Improving My Body Image (+Caramelized Banana Oatmeal)

Losing weight for a healthier body and lifestyle is common medical advice. By age 18 I was nearly 200 lbs. My parents worried about my weight, but I felt pretty good about myself. I started exercising my freshman year of college with my best friend. I remember walking around in sweatpants and a sports bra, thinking I looked really good.

I’m not 100% sure what happened. By the time I got to my goal weight, it became exhausting to step on the scale. I weighed myself daily, panicking at the slightest gain- I’m talking 1-2 pounds. I would call Boyfriend in tears, terrified of gaining all of the weight back.

My biggest goals for myself this year are self-care and self-love. I’ve been working harder in the gym, strengthening my body and accepting the changes that come with building muscle. Today I am about ten pounds heavier. I’m not 100% sure since I haven’t weighed myself very consistently. My pants size hasn’t really changed. I’ve noticed changes in curves, but more than anything, I can lift more, I can run longer. I feel healthier and I’m not torturing myself for enjoying certain foods.

The diet mentality tends to label foods as “good” and “bad.” An Instagram account previously called #nutribollocks has been phenomenal in combating shame. I focus more on honoring my hunger and respecting my fullness. Granted, there is still a balance in what I’m eating.

On Sundays I get to sleep in a little before Boyfriend comes home and we go the gym. After the gym we may grocery shop. I’ll cook us a large breakfast to help us recover from the work-out. Some mornings Boyfriend prefers to sleep in, so I get a quiet morning to myself. This happened last Sunday, so I decided to try a warm oatmeal recipe for the cold morning. Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast choice with lots of fiber. Overnight oats are classic, but sometimes I like to cook old-fashioned stove top oats. Since I prefer sweet oatmeal, these caramelized bananas (with coconut oil instead of butter) offer sweetness without going overboard!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3 bananas, sliced
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup real maple syrup
  • sprinkle of cinnamon
  • dash of vanilla
  • sea salt, chocolate chips, and other desired toppings

Instructions:

1) Heat 2 cups of milk in a pot until it boils. Add 1 cup oats and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit about another 5 minutes.


2) Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla, and let it bubble until foamy.

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3) Add bananas and simmer for a few minutes on each side until soft and plump.

4) Remove from heat. Stir half of bananas into oatmeal, and reserve the other half for topping

I chose not to stir in the bananas for myself, but I assume this makes a creamier texture. I did not pour the remaining syrup into my oatmeal either; I’m pretty sure it would be too sweet if I did.

Add some chocolate chips and it’s done!

Final Thoughts: This surprisingly did not take as long as I thought it would! It may not be a work day breakfast, but it was certainly quick. I’ve never cooked anything with coconut oil, so I was quite surprised that I didn’t get an underlying coconut flavor. I’m assuming the other flavorings masked the coconut (or perhaps I need new coconut oil). This was a sweet and warm, healthy start to my week.

Pecan Pie

Each Thanksgiving I try to take charge of something new or something more complicated. So far I’ve made side dishes (med), cornbread stuffing (yummy), cranberry sauce (disastrous), and several pies. She and I have our own fair share of failures. Last year her pecan pie was over-baked. My apple pie was under-baked.

Pecan pie is a staple for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. My mother is the only person who eats pecan pie at Thanksgiving. Usually she bakes a whole pie for herself to enjoy for the entire week. While many recipes include alcohol, I went for an old-fashioned recipe.


Ingredients: 

  • Pie crust dough (store-bought or homemade)
  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups pecan-halves (You can find these in the baking aisle. You don’t have to split them.)

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Roll out the pie dough onto a lightly floured surface. Trim and crimp crust as desired. Lightly prick the bottom of the crush with a fork. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

3) For the pie filling: melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in corn syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt.

4. Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk into the corn syrup mixture.

Be really careful! If you mixture is too hot, your eggs will scramble! Mine was just a little too hot so there were some heated egg whites. I strained these out with a sieve and it was fine.

5) Put pecans in the pie shell and pour the corn syrup mixture over evenly.

6) Bake until the filling is set (50-60 min.) Cool completely.

Final Thoughts: I’ve never been a big fan of pecan pie, but I stole a bite and loved it! It was fairly easy to make, despite needing a tiny bit more effort than a pumpkin pie. Now that I’ve checked off apple, banana cream, pumpkin, and pecan, which pie should I try next?

Ice Cream Cake & Mighty Moo’s

Ever since we were little, my brother has loved the cotton candy ice cream at Maggie Moo’s (which closed down). His mouth and tongue would be bright blue, made worse by the bubblegum candies he liked to add to his ice cream. I came across a post on Buzzfeed, listing the best ice cream places in each state. Arizona’s is a small ice cream parlor in the West Valley called Mighty Moo’s. Mighty Moo’s makes homemade, hand-churned ice cream, shakes, and floats with unique flavors. The flavors are often changed depending on the season. (I was dying to try their Octoberfest pretzel & beer flavor).

This local place is small with great charm. You can tell it’s a hit with the locals, who wait outside the doors before opening. One sweet older lady said she came every week for her praline ice cream. Buy a cone, a cup, a pint, or other special treats. Next on the list is the “reverse” root-beer float – cream soda with root-beer flavored ice cream! Though it may be a bit of a drive for many, the ice cream is worth it. There’s a greater variety than Phoenix favorites such as Churn.

It turns out Mighty Moo’s carried a flavor called “Elsa,” a bright blue cotton candy flavored ice cream. Naturally, I thought of my brother. It’s a sickeningly sweet flavor for my tastes, but it made a perfect birthday cake for him.

To make an ice cream cake, you do not have to use cotton candy ice cream. Pick a favorite ice cream, hand-churned like Mighty Moo’s or your favorite store bought brand. My only recommendation is to make it the day before hand so that the ice cream can really freeze! (Seriously, save yourself the mess.)

Now the ice cream cake recipe actually has a cake recipe of it’s own, but I have had bad experiences with cakes that involve boiled water, so I chose to use this chocolate cake recipe instead. It’s up to you which recipe you use (or your own!) but my instruction will be for a different chocolate cake recipe.

Ingredients:

For the Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

Filling and Decoration

  • 4 cups ice cream
  • 2 cups chocolate frosting
  • Chocolate sprinkles, for decorating

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease one 10-in. springform pan.

You can line it with parchment paper, but I usually choose to use butter or pam and flour. Since my springform pan is a bit tricky to butter, I used pam. Sprinkle in a few tbsp. of flour and then coat the pan. Turn it sideways and turn it like you would a steering wheel to coat the sides. Shake out the excess flour.

2) In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

3) In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and brown and granulated sugars until blended. Increase speed to high; beat 5 minutes or until pale and fluffy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

It’s really important that your ingredients be room temperature. They’ll blend easier, especially butter.

4) Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until batter is smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

5) Spoon batter into pan. Bake 30-40 min. or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. 

I’m not as clear as the baking time because I tried the original bake time, forgetting that a 10 in. pan takes longer to cook than a few 8 in. pans. Put it in for 30 min. and keep an eye on it.

6) Let the cake cool for 10 min. Once cool enough to handle, take the cake out and let it cool on wire racks.

7) Once cool, cut the cake into two halves. Wrap the layers in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 2 hours.

8) Place one layer of frozen cake into the (clean) springform pan.

Here’s where it gets messy!! I made such a mess that I’ve made some suggestions on how to make it easier.

9) Remove your ice cream from the freezer. Thaw for about 10 min. Once softer, spread the ice cream on top of the cake layer in the springform pan.

It may not take very long to melt the ice cream. Since I live in Arizona and this was hand-churned, the ice cream melted quickly. I might consider melting the ice cream completely for a more smooth surface.

10) Place the other cake layer over the top of the ice cream. Place the plastic wrap over the top to seal. Freeze again for at least 2 hours.

Two hours was not enough to keep everything from melting and falling apart. I would suggest freezing overnight.

12. Remove the cake from the pan and frost fast! Otherwise your ice cream will melt.

13. Decorate as desired and then wrap with plastic wrap. Use toothpicks to keep it from touching the frosting if you want.

14. Remove from the freezer about 10-15 min. before serving to thaw a little.

Final Thoughts: In hindsight, hand-churned ice cream may not have been a good choice, but my little brother was happy with it. If I ever do this again, I’ve got some strategies to make the ice cream part less frantic and messy. Even though I disliked the ice cream by itself, in the cake it was super delicious!

If you’d like, stop in at Mighty Moo for a tasty treat!

Black Bean Brownies (GF)

A lot of people try gluten-free or vegan treats as a healthier alternative to desserts and sweet treats. I don’t know if it makes them healthier, but it’s good practice for friends and family with food allergies or dietary restrictions. I made brownies for a coworker, so another coworker requested an additional pan of black bean brownies. The idea is that the beans make the ingredients “stick” instead of flour. It’s a gluten-free option that keeps the brownies moist.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×8 baking dish.

2. Place all ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor (or blender) and process until smooth. Scrape the batter into the baking dish and level the top.

 

 

Honestly there’s nothing easier than shoving everything into a food processor. If you’d like, taste it and see if it needs a bit more cocoa.

3. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of the batter. Bake for 25-27 min.

4. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

If you don’t let them sit, they’ll be too soft to cut and just fall apart.

Final Thoughts: This was a 50-50 dessert. It’s easier to make than regular brownies, plus it’s gluten-free with extra protein! While I enjoyed the dense texture, it’s obvious it’s made with beans. About half of the people who tried mine really disliked them. The other half went crazy for them! To each their own, I guess. Which one do you guys like better – regular or black bean brownies?

Sweet & Tangy Lemon Bars

I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten a homemade lemon bar before, but lemon (well, citrus) is one of my favorite flavors. When this recipe popped up on my Pinterest, I knew I wanted to try it. Some of you may have seen my Instagram post where I posted the failed version of this recipe. Hint: It’s not a lemon bar without lemon juice.  This is a fairly simple and classic recipe with a tangy lemon flavor and rich shortbread crust.

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, softened

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups (220 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Optional: powdered sugar

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt for the crust together. Cut the butter into cubes. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dough with a pastry cutter or with your hands. Mix until it’s crumbly and starts to come together. Scoop the mixture into the pre-prepared pan and press into an even layer.

Cubed means just what it says. Cut your butter into cubes! If your butter is at the right temperature, you should be able to cut through it with a butter knife.

 

See the big chunk of butter? I probably could have better incorporated the butter into the dough. I really need to invest in a pastry cutter.

3. Bake the crust for 20-25 min. until the edges are golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven.

4. While the crust is baking, start on the filling. Whisk the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Add in the eggs and lemon juice and mix until well combined. Pour the filling over the crust.

The lemon mixture should be bright yellow (as pictured above). When I tried this recipe and forgot the lemon juice, the mixture was pale.

5. Bake for 18-20 min. until the filling it set. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for an hour. Cover tightly with saran wrap or aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

6. Remove from the fridge. With a sifter, sift powdered sugar over the top.

I sifted the sugar while the bars were still in the pan to avoid making a big mess.

7. Cut and serve!

Final Thoughts: These were the perfect balance of sweet and tangy! My coworkers gobbled them up. Aesthetically, I wish there were no bubbles on top. I’m curious if I should hit the pan against the counter to remove the extra air. Or does this just happen with the acidity?

Now that summer is here, it may be time to bring back this citrus-y treat.

Nutella Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Stuffed cookies are the ultimate indulgence. You can take a cookie to the next level by stuffing it with more chocolate, marshmallows, caramel, peanut butter, and other gooey sweets. I was first introduced to Nutella in high school French class. I’ve been addicted ever since. My fellow addicts won’t be able to stop eating these decadent nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies. Just be aware that I’ve changed the recipe around to suit my own personal preferences.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated, white sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 12 heaping tsp Nutella

INSTRUCTIONS

1) Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 12 heaping teaspoons of Nutella separately onto the parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer.

2) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3) In a large bowl or mixing bowl, cream softened butter, brown sugar, and white sugar.

4) Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time for 10-15 seconds.
5) Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch in a separate bowl. Slowly add to the wet ingredients.
6) Fold in the chocolate chips.
7) Remove the baking sheet with Nutella from the freezer.
8) Divide the cookie dough into balls. Form the dough balls around the Nutella.

You’ll need to work quickly, because the Nutella will melt. You may need to put some of the Nutella discs back into the freezer until they are firm enough.
9) Place the cookie dough balls onto a lined baking sheet. Freeze for at least 1 hour.
You can refigerate if you like. It will likely take less time for the cookies to bake if they are refrigerated instead of frozen.
10) Bake for 9-13 minutes, until the cookies are spread and puffy.

The original recipe says 9-11 minutes, but I felt my cookies were finished after 13 minutes. This was based on the “spread” of the cookies, literally how spread out the cookies looked. 

 

Final Thoughts: This recipe made my coworkers beg for me to make them again. The only issue is that the number of cookies are never consistent. Sometimes I may get 7 cookies, other times I may get 10. It really depends on the size of the Nutella discs and how much dough I use around the Nutella. Nevertheless the cookies are always a crowd favorite. My coworkers have begged me for them. In the future I’ll see if I can adjust the size to serve to more people at once.