Monthly Archives: February, 2014

A New Approach to Lasagna

Mexican lasagna tortilla pie

Many families fall into a weekly routine, with the same mundane dinners being pulled out of the oven and plopped on the table on such a regular basis that even the tastiest family recipes become overdone and boring. I know a lot of children will turn up their noses at Mom’s lasagna, week after week, whining, “lasagna again?” And Mom will sigh, week after week, and force the gloppy substance into her children’s ungrateful mouths, or excuse them without dessert, and Dad will nibble on the common casserole while quietly dreaming of a more interesting dinner. Fast-forward to seven days later, and the ordeal is repeated. Perhaps it’s time to break out of this pointless routine, and try a new approach to lasagna.

Everyone loves nachos – crispy tortilla chips covered in flavorful Mexican veggies, melty cheese, and often a touch of avocado and some hearty beans. Why not incorporate the delicious appeal of nachos into the casserole style of lasagna? To make it even more fun and different, make the portions in individual ramekins. This is what I did one night to create a unique dinner, and it turned out splendidly. I used the same concept as my basic Classic Lasagna Ramekins, but subbed out the noodles for a gluten-free spinach tortilla. For the fillings, I incorporated Italian pasta sauce with Mexican cheese, black beans, and avocado. Each adorable little mini-lasagna was topped off with a sweet mini pepper for a burst of flavor and added nutrition. The tortillas got wonderfully crispy just at the edges, reminiscent of nachos, but in the center they remained softer like a typical casserole. These were flavorful but not too spicy for children to enjoy. I deem them a delicious family dinner idea that could certainly delight people of all ages. So if you or your family is sick of lasagna night, try switching things up with these easy and yummy Mexican Lasagna Ramekins.

Here’s how to make them:
Mexican Lasagna Ramekins Instructions

ramekin tortilla lasagnas step 5

Click here for full recipe and instructions.

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An (Accidentally) Red, White & Blue Take-Along Lunch!

Do you bring your lunch, or buy it at school/work? I usually make my lunch ahead of time and brown-bag it to school, and on the few occasions I don’t I usually end up standing in a long, rowdy line to pay good money for some form of junk food I don’t really want. I’ve had a few experiences like this, and the burning memory is enough motivation to force me to go to the kitchen in the evenings after a long day of studying and put together a lunch for the following day, to avoid another noontide disaster. I do tend to get lazy and settle for a simple, boring sandwich most days, if only because they’re quick to make and pack. However, sometimes I like to switch things up with something different. After all, there’s a lot to be said for variety in the diet, both in the interest of health and for stimulating the tastebuds! So last week I set aside a little extra time to put together this hearty rice salad for a take-along school lunch.

fruit and veggie rice salad

Presidents’ Day weekend is the perfect time to share this salad idea, as it just so happens to be red, white and blue! (and green, etc.) The brown rice and cut-up string cheese provide a foundation of off-white color, as well as filling fiber from the rice and calcium and protein from the string cheese. Blue is found in the blueberries, which provided some nice sweet, fruity freshness as well as a ton of nutritional benefits including the enhancement of brain health, vision, and the prevention of cancer cell growth. I could really go on forever about the various known and proposed health benefits of blueberries, but if I did that we’d never get to the star of the show: the red strawberry balsamic that really gave this salad its flair! For additional nutritional power, I added a good splash each of cinnamon and sage, spices known to invigorate the senses. The sugar snap peas are a great source of vitamin A and C, as well as a surprising 2g of protein to boot. Overall, this salad is a wonderfully healthy and filling lunch alternative for those who are sick of sandwiches and don’t feel like paying for vending machine junk. Give it a try this week! (P.S.: It doesn’t have to be Presidents’ Day to get your nutrition the red, white and blue way!)

Fruit, Veggie and Brown Rice Salad

serves one

rice salad with blueberries


  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup fresh, washed sugar snap peas (I bought the stringless, pre-washed kind for ultimate convenience)
  • 1/2 cup fresh, washed blueberries
  • 1 low fat Mozzarella string cheese, chopped (or be fancier and use crumbled feta, bleu, etc.)
  • generous splash cinnamon
  • pinch sage
  • 2 tbl 365 Organic brand strawberry balsamic


Toss together the rice, sugar snap peas, blueberries, string cheese, cinnamon and sage.

If you are taking this salad to go, bring your dressing in a separate container (I snagged a single-serve plastic condiment container from Veggie Grill and used it for this – don’t tell!) This way everything stays nice and fresh. When you are ready to enjoy your salad, just add the dressing and dig in!


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The Obligatory Valentine’s Day Blog Post

hershey's special dark blossom cookies sweet potato

Happy Valentine’s Day! May you and your special someone enjoy a day filled with kisses and love and all that mushy stuff…may you share a significant bag of candy hearts that say “BE MINE”…”WUV U”…”TXT ME”… may your significant other show up to your date on time and buy you the right brand of chocolates…blah blah blah…whatever. I think a lot of people, singles and couples alike, are a little sick of all the hype about this “holiday,” especially since the majority of it is clearly manufactured by big businesses in a transparent effort to capitalize off of new couples’ desperate desire to impress the other person. If I was in love with someone (which I assure you is nowhere close to happening since virtually all men in my life are officially on probation at the moment), I know I’d care a lot more about the everyday pleasure of being together than some particular, arbitrary day on which suddenly our relationship becomes an expensive priority. That’s not to say that spending time and occasionally money on a romantic interest isn’t important. But this should happen on a consistent basis, and when it is possible for both people to truly enjoy the moment. For instance, if February 14th wasn’t considered such a strict deadline in the blogging world, I wouldn’t be frantically typing a blog post about this stupid holiday while I should be reading Darwin’s Origin of Species.

But! I can still see one redeeming quality to the highly superficial, sickly sweet contrivance that is our modern Valentine’s Day. If it weren’t for the V-Day blogging deadline of the 14th, I wouldn’t have taken the time this week, amidst all my schoolwork and stuff, to get in the kitchen and throw together a “Valentine’s Day Friendly” recipe. And it would sure be a shame if I had not done that, for the cookies I baked up were truly stellar.

sweet potato dark chocolate blossom cookies


This recipe is a twist on the traditional “blossom cookies” (soft cookies with a piece of chocolate in the center) because the cookie dough is flavored with sweet potato puree. This may seem weird, but it certainly worked in these cookies, giving them a special flair, as well as contributing to the soft, chewy cookie dough texture. My mom said they tasted a bit like pumpkin. I fed a bunch to my school friends, none of whom guessed that a vitamin-rich root vegetable was a main ingredient in the cookie dough, or that the little cuties were extremely low in fat and only 60 calories apiece! One friend liked the cookies so much she had seconds and asked me for the recipe. She offered some to a secretary in one of the school offices, who was reluctant to eat anything unhealthy but just couldn’t resist once she saw the adorable bite-sized cookies, garnished with Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate kisses in the centers. When I told her they were made with sweet potato, she was won over and reached for one. She devoured it in a few bites and told me it was very good.

Bake these cookies for a party, or just to give out to friends and family and brighten everyones’ day. Make them for your coworkers, your neighbors, or your landlord. If you simply must, then make them for your sweetie for Valentine’s Day. Or any day. Make them the day after Valentine’s Day. Who cares if you’re past the deadline?

Click here for the full recipe.

sweet potato hershey's special dark blossom cookie

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Kid Friendly Dinnertime Battle Strategy: Veggie Pizza Omelette

string cheese veggie pizza omelette

In today’s world of hyperspeed communication and burgeoning workloads, people are busier than ever. In many families, there are parents bogged down by enormous workloads that follow them home from the office in the form of email and text messages. There are numerous kids that need to be chauffeured to various activities. There are teenagers staying up all night to fulfill the ever-growing expectations of an education system figuring out where it stands in the changing tides of the modern world. Lost in the sea of schedules, deadlines and bleeping electronic devices is the pathetic little sailboat of the family mealtime. Tossed by the churning waves, battered by the barraging storm, the little sailboat is always on the verge of being swallowed up by the sea of work. Weeknight sit-down family dinners are almost a thing of the past, now rusting in Davy Jones’ Locker at the bottom of the sea. But there are some who long for the past, who miss the grandeur of the sailboat that once rode serenely on the swells of daily life as the one oasis of family time during which everyone sat together and enjoyed one another’s company while savoring a home-cooked meal.


Image from

Sure, there are those days when it’s impractical to expect everyone to heed the call of the dinner bell, gather around the table and partake of the fruit of Mom’s labors in the kitchen. For instance, more often than not my family ends up ordering takeout on busy school nights. Often it’s everyone-for-him/herself night to avoid arguments over what and when dinner will be. And to cater to a certain person’s desire to eat only on his own terms (i.e. early and greasy) we will  call in a pizza at least once or twice a week, to be delivered to the eager hands of that certain person.

The pizza delivery is coming to be one of the symbols of the American dinnertime. Yes, it is convenient and time-efficient to simply dial a number or make a few clicks on the computer, and not have to interrupt any important work until the doorbell rings twenty minutes later. But even so, there are some Americans to this day who strive to avoid this as our country’s future. There are those who see the definition of a meal as more than a factory-pressed circle of carbs, cheese, and grease in a white cardboard box. There are those who want to pursue the American dream of happiness and prosperity while also being able to eat like human beings, in the company of loved ones, enjoying real foods. These people will not surrender to the oppression of the tantalizing pizza delivery without a fight!


Image from

But what a bitter and impossible fight this is, when the kids are begging for pizza and the bleeping electronics are demanding attention and the wallet is far from full! Those committed to the resistance against the dictatorship of industrial pizza must be strong and clever. Combat strategies (i.e. homemade meals in this day and age) must be quick and easy to make with relatively few and cheap ingredients. If it can be assembled with kids’ help, even better! Perhaps more importantly, the food must be delicious enough to win over picky kids, who will back the pizza forces to the end unless a yummier homemade dinner is offered to them. Some strategists suggest emulating the enemy with homemade pizza. This tactic could in some cases prove successful, but is not foolproof as children possess acute visual and gustatory faculties and can easily detect a counterfeit pizza. With picky eaters, detection is the first step towards rejection. Case in point: my dad used to make homemade pizza for us kids. Operative words being “used to.”

The emulation strategy can work to an extent: offering kids food made with familiar ingredients they already love can be a good way of getting them to eat it. If the kids love pizza, a good move would be to serve them up nice and warm with tomato sauce and melty cheese. But I suggest leaving off the cardboard box and nutrient-poor crust, and replacing it with eggs and veggies for a wholesome meal that can be thrown together in no time and served to everyone at the family table. This will likely be received with some skepticism and may even provoke outright revolt upon the first introduction. But when the kids see the parents savoring this dish (for it is a dish to savor), and when they smell that irresistible tomato sauce/mozzarella combo, mingling with the aroma of warm eggs and flavorful veggies, when they see all the fun colors that go into this omelette, chances are they will eventually surrender. And once they take a bite, they will see that dinner can come in all shapes, sizes and forms, that a lovingly prepared pizza omelette can be just as enjoyable as a patented pizza from off a conveyor belt.

omelette veggie pizza

This is the way that we Americans will preserve the love of cooking and eating real food for future generations – by practicing it as a family. Even if it can only happen a few times a week. Parents, invite your kids to help you shop for ingredients they would like in their omelette. Let them take turns beating the eggs or peeling the string cheese, always a fun task and bonding experience. Kids, if your parents are too busy to cook dinner, make this for them sometime. I guarantee it will earn you significant brownie points!

This is a recipe for one omelette to serve once person. I made it for myself yesterday, as it was one of those everyone for him/herself nights in our household. But the recipe can easily be multiplied to make enough omelettes for two, four, or a whole army of hungry family members. Feel free to play around with the combination of veggies, or use a different type of cheese or sauce. There are infinite different ways to make an omelette, really, but whatever way you choose, it’s sure to be a fun and delicious family dinner to enjoy!

Veggie Pizza Omelette

original recipe serves one person

veggie pizza omelette


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 sweet mini pepper, sliced into semi-circles
  • 4 pimiento-stuffed manzanilla olives, each cut in half
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce (I used Ragu brand)
  • 1 individual mozzarella string cheese, peeled into strips


Spray a pan with nonstick spray.

Assemble all filling ingredients. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and beat vigorously.

Pour eggs onto pan, and heat to medium. Allow to cook for a few minutes, until edges are white. Then use a spatula to push the cooked edges of omelette in towards the middle, allowing liquid-y egg from the middle to run to the edges and cook. After a few minutes, when omelette looks cooked, sprinkle pepper pieces, halved olives, and most of the cheese strips into center of omelette. Pour most of the tomato sauce over this.

Fold omelette over the filling. Remove from heat and place on desired plate. Top with remaining tomato sauce and cheese strips.

And there you go, a pizza omelette. Enjoy piping hot!

omelette with veggies and pizza sauce

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Lemon Blueberry Muffin Batter Smoothie


Anyone who has watched the original film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” has probably been at least slightly imprinted with some strange feelings about blueberries. Have you seen the movie? Remember Violet Beauregarde – that gum-chewing chatterbox who popped a piece of prototype gum into her mouth and began to turn blue and round like a blueberry? I for one watched the movie so many times that that scene is forever burned into my memory: the Oompa-Loompas had to roll the girl out of the room, she had grown so rotund. I must have developed a kind of horrified fascination for the idea of a child turning into a blueberry, for I wrote several short stories and drew a gallery of sketches of scenes based on the frightful metamorphosis portrayed in the movie. I did feel a bit reluctant to eat blueberries after the first time I saw that scene, but the hesitation was washed away when my mom offered me some of the offending fruits bathed in coffee creamer.

If you don’t want to end up like Violet Beauregarde (and most of us don’t), here’s some good news: there are plenty of healthy and delicious ways to consume blueberries without ballooning into a ball or turning blue. Why, blueberries are pretty much designed for the health-conscious, as they are very low in calories and high in vitamin C and fiber. Recently, the American Chemical Society proclaimed that eating berries can benefit the brain, particularly with the prevention of age-related memory loss.

All around, blueberries are a true super fruit. But as with many other foods, people have found ways to turn an innocent health food into a dangerous dish of dietary doom: blueberries are drenched in cream, dumped in sugary pies, and mixed into muffin batter riddled with butter, oils, white flour, refined sugar, all the other things health nuts try to avoid. In answer to a common question: no, the fact that a muffin has blueberries in it does not make it healthy. Not unless that muffin also happens to be made the smart way, with fat substitutes, low GI flour, and real, whole ingredients. Better yet, scrap the whole baking step, and dump the tasty  soul of a muffin into the body of a nutritious smoothie. You’ll leave behind a lot of the carbs and sugars found in a baked muffin, and keep the delicious taste and healthy berries.

blueberry lemon muffin batter smoothie

This smoothie was a successful mish-mosh of unbaked muffin and ice-cold drink. With a generous helping of both fresh and dried blueberries, it turned out a lovely shade of blue-purple. But don’t worry – the color will not manifest itself in your skin after drinking this smoothie. Nor will you grow round, your belt exploding off as Violet Beauregarde’s did in the movie. Nope, this is a smart snack to help you stay slim, packed with filling protein and fiber. Silly Violet should have been a smoothie enthusiast instead of a gum-chewer; it would have saved her a lot of heartache. As a child watching that film, I think I must have resolved to learn from the rotten childrens’ mistakes. That’s probably why I always strive not to drink out of a brown river, and why I’d choose a smoothie over gum any day.

Drinking this smoothie was almost like sipping a hearty blueberry muffin through a straw. It had all the satisfying comfort of homestyle muffin batter, plus the refreshing chill and invigorating flavor of zesty lemon. It was very thick and filling, and I knew I could feel good drinking it because it was truly a delectable glass full of calcium, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. I highly recommend setting aside some time in your busy morning to blend up this smoothie. It doesn’t take too much time to throw together, and it’ll take you scarcely as much time to slurp it all up!

Lemon Blueberry Muffin Batter Smoothie

makes 1 serving

muffin batter smoothie lemon blueberry



  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 container Chobani brand lemon flavored Greek yogurt
  • 2-3 small ice cubes

“muffin batter”

  • 3 tbls whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp Earth Balance Whipped or Original Buttery Spread
  • 1/2 tbl lemon curd
  • 1/2 tbl honey
  • 1-2 tbls water
  • 1 tbl dried blueberries


Place all smoothie ingredients in blender.

In a small bowl, combine “muffin batter” ingredients. (If you like, reserve dried blueberries for garnish.) Texture will be sticky and not at all like muffin batter…so just throw it in the smoothie and smash it all together!

Blend until smooth. Pour into desired glass. If you reserved the dried blueberries, add them on top as garnish. Sip with the soundtrack of the Oompa-Loompa song!

Sources: Nutrition info:

Violet Beauregarde Image:

The Apple Imperative

My mom was just introduced to Honeycrisp apples by some of her relatives, who apparently raved to her about how delicious and exceptional this variety of apples is, and went on and on about it. (I guess this is the kind of conversation grown-ups typically have…yikes!) This extended exaltation of Honeycrisp apples seems to have tampered with her psychology, as it drove her to make a special trip to the produce section of the grocery store the next day. While I looked for my preferred Gala or Granny Smith apples, she scooped up a couple Honeycrisps, shocking me as I have never seen her eat an apple. Never. “I hope I remember these apples,” she told me as I just shook my head and grabbed the first apples I could find for myself.

The following day, for breakfast, my mom cut up one of the Honeycrisp apples she’d selected, making the most ridiculous faces and sighs of intense pleasure. She told me, “Honeycrisp apples are not too sweet, not too tart.”

“They’re tasteless, in other words,” I summarized. “No!” she asserted, shaking her head emphatically. “They aren’t tasteless at all!” But when I asked her to describe the taste of the apple, she couldn’t seem to find the words. “I can understand how you wouldn’t like them,” she finally conceded. “But they’re perfect for my sisters and me!”

“Whatever you say,” I said, and went to the fruit basket to find an apple for myself. I distinctly remembered buying a couple apples specifically for me when we’d been at the market. But somehow, all the apples in our family fruit basket bore that same obnoxious sticker with those dreaded words: Ranier Honeycrisp. I recalled that moment at the produce section the day before, visualizing what had happened: I’d reached into the immense pile of pinky red apples without looking, too busy arguing with my mom about Honeycrisp apples to pay attention to the stickers identifying the type of apple I was purchasing. I hadn’t checked to see what I’d bought…until now.

Oh, well, I thought. Might as well give this Honeycrisp thing a try, since we happen to have them. After I taste how bad it is, I’ll have even stronger evidence that mom and her sisters are wrong. With grim resolve I washed the thing, with a deliberate stroke I cut it into pieces, and with low expectations I spread peanut butter on a Honeycrisp morsel, hoping the peanut butter’s nutty flavor might somewhat compensate for the likely tastelessness of the apple. With cold determination I opened my mouth and took a bite to find…it was delicious! More tart than sweet, but without the sourness of a Granny Smith, the Honeycrip was, well, crisp, and quite juicy and infused with just a hint of sweetness. It had its own unique flavor that I can’t really describe in words…you’ll just have to try one to see what the craze is about! I know my mom’s saying “I told her so” as she reads this, but I just can’t pretend to despise Honeycrisps anymore. They really are a special type of apple.

Feel free to use whatever type of apple suits you in these sweet pockets of succulent fruit. I used Granny Smith, since we were all out of Honeycrisp. The Granny Smith contributed some lovely flavor, but I’m sure using a Honeycrisp apple would give it a distinctive taste as well.

These are basically blintzes: fruit and cream cheese all wrapped up in egg roll wrappers and brushed with just the faintest touch of cinnamon and sugar. Serve them warm as a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

Sweet Spring Rolls with Fruit and Cream Cheese

makes 8 rolls

sweet spring roll with cinnamon cream cheese and fruit

Note: Ingredients listed here are what I used exactly. However, I found the eight egg roll wrappers I happened to have on hand weren’t quite enough to accommodate so much fruit. I recommend either decreasing the amount of fruit, or using the same amount but filling up a few more egg roll wrappers.


for rolls

  • 8 Nasoya brand egg roll wrappers
  • 4 wedges Laughing Cow Smooth Sensations Cinnamon Cream Cheese Spread
  • 1 small to medium banana, sliced with each slice cut in half
  • 6 strawberries, chopped
  • 1 medium Granny Smith apple, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into smaller pieces
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • optional: 3 tbl almonds

for coating

  • 2 tbl Earth Balance Original or Whipped (I used whipped because that’s what we happened to have in the house)
  • 1 tbl Truvia Baking Blend
  • generous dash of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and spray with nonstick spray.

For rolls: Lay out egg roll wrappers. On each one, spread about 1/2 a wedge of Laughing Cow Smooth Sensations Cinnamon Cream Cheese Spread. Cream cheese should come almost to the very edge of the wrappers, to help seal them. Next arrange fresh and dried fruit in the center of each wrapper. Be sure to get a good mix of the different fruits in each roll. If desired, sprinkle sliced almonds in each one.

For coating: Melt Earth Balance in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. Add Truvia and cinnamon. Mix well.

Put it all together: Roll each of the spring rolls closed however you choose. Brush with cinnamon-sugar coating.

Bake on prepared pan in 400 Fahrenheit oven for about 10 minutes.

Serve warm for a delectable delight!

Below: a rainbow of flavor…

fruit for spring rolls

Spread cream cheese, arrange fruit, and wrap like so:

making fruit and cream cheese spring rolls

Brush with cinnamon-sugar coating:

how to make fruit and cream cheese spring rolls with cinnamon sugar coating

Bake until golden.

fruit and cream cheese spring rolls out of the oven


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Double Duty

cherry almond chocolate coconut granola

As a busy teenager, I often find myself swamped with obligations from a ton of different classes and activities. Sometimes I’m practically surrounded by different chores, pulling me in different directions and threatening to rip my arms off (and eat up all my free time) in urging me to take care of all these different tasks at once. Lately, I’ve been coming up with nifty shortcuts whenever possible, to save my sanity and lighten my workload. For example, whenever I can combine two assignments, I will jump on the opportunity. I need some community service hours? I’ll get them signed off when I clean the beach for science class. I’m supposed to read a free choice book in English class? I’ll choose to read the book another teacher recommends we read for extra credit. Is this cheating? Nah, just planning. I like to think of it as “double duty” – putting one vague assignment to two specific purposes.

Now the blog world gets to play the role of yet another of my teachers. Much as I love blogging, I have so many other things to do that sometimes publishing posts falls to the bottom of my endless to-do list. Here we are the day before Superbowl Sunday, and I’ve let the “deadline” for a post on Superbowl snacks creep up on me! Let alone the fact that Valentine’s day is not too far off, and who knows if and when I’ll get another chance to blog about v-day foods. So I’ll play one of my little double-duty tricks on you guys, just like I would if these were serious assignments we were talking about here. I’m going to write one blog post about a delicious project that ought to earn an A+ as both a Superbowl snack and a Valentine’s Day indulgence!

Granola is a healthy and resilient treat. It can be mixed with yogurt for a fueling breakfast, sprinkled on ice cream as an alternative sundae topping, or munched alone as an anytime power snack! If you’re having a Superbowl party with some health-conscious guests, try serving up some granola as an alternative to the traditional oily, buttery empty calories regrettably served at many game-day parties. After all, while we veg out on the couch watching a bunch of guys be active, we might as well eat right while doing so! And as for Valentine’s Day, the true best gift for a love interest might be a homemade breakfast, served with love and followed by a bike ride in the park. Many girls lament receiving a box of chocolates in early February, pushing their diet willpower to the max. But no dieter can refuse a healthy and chocolatey treat! Besides, making granola is a more personal gift than buying chocolates at the store.

chocolate almond cherry granola heart

This granola is full of the flavors of Valentine’s day: chocolate embraces toasted almonds and chewy dried cherries, sweetly wrapped in a coconut kiss. But it doesn’t have to be made for a love interest: make it in a huge batch an pour it in a bowl, and there you go, it’s a superb Superbowl snack for all your friends. This granola does double duty in two ways: 1) it works as both  Superbowl and Valentine’s Day fare, and 2) it is both healthy and delicious. No matter how busy you are, you really must find some time to make this granola. There’s no two ways about it!

Get the full recipe: Chocolate Almond Cherry Granola

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