the quest for a healthy kit kat bar

The quest for a healthy Kit Kat bar.  Photo by Kathleen Caron

Photo by Kathleen Caron

When I wrote about “comfort food that is good for you” my friend Christa ( responded:

“My fave comfort food is Kit Kats, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, or gooey brownies. I only wish they swung toward the healthy side. Please Kathleen, do you have a spinach Kit Kat copycat recipe?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a Kit Kat bar, although I do like their commercials so much, especially because they encourage generosity. Unlike the Twix commercials (“Two for me, none for you”) which glorify stinginess. I especially like this Kit Kat commercial from India, with dancing babies:



Anyway, I decided that this would be my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to dream the impossible dream of a healthy Kit Kat bar. I scoured the internet for ideas, which I will roll out as the Caron fam gets a chance to taste-test them (a huge sacrifice on their part, I know. They’re doing this for you, Christa.)

This first one is inspired by a recipe I saw on the awesome vegan site Fork and Beans. Everyone who tried it thought it was delicious, although it doesn’t totally fulfill Christa’s request.

1) It doesn’t exactly replicate a Kit Kat, which is pretty much just a simple chocolate covered wafer. This has semi-crunchy layers and fluffy chocolate layers, coated all over with chocolate.

2) It has to be refrigerated, so even if it was a nearly perfect Kit Kat bar replica, I couldn’t mail it to Christa (which was the whole point.)

3) They turned out kind of messy, as it was very difficult to make them uniformly shaped with a smooth coating (my fault, the original recipe looked beautiful and perfect.) My finished product reminded me of one of those Pinterest fails:

I did learn something really cool: you can make a luscious chocolate filling/icing that is dairy and gluten free, with no refined sugar, with a few simple ingredients. That alone has made the quest worth it. I have all kinds of ideas about what to do with the luscious chocolate filling. Gluten and dairy free French Silk pie, anyone?

So I’m sorry, Christa, I haven’t perfected your healthy spinach Kit Kat bar yet, but I intend to strive with my last ounce of courage to…well, you get the drift.

Here’s the first version of the Healthy Kit Kat Bar. All the ingredients except the Healthy Valley Crunch Ems are available at Trader Joe’s, my favorite store, and I used Kirkland’s chocolate chips.

healthy kit kat bar recipe
Recipe type: snack/dessert
Prep time: 
Total time: 
  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least four hours and drained thoroughly.
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp pure maple syrup
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Kirkland responsibly sourced chips)
  • Additional 1 tsp coconut oil, melted.
  • 2 cups (or so) Nature Valley Rice Crunch Ems
  1. Soak cashews for at least four hours and drain.
  2. Blend the cashews, cocoa powder, vanilla, maple syrup, water and oil in a food processor until very fluffy and smooth.
  3. Refrigerate the fluffy chocolate.
  4. Melt semi-sweet chocolate in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave on low power, stirring often.
  5. Add 1 tsp. melted coconut oil and stir thoroughly.
  6. Line a square baking dish with wax paper.
  7. Spread a layer of semi-sweet chocolate in the dish.
  8. Arrange Crunch Ems in even rows on the melted chocolate to fill the bottom of the dish.
  9. Gently spread a layer of the fluffy chocolate.
  10. Put in freezer for 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from freezer and add another layer of cereal.
  12. Alternate layers of chocolate and cereal until used up.
  13. Finish by spreading melted chocolate over the top.
  14. Make score lines about ¾ inches apart while chocolate is still slightly warm.
  15. Freeze again, remove and cut into individual cookies on the score lines.

ploughman’s lunch (no ploughing required)

"ploughmans' rest" public domain

“ploughmans’ rest” public domain

One of my family’s favorite meals is what we refer to as a “ploughman’s lunch.” Traditionally, a ploughman’s lunch is what the ploughman’s wife would tie up in a kerchief for him to eat on his midday break; a crust of bread, a hunk of cheese, an apple and a flagon of beer. I like to picture the farmer dozing in the warm sun, his sleepy oxen standing nearby, as he takes a few moments of well-earned rest after eating his humble meal.

The Carons’ interpretation of a “ploughman’s lunch” has a decided Mediterranean flair, a Greek ploughman’s lunch, if you will. We eat it for dinner, and we’re not leaning on hay bales.  But it always includes our favorite simple foods, like deviled eggs, hummus, olives, pickles, grapes, a good cheese and fresh crusty bread dipped in olive oil.  (Probably some kind of meat in there for the guys, else it’s too much like chick food.)

Hummus probably wouldn’t find it’s way into a traditional ploughman’s lunch, but it is the centerpiece of the Caron table.  This version is creamy with a bit of texture, and has cumin instead of garlic.  It is great with carrots, celery, or pita bread.

You might not feel you need a recipe for deviled eggs, but this one (adapted from The Joy of Cooking), is absolutely perfect. I hope you enjoy a ploughman’s lunch for dinner sometime soon (no ploughing required.)

6 ingredient hummus
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Prep time: 
Total time: 
  • 100 milliliters olive oil
  • 100 milliliters tahini
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • juice of a lemon (or 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice)
  1. Pour olive oil into a glass measuring cup to the 100 mil line.
  2. Add tahini to the 200 mil line.
  3. Pour into food processor or blender.
  4. Add garbanzo beans, cumin, salt and lemon juice, plus a dash of cayenne if desired.
  5. Blend until very smooth.
  6. To serve: sprinkle with paprika and serve with carrots, celery, pita slices or gluten-free chips.

deviled eggs
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 2 Tbsp organic mayonnaise (available at Trader Joe's)
  • 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • ⅛ tsp black pepper
  • dash of hot sauce
  1. Boil water in a pot deep enough to cover the eggs in a single layer.
  2. Add a Tbsp or so of vinegar to the boiling water (helps to seal the shells.)
  3. Gently lower eggs into boiling water.
  4. Boil for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and plunge into cold water.
  6. Peel eggs under running water.
  7. Slice eggs in half.
  8. Remove yolks to a large bowl.
  9. Add mayo, mustard, vinegar, pepper and hot sauce and mash until creamy.
  10. Spoon the filling into the egg white halves.
  11. Sprinkle with paprika.

Does your family have a version of the “ploughman’s lunch”?  What do you include on your table? Please share in the comments!

what’s your favorite store? mine is trader joe’s

“What’s your favorite store?”  I posed this question at the dinner table.  Hubs answered without hesitation, “Home Depot, I just love all those tools.”

“Probably Modell’s or Gamestop,” Joe said, then changed his mind. “Barnes and Noble,” he decided (good answer, Joe.)

Me? Everyone knows that I love Walmart, but my favorite store  in the whole wide world is Trader Joe’s.

“But it’s so small,” my husband replied.  Exactly, that’s why I like it, it’s almost like a neighborhood corner store, if the corner store were frequented by angry yuppies. The super-nice and chatty staff more than make up for the grumpy customers.  Truly, Trader Joe’s is my happy place.

Trader Joe’s brings out my cooking muse like no other store.  TJ’s, as I affectionately call it, has almost everything I need: great produce at a reasonable price, all kinds of nuts and beans, spices and seasonings, coconut oil and coconut cream, Ezekiel bread, inexpensive wine, almond milk, free range eggs, preservative-free lunch meat, and so much more.

One of the few things TJ’s doesn’t have that I need on a regular basis is tahini, for my family’s hummus jones, and I usually go elsewhere for beef and chicken. Other than that, if Trader Joe’s doesn’t have it, I probably don’t need it.

All of the ingredients you need to make these luscious, super nutritious pancakes are available at Trader Joe’s. I will warn you, they are very filling and you might want to limit yourself to two, even though they are so delicious you’ll want to eat more.  Even Joe likes them (need I say it?)

almond coconut pancakes
Recipe type: breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
  • Pancake ingredients:
  • ¾ cups gluten free flour
  • ¾ cups almond flour (or almond meal)
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1¾ cups almond milk or coconut milk
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup responsibly sourced chocolate chips (optional)
  • Additional coconut oil for skillet
  • Strawberry sauce ingredients:
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries, blackberries or raspberries (or a blend)
  • 2 tsp stevia
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  1. Combine flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together almond milk, melted coconut oil, eggs and vanilla in another large bowl.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently whisk together.
  4. Don't overmix, twenty strokes should do it.
  5. Fold in shredded coconut.
  6. Heat Tbsp coconut oil over medium high heat in a large skillet.
  7. Spoon ⅓ cupfuls of batter onto griddle.
  8. Sprinkle a few chocolate chips, if desired.
  9. When bubbles appear, flip and cook until underside is lightly browned.
  10. Remove to a platter and keep warm in the oven.
  11. Serve with butter and real maple syrup or strawberry sauce.
  12. Strawberry sauce:
  13. Heat frozen strawberries in a saucepan until thawed.
  14. Add stevia and lemon juice.
  15. Crush strawberries slightly with a fork and stir until the sauce is semi-smooth.
  16. Serve warm over pancakes.

What’s your favorite store?  Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!

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comfort food that’s good for you

Food has a wonderful power to comfort and restore.  Macbeth longed for  “sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,” but I think food–the right kind of food–has even greater power to heal the mind and renew the body.

Everyone has their “go to” comfort food, but not all comfort foods are created equal.  I used to end a trying day with a bag of Orville Redenbacher and a glass of chardonnay. That didn’t restore so much as stupefy me.

Now instead of just tamping down cravings, when I need to eat something comforting, I look for foods that are both satisfying and truly nourishing.  I want to eat something that will leave me feeling better, not worse.

When I get home late and dinner was put away hours ago, I open up the fridge and look at the leftovers to see what I can eat.  I’m so happy if I find brown rice, eggs and spinach.  That means I can make my favorite comfort food, which I think of as a very simple version of Korean bibimbap.  It only takes a few minutes to prepare, but it soothes my soul like no other food. It’s like a soft, worn old sweatshirt, not glamorous to look at, but so warm and comfortable.

Comfort rice
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This is comfort food using leftover brown rice, fresh spinach and egg. Very satisfying and filling.
  • 1 cup of leftover brown rice
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp ginger powder or 1 tsp fresh, finely chopped
  • Big handful of baby spinach
  • 1 free range egg
  • 1½ Tbsp roasted sesame oil, divided
  • 1 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds
  • Sriracha sauce, as much as you can handle!
  1. Heat ½ Tbsp sesame oil in a nonstick pan.
  2. Add garlic and ginger and stir.
  3. Add brown rice and toss to coat with oil and spices.
  4. When thoroughly warmed, remove to bowl or plate.
  5. Add ½ Tbsp sesame oil to pan.
  6. Add spinach and stir to coat.
  7. When bright green and wilted, put spinach on top of rice.
  8. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  9. Add ½ Tbsp. sesame oil to pan.
  10. Break egg into pan.
  11. Let fry until white is cooked and crisping on the edges.
  12. Slide egg onto brown rice and spinach.
  13. Add sriracha sauce and a little bit of tamari, if you want.
  14. Optional additions: sauteed julienne carrots or red peppers

What’s your favorite comfort food? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!

please don’t make me give up dessert

It’s been a year since I went on the Fast Metabolism Diet and learned that I am healthier, stronger and more energetic on a diet free of wheat, corn, dairy, soy, and refined sugar. I tried the diet mostly because I wanted to lose weight, but quickly found that this way of eating had many collateral benefits, so I stayed with it. 

I used to have joint pain so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night, and it was only getting worse. It had become agony just to sit still for long.  Recently, I endured a 14 hour plane ride with no more than a little stiffness. To have come that far from where I was a year ago is just a miracle.

Giving up wheat, corn, dairy, soy and refined sugar sounds really hard, right?  I mean, what do we eat?  Fact is, it’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and now that I have the hang of it, it’s become a culinary adventure.  I’ve learned to adapt most of my favorite recipes to be gluten and dairy free, and best of all, my family likes this way of eating too (with some holdouts, but we’re making progress.) 

We even get to eat dessert.

The Caron fam has a sweet tooth and this brave new regimen would have been a tough sell if we’d had to give up dessert. Here is my version of a cream pie that is–incredibly–dairy and gluten free, plus you don’t have to bake it.

All of the ingredients are available at Trader Joe’s, my go-to place. It is easy to make, really delicious, and so good for you. The nuts provide protein, the fresh fruits provide vitamin C and antioxidants, and the coconut is a great source of medium chain fatty acids. Even Joe likes it, as you can see.

Teen-friendly healthy dessert.

Strawberry Banana Cream Pie, gluten & dairy free
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Delectable no-bake cream pie that uses nuts and dried fruit for the crust, fresh fruit and coconut cream for the filling. Light and satisfying.
  • Crust:
  • 1 heaping cup of almond meal (pulse raw almonds in food processor until finely ground)
  • 1 heaping cup of dried apricots
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ Tbsp coconut oil
  • Filling:
  • 1¼ cup raw cashews soaked for at least 4 hours
  • 3 Tbsp melted coconut oil
  • ¼ cup agave nectar or maple syrup
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • ½ banana
  • ⅓ cup Trader Joe's coconut cream (in the brown can)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Coconut cream topping:
  • 1 can of Trader Joe's coconut cream (in the brown can)
  • 1 tbsp of agave nectar or maple syrup
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  1. Process dried apricots in food processor until finely chopped.
  2. Add almond meal (you can use almond flour), coconut oil and pinch of salt and pulse until fully combined.
  3. Grease a pie pan with coconut oil.
  4. Place crust mixture in pie pan and press into uniform thickness.
  5. Place in freezer to set.
  6. Drain cashews.
  7. Place all filling ingredients in food processor and blend until very smooth.
  8. Pour into crust and tap to even out.
  9. Decorate with sliced strawberries.
  10. Place in freezer to set (3-4 hours.)
  11. Coconut cream topping: chill coconut cream in the fridge for 1 hour.
  12. Whip coconut cream, agave nectar and vanilla extract until fluffy.
  13. When ready to serve, remove from freezer for about five minutes to soften.
  14. Top each slice with whipped coconut cream.
  15. Variations:
  16. Use walnuts instead of almonds for the crust.
  17. Use dates instead of apricots for the crust.
  18. Add a ½ cup of shredded coconut to the crust mixture.
  19. Use mangoes instead of strawberries (fresh or frozen.)

fried plantains for breakfast

“Americans always have to eat before they work,” my Sierra Leonean friend remarked as I offered him a granola bar.  “Africans go all day with just a banana for breakfast, or nothing,” he added.  He didn’t mean it unkindly, it was just an observation.

But it’s true, Americans eat more than Africans, or at least, they eat more often.  I’ve heard it said that most Africans eat two meals a day at most, and that doesn’t include breakfast.

African hotels that cater to business people, tourists and missionaries have breakfast. Rwanda, with its Belgian and French heritage, provides guests with lavish breakfast spreads including fresh breads, pastries and thick, sweet coffee with steamed milk. In Sierra Leone, breakfast, when it is served, is simple and fresh; perhaps some small green bananas, pineapple, mangoes and my favorite, fried plantains.

Fried plantains are tangy and sweet, tender on the inside  and slightly crunchy on the outside. They taste like African sun and heat, especially when fried in coconut oil.

I was so pleased to discover a bowlful of ripe plantains on the counter when I got home from Sierra Leone, what serendipity!  Marie had bought them while I was gone, and Joe and hubs, not knowing what they were, thought they were very starchy, tasteless bananas.  I fried them up for breakfast the next morning and felt like I was in Africa for one more day.

Fried Breakfast Plantains
Nutrition Information
  • Serves: 2-3 per plantain
  • Serving size: ½ plantain
  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 7 grams
  • Saturated fat: 5 grams
  • Trans fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 16 grams
  • Protein: 1.3 grams
Cuisine: African
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Fried plantains and scrambled eggs make a hearty breakfast. Plantains are a good source of vitamin A, C, B6 and potassium.
  • Ripe plantains (one plantain is enough for 2-3 people)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  1. Peel plantains and slice ¼" thick on the bias
  2. Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat and add coconut oil.
  3. When coconut oil is melted, add plantain slices in a single layer.
  4. When golden brown, turn slices.
  5. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel to drain.
  6. Serve hot with a sprinkle of sea salt.