Category Archives: My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things – Hot Chocolate and Cookies Joana Style

I’ve been cramming in a lot of new music this past week, which means that my stress level has been up and I’m feeling a bit worn out, too.  So how do I stay sane? Well, aside from well-placed breaks to look at my Instagram account and check up on my favorite celebrities online, I’ve also taken some time out to enjoy a few decadent treats…

chocolate oatmeal cookies and Joana Miranda Studio mug

like hot chocolate and homemade cookies!  

After all, I figure I deserve some rewards and a pat on the back now and then.  (Note: here comes the shameless plug part.) I’m proud to say that I made the low-sugar, flour-less chocolate oatmeal cookies (recipe follows), and whipped my own whipping cream by hand with a whisk (mainly because I was too lazy to get out the mixing bowl attachments.)  Oh, and did I mention that the mug also features my own illustration?

Hot chocolate and homemade cookie break

(Even if I don’t have a full hour to get “happy”, these little breaks go a long way to getting me there!)

And now for the Low-Sugar, Flour-less Chocolate Oat Cookie Recipe…chocolate oatmeal cookie

1 cup almond flour. well packed

scant 1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

pinch salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter (I recommend Kerrygold Irish Butter from Grassfed Cows)

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1/2 cup non-fat dry milk

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 4oz bar dark chocolate, chopped (I used 85% dark chocolate – you may prefer a lower cocoa content/sweeter bar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two baking sheets, or use two sheets covered with Silpat mats.  Combine the almond flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, coconut sugar and the non-fat dry milk.  Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until fluffy.  Add the almond flour mixture by hand and stir until thoroughly blended.  Stir in the rolled oats and the chopped chocolate.  Drop by teaspoonfuls on to the prepared baking sheets, spacing the dough about 1 inch apart.  Bake cookies for about 10-15 minutes, until just firm around the edge but still soft to the touch in the center.  Let cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further.

Note:  My husband, the official cookie taster, thinks these cookies are wonderful but that they could be a tad sweeter.  So next time I’ll add 2 small packets of Splenda.

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Filed under art, fashion illustration, healthy eating, Joana Miranda Studio at Society6, My Favorite Things, New work, Society6

My Favorite Things – Homemade Power Bars

Perhaps because I knew I’d be having an insane work schedule this week, my forays in the world of healthy baking (and eating) continued with attempts at homemade power bars.  I found this site with various recipes for DIY power bars online, and decided to make the first two recipes.   These recipes contain a ton of protein and good-for-you ingredients but have none of the added sugars and preservatives that you’ll find in commercial power bars.  (Note: The Toasted Coconut and Vanilla Whey Protein Bars came out nicely, however I am focusing this post on the Orange and Goji Berry Whey Protein Bars which is the second recipe listed on the site)

Orange and Goji Berry Whey Protein Bars

First I assembled my ingredients:

ingredients for goji berry bars

  • 1/2 cup of Organic Unflavored or Vanilla Whey Protein Powder
  • 3/4 cup of Ground Almonds
  • 1/4 cup of Coconut Flour
  • 3/4 cup of Goji Berries
  • 1/4 cup of Coconut Milk (from the carton, not the can) *I used 1% lowfat milk
  • 1 tbsp of Vanilla Essence
  • 1 tbsp of grated Orange Rind (optional, but highly recommended!)
  • 1 tsp of Chili Powder (optional but highly recommended; it gives the bars a really nice kick)
  • 40 grams melted 85% Dark Chocolate

Then I mixed the ingredients  by hand in a medium sized mixing bowl while melting the chocolate in double boiler.  I was impressed that the ingredient measurements came together into a workable stiff dough (think PlayDoh consistency) without my having to fuss with adding more milk or almond flour.  From here it was on to shaping the dough into a “brick” so that I could then cut the brick into bar sized portions.

Homemade power bars

almond goji power bars

Dunking the bars into the melted 85% chocolate was also surprisingly easy since they  held their shape and remained intact.

chocolate enrobed power bars

After cleaning off my chocolate en-robed fingertips, I popped the bars into the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.  I’ll confess that I was a bit afraid that the bars might not be sweet enough since 85% chocolate is fairly bitter. However, later when I bit into a bar, I was delighted to find just the right balance of flavors.  The orange zest brings a brightness to the nutty base of the bars and the goji berries add a pleasant tang.  The chocolate is the crowning touch providing just the right balance of sweetness.

Chocolate covered almond goji berry power bars


Filed under Influences, inspiration, My Favorite Things, photography

My Favorite Things – Eureka! I’ve Finally Got a Winner (Gluten-Free Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)

If you’ve been following my blog for the past few weeks you’ll know that I’ve gotten a little obsessed with perfecting the perfect gluten-free ginger chocolate chip cookie recipe.  And since today was 87 degrees out, I of course felt right at home firing up the oven and “warming” up our apartment some more. (But believe me, these cookies ARE worth it!)

My cookie

Where today’s cookies differ from my past two attempts is in the texture and stability of the cookie (i.e.  they hold together when you pick them up, yet are not dry or “sandy” feeling on the tongue.)  The biggest difference of course is the almond flour I used.  I’m now a convert to the almond flour at  The texture of their flour is extremely fine – almost powdery – and the result is cookies (and other baked goods) that appear very similar to the results you’d get if you used regular flour.  Yay for!   (Oh, and by the way, they also threw in a little bonus package of Chia seeds with my order…that’s what I call excellent customer service!)  I’ll be back to order more almond flour and other healthy products from them soon.

The almond flour instructions from say to replace the volume of flour in your recipe with the same volume of almond flour.  For the base of my recipe, therefore, I turned to an old standby from my kitchen library – The Great Big Cookie Book.

Their Tollhouse Cookie recipe (with my additions/changes) follows:


(Makes about 24 cookies)

Ingredients for my Magic Almond Chocolate Ginger cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter (I use Kerrygold Irish butter from grass-fed cows)

scant 1/4 cup of coconut sugar

10 packets of Splenda sugar substitute

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 well-packed cup almond flour

1/8 cup coconut flour

scant 1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch salt

1 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the two sugars until the mixture is well combined and fluffy.
  3. In another bowl, mix the egg and vanilla extract, then gradually beat into the butter mixture. (The mixture will appear fairly liquid at this point.)  Stir in the almond and coconut flours, baking soda and salt until blended.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and chopped ginger, and mix to combine thoroughly.

chopped ginger and cookie dough

5. Place heaping teaspoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

cookies ready to go in the oven

6. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until lightly colored.  Let cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to further cool.

cookies fresh out of the oven

7. Drool, then enjoy.

Cookies and milk

A few notes…

  • I used to hate ginger (crystallized, or in any other form) as a child.  Now I love it.  If you’re not into ginger, leave it out.  (Another nice option would be to substitute chopped candied orange peel…and just happens to carry it!)
  • When working with almond flour in baked goods, increase the baking soda or baking powder by a 1/3 of a teaspoon. (My recipe has already accounted for this increase.)
  • 12 packets of Splenda = 1/2 cup regular sugar.  I used 10 packets because I wanted to try to cut down on the sugar.  I also used coconut sugar (supposedly less glycemic than regular sugar) instead of the brown sugar in the original recipe.
  • I added coconut flour since a small amount of this gluten-free flour tends to help firm up an otherwise wet cookie dough.  Using it also helps to stretch my almond flour stash…
  • I store these cookies in a sealed plastic container in the freezer.  That way they will keep longer while still having that just-out-of-the-oven fresh taste.  (Cookies “thaw” very quickly…heck, they’re even good frozen, too!)


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My Favorite Things – Another Foray Into Healthy Baking

I seem to be on a healthy baking kick these days.  Healthy is always great, but baking in weather like this (beastly hot) either means that you have a screw loose or you are VERY dedicated.  I choose to believe the latter.  My attempts at healthy baking this week have included Orange Poppy Seed Scones, Breakfast Crepes and Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies.  All of the recipes (from Elana’s Pantry) have been gluten-free (no grains) and very low sugar.  My results have been mixed, but I’ve learned some important things along the way:

#1.  The quality of your almond flour matters.  Although I have used Bob’s Red Mill products for years, I’ve learned that with almond flour the fineness of the grind makes a big difference.  Finer grinds will provide a superior result.  You can purchase finely ground almond flour on several online sites. (Elana gives a helpful list of online retailers here.) As a bonus, you’ll find that the online prices are cheaper than what you see in the stores.  To that end, I have a shipment of very finely ground almond flour coming from tomorrow.

#2. Eggs create a cakey-er end product.

#3. Almond flour is flavorful and rich, so you may be able to cut back on the amount of added fat.

chocolate ginger cookies

My “almost-perfect Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies” are an adaptation from the Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on Elana’s Pantry.  Read on for her recipe with my tweaks…

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Serves: 28
  • 2 cups blanched almond flour (Joana’s Note: I added 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Flour to see if I could give the cookies more body)
  • ½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature (Joana’s Note: My cookies turned out a little more oily than I’d like.  Perhaps the butter could be reduced?)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (Joana’s Note: This seemed like a lot of extract to me.  Since the dough turned out quite wet, perhaps this amount could also be reduced?)
  • ½ cup maple syrup (Joana’s Note: I used 1/4 cup Agave Nectar + 1/4 cup Maple syrup to cut down on the glycemic index)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (Joana’s Note: I also added about a 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger)
  1. In a food processor , combine almond flour, salt, and baking soda
  2. Pulse in butter, vanilla, and maple syrup until dough forms
  3. Remove blade from processor and stir in chocolate chunks by hand
  4. Scoop dough one level tablespoon at a time onto a parchment lined baking sheet  (Joana’s Note: These cookies spread so take the “one level tablespoon” directions to heart!)
  5. Press balls of dough down gently
  6. Bake at 350° for 7-10 minutes
  7. Cool for 15 minutes (do not handle prior or cookies will break)
  8. Serve

Joana’s Notes

If you like crystallized ginger, I highly recommend it as an addition to these cookies.  Ginger pairs beautifully with dark chocolate and notches up the taste sophistication level in these cookies.  

chopped ginger and chocolate for cookies

As you’ll see from this photo, my batter using Bob’s Red Mill almond flour + the addition of 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Flour is still rather wet:  

ginger chocolate chip cookies dough
And the cookies spread out a lot more than I expected!
fresh baked ginger chocolate chip cookies
What I plan to try next time…
Disclaimer – I’m not a culinary expert and I have very little experience baking with “alternative” flours.  But I’m also not afraid to experiment and share my flops and (hopefully) successes along the way!
As these cookies cooled, they deflated and became rather flat like pancakes.  I’m all for a crisp cookie, but I prefer a little more height and “chew” to the middle of my cookies.  Although delicious (my husband gave them a thumbs up), the cookies also felt a little oily.   Almond flour, though extremely flavorful, is also rich.  I think the butter in this recipe could be reduced, perhaps even by half.  This might keep the cookie from spreading so much.  I also think the addition of one egg and maybe another tablespoon of Coconut Flour might create the balance of a chewy cookie with crisp edges.  Also, as noted above, I will try reducing the amount of vanilla extract to one teaspoon to see if that cuts down on the wetness of the batter.  Lastly, I may try substituting the liquid sugar (agave nectar/maple syrup) with coconut sugar.
After all, it’s only a cookie!  I’ll post what happens…

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Filed under healthy eating, My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things – Zeroing in on the Perfect (Healthy) Cookie Recipe

Last Wednesday I posted a recipe for “Almond Joy” gluten-free/low sugar cookies.  Upon tasting them, I was instantly sold on the nutty, cinnamon-y, chocolate-y taste of these cookies, but less so of the texture which ended up being rather spongy and cake-like.  In my online search this week for a crisper cookie, I came across Elana’s Pantry, a website dedicated to healthy, gluten-free, paleo recipes.  To be clear, I have no food issues and eat pretty much everything.  However, as I’ve grown older, I have noticed that I feel better if the bulk of my calories comes from fresh produce, lean meats, fish, and good quality dairy products.  Snacks are usually olives, pickles, nuts, nut butters and whole grain crackers.  My go-to dessert is fruit and a few squares of 72% or higher dark chocolate.

Every once in a while though I get a craving for a really GOOD cookie.

So when I read through the ingredients in Elana’s Vegan Peanut Butter Cookie recipe and saw that the list bore a lot of similarities to the Almond Joy cookies I made last week (hello healthy!) I figured I was headed in the right direction.   The most noticeable difference between the two recipes – beyond, of course, the addition of peanut butter –  is the lack of eggs in Elana’s recipe.  It made sense to me that an egg-less cookie would certainly make for a crisper cookie.   I followed Elana’s recipe substituting 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter since I didn’t have palm shortening and making the addition of (drumroll)…a bar of 72%  dark chocolate with almonds which I chopped.

If you’re too lazy to cook, you can feast vicariously through these step-by-step photos.

  1. The dry ingredients are mixed together, wet ingredients assembled and dark chocolate is chopped (and sampled for “quality control” purposes, of course!)

Ingredients for Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

2. The cookies are plopped on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, flattened with a fork and are ready to go into the oven. (Since it was hot again in our apartment, I actually popped the unbaked sheet of cookies into the freezer for a few minutes while I did the washing up.)

cookies dough on a cookie sheet ready to be baked

3. Fresh out of the oven and cooling…

Photo of cookies fresh out of the oven

4. Ready to sample…

photo of peanut butter chocolate cookies on a plate

(The verdict?  Sweet, salty, rich, crumbly and oh-so-good!)

D’ya wanna bite?

a bite of a peanut butter chocolate cookie

Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies
 Serves: 12 cookies
  • 1 cup blanched almond flour
  • ½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter or sunbutter
  • ¼ cup agave nectar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons palm shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a small bowl combine almond flour, salt and baking soda
  2. In a medium bowl mix together peanut butter, agave, shortening and vanilla with a hand blender
  3. Blend dry ingredients into wet with hand blender until well combined
  4. Scoop dough 1 tablespoon at a time onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet
  5. Use a fork to flatten in a criss-cross pattern
  6. Bake at 350° for 6-12 minutes until golden around the edges
  7. Serve

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Filed under Influences, My Favorite Things, photography

My Favorite Things – Stumbling on a (GOOD) Healthy Cookie Recipe!

My day today so far has been pretty much dedicated to food.  (Ah, the joys of summer and not having to rush off anywhere!)  After doing the grocery shopping with my husband (which also counted as weight-lifting since we lugged it all back on our shoulders from Whole Foods), we ate our lunch on the balcony.

bistro dining on our patio

Dessert was watermelon cubes, but before shopping I poked around on the internet and wrote down the ingredients for these Almond Joy Cookies by Holly Christine Leary at She Passed the Sugar.  I liked the ingredient list (simple) and that the cookies are gluten-free and also very low sugar.  While I have no allergies or special diet needs, I have found that I feel a lot better if I watch my sugar intake and limit simple carbs.

So, after lunch I got to work assembling the ingredients for the cookies.

ingredients for paleo almond chocolate cookies

The aroma of the almond and coconut flour together with the cinnamon was already intoxicating, so I figured the cookies were bound to turn out well.

My batter wasn’t quite as “sticky” as the recipe’s author described it would be.  My guesses for why this happened: I mixed the wet ingredients in my stand mixer instead of in a blender; I didn’t have the AC on in the apartment and it’s a hot day; the size of eggs I used might have been bigger than what she used.

All that said, I was still able to create nice mounds of dough on my prepared baking sheets.

cookies before baking

After 15 minutes in the oven, I pulled the cookies out of the oven and plunked a nugget of 72% dark chocolate on top of each cookie.

cookies with melted chocolate

Cookies must be had with milk…

two cookies and milk

(And shared with your husband.)

How are they?  Chewy, chocolate-y and “real” tasting.   A far cry from the sandy-textured, odd-flavored concoctions that are most “healthy” cookies…


1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup of coconut flour

1 tsp of cinnamon

1/2 tsp of baking powder

1/2 cup softened butter

3 Tbs of agave nectar (you could also use coconut palm sugar here)

4 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 chocolate bar broken up into chunks

Pre-heat oven to 350.  In a small bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon and baking powder.  In a blender beat butter until fluffy.  Add nectar or sugar.  Blend.  Add 4 eggs and vanilla and blend, scraping sides as necessary. Add dry mixture, again scraping sides as necessary.  The end product will be very sticky.

Use a small cookie scoop to drop batter onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Push down in the middle of each dough ball so that it’s easier to add the chocolate later.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, press one chunk of chocolate into each cookie.  Cool on rack.

Makes 21 cookies. GL = 2.5 each

(Recipe from She Passed the Sugar)


Filed under healthy eating, Influences, My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things – Colorful Dining

I’m flying solo this week since my husband is out of town again.  Generally when he’s away, I find that my habits become rather manic.   All of a sudden there are so many more hours in which to get things done…and eating and sleeping are usually the first to get shafted.   But I am trying to be somewhat more mindful this time around.  Case in point, yesterday, after my 4th day of  eating leftover pasta for dinner, I was inspired not only to do a BIG shopping trip (we New Yorkers all have our OWN handy-dandy, folding shopping carts, thank you very much) but to cook healthily as well.

old lady shopping

(Me, in a year or two…)

While I did plan the menus, I didn’t thoroughly read through the recipes (tsk, tsk), so at 9 p.m. I’m writing this blog post while my shrimp marinates and the cucumber salad rests overnight rests in the refrigerator ’til the shrimp is ready.  As I said, my sense of time does tend to go all wonky…

Every nice meal needs appetizers and a drink.  Here’s what I enjoyed as I did the chopping prep-work for the dinner:


Mixed nuts, olives and a vodka-tonic “mock-tail” (my non-alcoholic version omits the vodka)

Although shrimp is the main feature of this meal, I needed a vegetable to accompany the shrimp.  Since it’s been so hot this week, steamed veggies really didn’t appeal.  I’m in love with beets, so this salad seemed perfect.

beet salad

Quick ‘N” Easy Beet Salad

1 cup coarsely chopped no-salt-added canned beets

1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed

2 tablespoons sliced green onions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons fat-free Italian dressing

2 lettuce leaves

1 hard-cooked egg, chopped

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl.  Pour dressing over mixture; toss gently. Cover and chill 2 hours.  Serve on lettuce-lined salad plates; sprinkle with hard-cooked egg.  Yield: 2 servings (serving size: 1 cup beet mixture and 1/2 egg.)

And, for whatever reason I also felt like I should have a salad to go with my salad!

cucumber salad

Marinated Cucumber Salad 

2 English cucumbers, julienned

1 red bell pepper, seeded, julienned

1 yellow pepper, seeded, julienned

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/4 cilantro chopped

In a large bowl combine cucumbers, peppers, salt and pepper.  In a small bowl whisk together remaining ingredients for dressing.  Pour mixture over vegetables; toss well.  Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 2 days.


my dinner

(Shrimp recipe follows)

Grilled Shrimp with Lemon Thyme

1 Tbs. minced fresh lemon thyme or thyme

3 Tbs. fresh lemon or lime juice

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Salt, to taste

16 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined

Vegetable oil for cooking

1 lemon cut into wedges

In a bowl, combine lemon thyme, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper and salt.  Add shrimp and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.  Preheat a grill pan or prepare a fire in grill.  Coat grill pan with vegetable oil and lay shrimp on pan. Or, skewer shrimp and place on grill.  Cook 2-3 minutes.  Turn shrimp and continue cooking until pink and opaque throughout.  Serve with lemon wedges.  Serves 4.  (Adapted from The Golden Door Cookbook, by Michel Stroot.  Broadway, 1977)


Note:  I wish I could give credit for the beet and cucumber salad recipes.  Alas, I clipped these recipes years ago from magazines and didn’t think to include the authors when I pasted the recipes in my recipe folder.  My apologies to the chefs!


Filed under My Favorite Things