Chocolate Berry Crisp

Valentine’s day is almost here and with it thoughts of Chocolate! It is so easy to over-indulge in sweets this time a year, I wanted to find a way to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. So, what will please chocolate lovers but still bring some health benefits? Since not everyone is at the same place in their health journey and since I don’t want to alienate milk chocolate lovers, it needed to be versatile. First thought was the classic pairing of dark chocolate with some beautiful strawberries. At a $1.00 a berry in the store, they won’t go far. Make at home? Berries are out of season and tempering chocolate is not common cooking skill, but it did give me an idea. Chocolate Berry Crisp!
Since everyone’s taste is not the same, at the end of the recipe, I share some ideas for swapping out ingredients to adjust it to your taste so keep reading to the end. This dish is about melding different flavors with less emphasis on sweetness.


Start with mixed berries, an antioxidant powerhouse. These can be fresh or frozen, but keep in mind the cooking time will vary between the two. Select a mixture of berries for best flavor. Put into your 9×9 pan.

Next chocolate. Dark chocolate without milk may lower blood pressurIMGP1007e and provides antioxidants. Since this dish was made for Valentines, ½ of the chocolate was distributed in with the berries and the other spread on top. To make this easier, all the chips can be put in with the berries. Alternatively, after the crisp is baked, you can put all the chips on top. After they warm up for a few minutes, they will become soft/melted and you can spread them over the surface of the crisp. While this is an extra step, I do think that it provides more chocolate flavor to the dessert.

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Flour or corn starch is sprinkled over the fruit to help thicken the juices while it is cooking. If you don’t mind the juices being thin when you serve it, then this step may be omitted.

Assemble your dry ingredients and mix together:
Oats — Heart healthy fiber. IMGP1010 (3)
Nuts  — Heart protection.
Cinnamon — Trace minerals and antioxidants.

Ready for the wet ingredients. If you add the vanilla to the syrup, it will distribute better when poured into the dry ingredients. Add the following to the bowl:
Applesauce — fiber. It acts as a binder for the dry ingredients to eliminate the oil traditionally used. These newer pouches with a lid allow you to use part of the package and store the rest in the fridge until later.
100% Maple syrup (please note this is not maple flavored pancake syrup) — Vitamins and minerals. It adds a nice depth of flavor.
Vanilla extract (not artificial flavor) — antioxidants.

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Mix until crumbly. Spread across the top of the berries and pop the pan into the oven.
With fresh berries it will take about 30 min for the top to become brown and the berries to bubble. Frozen will need 10-15 minutes more. If you find that the top is getting too brown, cover with foil.

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For this picture, I laid out the chocolate chips in a heart pattern. When they had melted, 3-4 minutes, then I smoothed them into the heart shape. When I discovered the heart-shape did not show up well in pictures, I decided to outline the heart with white chocolate chips. White chocolate is basically cocoa butter and sugar with no real nutritional value. It is also difficult to melt which is why I left them as chips.  They are not an essential part of the recipe.

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This desert is great as is. However, there will be those temped to add ice cream or whipped topping.  WIMGP1039 (2)hile not a whole food plant based approved topping, So Delicious Coco Whip topping adds creaminess and a pleasant coconut taste without as many chemicals or fat as the other popular toppings.  Enjoy!

Additional notes:

To reduce fat:
Leave out the chocolate chips and add ¼ cup of cocoa powder to the topping. Reduce the nuts by 2 tablespoons. Since cocoa is bitter, add 2-4 Tablespoons more of sweetener.

Sugar substitutes:
¼ cup of brown sugar or
½ cup coconut sugar or
¼-1/2 cup of date sugar or date paste

Chocolate chips:
You can use equal amounts of semisweet chocolate chips. To preserve the antioxidant activity of the chocolate, it is still recommended to use a dairy-free version. Keep in mind if you use semisweet or milk chocolate, these chips will be sweeter than dark chocolate so be cautious when adding additional sugar.

Cooking 101

“I need fast” one will say. “Flavor is what is important” says another. “Appetizing look!” “Alas, I don’t know how to cook.” And the ever popular ‘I don’t like ____________ (fill in the blank).” Well you get the picture. Everyone has a perception of what it means to make a “good” meal.
Personally I did not learn to cook until I was an adult. The way my mother (an excellent cook) prepared food was incomprehensible to me. What is a handful or a dash? Cook until done means what exactly? Enter Martha Stewart. Think what you will of her, she provided a framework for cooking that was understandable. It reminded me of chemistry class where everything was precise and the chemical reactions made sense.
Fast forward a few years and now I understand how my mother cooks. Precision is great when you start cooking but variety in taste comes when you become open to experimenting. Don’t believe me? Google a favorite dish and see how many distinct recipes you can find.
So in honor of summer, I am writing about a favorite meal. One that can be changed up in numerous different ways and adapted to meet the need for both fast and flavorful.

Pasta Salad 2.0
4 servings

Basic recipe-remember if you don’t like an ingredient, substitutions will be suggested below.

1 package of Barilla Ready Pasta – any style
22 oz (2 packages) of frozen California mix vegetables microwave in the bag
2 Tablespoons of Italian dressing

Cook the Barilla as directed on the package. Put ¼ of the bag on each plate. Cook the vegetables as directed, divide into four servings and mix with the pasta on the plates. Add ½ Tablespoon of dressing to each serving. Putting this directly on the plate saves a mixing bowl and will help cool the vegetables and pasta quicker.

For a side dish, while cooking the vegetables wash some fresh berries and serve with plain yogurt. Or to skip the sides, make this dish into 2 servings rather than 4.

It depends on your microwave, but I made this version in 10 minutes start to finish.


Don’t care for this warm, or want to use it for a lunch? Cook earlier in the day. Put the dressing in the bottom of a bowl or Mason jar, then layer the firm vegetables, pasta then soft vegetables like tomatoes (a listed option below) and put in the refrigerator. Stir before serving.


Now for some variationsimgp9469.jpg

With no Italian dressing on hand, I used a tablespoon of olive oil and a ½ tablespoon of vinegar. Different vinegar types will work, just remember the stronger the vinegar the less you need. The nice thing about Italian dressing is the spices are already included so there are no extra ingredients. Don’t care for Italian? Check the chart at the end for alternatives.



Vegetables make this dish for me so adding more is always an option. Here I used tomatoes, bell pepper and black olives.




Special tools can help save some time and dishwashing but are not necessary.

I find a corer faster to remove stems from tomatoes and peppers and even the pepper seeds. Food processors quickly chop food, but increase clean-up time. Cutting with a knife is sometimes a bit precarious for me so I invested in a chopper-the manual kind-to quickly coarse-chop items such as olives and bell peppers.



In the bowl they go.


imgp9498.jpgNow for added flavor. There is always salt and pepper to taste. Dried herbs are easy to keep around and adding Italian seasoning can work wonders. But you can really kick up the favor with fresh herbs. Yes they can be expensive, but ask around and see if you can find someone who is growing some. Better yet, consider growing some yourself! You can grow a variety all in one planter.


Here we have fresh basil, parsley and oregano as well as dried herb options.


After washing the fresh herbs, here are two quick methods of cutting.
imgp9478.jpg                                           Roll the leaves up into a tight roll and




Chop with a knife-Note the poor hand placement

Or cut with scissors-safer


The leaves may turn brown in the cutting process. Just leave this for the last step so the leaves stay green until consumed.


And there you have it! Total time: 18 min.

But what about those things that you don’t like to eat or don’t have on hand?

Here are some helpful additions or substitutions you can use. You may want to increase or decrease the seasonings to your taste. Play with the pasta shapes and ingredients.

For cost savings buy dried pasta and cook yourself. Look for in season and on sale vegetables. Potted vegetable plants require little work and can yield lovely low cost fresh produce.

Now be adventurous and enjoy!

Precooked Chicken
Feta cheese
Parmesan cheese
Romero Cheese
Hardboiled Eggs

Tomatoes- Cherry tomatoes may be easier to cut
Different colored bell peppers
Black or green olives
Artichoke Hearts

Basil 3-4 leaves fresh or ¼ teaspoon dry
Oregano ½ teaspoon of fresh or dried
Parsley 2 Tablespoons fresh or ½ dried
Dried Italian seasoning mix 1 teaspoon
Italian dressing dry mix

Italian Dressing 2 Tablespoons
Olive oil 1 Tablespoon with Vinegar ½ Tablespoon
Mayonnaise 1-2 Tablespoons
Another type of dressing such as Panera Poppyseed which is sweeter and less tangy