Shlomit-Making the Desert Bloom

Friday afternoon, we’re driving past nature reserves, army bases, and sheep farms, towards the setting sun. The car is loaded with with kids, blankets, pillows, diapers, a freshly baked lemon cake, and–you know me by now–chocolate cookies. Fortunately, we arrived at the five-years-young desert town of Shlomit in time for Shabbos. And what a Shabbos it was!

28 hours. Two young couples. 13 children aged 8 and younger with the world as their sandbox. How’d that happen? The friends we were visiting, owners of the local toy store, have four children, and a relative in the neighborhood left them with her four children when she went to Beer Sheva to have a baby Thursday night. Add in our five, and it was quite a party.

 

Somehow, over the background noise of the kids, we got to learn a little about the community. Shlomit is located about seven kilometers from the Gaza Strip and less than a kilometer from the Egyptian border, so close, in fact, that we heard booms from Egyptian fire, all over the border. Our hosts said that in the middle of the night, they can sometimes even hear Egyptian soldiers shouting to each other one guard-post to the next. (Time to replace the walkie-talkie batteries.) Despite the close proximity to Egypt and Gaza, Shlomit’s 200+ residents feel safe. Even in the Gaza War, they weren’t targeted by rocket fire because they are in the opposite direction from Israel’s large cities. The daily struggle is not with the neighbors, but with the sand fighting its way into the living room.

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I spent Shabbos on the Egyptian border, and all I got was a cheap toy and a laundry bag full of sand.

This little town currently hosts about 50 families, all in pre-fab “caravan” homes, a large playground, a basketball court, a synagogue, two new kindergartens, a new day-care center, a tiny toy store, and someone’s pet sheep, goat, and chickens. An area is already prepared to build 79 permanent homes, so if you love sun, sand, and starry nights, Shlomit is looking to expand.

Shlomit: Making the desert bloom, one family at a time.

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Beet Bulgur Salad

Success in life is all about balance, right?
I was lying in bed with my two-year-old at 6:40 yesterday morning (because she was crying at 6:38), dreaming about salad. After eating too many “Emergency” Cookies this week, all I wanted today was a nice, big salad. I made some bulgur on Tuesday to serve to my kids for lunch, but since my daughter’s friend was over and she wanted couscous and soy hot dogs, the menu changed. There I was, trying not to fall off the edge of the twin bed, thinking about the bowl of bulgur sitting in my fridge, when I remembered the beets I bought last week after reading a blog post about natural food coloring. The combination was obvious. My husband occasionally buys me a delicious beet-bulgur salad at work, and I set out to make my own at home.

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This salad doesn’t take a lot of hands-on time to make, but it does involve a number of quick steps that each take time. I was in and out of the house–and the kitchen–a lot yesterday, so this salad didn’t actually happen until supper. It’s prettier in real life than in the photos here. Even my husband, who doesn’t like beets and didn’t eat the salad, said it looked good. However, I was rushing to get the salad to the hungry guests sitting at my table, so I quickly snapped a few pictures with my right hand, baby in my left. Maybe not the best choice for the food blog, but the right decision as a mother and hostess. We said life’s all about balance? Also, priorities.

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The nice thing about bulgur is that it doesn’t need cooking, just rehydration. Soak it for an hour, and you’re good to go. In terms of hands-on time, it’s just as easy as couscous. You can stick it in the fridge in the morning before going to work, or even the night before, and come back to it at supper time.

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Beets are also easy to toss in a pot and forget about for a half hour to an hour, depending on the size. The skins slip right off once they’re cooked. I’ve had this salad with raw beets, also, but I prefer my beets cooked.

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The last make-ahead ingredient in this salad, unless you count washing greens, is hard-boiled eggs, though I cooked mine while I was setting the table and chopping vegetables. To make it vegan, swap the eggs for chickpeas. Or if you’re not vegan, you could use both. I just didn’t have any in my pantry yesterday. I actually prefer this salad with cubes of Bulgarian cheese in place of the eggs, but I didn’t have that either. If you use cheese, omit the salt from the recipe. I also meant to include dried cranberries, but due to the aforementioned rush to feed hungry guests while holding baby and snapping pictures, I completely forgot. And the salad was still delicious. Gotta love the flexibility of salads.

Did you make this? What’s your favorite version? Comment below.

Beet Bulgur Salad
Serves: 2 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side dish

4-5 large leaves of Romaine letter, torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups prepared bulgur
1 medium red beet, cooked or raw
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 cup parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup green onions (scallions), finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)
1/2 cup chickpeas (optional)
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
or
1/2 cup cubed Bulgarian cheese

Dressing:
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons zaatar

Directions:
1. Put one cup of dried bulgur and one cup of water in a bowl or container. Cover and ignore for at least an hour.
2. Wash and cut off stems of beets. Put in a pot of water and simmer for a half hour to an hour. When they are cooked, run under cold water, slip the skins off, and cut into cubes. Oh, and wear an apron!
3. Combine lettuce, prepared bulgar, chopped vegetables, chickpeas, dried cranberries, and eggs or cheese.
4. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, salt (unless you’re using salty cheese), and zaatar. Toss to coat.

Enjoy!

 

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“Emergency” Cookies

I walked into the kitchen tonight after (unsuccessfully) trying to put the baby to sleep, and my husband announced that he and our oldest son were making a siyum. They were finishing mishnayos challah and starting orlah. The goal is to learn two mishnayos each night and finish by my son’s bar mitzvah. In order to encourage this, I try to have home-baked cake or cookies around for the siyum of each masechta. I could hardly believe it, but this morning, we ate crackers for kiddush because there were no cake or cookies in the house, not even lurking in the back of the freezer. So, when my husband announced the siyum, I lay the baby in his play gym and preheated the oven. COOKIE EMERGENCY.

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Good thing I bought coconut oil last week. If necessary, I bake with canola oil, but coconut oil makes cookies go from yum to WOW. I’ll elaborate on this more in a post on cooking on a budget in Israel, but the a lady down the street from me sells coconut oil from her house at a fraction of the cost of any health food store I’ve seen. I paid for the oil, turned to my two-year, and asked, “Do you know what this means? Cookies!”
Her eyes nearly disappeared into her chubby cheeks as she smiled. “I want to hold it!” she declared. “I can hold the cookies?” She knew this glob of white stuff didn’t look like cookies, but she called it cookies the whole way home.

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I’m finally ready to admit that we’re the kind of family that has cookie emergencies. My friend tells me her teenage daughter sometimes has clothing emergencies, a new skirt or shoes to keep up with her friends. Well, we’re starting to have an awful lot of cookie emergencies around here. A few weeks ago, I needed a batch to send with my husband to miluim (reserve duty). Now this siyum.

I’m sure that cookie emergencies come from my husband’s side of the family. He used to come home from preschool with notes that read: “Please send thirty cupcakes for tomorrow’s party. Thanks.” My sister-in-law also went through a phase when she made triple batches of chocolate chip cookies to take to friends whenever she was home on a Friday. My side of the family would never have cookie emergencies, just ice cream emergencies.

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What did I do about tonight’s cookie emergency? I scooped some coconut oil into a bowl, added brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla and an egg, and mixed them into the beginning of what could be any delicious cookie. In went the end of the container of pre-sifted whole wheat flour in the freezer, but since there was less than I expected, I also added a cup of oats. At this point, I still hadn’t decided what kind of cookies to make, but it looked like a batch of oatmeal cookies was forming before my eyes. “Chocolate or chocolate chip?” I asked my son as I sprinkled salt and baking soda into the bowl.
“Both!”
No problem. I added a half cup of cocoa and a few handfuls of chocolate chips.The oatmeal cookies would now be oatmeal brownies cookies.
They were out of the oven just in time for the siyum.

They’re not the prettiest cookies I ever made, but they are light, fudgy, sweet, chewy, and just plain good. Have you tried my Chocolate Chip Mocha Cookies or Healthier Lava Cookies orGluten-Free No-Bake Brownie Bites?

Emergency Cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (not instant oats)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Blend coconut oil, sugars, and vanilla.
  2. Add egg. Mix well.
  3. Add dry ingredients. Mix well.If you have been mixing with a wooden spoon and not a mixer, you may need to use your hands at this point. (Come on, you know you want an excuse to lick your fingers later.)
  4. Add chocolate chips. Mix well by hand.
  5. Drop into evenly-spaced mounds on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper. Bake 8-10 minutes at 180C/350F.
  6. Let cool at least 5 minutes to let the cookies firm up.They are delicious hot from the oven,  but they fall apart.

 

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Creamy, Comforting (Curried) Orange Soup

Four of the seven members of my household currently have colds, so the soup series continues. Today, I wanted to make onion soup, but based on the way my sniffling baby has been (not) sleeping, I opted for a blended soup. This orange soup is one of my quickest and easiest to make because the vegetables can be cut into large chunks and tossed in the pot, with minimal chopping time. This recipe is versatile and forgiving. I use whatever orange vegetables I have at home, as long as there’s a mix of at least three. It may never come out exactly the same twice in a row, but it is delicious every time. If you go easy on the spices, it also makes great homemade baby food.

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Today’s soup has one medium onion, six cloves of garlic, six carrots, two medium sweet potatoes, two medium potatoes, and one medium butternut squash. If I had fresh pumpkin at home, I would have added that or swapped it with the butternut squash. The squash gives the soup a slightly sweeter flavor than pumpkin. Often, I will have a leftover sweet potato or butternut squash sitting in the fridge that I baked in the oven, planning to serve it on Shabbos or use it in another recipe. Butternut squash is definitely easiest to peel after it’s baked, but  with a strong, sharp knife and a little balance, you can cut off the skin of the raw squash. (See pictures below.)

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I slice off the stem, stand it up with the big end down, and slice down the sides with a very sharp knife. The bottom part, with the seeds, I hack away at and manage to get most of the vegetable without seeds or peel. Do you have a different method? Please share!

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Curry powder adds a rich, warm flavor to this wintry soup. I left it out in order to increase the chances of my kids eating the soup and just sprinkled a bit onto my own bowl. You can make this soup into a complete meal by serving with couscous (Foolproof Couscous) and plain yogurt or gevinah levanah (soft white cheese).

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Here’s to a healthy winter!
If you like this, you may like my Red Lentil Soup.

Creamy, Comforting (Curried) Orange Soup

Yield: about 3 liters/quarts soup
Prep time: 30 minutes, Cook time: 1 hour, Ready in: 90 minutes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion
4-6 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons curry powder (optional)
4-6 carrots, peeled
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes
2 potatoes
1 medium butternut squash
2 teaspoons salt
2 liters boiling water

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and garlic, chopped coarsely. Saute foe 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add  dry spices. Their taste will come out the most when added at the beginning of cooking.
  3. Cut all of the vegetables into large chunks and add them to the pot, starting with carrots, which need the longest time to soften. Add salt.
  4. Add water and simmer for about an hour, until vegetables are soft.
  5. Allow to cool slightly before blending with an immersion blender so you don’t get burned from any soup that may splash.
  6. Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve hot with bread or couscous and plain yogurt, white cheese, or sour cream.

 

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Red Lentil Soup

This recipe for red lentil soup came home a few Fridays ago with my two-year-old, after she learned in gan about Yaakov and Esav. (Thanks, Morah Elisheva!) I decided to try it out yesterday because
a. it was really cold outside,
b. my kids were bringing friends home for lunch, so I wanted to serve real food, and
c. it was a fast day, and I thought soup would be the perfect light, yet filling, supper for my hungry husband when he came home.

I’ve made lentils soups before, but this was my first time using red lentils. They’re lighter and more delicate than green lentils, so they cook faster. I like the texture of the chopped vegetables and lentils, but it’s easy to blend for someone who prefers smooth soups. It took about twenty minutes to put the soup up in the morning, and it was waiting on the stove for lunch. A small investment of time for two delicious meals.

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To be honest, only three out of the six kids who ate lunch at my house yesterday were brave enough to taste the soup, but all three loved it. (The other three ate pasta and ketchup. Hey, I tried.) One put p’titim in it. One put pasta in it. One put p’titim and cottage cheese and pasta in it. I don’t recommend that, but I want to be honest and share all the kid-friendly options with you. 😛
It was also a big hit with my husband, who ate it on its own. dsc06936

I didn’t know as I was dishing up bowls of this delicious soup to my children and their friends what was happening at the Armon HaNetziv Promenade in Jerusalem. Halacha b’yaduah…. Enough said.

Red Lentil Soup
Serves: a small crowd

Ingredients:
2 T oil
2 medium onions, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional–I left them out)
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
8 oz can or 250 gram container tomato paste
10 cups water or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Saute the onions, garlic, and carrots until soft, 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add spices and lentils and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomato paste.
  4. Add water and bay leaves and simmer 45 minutes.
  5. Remove all bay leaves before serving. They’re a major choking hazard.

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I ate the last bowl as leftovers, for breakfast, garnished with low-fat plain yogurt and paprika. Did you make this soup? What did you add as garnish? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

If you like this soup, you may also enjoy my Creamy, Comforting (Curried) Orange Soup.

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Chocolate Chip Mocha Cookies

Today my blog is one month old! (And my baby is four months old!) There have been dozens of visitors from seven countries on three continents, and as an old friend of mine would say, “You deserve a cookie!”dsc06874

I know, this is supposed to be a healthy food blog, and I now have more chocolate cookie recipes posted than any other category of food. Have you tried my Healthier Lava Cookies or Gluten-Free No-Bake Brownie Bites ?) BUT don’t you think it’s healthy to celebrate milestones and accomplishments with a pat on the back…and cookies?

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You know how some people say you should always eat dessert first? Well, when I cook for Shabbos, I usually make dessert first. It’s the most fun. So, I was baking chocolate chip cookies with a cup of coffee on the counter next to me, and they were just begging for an introduction. (Don’t worry, the cookies aren’t dairy.) If you like classic chocolate chip cookies, coffee, and chocolate, these are for you.

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These cookies have a mild coffee flavor. If you want something stronger, there are plenty of other recipes out there. (After I made my cookies, out of curiosity, I did a quick google search, and the results were shocking. The top matches for mocha cc cookie recipes called for 5 TABLESPOONS of instant coffee. Seriously, if I put that much coffee in my cookie dough, they would have to breakfast cookies.)

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Without further ado…

Chocolate Chip Mocha Cookies
yield: 40-50 cookies

1/4 cup boiling water
3 teaspoons instant coffee powder (more if you want a stronger coffee flavor)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup oil (I used canola.)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C.
  2. Dissolve instant coffee and cocoa in boiling water. Set aside.
  3. Combine oil, sugars, and eggs. Mix well.
  4. Add coffee mixture and vanilla, mixing well and being careful not to cook the eggs.
  5. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix well.
  6. Add chocolate chips. Try to distribute fairly evenly.
  7. Drop in even size amounts onto a cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.
  8. Store any uneaten cookies in an airtight container.

 

 

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Warm Tuna Couscous Salad

Ten minutes, start to finish, in one bowl with all the major food groups. You can’t get much more instant than that!

My tuna couscous salad is usually made with a bowl of couscous pulled out of the fridge after the kids are finally in bed and my husband and I are starving. Five minutes later, we’re eating. Like most salads, it’s cold. Today, I needed an instant meal, and there was no couscous in the fridge that I could make a tuna salad from. So, I adapted an old favorite into this warm, wintery, one-bowl wonder. Here’s the first of those couscous salads I promised you:

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I made a package of couscous, adding a chopped carrot before the hot water to steam with the couscous.
Foolproof Couscous
The rest of the veggies, I chopped while the couscous was cooking. And it tasted great!dsc06844-copy

Warm Tuna Couscous Salad
350 g/2 cups dry instant couscous, prepared  (Foolproof Couscous)
1 large carrot
1 medium tomato
1-2 stalks celery
2 pickles
1 hard-boiled egg
1 can tuna in oil,* drained
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Chop a carrot while the water for your couscous is boiling. Add to bowl with dry couscous with teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons oil, and a dash of black pepper. Mix well.
  2. Add boiling water to cover ,about 2 cups. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, chop the tomato, celery, and pickle. Peel and chop the hard-boiled egg.
  4. Add vegetables, egg, and tuna. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm.

*If using tuna packed in water, add a teaspoon of olive oil or vegetable oil to the salad.

 

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Chanukah- Beyond the Limit

Chanukah is a  time for miracles, for achieving the impossible–or redefining our possibilities. Before Chanukah, I went to a lecture by Rebbetzin Shira  Smiles about holiday. One of the many points she made was that the miraculous nature of Chanukah can allow us to grow beyond our natural limits. 7 is the number of nature, and the 8 days of Chanukah allow us to stretch farther than our current natural limits.

I certainly tested my limits this Chanukah. As far as cooking goes, Chanukah is always a little crazy around here. Other than the singing, dancing, spinning, “Kids, get away from the fire!” routine for eight nights, my cooking philosophy does an about-face as well. Yes, the woman who claims that franks-in-a-blanket are not real food and has never willingly fed her children mallawach has been known to fill a pot with canola oil on Chanukah and DEEP FRY. My husband finds it amusing. I think the house stinks like oil. But I like how customs can make food more meaningful, and how much damage can be done with a doughnut or two once a year?

This year, I tested my limits way beyond the kitchen. It was my first time spending five days by myself with five kids (with them on vacation for most of the time!) and no car. I sometimes make the mistake of comparing myself to other mothers who look and sound calmer, have a cleaner house, or whose kids always look like little angels. This week, I prioritized the kids over the house and tried to plan ahead as much as possible. The kids I all rose to the occasion, and not only did we make it, we had a lot of fun! The part that my husband finds the most incredible is that the six of us were out of the house one morning at 8:37, all packed up for a day at the zoo. Sitting on the bus that we took since we really had to be out before 8:30 to catch the train, with my boys sharing a seat three seats away to make room for two other women to sit, baby on my lap and my youngest daughter throwing up her breakfast into my hands, I managed to stay calm, and I felt like supermom. I was also really glad that my sister was meeting us at the zoo and after three bus rides, two train rides, a new dress for the little one, and three and a half hours at the zoo, my mother-in-law was meeting us at home for supper. I learned that it’s both fun and exhausting to play super-mom for a short while, and I’m really glad it was only for a few days. I thought I would need a miracle to make it through the week. Instead, I pushed myself to the limit and gained a new respect for single parents and a deeper sense of self-respect as a mother!

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Hanukkah Hacks for the Health-Conscious

No, not another baked latke recipe. I’m traditionalist, and Chanukah is the one time each year I actually fry food in oil. This week, my kids and I fried latkes one night and donuts the next, and the holiday is only half over.Here are my tips for other aspects that can be lightened up:

  1. DREIDEL- The first night of Chanukah, kids wanted to play after lighting candles, and we didn’t want them stuffing themselves with candy. Nuts are out as choking hazards for the two-year-old. On the spot, my husband told them to play with hugs and kisses.
    nun/ נ– Nothing.
    gimmel/ג Get a hug and kiss from the other players.
    hey /ה– Get a hug from the other players.
    pey/פ– Kiss from the other players.
    My kids LOVED it. They had so much more fun than if they had been players for candy. No fighting over who got more, and no complaints if the two-year-old didn’t follow the rules and gave out too many hugs.

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    Home-made dreidels, made from marker covers and cardboard circles. They spin wonderfully. (afternoon activity for day 3)

  2. Day trips- Okay, this isn’t specific to Chanukah, but when I was walking around the zoo with a bunch of my own hungry little monkeys, I heard no complaints about eating cut veggies from the container I left open, balanced on top of the stroller. Even Mr. Can-my-lunch-vegetables-count-for-supper-if-I-didn’t-eat-them-at-school kept coming back for more.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy Hanukkah!

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Healthier Lava Cookies

My two-year-old walked up to my husband this morning, pointed to his green uniform, and asked, “Why are you wearing that?”
“I’m a soldier now,” he replied.
“What?!”
“I’m in the army.”
“What?!”
I tried relating to her on her level. “Abba (Daddy) is a Maccabee this week.”
“Oh.” Somehow, that seemed to make more sense to her than badly-timed reserve duty.

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Eight years ago, when my husband was in basic training, I sent him off every Sunday with a plastic container full of homemade cookies, which he would bring home empty the following Friday morning. Now, whenever he gets called up for a week or two of reserve duty, I still try to send him off with a taste of home. (Okay, I know I plug this as a healthy food blog, but salads don’t keep as well as cookies in a sandy tent.)

On Thursday afternoon, my four-year-old asked to bake chocolate cookies with me. My six-year-old was at a friend’s house, and the baby was sleeping, and it was surprisingly easy to bake with only three helpers. I based my cookies on a recipe for lava cookies in a book called “Chocolate on the Brain,” but since I made 6 changes, I am considering this my recipe. The recipe said it made 36 cookies, and I doubled it, hoping there would be enough to send some with my husband, but they were soooo good that the entire double batch was gone by the time we went to bed last night, and I had to quickly whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies this morning to toss into my husband’s backpack.

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These lava cookies are healthier than the original because there are made with 100% whole wheat flour and oil instead of butter. Yet, the brown sugar adds a moist, chewy taste. The powdered sugar on the outside…well, who doesn’t like things sugar-coated. My husband always likes my baking, but these were “really, really good.” So good they disappeared in two days.

If you like these, you may also want to try my Chocolate Chip Mocha Cookies or Gluten-Free No-Bake Brownie Bites.

Healthier Lava Cookies
yield:48 cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3-4 T/50 grams powdered sugar

1. Put oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla in bowl. Mix with wooden spoon until just combined.
2. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly.
3. Chill dough for at least a half hour.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.
4. Roll bite-size pieces of dough into balls, and roll the balls in powdered sugar so they are fully covered.
5. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Longer time in the oven will make them hard and dry.
Store thoroughly cooled cookies in an airtight container.

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