Monday, December 31, 2012

Low Fat Zucchini Brownies

Happy New Year’s Eve! Time to make resolutions...so what is it this year? Spend more time with family? Get in shape? Eat healthier?

Maybe I can help you with that last one. See, I finally got around to baking again, since it’s the final week of break. My mom had already made cookies, my dad had opened a package of Oreos (yes, this is how things usually are in our house), so I decided, why not brownies? Zucchini brownies, that is!

Here’s what you need (original recipe from SparkRecipes):

  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 2 small or medium bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups finely shredded zucchini (ours was basically mashed)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup walnuts (we omitted these)

Start out by greasing and powdering a 9x13-inch pan. Then you probably want to prepare the ingredients, i.e. shred the zucchini and mash the bananas. That way you can just dump it in and stir without having to leave the batter for long periods of time, because the zucchini really does take a while. We used an electric food processor; grating it by hand would be very time-consuming.

Anyway, I did an amazing job mashing the banana:


Add the applesauce and sugar to that, and mix it up. Add vanilla and cocoa and mix again, and then add the baking soda, salt, and zucchini. Again, it helps if the zucchini is already shredded so you don’t have a bunch of applesauce and banana and whatnot sitting around while you do it.

Last is the 2 cups of flour, and the walnuts if you want them. Which we didn’t (nor did we have walnuts). At this point it does look something like brownie batter.


Pour it into the pan...


...and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.


Here’s what it looked like when it came out. They really do look like brownies, though close up there are green chunks...and what you can’t see is that the middle is still liquid. Which we discovered several hours later when my dad went for a taste.

This pan of “brownies” did get baked for 25 minutes. Twice. Finally we just decided if they weren’t done yet, they never would be. I haven’t eaten one yet today, but last night they were still slightly mushy in the middle, although the edges were good. They seem to have gotten a better texture overnight, so we’ll see. They work fairly well with whipped cream, I may try chocolate sauce next time. (Note: this is the first time in my life that I
’ve ever chosen an edge piece over an inside piece!)


I won’t lie...they’re not going to fool anyone into thinking they’re real brownies. I can definitely taste the bananas, and the texture is off. Maybe it’s just because it was still warm and slightly mushy, but it actually got me thinking is mushed bananas with a chocolate twist. I couldn’t really taste the zucchini, but these definitely remind me of zucchini bread. Which is OK because I like zucchini bread, but not what I’m going for when I want a brownie!

Oh, well. I guess I should have known they wouldn’t be real brownies...you can’t always win! But if you’re the zucchini type or the healthy-dessert type, these might be right up your alley. They
’re actually pretty good in their own right. Just make sure they’re fully cooked, unless you’re the drink-your-dessert type. ;)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gimme S'more (An Ice Cream Review)

I’m afraid it’s becoming shamefully obvious that I just can’t stay away from Ben & Jerry’s, no matter how many other brands I try instead. They are truly my heros, especially after their ingenious invention of Phish Food Froyo, which has become my most beloved flavor. It’s the marshmallow swirl that does it for me, but I also adore those little fudge fishies....

So S’mores seemed like an obvious choice when I finally found it at Giant yesterday. According to the label, it has all that and more:

“Chocolate Ice Cream with Fudge Chunks, Toasted Marshmallow & Graham Cracker Swirls”
Not just marshmallow swirls, toasted marshmallow swirls. I remember liking the toasted marshmallow in Rocky Road-ish and wishing it was mixed with something other than almonds--well, here it is. Plus, the fudge chunks could play the role of the fudge fish, and we’d have a toasty variation of Phish Food plus some graham crackers.


Wow, as usual Ben and Jerry aren’t shorting us on the mix-ins. Believe it or not, that peanut butter-looking thing is the toasted marshmallow swirl. If there’s one thing they did wrong here it’s making the marshmallow swirl that color, because it looks too much like graham cracker and, to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two swirls at first. They look almost exactly the same, only the graham cracker swirl has a gritty texture and is relatively infrequent, while the marshmallow is gooey and everywhere.


There are also quite a few fair-sized fudge pieces, though nowhere near the size of my little fishy friends.


Like I said, the marshmallow is extra-gooey. It makes the ice cream even creamier, which I thought was pretty awesome since Ben & Jerry’s chocolate tends to be harder to scoop than its lighter-colored bases (vanilla, cake batter, pretty much anything non-chocolate. The same thing happens with Phish Food).

OK, first off, I recommend letting this sit out a bit until it gets a little melty, because then you can truly enjoy the creamy richness that is B&J’s chocolate ice cream. If you’re that patient. ;) But you won’t be disappointed either way, because it’s the best chocolate base I’ve ever had (as with all B&J’s chocolate bases). It’s weird, but with this flavor I almost got a brownie batter vibe with the first bite. It went away, though, so I think my taste buds were a little skewed at first.

The fudge chunks are more what I’d consider flakes, and I do wish they were bigger, but at the same time they still lend a fudgy factor to the already chocolatey bliss. Not the extra-deep tones from the Phish Food fish, but they hold their own nonetheless.

The toasted marshmallow swirl is everything I could ask for: fluffy, gooey, oozing, and sweet. It was muted a bit by the chocolate ice cream, but its sheer prevalence made it impossible to ignore. The graham cracker swirl is a lot harder to find, and I’m afraid anyone who loves that part of a real s’more will be slightly disappointed. I was halfway through my bowl, thinking I was mistaking marshmallow for graham cracker, before I finally found the elusive final element. Some of the graham crackers are still crunchy--an amazing feat in itself, given the fact that it’s surrounded by creamy melting ice cream--while some were softer, almost like they’d been soaked in milk (think Oreos). These ones give the ice cream some extra chew, which was a cool contrast to the hard crunch of the frozen chocolate flakes. They add an interesting sweet note to the deep chocolate ice cream and, I found, are best enjoyed sans marshmallow (they get overpowered). Since I like like marshmallow swirl so much, I’m not too sad that the graham cracker was so rare.

So, although it could use some bigger chunks and more graham crackers to really be a testament to s’mores, this pint really hits the spot for me. It gets slammed a lot in online reviews, but in all honesty I like it better than classic flavors like Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Cookie Dough, just because it’s so unusual. But it still doesn’t touch Phish Food.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Promax Nutty Butter Crisp Energy Bar

I know I said I was going to try out new recipes this break, but a crisis of energy (and time) found me reduced to making Nestle Break & Bake brownie bites from Halloween last night...so, instead, here’s a review for you all. Hopefully I can get back into the kitchen soon, while I still have some time.

OK, so remember the day our Trader Joe’s opened? And I experienced the euphoria of a protein bar lover discovering new brands and flavors never before seen (at least to me) in State College? Well, that’s when I stumbled upon Promax protein/energy bars, including this Nutty Butter Crisp bar that sounded so intriguing.


Uh oh, the chocolate coating has a whitish tinge to it...too long in a now-cold basement? Perhaps, in which case any textural issues may be my fault. They’re not real specific about this bar, but I’m guessing (or hoping) that “Nutty Butter” translates into “peanut butter,” and my hopes are bolstered as soon as I open the package, because this thing smells like peanut butter. It also gave me a bit of a stiff chocolate aroma, which might also indicate some aging.


Inside, it’s a light peanut butter color, and breaking was more like...pulling it apart. It was very gummy, so I’m not sure what to expect from the texture. So far it doesn’t promise much “crisp.”

All right, first off: This is peanut butter candy. I mean it. No funny tastes at all, in fact it tastes like a Butterfinger knockoff (Clark Bar, maybe?) The taste is close but not quite; peanut butter but, like I said, candy peanut butter, not out-of-the-jar peanut butter. The chocolate coating didn’t taste funny at all, maybe not as sweet as milk chocolate candy, but more like dark chocolate. In other words: me likey! ;)

And the  texture, while not ideal, isn’t that unpleasant either. Yes, it’s gummy. Yes, the first couple of chews (and getting the initial chunk off the bar) are a little difficult. But it softens up in your mouth, and there’s a grit to it that I would even hazard to call “crisp,” though it’s VERY subtle (think microscopic rice crispies). It’s a minor player, but you’ll notice it and it really makes this bar great. It’s even  a bit juicy, which adds flavor.

If you want a Butterfingers but don’t want to reach into the candy jar, this is your bar. Well, a chewy Butterfingers. But nonetheless, it totally satisfied my peanut butter cravings, and  that’s saying something! The 20 grams of protein is just an added bonus.

Taste: 9.5--pretty much a Butterfingers.
Texture: 8--chewy and a little tough, but maybe a fresher bar would be better. Even so, I liked it.
Health: 6.5--it has 26 grams of sugar, which may be why it tastes so good.
Eat Again? Yes!


Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Oh Yeah! Peanut Butter & Caramel Bar

Well, after my previous dismal Oh Yeah! experience (which I suspect was mostly my fault), I finally got up the courage to pull another flavor out of my stash. I’ll admit I had to convince myself that I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, letting this Peanut Butter & Caramel bar age and turn yucky like the last one.


This time, it better be good because this is no sample bar! It’s one of those huge ones bodybuilders use as meal replacements (sorry, I still can’t call this a “snack”), completely dwarfing my beloved Quest bar.


It has a nice peanut butter coating and slightly ugly-looking peanut-shaped things under the surface (I learned with the Cookie Caramel Crunch that they’re not necessarily peanuts). And it certainly smells like peanut butter, so we’re off to a promising if not aesthetically pleasing start.


Hmm...that’s interesting. It seems to be solely made up of a chocolate-looking protein base. Upon closer inspection (i.e., when I actually bit into it and looked really closely), there is a caramel layer just inside the coating, but it’s nothing like the candy-quality gooey caramel in other bars. In fact, this thing looks like beef jerky wrapped in peanut butter coating.

Oh man, that just killed my vegetarian appetite.

The good news is it tastes better than it looks. I can verify that this time those lumps are peanuts, since that’s the first ingredient listed. They provide a good but not overpowering peanut vibe. The caramel taste is just as subtle as it looks, almost nonexistent, but there is a sweet note that I don’t think is coming from the coating. Likewise with the peanut butter: there’s some in there, but the overall tone of this bar is more peanut than anything else. The ends were the best part, having more coating and consequently more peanut butter/caramel taste. The coating is the star here.

As for the base, there’s room for improvement. It snaps when you break or bite into it, yet it’s also chewy. This is such an odd combination that I don’t know what to make of it, but I could do with something a little softer and easier to chew. It’s also, as far as I can tell, pretty flavorless. On the plus side, that means no protein taste, but I think a little more peanut butter flavor in the base would improve the overall experience a lot.

The only other real complaint I have is the mess that results when the coating chips off, and  you’ve got peanut chunks in your lap or on your table or long gone on the sidewalk as you eat this on the way to class. So I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

Taste: 7--not much peanut butter or caramel; mostly just peanuts.
Texture: 7--the base could be softer and the coating less messy, but the peanuts give a nice crunch.
Health: 7.5--watch the fat and sugar; there are more carbs than protein (and it does use soy isolate in addition to whey).
Eat Again? Probably not.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

When Winter Happens

One of the reasons I don’t like winter is that snow can really ruin your plans. We got a nice big storm yesterday that dumped about 6 inches of snow everywhere and proved to be too much for even our mighty snowplows. (Yes, that’s sarcasm you hear. Their priority is sleeping in, who cares if the roads are ski slopes?) By afternoon I couldn’t even make it the mile or so down the road to the barn. So our original plans to hit Olive Garden obviously weren’t going to happen, and we ended up hunkering down for a windy and snowy evening.

So I don’t have an Olive Garden post. Maybe next time.

But I do have an easy food craft for you. It’s part of the usual gift package we give to our neighbors, along with Tuesday’s peppermint and peanut butter bark. We actually made these the same day I made the cake batter fudge, so they really must not be hard.


Yep, chocolate covered pretzels (plus a random candy cane left over from the peppermint bark). Who doesn’t love that? OK, I’ll admit it...I don’t. But that’s not the point, these aren’t for me anyway. And besides, making something for the neighbors that I don’t like will ensure that the neighbors actually get their treats before I do. ;)

Like I said, these are easy. Just melt some of those chocolate discs in the microwave. We put ours in a cup to cover more of the pretzel.


Stick the pretzel in and use the spoon to coat as far up the pretzel as you want. Being chocolate lovers in our house, we covered most of the pretzel.


Put it on wax paper, apply sprinkles, and stick it in the fridge to harden. Voila!


I really hope our neighbors appreciate the Herculean effort we put into their food this year....

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fudge-Fetti

I’ve decided to get into baking a little bit over break. I really do love finding new recipes and trying them out, even if I make a huge mess out of the kitchen and burn the final product. Oh, well. We’ll see how many new things I can cram into the next few days before Penn State turns the thermostats up again and I have to go back to work.

Luckily my first experiment was a huge success. Not only is this delicious, it’s insanely easy. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it baking, since I never turned the oven on.


There are four ingredients. It requires no culinary skills whatsoever. It took me about 15 minutes, because I’m slow (and I was taking pictures). Easy as...cake batter fudge! I found the following recipe at Baked From a Box.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup cake mix (I used Funfetti; the original recipe calls for white cake mix, but I would love to experiment here)
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup milk
I used skim milk and halved the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I made that decision before I realized that measuring cups don’t have a mark for 1/8 cup. So I ended up eyeballing the milk. But it still turned out amazing, so no harm done.



Anyway, the first step is to throw the dry ingredients (sugar and cake mix) into a bowl that you feel safe putting in the microwave. You can mix them together a bit or not, it probably won’t really matter in the long run.


Add the rest of the ingredients, but don’t stir. The original recipe says that chopping the butter helps, but since I had half the butter, I didn’t feel the need.


Microwave for 2 minutes.


Mine came out bubbling! Stir it right away (i.e., don
’t stop and take a ton of pictures), because I found out that it hardens pretty fast and you won’t be able to pour it easily.



Then pour it into a greased pan. I used a small plastic container and lined it with aluminum foil (no grease) to make it easier to lift out and cut. To be honest, I could just eat the stuff right out of the microwave (if it wasn’t so hot!).


Refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before cutting. Then have at it!






Yum...Fudge-Fetti!



So pretty, and delicious too! Honestly, I don’t think there’s a need for any other kind of fudge. This takes the cake!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Barking Up the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas everyone!! I hope  you’re all enjoying a relaxing day, out of the cold. And of course getting into the holiday spirit with special recipes and whatnot. Because what says holidays like food?

Sadly, we still haven’t given our neighbors anything yet. Time to break out the candy canes for the old peppermint bark standby! But new this year, we tried peanut butter bark, too. I have to say, they both turned out thick and delicious. I also got a chance to try out the camera on my new iPad, so bear with me on my photography!

Peppermint Bark

The worst part of making peppermint bark is unwrapping the candy canes (or peppermint candies, or whatever you use). It makes for sticky fingers and cellophane wrappers sticking to everything via static electricity... and then you have to double-bag them in Ziploc baggies. The second bag its always a challenge.


But now for the fun part: you beat them up with the  handle of a butterknife. (I got this job :)) All your holiday aggressions disappear as you bang away, and then you can truly get in the spirit of the season!

Meanwhile, it helps to have someone melting chocolate. But if not, now’s the time to do it. We used milk chocolate wafers meant to be melted in the microwave.

Melted chocolate and crushed candy canes--the makings of peppermint bark!

Spread the chocolate on a foil-lined cookie sheet and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes, just to let it set a bit. If your candy canes aren’t pulverised enough yet, beat ‘em some more!


Then melt some white chocolate and stir in the candy canes...



...and pour it over the chocolate. Then spread it around.



Let that sit in the fridge until it’s hard, and then break it into uneven pieces. We used knives because it was so thick.
Just let it fracture where it wants to, and you have some beautfiul peppermint bark!


Don’t worry too much if the white and dark layers separate. Then you can just pick out the parts you like best. ;)
 


Peanut Butter Bark

I’ll skip the first few steps because it’s just  laying down the chocolate base like you did for the peppermint bark. Actually, the whole thing should just be a no-brainer of melting the peanut butter chips and spreading them on top, but after beating up the candy canes turned out to be so much fun, I started hunting around for something else to pound with my knife...


Turns out there are four brave soldiers left over from the last bag of Oreos we opened. They seemed perfectly willing to join the cause, so into the plastic bag they went!


Yum! Now pour that baby over the chocolate!



Again, let it sit until it’s hard, and then break it.


Hmm...the neighbors might not be getting all of this. ;)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Turkey Hill Chocolate Marshmallow Frozen Yogurt (An Ice Cream Review)

OK, remember the last time I bought Chocolate Marshmallow light ice cream? Yeah, it wasn’t quite the Phish Food substitute I’d been hoping for. And yet, when I saw this Turkey Hill Chocolate Marshmallow frozen yogurt at Wegmans, I couldn’t help hoping again.


I love the Baklava frozen Greek yogurt that’s out for a limited time, so I had slightly higher hopes for this one.


Which were answered when I opened the lid and saw a real, live, gooey puddle of marshmallow swirl staring me in the face! I dug straight into that swirl, and uncovered a wonderful, sticky mess just below the surface. Of course, there were placed where no marshmallow invaded the chocolate ice cream, but that’s how it should be; that’s why it’s called a swirl, after all.

For frozen yogurt, this stuff is exceptional. It was soft and easy to scoop (aided by the ever-present marshmallow), and at times there are literally strings of gooey swirl clinging to your spoon. It’s not icy at all.

It also gets an A for taste. It’s very sweet, even where there’s no marshmallow. The swirl is, surprisingly enough, pretty subtle considering its huge presence at times, but if you get a big enough glop, you will definitely get a super-sweet sugar blast. The base chocolate is rich and deep, and sweet in itself, so no complaints there.

The only thing this froyo is missing is the chocolate chunks, and then we’d have a Phish Food replica! But that’s a minor detail that I’m willing to overlook in favor of the healthier aspect of the Turkey Hill version. After all, if I want chocolate in there, how hard is it to open a bag of chocolate chips and dump some in the bowl?

I’ll give you this: Easier than it is to stop pouring. ;)


** One carton later: I liked this so much I bought another carton at Weis. Where the first one could have passed for well-made ice cream, the second is really icy, the marshmallow is a little thin, and it’s just overall not appealing. I’m not sure if Wegmans just does a better job of maintaining their frozen foods, or if I got a bum container this time...but, once I finish the one currently in my freezer, I’ll still probably buy another--from Wegmans--just to see. But that means I have to work up the motivation to finish the icy one. **

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quest Bar Giveaway!

Wow, life is crazy! But the semester is finally over, grades are in, and I’m officially a Math minor! The weekend has been a whirlwind of gatherings and social outings, so I’m enjoying some down time by doing absolutely nothing. So this is just a short post.

A post to give you the opportunity of your life.

OK, you know how much I love Quest. I am addicted to their bars. So much so that I recently upped my intake to two a day most days (not counting those peanut butter cups!), and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of them.

So here’s your chance.

Head on over to Running Diva Mom and enter the Quest bar giveaway. Trust me, you won’t regret it. These are possibly the best invention since ice cream. Or peanut butter. And that’s saying something. ;)

Now, click that link!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: GNC Pro Performance Deluxe Oatmeal Protein Bar Chocolate Chip

There are protein bars and then there are protein bricks. The Pro Performance Deluxe bars from GNC fall into the latter category. Seriously, you could build a house out of these things and no matter who huffed and puffed it wouldn’t blow down.

OK, that was a pretty stupid opening paragraph...but after so many reviews you start to run out of inspiration. And this Pro Performance Deluxe Chocolate Chip bar really it like a brick--it’s a rectangle, it’s tall, and it’s heavy.


It’s also very pretty with that nice chocolate drizzle on top!



You can see a couple of chocolate chips in inside, so all systems are go as far as containing the requisite parts.

Being an oatmeal-based bar with 30 grams of protein, I know it won’t actually taste like a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Still, it has a bit too much of a funky taste to make a passable imitation. You’ll definitely be acutely aware that you’re eating protein the whole time, there’s no way around it; it’s like like the Peanut Butter Caramel version. I think it’s a bland plain-oatmeal background taste, but I can’t be sure; the protein is probably also contributing. The icing and chocolate chips do add a chocolate component, but not quite enough to satisfy my chocolate cravings. :)

The texture is interesting--it’s solid to bite into, but softens up and kind of expands in your mouth and it really does feel like a chewy cookie after you start chewing. If you get past the initial resistance, the overall experience is pleasant, although it still has a subtle oatmeal texture. It’s not quite soft enough to pass for a real chocolate chip cookie, but it’s close. The chocolate chips add a crunch factor, which is a nice contrast.

As with anything microwaveable, I had to try heating this up. As the wrapper instructed, I stuck it in for 10 seconds (it was only about half the bar), and it did soften up a bit around the edges. The middle was still cool, although the chocolate drizzle was starting to melt and I ended up licking quite a bit of it off my fingers. The funky taste was not as obvious but still there; it was a little more like a cookie, but I’d say nuke it for longer and bear the drizzle-mess consequences. It even enhances the experience a bit for you just-out-of-the-oven aficionados. ;)

Overall, it wasn’t inedible, but I probably won’t try it again. I tend to eat these monster things as dessert-ish meals, and this just doesn’t pass the dessert-level threshold. I’d say stick with the Glazed Cinnamon Roll flavor.

Taste: 6--definitely a chocolate component, but the base it funky with a protein/bland oatmeal taste. Slightly better heated up.
Texture: 8--chewy with some  initial resistance and a slight oatmeal texture.
Health: 8--lots of protein...a little high-calorie for some people. I’d use it as a dessert replacement, but it doesn’t pass the taste criteria.
Eat Again? No.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Balance Bar S'mores

So a while ago I ran out of new Balance Bar flavors in State College, after reviewing four. I found a few in Virginia Beach (and, umm...still have one yet to try). And now that we have a Trader Joe’s, I have two more! One of them was S’more’s, from the Gold line, which, as opposed to the original line, features a third decadent layer (in this case, marshmallow).


Boring old chocolate coated nutrition bar...I have to say, after eating so many jumbo bars lately, this just seems so tiny.


On the inside we have what appears to be a crispy base with marshmallow fluff-type stuff on top. Unlike the marshmallow on the Pure Protein S’mores bar, it’s not gooey. It’s definitely soft, but it has more of a frosting or whipped texture.

While the Pure Protein version had a slight proteiny taste that was mostly covered up by the marshmallow, this one mainly tastes bitter. The protein base is really strong, and what flavor the marshmallow stuff has isn’t strong enough to overcome the overwhelming onslaught of protein-ness. Well, maybe there’s a hint of sweetness, but I’m not getting any graham cracker. The ends taste all right, mainly because they have more chocolate coating.

The previous Balance Bars I’ve had were always a dense, chewy base, whereas this one seems to be made of loosely-packed rice crisps. They’re sort of like a granola bar, but not as dense (and so not as satisfying). Maybe they were trying to simulate a graham cracker crunch? The marshmallow does add a creaminess to the mix, which is cool, but it would be cooler if I could taste it, too.

All in all, this was definitely a one-time purchase. I’d rather have the Pure Protein S’mores bar (which has more protein anyway), and even that one wasn’t one of my favorites. This bar ended up being a disappointment, to say the least.

Taste: 5--mostly bitter and proteiny; the marshmallow is underwhelming.
Texture: 9--crispy with a fun creamy component from the marshmallow.
Health: 8--it’s a good protein boost if you’re lacking, with (according to the website) low GI. GoodGuide gives this bar a 6.7 health score.
Eat Again? No.