Almond Roca Bars

Baking has been such a life-giving hobby for me the past few months… it’s my outlet for creativity & rejuvenation. Also a way to make my family happy and bond with my toddler. I have made quite a dent in my Sprinkles Baking Book and cannot wait to share the latest recipe with you.

Three ways I can think of to describe my new-found love for baking:

  • Nick & I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them last night (so good, btw) and I loved one of the main characters, Jacob. It’s set in the 1920’s and he’s a muggle (harry potter lingo) working in a canned foods factory, but claims it’s sucking the life out of him because no one wants to eat canned food. His dream is to open up a bakery because “pastries make people happy” and he just wants to make people happy. I thought that was so sweet and resonated with it a ton.
  • Second… I’m obsessed with The Great British Baking Show (for many reasons) and it’s inspired me to try new things, new flavors & get creative. I love how none of the contestants are professional bakers. They all have different vocations (nurses, lawyers, accountants), but love to bake on the side & have excelled at it. That’s definitely one of my goals.
  • Thirdly, I just want to acquire the skill of making yummy treats for my boys. My mom never baked (although she did make bomb Persian food). And I’ve always wanted to be able to make delicious cakes or cookies or whatever for holidays, birthdays & special occasions. Hopefully this will make it, not only a fun hobby, but something I become good at.

 

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Almond Roca Bars

Ingredients

For the base:

  • 3/4 C (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C sugar

For the topping:

  • 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate (or milk or dark… whatever you prefer)
  • 1 C of roasted almonds
  • 1/2 C of unsweetened coconut flakes (lightly toasted)

Make the Base

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Butter the bottom & sides of a 9-inch square pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder & salt.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter & sugar until creamy (~2 mins). Add flour mixture & beat for another minute.
  • Press dough into the prepared pan & bake until golden (~17-19 mins).

Make the Topping

  • In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chocolate for 2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds until melted.
  • Stir half of the almonds & coconut flakes into the melted chocolate.
  • Spread the chocolate over the cooled base in the pan.
  • Sprinkle with remaining almonds & coconut flakes, pressing gently to help them adhere to the chocolate.
  • Refrigerate for 30 minutes to harden, then cut into 20 bars.
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Best Ever Banana Bread

The past month has been a doozy. Both of my children AND my husband have alternated being sick back-to-back-to-back for the last several weeks. We’ve all been cooped up at home with blankets, fever-reducer, hot tea & an ever-running humidifier. Needless to say, as keeper of the house, I’ve been relying on a steady stream of coffee to keep me up & alert (feeling like Lorelei Gilmore right about now).

With all this going on, our fam’s been feeling quite gloomy. Not to mention, our country’s current state of affairs has had my husband and I in even more of a rut.

I had a lot I wanted to say about how difficult things have been dealing with the current #muslimban and having family that still reside in Iran… How much pain I am in knowing that there are millions (billions?) of displaced refugees, scrounging for safety while our country slams the door in their face. I’ve been reading story after story of what’s going on globally and it’s left me at a loss for words.

And I still don’t have words to give you.

This morning was one where all I could really do was pray. Pray for the many who are suffering… pray for our country… pray for wisdom on how to help from an area as remote as Los Angeles.

I also decided it was a morning that needed a pick-me-up. An incredible cup of coffee (from our new french press), the Hamilton Mixtape playing on Spotify, and this new, unbelievable recipe for home-made banana bread.

If you’re in need of a pick-me-up too, I’d highly recommend doing what I suggested above^^. Pray, pray, pray. Give thanks. And maybe try some self-care (in the form of baking to Hamilton music).

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BEST EVER BANANA BREAD

INGREDIENTS

  • 1cup butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3-4 bananas, finely crushed
  • 1 1cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.
  3. Add eggs and crushed bananas.
  4. Combine well.
  5. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon and salt. Add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla.
  6. Mix just until combined. Do not overmix.
  7. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
  9. Keeps well in an airtight container, refrigerated.

**I would highly suggest serving alongside an incredible cup of coffee and some fresh, home-made whipped cream 🙂 

Chocolatey Almond Oatmeal

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I’ve been looking for a quality oatmeal recipe that all 3 Kwok’s would love and I think I found it. This serves about 3 people and whatever you have left can easily be stored for the following morning.

When I made this, I sort of just threw things together. And then as I began to write out the recipe for you all, I had to “guess-timate” measurements (for the last 5 ingredients), so I hope those portions are accurate! Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with this. It was delicious and full of protein (note: milk, oats, almond butter). As you can see, I’ve been getting a kick out of my almond butter. If anyone knows of a place that sells it cheaper than $7/jar let me know 🙂

ENJOY!

Chocolatey Almond Oatmeal

Ingredients

  • 2 C whole milk (or any kind of milk)
  • 1.5 C rolled oats
  • 3 tsp brown sugar
  • 4 tsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 4 tsp almond butter
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • pinch (or two) of salt

Directions

  1. Pour milk into a small or medium pot, place over stove & put on med/high heat.
  2. When milk starts to bubble, turn heat down to low and add the rolled oats, stirring frequently so that milk & oats don’t burn.
  3. When oatmeal is ready (you can tell because the milk will be mostly absorbed), remove from heat.
  4. Stir in brown sugar, almond butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt until incorporated.**remember that cinnamon is strong and you don’t want to add too much or else it becomes over-powering… I don’t know what ‘a dash’ is numerically, but it felt like the most accurate wording. Just add a little at a time.

 

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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It’s been a while since I posted anything (especially a recipe), but I made these tonight and couldn’t not share. Absolutely love these cookies. I loved them because 1) they have almond butter in them, 2) they taste awesome and 3) they’re a healthier alternative to standard chocolate chip cookies. They’re flour-less and only have 6 ingredients. No butter & only half a cup of brown sugar. Already had 3 and refraining from eating anymore. The only downside is that they come out a little crumbly… I still loved the taste, texture and softness. The crumbliness only made it a tiny bit more difficult to eat. Otherwise… two thumbs up 🙂

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Flourless)

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup (250g) almond butter (I did 1/2 C almond butter, 1/2 C peanut butter)
  • 1/2 cup (90g) light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (190g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

 Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until beaten. Mix in the almond butter, then the brown sugar, baking soda, and vanilla. Mix everything together very well. Fold in the chocolate chips until combined.
  3. Scoop the dough onto prepared baking sheet, about 1 TBS per scoop.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes. The cookies will look very soft– that’s ok! For crispier cookies, bake up to 11-12 minutes.
  5. Allow the cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cover leftover cookies tightly and store at room temperature for up to 7 days.
  6. Make ahead tip: Cookies freeze well up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

slightly adapted from http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014/01/03/almond-butter-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Happy Things ( June 2016)

It’s been over a year since I’ve made a ‘Happy Things’ post. And now felt like an appropriate time, because this pregnancy has been exhausting

**I will lay out the disclaimer that I am VERY excited to have another baby, grow our family and I feel incredibly blessed to be pregnant.**

However, this all does not change the fact that I constantly feel like I’m going to topple over from sheer exhaustion. I am actually quite amazed at how different two pregnancies can be. I’m getting bigger much more quickly. I have a job and a toddler (unlike last time). And my hormones are all over the place (actually, much like last time).

The good news is, there have been plenty of little things that have kept me going (besides wonderful family & friends). Little “twinkles of joy”, I’ll call them. Happy things. And here they are 🙂

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  • “Bread & Wine” by Shauna Niequist
    A book I had been meaning to read for a long time… it contains everything I love: God, mommy stories & food. Shauna Niequist essentially writes about her life and how most of her relationships are made ‘around the table’ where people gather for food & drinks… you eat with those you love. And she’s added in a recipe at the end of every chapter. I’ve already made 3 of them (Chocolate Mousse, Enchiladas, & Gaia Cookies). All have been amazing (although the Chocolate mousse is certainly the best AND easiest… will be posting that recipe soon).

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Our 4th of July Feast… Guess Niequist is right about food being a gathering place 🙂

  • Babyganics mineral-based sunscreen
    I’ve been lathering up Joshua’s face with this stuff.
    Confession: My bad mommy habit is that for the past couple years, I’ve done a pretty poor job at using sunscreen on Josh. It’s mostly b/c Nick & I never wear it (people with medium to dark skin tones don’t typically burn easy). So I always forget to put some on Josh & then feel awful. But I finally bought a big tube of Babyganics sunscreen and feel really great about this purchase 🙂
  • I got a Kindle!
    For my birthday! From my hubby! He was just asking me why I haven’t blogged about my Kindle yet… well here it is 🙂 I’ve only read one book on it so far (“Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell… so so good). I tend to read way faster on the kindle for some reason. And I love the I can hold josh in the rocking chair and read at the same time. This is going to be PERFECT for when baby #2 comes and I’ll need something light to hold & keep me entertained while I’m nursing. Definitely a top notch birthday gift.
  • My 27th Birthday
    Something I love about my birthday is that my husband loves my birthday… he doesn’t necessarily care about his own birthday… but he certainly loves mine. And I feel very blessed by this 🙂 It may be because he knows I feel super loved when I’m celebrated. But in any case, he went out of his way to make my birthday extra special. I am certainly looking forward to year 27.
  • Korean BBQ for Father’s Day
    We’ve come to the realization that celebrating Nick means going out to KBBQ. It’s definitely one of our favorite foods to eat & something we consider a treat. We had AYCE at “Road to Seoul” in Koreatown and it was amazing ($20 per person and kids under 3 eat for free!) Can’t wait for another reason to celebrate my hubby and go again 🙂
  • Saturday morning at the Grove
    My favorite time to go is bright and early Saturday morning: it’s mostly empty and Barnes & Noble opens before all the other stores. I took Josh on Saturday morning and we both had a blast. Maybe we’ll make this routine.
  • Small Group leading
    My husband and I began hosting a summer ‘small group’ through church that I lead with a friend. We’ve absolutely loved having people over & studying scripture together with a group. It’s been so life-giving in many different ways.
  • Mendocino Farms
    Nick & I tried this for the FIRST TIME this weekend with his family and our minds were absolutely blown. We all got something different & tried a little bit of each. Our favorites were certainly the “Proscuitto & Free Range Chicken” & the “Kurobuta Pork Belly Bahn Mi”. The Proscuitto one (which I ordered of course) tasted exactly like Italy. It took me straight back to when I was living in Florence six summers ago. After I took my first bite, I looked at Nick and said, “This is literally everything I want in a sandwich.” And it’s true. Nick agreed it was amazing. The Bahn Mi was also ridiculous. I couldn’t get enough of either. Go get ’em.

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My ‘tastes like Italy’ sandwich. heaven.

Healthy Bars: Choco Chia & Choco Crunch

I’ve been trying out healthier recipes recently for two reasons:

  1. My sweet tooth is seriously out of control and I’m desperate for recipes that cut either fat, sugar or both.
  2. I decided to try a VBAC for my next delivery! It’s not totally related, but I want to be as healthy as possible for it… along with kicking up my exercise routine, I definitely need to adjust my eating habits. And I’ll start with my desserts.

Here are, not one, but TWO new recipes I’ve discovered that I already love and feel good about eating. A quick gist:

Choco & PB Chia Bars (on the left): healthy little bars with a ton of protein (note, PB & chia seeds). You can make these as you wish. There is no sugar in these… just dates are used to sweeten it 🙂

Vegan Choco Crunch Bars (on the right): These are like little chocolate bars that taste kind of like a crunch bar. The sweetener used in these is maple syrup & the fat used is coconut oil (great substitutes)!

ENJOY 🙂

Choco & PB Chia Bars

  • 1 cup pitted, whole dates (about 9-10)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp peanut butter (I used crunchy)
  • 1/4 cup peanuts (or any nuts & dried fruit… I would suggest trying with raisons, dried cranberries, or even chocolate chips to add some yum)
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  1. Add all ingredients to food processor and process until the ingredients break down and become a mostly cohesive mixture. You will still have little pieces of peanuts remaining, and the consistency of the mixture should hold together when you press it together.
  2. Line a rimmed dish with parchment paper and press mixture into it, leaving your desired thickness. I used only about half of an 8″ x 8″ baking dish as I didn’t have a smaller dish available.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before slicing. Store bars in the refrigerator.

recipe slightly adapted from: http://www..com/2016/03/15/chocolate-peanut-butter-chia-bars/

Vegan Choco Crunch Bars

  • 1/3 cup of cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup of coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of rice cereal
  • pinch of salt
  1. Melt coconut oil with cacao powder in small saucepan on low heat.  Add maple syrup, vanilla, and a pinch of salt and mix well.
  2. In a bowl, mix rice cereal and chocolate mixture so rice cereal is completely covered and mixed well.
  3. Line a 9X5 bread pan with parchment paper.  Pour in rice cereal and chocolate mixture.  Level into a even layer.
  4. Place in freezer for 15 minutes until completely set.
  5. Lift parchment paper out of pan and separate the bar from paper.  Cut into bars and enjoy!  Keep in freezer so chocolate stays set.

recipe slightly adapted from: http://www.servedfromscratch.com/chocolate-crunch-bars-vegan/

 

New Trader Joe’s Finds

My most recent Trader Joe’s finds:

Hi all! So when it comes to food, I only shop at Trader Joe’s… and for those of you that don’t know, there are some pretty incredible items that have the potential of flying under your radar if you don’t look carefully. Here are my most recent finds/loves at our beloved Trader Joe’s.

For dinner:
Spelt Rissotto (with added turkey bacon)

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I’ve been making this one for a while but only recently have I appreciated how great it is. I cook it as the package directs and then cook 3 strips of TJ’s uncured peppered turkey bacon on the side, chop it up and throw it in. Voila! Please try it!

For side dish:
Brussels Sprouts (with added turkey bacon)

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I can’t not share this recipe with you. The TJ’s item I’m referring to is simply a bag of brussels sprouts. But you need the whole recipe. I made this the other night (swapping butter for olive oil and omitting the onions). It was… amazing. And the trader joe’s packaged Brussel sprouts come in the perfect sized bag. Here it is:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sunny-anderson/pan-roasted-brussels-sprouts-with-bacon-recipe.html

For my sweet tooth:
Pound Plus Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds

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My only caution is to try and not eat this all in one sitting. It’s baker’s chocolate technically, but seriously tastes like a dream. My perfect dessert (add a glass of red wine if you will).

For the kiddo:
Organic Animal Crackers

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ORGANIC animal crackers. Josh is obsessed with these. And I let the whole organic thing win me over, so I give these to him as a snack or dessert.

For a drink:
Spindrift Seltzer with raspberries and lime

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I don’t let myself drink soda, so this is the perfect substitute. For all you soda drinkers, just a warning that this isn’t super sweet, so don’t expect it to be. But it has more of a kick than regular sparkling water AND they use real raspberries & lime!

For my cheese & crackers craving:
Toscano Cheese with Black Pepper

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Definitely my favorite cheese at TJ’s (& trust me, I have tried A LOT of their cheese). This one is perfect and goes great with crackers & prosciutto.

A couple things I didn’t like:

Sweet Plantain Chips

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH REGULAR THEIR PLANTAIN CHIPS. They have these new ones that are bigger and called SWEET plantain chips. Maybe my expectations were high… but I just think they’re nothing compared to the other ones.

Cornbread Mix

I used this for this awesome recipe I have where I cover cornbread with Mexican chicken & vegetables mixture and top it with cheese… Nick & both agreed that everything about this meal was perfect except the cornbread from TJ’s is not so good. They put little pieces of corn in it that taste like inedible rubber. I will definitely make my own cornbread next time.

 

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

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So normally I take an excessive & unnecessarily large amount of photos so that I can pick the best one later… I literally took two this time and just started eating. I was so so so hungry and this grilled cheese is SO good.

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I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m pretty sure I have mastered the perfect grilled cheese. It is the perfect lunch (minus the fact that there are no vegetables involved).

Nick loves it. Josh loves it. I’m not sure I could do without it… here are some tips on crafting your own 🙂

The Perfect Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:

  • seeded sourdough sliced bread (from Trader Joe’s)
  • Monterey Jack Cheese (or any cheese…. also from Trader Joe’s)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 TBS butter
  • prosciutto (optional)
  • smoked Tabasco (optional)

Directions:

  1. Melt the butter in a small skillet over the stove on med-high.
  2. Place first slice of bread down onto the skillet.
  3. Layer Monterey Jack cheese slices on top of the first slice of bread.
  4. Put the final slice of bread on top of the cheese.
  5. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top of the bread.
  6. Check to see if the bottom is getting toasty (or if the cheese inside is getting melty). When ready, flip the grilled cheese over and allow the other side to get crisp.
  7. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top of the other side… now warm & toasty.
  8. Flip it one more time to get the cheese nice & crispy.
  9. Put it on a plate. Add the prosciutto inside & smoked tabasco on top if you wish.

I hope that makes sense! It felt really difficult to explain… feel free to ask specifics!

ENJOY 🙂

Homemade Mac & Cheese

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This is the second time I made Mac ‘n Cheese from scratch. The first time I made it (using a different recipe), it came out awful. This one was AMAZING.

A few thoughts:

  1. I already had all the ingredients in my pantry… SCORE!
  2. It was so so SO easy to make.
  3. It tasted delicious.
  4. I’m sure there are ways to make it even TASTIER. But it’s delicious as is.

Here’s the recipe I found and tweaked slightly. Some notes & additions I would make:
**Buy a block of cheddar cheese & shred it, so that it’s fresh
**Cook bacon, chop it up & throw it in (at the end)
**With the bacon, add frozen peas (to bring in a vegetable component)
**For a personal kick, add hot sauce (to your own, individual bowl, not the whole pot)

Enjoy!

Homemade Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz uncooked Macaroni
  • 3 tbsp Butter
  • 3 tbsp Flour
  • 1 1/2 cup Milk
  • 2 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Cook macaroni in boiling water until tender.
  • Transfer macaroni to colander to drain and set aside.
  • Melt butter in pan and add flour.
  • Cook over low heat for about 2 minutes stirring constantly to make a roux.
  • Gradually add in a milk, whisking until smooth.
  • Cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly until you reach desired consistency.
  • Add in shredded cheddar cheese and stir until the melted and smooth.
  • Add drained macaroni to sauce and stir until coated.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Slightly adapted from: http://cincyshopper.com/easy-stovetop-mac-cheese/

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

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You guys these are so friggin’ good. SO good. A few things:

  1. This is all from scratch. If you bake things sporadically, my guess is you have a majority of these items in your pantry already.
  2. I’ve been watching too much cupcake wars.
  3. I think I can give Sprinkles a run for their money with these cupcakes.
  4. Even without the frosting, the cupcakes are bomb dot com.
  5. Make sure you have a place to bring them or else you’ll eat them all.

This is me, letting myself eat something unhealthy.

I’m usually a health nut… I nearly died last week when we left Josh with family and they gave him McDonalds. They said “He scarfed it down so fast, it was crazy!” and I was like, “yeah, probably because he’s never had anything like it.” So when I made these, I sort of felt bad for him. He started crying because I ate one of these in front of him while I forced him to eat his green beans. But you know what… I think I’ll let him have one of these cupcakes for dessert tonight.

This is how good they are. They take the health nut out of me.

Enjoy, y’all 🙂

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting:

Yields: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C cocoa powder
  • 1/2 C plain yogurt
  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C freshly brewed hot coffee

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 1/3 C butter (softened)
  • 1/3 C peanut butter
  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • splash of milk

Directions

Cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pans, filling about 3/4 of the way to the top. Place in oven for 12-14 minutes or until you can stick a fork or toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
  5. After trays have cooled slightly, remove cupcakes and place them on a cooling rack.

Frosting:

  1. Place butter & peanut butter in a large bowl. With an electric mixer on low, beat together until thoroughly mixed.
  2. Add powdered sugar and a splash of milk and continue mixing with the electric mixer on low until thoroughly combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down sides of the bowl. Add more milk if needed to get the desired consistency.
  3. Pour frosting into Ziplock bag, cut a tiny hole in the corner and squeeze onto cupcakes.

Cupcake Recipe adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beattys-chocolate-cake-recipe.html?oc=linkback