Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cherries & Pecans

You can always come up with a good reason to bake cookies.

Stuck inside on a rainy day?  Need to cheer up a friend?  Want to break back into the blogosphere after a long hiatus?  All of the above?

There are a gazillion cookie recipes out there, but only a few are incredible; this is one of them.  I first tasted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cherries & Pecans made from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe about a week ago and promptly fell in love.  I made a few minor tweaks (replaced the butter with Greek yogurt, swapped the white flour for white whole wheat flour, and cut the sugar by using Splenda Brown Sugar Blend ) to produce this “healthified” version that has all the same flavor and texture that make the original oh so delectable.


I adore oatmeal cookies, but there is nothing more disappointing than biting into what you think is an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie to find that the “chocolate chips” are actually raisins!  Sigh.  Nothing against raisins, but they will never be chocolate.

This is an oatmeal cookie that does not skimp on the chocolate chips and takes it to the next level with chunks of dried cherries.  Chocolate covered cherry fans know that this combination will make your taste buds sing.  Thanks to the oats and pecans, the texture of the cookie is perfectly chewy.  Not too crunchy, not too cakey, just right.


So whether it’s because you signed up to bring dessert to an event or just because it’s Monday, you can surely find a reason to try these Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cherries & Pecans today!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cherries & Pecans
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

Yields: 24 cookies

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 cup dried cherries, chopped
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (OR 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar)
1/4 cup egg substitute (OR 1 large egg)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In one medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another medium bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, cherries, and chocolate chips.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the Greek yogurt and brown sugar on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; add egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix on low until just combined. Finally, stir in oats, pecans, cherries, and chocolate.

Roll the dough between your hands to form large rounds and place on cookie sheets. Lightly press the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Bake two trays of cookies at a time. After 12 minutes of baking, rotate trays top to bottom and front to back, and bake for another 5 minutes. Cookies should be golden brown but appear slightly underbaked.

Remove cookies from the oven and cool on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Servings: 24
Serving size: 1 cookie
Calories: 160
Fat: 6.2g
Carbs: 22.7g
Sugar: 7.2g
Fiber: 2.4g
Protein: 2.7g

Protein Power Waffles

Productive procrastination: doing tasks to keep busy while avoiding what one really needs to do.  Of this, I am the queen.

Some days, I am filled with the strong desire to clean every square inch of my apartment, do multiple loads of laundry and fold everything neatly, wash my car, and even organize old files on my computer. Sounds like an awesome use of my time, right?  The problem is that I only seem to muster the energy for such tasks when I actually need to be doing something else.

Right now, that “something else” happens to be studying for finals.

As the first module of grad school comes to a close, I find myself channeling my productive procrastination in the kitchen.  This is a good thing, since I have been noticeably absent from the blog since the first day of school in August.

My latest creation: Protein Power Waffles.

Protein Power Waffles

These came about for two reasons.  First, I wanted to create a breakfast recipe that would power me through dreaded finals week and that I could prepare ahead of time.  Second, Texas/OU weekend is upon us in Dallas, and I could think of no better way to signal my Texas pride than by putting my Texas Waffle Maker to use.

My Protein Power Waffles are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and packed with protein!  You only need one bowl to mix everything together, which makes clean-up a breeze.  My favorite part about these waffles (other than their shape) is that you can make them ahead of time, freeze them, and pop them in the toaster in the morning (or evening–I am never opposed to breakfast for dinner.)

Serve with a touch of butter and a drizzle of sugar-free syrup for a classic topping, or try a fun twist: banana + nut butter or Greek yogurt + berries. Use your imagination to dream up your favorite topping combination; that is productive procrastination at its finest.  There are so many ways to enjoy Protein Power Waffles — even if you are cheering for the Sooners this weekend.

Protein Power Waffles

Yields: 5 giant Texas-sized waffles

2 cups oat flour (Pulse oats in food processor or blender to make into a flour.)
3 scoops protein powder (I like StrongGirl Vanilla Ice Cream)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-4 Truvia packets (or equivalent sweetener of choice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unsweetend cashewmilk (Silk is my favorite)
1/2 cup egg substitute

Preheat waffle iron.  Pulse oats in food processor or blender to make into a flour.  In a large bowl, stir together oat flour, protein powder, flaxseed, baking powder, cinnamon, and sweetener.  Add in vanilla extract, cashewmilk, and egg substitute and mix together until just blended.  Allow the batter to sit for 5 minutes.  Cook on waffle iron in batches until golden brown.  Store leftovers in the freezer, and toss in the toaster to reheat!

Servings: 5
Serving Size: 1 waffle
Calories: 200
Fat: 3.8g
Saturated Fat: 0.3g
Carbs: 25g
Sugar: 0.7g
Fiber: 3.6g
Protein: 17.7g

Summer Pasta Salad

I like to keep my options open.

Example: I am a chronic overpacker. Who cares if I stuff so many clothes, shoes, and accessories into my trusty carry-on bag that I am unable to lift it into the overhead bin without the assistance of a kind stranger? At least I rest assured that while traveling, I will never be caught in a storm without an umbrella or have to turn down an invitation to a fancy dinner with the Duchess of Cambridge because I simply do not have anything proper to wear.

Okay, slight exaggeration. But the point about my Mary Poppins-style of packing is that I like to have options: a jacket in the event of an unanticipated cold front, an extra pair of heels for an unexpected night out, a swimsuit just in case…

You get the drift. Options.

I feel the same way about my recipes.

When I first started cooking, I was a strict recipe follower. Always adhering to the prescribed list of ingredients, measuring exactly, and never adjusting the cooking time, I played by the rules. Over time, I learned that the beauty of cooking lies in the ability to adapt traditional recipes and make them your own. Adding a little cinnamon to boost flavor, substituting the butter to cut back on fat, finding a way to incorporate more protein, throwing in some peanut butter or hot sauce because they make everything taste better — these are the tweaks that transform cooking from a science to an art.

This is why I absolutely adore this Summer Pasta Salad.

Summer Pasta Salad

First of all, the recipe is completely customizable. Going meatless? Forget the chicken. In the mood for Mediterranean? Add feta and crushed pita chips on top. Not a fan of balsamic? Switch up the dressing. Options abound!

After a summer of traveling (blog hiatus explained) including indulgent eats and a few extra glasses of wine, my body is craving only healthy and nutritious foods. This salad is a great way to get back on track while filling up on all the goodies: lean protein, fresh veggies, fiber-rich whole wheat pasta, and everyone’s favorite superfood: avocado!

If your style of cooking is anything like my style of packing, you will want to squeeze as much as possible into this salad to give you options with every bite. Try the recipe, enjoy the sweet freedom that having options brings, and let me know your personal twist on Summer Pasta Salad!

Summer Pasta Salad

Yields: 8 servings

3 cups whole wheat pasta, any shape (I used fusilli)
12 ounces cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 small cucumbers, sliced
1 cup black olives, sliced
1 large avocado, diced
1 cup fat-free balsamic vinaigrette (I love Cindy’s Kitchen, which you can find at Whole Foods.)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water until cool, and transfer to large serving dish. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and avocado. Pour dressing over the salad, add salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cover and chill before serving.

Servings: 8
Serving Size: 1 heaping cup
Calories: 255
Fat: 7.8g
Saturated Fat: 0.9g
Carbs: 30.3g
Sugar: 5.8g
Fiber: 4.6g
Protein: 15.5g

Texas Monster Cookies

Everything is bigger in Texas.

Having spent my last six years in the Lone Star State, I have witnessed this proclamation ring true again and again. Texas may be the second most populous (after California) and the second largest state (after Alaska), but the pride of Texans is second to none. This is evident in the utmost importance of football, the state fair (see Big Tex pictured below), and the cultural fusion of America and Mexico into the greatest cuisine of all time: Tex-Mex, of course.

Despite my initial reluctance to adopt the Texas way of life in favor of my Kansas roots, I have slowly but surely fallen victim to the charms of cowboy culture. “Y’all” has entered my vocabulary, not just one but three pairs of cowboy boots have found their way into my closet, and when I have a craving for waffles, only my trusty Texas-shaped waffle maker will do the trick. As a tribute to my Texas transformation, I present to you the Texas Monster Cookie.

In some ways, the Texas Monster Cookie and I have a lot in common.

  • We both hail from Kansas. I based this healthier recipe on my mom’s original. Mama would double or even triple the recipe for summer trips to the lake, and we would always return home with an empty container. They are that good.
  • We both adore M&M’s. Anyone who knows me probably also knows that I have an endless supply of my favorite candy on hand at all times. These cookies are chock-full of the colorful little chocolate goodies. The plain M&Ms are my all-time favorite, but you can use any variety: peanut, peanut butter, mini, pretzel, dark chocolate–or a combination!
  • We are both healthy. Living a healthy lifestyle is important to me, and the cookies embrace the same philosophy by cutting flour, butter, and oil from their ingredient list and replacing some of the sugar with zero calorie sweetener.

Y’all, these cookies are seriously amazing. They are the softest, chewiest, most perfect combination of chocolate and peanut butter you can imagine in Texas-sized cookie form. After your first bite, both Texans and non-Texans will agree: there is no way you can eat just one!

Does this mean I am officially a Texan now? If the state cookie is the Texas Monster Cookie, there is no place I’d rather be.

Texas Monster Cookies

Yields: 30 cookies

1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup zero calorie sweetener (I like Swerve or Stevia In The Raw)
1/2 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend (or 1 cup brown sugar)
1 heaping cup peanut butter (I use crunchy)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup egg substitute (or 3 large eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup M&M’s (plain, peanut, peanut butter, mini, pretzel, dark chocolate—up to you!)
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the yogurt and the sugars. Add the peanut butter, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Add the egg substitute and vanilla and mix on low speed until just combined. Stir in the oats by hand. Fold in M&M’s and chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet by the (giant) spoonfuls and bake for 15 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring.

Servings: 30
Serving size: 1 cookie
Calories: 180
Fat: 8.7g
Carbs: 28.9g
Sugar: 7.8g
Fiber: 2.3g
Protein: 5g

Healthy Egg Casserole

As April showers bring the promise of May flowers, I find myself yearning for Christmas morning.

Why, you ask? Do I wish for snow and colder weather? Definitely not. Do I want to snuggle up with a blanket and watch my favorite Christmas movies? Confession: I do that anyway. (Hanna quirks: I am constantly cold, and I firmly believe Elf was created to generate giggles and joy all year long.) The real root of my desire is simple, special, delectable, and dreamy all rolled into one dish: egg casserole.

Although the menu for my family’s Christmas breakfast varies from year to year, egg casserole is a staple that has earned a permanent spot in the buffet lineup. Fluffy in texture, hearty in nature, and loaded with sausage and cheese in every bite, egg casserole is absolutely divine. A few modifications to the original recipe transform this holiday favorite into a healthy everyday meal known as Healthy Egg Casserole. In this recipe, the key players (eggs, whole milk, white bread, pork sausage, and cheese) have been replaced with their healthful counterparts (Egg Beaters, almond milk, whole wheat bread, turkey sausage crumbles, and fat-free cheese); however, the end result is every bit as flavorful.

Healthy Egg Casserole is extravagant enough for a fancy weekend brunch, but easy enough for a weeknight dinner. (Another quirk of mine: eating breakfast for dinner, often.) Because the dish can be prepared in ten minutes the night before you serve it, this casserole is the perfect choice for lazy Saturday mornings. All you have to do is pop it in the oven when you wake up and allow it to bake while you sip your coffee. This recipe yields a generous amount, but freezing the leftovers works like a charm! Heat in the microwave, and just like that you have a scrumptious weekday breakfast or even a protein-packed dinner in a pinch.

They say not to put all of your eggs in one basket. I agree; put them all in my Healthy Breakfast Casserole instead, and every morning can feel like Christmas morning!

Healthy Egg Casserole

Yields: 12 servings

2 1/2 cups cooked turkey sausage crumbles (about 10 ounces)
2 cups egg substitute (or 8 eggs) + 2 large eggs
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 thin slices whole wheat bread, cubed (I use Sara Lee Delightful bread – only 45 calories per slice!)
1 cup fat-free cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray.

If turkey sausage is not already fully cooked, brown sausage in a skillet over medium heat, crumbling with a wooden spoon. Drain and transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels.

Whisk egg substitute, eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sausage, bread cubes, and almost all of the cheese, saving approximately 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake uncovered for 45 – 55 minutes. Freeze leftovers.

Servings: 12
Calories: 120
Fat: 3.6g
Carbs: 11.2g
Sugar: 1.1g
Fiber: 3.5g
Protein: 14.3g