Category Archives: Snack

Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds

raw hemp seed brownie bites

When WTTW’s cult restaurant review show Check, Please! announced they were looking for a new host, I knew I had to apply.  My family has been watching the show for over 10 years and it’s how we were introduced to great Chicago restaurants like Noon O Kabab, Icosium KafeCoobah, and Kabul House.  The show features a diverse, rotating cast of everyday Chicagoans sitting around a table and sharing their favorite restaurants with each other, in a way that’s both honest and accessible.  In my audition video, I tried to showcase my hosting skills and culinary expertise by taste-testing the difference between wine and cough syrup, eating a salad and laughing in front of the mirror, and trying to shove as many sugary Italian cookies into my mouth as humanly possible. (It makes more sense if you watch the video below, I promise.)

While I love a fistful of sweet and crumbly Italian cookies as much as any other Chicago gal (whose parents met on Taylor Street, no less), this week I decided to mix it up by creating a satisfying raw treat to have on hand when I get the craving for something sweet.  Made with just a handful of pantry ingredients, these Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds take only minutes to make and no baking or precise measuring is required.  I’m a fan of savory breakfasts like dal, eggs, soup, or even leftovers, but these little bites have found their way into my early morning routine as well.  Truth be told: “breakfast dessert” is a common phrase in our apartment.

These raw brownies are really just fruit and nut bars where dates and walnuts are pulverized in the food processor and cocoa powder is added to give them that chocolatey goodness.  These could also be shaped into little balls and then rolled in hemp seeds to look like truffles.  Either method is great to make with kids since eating the batter is strongly encouraged and hands are the preferred tool for mixing.  You can eat them immediately, but they greatly improve in flavor and texture after an hour or two chilling in the fridge.

In addition to helping you avoid the food coma that traditional baked goods can induce (at least in the quantities I consume…see video), Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds are Omega 3 powerhouses since both walnuts and hemp seeds provide the essential good-for-you fats.  Hemp seeds have become my little best friends when it comes to adding protein quickly to vegan and vegetarian dishes.  They have a bit of a strong taste in smoothies, but the cocoa here masks it beautifully.

Check, Please! has narrowed down the pool of potential hosts from over 1000 to a list of 17 finalists–and I’m included!  Now it’s up to the public to vote for their favorite candidate to help choose the next host to showcase great restaurants and interesting diners in this fabulous food city.  Voting for the next host of Check, Please! continues through April 17.  Check out the great applicants here, but you know, vote for me. 😉 In the meantime, I’ll be on the edge of my seat, snacking on mini brownies.

Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds
makes 25 mini brownies

1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons hemp seeds, divided
1 1/2 cups pitted Medjool dates (about 15 dates)
1/2 cup cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
pinch of sea salt

1. In the food processor, pulse walnuts and 1/4 cup hemp seeds until finely ground, but not smooth. Add dates, cocoa/cacao powder and sea salt and blend until the dates are pulverized and a crumbly mixture forms.

2. Remove from food processor and press into a ball. Press mixture evenly into an 8 x 8 glass baking dish, using the bottom of a measuring cup to make the top smooth. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds on top and lightly press down. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours to let the brownies firm up. Cut into small squares and store in the fridge.

Advertisements

Indian Hot and Sour Cashews

hot and sour cashews

My bucket list includes a number of places where I’d like to travel, professional things I’d like to accomplish and then a few harder to classify items: learn to do the splits, have a squash named after me, hug a Muppet, be in a Bollywood movie.  That last goal is perhaps what inspired me to join a professional Bollywood-style dance team called Bollywood Groove last fall, and I have been having a blast dancing with them ever since.  And despite the fact that that goal sounds ridiculously unattainable, I actually got surprisingly close when Dhoom 3, a Bollywood movie, was being shot in Chicago this Fall and Bollywood Groove was asked–and then, ahem, un-asked–to be dancers in the movie.  For the record, we’ve been described as “sizzling” on our own website.  It’s their loss.

A few days ago, my friend Ajanta, who founded Bollywood Groove, asked me if I would share a holiday recipe with her newsletter followers.  Ajanta also teaches amazing cardio classes through Bollywood Groove (Think Indian Zumba.  What??  I KNOW.), so her followers like to celebrate Indian culture, but are often looking for healthier, active ways to do so.  I wanted to share something easy and festive with a little Indian flair, so I decided to share my all-time favorite spiced nuts blend.  By using lots of flavorful Indian spices, I’ve created a snack that’s crunchy and satisfying and will be an unexpected hit on any holiday hors d’oeuvres spread.  If you aren’t hosting, these are a great gift to bring along to a party as well, just package them up in a pretty glass jar.  And of course, filled with protein and healthy fats, these Indian Hot and Sour Cashews also double as an excellent post-workout snack should you ever hit up a Bollywood Groove dance class.

Amchur (green mango powder) is a souring agent used frequently in Indian cookery.  Most sour spices, like sumac and black limes that I used in the Persian Black Lime and Herb Soup, can be harder to find since they aren’t as popular in American cuisine.  Check out Indian markets for amchur or find it online.  If you don’t have it on hand, a squeeze of fresh lime juice on the spiced cashews before serving will give that same sour kick.  Asafoetida is a pungent seasoning reminiscent of onions and garlic that’s used all over India, but garlic powder is an easy substitute.  And the pomegranate seed and cilantro garnish is entirely optional, but I love the festive, holiday look that it gives to this dish.

If you are looking for more ideas for holiday entertaining, I’ll be teaching a cooking class on easy an inexpensive appetizers at the Whole Foods Market in Downtown Evanston on Thursday, December 6, 7pm.  Read more and reserve your spot here.

hot and sour cashews

hot and sour cashews
Indian Hot and Sour Cashews
Makes 2 cups

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or other light oil)
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili flake
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons amchur
large pinch asafoetida or garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grind sea salt
2 cups raw whole cashews
pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 300.  Line a sheet tray with parchment paper.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and saute until they start to pop out of the pan. Add chili flake, turmeric, amchur, asafoetida/garlic powder and salt.

3. Turn off the heat and add the cashews to the pan, coating them thoroughly in the spiced oil.  Spread evenly on the sheet tray.  Bake at 300 for 12 – 15 minutes, stirring twice during cooking time. Cool and garnish with pomegranate seeds and cilantro.  Eat and enjoy.

Marinated Mixed Olives

With the holiday season upon us, it seems that every other night there is a holiday party to attend (yay!), often with the request to bring a snack to share (boo!).  But forget that three-dollar bottle of Trader Joe’s wine;  Mixed Marinated Olives are a festive, no-cook recipe that’s easy to tote along to a cocktail party.  More flavorful and colorful that regular olives in brine, they have a homemade look with minimal effort.  The strong pine flavor of rosemary and thyme hold up to the salty olives and give the dish a wintry flair.

Olives are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds and contain high amounts of copper and iron.  While they are high in fat (80-85% of the calories in an olive come from fat), it’s the “good kind” that we hear about–monounsaturated fat, which the same good fat found in extra virgin olive oil.  No surprise there.  Olives are also a good, wholesome way to satisfy that salty snack craving that seems to arise at a party about one beer in.

For these Marinated Mixed Olives, I used a mixture of pitted castelvetrano (bright green), kalamata (large purple) and nicoise (small purple), but use any olives that you like (I’m a big fan of meaty-tasting gaetas as well).  I think olives with pits tend to taste better than pitted, but depending on the familiarity of the party guests with one another, you might want to go pit-less.  It can be hard to pick up a dude while spitting an olive pit out of your mouth.  Or so I’ve heard.

marinated olives 2
Marinated Mixed Olives

makes 1 quart

1 quart of olives (I used a mixture of castelvetrano, kalamata and nicoise)
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flake, or more to taste
zest from 1 lemon (use a microplane or fine grater)
2 tablespoons minced rosemary
2 tablespoons minced thyme
4 garlic cloves

1. Drain the olives from their brine and put the olives in a large bowl.

2. Add the olive oil, chili flake, lemon zest, rosemary and thyme to the bowl. Using the side of your knife blade, smash each garlic clove and peel of the skin and discard. Add the peeled garlic cloves to the bowl and stir everything to combine. Refrigerate and return to room temperature before serving.

These can be served immediately or days later but taste best after one day of marinating.

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie

Now, I know one of the words in the title of this recipe seems glaringly out of place to you, and it’s not “peanut butter” “banana” or “smoothie.”  In fact, you might even think  that I placed the wrong photo here, instead inserting one from my gallery of vintage Ecto-Cooler glam shots.  But today is Earth Day, and I’m giving you an appropriately green gift: introducing you to the trend of Green Smoothies.

Green Smoothies are an easy way to incorporate more raw leafy greens into your diet by blending them with fruit and drinking the mix like a smoothie.  Pioneered by fervent raw foodists like Victoria Boutenko, green smoothies taste like fruit but are packed with all the nutrients that we know come from leafy greens like calcium, iron, B vitamins and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  They make a great snack or a quick breakfast in the morning.

Since this green smoothie is likely your first, I’ve used banana and natural peanut butter because they have very strong, dominating flavors.  Baby spinach has such a delicate flavor so all you will taste in the final smoothie will be peanut butter and banana.  I promise.  But boy will it be green.  If you are hesitant, try using only 1 cup of the baby spinach.

Have you ever tried green smoothies before or heard the health claims about them?  Are you afraid or excited to try this?

Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie
makes 1 smoothie

1 banana
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
2 cups of baby spinach
juice from 1/2 lemon
3-4 ice cubes (optional)

1. Put the banana and peanut butter into the blender and puree until smooth.  Then, 1 cup at a time, add the spinach, each time blending until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula between blends and add a tablespoon or so of water if you need to get the spinach blending.  Then add the ice cubes, if using, and pulse until smooth.

Coconut Date Granola Bars


Born out of the days of free love and food coops, granola bars are, in a way, a quintessential health food for the modern era.  The concept is simple: mix some whole grain goodness with nuts and dried fruit and smoosh it all together in a portable little package.  However, commercial granola bars are often loaded with sugar and additives, making them a far cry from the guitar-playing, unshaven, sticky oat squares we expect.  And when all you have to do it combine a few pantry ingredients and toss them in the oven, why not make your own?

For these coconut date granola bars, I use a combination of two natural sweeteners: honey and barley malt.  Barley malt is an ultra-sticky syrup made from (duh) barley that’s predominantly maltose, giving it a distinct malty/Whopper flavor. While there is debate about how different sugars affect health and particularly blood sugar, I think the main reason for using them over refined sugars is that they get your body accustomed to a “less sweet” sweet, and, in these bars, the gentle sweetness allows you taste the almonds, coconut and spices.  Don’t worry if you don’t have barley malt; just use the equivalent amount of honey.  Packed with protein from the nuts, fiber from the oats and dates, and good-for-you Omega 3 fats from the flax seeds and wheat germ, this is an elegant update that will boost your energy while satisfying your sweet tooth.

These granola bars make great gifts, particularly for friends who like to work out.  You’ll soon be just as popular as your baker friends.

Coconut Date Granola Bars
yield: 16 bars

1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (or any other nut)
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons barley malt (or same amount extra honey if you don’t have barley malt)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt
1 cup Medjool dates, pitted and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and edges of a 9×12 baking dish.

2. On a large sheet pan toss together the chopped almonds, oats, dried coconut and wheat germ. Toast in oven, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  The mixture should be slightly golden and fragrant. Remove from the oven and place in a large  bowl and add the flax seeds.

3. In a small pot, heat the honey, barley malt, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla extract, butter and salt. Let the mixture come to a boil, turn off the heat, and pour it into the bowl with the oat mixture.  Add the chopped dates, breaking apart any clumps, and stir to combine.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and form a smooth, even layer, using a moistened spatula or your fingers. Make sure the mixture is packed down, then bake in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove and let cool for several hours before slicing into bars or squares.  Wrap individually in plastic wrap to keep your homemade granola bars fresh all week.