Healthier apricot carrot cake

Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes

Cake with vegetables sounds healthy, but is usually far from it. This version lightens up the traditional recipe with dried apricots, applesauce, and coconut sugar; reduces the fat and swaps in coconut oil; and swaps out half of the white flour for whole wheat. Add in walnuts for Omega-3s (or leave them out to make this school safe) and you have a healthier option for your Easter table that’s equally delicious and showstopping.

Take me to the cake!

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I’m still struggling with the eternal question: Is it worth it to healthify desserts? If my kid factors into the equation, then yes. He’s often satisfied with a “healthy” sweet. I, on the other hand, really wanted a doughnut for breakfast and no amount of healthy treats was going to cut it.

However! If there’s a recipe ripe for healthifying, a dessert starring a vegetable is it.

I started recipe testing this cake by dumping everything into a bowl and calling it a day. The results were delicious, but dense, so I decided to do as others have done and whip the eggs and sugar at the start to make the crumb a bit lighter. Often, cake directions tell you to cream butter and sugar / butter and eggs / sugar and eggs (as in this case) until they’re “light and fluffy.” Unfortunately, the coconut sugar is so dark that you’ll never really achieve this. What you want instead is just to aerate the eggs, sugar, and other liquids. Don’t worry about it too much, just make sure that you see lots of bubbles once all of the liquid is combined.

Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes
Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes

Alone, this cake is delicious, but tastes like a muffin or a quick bread, not a cake. But slathered in cream cheese frosting, this is a CAKE.

Can I tell you a secret about making the frosting? I don’t measure the sugar. You heard that: I don’t measure the sugar. I mix in a couple of large spoonfuls and then add more to taste. I like a frosting that isn’t too sweet and the beauty of cream cheese frosting is the tang, which gets totally masked by too much sugar.

Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes
Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes
Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes
Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes

Apricot carrot cake

Adapted from Bake from Scratch and Natasha’s Kitchen

Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (about 45 minutes of active time, including frosting the cake)
Yield: 8 GIANT slices, 10-12 normal slices

1 cup apricots, chopped
1 Tbsp flour (AP or Whole Wheat)
4 eggs
1 cup coconut sugar
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour (pastry or white whole wheat are also great)
1 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp fine sea salt
12 oz carrots; trimmed, peeled, and shredded (about 3 cups, lightly packed shredded carrots)
1 cup walnuts, toasted (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 375.

Grease two 9-inch cake pans, or a 12-cup muffin tin liberally with melted coconut oil or cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a small bowl, chop the apricots and toss with 1 Tbsp of flour (either AP or whole wheat). Set aside.

Toast your walnuts in the preheating oven, keeping an eye to ensure that they don’t burn while you continue prepping your other ingredients. Set aside.

Trim, peel, and shred your carrots. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the eggs and sugar for about 3 minutes on a medium high setting (or on high if your hand mixer isn’t very strong). The eggs won’t get lighter in color because the coconut sugar is quite dark, but you will see lots of little air bubbles formed and the volume of the liquid should increase.

Reduce the speed of your mixer to low (medium-low for a hand mixer) and slowly add the oil, applesauce, and vanilla extract.

Sift the dry ingredients together into the wet ingredients. Fold until just combined and no lumps remain.

Fold in the carrots, apricots, and toasted walnuts (if using).

Pour half of the mixture into each cake pan (or, fill each muffin cup until about 2/3 full).

Bake, rotating halfway through, for 20-23 minutes for the cakes or 15-18 minutes for the muffins. You want the cakes to be springy when touched and for a tester to come out with a few crumbs or clean.

Let the cake cool entirely before icing.


Cream cheese frosting
2 blocks cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter (1 cup), softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more to taste

Combine the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer or your hand mixer, combine and whip the butter and cream cheese on high for 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla and salt and whip on medium to combine.

Add the powdered sugar a few Tbsp at a time and SLOWLY whip the sugar into the rest of the mixture on low (otherwise you’ll have powdered sugar all over your kitchen). Once the initial amount of powdered sugar is incorporated, add more, a few Tbsp at a time, to taste. When all of the sugar you want is incorporated, turn the mixer back to high and whip for 3-4 more minutes.

Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes
Healthier apricot carrot cake | Me & The Moose. This healthier carrot cake uses no refined sugar, reduces the fat, and increases the veggies to make a cake that is equally light and delicious. #meandthemoose #carrotcakerecipes #carrotcake #healthybaking #healthybakingrecipes #healthyrecipes #healthycake #cake #cakerecipes



White bean and pasta soup

White bean and pasta soup | Me & the Moose. This soup is quick, easy, wholesome, and a surefire way to get my toddler to eat beans and bone broth. It’s also a warming lunch for these cold days. #soup #whitebeansoup #recipes #meandthemoose

This soup is a metaphor for how I’m feeling about this holiday season. (As always, to skip this meditation on holiday blues and just get to the damned soup already, scroll to the next photo!)

As you can see, the dry pasta is vibrant pink and white adorableness. But when cooked, it loses some color and is a rather bleh peach and cream. It still tastes good, but doesn’t live up to the promise of the shiny and bright dry version. I feel that way about the holidays: The idea is one thing, but the experience is another.

I have the holiday blues. They came early this year, which is probably because Thanksgiving was so early and now we’re officially in the holiday season even though Halloween was 10 seconds ago and it’s all going too fast and increasing my seasonal ennui.

But if I’m honest, I always have the sneaking suspicion that everyone else is more engaged in life and more present in their lives and more, I don’t know, successful at life than I am. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Unsurprisingly, I have to take social media with a HUGE grain of salt and constantly remind myself that these idealized versions of life aren’t the whole picture. So, I guess this is my friendly reminder to all of YOU that ‘tis the season of matching jammies and perfect cookies, which are fun and pretty and inspiring, but also staged and only a sliver of someone’s day.

White bean and pasta soup | Me & the Moose. Alphabet pasta is a perennial favorite in our home, but the snowflakes are a seasonal contender for favorite pasta shape. #soup #whitebeansoup #recipes #meandthemoose

Anyway, make this soup! Seriously though, one way I try to combat the holiday blues is to be mindful about what I’m eating. This soup is more nutritious if you use a whole grain or grain-free pasta (or skip it entirely). However, M’s soup consumption increases dramatically if there’s a fun shape in there.

And if you can, make the broth yourself. It’s light years better than the stuff in paper cartons from the store. And you can make a lot at a time and freeze it for later. And the chicken can be frozen for later meals too!

White bean and pasta soup | Me & the Moose. This soup is quick, easy, wholesome, and a surefire way to get my toddler to eat beans and bone broth. It’s also a warming lunch for these cold days. #soup #whitebeansoup #recipes #meandthemoose

White bean and pasta soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh or 1 tsp dried rosemary, minced
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups herbed chicken stock (recipe below)
1½ cups dried pasta, cooked in separate water
Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat the olive oil over a medium low flame. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the white beans and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

While the soup simmers, cook the pasta separately. When the pasta is done, add it to the slightly cooled soup.

Top with cheese before serving.  

Yield: 7-8 cups soup, about 4 big bowls  

Herbed chicken stock

1 chicken, cut into pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 drumsticks), skin and bones included
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 large carrot
1 stalks celery
2 sticks rosemary
8-10 sticks thyme
10-12 sage leaves
1 bay leaf
10-14 cups water, enough to cover the ingredients
1 Tbsp salt

Add all of the ingredients to a large stockpot and stir to distribute the salt. Cover with water.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 1½ hours. If a lot of the water evaporates, add more to maintain the original level of water.

Let cool. Strain the broth with a fine mesh sieve. Remove the bones and skin of the chicken, but save the meat in a separate container for other meals.   

Yield: About 12 cups of stock; one entire chicken, dark and light meat

White bean and pasta soup | Me & the Moose. This soup is quick, easy, wholesome, and a surefire way to get my toddler to eat beans and bone broth. It’s also a warming lunch for these cold days. #soup #whitebeansoup #recipes #meandthemoose

Chocolate hummus

Chocolate hummus!

Even the best intentioned parents fall into bad habits when it comes to toddlers and food. I swore we would never make M a separate dinner from ours and yet, here we are. I also swore that I would never cave to bedtime snack requests, but…you guessed it.

Look, we have a lot of good habits and we course correct pretty fast when we realize that we’re off track. And we try not to sweat it when things change or don’t work around mealtimes. But f*&$@#ing hell is it frustrating.

While M isn’t a huge snacker between meals, he would happily eat all “snack” food for his meals. For lunch, I’m more okay with packing him a collection of finger foods (hard-boiled egg, veggies and hummus, fruit, mini muffins, etc), but for dinner, it’s hard for me to swallow guacamole and chips as his main course (pun intended).

I mean, he has an entire adolescence to make bad food choices, so we have to get some goodness in while we can, right?

All this to say, we’re struggling with food right now. One strategy we’re implementing is trying to ensure that M’s whole day is rounded out with good stuff so that one bad meal isn’t a big deal.

Chickpeas, dates, maple syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
Blend until really smooth for a protein-packed after school snack.

I started making my own chocolate hummus after being introduced to this magical concoction (seriously, how did I not know that chocolate hummus existed until about 2 months ago?) at my book club.

Chocolate hummus: free of gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and all animal products. Basically, the perfect after-school snack.

This sweet dip is mostly chickpeas, which have a ton of protein and fiber, plus some natural sweeteners and a couple of spices. It takes about 15 minutes to make and most of that time is spent waiting for water to boil. This snack is also free of nuts, gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, and any animal products.

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A couple of notes:
- Soak 4 dates, though you may not need them all. This dip tends to get sweeter as it sits in the fridge, so be careful about adding all four dates up front.
- If the dip doesn’t taste sweet enough after two dates, try adding another pinch of salt. The salt really brings out the sweetness and the chocolate, so you may not need additional sweetener.

Chick peas, dates, maple syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.

Chocolate hummus

1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained |
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup maple syrup
2-4 dates, soaked in boiling water for 5-10 minutes
1/8 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp vanilla extract

Boil some water and pour over 4 dates. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse your chickpeas and pour them onto a paper towel. Dry them lightly. Add to a food processor.

Measure the other ingredients and add to the food processor. When the dates are soft, add them to the other ingredients and blend until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Serve.

Yield: 1.5 cups or about 14.5 ounces

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Chocolate hummus!

Possibly the perfect lunchbox treat or after-school snack.

Creamy tomato and white bean pasta

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TOMATO SEASON IS HERE!!!!!!! I looooooove tomatoes. Love. And so does M (though he mysteriously won't eat them in his lunchbox anymore).

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M does not always love beans though. He eats them, but they aren't on the top of his list.

As anyone who's read this blog knows, I have a relationship with healthy eating. Like all relationships, it takes work and there are lots of struggles. But any article titled, "The Last Conversation You'll Ever Need To Have About Eating Right," I am 100% going to read. I mean, I'm not going to stop having conversations about eating right, but I liked the article and one of my main takeaways was: Beans are good. Full stop. So, we're eating more beans, which is sometimes a struggle with a toddler.

These beans are not the healthiest things I've ever eaten. But a little bit of cream and Parmesan go a long way. A boat load of tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, and fresh thyme also do some heavy lifting to form a dish that is hearty and tasty and takes advantage of the best summer produce.

But the secret ingredient here is patience. Reducing the sauce to a syrupy, caramely sauce gives you maximum tomato flavor.

And then your toddler will eat beans.

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Creamy tomato and white bean pasta 

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ large white onion, minced
5 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds cherry or other heirloom tomatoes (or a mixture of both)
1 can white beans
2 Tbsp heavy cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup pasta, cooked
¼- ½ tsp salt (more to taste)
pepper
Thyme (2 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried, or to taste)

In a medium pot, bring well- salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

While the water is coming to a boil, mince the onions and garlic. Over medium-low heat, saute the onions for 4-5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, or until fragrant.

Chop the tomatoes and add them to the onions and garlic. Turn the flame up to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, or until the tomatoes release their water and begin to boil.

The liquid should be at a consistent and vigorous boil. If it isn’t, turn the heat up slightly until the liquid begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the tomato liquid has reduced by more than half and become syrupy, about another 8-10 minutes.

Add the heavy cream and parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Continue simmering for 4-5 more minutes, stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens. (You should be able to scrape the bottom of the pan and the sauce doesn’t ooze back right away.)

Add the beans and pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Cook for one more minute to heat the beans and the pasta through.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme.

Yield: 4 servings (one heaping cup each)

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Raspberry buckle

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Let's talk about the idea of healthifying desserts, shall we? Because I'm not totally sold on this strategy even though I keep doing it. Part of me thinks that boosting nutrition and finding balance (you can eat coffee cake, just make it a spelt coffee cake with less sugar, less gluten, and more protein!) is always good. But alternatively, might I actually indulge less if I just ate a small amount of the high fat, high sugar baked thing instead of trying to make spelt happen? Am I just kidding myself that a whole grain, barely sweet version is going to cut it when my real craving is for the doughy, crumbly, buttery, brown sugary coffee cake of my summer-on-the-jersey-shore dreams?

Ugh. If only there was one straightforward strategy that would always work.

I guess a wiser person than me would just accept that what we need from day to day or hour to hour can change. But I like predictability and this isn't cutting it.

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But, for now, we have an ever-so-slightly healthified raspberry buckle that is legitimately delicious on its own merits. I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour and swapped out spelt flour for most of the white flour and reduced the amount of overall sugar.

I mostly left the crumble topping alone. I always want the first bite to pack more of a punch, which masks some of the healthier swaps later.

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I've made this cake without fruit which produces a straightforward coffee cake that's light and airy and not too sweet. I've also swapped coconut sugar for the brown sugar in the actual cake and it's good, but not great. The texture and bake time are the same, but I could really taste the coconut sugar and I didn't completely love it.

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This recipe also works best in a 9x9 pan. If you only have an 8x8, reduce the amount of batter in the pan by about 1/2 cup and either bake the extra in a ramekin or toss it. Or, if you have a deeper 8x8 pan (one with higher sides), you can bake the whole recipe, but may need a few extra minutes at the end.

Raspberry buckle
 

For the streussel topping:
4 Tbsp butter, melted
3 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp white sugar
½ cup AP flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt

For the cake:
2 Tbsp butter, melted slightly
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup milk (I use whole, but any will do)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup apple sauce
1½ cups spelt flour
½ cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (do not defrost)

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium bowl, melt the 4 Tbsp of butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. Cut up the butter and add the rest of the streussel topping ingredients. Mix with a fork until the mixture is fully combined and the texture of wet sand. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, melt the remaining 2 Tbsp of butter for 20 seconds in the microwave. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Measure the milk. Add the egg and whisk lightly. Add to the sugar and butter and stir well to combine. Add the vanilla and apple sauce and stir again.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until no streaks of flour remain.

Gently fold in the raspberries.

Pour the batter into a greased 9x9 pan and top with the streussel mixture.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Yield: 16 squares

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