plain old all-purpose flour. The note on the recipe promised "a moist, chewy, vegan cookie," and the user comments raved about the taste, claiming they were indistinguishable from traditional chocolate chip cookies.

I don't know if my walnut-to-oil proportion was off or if I mismeasured or what, but my dough turned out crumbly, and my first tray of cookies fell apart. I improvised and spread the remaining dough in a glass baking dish and baked it for about 20 minutes, and -- voila! -- I had cookie bars instead. I've posted the cookie directions here, but if all else fails, just do what I did and bake them in a dish until they look done. It's easy.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3-4 Tbsp canola oil (the original recipe calls for 3 but I'd use 4 next time to help the batter stick together better)
  • 2 cups walnut halves
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (opt.)
  • 12 oz vegan chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Place 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats in the bowl of a food processor. Process the oats until they turn into a coarse powder. Set this aside in a medium bowl. (You've just made your own oat flour! It's hard to find in the store, and it's expensive anyway, so why not make your own?)
  2. Now use the food processor to grind the walnuts into a fine meal, which should take under a minute. Add the canola oil and blend for 2-3 minutes, or until it looks like natural peanut butter. (I realize now that mine was too crumbly.) Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl; add in the brown sugar and stir until it's dissolved into the water. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the walnut butter, add the vanilla extract, and stir the mixture until no lumps remain.
  4. Add the baking soda, salt, and cinnamon (if using) to the bowl with the oat flour. Whisk ingredients together. Stir this mixture into the walnut mixture until combined. Fold in the oats.
  5. Chill the cookie dough in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350 F.
  6. Fold the chocolate chips into the chilled dough. Shape the dough into 2-inch balls and place them on a tray lined with parchment or a Silpat. Flatten the cookies with the bottom of a glass dipped in water.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies begin to dry and the tops look brown. Cool them on the baking sheet for 3 minutes until transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Even though I messed up the shape of these confections, they still tasted delicious. However, I disagree with the VT commenters who said they were just like a traditional chocolate chip cookie, since this dough is much more dense than a butter-based cookie. They're still glorious though -- trust me. They're much more filling than a traditional cookie, which might actually work out in favor of portion control! Believe it or not, I might use less chocolate next time, as the chips seemed to crowd out the other tasty components.

As far as I can tell, Whole Foods' house brand of dark chocolate chunks (ugh, can't find a link) is vegan. If you read the ingredient list carefully, you might not have to hunt for something specifically marked "vegan." You just want to avoid milk ingredients (so go for a darker chocolate instead of milk chocolate) and the insect-derived glue that keeps the chips from melting. Of course, if you're baking vegan just to help your cholesterol, you can probably get away with using regular chocolate chips.

I know this recipe has a lot of steps, but it really wasn't too difficult. The toughest part was just getting the dough to stick together!

Vegan pumpkin cookies (~2 dozen)

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It's the first weekend of October and also the second day of Vegan MoFo. What better way to celebrate than with cookies? Earlier this week, I made a batch of moist, dense pumpkin cookies from the Post-Punk Kitchen (best blog name ever). Bryan and I enjoyed them, and they impressed my new vegan friend Lisa, which seems like a good sign to me.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chopped candied ginger (opt.)
  • coarse sugar for topping (opt.)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, using a spoonula or wooden spoon. Chill the dough in the fridge for one hour.
  3. Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if using.
  4. Bake cookies 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool on sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Is that the longest list of ingredients I've published thus far? I'm thinking it must be. It's a lot of ingredients, but it's really not a lot of work at all.

The original recipe called for 1/2 cup vegetable shortening, but I didn't have any and I'm also not thrilled by the idea of it. Instead, I replaced that ingredient with a combination of applesauce and canola oil. If you've ever baked with applesauce, you know it has a tendency to make your baked goods come out really dense. It also makes them moist, which is great! This cookie was already dense because of the pumpkin, but the applesauce made it even more so. Don't make this recipe expecting the fluffy or crispy texture of a traditional cookie; what you end up with feels more like a muffin than a cookie. They also don't spread out the way traditional cookies do.

The flavor, however, is unbelievable. I highly recommend throwing in the candied ginger if you have it. All the spices in this recipe work so well together to capture the essence of autumn. With flavors this enticing, who the hell needs eggs?

One quick note: Some vegans avoid regular sugar because of the way it's processed. If you're one of those vegans, make sure you substitute an appropriate sweetener. And if you do, please let me know! I'd love to know what you used instead.

(Do you like how I classify cookies as both dessert and snacks with my tags?)