Healthier Cherry, Almond and Cashew Bark

Let’s talk about two dreaded words “eating healthy”.  If you’re like any normal person, you probably cringe at the word and it sorta terrifies you (at least, it did for me!).  I think society these days has made the concept of eating healthy so much more difficult and confusing with changes in dietary recommendations every couple years and new research on diabetes, heart disease and other chronic disease always coming out.  It’s hard to keep up with all of it!
A couple ways to make it easier to eat healthy is to remember these recommendations:

  • keep it simple – try to stay away from foods with a lot of ingredients and especially those that you don’t recognize.
  • keep it fresh – fresh foods, are always better than processed food! Fresh foods are lower in sodium, sugar, and free of preservatives.
  • homemade is best – when you eat out, or buy already packaged foods, you can’t control the ingredients that go in there.  By making things yourself at home, you can control the salt, sugar, and contact with other ingredients that aren’t good for you.

Now, I agree, homemade is not always the easiest, and sometimes you have to pick your battles. For me, if I’ve worked a 12 hour work day and the only thing I’m craving is Chinese takeout, I just go for it. But if I’m home on a Saturday and find free time on my hands, I love to meal prep and bulk make snacks.  Eating healthy is all about finding what works for you, whether it is home cooking everyday, or just starting a weekend meal prep that’ll last you a couple days. 


One of my favorite snacks to make is this dark chocolate, cherry, almond, and cashew bark.  It was born out of wanting a more even distribution of chocolate whenever I ate trail mix.  I hated having a handful of just dried fruit, or too many almond or just not enough chocolate.  This recipe is made with only 4 squares of chocolate (think like half a Hershey’s chocolate bar) and will last you the whole week! I grew up with people always telling me that chocolate was terrible for you and would give you acne and so on and so forth.  The truth is, it all depends on the type of chocolate! Dark chocolate is actually really good for you (in moderation, as everything is, haha), the key is just to choose a brand that is low in sugar. The cherries, or any dried fruit in general help give the bark some natural sweetness and are a good source of fiber; make sure to only buy dry fruit that hasn’t been sweetened (it will usually say if there’s been extra sugar added on the packing, so keep a look out for it!).  I know cherries and almonds are the classic combination, but I love the addition of cashews.  They’re heart healthy and help give a creaminess to the bark that makes it that much more delicious. I am addicted to the salty-sweet combination, so the final finishing touch to this bark is just a sprinkle of sea salt on top.  If you’re sensitive to salt, need to avoid it, or just don’t like salty snacks, leave it out!


This bark is perfect in every way.  It keeps well, it’s healthy for you with no refined sugars, and is pretty much as minimally processed as foods get.  It also takes only 20 minutes and is legitimately 3 steps. I’ve included photos to help guide you, I find that it’s always less daunting to try out a new recipe when you’ve got photos to compare your product to at every step!


First thing, gather up your nuts and dried fruit and roughly chop them.  I cut the cherries into quarters and the nuts in half.  You can go as large or as small as you want, but I find that these sized pieces are best to make sure you get at least a good amount of cherries, almonds and cashews in one bite.

 Then, melt your chocolate in the microwave and sprinkle your nuts on top.  It’s going to be a pretty densely packed bark, just because I’m trying to keep the chocolate at a minimum and make the majority of the bark nuts and dried fruit. Don’t forget that last sprinkle of sea salt!

Then, just pop in the fridge for 15 minutes.  When the chocolate has solidified, break into large pieces and you’re ready to devour. Seriously, it’s that simple!

HEALTHIER CHERRY, ALMOND, CASHEW BARK | Makes 3-4 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup roasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup pitted dried cherries (no added sugar)
  • 4 oz dark chocolate (I look for the one with the lowest amount of sugar)
  • A pinch of sea salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Roughly chop up almond, cashews, and cherries. They should be chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Heat dark chocolate in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time and taking out before all the chocolate is melted.  Let the residual heat of the already melted chocolate melt the remaining chocolate.  This will ensure a smooth and luscious chocolate texture.
  3. Pour melted chocolate on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.  Spread the chocolate out as thin as you can get it (I picked up the sheet pan and tilted it side to side to help the chocolate spread, it’s the easiest way!). It should be spread out very thin (almost paper-thin).
  4. Sprinkle chopped nuts and cherries over the melted dark chocolate and then press the nuts and fruit into the chocolate.  This will make sure everything stays inside the melted chocolate and doesn’t fall out when you try and eat it. It should be pretty densely packed! Sprinkle with sea salt.
  5. Pop into the fridge for 15-20 minutes until bark is solidified. 
  6. Once bark is solidified, break into large pieces and you’re ready to eat!
  7. Store bark in an airtight container in the fridge and it will pretty much keep indefinitely.

*Recipe can be doubled, tripled or quadrupled to meet your needs.

Enjoy!

The Best Browned Butter Blondies

 I’m not going to lie, moving to a brand new city is hard.  While New York has been amazing, there are definitely things that I’m struggling with in my new home.  For instance, learning how to shop effectively cause groceries cost a million dollars, but also learning that I can’t just buy 5 bags of food at once because I only have 2 arms.  Or the fact that I realllllllllly have to work on my breathing exercises when the subway decides to evacuate because of police incidences, or even scarier when the subway breaks down underground and I’m stuck in the dark for half an hour.  I do think though, the hardest thing has been the nagging feeling of loneliness that occurs when you first move to a place where you don’t have many friends.


This past week and weekend, I was definitely feeling way more homesick just cause I felt like I wasn’t really fitting in at my school and also because even after budgeting, making ends meet was still the hardest thing in the world. BUT, I guess the world knew what I needed because the two loveliest new friends that I met came over for a baking and Great British Baking date. Sitting around the dining table and laughing about random things just brought me the greatest joy the world.  Also, we chose to make brown butter blondies, which legitimately are like GIANT, WARM HUGS (how can you get better than that).


These blondies, which are adapted from Food52’s recipe, have been my go to recipe since day one in terms of comfort dessert. They can be adapted so easily for whatever you’re in the mood for (nuts, chocolate, white chocolate, fruit, pretzels, chips, honestly everything but the kitchen sink), and when I need a pick me up, it’s dark chocolate chunks all the way. So, my friends are long gone, and it’s just me and the last piece of brown butter blondie, but it’s beautiful souls like them that truly make a place home.


In other news, I’m loving Columbia’s public health program! I was so worried that public health wasn’t the right choice, but I’ve loved everything from learning about the history of public health to discussing the economics of public health (more on that later). OH and can we talk about how New York City is literally dessert heaven?? Where else are you going to find a doughnut store next to a cookie shop next door to a cupcake bakery??
And for those of you who can’t, try out these brown butter blondies, they’re not a perfect substitute, but do come darn near close! They’re chewy, caramel-y, marbled in chocolate and oh, so delicious that you might even want to hide your pan.

*PRO TIP ON HOW TO BROWN BUTTER: Browning butter is hard! The best way to brown butter is to use a small or medium sized sauce pan and cut the butter into smaller sized cubes before placing in pan and melting to help the butter melt evenly.  You’ll start to hear small crackles and pops when the butter begins to brown and it’ll look like the white “foam” layer on the top of the melted butter is slowly “boiling” off.  After awhile, the crackling sounds will begin to die down and you’ll be able to see light golden specks on the bottom of the pan, remove the saucepan immediately from heat and the residual heat will bring the brown butter to a perfect dark golden color.

BROWN BUTTER BLONDIES | Adapted from Food52 | Makes one 10″ cake tin

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • Heaping 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chunks or bars chopped into bite-sized pieces

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 (F).
  2. In a medium sized sauce pan, brown butter* (refer to note above) and let cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Then add in both brown sugar and white sugar into sauce pan and mix browned butter and sugars together thoroughly. Let cool for 10-15 minutes (this is an important step, otherwise your eggs will curdle!)
  4. Add in vanilla and salt into pan and again mix thoroughly.
  5. Crack both eggs into the pan and whisk or beat mixture together until it takes on a shiny consistency (that will mean that the eggs have properly emulsified the mixture, basically, it means when you bake it, the butter won’t leak out of your blondies and be a gross mess).
  6. Then stir in flour and once flour is thoroughly incorporated, fold in the chocolate chunks.
  7. Pour into pan and bake for 25-28 minutes. Blondies are done when surface looks golden and flaky (depending on how much chocolate you put in the blondie, a toothpick will not come out clean no matter what).
  8. Let cool before attempting to cut into it otherwise blondie pieces will come out gooey and uneven.
  9. Blondies will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.

Enjoy!

Mini Homemade Strawberry Poptarts

 I don’t know about you, but for me, childhood screams poptarts. Those shortcrust filled pastries that at the time seemed filled with delicious jams and topped with insane amounts of icing. There’s no way they could have ever been good for you, but bless my mom’s heart, she still bought it for us EVERY time that my two sisters and I would ask for them when at the grocery store. I swear, my mom has THE biggest heart in the whole wide world. I’m sure everyone thinks that their mom is the best, but I’m pretty sure that my mom is the best. As a child, she would spend hours upon hours everyday in the library reading to me as my older sister when to kindergarten the street over. My dad was gone a lot for my childhood, so she effectively raised three rambunctious children on her own, amazing, right?


Even now, she still never fails to love the three of us with all her heart – like, she’s coming to New York with me to help me find an apartment and get settled in before grad school AFTER spending 2.5 months in Taiwan accompanying my sister as she teaches English in a remote Taiwanese village!!! Anyway, these poptarts are officially dedicated to her. But not the store-bought, come in an aluminum package, warm up in the microwave type.  More like the melt-in-your-mouth, crammed too full of berries, and topped with just the right amount of royal icing kind.


Speaking of moving to New York, I have put off finishing this post 2,752 times because I’ve been so busy packing and saying goodbye to all my friends.  Never in my mind did I imagine how hard it would be to say goodbye to everyone that I love.  I mean yes, I will be back to visit, but it’s crazy that in less than two days, I’ll be in the Big Apple and all my friends will be back at home.  WAAHHHH I’m tearing up just thinking about it now. Before I start getting really sappy, I’m just going to continue with this poptart recipe. They’re perfect, they really are….BUT, maybe you should make them just to be sure 🙂

PRO TIP: If you have plastic wrap, the easiest way to roll the dough out is to sandwich the dough between two large pieces of plastic wrap and roll out the dough on top of the plastic wrap.  That way it doesn’t stick to the counter, the rolling pin and is easy to remove!

 MINI STRAWBERRY POPTARTS | Makes 16-18 depending on size
INGREDIENTS
for crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 cup strawberry jam or preserves
  • 1 egg + 2 tbsp water for egg wash

for icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt – mix well.
  2. Add in butter cubes and using hands or pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse sand.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together egg and milk.
  4. Create a small well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour egg and milk mixture into well. 
  5. Gently fold the liquid into the dry ingredients until a shaggy dough forms.  Knead the dough a couple of times until dough is smooth.
  6. Refrigerate dough until firm (~ 1 hour).
  7. Preheat oven to 350 (F).
  8. Flour surface and roll dough to 1/8″ thick rectangle (see note above for easy way to do this!).
  9. Cut dough into 2×4″ rectangles making sure that you end up with an even number of rectangles so each will have a top and bottom piece.
  10. Place about 2 teaspoons of strawberry jelly on half the dough pieces. 
  11. Place a dough piece on top of the rectangle already filled with jam and seal edges by using a fork to press down along the edge.
  12. Place in freezer for 15 minutes to help keep the poptarts from losing their shape in the oven. Just before placing in oven, brush tops of poptarts with egg wash to give it a nice golden color. 
  13. Bake poptarts for 15-20 minutes and cool completely before icing.
  14. Mix powdered sugar and milk together until a smooth icing is formed. Spoon your desired amount of icing over each poptart and wait until icing solidifies before storing in an air-tight container.

Enjoy!

Julia Child’s Banana Bread

 Have you ever felt so sad, that it seemed like your heart gained an additional 100lbs and your stomach dropped to the bottom of the ocean, deep, deep down, unable to be saved? I received this kind of news the other day, heart-wrenchingly painful, and almost too much to stomach. But I realized that the point of hearing this news, was to help lighten the burden, so one person wouldn’t have to carry it all. After all, 10 people carrying one burden is so much easier than just one person carrying it all.


So, instead of running away from this news, I gave thanks for being surrounded by wonderful people in life and the chance to help make things right. Still, we can’t help but still feel sad and at some points, helpless. At times like these, I always find myself drawn back inside the kitchen, as if I could use the heat and warmth of the oven to ward away the bad news. Baking is an escape, yet at the same time, an activity that helps me think, process and reflect on the news that I have heard and figure out the best actions to take.


Today, it felt like the only person that I could turn to was Julia Child and her delicious banana bread (with just a couple modifications!). For me, banana bread has always been the perfect balance between elegant and homey. Bananas are not used as a typical baking ingredient, making them a little bit fancy, but a dash of vanilla and a handful (okay, maybe two or three handfuls) of chocolate turn it into one of the best comfort desserts in my opinion. There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into fresh and fragrant banana bread, and discovering molten pockets of luscious chocolate. Today I made this, for Julia Child, for the people that I love, and for me. A small piece of comfort in an entirely shaky and unknown world.


MOLTEN CHOCOLATE BANANA BREAD | modified from bon appetit
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large, I find mashing them with a fork on a plate is easiest)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks (not chips!)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and oil a 9x5x3″ loaf pan
  2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, add chocolate chunks and make sure individual chocolate pieces are coated in flour (this will ensure they don’t sink to the bottom of the loaf pan while baking)
  3. Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, vanilla and oil in a large bowl until smooth
  4. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top
  6. Bake for 60-70 min or until a toothpick/fork/skewer inserted into center of loaf comes out clean (be careful not to overbake, or bread will be dry!)

Let cool (if you can!)
Enjoy