Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas

Orientation week has been crazy with moving in, helping freshmen move in, seeing everyone after an entire summer, and running around campus performing various errands. This year, I’m living in a 4-person suite with my 3 closest friends Margaret, Ting, and Jeana. We were soo excited to move into our awesome suite which has 4 single rooms, 2 bathrooms, a common room, and a kitchen! The kitchen is small but has a full refrigerator, 2 stoves, and our own microwave and toaster oven. Since we don’t have a conventional oven, our options for cooking and baking is a bit limited. Here is what our kitchen looks like!

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For the past week, we’ve been eating out almost every meal at restaurants that we’ve missed over the summer. Today we went grocery shopping so that we could finally make a home-cooked meal. For dinner, I made chicken and spinach quesadillas, a combination I’ve never tried before. One problem though was that the only type of chicken I could find was sliced chicken prepared as cold cuts. I searched in 2 grocery stores, but nowhere was there to be found pre-made chunks of chicken! Taking a leap of faith, I used the cold cuts which actually turned out to be pretty good.

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I realized that one of the hardest parts of cooking in college is getting all the ingredients. You start out with nothing and have to go shopping for so many items that it takes multiple trips to get enough ingredients. Quesadillas are on the easier side and are great for lunch and dinner considering there is little to no cutting involved and all the ingredients are pre-prepared. They are definitely a good meal for college students with limited resources or cooking ability to make. For healthier quesadillas, use whole wheat tortillas instead of flour tortillas!

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Hooray for my first home-made college meal! 😀

CHICKEN AND SPINACH QUESADILLAS
serves 1

Ingredients
Olive oil
1 whole wheat flour tortilla
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup spinach
2 slices of cold cut chicken (use chunks of chicken breast if possible)

Directions

Heat a frying pan to medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and spread it around with a spatula.

Place tortilla in frying pan and flip several times, with 15 seconds in between each flip. Once air pockets begin to form, flatten them with the spatula to let out the air. Sprinkle shredded cheese on one side of the tortilla.

Reduce the heat to low. Top cheese with spinach leaves. Break the cold cut chicken into small pieces and place on top of spinach.

Using the spatula, fold one side of the tortilla on top of the side with filling. Press down on the quesadilla with spatula to flatten and keep in place. Flip over the quesadilla. It should be ready when it is browned.

Cut in half and serve with guacamole (see Amazing Guacamole recipe).

Creamy Avocado Gazpacho

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a non-dessert recipe. Desserts are so much more fun to make, eat, and photograph. Also, there isn’t a hungry family waiting for you to finish taking photos so they can finally eat! I managed to snap a few photos of this lovely soup before my family got too hungry.

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Sometimes in the summer, it can be too hot for warm, cooked food. Sometimes, you just need a nice chilled soup to cool off from the unrelenting sun. Gazpacho is a delicious cold Spanish soup made from tomatoes and other vegetables. This version of gazpacho has avocado (yay!) and plenty of other healthy green vegetables.

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Leafy greens are super healthy  and the darker the green, the better it is for you. Spinach is great because it has lots of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate. These are good for reducing risk of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and even memory loss!

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This creamy gazpacho is an excellent way to eat a lot of vegetables in just one serving. It is rich and flavorful because of the variety of ingredients in it. It is a very quick recipe – all you gotta do is just toss everything into the blender!

CREAMY AVOCADO GAZPACHO
serves 2

Ingredients 
1 medium tomato, cut into quarters
1 small cucumber, cut into chunks
1 avocado, cut into chunks
3 large basil leaves
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 small celery stalk
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 ice cubes
Salt and pepper

Directions

Chop up tomato, cucumber and avocado, and set aside some small chunks for garnish.

Combine tomato, cucumber, avocado, basil, spinach, celery, garlic, red wine vinegar, honey, and ice cubes in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional red wine vinegar if necessary.

Refrigerate until chilled and garnish with chunks.

adapted from Epicurious

Fudgy Avocado Brownies

How to describe this magnificent creation of a brownie in 3 words?
Fudgy. Dense. Chocolate.

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This is the world’s healthiest brownie. No flour, no butter, no oil!!! It is packed with wonderful nutrients, and it features my good friend, the avocado.

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Let’s take a look at what’s inside the brownie that makes it so healthy.

Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats that are good for your cholesterol. Of course avocados seem like the last ingredient you would want in a dessert but trust me, it works! They are a natural butter and a healthy substitute. A lot of people have doubts about avocados in desserts. Well, actually, you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it! It’s as if it’s not even there.

Walnuts and almonds have omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential nutrients that lower blood pressure, lowering risk of heart disease.

Cocoa powder has plenty of flavanoids which act like antioxidants that fend off heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.

Seriously, how much better can a brownie get?!

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Because there isn’t any flour in the brownies (gluten-free!), the texture isn’t as cake-y as your typical brownies. Instead, they are very dense, moist, and rich. It’s almost like a chocolate mousse. One little bite is an explosion of chocolatey goodness in your mouth. They are especially delicious when eaten chilled with a nice glass of milk.

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These brownies totally beat the box brownies (which are good I’ll admit) but they are way too healthy to pass up. It makes me so excited that desserts like brownies can be healthy and just as decadent and yummy. Just another reason to love avocados. 😛

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FUDGY AVOCADO BROWNIES

Ingredients
8 ounces of melted dark chocolate
2 avocados, well-mashed or pureed
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt chocolate and set aside. Mash or puree avocados until smooth and set aside.

Use an electric mixer to whisk eggs and sugar together at medium-high speed, until very light and doubled in volume.

Gradually add in melted chocolate while blending.

Stir in cocoa, almond meal, salt, and vanilla. (To make homemade almond meal, blend slivered, blanched almonds in a blending machine until fine.)

Add in avocado and blend well. Mix in walnuts.

Pour batter into a greased, square baking pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Let cool before cutting. Then refrigerate and serve chilled.

😀 😀 😀

adapted from Heather’s French Press

Easy Individual Peach Crumble

Here’s a spectacular dessert that is genius in every way possible. Are you ready? It’s a peach crumble served in a peach! No more messy baking dishes to clean up. The peach crumble is its very own dish.

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My mom and I learned how to make this from a cooking class in Boston for Gourmet cooking! We also made ratatouille (SO good), Thai steamed mussels, and prosciutto wrapped lemon basil chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese. Definitely some fancy dishes.

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The peach crumble is very simple to make and you end up with an extremely tasty dessert. The warm peach’s sweet juices soak into the crumble for a chewy texture, the cinnamon flavor dances on your tongue, and a bite of caramel tops it all off. In the original recipe, caramel is drizzled on to the peaches but I cheated by putting caramel chips on top to save time.

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For optimal results, use BIG, ripe peaches. We bought these huge, round, soft, juicy peaches that remind me of the children’s book James and the Giant Peach. Every bite will be deliciously sweet and juicy.

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EASY PERSONAL PEACH CRUMBLE
serves 4

Ingredients
2 peaches
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
Caramel sauce/chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut peaches in half and remove pits. You may want to use a spoon to scoop out a bigger hole for the oats. Lay peaches on a baking sheet, skin side down, and bake for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine butter, oats, flour, cinnamon, allspice, and sugar. Use hands to combine the mixture until well mixed.

Divide the mixture into the 4 peaches. If using caramel chips, put them on top and bake for another 10 minutes, until peaches are soft and oat mixture is browned.

Serve warm and enjoy 😀

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

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I must confess that I was never a huge fan of cheesecake as a kid. I used to avoid cheese at all costs and stuck to the sweet, fruity desserts. I guess my taste buds changed because now I looove creamy, cheesy foods – everything from Greek yogurt to mac and cheese. Of course, I still love fruit so I found the best of both worlds in these cute, delightful treats: cheesecake stuffed strawberries!

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They are VERY easy to make and will conjure many “oohs” and “aahs”. They are also the simple solution to when you have a craving for cheesecake but you don’t want to bake an entire cake. These will definitely hit the spot.

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How do you go about eating these bite-sized treats? Well, you can either take the approach my dad did by eating the whole thing at once; you will first be greeted by a splash of juicy strawberry followed by a creamy cheesecake afterthought. Or, you can take eat it my mom’s way of savoring small equal bites to get a nice ratio of strawberry to cheesecake. Whatever method you choose, I guarantee you will be craving for more!

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CHEESECAKE STUFFED STRAWBERRIES

Ingredients
14-18 fresh strawberries
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Graham cracker crumbs

Directions

Using a small knife, cut off the stem and tip of each strawberry. Then, cut around the inside of the strawberry to create a small hole for the cream.

Use a handheld or standing electric mixer to beat cream, sugar, and vanilla for 2 minutes on medium speed, until fluffy. Transfer into a pastry bag and pipe into each strawberry.

Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top for a finishing touch.

Refrigerate and serve!

adapted from The Comfort of Cooking

Amazing Guacamole

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The humble avocado. It is hard to fully capture its delicate and subtle taste – somewhere between green, buttery, nutty, and smooth. I have become infatuated with the avocado, an ingredient that has been honored with the prestigious title of “superfood”. It is bursting with monounsaturated fats, the good type of fats that help your cholesterol. The creamy, buttery texture makes it a perfect natural substitute for butter and mayo for healthier eating. But of course, it is most famous for being the star ingredient of guacamole!

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Mmmm guacamole. My friend Hayley introduced me to guacamole (and hummus) just last year, igniting an obsession for dips. I have perfected my own recipe so well that I could make it in my sleep. This is a simple guacamole with tomato and onion and of course, lime juice – the second most important ingredient.

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Guacamole has received a lot of attention lately. I heard a Sporkful podcast where the host and 3 guests spent about 30 minutes discussing the definition of guacamole and how to eat it. Is it better chunky or smooth? Chunky. Should you use a triangle-shaped chip or scoop chip? Triangle. There is even a certain method to holding the chip when you go to dip because you don’t want it to break in the bowl.

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Guacamole has to be one of my favorite foods. I can eat it anytime, anywhere. Sometimes I’ve had just guacamole as a meal, for lunch or dinner. It is so addictive, delicious, and the best part is that it’s nutritious. All of the ingredients are whole, healthy and natural. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

AMAZING GUACAMOLE

Ingredients
3 Haas avocados, ripe
1 small onion, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch salt and pepper

Directions

Dice onion and tomato, set aside.

Slice avocados and scoop out into a large bowl. My method of doing this is cutting the avocado vertically and twisting the two halves. Then I use a butter knife to cut a square grid in the avocado, and scoop it out with a spoon.

Cover the avocado with lime juice and mix. Use your hands (or a potato masher) to roughly mash up the avocado. Make sure not to over-mash so that there are still small chunks.

Add in cumin, salt, and pepper. Season to taste.

Fold in tomatoes and onions.

Cover with plastic wrap so that there is no air touching the guacamole and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then serve!

Yum 😀

For another delicious avocado recipe, see The Eggvocado!

Mini Mushroom and Spinach Quiche with Bacon

When was the first time you had a quiche? I remember my first time so vividly. It was one of those afternoons where I was buried in the library, swamped with never ending homework. A friend and I ventured to the library cafe to grab something to eat. Seeing how I was unable to decide what to get, my friend suggested I try a quiche. I had never even heard of a quiche before and I was skeptical of the odd-looking “egg pie”. For some reason, I trusted him. I took a bite and marveled with wide eyes at how incredible this new food tasted!

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That memory of the quiche has stuck in my mind ever since which is why I was so excited when I found a recipe for mini quiches. My family had never heard of a quiche either so I was more than happy to introduce it to them.

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These mini ones tasted…unbelievable. Biting into the quiche was an experience of its own because of the spongy, juiciness of the quiche. I compared them to muffin-shaped omelettes. After all, they had similar ingredients – egg, cheese, vegetables, and bacon. However, they had a fluffier, airier texture since more egg whites were used than yolks.

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My family seemed to have a positive first experience with the quiche as well. They were impressed by how flavorful they were and said they were even better than omelettes.
The best moments are those when you discover something new and wonderful, making your life just that much better. So go out, be brave, and try something new. You might end up pleasantly surprised. 😀

MINI MUSHROOM AND SPINACH QUICHE WITH BACON
makes 9

Ingredients
6 strips turkey bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups mushrooms, chopped
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
2 cups baby spinach
Pinch of nutmeg
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/4 cup skim milk
1/3 cup grated white cheese (I used Queso Blanco)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or vegetable oil.

Cook the turkey bacon strips in a large skillet on medium heat. Keep turning strips until crispy. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into small bits.

Using the same skillet, heat olive oil. Add mushrooms, shallot, salt and pepper. Cook until mushrooms are dry and browned and shallots are soft (about 10 minutes.) Add baby spinach and nutmeg and stir for about a minute, until spinach is just wilted but still bright green.

Whisk eggs, egg whites, milk, salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in cheese. Pour mixture evenly into muffin tins, filling them halfway. Top with mushroom and spinach mixture. Sprinkle chopped bacon on top.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until quiches have risen and are golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Enjoy!

adapted from Food Network

Easy Personal Flatbread Pizzas

In the vast and spacious land of Costco, it is easy to get carried away with buying groceries amidst the excitement of free samples and bulk foods. As my mom and I carefully navigated our shopping cart through Costco last weekend, we kept tossing groceries into the cart until it piled high and took the strength of both of us to push it. By the time we returned home, we wondered how on Earth we had bought so much food. It was lunchtime and we wanted to make use of the flatbreads we had just bought, something we had never seen in Costco before. So I thought, why not make our own personal pizzas? After all, we had so many possible toppings thanks to our huge Costco spree.

I took a piece of flatbread, spread tomato sauce on it, sprinkled some freshly shredded cheese, and gathered an assortment of toppings. As I started putting the toppings on the pizza, I soon came to terms with how small the pizza was and realized it would be a chaotic mess to fit all the toppings on the pizza. So I whipped out another piece of flatbread and divided the toppings among the two. The tiny pizzas were tossed into the toaster oven and they were soon ready to eat…All this was done in just 20 minutes!

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The simplicity and easiness of these pizzas was mindblowing. Homemade pizzas have always been daunting to me, but since making the dough is the hardest part of homemade pizzas, more than half the battle was already over! The flatbreads served well – the crust came out perfectly chewy, with crispy edges that had a lovely, satisfying crunch.

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These pizzas are excellent for a quick, homemade lunch that incorporates a variety of foods – the possibilities for toppings are endless!

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EASY PERSONAL FLATBREAD PIZZAS
(makes 1)

Ingredients
1 flatbread
3 tablespoons pizza sauce (or mix 2 tbsps tomato sauce with 1 tbsp tomato paste)
2 tablespoons shredded cheese
Toppings: mushrooms, onions, olives, mozzarella cheese balls, spinach, etc.

Directions

Using a spoon, spread pizza sauce in center of flatbread evenly, leaving about 1/2 inch crust

Evenly sprinkle shredded cheese on top of sauce

Add toppings

Bake in toaster oven at 400 degrees F for 10-15 minutes, until edges are golden and cheese is melted. If you use a conventional oven, it may take longer.

Chocolate Raspberry Macarons


Everybody loves macarons. These French desserts are petite and bite-sized and leave no crumbs behind. They come in a range of fun colors and flavors and even bizarre ones like Earl Grey, lime-basil and balsamic vinegar. Their inexplicable crunchy-moist texture is like no other. The initial crunch of the outer egg shell crust is followed by a dense, chewy inside and then a victorious inner filling, usually ganache, buttercream, or jam. Macarons have become extremely popular recently, especially  in Europe, where bakeries have rows and rows of them ready to be devoured by eager macaron-lovers.

Macarons my family and I bought from a bakery in Scotland!

Because of their complex texture that has to be the perfect density, macarons are not an easy pastry to make. If the batter is too runny or too thick, it may not come out ideally. Also, the crust-like “feet” at the bottom of each cookie half is part of what makes macarons so special and is coveted by every macaron-maker. These little cookies have always enchanted me so I decided I’d give it a whirl.

My first challenge was finding almond flour. Another reason why macarons are so unique is because they require almond flour, an ingredient that is so rarely used that it cannot be found in Shaw’s or even Whole Foods. Alas, I had to take the homemade route by grinding up blanched, slivered almonds in a blender until it turned into a fine almond flour. Then after combining the flour with sugar, cocoa powder, and salt, the mixture had to be sifted until it was all very fine and blended.

Next, I whipped some egg whites and sugar into a beautiful meringue using a stand mixer. It is highly advised that the meringue has to be mixed until stiff peaks form in order to yield optimal results. The meringue must be nice and fluffy, but it cannot be over-whipped.

After mixing the flour mixture into the meringue, the batter is made. Next, is the pipetting part. As an amateur, I struggled with getting all the shells the same size, and in general, they turned out a little bit wider than I would have liked. A good way to ensure all the drops are identical in size is just to count 3 seconds for each drop.

The consistency of the batter seemed correct because the drops were smooth so I crossed my fingers and threw them into the oven.

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After baking for about 14 minutes, I checked the macarons and jumped for joy when I saw the little feet on them. I was thrilled because I had heard that most beginners struggled with getting the feet. So I took pleasure in knowing that I must have done something right! I let them cool and then glued two of the cookie shells together with raspberry jam. I was disappointed to find that some of the cookies were slightly undercooked so they were gooier than normal, but I still pieced them together and they tasted delicious nonetheless.

Voila! Beautiful chocolate macarons with raspberry jam filling, dusted with cocoa powder. Basically like the ones in the bakeries. These macarons tasted wonderful! Sweet and chewy just like the ones from the bakery, but since the shells were a little underbaked they were softer so when I bit into them, my teeth sank into them like they were clouds. How can I not describe them as heavenly?

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The black forest combination of chocolate and raspberry is absolutely divine. Since I didn’t have any heavy cream to make a chocolate ganache filling, I simply used jam instead. Very sweet! The flavors magically intertwine and dance on the tongue beautifully.

When I described how I made the macarons and their ingredients to my mom, she was amazed that there was no butter involved! It seems like almost all desserts these days require at least some butter, but not this one! Macarons are light and not greasy.

So have a macaron! Or better yet, make some yourself and eat them fresh! They are not difficult to make as long as you follow all the directions. I know I will certainly be making more in the future in all sorts of crazy colors and flavors 🙂

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY MACARONS

Ingredients
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup almond flour (or make by blending blanched, slivered almonds in food processor)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Raspberry jam

Directions

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Prepare a large pastry bag with 1/2-inch plain tip and set aside.

Mix together powdered sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder and salt. Use a flour sifter to sift mixture into a large bowl.

To make the meringue, beat egg whites in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Beat for 30 seconds on medium and then increase to medium high until white. Continue to beat while slowly adding granulated sugar until peaks are stiff (about 1 minute). Make sure you do not overwhip.

Fold half of the dry mixture into the meringue and then the other half until just combined.

Transfer batter into pastry bag. Pipe 1-inch circles about 1 inch apart onto the baking sheets. Gently tap the baking sheets against the table to even out any bumps. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes so the tops are dry.

Bake macarons, one sheet at a time, at 350 degrees F for 7 minutes. Rotate the sheet and cook for another 7 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.

Pair macarons of similar size. Use a spoon to place about a teaspoon of jam in the center of a cookie shell and then press the other half on top. The end result should look like a mini hamburger.

For a nice finishing touch, put cocoa flour in the flour sifter and sprinkle on the tops of the macarons.

adapted from Chow

Chocolate Chip Cookie Balls

Do you know how the famous, beloved chocolate chip cookie was invented? It was by accident! Just like these awesome, guilt-free chocolate chip cookie balls. Aren’t they adorable?

In an attempt to make super healthy chocolate chip cookies, I experimented with multiple substitutions and ended up with these fun little balls. I replaced half of the butter in the original cookie recipe with Greek yogurt, which is why the dough never flattened. Instead, they just baked in their original ball-shaped form. I also reduced the amount of sugar and replaced some of the flour with whole wheat flour.

When I looked into the oven and didn’t see anything that slightly resembled a cookie, I panicked. Why were my cookies still shaped like spheres?!! I was disappointed that my supposedly healthy cookies were no longer cookies but at least I ended up with a new type of dessert…healthy balls of baked chocolate chip cookie dough!

The texture of these chocolate chip cookie balls is hard to describe…they’re very soft and doughy, almost like a bread. Because of the butter substitution, they are not greasy like regular cookies. However, they still taste like chocolate chip cookies! I guess you could say it’s a hybrid of a bread and cookie…a brookie??

P.S. Be prepared for more experimental baking 😉

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BALLS

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg whites
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Take out baking sheets and spray with cooking oil.

In a medium bowl, mix flours, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, mix butter, yogurt, and sugar at medium speed until blended.

Add vanilla extract and egg whites. Mix for 3 minutes.

Add the flour mixture (one half at a time) and chocolate chips. Mix evenly.

Spoon out dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls using hands. You can put the balls close to each other on the sheet since they don’t spread.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes 30