Sweet Potato & Banana Muffins with Pecans

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These muffins are the healthy version of funfetti. The inside is studded with bits of sweet potato, banana, and pecan. In addition, these are low in fat and made partially with whole-wheat flour. They’re not too sugary, but the natural flavors of the ingredients make them sweet enough for dessert. The pecan-brown sugar topping helps with that, too.

I tend to make heavier, filling baked goods that I can eat for breakfast or as a energy boost before a bike ride. These muffins are dense, but they also rise high during baking. They’re moist, but not mushy like some produce-filled cakes can be. I’m really happy with the texture and was pleased to bring these to a family Easter celebration as a healthy dessert.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 2 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat white flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp chopped pecans
FOR THE TOPPING:
  • 3 tbsp pecans
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Place them on a plate lined with paper towel and poke holes in them with a fork. Microwave on high for 6 minutes; then flip and microwave for another 7 minutes. Let the potatoes cool for 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the bananas, brown sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, and cinnamon.
  4. Peel the potatoes and discard the skins (as shown here). Mash the flesh and add it (about 3/4 cup of mashed potato) to the wet ingredients. Use a fork to break up the potatoes and bananas as well as possible.
  5. Stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined. Fold in the pecans.
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  7. In a mini chop, pulse the pecans and brown sugar about 10 times, until the mixture is uniform.
  8. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the batter into 12 paper-lined muffin tins. Sprinkle each cup with the pecan-sugar topping.
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  10. Bake the muffins for 18 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out nearly clean. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Makes 12. Active time 30 minutes; total time 50 minutes. Adapted from http://www.justapinch.com/recipes/side/potatoes/sweet-potato-banana-bread.html

Simple Sauteed Chard

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This recipe is an easy way to get greens into your diet—and it’s delicious! Chard is my favorite green because it tastes buttery when cooked. I use the red or rainbow variety because the colors are pretty, but the white stems taste just as good.

Chard leaves are deep green with veins that thicken as they approach the stem. Before you start cooking, separate the stems and leaves, as the stems take longer to cook. The red stems smell like beets when they hit the pan and start to sizzle! I usually cover the pan once I add the leaves, and the steam helps them to wilt quickly.

Chard has enough flavor to be eaten plain, but I wanted to jazz it up to serve to guests. The lemon-infused olive oil did the trick; lemon zest would work, too. I served this with chicken and mashed potatoes, but it also works as a bed for fish or even as a side for eggs. If you have leftovers, stir them into pasta or soup.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Swiss chard (a large bunch)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon olive oil (or 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp lemon zest)
  • 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
  • salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Separate the chard stems from leaves. Rinse everything and dry very well in a salad spinner. Cut the stems into 1-inch pieces, and cut the leaves into 1-inch strips. IMG_5393
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Add the chard stems and saute for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
  3. Add the leaves and cover the pan. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leaves wilt.
  4. Add the lemon oil, vinegar, and salt. Cook for another 2 minutes on low and serve.

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Serves 2 to 3. Active time 20 minutes; total time 25 minutes. Adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sauteed-swiss-chard-recipe.html

Baked Herb Tilapia

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Tilapia is an inexpensive fish that’s easy to prepare, and its mild flavor is a blank slate. Shake on a few spices, put it in the oven for 15 minutes, and you’re done! I served this to dinner guests with sauteed vegetables and a mashed squash-potato mix.

I’ve been trying to incorporate more fish into my diet, and this recipe is foolproof. Buy a bunch of fillets when they’re on sale, freeze them in zip-top bags, and pull one out the night before you want to bake it. I used Italian herbs here, but cumin, ginger, or coriander would also be wonderful.

INGREDIENTS

  • olive oil spray
  • 2 tilapia fillets
  • dried basil
  • dried oregano
  • dried thyme
  • sea salt

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DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and cover with olive oil spray.
  2. Place the fish on the baking sheet and cover with olive oil spray. Sprinkle with the herbs and salt.
  3. Bake for 15 minutes for 1 to 4 fillets. For more than 4 fillets, add an additional 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time, until the fish is opaque throughout.

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Serves 2. Active time 10 minutes; total time 25 to 30 minutes.

 

Maple-Ginger Popcorn Balls (The Leftovers Club)

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This recipe got me excited to tap into my jar of popcorn kernels. Sugary popcorn is the ideal treat for my heartburn-prone stomach: low in fat and full of surprising textures. These popcorn balls are so sweet and unusual.

This was was my first attempt at making popcorn on the stove, and wow—it’s easy! Using this method, I counted only five unpopped kernels, and nothing burned. I suspect that this is the first of many popcorn experiments.

I chose these for The Leftovers Club because they seemed unlikely to spoil. Unfortunately, Shaina of Take a Bite out of Boca reported that they were stale upon arrival in Florida—so be sure to eat them soon after baking. If you like to bake and share goodies (like Shaina’s excellent carrot-zucchini bread), check out the site and consider joining The Leftovers Club.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds (or toast raw almond slices in a pan over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, shaking frequently, until they turn golden brown)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Place the oil in a large nonstick pot and heat over medium for 3 minutes. Add the popcorn kernels and cover. When the corn begins to pop, shake the pot often to prevent burning. In about 10 to 12 minutes, when the pops become infrequent, remove the pan from heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the syrup, honey, water, and salt in a small pan, stirring constantly until it becomes a thin liquid–about 4 minutes. IMG_5407
  3. Combine the ginger and almonds in a large bowl. Add the popcorn, removing any kernels that didn’t pop.
  4. Pour the syrup mixture over the popcorn and stir thoroughly, being sure to get all of the good stuff from the bottom of the bowl. Place the mixture in fridge for 15 minutes to harden slightly. IMG_5408
  5. Wet your hands and form the popcorn mixture into 12 balls, pressing very firmly between your palms to ensure that they won’t fall apart.
  6. Store the balls between parchment paper in an airtight container. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.

Makes 12. Active time 30 minutes; total time 45 minutes. Adapted from http://www.ahouseinthehills.com/ahouseinthehills/2013/4/3/mango-popcorn-balls.html

Pumpkin & White Bean Bisque

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Spring has sprung, according to the calendar, but in New England that’s a technicality. Mornings, evenings, and sometimes days are chilly, and a hot bowl of soup is as welcome as it was in the winter. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for months, and based on the forecast, I didn’t have to rush to get it in ahead of warmer weather.

This soup has the silkiest texture. It’s the only soup I’ve made that I would call a bisque! The combination of pumpkin, pureed beans, and milk is so smooth and feels professionally crafted. I chose to spice it with sage, thyme, and onion powder; cumin or basil would also be interesting. Either way, you can make this soup a bit richer by adding a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese to each bowl.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 15.5-oz can white beans
  • 1 15-oz can pumpkin
  • 3/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 3/4 cup 1% milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander

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DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the sage and thyme and simmer for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the stock, beans, pumpkin, and onion powder. Raise the heat until the soup comes to a bubble, and then put it back to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and parsley. Remove the pot from heat and puree the soup well with an immersion blender. IMG_5417
  4. Return the pot to low heat. Add the milk, vinegar, and coriander; stir and heat through. Serve topped with parsley and more salt to taste.

Serves 4. Active time 20 minutes; total time 30 minutes. Adapted from http://joanne-eatswellwithothers.com/2013/11/pumpkin-and-white-bean-bisque-with-sage-pesto-and-dill-rolls.html