Sundays with Samantha: Coconut & Almond Bars

These amazingly delicious bars are a cross between a granola bar and dessert.  I wanted to create a kid-friendly snack or mid-afternoon treat as an alternative to packaged granola bars or cookies.  These bars would be great as a pre-sports-practice-snack, play date treat or dessert with friends.  They’re loaded with good-for-you ingredients like oats, nuts, and dried fruit and because no treat is complete without chocolate, I added some cocoa powder to give it a chocolatey kick. They’re sweetened with raw honey (and dates) instead of sugar or corn syrup, which keeps them almost completely unprocessed.

Try them out and let me know what you think!  I think you’ll love them as much as we do ;).

Almond & Coconut Oat Bars

Makes about 16


2 cups old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)

¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup raw honey

1/3 cup almond butter

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (plus a smidge for greasing baking pan)

1 tablespoon coconut oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

20 dried pitted dates

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8” x 12” baking dish.

Combine oats, coconut and almonds on a sheet pan.  Mix.  Roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing halfway through.  Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put honey, almond butter, butter, coconut oil, salt, and vanilla extract in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat.  When butter melts, mix and simmer an additional 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and pour into the large bowl with the oat mixture.

In a small blender or food processor (I use my Nutribullet), add the dates and cocoa powder.  Process until dates form a cohesive sticky ball.  Add the dates to the large bowl.

With a spatula, mix everything together.  Firmly press the dates into the mixture so they become evenly distributed and final mixture is sticky.  Transfer to prepared baking dish, gently pressing into an even layer.

Freeze for 30 minutes.  Slice and serve.  Store remaining bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serving size: (1 bar)  Calories: 290  Total Fat: 13 g  Saturated Fat: 5 g  Cholesterol: 2 mg  Sodium: 40 mg  Carbohydrates: 45 g  Dietary Fiber: 6 g  Sugars: 31 g  Added Sugar: 6 g  Protein: 5 g

Note: If you are feeling extra generous, drizzle them with dark chocolate.  Uh huh. It’s good.

Favorite Recipe Friday: 5 EASY bread and cheese appetizers


From left to right: Ricotta & Fig, Brie & Peach, Sundried Tomato & Shaved Parmesan, Fig Cream Cheese & Prosciutto, Herbed Goat Cheese & Roasted Red Pepper


Fresh bread and good cheese are a match made in heaven.  Add a bit of fruit, a sprinkle of salt, fresh pepper and herbs and everyone’s tastebuds are in for a serious treat.


These 5 bread and cheese apps are incredibly simple and perfect for your summer BBQ’s, bunco nights, wine parties, office potlucks…you-name-it.   The ingredients are easy to find and once put together, they are sure to impress even your foodie-est of friends.

Here’s the How To:

  1. Slice your favorite fresh baguette (whole grain, seeded, french, sourdough, etc.) into 3/4 inch pieces (my 20″ baguette yielded 32 slices).
  2. Toast bread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit.  Place slices on a sheet pan, spray with a little olive oil (or use a silicon brush to lightly brush each piece with olive oil). Toast for 5 minutes, remove from oven and let cool.
  3. Pick the combo(s) that tickles your fancy and continue on with your toppings:

Ricotta & Fig

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese

7 fresh figs, thinly sliced

1/3 cup honey

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Divide ricotta evenly among bread slices. Top each with 3 slices of fig, a drizzle of honey, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.

Brie & Peach

5 ounces (1 cup) brie cheese

2 small peaches, thinly sliced

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh thyme (for garnish)

Directions: Spread brie evenly among bread slices (roughly 1 1/2 teaspoons each). Top each with 2 slices of peach, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.  Garnish with thyme.

Sundried Tomato & Shaved Parmesan

1 (8.5 ounce) jar sliced sundried tomatoes in oil, drained, 2 tablespoons of oil reserved

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 cup tomato paste

Freshly shaved parmesan*

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh chopped basil (for garnish)

Drizzle olive oil (optional)

Directions: In a medium bowl, combine drained tomatoes, a tablespoon or 2 of the reserved oil, garlic, and tomato paste.  Stir to combine.  Divide mixture evenly among bread slices.  Top each slice with a few shavings of parmesan, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with basil and drizzle with olive oil, if using.

*Use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave fresh parmesan.

Fig Cream Cheese & Proscuitto

8 ounces whipped cream cheese

2 tablespoons fig spread*

4 ounces (8 thin) sliced proscuitto, cut into quarters

Fresh chives or basil

Directions:  In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and fig spread.  Mix.  Evenly distribute spread among bread slices. Top each slice with 1/4 piece of proscuitto, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with chives (or basil).

*Fig spread is typically found in the deli section, with the gourmet cheeses.  Trader Joe’s has a “Fig Butter”, which would probably work too.

Herbed Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper

8 ounces goat cheese with herbs

1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, sliced

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh thyme (for garnish)

Directions: Divide goat cheese evenly among bread slices. Top each with a few slices of red pepper, a pinch of salt and pepper, to taste.  Garnish with thyme.



Favorite Recipe Friday: Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce

This Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce (adapted from Cooking Light) is my go-to EASY salmon recipe. It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish and clean-up is a snap.

It’s made with spices and condiments you probably already have in your pantry (with the exception of turmeric*). The whole grain mustard gives it a great crunchy texture and makes it mildly spicy and the honey adds a touch of sweetness while creating a crispy, caramelized crust. It’s very well balanced, great for a crowd (or scaled down for 2) AND because it’s packed with flavor, it’s great for those who may not be huge salmon fans.

*Turmeric can be found in the spice section of conventional grocery or health food stores. It has a bright yellow color and a bittersweet, aromatic flavor. It is frequently used in curry, chicken dishes and fish soups.

Bonus: Salmon is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce risk of heart disease, inflammation and more.

Spiced Salmon with Mustard Sauce

Serves 4


4 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound (4) skin-on wild salmon fillets


Preheat broiler (to high). Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

In a small bowl, combine first 6 ingredients. With a basting brush or your hands, rub mustard mixture evenly over each fillet. Place fillets, skin side down, on the prepared sheet pan.  Adjust oven rack to second highest slot closest to the broiling unit. Broil fish for 7 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

Serving size: (3 ounces)  Calories: 180  Total Fat: 8 g  Saturated Fat: 1 g  Cholesterol: 62 mg  Sodium: 320 mg Carbohydrates: 3 g  Dietary Fiber: 0 g  Sugars: 3 g  Protein: 23 g

Serving suggestion: Serve alongside a green salad, roasted veggies or sauteed greens and brown rice, quinoa or other whole grains.
Side notes:
  • Frozen fish fillets are great to keep on hand in the freezer.  You can defrost them overnight in the fridge or pull from from the freezer and put them in an ice bath (in the package if they are individually wrapped or in a sealed Ziploc) for about 30 minutes.
  •  Don’t forget to check your fish for pin bones and remove them if necessary (I have THESE fish tweezers and LOVE them).
  • I generally don’t cook with foil BUT in this case, I do, because it makes removing the skin (and clean up) SO easy.  Look how easy it is to slide a spatula between the skin and meat. The skin sticks to the foil and your fillet stays intact.

  • If your fish is skinless, you can omit the foil and spray the sheet pan directly with a cooking spray.

Favorite Recipe Friday: DIY Fruit-Flavored Yogurt

Unadorned plain Greek yogurt is a healthy snack.  Per cup, you get a whopping 23 grams of protein.  With the exception of meat, it’s hard to find a single food with that much protein power.  (Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and muscle, as well as making enzymes, hormones, blood, and much more.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I like using Greek yogurt in recipes but as a snack, straight up, it’s really tart.  In order to balance out that tartness and make it a more palatable snack, yogurt companies add a lot of sugar and an itty bitty teensy weensy amount of fruit and/or flavoring.  And unless you buy those with artificial sweeteners, you can get as much added sugar as you’d get in a donut.  Yep. Not really worth it.

Fruit and yogurt is such a delicious combination so, instead of skipping it all together, I decided I’d make my own.  Turns out, it’s tastier and much lower in added sugar than what you’d find on the shelves.

I made Strawberry, Mango, (and for those who like dessert-flavors) Banana and Peanut Butter with Dark Chocolate Zest.  Feel free to use any fruit you like.  They are super simple and the only added sugar is 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of pure maple syrup and in the Banana variety, there’s maybe 1 extra gram from the grated chocolate garnish.  You can substitute honey if you’d like…I just prefer maple syrup. Also, make sure to use the sweetest, ripest (read: delicious) fruit you can find!

Without further ado, here you go!


1/2 cup chopped strawberries

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I like Fage brand)


In a small bowl, with a fork, mash the strawberries. Mix in maple syrup, then yogurt and serve.

Calories: 130  Total Fat: 2.5 g  Saturated Fat: 1.5 g  Cholesterol: 10 mg  Sodium: 40 mg Carbohydrate: 15 g  Dietary Fiber: 1 g Sugars: 12 g  Added Sugar: 4 g  Protein: 12 g


1/2 cup chopped mango

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I like Fage brand)


In a small bowl, with a fork, mash the mango. Mix in maple syrup, then yogurt and serve.

Calories: 160  Total Fat: 2.5 g  Saturated Fat: 1.5 g  Cholesterol: 10 mg  Sodium: 40 mg Carbohydrate: 23 g  Dietary Fiber: 1 g  Total Sugars: 21 g Added Sugar: 4 g Protein: 12 g

Banana and Peanut Butter with Dark Chocolate Zest

1/2 ripe banana

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I like Fage brand)

Good quality dark chocolate, grated


In a small bowl, with a fork, mash the banana. Mix in peanut butter, maple syrup, then yogurt. With a small grater, zester or microplane, grate chocolate over the top and serve.

Calories: 270  Total Fat: 11.5 g  Saturated Fat: 3.5 g  Cholesterol: 10 mg  Sodium: 110 mg Carbohydrate: 27 g  Dietary Fiber: 3 g  Total Sugars: 18 g  Added Sugar: 6 g Protein: 16 g


Favorite Recipe Friday: Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma 

This Oven-Roasted Chicken Shawarma from NYTimes Food is amazing.  The reasons are 5 fold:

Fold 1: It’s SOOOOO good.

Fold 2: It’s incredibly easy and quick to prepare.

Fold 3: It requires few ingredients.

Fold 4: It’s great as a weeknight dish but sophisticated enough to serve to dinner guests.

Fold 5: It’s great as leftovers.

I like to serve it with THIS Mediterranean Bean Salad from the Skinnytaste blog and a side of brown rice or naan.  And the white sauce* is a must.

*For white sauce: Combine 1 (7-ounce) container of Greek yogurt, with 1-2 garlic cloves, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, fresh chopped parsley, a pinch of salt and black pepper. Mix to combine and serve alongside chicken.

Nutrition Notes:

  • Trim as much fat off of the thighs as you can. Use a sharp paring knife and get in there.  Trust me, you won’t miss it.
  • I find the 1/2 cup of oil recommended in the recipe is a bit much.  I use olive oil spray for the sheet pan and increase the chicken to 3 pounds for the same amount of marinade (except salt..add 1/2 teaspoon more). This disperses the marinade & increases the serving size (to 8), which cuts down on the fat/oil per serving.

With my modifications, here are the stats, per serving, of 5 ounces of (cooked) chicken:

Calories: 340 Total Fat: 20 g Saturated Fat: 3.5 g Cholesterol: 0 mg  Sodium: 210 mg  Carbohydrate: 4 g Dietary Fiber: <1 g Sugars: 1 g  Protein: 34 g

I’m off to eat my leftovers…

Don’t-Get-Too-Wild Card Wednesday: Strawberry Vodka

When I imbibe, I prefer to keep it vodka.  I mean…simple.  Yes, I sound like a total boozer but I promise, I’m not.  Seen that one too many times.  I’m a vodka girl because sadly, most wine gives me a headache and while I really enjoy beer, I don’t enjoy beer bloat, burps and the overall heaviness I get from drinking multiple beers.  So, when only an adult beverage will do, I go for vodka with club soda and real fruit flavor like a lime or lemon wedge (I’m not a fan of the “naturally fruit flavored” varieties).

This particular experiment was inspired by an adventure with my besties.  One of my most favorite humans was visiting, we had a babysitter on duty, so out we headed to a local bar here in San Diego. Upon arrival, I ordered a fancy drink that featured vodka infused with fresh strawberries.  Oh yum.

I definitely enjoyed my fancy mixed drink, but after 1, I was done. I asked the bartender if I could just have the strawberry vodka mixed with soda water and he very graciously obliged. I immediately thought to myself, “Self, when you are sober, make this at home”.  And so, 6 months later, it’s berrypalooza and thus, Strawberry Vodka was born.

Please be forewarned.  You have to plan ahead and be patient.  Brewing time is at least 3 days.  My strawberries swam for 7 days.  But, it’s TOTALLY worth the wait.  See above pic.


Wanna make some too?  Here’s how:

Step 1. Pour a 1 L bottle of vodka* into a 1 L glass jar or container that can be tightly sealed.

*Generally, lower quality vodka is recommended because you don’t need any special nuances (like floral notes, hints of fruit, etc.).  You want the strawberries to be the star of the show.  I opted for a slightly better than bottom of the barrel (no pun intended) because lets face it, low quality liquor=high quality headache.

2. Slice 1/2 a pound of strawberries, add them to the vodka and seal lid tightly.

3. Allow to infuse for 3-7 days.  The longer the better.  Give her a gentle shake once a day.

4. When ready to drink, strain over a fine mesh strainer.  Discard strawberries. Prepare glass (optional :))


5. Pour your beautiful Strawberry Vodka back in the container (or another tightly seal-able glass container).

6. Enjoy over ice with club soda, add to your mimosa or try making a strawberry mule.  Oooo, you could even line the rim with sugar.  The possibilities are endless!

Visit for my guest post!


(photo credit: Sarah Fennel)

Good morning. I’ve got HUGE news! My recipe, Enchilada Chicken Roll-Ups (see above), is featured on the Skinnytaste blog TODAY! CHECK IT OUT!

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve had the absolute honor and privilege of working with Skinnytaste author Gina Homolka (and advising dietitian Heather K. Jones, RD) for the past few years.  I help with nutrition analysis, recipe proof reading and meal planning for the cookbooks and do some recipe development for the Skinnytaste blog.  Crazy, right?!?!

I absolutely love Gina and her blog.  For those who aren’t familiar, her motto is, “Delicious healthy recipes from my family to yours”.  And boy is she right.  Her recipes are healthy and delicious.  They appeal to kids and adults alike.  She has a magic touch when it comes to packing in flavor and nutrition without making you feel deprived or like you’re eating “diet” food.

Her recipes work because they are easy to follow, use easy-to-find ingredients and promote portion control (though if you need a higher calorie meal, you can double the recipes ;)).  She incorporates her culture, tradition and travels into her recipes all while keeping things familiar and family friendly.  Oh, and her photographs will leave you wiping drool off your face.

Don’t just take it from me.  Both cookbooks are NY Times Best Sellers and her most recent book, Fast and Slow, was nominated for a James Beard Award!

So add her to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest feeds, email, etc. to get her latest recipes and updates.  I promise, you’ll love it.  And you may just see something that I helped create.

If you don’t have the Skinnytaste Cookbooks yet, you can get them on Amazon:

  • The original Skinnytaste Cookbook HERE.
  • Skinnytaste Fast and Slow HERE

She also has a Meal-Planner which you can get HERE