The Junk Food Alternative: Baked Kale Chips

Kale chips -- they're delicious! I swear! Lately, I've been keeping an eye out on healthy meal choices (hence my recipe for a Green Smoothie) partly because of the disapproving looks I get from my boyfriend whenever I bury my face in a bag of Tapatio-flavored Doritos ("You're not better than me!" I cry as I return to my chips, sinking into a spiral of shame), and partly because of the super-yummy but rich and fatty dishes I've been learning to make at culinary school. I had been hearing about these crispy kale chips for awhile now. Heck, just about every food blogger has a recipe. (I'm partial to the one from For The Love Of Food, mostly because of the pictures.) I was excited to try them out, but didn't have particularly high expectations because, to me, nothing can ever replace Doritos... or Flamin' Hot Fries. And wow. Wowowow. Delish. Megish. Indeed.  They're really crunchy, super light, savory, earthy, salty, nutty. These aren't lame diet bagel chips. Or bland, unsalted raw nuts. These are the real deal potato chip alternative. Without further ado, the recipe for baked kale, oven-roasted kale, crispy kale, kale chips -- whatever you want to call them:

Serves: 2 Prep time: 2-5 minutes Cook time: 10-15 minutes

Ingredients: 1 bunch kale (the curly kind, about 4-5 stalks) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 teaspoon salt Cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start with dry kale. Otherwise, they'll turn out soggy. Either wash the stalks hours beforehand, or pat to dry and make sure there's no visible moisture. Rip leaves off stalks.

2. Toss in olive oil. The kale shouldn't be fully covered in olive oil, just a very light coat.

3. Place kale on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon baking mat. Bake in oven until the leaves' edges brown slightly, about 10-15 minutes. My oven tends to run a bit on the hotter side, so I bake mine for 10 minutes.

4. Set aside to cool, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with salt and if desired, cayenne pepper.

My Notes: What if I overcook the kale? Hey, it happens. It'll have a bitter, burnt flavor. Be sure to check your kale at the 8-minute mark. When the curly edges look brown, they're done. They should have a light, crispy, papery texture.

Can I use cooking spray instead of olive oil? You sure can! Some might say this would be a fewer-calorie-alternative. I just tend to shy away from foods that come in spray cans. It's a personal bias. Plus, I like the vaguely fruity, clean taste of olive oil.

Can I use other seasonings? Yes! The sky's the limit. When I'm in need of a spicy snack fix, I dust on some cayenne pepper. If you're introducing this recipe to a reluctant friend, try sprinkling on some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Dessert Made Simple: Mini Apple Pies and Mini Peach Pies

Recently, at a friend's BBQ, someone made these incredible mini apple pies. They were comforting, homey, crunchy, sweet -- everything a good pie is. Even though I was full, I scarfed down a few of these suckers, unable to contain myself. Between mouthfuls of pie, I vowed I was going to make these at home. But then I recalled watching my friend make them. Dough, eggwash, pie filling, apples, spices and flour were spread all over the counter as she hurriedly filled and pressed together pieces of dough. It looked like... So. Much. Work. Don't get me wrong -- the pies came out perfect. They were little, golden, crusty pockets of heaven. But between working full-time and going to school every evening, I wouldn't be able to justify spending several hours on pie, particularly when much of the labor is in the assembly process. So I cut a few corners, partially working off the back of my Pillsbury pie crust box and this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. My recipe includes both an apple pie filling and a peach pie filling. Read on and you'll learn how to make these mini pie cookies in no time.

Serves: About 6 Prep time: About 45 minutes Cook time: About 25-30 minutes

Ingredients: 1 9-inch roll of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust 1 egg, beaten 1 teaspoon water

For apple filling (for 6 mini pies): 1-1.5 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples 1/4 cup white sugar 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg Small pinch of kosher salt (less than 1/4 teaspoon) A few squirts lemon juice, optional (to prevent apples from browning)

For peach filling (for 6 mini pies): 1 8-ounce can peaches 3 tablespoons white sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare pie dough: Roll out the pie crust to about 1/4 inch thick. Get two differently sized cookie cutters (or drinking glasses) and cut out little circles. Cut out six 3" circles and six 3.75" circles.

3. Prepare eggwash: Beat the egg in a small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon water and mix.

4. Create apple filling: Mix sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Peel and chop apples into little squares (about 1/8" thick, 1/4" squares). If they start to turn brown, squirt with some lemon. Toss apples into the sugar-spice mixture.

4. Or create peach filling: Drain the peaches. In a bowl, combine with sugar and cinnamon.

5. Assemble the mini pies: Put some water in another small bowl. Roll up a paper towel and dip it in the water. Moisten a 3" circle of pie crust with the paper towel. Spoon a small amount of filling onto the circle. Cover with a 3.75" circle of pie crust and press the sides to close. Crimp the edges with a fork. If desired, cut three little slits on the surface of the mini pie (refer to picture.) Repeat on all the dough.

6. Brush each mini pie with egg wash. Place pies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon baking mat. Bake in oven until light golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

My Notes: Why Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples? These apples are pretty sturdy, so their firm texture holds up during the baking process. Plus, they both have a crisply tart taste. Golden Delicious apples tend to be a bit sweeter, while Granny Smith ones tend to be more on the sour side. Simply choose the variety you prefer.

Why canned peaches? Aside from requiring less preparation time and effort, canned peaches are much softer and sweeter than the fresh kind. As a result, you'll have a gooey, sweet filling for your mini pies.

But the Pillsbury Pie Crust box says to use a baking time of about 425 degrees: Baking these tiny pies at a lower temperature ensures they get cooked through and reach a lovely golden brown before getting a chance to burn.

Why use egg wash? This egg-water mixture provides a glossy finish to the pies, and helps keep them from burning.

Can I use different filling? Of course! You can use whatever filling you'd normally use in a pie.

What do I do with any extra filling? Um... eat it!