roasted chicken with za’atar and lemon

You might be wondering, given my recent rash of restaurant reviews, if I’ve been cooking over the past few weeks. Answer: minimally. This spring has brought sunny skies and total upheaval into my everyday existence, and I’ve been swept away by easy, but expensive, eating out.

It was with some relief, then, that I found myself alone in the kitchen with a whole chicken. I wanted desperately to get back into my gastronomic groove, starting with an Easter dinner. First, however, allow me to digress… I was born and raised Roman Catholic, in a home where we followed all the Western-invented conventions of religion. When it came to our Sunday suppers, however, my family deviated… and deliciously so. Hold the sparkly glazed hams and fluffy deviled eggs; we’ll take deep-fried egg rolls and sloshy noodle soups, thankyouverymuch.

This year, I kept up the tradition of non-traditional food by preparing a Middle Eastern-inspired spread (though I suspect that the flavors of the Fertile Crescent are actually the most historically accurate and observant of all). Whatever your stance on religion etc., this roasted chicken is worth some worship. I’d always thought Yotam Ottolenghi-authored recipes were intimidating, but my first venture with his cooking came together with astonishing ease. After a nice long bath in a flavor-packed marinade and some luxuriating in the oven, the chicken emerges smelling heavenly and tasting divine. Hallelujah!

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savory coconut chips

SNACKS! I had an itch that needed to be scratched. Due to my self-imposed detox, however, most treats were off-limits. What could I eat that did not:

  • contain a mind-boggling dose of sugar, wheat, and/or other questionable ingredients,
  • cost me a miniature fortune in the alternative aisle of the grocery store;
  • require spendy equipment, like a dehydrator; or
  • involve kale, which I’d had a dozen ways over by now?

My thoughts turned to coconut. A few weeks ago, I’d impulsively bought a pack of coconut chips, thinking it’d make a good treat, but the raw flakes were entirely too dry, chewy, and strangely, faintly sweet. I abandoned them until recently, when I spotted some inspired (and expensive) treats at my local health foods store. After routine Googling, I retreated to the kitchen with a bag of lifeless coconut and emerged with a tray of addictive lil’ nuggets.

I dug through my spice drawer and hit the coconut chips with savory, Middle Eastern-inspired flavors. A quick toast fired up the natural oils in the coconut, sealing in the seasoning, crisping up the flakes, and drawing out rich and nutty undertones. I’ll definitely be making these again, especially after the look on Jay’s face when he threw some back with his beer — they’re a perfect salty bar snack. “You should sell these,” he said earnestly. If I do, I wonder, might I charge as much as those healthy snack producers? A girl can dream…

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coconut pancakes

As a child, lunchtime was always an Affair with a capital A. I’d sit at the table for hours, an untouched plate of rice growing cold in front of me, until my grandma finally relented and excused me. As I grew older (and my grandma’s patience wore thinner), I figured out a new tactic. I’d stuff my face with food and then run to the restroom, where I’d spit out my half-chewed lunch into the toilet. Oh, I know. Healthy, homemade Vietnamese food? Not for seven-year-old me.

Breakfast, though, was an entirely different story. There was one cabinet in my grandparents’ house, just barely out of reach of child-sized paws, where cereal lived. Glorious, processed, all-American cereal! Ever cunning, I’d turn to my grandfather and beg for a bowl of the stuff whenever the family matron was out of earshot.  I’d feel dizzy with joy whenever my grandpa relented and pulled down that black-and-white box of generic grocery store cereal to share with me. (This is the same man who would tip a spoonful of sugar into his milk and keep Werther’s butterscoth caramels in his pocket for us. Is it any surprise that I’m such a sugar fiend?)

If it’s not obvious from my last few posts, my love for breakfast is longstanding. Sadly, though, my favorite carb-laden, sugar-loaded dishes don’t always play nice with my body nowadays. Fortunately, I didn’t have to choose between happy and healthy at brunch a few weekends ago. I gave T a laundry list of dietary restrictions and she made it work, surprising me with unbelievably simple and tasty pancakes. Here, I present these two-ingredient babies two different ways — savory and sweet — in case you don’t share my grandfather-given sweet tooth.

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trail mix cookies

I have no green thumb to speak of (as evidenced by my office succulent that I somehow managed to kill), so instead of cultivating a garden, I’ve been working on growing my pantry. What used to be a sad, spartan collection of cans has now proliferated into jars of random spices, flours and oils. I used to be intimidated by funny-sounding ingredients, but now I heartily embrace them for their kitchen-experience-enhancing properties.

My latest additions have included almond meal, coconut oil, plain cashews, and flax seed meal. I bought these ingredients without any purpose or prior experience, trusting that my “alternative” cooking instincts would find a use for them. As my cooking instincts are wont to do, they naturally turned to dessert and compelled me to make cookies… healthy cookies.

I took the “kitchen sink” approach to these treats, throwing in whatever nuts and dried fruit happened to be lying around. I also added gluten-free oat flour for flavor, flax seed meal for heartiness, and dark chocolate drizzle ’cause I wanna. I brought these to dinner with friends and earned absolute rave reviews; they had a hard time believing that these cookies were vegan! We paired these with ice cream and all was good in the world.

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healthy orange-chocolate mousse bars

Back in April, my extraordinarily talented friend K whipped up a chocolate mousse. What’s more — it was healthy. Not even just relatively healthy, mind you. It was loaded with protein, low in fat, rich in flavor, and light in texture. Exactly right.

The secret ingredient? (You should know by now, there’s always a secret ingredient!)

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oats and egg white bars

Even though I’m somehow able to wake up early to work out each day, I’m not Superwoman. I could never sacrifice the 10 minutes of sleep required to make myself breakfast each day.

I’ve experimented quite a bit with breakfasts over the past few months. Sometimes I get down and dirty with Clif bars. Other weeks, I’ll go on benders prepping healthy foods, like overnight oatmeal, Greek yogurt and Kashi “parfaits,” and egg whites cooked in mugs.

I’ve now entered a new phase of breakfasting: experimenting with tried-and-true ingredients. Introducing… healthy “french toast-inspired” bars. I know, they’re not the most glamorous-looking things out there — but I’m enjoying them immensely. The addition of golden raisins and chocolate chips makes them quite the treat, though they still pack quite the nutritional punch. Next time, I’m adding protein powder to make them balls-to-the-wall health food. You can also feel free to swap in various toppings; I imagine fruit, peanut butter, and nuts would all work wonderfully in this. Make this on Sunday and enjoy having breakfast throughout the work week — I sure will.

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chocolate chip oatmeal cookie pancakes

I know — three healthy recipes in a row? Despite what it may seem, my life is certainly not a never-ending series of delicious homemade meals (though one can dream…).

These chocolate chip oatmeal cookie pancakes, without hyperbole, has to be one of my favorite recipes thus far — vegan and gluten-free or not! This is my ideal breakfast: incredibly moist, texturally interesting, guilt-free pancakes with just the right hint of sweetness and decadence. The magic is thanks to the hearty oats, unbeatable combination of banana and nut butter, and (of course) chocolate.

A million thank-yous to The Minimalist Baker, whose recipe can be found here. We used oat as our choice of flour and substituted peanut butter for the almond.

I truly cannot wait to make these again.

black bean brownies

I have a major sweet tooth. It’s truly been an uphill battle, fighting my cravings in pursuit of a healthy diet. Lucky for me, people on the World Wide Web are incredibly resourceful. Case in point: Chocolate Covered Katie. She’s the mastermind behind a mind-boggling number of healthy, vegan, accessible and (most importantly) delicious dessert recipes.

I’ve been bookmarking her recipes left and right, and could not wait to try this particular one out! Vegan, flourless chocolate chip brownies. And get this: the secret ingredient is black beans. I’m glad I wasted no time in making them. I can’t decide what the best part is… The fact that all the ingredients were in my pantry? Knowing that the brownies were relatively low calorie and high in protein? Perhaps that they were so very simple to make? No, my friends… it’s that they were incredibly, decadently delicious. What more could you ask for?

cauliflower crust pizza

I’ve been on a clean eating streak recently and have been on the hunt for healthier versions of my favorite junk foods. Two thoughts: (1) Thank goodness for the Internet — what an amazing medium; and (2) You’d be surprised at how inventive people can get! I’ll definitely need to create a top 10 “to-try” list very soon.

Here’s one recipe that we did get to try: cauliflower crust pizza. That’s right. The pizza “crust” is actually just a mix of shredded cauliflower, mozzarella, and egg, all mixed up and crisped in the oven. It has all the goodness of pizza without the carb factor. I went a little rogue following the recipe and decided to pre-cook the cauliflower on the stove-top with a few tablespoons of water added. I wouldn’t recommend it — the pie was a little soggier than would be ideal — but the finished product was still incredibly tasty. We topped our ‘za with zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms, but you can obviously do as you please. Definitely a repeat recipe!

There are tons of recipes out there. We used Eating Bird Food’s incredibly simple one, though Closet Cooking’s rendition also looks intriguing.

(Please pardon the undeniably less-than-glamorous photo! Obviously, I can’t be bothered to grab my camera and take real pictures — not when there’s a fresh pie in front of me.)