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.