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!

IMG_0459-2.jpg

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



Purple carrot soup with za'atar

Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is a warm, hearty, and healthy lunch or light dinner. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan

Is purple my new favorite color? I don’t know. Maybe. I seem to be drawn to purple foods lately. Maybe they feel kind of witch-y and seasonal. And that’s primarily what I aim for in my cooking.

Anyway, I find purple carrots endlessly intriguing and therefore, have used them in this soup. Unfortunately, the end product doesn't stay purple, so if your kiddo might be put off by the initial color, rest easy. This soup is also delicious made with orange carrots.

Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan
Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is a warm, hearty, and healthy lunch or light dinner. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan

And added bonus: carrots are a great base for introducing new flavors to your kiddos. Carrots are familiar, mildly sweet, and almost entirely inoffensive, so they’re not intimidating when you mix in some za’atar and tahini, two things that, on their own, might prove too much for a developing palate.

Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is a warm, hearty, and healthy lunch or light dinner. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan

I like swirling it with yogurt and sprinkling on some za’atar, which is a spice that should earn a spot in your repertoire.

If za’atar intimidates you, take heart. I was also a bit hesitant at first, but it’s a simple mixture of thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac, which is a common middle eastern spice that has a bright, citrusy flavor. I feel like it’s the cumin of the middle east.

This soup is also a good way to introduce some new spices and flavors while incorporating an old favorite. M even requested a bowl of this with his dinner the other night, so I, obviously, felt extremely smug.

Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is so easy to make and a great way to introduce new flavors. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan

Purple carrot soup with za’atar

2 Tbsp olive oil, butter, or ghee
1 medium onion, minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Aleppo pepper or paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp coriander
1 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 ¼ lb carrots, peeled and diced into small pieces
4 cups low sodium stock (vegetable or chicken)
3 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Yogurt (dairy or non-dairy)
Za’atar

Heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, or until fragrant. Add the spices and ½ tsp of salt and cook for one more minute, until fragrant.

Add the carrots and cook for one or two minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the carrots are fork tender.

Transfer to a blender or food processor and add the tahini, lemon juice, and the other ½ tsp of salt.

Yield: 6½ cups or about 52 oz


Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is a warm, hearty, and healthy lunch or light dinner. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan
Purple carrot soup with za’atar | Me & The Moose. This carrot soup is an easy way to add interest to your kids’ lunchboxes while serving up some veggies and introducing new flavors. #meandthemoose #carrotsoup #purplecarrots #za’atar #glutenfree #vegan




Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl

IMG_8122.jpg

So, this is technically a recipe for a banh mi bowl, but the components can be customized in zillions of ways. The chicken meatballs can go in any direction, as can the cauliflower rice.

But first, banh mi. It's technically a Vietnamese sandwich with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, cucumbers, cilantro, a spicy mayonnaise, some sort of pate or liverwurst, and another cooked meat. Availability of great Banh mi is the one thing I miss about living in Brooklyn where we used to order these sandwiches at least once a week. That's also possibly why I gained a lot of weight when we lived there.

IMG_8132.jpg

Now when a craving strikes, I like to incorporate banh mi flavors in a cauliflower rice bowl. 

IMG_8116.jpg

I have mixed feelings about carb and starch substitutes. Unless whatever you're eating with the cauliflower rice is really flavorful, I don't think it passes for regular rice. However, while not really rice, I love this cauliflower on its own merits. It's really simple: sauteed onions, garlic, and salt are all you need. M even eats it and he is a traditional rice devotee.

IMG_8113.jpg

Now, the meatballs. I have experimented A LOT with chicken meatballs. As a perfectionist, I really really want them to be round. I've gone down the rabbit hole of meatball-making tips and so far, none of them have been entirely successful. I've tried adding more and less filler, more and less liquid, more and less fat, cooking directly in a sauce, roasting, sauteing, and chilling in various ways. The most successful tip I can offer from my trials and tribulations is that making them very very small is the key to quick cooking and maintaining a round shape. So if you care about roundness in your meatballs, use 1 teaspoon or less per ball.

IMG_8124.jpg

A couple of other notes:
- I've found that cheese is a better agent for adding moisture than milk because it doesn't make the mixture too slack. But while there is cheese in these balls, they don't taste cheesy at all, which makes the flavor more adaptable.
- I encourage you not to overcook these. Since there isn't a lot of fat or filler in these balls, they can dry out if left on the heat for too long. Using a meat thermometer is your best bet for cooking things fully, but not overdoing it.
-Speaking of cooking, I equally like roasting and sauteing these balls. I don't find that it makes a difference in the taste, texture, or shape of the final product. However, it's currently summer here on the east coast of the USA and hot as hell, so I don't always have it in me to turn on the oven. Either cooking method is great, so do what feels best (and least sweaty) for you.

 

Chicken meatball and cauliflower rice banh mi bowl 

Chicken meatballs
1 lb ground chicken
¾ cup panko
¼ cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp full-fat ricotta (optional, as it may make the meatballs flatten slightly, but adds more moisture)
1 egg
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp kosher salt
pepper to taste

If roasting, preheat the oven to 425.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix minimally with a spoon, spatula, or your hands, just until the ingredients are incorporated.

If sautéing the meatballs, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan and heat over a medium-low flame. 

Using wet hands, scoop out between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture and roll into a ball. Add to a baking dish or the hot pan.   

If sauteing: Over medium-high flame, brown on one side and then turn the meatballs over to brown on the other side (about 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the size of your meatballs). Turn the flame to low and cover the pan. Cook until a thermometer inserted reaches 165 degrees or the meatballs are firm when you press on them and no pink remains in the middle, about 4-8 more minutes, depending on size.

If roasting: Cook for 8-10 minutes (again, the larger your meatballs, the longer they’ll need to cook) and check the meatballs (again, they’re done when the internal temperature reaches 165 or the balls are firm and no pink remains in the center).

Yield: 54 mini meatballs (1 tsp) or 24 small meatballs (1 Tbsp)

 

Cauliflower rice
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, chopped (a heaping ½ cup)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb cauliflower rice (either pre-riced or use a 1 lb [usually a small] head of cauliflower and chop in a food processor)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over a medium-low flame. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add the cauliflower rice and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce the flame to low, cover, and cook for 13-15 minutes or until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I like a little bit of crunch to the rice, so I prefer to cook for slightly less time.

Yield: 4 cups

 

Pickled carrots and daikon radish
Adapted from The Banh Mi Handbook
1 medium daikon (about 1 lb)
3 large carrots (about 1 lb)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups white vinegar
1 cup warm water

Chop your vegetables into thin sticks and add to a large container.

In a separate large liquid measuring cup, add the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Mix with a whisk and microwave on high for 30 seconds and whisk again. Repeat as needed, microwaving for 10-15 seconds at a time, to dissolve the sugar.

Pour over the chopped vegetables and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one month.


For the rice bowls:
Meatballs (see recipe)
Cauliflower rice (see recipe)
Pickled vegetables (see recipe)
Fresh cilantro, torn from the bunch
Cucumber, sliced
Scallions, sliced
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Mayonnaise (optional)

To assemble the bowl, use as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. We usually get about two adult-sized portions and one kid-sized portion from the cauliflower rice with meatballs and pickles left over. If your family is larger, increase the rice as needed and adjust cooking times. Your onions and garlic may need another minute each and the overall cooking time for the cauliflower may be slightly longer as well (but test often after the above instructed 15 minutes to avoid overcooking).

IMG_8117.jpg

Carrot, ginger, and tahini dressing

IMG_7906.jpg

Salad! Do your kids eat it? M will inexplicably stuff his face with raw kale sometimes and then turn around and gag on anything leafy or green. The dressing is a factor. Also, if he gets to mix the salad, he is much more likely to eat it. I recommend putting your salad bowl on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any greens that escape (read: all of the greens) and letting the little ones have a go.

IMG_7893.jpg
IMG_7903.jpg

Since M is currently SO PASSIONATE about sushi, we've eaten at A LOT of Japanese restaurants lately. Sometimes that ubiquitous carrot and ginger dressing is a revelation, but more often, it's watery or too acidic. This version is neither of those things. There's a fair amount of liquid and acid in this recipe, but the load of carrots and the little bit of tahini mellows the vinegar just enough and adds a touch of creaminess.

I won't lie: It's a little chunkier than your average salad dressing, but it coats the lettuce beautifully and instead of just being oil, you're sneaking in some extra goodness in what is essentially a condiment. So if your toddler deigns to eat a mouthful, they're eating EVEN MORE VEGETABLES.

Also, this dressing is sweet and tangy, but happens to be free of gluten, dairy, and sugar. And it lasts FOREVER. Pretty sure I'm still eating a batch that I made three weeks ago. But, you know, use your judgment.

IMG_7872.jpg

Creamy carrot and ginger tahini dressing

¼ apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp tahini
2 extra large carrots or 4 medium/small carrots
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ white onion
1 large clove garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup olive or avocado oil
salt
pepper

Place all ingredients (except the oil) in a blender or food processor. Start blending and slowly pour in the olive oil while the machine is running. Blend until you've reached your desired consistency. If the mixture feels too watery, add another tablespoon of tahini. If it feels too thick, add one tablespoon of water and blend.

IMG_7877.jpg
IMG_7886.jpg

Carrot flatbread pizza

IMG_7371.jpg
IMG_7379.jpg

How is it Passover and Easter again? I've been thinking a lot about the passage of time lately. Having a sick parent has made me feel more like an adult than any other milestone has, while simultaneously making me feel like a helpless kid. How am I old enough to sleep next to a hospital bed and interact with doctors who seem to think I know what I'm doing? And also, isn't someone else supposed to take care of this stuff? Like, the mom who's in the hospital bed?

Last week was also M's 3rd birthday and while I felt the obligatory, "How is this kid 3 already?" I also felt a little bit like, "How is he only 3?" In the best way possible, it feels like he's always been here.

So yeah, time. It flies and crawls.

M also starts school on Monday. Real school where I drop him off every day and he makes friends and has relationships with teachers and learns things that I don't know. We flirted with this type of setting before we moved last summer, but then we relocated and decided to get on a waiting list for a school we liked instead of jumping right in as soon as we got to Connecticut.

IMG_5554.jpg
IMG_5557.jpg

So! This means I'll be actually posting lunchbox meals over on instagram instead of talking about them theoretically. This carrot pizza is a good place to start! First, it's "pizza" which is appealing to lots of kids. Carrots are also a good gateway vegetable because they're sweet, especially when roasted.

IMG_5549.jpg

A few notes about the pesto: We're lucky that M's classroom isn't nut-free, but if your school is, swap in pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds for the cashews. Also, the carrot tops lend a fresh, green taste to this pesto. Use 2 packed cups of carrot tops and basil, in whatever ratio you want. My carrot tops usually measure between 1 and 1.5 cups, so I fill up the remaining cup with basil. And be sure to pack it tightly.

IMG_5545.jpg

Carrot flatbread pizza

Carrot top pesto
1-2 cups leafy carrot tops (see note above)
1/4-1 cup basil
¼ cup raw cashews, toasted
1 large clove garlic
½ cup olive oil
splash of lemon juice
½ tsp salt, to taste
pepper

Yield: about 9 oz, or 1.5 cups sauce

For the flatbreads
2 lb carrots
2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
4 flatbreads
6 Tbsp ricotta
6 Tbsp carrot top pesto
4 Tbsp parmesan
1-1.5 cups shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the carrots and arrange in roasting pan. Add oil and salt and roast for 35-40 minutes, until thickest part of the carrot is fork tender.

To arrange the flatbreads: Mix together the ricotta and pesto. Spread 2 Tbsp of the cheese and pesto mixture on top of the flatbreads. Top with about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of mozzarella. Arrange carrots in whatever pattern you like and top with 1 Tbsp parmesan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese has begun to brown and the breads are crispy.

IMG_5575.jpg
IMG_7374.jpg