Trail Mix Bites: A Healthy Sweet & Salty Snack

If you’re like me, you’re on a mission to keep your New Year’s Resolution(s). But the later into January we get, it seems to become more of a struggle to stay on track. Am I right? One of my goals for this year is to make healthy eating choices. This goes above monitoring calories, fats, and carbohydrates. I want to choose organic, whole foods as my options for both meals and snacks. What I am finding is that there aren’t many ready-made selections available that are also gluten- and dairy-free. I have to confess… that makes it harder for me to stick to my resolution because I am guilty of wanting convenient options. Listen, I get it. Life is busy. And the longer it takes to prepare healthy meals and snacks, the less likely we are to eat them.

Fortunately, there are some natural choices that are ready-to-eat with no preparation. I keep a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits in my kitchen at all times. (It’s time to restock… some of my canisters are dangerously low! haha)

I keep them in a resealable bag, too, and carry those with me in case I need nourishment while on-the-go. I love adding sprinkles of walnuts and sunflower seeds to my salads. They’re great in yogurt. Nuts make a tasty addition to stir-fry veggies. Dried fruit is a perfect compliment to a hot bowl of oatmeal. Cashews, soaked in water and then blended in a food processor, create a fantastic non-dairy cream for things like casseroles. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit are versatile, healthy, and delicious.

Today, I want to introduce you to a great snack that combines all three with one of my favorite things… chocolate! Dark chocolate, in moderation, is healthy too! It is a powerful antioxidant, can improve brain function, and may lower risks of heart disease. Let’s face it; sometimes we just want chocolate. This quick and easy recipe will satisfy your sweet tooth and salty cravings while providing nutrition. Healthy and guilt-free — that’s my kind of snack!

Begin with chocolate. I use a gluten-free, dairy-free, nonGMO chip that I find at my local grocery store. If your local store does not stock these types of chips, they can be found at specialty grocery stores or online. For this recipe, I used all of the 10 oz bag. You do not have to use a gluten-free, dairy-free option but do look for dark chocolate that is a higher percentage of cacao, with as few additional ingredients as possible.

Next, select a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. I have chosen to use dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almond slivers. Be careful when selecting these items in grocery stores and supermarkets. Often times, the selections will contain additives or high volumes of sodium.  A great source for purchasing nuts, seeds, and dried fruit is Nuts.com. Ordering from them is easy, and the items are shipped to your door. Remember how I said that I like convenience because it keeps me on track? Nuts.com makes purchasing organic items a breeze. (They even have dark chocolate chips and pre-made snacks too, among other things! Please click here to check them out!)

The last step in preparation is lining your cookie sheets with parchment paper. This recipe will yield approximately 30 snacks, so I use two cookie sheets.

To assemble the snacks, start by heating the chocolate in the microwave. I suggest 30-second increments, stirring after each. This helps to ensure that the chocolate does not burn. You want the chocolate to be smooth but not too thin. I achieved these results after approximately 2 minutes.

Spoon small amounts of chocolate onto the parchment paper. I would say use no more than 2 teaspoons per snack; then spread the chocolate to 1″ – 1.5″ diameter. You will want each snack to be able to hold the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit… but you want the chocolate to be thin.

Add a variety of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit to the chocolate, pressing lightly to ensure they stick to one another. When you finish, slide the cookie sheets into the refrigerator for two hours. Once the chocolate has set, the snacks are ready to eat!

These snacks store well and are great on-the-go. Just keep them in a dry, relatively-cool location. I like to put a couple in a resealable bag and keep them in my purse. They’re also great in lunch boxes, and are a tasty contribution to an office potluck. (Just be cautious of anyone with nut allergies! You may want to make them with just seeds and dried fruit if that is the case.)

There you have it! A quick, healthy snack to enjoy on-the-go. This snack has it all… protein, fiber, nutrients, and flavor! It will only take one or two to curb your sweet and salty cravings, and to keep you satisfied between meals.

Infamous Pumpkin Pie

Since learning about my dairy allergy and gluten intolerance earlier in the year, I worried how I would handle the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas often produce some of the best food-centered celebrations, but most of my favorite recipes contained wheat, butter, or cheese.

On a whim, I decided to do a little research to see if I could make a quick and easy pumpkin pie for a work luncheon. I found several items that met my requirements, and it produced a pie that took under 15 minutes to make! The best part? It was devoured by my coworkers! To my surprise, no one cared that it was gluten free and dairy free. (Some folks are apprehensive to try gluten free/dairy free foods because they’re afraid the taste is compromised.) In this case, apparently the subtleness of the ingredients enhanced the flavor and the pie was a hit!

So I’m sure you’re asking, “Jenn… just what is in this pie?” Well, I’m getting ready to tell you, but I first wanted to disclose that I was not paid to endorse any of the following brands. These just happen to be the brands that are found in my local grocery store.

Ingredients:
Mi-Del Gluten Free Graham Style Pie Crust
Organic Pumpkin (15oz can)
Jell-o Pumpkin Spice Instant Pudding & Pie Filling (3.4 oz)
So Delicious Dairy Free CoCo Whip Coconut Whipped Topping (8-9oz container)
*Kinnikinnick Foods Gluten Free S’moreables
*Pumpkin Pie Spice

Note – You will want to thaw the frozen whipped topping in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before preparing this pie.

Instructions:
Open the pie crust and set it aside.
Open the can of pumpkin and pour it into a mixing bowl.
Open the packet of pudding and add it to the pumpkin. Stir together well.
Open the whipped topping and add to the pumpkin mixture. Fold together until everything is fully incorporated.
Add the mixture to the pie crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until ready to serve.
*Garnish with S’moreables (I grated some over the top of the pie) and spice.

That is it!! It seems too simple, doesn’t it? But it is completely fool proof! There is just enough spice in the pudding to compliment the pumpkin flavor, but the hint of coconut from the whipped topping gives the pie a little something extra.

I have had many requests to make this pie again, that I have now deemed it “infamous”! haha Since the Pumpkin Spice pudding is a seasonal product, I made a few of the pies with Sugar Free Fat Free Vanilla pudding as a substitution. I then added in approximately 2 teaspoons of Pumpkin Pie Spice to the mixture. The results were the same as if I had used the Pumpkin Spice pudding.

I hope that you will give this gluten free/dairy free pumpkin pie alternative a try. If you do, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you. Enjoy!

[Photos to come.]

Cinnamon Crescent Rolls

I’m all about trying new things on Pinterest  and I love cooking for my family.  The other morning, I was craving cinnamon rolls. I opened up the refrigerator and discovered I had none!  Then a light bulb went off and I remembered the Pin I had on Pinterest for Cinnamon Crescent Rolls.  So I pulled it up, printed it out, and got to work.  They were very simple to make and smelled OH SO GOOD in my house while they were baking, but when I opened up the oven when they were done… what a mess!  All of the filling baked out and it was a greasy mess.  My husband is not a big fan of buttery stuff so he was not too impressed.  I have since adapted the recipe that I found to make my own creation.

Here is a link to the original recipe I found if you would like to have a go at it.

And here is mine:

 

Sweet & Spicy Cheese Dip

This cheese dip will surely be a hit at any end-of-summer cookout …and it’s very easy to make!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 small onion, chopped
Ritz crackers, crushed
Bacon bits
1/2 cup mango & red pepper sauce

Directions:
Mix mayonnaise, cream cheese, cheddar and onions together.

Spread into a baking dish greased with cooking spray. Top with crackers and bake at 350° for 15 minutes.

Top with bacon and mango/red pepper sauce.

Serve warm, with crackers.