[healthy-ish] Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins

Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins

On days when my eyes start drooping by 10am and dark clouds keep us indoors, I pile everyone in the minivan and we get out of the house. I usually don’t know where we’re headed until we get there. Some days, we make an impromptu trip to Aldi, and other times, we stop by FreshGround to pick up coffee and visit my brother.

And other days, we don’t even get out of the car. We head to the Panera drive-thru. I pick up a muffin for the kids and a sandwich or drink for myself, and we sit in the car for a few minutes of precious peace and quiet. I get to listen to a podcast (The Next Right Thing is my latest obsession), and the kids get a treat. Glamorous, right? But you do what you gotta do.

Blueberry muffins from Panera have saved my sanity over the last few months, but our drive-thru routine will lose its luster if I resort to it too often. I need to save that getaway plan for when we really need it - like when the twins had croup last week and we were holed up at home for way too long.

Plus, I really don’t want to be paying $3 for a muffin when I could make them for a fraction of the cost myself (although I guess I consider it paying for my sanity, which is more than worth it).  But when I can, I try to do things the homemade route – and these Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins are perfect for when we don’t need to utilize our Panera escape plan.

They’re made with pureed sweet potatoes, oats, and whole-wheat flour - healthy enough that I feel good about giving them to my kids, but tasty enough to be toddler-approved. 

Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins
Whole Wheat, Oat + Sweet Potato Muffins

Cinnamon + Sweet Potato Muffins
Yields 12 regular-sized muffins

1 cup white whole wheat flour*
½ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups pureed sweet potatoes
½ cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, or use liners. Set the prepared pan aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter and brown sugar. On medium speed, cream the butter and sugar together, mixing for about 1-2 minutes. Add in the sweet potato puree, applesauce, and vanilla extract, mixing after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula, just until combined (don’t overmix!).

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin (I like using an ice cream scoop for this). Top with turbinado sugar if you’d like.

Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes before putting it in the oven. Do not skip this step! (Read why.)

Place the muffin tin in the oven and bake for about 20-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: ”White” whole-wheat flour is still 100% whole wheat – it’s simply one particular type of wheat. It’s milder in flavor and lighter in color than some other whole-wheat flours. You can easily find it at many grocery stores (I most recently purchased a bag at Trader Joe’s). 

This recipe was originally featured at Lark + Linen.

Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale

Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale

I peruse cookbooks, watch Netflix documentaries, and read food memoirs. I often find myself audibly saying, or writing in the margins, “Amen!” when I read something about food that I deeply resonate with. It’s usually because the words go much deeper than mere descriptions of ingredients, although those descriptions can be quite rich in and of themselves (see Robert Farrar Capon's chapter about an onion). It would be impossible to plumb the depths of all there is to know about food...but I intend to give it a shot anyway. 

Man invented cooking before he thought of nutrition. To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.
— Robert Farrar Capon

When my husband and I sit down for a meal at night, especially if it’s a recipe I’ve toyed around with or an ingredient I haven’t cooked before, I drive him crazy with over-analyzing. I think through every bite. Was it marinated long enough? What would I do differently next time? How come it took longer to cook than what the recipe recommended? Does this need a little more spice? I’m sure it’s very annoying, I know, and I’m learning better how and when to express my thoughts about my obsession. 

But there’s something about food that intrigues me so deeply. Maybe it’s the fact that it involves all the senses - taste, smell, feel, sight, and even sound. You don’t get that in every creative outlet. You smell the familiar sweetness of sauteed onions. You taste the saltiness of smoked sausage and the slight bitterness of kale. You hear a soft crunch with every bite, see the pop of color from cherry tomatoes, and feel creamy melted cheese on your tongue. 

Maybe I’m a little too obsessive (or crazy). But when the perfect combination of flavors comes together to ignite all the senses, I get excited. We need food to live, but God didn't create merely for the sake of sustenance. God supplied Adam and Eve with variety in the garden, a feast of taste they could enjoy.

God in his grace does not bind us to mere necessity. He gives us nourishment, and he also gives us creativity, delight, and refreshment at the table.

Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale
Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale
Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale
Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale

Pasta with Smoked Sausage, Cherry Tomatoes + Kale
Yields about 8 servings

1 pound bowtie pasta
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (more if needed)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound smoked turkey sausage, cut into ½-inch slices*
1 ½ pounds cherry tomatoes
8 ounces chopped kale (remove any hard stems)
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Shaved Parmesan (optional)
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving a ½ cup of the pasta water.

While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven set to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Make sure you stir often to avoid burning the garlic.

Add the turkey sausage and cook for another couple minutes to brown the sausage. If the pot seems too dry, add another tablespoon or two of oil.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the pot. Cook until the tomatoes soften and pop. Stir in the kale, chicken stock, kosher salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer 2-3 minutes, until the kale wilts and the liquid reduces a bit.

Add the cooked pasta to the pot. Stir everything together, and cook for a few more minutes until all the ingredients are fully incorporated and the liquid reduces to your liking. Alternatively, if you need to add more liquid, add the reserved pasta water 2-3 tablespoons at a time. (Pasta water is best to because it helps the sauce adhere to the pasta and adds additional flavor. Plain water will not achieve the same result!)

Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan shavings and red pepper flakes. Enjoy!

*You can use any type of sausage you like, but note that for this recipe, I used smoked turkey sausage that was fully cooked to begin with. If you use a different type of sausage that’s not fully cooked, be sure to adjust accordingly. 

This recipe was originally featured at Lark + Linen.

Sangria with Oranges, Figs + Cinnamon

Sangria with Oranges, Figs + Cinnamon

My husband and I sit outside on the deck after our two-year-old twins are finally in bed—not asleep, but at least confined in their cribs after a witching hour that felt like four hours. There’s a faint smell of citronella as candles flicker on the table, a bottle of Pinot Noir between us, and a glimmer overhead from the lights strung on the pergola. It’s one of those summer nights with all the trappings of romance and beauty.

But the newborn in my arms and the whines from the twins’ room keep us grounded in the reality of parenting little ones. I refill my wine glass as cries of protest against bedtime punctuate the evening. The baby begins to root around in search of food. We're exhausted.

“I can’t handle three kids,” I shamefully confess to my husband.  

I love all three fiercely, and I am grateful for them beyond measure. But right now? This feels impossible. The twins know exactly when they can get away with doing all the things we’ve told them not to do. When I sit down to nurse they rush upstairs, and I hear the water of our bathtub running. If I don’t follow them, the sound of the faucet will soon be followed by the sound of slipping on the wet floor or worse. How am I supposed to get anything done with three under three? And by “get anything done,” I’m not talking about repainting the master bedroom or even emptying the dishwasher. No. I mean more like, how do I stop long enough to feed the third kid?

Keep reading and get the recipe at Coffee + Crumbs!

Sangria with Oranges, Figs + Cinnamon
Sangria with Oranges, Figs + Cinnamon
Sangria with Oranges, Figs + Cinnamon

Full post and recipe instructions can be found at Coffee + Crumbs!

Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles [and they're paleo!]

Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles

My toddlers had their first-ever popsicle a couple weeks ago. It was one of those moments that’s so quintessentially summer. The day was unseasonably hot, we set up their inflatable pool, and I unfolded one of our blue lawn chairs next to it. After another gray Chicago winter, my body craved the warm sun, and I plopped down on that chair ready to soak up every ray I could. The kids ran barefoot around the backyard, stopping occasionally to cool off in their little pool while I “supervised” – a task much more enjoyable with the sun on my face and dessert in hand.

I had just made a batch of these Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles and grabbed a few from the freezer for us to share. We sat in the yard licking up the sweet pineapple flavor. Juice ran down my kids’ faces, and we tried to eat more quickly than the sun could make our treats melt. And everything – and everyone – was sticky.

But isn’t that the way summer is supposed to be? Sunny, sweet, warm…and a bit messy. 

PIneapple + Coconut Popsicles.jpg
Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles
Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles
Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles
Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles
Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles

Pineapple + Coconut Popsicles
Yields about 12-14 popsicles

1 pineapple, rind and core removed
1 (13.5 ounce) can full fat coconut milk
¼ cup honey
Juice from 2 limes
Unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

Cut the pineapple into chunks. Add the pineapple, coconut milk, honey, and lime juice to a blender. Blend until smooth. (It should taste a bit sweeter than how you’d normally prefer a smoothie. The sweetness will mellow when frozen.)

Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze until solid, about 3-4 hours. If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can use ice cube trays or small paper cups. When the mixture is slightly frozen (after about 1 hour), stick a plastic spoon or wooden popsicle stick in each serving and continue to freeze until solid.

To remove the popsicles, I run warm water on the outside of the mold until I can easily pop them out. If you like, you can roll the popsicles in coconut flakes for extra flavor and texture!

Quick Tip: I recently learned a delicious, adult-only trick from Smitten Kitchen. Pour a bit of vodka, rum, or tequila in a glass. Dip the popsicle in the liquor and enjoy! Double dipping encouraged. 

This post was originally featured at Lark + Linen.