Monday, October 24, 2011

Lemony Pasta

Its like an easier version of mac and cheese.  And spring-ier.

My good friend Theresa. introduced the idea of "Fat Kid" as a lifestyle (versus being a number on a scale) when we were in college, doing our best not to be fat kids, in preparation for her upcoming wedding.  (At which we both looked great, by the way.)  Fat kid as a lifestyle means that you can be the skinniest person around (which, to be clear, I am not) but if you find joy in occasionally sitting around all day watching TV and eating food that may or may not be good for you, you are indulging in a fat-kid kind of day.  My friend Theresa, by the way was not able to be at my first baby shower because the day I was sitting around, 8 months pregnant and enjoying cupcakes and punch with friends was the day she she was completing the Ironman Triathalon.  You know, the kind where you bike a crap-load of miles, then swim a bunch more miles and round it all out with a marathon.  An actual 26.2 mile marathon.  My guess is she doesn't indulge in as many Fat Kid days as I do, but I am forever grateful to her for bringing the Fat Kid Lifestyle into my life while also showing me you can still be healthy.

When I'm having a Fat-Kid day, I could sit and eat this stuff ALL DAY LONG.  And I suppose if you use low-fat or fat free sour cream (and there are some decent ones out there these days), it really wouldn't be too bad for you.  So easy, so delicious, and its got a minimum of ingredients.  My friend Tara (another fellow Fat-Kid) showed me this recipe, and I've made it at least four times this summer.  My two year old LOVES it, and I could stand over a pot and eat it all day. 

Its essentially this exact recipe, but with extra lemon and asparagus thrown in.  You could use broccoli in a pinch, and I bet it would be delightful.  :)  Watch out for seeds while squeezing the lemon-- biting into a lemon seed you thought was garlic is a good way to ruin this dish.  Also, I've found, since you're going to bake the pasta, whole wheat or "super" pastas work well as they stand up pretty well to the oven.  While on the subject of pasta-- I really prefer this with spaghetti, but I'm a firm believer that most of the pasta shapes I have are pretty interchangeable, and really, what you're seeking here is creamy lemon goodness over carbs.  Who really cares what shape it comes in?

(And just to keep you coming back for more: since this is my summer 'mac and cheese' style dish, I'll post my "fall" mac and cheese recipe as my next posting.)

Lemony Pasta

1 pound pasta (whole wheat ROCKS for this recipe!)
1 lb asparagus, cut into bite-sized chunks
4 Tablespoons Salted Butter 
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil 
3 cloves Garlic, Minced 
2 whole Lemons, Juiced And Zested 
2 cups Sour Cream 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt, Or More To Taste 
Plenty Of Grated Parmesan Cheese 
Flat-leaf Parsley, Chopped 
Extra Lemon Juice

Preparation Instructions 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta until 2 min before the box suggests it's "al-dente".  (EX: If the box days 9 min for al-dente, cook for 7 minutes).  In the last 30 seconds, add chunked asparagus to pasta water.  Drain pasta and asparagus and return to pot.

While the pasta is cooking, in a skillet, melt butter with olive oil over LOW HEAT. When butter is melted, add minced garlic. Squeeze the juice of 1 1/2 lemons into the pan (saving that last half a lemon for later). Turn off heat.

Add sour cream and stir mixture together. Add lemon zest and salt. Taste, then add more salt if necessary.

Pour mixture over drained pasta/asparagus and stir together, then pour this lemony goodness into an oven safe dish.

Bake, covered, for 15 minutes. Then remove foil and bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes. (Don’t bake too long or the pasta will dry out.)

When you remove it from the oven, squeeze a little more lemon juice over the top. Top generously with Parmesan cheese, then chopped parsley (or whatever herb you happen to have-- I used cilantro, it was delicious).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Potato, Squash and Cauliflower Burritos

Day 6- The Vegetarian Challenge- "Wrapped in a Tortilla"
Sometimes after a long day, after everyone has gone to bed and I have the house to myself, I'll watch a documentary on our instant movie player.   One evening I watched Forks Over Knives, which essentially talks about two doctors who, through their individual research, have come to discover that a certain diet, namely vegan (no foods containing animal products, including eggs and milk) and cutting out processed wheat and sugar, that you can not only stop the progression of, but reverse heart disease and cancer.

And their evidence is pretty convincing, even to the scientist in me who asks a lot of questions in her head as the movie is playing.  And for me, given the family history I have with both of those diseases, it made a lot of sense.  So I went to bed, thinking, "Hey, we might be able to give this a try, even if just for a month"  And I was super hyped-up about it.

Then I woke up the next morning and gave my little Duke in Training eggs and toast with a side of yogurt for breakfast.  Not exactly as easy as I thought.  So I gave up the idea.  Because really, it was late when I watched the movie and who ISN'T easily swayed at 1am?  Isn't that when most of the worlds orders for Ginsu Knives and the Miracle Bras are placed?  Its a gullible time for everyone.

Later that day, I took my little ones to our local coffee shop so they might get out of the house and I might have some adult interaction.  I sat down on the couch and in front of me was an old issue of Vegetarian Times, that, no kidding said, "Take our 28 Day Vegetarian Challenge".  So I opened it up and I read about it, and it seemed feasible.  But then my Duke in Training started to pull stuff off the shelves, so I dropped it.

THEN, still at the coffee shop (after twenty minutes of convincing my older child not to pull stuff off the shelves) I opened up another food magazine (because I'm always perusing for new recipes) and inside the cover there was a small blurb, "Please come to our website to see our discussion with the Director of Forks Over Knives."

So that is how we decided to become vegetarians for the month of October-- God spoke to me through an old documentary and two past issues of a magazine.  And since He had chosen to speak to me through food, I figured the least I could do is try one of the recipes.

This one should really be called "Burritos that taste better than they sound".  They're yummy and flavorful and EASY!!  They don't really freeze well, (although do ok as left overs), but you could always forgo the tortilla if you're REALLY trying to be healthy and just serve it OVER brown rice for a totally wheat free option.  Both My Loving Duke and I really enjoyed them, and didn't feel like we were missing meat at all.  Even the Duke in Training was excited about them, although he really used his tortilla more like a shovel.

I used purple cauliflower because my store carries it, its the same price as white or orange, and I thought it would look prettier.  It all gets covered in red sauce, so color doesn't really matter, but it was fun anyway.  Also, there are a lot of chilies in a can of chilies in adobo sauce (which can be found in your "Hispanic/International" isle.  You only need one here, so gently pat some of the sauce off the remaining chilies, spread them out on a baking sheet and freeze them.  Once frozen, you can remove them from the baking sheet, and stick in a ziploc bag and put back in the freezer for future use

Potato, Squash and Cauliflower Burritos
Adapted from a recipe from the June 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times

1 15oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 tsp canola oil
12 small onion, sliced thin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
3 cups small cauliflower florets
1 potato, cubed into 1/4" cubes
2 cups butternut squash, seeded,peeled and cubed (about 1/4 butternut squash)
3 Tbs chopped cilantro
1 cup cooked brown rice, warmed
1 c Monterey Jack cheese
Flour/whole wheat flour tortillas, warmed

Preparation instructions
Pulse tomatoes (and their juice), chipotle chiles and garlic in food processor (or blender) until coarse puree forms.  Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat  Add onion and oregano, saute 2 minutes.  Add squash, saute another 2 minutes, then add potatoes, cauliflower and tomato mixture.  Cover and simmer 10 min.  Uncover and simmer 5 minutes more, or until veggies are tender.  Stir in cilantro.  Divide mixture among tortillas, top with rice and sprinkle with cheese.  Roll up tortillas, leaving one end open.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Curry, Soup and Enchiladas! Yum yum!

So much for posting every day.  I really do intend to do it more often, but we seem to be passing a cold around the Wholesome Household, and of course I got the worst of it, so I've been sleeping when I'm not chasing around two adorable munchkins.  Also, as a result of the offending virus we have not been making lots of new and exciting recipes.  We've stuck to our commitment-- we're still meat free, but I've basically been making recipes I already make, just subbing veggies.  We've had some interesting ones though:

Day 2- Sunday October 2nd
Sunday night we had delicious Thai Curry, made just like my Thai Chicken Curry, but I left out the chicken and subbed in four carrots and two russet potatoes.  I steamed the carrots and potatoes in the microwave for three minutes before adding them to the crockpot in order to keep cooking time down.  We served it over quinoa  instead of rice for some extra protein.  Yum yum!

Day 3- Monday October 3rd
Monday night was the worst of it, so I made veggie soup, much like my Everything but the Kitchen Sink Soup, and beer bread.  It took 10 minutes to prepare, and another hour of me laying down, waiting for it to be ready.  (Its a hard life, I know.)  I subbed vegetable base instead of chicken/beef base, and left out the meat, but honestly, didn't miss it for all the heavy veggies and brown rice we added to it.  Yum yum!  (Also set aside some spinach and brown rice for other dinners later this week.)

Day 4- Tuesday, October 4th
Tonight was enchiladas, made for me by my friend M after we had our second son.  I liked the recipe so much I got it from her, and now they're a favorite around our house.  They're delicious, easy to make, and SUPER eat half and freeze half.  Chalk full of yummy goodies, it doesn't take but 10 min to prepare a pan full.  Plus our two year old Duke-in-Training likes to help fill the enchiladas, so making them can be family affair!  I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more recipes by my friend M, since she's my resident vegetarian friend, and a mommy to boot, so she's got lots of quick and easy vegetarian recipes.

So far, we haven't felt like we're missing much.  I'm looking forward to feeling better so I have the energy to really try some new and different stuff... right now I'm feeling rather couch potato-ish.

Speaking of getting recipes-- I've already had a couple of emails with quick and easy veggie recipes-- please keep sending me more!  I'll try them all, I promise!  We need all the help we can get with yummy recipes, especially those that might use veggies we don't normally eat.  Feel free to post them below!  Thanks!

M.C.'s Delicious Enchiladas
This is a double recipe-- I make them in two pans and freeze one for future use.  Feel free to half ingredients if you're not the "freeze ahead" type.

2 packages Spanish Rice
2/3 block cream cheese
1 jar salsa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 package frozen spinach, drained well
1/2c Mexican cheese
2 container enchilada sauce
12 whole wheat tortillas- (you could use corn, but you'd need more of them.  Also, heat them up before rolling if using corn, it makes it easier)

Preparation Instructions
Prepare rice according to package directions.  Add in cream cheese until melted, then stir in salsa and black beans and spinach.  (Voila!  You now have your filling!)  Put a little enchilada sauce in the bottom of two 8x8 pans (or one 13x9 if you're making them to share!).  Fill tortillas with rice/bean filling, then roll up and place in pan.  Once pan is full (I like 6 per pan) then cover with remaining enchilada sauce and shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 for 15 min covered, then bake uncovered until warmed through.  Serve with avocado!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Vegetarian in the Land of Turkey Legs

My Loving Duke assists our two year old in using a bubble wand at the Renaissance Festival!
There is a really long and involved story behind this decision that includes signs from the Universe and long discussions with My Loving Duke.  But in an attempt to force myself to try new recipes, to eat more healthfully, and because we entered a drawing to win $1000 if we commit, MLD and I have decided to go vegetarian for the month of October.  (Just October, mind you-- we plan on returning to the land of the Omnivore November 1st, but hopefully with some new and exciting food ideas practiced and under our belts.)

We're pretty excited about it, and looking forward to including lots of new winter veggies into our diet, and we've been mulling it over for about three weeks now.  Fully vegetarian with the promise to eat vegan (no animal products including milk/eggs) at least twice a week through Halloween.  Its kind of a scary prospect, even for me, who was vegetarian for six years as a teenager.  Last time though, I went about it all wrong, and didn't end up any healthier or wiser for it.  This time, we're committed to eating more healthfully and trying new recipes to broaden our repertoire.  I'll be blogging daily in an account of how it's going, weather it is actually healthier/cheaper/easier, and giving feedback on new recipes I try.  I figure the daily blogging part is going to be harder than actually giving up meat for a month... we'll see.

In choosing October 1st as our start day for our Vegetarian Challenge, we neglected to take into account our plans to attend the Renaissance Festival with family that day.  Have you ever been to a Renaissance Festival?  Not exactly a haven for vegetarians.  Not, presumably because people back during the Renaissance at meat at every meal, but more likely because the meaty dishes such as beef stew and turkey legs have a much larger draw to the average tourist than, say, a vegetable mash.  Everywhere you looked there was primitive meat for sale.  And it all smelled delicious.  And looked more and more inviting as the day wore on.  I could personally feel myself wearing down already, and it had only been half a day!

But we had made a committment, and spent the day at the Renn Fest enjoying the fun festivities, and trying to ignore the giant turkey leg in the hand of every third spectator.  Our son's favorite activity was watching the "hosies" at the jousting competition, followed in a close second by making bubbles at the Bubble Fountain.  My Loving Duke and his sister bonded over knife and axe throwing.  And four hours after we arrived, as we were gathering to find something to eat, it began raining rather hard.  It was almost like another sign from the Universe-- "DON'T EAT THE TURKEY LEGS!"  This was a hard sign to take, as MLD had been talking about the turkey leg and mead since we went to Renn Fest two years ago.  And this was only the FIRST day of our vegetarianism.  We could always start on Sunday, the first day of the week, which could arguably be a clean start as well.  But no, we decided that with two kids under the age of two, it seemed best to head out to someplace dry and with more non-meat options.

All in all it was a good day!  We did enjoy that glass of mead- I was at one point, carrying mead in both hands with a three month old strapped to my chest, it was quite a sight- and had a blast.  We saw elephants (didn't know those were big during the Renaissance, did ya?), listened to some great music, found our official Scottish Tartan, and drank some mead.  (Oh, did I mention the mead?  Mead is yummy.)  We're sorry that it rained and we felt we had to leave, but in the end, we survived our first intentional day without meat, feeling rather proud of ourselves for sticking to our (potato) guns.  Even if we did end up with cheese pizza for dinner, (which isn't a new recipe OR healthy) we are one day down, and looking forward to the next 30!
My Bad-Ass Duke and Sister-in-law during the knife throwing contest.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crock Pot "French Dip"

Back when we were young, with extraneous income and no one to be responsible to, my friend T and I used to go out to dinner in our old neighborhood.  We always went out for Burritos and Beer (and often cake because the bar made its own cake with HOMEMADE carmel sauce poured over the top).  During our weekly B&B evenings, we would discuss very important things like what we want served at our funerals.  The food should, of course, be food you loved and which celebrates your life.  T, I'm here to make an official addendum to my funeral foods!  In addition to burritos and fried chicken, I need to add THIS FRENCH DIP recipe to the mix.

This stuff is "'da bomb".  I mean, its so good that I feel ok about posting this on the web with the words "'da bomb" attached do it.  I am salivating just thinking about it.  Ay dios, I'm now thinking about it in another language, that's how good it is.  Sadly, I have no pics of my own to show you how amazing this recipe is.

And preparing it comes with my two favorite caveats:
1) It couldn't be easier!
2) It makes enough for leftovers!

I used this recipe from the Pioneer Woman (the first one on the page), but made some changes according to what I had in the cupboard, what I thought my family would eat and the mistakes I made from not reading the recipe right.  :)  God Bless yummy mistakes.  Because I'm thinking about going into the freezer to defrost what I just put away and eat it straight from the bag.

Except that would leave me with less for next time.  And that would be sad.  Unlike my funeral, with all that good food, which will not be sad at all.  :)

Crock Pot French Dip 

1 whole Beef Chuck Roast, 2.5 To 4 Pounds 
2 cups water + 2 tsp beef base OR 2 cups of beef broth/stock
1 packet dry Italian dressing mix

1 jar (12 Oz) Pepperoncini Peppers, With Juice 
Buttered, Toasted Deli Rolls
Top with cheese- optional 

Preparation Instructions
Put roast into crock pot.  Blend pepperoncini peppers in blender with juice.  (You can leave whole, but I don't really like pepperoncinis, so the blending works well).  Pour over roast.  Pour beef flavoring (either water plus beef base or beef broth) over roast.  Add Italian dressing packet.  Cover.  Cook on  high 5-6 hours or low all day until fork tender.  Place meat on buttered rolls (I like to melt cheese on the rolls first, so as to prevent sogginess).  Serve with small bowls of liquid from crockpot.  Don't forget the bowls to dip, that's what makes it "French Dip".  Die of goodness.

**Also, this makes enough for at least one nights of leftovers.  After everything has cooled (usually the next day, after I've removed the fat from the top), I'll divide the leftovers into freezer bags with the liquid.  It "freezes beautifully", and provided you have rolls and cheese, you have an EVEN EASIER meal for another night in the future.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon

I know it looks kind of like a regular chocolate chip cookie, but I promise, it is SO much more, my friends.
Recently My Loving Duke and I were discussing our Roads Not Taken.  Not in a sad way, but simply some of the choices we contemplated in our younger days but chose not to make.  Things like moving in with an old college roommate or back across the country to be closer to your parents.  These weren't sad reflections, just a respectful nod to the things that might have been.

But if I am being honest, I do kind of kick myself for not following through on my largest road not taken: becoming a doctor.  I knew I wanted to be a doctor from the age of 5.  I don't know why or how I knew, but I knew.  For the next 17 years, when someone asked me what I wanted to do, I said "Pediatric Oncologist".  Then my senior year of college rolled around and in the midst of some serious reflection during a spiritual retreat, I decided that perhaps I'd been letting the inertia of "becoming a doctor" substitute for the actual dream.  Once I decided not to pursue medical school, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, and rather enjoyed finding my new calling.  And that my friends, is how I became a teacher.

But now, in my newest career of Diaper-Changer/Boo-Boo Kisser/Snuggler-in-Chief/COO of the Wholesome Household, I look back and wonder if I wasn't letting fear of the unknown and the very hard work scare me away from medical school.  No matter what the reason, however, that choice is gone.  Sure, I COULD go to medical school, if I could re-take a lot of those science classes, then finish up my pre-med program, interview and gain entrance to a program.  But the reality of me actually going to those schools, spending that time away from my family is just... well, not a reality at all, because I work harder now than I ever would have in med school.  But I'm not sad about this, for even with nostalgia and a little bit of a grass-is-greener sentimentality, I can't really imagine my life having gone any differently.  I can't imagine my children being anything other than they are, and I love being with them, even on the hard days and in the worst of tantrums and middle of the night feedings.  (Ok, maybe not RIGHT during the worst tantrums, but shortly thereafter I remember again why I like them so much.)  One of the roads I've taken is to raise beautiful, strong people who will leave the world a better place than they found it.  To be a strong role model, I don't have to be a doctor, but I can distill that lifelong dream of medicine down to its elements and instill those I hold dearest into my children; a deep love of science and how understanding the world around us in a deeper way can enrich our lives and an ingrained need to give back to the universe through service to others as a way of saying "Thank You" for the beautiful gifts we've been given.

Some might say, myself included, that as a stay at home parent, I do spend my life in service to others.  Most certainly I've learned humility and flexibility in my two years as a mom.  (Also traits I'd like my kids to have in measure.)  But there is something important, I think, about offering of yourself to others, to do your best to help not only those you know and love, but people in general.

And so I try to take the things I'm good at and use them to help others, even with what little "free time" I have.  I try to help babysit when a mom really needs an afternoon out.  I make dinners for my friends when they are undergoing a big life change.  And next Tuesday, I will be baking two different kinds of cookies for the Cookies for Kids Cancer Bake Sale, hosted by Moms of Fredericksburg.  All proceeds from the bake sale go directly to pediatric cancer research.  (Local friends-- feel free to come by Picnic in the Park next Tuesday to buy some!!)  I do this not because it will benefit directly anyone I know, but because this is a gift my parents gave me-- to say thanks for your own blessings, and to use what you're good at to serve others.  And I know my munchkins are too young to remember this event; it won't even be a blip on their radar.  But its important to me to demonstrate with something other than lip-service how we are all dependent on each other, and small kindnesses for others in turn help make us better people.

So I will bake.  Because its about all I've got time for, and because I'm pretty good at it.  I'll be baking my famous Nursing Cookies (famous only to my friends who read the blog, I know, but I'm pretty proud nevertheless) and I'm baking Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon.  I have no claim to this recipe-- my friend posted it on Facebook one day, and I made it exactly as it is.  The second time around I've added more bacon because, well, frankly, I think if you're going to use Candied Bacon you should go big or go home.  I mean, really, what's the point if there are just little bits of bacon in the cookies?  You're already eating cookies with bacon in them... there is no health food here, my friends.  Go big or go home.  Consequently-- when chopping the chocolate coated candied bacon (do your arteries hurt just reading those words?), make sure its a really rough chop-- you're going to want nickle sized pieces.

There are two pieces of advice I'd like to offer if you're planning on making these cookies.  First, and this is VERY important: Don't skimp on the bacon.  Make sure you buy good, Applewood Smoked bacon.  Its worth it.  I buy mine from the local butcher shop as a special treat every once in a while.  Nice, thick sliced bacon.  If you use the stuff you get in the cold case at the store, unless its really high end stuff, you will be disappointed, mostly because it tends to cook away entirely.  And the applewood smoking process makes your house smell like a campfire while its cooking, which is just delightful.  Secondly: and this is probably the most important in your enjoyment of the cookie: wait for them to cool.  They're SO much more amazing when they're cool.  I don't know why-- that is the opposite of most cookies.  But they are PHENOMENAL.  I wish there was a font big enough to demonstrate how wonderful these cookies are.  They are a must make, sometime when you have a free bit.  And a little bit of extra room in the waistline of your pants.  :)  I suppose the good news on that front is that this recipe doesn't make that many, so you can't go TOO overboard on eating them.

How To Candy Bacon
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

8 slices (or about half a pound) of Applewood smoked bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I like it hot-- its a nice compliment to the cookie)
1/2 cup chocolate chips for melting
vegetable oil

Lightly oil a cooking rack with the vegetable oil, and place over a cookie sheet.  On a plate, mix brown sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  Gently press each side of each slice of bacon into the sugar mixture.  Place sugared bacon on rack with cookie sheet underneath, and bake 20-25 minutes until crispy, turning once.  Remove from rack, place on a towel for one minute to drain, then leave on a plate to cool.  (Don't leave on paper towel, or you'll have paper coated candied bacon, a terrible sad waste.)  At this point, either eat as is OR--- melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips (either in the microwave or on double boiler) and drip bacon in said chocolate, place BACK on rack to dry.  Then use in recipe below.

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies with Candied Bacon
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
makes 12-15 cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 slices candied bacon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars together in the bowl of an electric mixer until fluffy – about 3-4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing until combined. Add flour, baking soda and salt, mixing until just combined and dough forms. Crumble bacon and fold it into dough. Drop tablespoon-sized dough balls on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Zucchini Cake... I mean, um.. Bread

We've been getting a lot of summer squash and zucchini in our CSA that we joined this summer.  I have to find SOMETHING to do with it, since that IS the purpose of a CSA (and honestly, this blog, to be fair) to be able to use fresh, local, in season foods in a way that's tolerable.  Unfortunately, squash and zucchini are up there with seafood on the list of Foods I Hate.  I just can't get behind them.  I mean, I like it more than shrimp, in that if someone serves me squash or zucchini, I can usually gag it down or at least hide it well enough in the other food that I don't want to immediately barf.  So what to do?  Well, I did lightly cook and puree some of it and freeze it to put into spaghetti sauce later. And  I did use a whole (small) summer squash in my chili this week (grate it, squeeze a little water out, saute before cooking beef.  We didn't even know it was there, really.)   I have, previously, prepared it lightly grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then it was tolerable.  But, being as pregnant as I am, by the time dinner rolls around I'm not interested in doing anything other than kicking up my feet and eating (so, no grilling happening here lately, my friends).

One way to do something SUPER simple, easy and in the morning is zucchini bread.  So I turned to my resident expert in zucchini bread, my comrade in baking, L.N.  She has given me more than one fantastic recipe to try, and she has made the heck out of Zucchini Bread, as her family had a squash bonanza last year in their garden.  She actually converted me to the world of Zucchini Bread, as, I'm ashamed to say, I generally had refused to try it on the basis that it contained zucchini.

Zucchini Bread.  Ok, who am I kidding??  This stuff should be called Zucchini Cake.  In fact, in muffin form it would be fantastic with a little cream cheese icing on the top-- but lately I just don't even have the energy for that.  Its really a heavy cake with a bunch of zucchini and squash thrown in to make me feel better about feeding it to my 20 month old for breakfast in the morning.  He LOVES this stuff, by the way.  Asks for the muffins by name these days.  Is there anything cuter than a slightly-less-than 2 year old, pointing at the top of the fridge saying "Nuppins, mama, peas?  Nuppins?"  Its hard to resist.  And I assuage my guilt knowing he's getting squash for breakfast.

I have made this four times in the last two weeks, and this is the variation I landed on.  Normally, I wouldn't change a thing if the recipe came from L.N., but for one reason or another, mine never came out quite as delicious as hers.  (Probably because baking is more of an exact science than cooking, so where you make it, the altitude, the humidity, the exact weight of the flour etc, matters.)  So I tweaked it, and this is the recipe my munchkin likes the best.  Plus, its got the most squash, so we can use up what we have with the added bonus of feeling better about eating cake for breakfast (if you were ever inclined to feel guilty about that, which I'm generally not).

Plus, its easy to make, and is a nice thing to do in the morning, before it gets hot, both outside your house and in.  I also make one pan of muffins and one loaf pan (mostly because I only have one loaf pan currently, and didn't want to spend an extra hour with the oven on.)  We freeze the loaf for after Baby #2 arrives (something else to eat at midnight!), and eat the muffins, or give them away to friends and neighbors.  Yum yum.

Zucchini Bread-- Cake-- Whatever.

3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (full fat makes it better!)
3 tsp vanilla
2 cups white sugar
3 small zucchini/summer squash, grated and squeezed (it comes to about 3 cups-- a little more or less is ok)
1 small can or1/2 large can crushed pineapple, well-drained
2 cups white flour
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup flax seed meal (optional)
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preparation Instructions
Preheat oven to 350.  Mix eggs, oil, sour cream/yogurt, vanilla, sugar, zucchini, and pineapple.  Combine dry ingredients and add to wet.  Mix well.

For two loaves:
Grease two loaf pans well, then dust pans with sugar (it makes it come out of the pan easier after baking).  Divide evenly into two pans, bake for 10 min at 350 degrees then turn oven down to 325, and bake for another 50 min.  Remove from pans to cool on a wire rack.

For One Loaf and one set of muffins:
Grease and dust one loaf pan as above.  Line muffin tin with liners (don't try to do the muffins the same way as the loaf-- they end up falling apart!).  Use 1/4 cup measuring cup to fill muffin tins-- they'll rise a little, but not a lot, so don't worry about being too full, as long as they stay in the liners.  Pour the remaining batter into the loaf pan.  Bake at 350 for 8 min, then turn oven down to 325, and continue baking for 20-22 min.  The muffins are done when a toothpick comes out clean.  Bake remaining loaf for 25-30 min.  Remove immediately to cool on wire rack.

**Note-- you don't HAVE to set the oven to 350-- you can do it at 325 the whole time.  But, as my mom, who was in the catering business in a previous life, told me-- anything with baking powder will get a better rise (or crown) on it if you put it in a slightly hotter oven at first.  It makes everything rise more quickly.  Then turn down to normal baking temp for remainder of time.  Neat trick, huh?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip "Nursing" Cookies

Don't be afraid of the name.  These cookies are for everyone.  They are delicious.  They are made with stuff you find at the grocery store.  They won't make you... you know... unless you're already nursing.  (In which case they're supposed to help with your milk supply.)  They're safe for both Dukes and Duchesses.  I wish I had a better name for these delicious, chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies that are just filled with good stuff, but "Delicious, Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies That Are Just Filled with Good Stuff" is too long, and I'm terribly uncreative when it comes to naming things.  (It took a week and approximately 1,243 trips through a thesaurus before we landed on Wholesome Duchess, just to give you an idea.)  Any names I DID think of were already taken by people who make these types of cookies for a living, and I didn't want to take away from their hard work.

What makes these cookies special?  They basically have lots and lots of extra good stuff that you don't normally find in a cookie.  Things like Omega-3s, LOTS of fiber, B-vitamins, vitamin E, folic acid, protein and essential amino acids and minerals, which are exceptionally good for people who are stressed or who have low energy levels.  (People like, but not limited to, nursing moms.  Hence the name of the cookie.)  For more on exactly what's going on inside this little cookie, and why they help nursing  moms with their supply, click here.

These aren't diet cookies, and shouldn't be taken exclusively if you're trying to increase your milk supply.  They're still made with butter and white sugar and flour (yum yum!).  But they are a yummy 2am snack if you're nursing (or even bottle feeding) and need something to eat one-handed, and can often help exhausted parents get those few extra calories they need to sustain themselves at all hours of the night (and make milk!).  (I recommend freezing them in pairs in sandwich baggies, inside a large freezer bag.  When you're up at 2am, remove the cookies from the freezer, set aside with a glass of milk, nurse the munchkin, then eat and head back to bed.  A good energy supplier, and tasty too!)

A few preparation notes:
Browning the butter-- You don't have to do it.  You could just cream the butter and sugars together.  But I've found that the browned butter tastes SO MUCH BETTER that I generally do it now.  Plus it makes an even more moist cookie.  To brown the butter, don't use a dark-bottomed pan, it makes the browning hard to see.  If this is your first time browning butter, its not as hard as you might think-- just don't walk away from it while its on the stove.  Put the butter in the pan, turn it on med-high, and keep stirring until you see brown at the bottom of the pan and it starts to smell nutty.  You might think its browning, but keep it on the stove until you KNOW.  There is what I call and "ah-HA!" moment, when you know its browned.  As soon as you reach that moment, take it off the heat and out of the pan.

Millet Flour-- Millet is a whole grain that originated in ancient China.  It adds a "sweet" flavor to baked goods so it seemed a natural addition to the cookies.  You can find it in "healthy" stores, as well as in the health food section of your grocery store (or maybe even near the flours, I suppose it depends on where you shop).  If you're not inclined to try it or you can't find it where you live, you can substitute any kind of whole grain flour that's good for baking sweets or even all-purpose flour instead.  It won't change the texture terribly, but will cut back on the extra "goodness" of the cookie.

Brewers Yeast-- Three things to know:
     1) You'll find Brewer's Yeast in the health supplement section of your grocery store (next to protein powders, etc).
     2) I'm still not sure if Brewer's Yeast and Nutritional Yeast are essentially the same thing; there seem to be varying opinions on that both online and actually AT the yeast companies, who I called.  What I know to be true is that people have made cookies similar to these with nutritional yeast and they like them fine.  I opted for brewers yeast because vegan websites have made lots of mention of the "cheesy flavor" of nutritional yeast, and I didn't want to risk it in my cookies.
     3) Brewers yeast is, well, a form of yeast.  If that's a problem for you, then leave it out.  (This means don't use if you or your munchkin have thrush or any other type of fungal infection.)

Chocolate Chip "Nursing" Cookies

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1 Tablespoon wheat germ (found in cereal aisle near oatmeal, etc)

1 cup of butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar (I like dark brown, but use what you have)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup millet flour
1/4 cup Brewer's Yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups oatmeal- thick cut or old-fashioned (no instant or quick oats)
1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

Preparation Instructions

Wisk together water, flax seed meal and wheat germ in a small bowl, and set aside.

Brown roughly 12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with heat resistant spatula or wisk.  You'll know its done when it starts to turn brown (there is an "ah-ha" moment) and it starts to smell nutty.  Pour into heat safe bowl and add remaining 4 Tablespoons butter and allow to melt, stirring occasionally.  Add both sugars and stir until blended (it will be VERY thick).  Add vanilla and eggs and mix until incorporated.  Let sit 3 minutes, stir for 30 seconds, and repeat two more times.  (This allows the sugars to melt, making them even more yummy.  You could skip all this and just cream butter and sugars with vanilla and eggs, but trust me, its worth the time.)

While the butter and sugar are getting to know one another, in another bowl mix together all of the dry ingredients except oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Once the butter and sugar have sufficiently mixed together, (3 sets of "3 min sitting and 30 seconds stirring"), mix in the flax seed mixture until incorporated.  Then slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet.  Add the oatmeal and chocolate chips until just mixed.  Scoop or drop onto an un-greased cookie sheet or stoneware (I use about 3 tablespoons of dough per cookie).  Bake 8-12 min depending on size of cookie, until they're browning around the edges and looking mostly dry in the center.  They also transfer to a cooling rack better if you let them firm up on the sheet out of the oven for about 2 min before moving them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oatmeal Strawberry Banana Bread

I generally don't like fruit breads.  I'm just not a fan.  I grew up disliking bananas and all things banana flavored, and you sure as heck weren't going to get me anywhere near zucchini bread.  Now I'm pregnant, so I can't get enough of bananas (seriously, we buy 5-6 lbs a week to share among us).  Plus, they're cheap, and in actually knowing the cost of my food, I've become much more frugal.

Except when it comes to new seasons of fruits.  In fall, I can't wait for the apples to become plentiful, and in winter I'm starting to gain an appreciation for squash.  In Spring, I'm SUPER excited for strawberries, which is how I've ended up with a fridge full of pints of mediocre strawberries.  They've started becoming plentiful, but still not fresh around here.  I don't care-- I see those red berries and I see they're not QUITE as expensive as they usually are, and I buy some.  And predictably, lately they're terrible.

As a result, I'm left this morning with a couple of frozen bananas and about 1 1/2 pints of strawberries that are quickly going from mediocre to bad.  Here's what I came up with!

Its great if you have berries that are about to go bad. It tastes just like Strawberry NutriGrain bars. And as far as sweet breakfast foods go, its not SO terrible for you. :)

Oatmeal Strawberry Banana Bread


* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
* 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
* 1 Tablespoon Flax meal
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 cup brown sugar
* 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 8 Tablespoons melted butter
* 2 very ripe bananas, mashed (I like to freeze them first, but very ripe would be fine)
* 1/3 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (full fat makes better bread, but you could try low fat)
* 4 eggs, lightly beaten
* 1 1/4 pounds fresh strawberries, sliced
* 1/4 cup rolled oats (for the top)

Preparation Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 7x3 inch loaf pans, or two 9" round cake pans. (I think it works better in the cake pan, but its just a preference.) One of my tricks is to spray the pans and then swirl white sugar around the bottom (instead of flour). It works just as well, and tastes/looks yummier!

2. Stir together the flours, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, flax meal, sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together all of the wet ingredients except strawberries; stir into flour mixture until just moistened. It will be a very thick batter. Fold in strawberries. Pour into the prepared loaf pans, and sprinkle the tops with the remaining 1/4 cup of rolled oats.

3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes for the loaf pans, 30-35 min for the cake pans. Cool the strawberry bread in the pans for 5 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes

Do I make you drool, baby?

Ok, so I'm like most Americans when it comes to my love affair with chocolate chip cookies (and cookie dough!).  It has had many stages, my love affair, starting with the super-easy kid's version cookbook I got for Christmas as a child.  You know, the one with the color coded measuring spoons that went with it.  That book began my foray into baking.  And plus-sized clothes, but that's another lament...

Now, as an adult, I've returned to my love of baking tasty treats, for the same reasons I loved them as a kid-- licking the bowl and how yummy it makes the house smell.  Now as a pregnant lady-- I want sweet treats all the time.  Perhaps I should amend that statement to say "Now, as a pregnant lady, I ALLOW myself to have sweet treats often-- in moderation and after I've had something good for me."  I feel this is a trend that will continue post-baby, as I'm not any good at self-deprivation.  (Plus, I'm not currently drinking wine and beer, so I have those calories I'm not using... its got to even out, right?)

At any rate, I have two chocolate chip cookie recipes that I've absolutely fallen in love with.  The first, I found while at a recent visit to my mom's house.  Searching for "The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever", I hit upon the America's Test Kitchen Website (it will ask you for your email address, but not any obligation).  I don't know if you've ever watched that show or not (I highly recommend it, its very interesting!!) but they literally do make the BEST of whatever they make.  Because they test and test and test all the different options, and give you the one they and their general public tasters like the best.  They do all the research for you!  LOVE IT!  Only...

... what they make is often several steps harder than anyone else's recipe.  Its often better because they pay so much attention and spend so much time making adjustments, it can feel like 15 steps too many.  I will admit, I was put off initially by their idea of "browning the butter" first, rather than just creaming it like every other recipe on the planet.  But if you go to their website, they explain, step by step, how to do everything (include properly brown the butter) and WHY they chose each of their ingredients and amounts.  Its like a little culinary lesson just because you want to make a delicious cookie!  It becomes pretty user friendly, actually, because you start to learn what effect ingredients have on your recipe (super important in baking!) and can be fun, so as you find recipes in the future, you know how your alterations are going to effect them before you do it.

And boy howdy, are these cookies delicious.  Everyone who I've ever shared them with wants this recipe.  I've gone to friends houses to show them HOW to make them, because they're so delicious.  They're crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and have butterscotch hints I didn't know were possible in cookies without butterscotch chips.  Even the dough is heavenly.  They're big cookies though, and they DO take a couple of extra steps, so recently, I've been on a hunt for a "I'm having a craving, and I need those cookies NOW!!" super simple chocolate chip cookie recipe.

And I've landed on this one.  I've told you before about The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.  She's kind of my blogging hero, and she makes THE BEST food.  So I went to her website, and came up with her 30 min or less recipe.  Now, they're not as fancy as the first recipe.  They're more of the Everyday Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is perfectly fine, thank you very much.  But she has made some delicious alterations to her recipe, my favorite of which is whole flax seed.  Going back to the whole idea of making my favorite foods better for me... this concept just takes them to a new level while keeping them nice and easy to make.  They're still cookies-- they're full of butter and sugar and eggs... oh man, I think I need a minute...

...Ok, I'm better.  They're still full of all that "bad" stuff that makes them so yummy, but with a little extra added crunch that makes them extra special.

The basic differences between the two recipes are these: the Americas Test Kitchen recipe is a very exact recipe.  I would follow it exactly.  You've never had cookies like this before.  Or if you have, you've bought them at a professional bakery.  They're AMAZING.  Like change your world I can never make Toll-House cookies again kind of life altering.  And they're not really that hard, just be exact.  The second recipe is more of whatever you have in your pantry, a little easier.  She calls for half margarine/half butter.  I use all butter because I don't have margarine in the house; feel free to use what you have.  Same with the milk chocolate/semi-sweet chocolate chips.  They're of course different if you change the recipe around a bit, but they're still rich and delicious.  She calls for flax seeds, but I didn't have any the first go-around, so I made it with flax seed meal (ground up seeds).  It doesn't really alter the texture or taste in any way... but I like the whole flax seeds better because of the crunch.  Its a personal choice.

And we should have choices when it comes to cookies.  I feel very strongly about that!
America's Test Kitchen Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
I've just included their recipe here, but check out the link for the best tips and ideas on how to make these cookies really supreme!

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (see note)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

Preparation Instructions
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Pioneer Woman's Good Ol' Basic Chocolate Chip Cookies
When you just need a yummy cookie NOW!  The thing I love about her website is that she shows step by step pictures along the way, and then has the complete recipe at the end, so you get exactly what you need.  :)

½ cups Margarine
½ cups Butter, Softened
1 cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
½ cups White Sugar
2 whole Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2-¼ cups Plus 2 Tablespoons, All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon (heaping) Instant Coffee Granules
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1-½ teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Flax Seed, Slightly Crushed With Rolling Pin
¾ cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 cup (heaping) Milk Chocolate Chips

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a bowl, stir together butter, margarine, brown sugar, and white sugar until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and stir together.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, instant coffee, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients in batches, stirring gently after each addition. Stir in flax seed if desired.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop balls of dough on a cookie sheet and bake for 11 to 13 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and eat warm.

Die from guilty pleasure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Beer Bread!

(Not sure why its sideways, but you get the idea!)

As my My Loving Duke and I head into the next decade of our lives, we've decided to approach the way we eat a little differently.  We have decided to try to do more local eating-- which was part of the impetus for starting this blog-- how to become more of a "localvore", if you will.  In our quest for accessible local farms and foods, we met, no big surprise, a farmer.  One of the myriad of interesting facts we learned in the course of conversations with this farmer is that if you're eating nutrient dense foods (like locally grown just about anything), you will find yourself eating less.  You just will.  Your body will not need same quantities of food that you're used to to get what it needs, so you'll find yourself eating smaller portions.

Now the science nerd (and I'm a pretty big science nerd) in me says: "This makes sense.  If you have everything you need in a smaller amount, your body doesn't need as much food to get the fuel it needs; you should feel satisfied sooner."  The life-long dieter in me says: "I know this to be true, I feel better when I eat foods that are good for me."  But then there's a big voice in my head that shouts "B.S!!"  That voice knows that I'm an emotional eater-- I often let how I'm feeling dictate what and how much I eat.  That voice was practically shouting, "Why would I eat less pot roast just because its more nutrient packed?  Especially when I've been smelling it cook all day???  No way."  So I left the farm believing the science, but not the common sense.  I just didn't see how it would be true for me.

As it turns out, it was true for me.  For whatever reason, I am eating less-- pretty significantly less.  Not dangerously less, and I'm not advocating it as a weight loss plan-- being pregnant (and generally tired trying to lose weight) I'm not actively trying to do anything other than eat as well as I can, weight be damned.  But eating foods more packed with nutrients means I'm not craving as much (except brownies, which I want lots of, ALL the time.  I'm choosing to attribute that to baby #2, and not some deep-seeded emotional need), and I'm not as hungry when I sit down to eat, so I'm not as obsessed with how good everything "sounds".  And while I'm still an emotional eater, I tend to be satisfied with less when I'm eating the good stuff.

Don't get me wrong-- I still love my favorite foods-- and I've never been one to get excited about leaving foods OUT of my diet.  But, since having this epiphany, I've been wondering-- how can I make the OTHER stuff I eat more packed with goodness?  This whole idea of nutrient packed foods obviously doesn't just apply to locally grown food, so perhaps I can make the stuff I like to eat just a little better for me, so that I'll eat less (which is better for me AND has the bonus of being cheaper!).

That's what led me to today's recipe.  Beer Bread has been a favorite of mine since I was a child.  (Yes, you caught me, I have a thing for carbs.)  My mom used to make it from a really good mix that came in a blue and white striped box.  It was super simple-- just add beer and bake-- and you have a delicious side for whatever meal you're serving.  I fell in love with that mix.  But one Spaghetti Sunday, noticing we were out of French Bread and not having enough time to start THAT dough from scratch, I turned to the trusty internet and found an easy beer bread recipe.  I put my thinking cap on, and decided to make it with half whole wheat and half regular flour-- I haven't had the nerve to go all whole wheat yet-- and I've added flax seed meal which is chalk full of Omega-3 fatty acids-- REALLY good stuff for you.

Don't misunderstand me-- I'm not declaring this bread "healthy".  I mean honestly, I do pour 1/4 cup of butter on the top of it before baking, its still starchy bread (and its not NEARLY as good without the butter on top-- I've tried).  But its a healthIER version of an old favorite, and bonus, its SUPER easy, taking about 5 minutes to mix, and an hour to bake before you have a delicious, hearty bread for dinner.  Or lunch.  And you can even toast it up with butter for breakfast.  (Can you tell I love this bread??)  We love it so much, when I make it for dinner, I slice up the rest of the bread, put each slice in individual bags, then freeze them all.  Some go to lunch with My Loving Duke, some are defrosted for me.  He has even requested that I make up a couple of the mixes ready to go, so he can make Beer Bread himself to take to work with him in the mornings.  I love him.

If you don't like the way beer tastes, that would be sad.  But don't worry, this bread doesn't taste "beery" in any way.  Since beer is basically bread without the flour, you get the bread flavors from the beer, with a little added sweetness, without any of the hoppiness (bitterness) that usually turns people off of beer.  You can use any kind of beer-- the heavier and heartier beers obviously flavor the bread differently than say, Natty Boh (yeah, Baltimore peeps, I went there), or Coors Light (for the rest of you readers) but it all makes a good bread.

If you don't have any beer in the house, never fear!!  You can make this bread with any carbonated drink.  If you're using soda, you're going to get a much sweeter flavor that is going to influence the flavor of the bread much more intensely, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  I've heard of people who like to make this bread with orange/grape/strawberry soda, replacing the butter on the top with an extra sprinkling of sugar, and serve it as a hot breakfast bread.  I would, though, stick with Seltzer water or something NOT sweet if you're making it to serve with dinner-- at least the first time.

Baking suggestions: I like White Whole Wheat Flour.  This is a new phenomenon I've recently discovered.  I thought for a long time that it was just "watered" down whole wheat flour, but its not.  Its actual whole wheat flour, with the same nutrients as darker whole wheat, but made from "Red" wheat, which is lighter in color and in flavor.  You can use the darker whole wheat, but be aware that it will add a definite "wheaty" tone, which can be delicious, but perhaps not for everyone.  Also,  the freshness of your baking powder matters.  Since it is the principal leavening agent, its important that your baking powder be fresh.  So if you're like me, and you don't know how old your baking powder is, (but you know its moved houses with you twice) then just go invest in some more.  Its cheap, and totally worth it.

However you make this delicious quick-bread, please let me know how it comes out.  This is one recipe that I'd love to hear some variations on!!  And most importantly, ENJOY!!

Beer Bread

(AKA Super Easy delicious quick bread)


1.5 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cup whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons ground flax meal
1/4 cup sugar
12 oz (one can or bottle) beer or favorite carbonated beverage
1/4 cup melted butter (optional but recommended!!)

Preparation Instructions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Sift dry ingredients together, stir lightly.  Add beer (or beverage).  Stir lightly, until JUST mixed (batter will still be very lumpy).  Pour into greased loaf pan and spread into corners.  Pour melted butter over top, bake for 1 hour.  Remove from pan and cool on rack at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Righetous "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Soup

So, I'm a "Moms' Group" which is really exactly what it sounds like-- a bunch of moms who get together, hang out to socialize their kids and themselves, and generally help each other out.  Its pretty awesome, and God bless the Internet which makes these groups so easy!

One of the activities I have recently offered to host is a "Dinner Swap".  Its a simple idea that I hope you steal and use with your friends.  The idea is that you cook once, and get up to five meals.  You know I'm a fan of anything that requires a little more work for a HUGE payoff!  I'm constantly making twice the dinner and freezing it for ourselves, so this idea appealed to me instantly.  We limit our meetup to five people total, since making more than that at one cooking session can really start to be a LOT of extra work.  When we respond that we're going we also respond with what we're making (this way we don't end up with five people making lasagna).  Then you commit to cooking a little extra one night, keep one meal for yourself, and bring the other four family sized portions of the meal to the meetup.  When you leave, you've got four other meals to take home and use or freeze.  I've made things like Chicken Pot Pie, Thai Chicken Curry, and today, soup and Homemade Beer Bread (see tomorrow's recipe).

So, why soup?  Well, the weather still warrants it-- its warming up during the day, but is cooling off considerably in the evenings.  Plus, I forgot that the meetup was today, (in my head I was sure it was next week), so I needed something I could make a lot of quickly out of the contents of my fridge before people started arriving.

My philosophy on soup is this: its a comfort food.  I don't make soup as a "starter" at home-- who has time to make a "starter" and then a real meal?  So I want my soup to be hearty.  And because its a comfort food, it has to be easy to make; it loses some of its comfort if its super complicated to prepare.  So, unless I'm making something for a special occasion or I'm craving something specific (say, Sausage and Lentil Soup), I apply my philosophy of "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" to my soup making.  This means a recipe is hard to come up with, but can be a lot of fun.  Plus its easy.  We like easy.

Today, in my fridge/freezer, I had 3/4 of a whole, cooked, free-range chicken, homemade chicken stock, cooked brown rice, onions & garlic, and frozen spinach, corn and carrots and frozen wine cubes.  (Yes, you CAN freeze leftover wine, if you're the kind of people who have wine left over, it keeps really well in the freezer for occasions just like this!)

I also had green beans, red potatoes, a wide variety of canned beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, navy etc...) and dry lentils.  I left those things out, because my pot is only so big.  Things I might have added if I'd had them were leaks, fennel, celery, whole or even stewed tomatoes.

The thing to remember when you're applying the "Everything but the Kitchen Sink" philosophy to soup making is that no matter what kind of veggies/protein you use, you'll want them to be pre-cooked just a little bit before you add the broth.  If I were to have used the fresh carrots I have in the fridge, I would have sauteed them first, before adding the stock.  Same with the fennel and leaks.  I would probably have done something similar with fresh tomatoes or even canned tomatoes, to break them down a little bit.  Frozen veggies can go right in the soup-- they've already been started. The proteins you want to be cooked, but if you're going to stick this sauce in the crockpot and let it get happy all day, your chicken doesn't have to be cooked all the way through, just get it started, the heat will take it home.

But today, I'm going to give you a recipe for my "Chicken and Rice" Soup, since that IS what I made.  Or at least my best estimation of seasonings, etc.  Keep in mind when I cook for others, I tend to under-salt foods, since I don't really know what others' tolerance for salt is.  It might seem a little bland, but I tell people they can always add salt themselves to their own tastes.  Also-- keep in mind that you're going to use a lot more salt if you use homemade stock versus store-bought or using chicken base and water.

I'd love to hear what would go into your "Everything but the Kitchen Sink" Soup.  'Cause mine is currently on the stove and smells delicious!

Chicken and Brown Rice Soup
(Otherwise known as "What I had in the Kitchen in a Moment of Panic Soup")

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine (or two frozen wine cubes)
8-10 cups chicken stock
1 lb cooked chicken meat-- (whatever you have left off that whole chicken you roasted for dinner last night)
1 lb frozen carrots (or 3-4 fresh, peeled, cut into coins)
1 lb chopped spinach
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 sprig fresh rosemary (1 tsp dried rosemary)
3 Tablespoons cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less to taste, to start-- keep in mind the blandness of the veggies and stock)
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon sea salt (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation Instructions
Heat oil in deep soup pot (unless you're transferring everything to the crockpot, then you just need a large skillet).  Saute onions and garlic on medium until translucent (not brown).  (Now is when you saute up fresh veggies if you have them-- otherwise save the frozen ones for later).  Add tomato paste and wine, stir and reduce for 4-5 min over medium-low.  If making entire soup on the stove, add the stock, veggies, chicken, rice and spices, and bring to a simmer, turn down to low and cover, stirring occasionally.  Otherwise, transfer all the tomatoey goodness to your crock pot, THEN add the stock, veggies, chicken, rice and spices, and let sit on low being happy happy until its time to eat.  I cannot stress, though, how important it is to test the flavor of the soup before you want to serve it.  If its bland, play around with the spices and flavors.  But remember that especially with soup, it takes a little while for the soup to fully take on the flavor of added spices, so I like to do it about 1/2 hour before I serve it.

See how easy that was??  I totally have time to make Beer Bread and take a shower before my guests arrive.  And that's WITH our munchkin running around!  :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thai Chicken and Pineapple Curry

Finally got the pics off my camera!  This batch was made in the crock pot!!
I am not an adventurous eater.  I'm not.  I mean, I love food.  LOVE food.  And obviously I love the memories that go with those foods.  But I don't like seafood.  I don't like it so much that when I was living in Spain, I told people I was allergic to it so I wouldn't have to eat it.  (In my defense-- it does get difficult trying to explain to someone in a second language that you're very appreciative of the food they just made you, and its not the chef's fault you're literally gagging trying to get it down.)  I like a lot of food, but I can almost always be counted on to order the Hawaiian pizza (don't even try to tell me pineapple doesn't belong on a pizza!) the burrito when we go out for Mexican, or a hamburger (usually with avocado if its available) at a diner.  I'm willing to try new things-- but I generally don't fall in love with new stuff when I do.  Living in Maryland for 10 years, I'm still more satisfied with a "chicken box" (fried chicken wings covered in hot sauce, served with fries that you get in a "box" from the corner store) than with the crab cakes for which the state is so famous.

One food that I did try and loved instantly though, is Thai food.  The most Asian we got growing up was Chinese and maybe one time Korean.  (I don't think this is so much due to my parents not being adventurous eaters, but more that we simply didn't eat out all that often.)  But I discovered Thai food in college, at a fabulous restaurant in Baltimore aptly named "Thai Restaurant".  I had no idea what to order, so I let my friends order for me.  Pad Thai and Panang Curry.  I remember this well because every time I frequented that establishment for the next 10 years, I ordered Pad Thai and Panang Curry.  Its a flavor explosion.  (And, very stereotypically, what Caucasian people order at a Thai restaurant.   I don't care.  I'll be that girl.)  I instantly fell deeply and passionately in love, and I was gone forever, turned on to Thai food and most especially the magic of coconut milk.  (Ironically, I don't even like real coconut, or coconut flavored sweets.)

At the time I was happy to frequent "Thai Restaurant" anytime I needed a fix.  No matter what part of the city I lived in, I would make the trek to pick up their deliciousness when I was craving some Thai goodness.  They (along with the number for Pizza at Costco) were entered in my phone as a go-to dinner out.  Who needs a menu when you KNOW what you're going to order?  Except for the money it was costing me, it was a great system.  And being in my early 20s, single and gainfully employed, who really cared about money, anyway?

And who knew how to make a good panang curry?  I didn't know for YEARS that you could make your own curry at home if you wanted to, that its simply just a mixture of different spices.  Growing up, we had a very steady supply of must-haves in the cupboard, but curry wasn't one of them.  It just wasn't.  So I had no idea what to look for, or even what most of the ingredients were, much less what to look for at the market.  But then my friend and co-worker, C, went to culinary school.  I don't mean the way an 18 year old goes to culinary school, but a real live, "I'm studying to be a chef, and I'm actively pursuing it" kind of school/mentality.  And, ironically (but working in my favor) his wife is (or was) less of an adventerous eater than I am.  So every day during lunch hour, I got to smell and often taste what he made for dinner the night before.

One thing other thing (besides being choosy eaters) that C's wife and I have in common is that she has her very own love affair with curry.  So among his other culinary pursuits, he actively sought out and tested MANY different curry recipes, in an attempt to make his amazing wife happy.  And one day he found it!  Eureka!  It was the one, just like the one she fell for in her own amazing curry-love story, having taken place somewhere out in California, I think.  And because he is so amazing, C shared it with me.  Asking where he found this amazing recipe, he told me he had connections to-- wait for it-- Thai Restaurant.  Yes, MY Thai Restaurant where I fell in love with Thai food so many years ago.  He had gotten the recipe from one of the chefs there.

That was the beginning of my adventures into the very, well-- foreign-- world of Asian market shopping.  Over the last couple of years I've changed the recipe a little bit (mine just never was as good as Cs or the original curry), and moving away from Baltimore, I've not been able to find a replacement for my beloved Thai Restaurant.

So the recipe below is my version of Thai Curry.  I call it Thai and not Panang because you could use whatever kind of curry paste you like (I happen to like masaman).  Plus, I don't really know what makes Panang curry "Panang" versus Red or Green (other than the obvious reasons).  So I call it Thai; you can say its more vague, I say its more fun.  :)  But I digress... the recipe below is a fusion of 3-4 recipes I've found over the years (now that I know what the ingredients are and how they interact, its kind of fun to put together your own curry recipes)!  Plus it would be unfair of me to post the recipe I originally got from C, since not only is he a chef, but Thai Restaurant is still actively in business-- and that's just bad mojo putting people's recipes out there they haven't published themselves.  But I do give him all the credit for teaching me what the ingredients are and HOW to make fantastic curries.

Oh, have I mentioned this is a chicken curry recipe?  You could use shrimp if you want, but, as previously mentioned, I kinda hate seafood.  You could also make it vegetarian if you leave out the protein all-together and find a substitute for the fish-sauce.  I know C's wife really likes it with just the fruits and veggies.

You might be thinking: (I know I was during my first curry making experience):
What the heck are all of these ingredients anyway?
I'll post up a picture for you (as soon as I get the camera working) of the ones I use.  But honestly, just find yourself an Asian market, and wander around.  See what you find.  Its kind of a fascinating world.  Then when you still need stuff on the list, ask someone where you can find it.  They've always been very helpful to me at all of the Asian Markets I've shopped at, and are more than happy to help someone who has no idea what they're doing.  But just go with it.  Trust me.  This food will take you places you've not been before.  Its a mind trip for your taste buds and belly.  And did I mention its made in the crock pot?

Special preparation notes:
--I like to "grate" my onion, since I live with a Serial Onion Hater, who doesn't like to find chunks of onion floating in his food.  Feel free to chop/dice/slice in any shape or size you like if you're not one of those people.
--You can use whatever kind of curry paste you want...  it changes the flavor, but not so much that the dish becomes bad.  Try a couple, use what you like.
--Kaffir Lime Leaves are kind of essential-- they REALLY make a difference.  If you can't find them (either fresh OR frozen) then you can use the zest from one lime and the juice from half of that same lime.  It works in a pinch, but its not the same.
--FISH SAUCE is essential.  Its not fishy in any way-- remember, I don't like seafood-- but you NEED the sauce for this recipe.  There are fish-sauce substitutes out there on the internet, feel free to try those if you're morally or mentally opposed to fish-sauce.  I don't know if they're any good, but they HAVE to be better than leaving it out entirely.  It adds that special something-- the curry tastes very "flat" without it.  (If it makes you feel any better, I get the super cheap fish sauce that doesn't actually have any fish floating in it-- its better for my mental health that way.  And that works out just fine.)
-- You don't HAVE to smash the chicken.  It works fine if you simply cube it, but it takes longer to cook through.  I cut into cubes and flatten with the side of a chef's knife or the flat side of a meat tenderizer.

"Thai" Chicken and Pineapple Curry
Yum Yum

1 Can coconut milk (not water, not juice, MILK-- the richer the better)
1/2 can masaman curry paste
1 Tablespoon Thai fish sauce
2 Tablespoons Palm sugar (brown sugar in a desperate pinch)
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste
1 Tablespoon fresh basil
1 can pineapple- drained
1/2 lb chicken breasts, cubed and smashed flat
1 small onion - chopped or grated
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped or sliced
3 Kaffir lime leaves

Preparation Instructions
Add all liquid/paste ingredients to crock pot set on high-- stir together.  It may not homogenize right away, the coconut milk evens out as it warms up. That's fine, as long as its mostly mixed together.  If your palm sugar is in solid form, smash, and add to liquids.  (If it was more of a paste, it should go in as is with the liquids.)  Add everything else.  Stir.  Cover crockpot and walk away for 1 hour.  Your house should now smell divine.  Check to see if chicken is cooked through and veggies are cooked to your personal taste.  Serve over rice.  (I like brown, but white would be more traditional.)  After you stuff your face and try to drink the curry liquid, come back and tell me how much you are in love with this SUPER simple recipe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spicy Lentil and Sausage Soup

Finally, we've got a picture!!

I recently had the pleasure of a week-long visit from one of my dearest friends, K.  She lives in Europe now (I know, jealous, right?) but we met in New York in 2003 when we were both training to become teachers.  As cliche as it sounds, for reasons that are immensely obvious and yet indescribeable we became fairly instantly the best of friends.   We even look somewhat alike-- or did back then with the same haircut and glasses-'- we went walking around our Bronx neighborhood to exclamations (en Espanol) of "Mira mama, gemelas!" (Look mom, twins!)  And while I don't think we were THAT much alike on the outside, our "insides" seemed to match very well.

And so it stayed, through years of learning how to teach and eventually doing it, through boyfriends who become husbands (and the ones who didn't make the cut), through several moves that separated us in distance, we have spent many hours sharing good food, talks, movies.  And I miss her like hell.  Technological advances have helped us stay in touch over the miles, but its not the same as being in the same room eating cookies together.  We had a wonderful visit while she was here, and I cherish the time we were able to spend and just "veg" in each others' presence.

Perhaps that is why it was even more of a delight than usual when K's husband L came for a visit a week after she left.  L occasionally comes back to The States for work, and when he does, he usually drops by for a visit.  Its always wonderful for us, since my Loving Duke and L get along so famously, but this last visit was an especially nice one.  Perhaps it was because he's been here so often now that I don't feel like I have to "super clean" the house before he arrives-- he more like a long-traveled family member than a friend, so he's been upgraded to "lightly clean the house" status.  I think for me, however, it had more to do with the fact that I had just seen K, so seeing L so soon afterward felt like we got to spend more time just enjoying him for the interesting person that he is.

Cooking for L is always a challenge.  He's on a special diet that does not allow him to eat gluten or any kind of dairy.  I usually just give up on desserts since everything I can think to make has either flour our milk in it.  But you can't invite a man to the house and not feed him dinner-- that would be criminal-- so I've made exciting things such as a HUGE green salad with chicken, pears, sunflower seeds, all kind of exciting salady things.  I've made smoked chicken with potatoes and grilled veggies.  This time I made Sausage and Lentil Soup.

Inspired by the soup from Carrabas Restaurant, I dug around on the internet to find something that would suit our needs.  And I found The Soup Lady.  This lady rocks my world, especially because its COLD this winter, and nothing seems to taste so good on a cold evening as a steaming bowl of soup.  I have made more than one of her soups, and I always enjoy them!

I have very literally copied and pasted her recipe here, except I've take the time to create an ingredients list first (she likes to put it all together in the instructions directions).  Also, she calls for hot italian sausage-- I think we used "Caribbean Sausage" from The Olde Town Butcher here in town.  (No, they're not advertising, I just LOVE all places small and local where they provide excellent customer service.)  I highly recommend going to a butcher and checking out their different sausages-- you might be surprised at what you find.  VERY different from a supermarket meat section.  Anyway, I digress...

So I made the soup.  First, it made the house smell DIVINE!  Secondly, I LOVE dinners I can make ahead and leave in the crock pot, which is what I did with this one.  Then dinner was ready whenever I wanted it to be.  Thirdly, EVERYONE loved this soup.  My loving Duke couldn't get enough, L thought it was fantastic, and I was pretty proud of myself.  I hardly missed the hearty bread that I would normally make to dip into it.  Its SO easy, and again a great dinner to make ahead, put in the fridge, and drop in the crock pot on your way to work.  Yum yum.  Bonus-- you could do it vegetarian pretty easily, if you were to add in some extra spices and use vegetable stock instead.  But why?

Spicy Lentil and Sausage Soup
Excellent make-ahead dinner.  Could also be listed in the "freezes beautifully" section of any cookbook.  Simply add a little more chicken broth if it thickens up too much.

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 carrots- diced
2 stalks of celery- diced
1 large sweet onion- chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
1 lb hot sausage, removed from casings
8 cups chicken broth (or even better, chicken stock)
2 cans whole tomatoes
2 cups dried lentils, washed according the package directions
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (we like it spicy, use less if you like stuff mild)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
two bay leaves
1 package of frozen spinach, thawed and "wrung out"

Preparation Instructions
1. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add one carrot, celery, onion and garlic.  Saute until tender.
2. Remove vegetables from the pan and and add sausage, removed from the casing, to the pan. Brown the drain off fat.
3. In a large stockpot (or crockpot), put chicken broth, the sauteed vegetables and the sausage meat.  Open two cans of whole tomatoes, break them up by squeezing them with your hands and add to the soup along with the juice. Add the dried lentils.
4. Season with salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, fennel seeds and bay leaves (don't forget to remove bay leaves before serving).
5. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 45-60 minutes. Remove 1/3 of the soup and puree it using an hand-held blender, then return it to the pot, add spinach cook for 5 min until the spinach is warm. Correct seasonings and remove bay leaves.