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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Planning A Thanksgiving Feast

Can someone please tell me how the heck it is already the week of Thanksgiving? If you were to ask me what time it felt like, I might say mid-September. Huh. Thanksgiving's really this week? I guess maybe I should start planning my meal. At least this year I only have a modest gathering of people to cook for. Last year, now that was another story. I had great intentions of posting more about it at the time, but it was tricky enough making dinner for twelve with a nine month old, let alone posting about it, but it's all about the planning. Even when you don't have a baby, it's all about the planning.  

Let me show you what I mean by planning. The first step, obviously, is to decide what (and how much) you're going to make. This was my menu last year. At the top, you can see the appetizers that I wanted to make. Then you can see the main meal, followed by dessert. I smoked the turkey on my Weber grill. Because I had never done it before, I smoked a test turkey a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. It worked pretty well and, hopefully, I can share how I did that with you this week, too. I always have great intentions of posting holiday appropriate recipes in a timely manner, but... well, you can see that it doesn't always happen. 

After I made the menu (and the requisite grocery list), the next step was to come up with my timing planning. When preparing food for large meals such as this, I always try to prepare as much as I can in advance, especially when a lot of the work is limited to nap time. As you can see, I started the Friday prior with making the bread, which I was planning to use in the stuffing. 

As you can see, as I finished tasked, I crossed them off... usually, I'm not sure why the name card cookies task isn't crossed off, since I did get them done. You can also see that I allow for some changes as I go as well. Note that I switched a couple tasks between Monday and Tuesday. Flexibility is the name of the game when preparing large, complex meals. Another important thing to point out is my oven plan at the bottom of the page. When you only have one oven (or even two) with many items needing to be baked, this step is essential. If I plan on having more than one item in at the same time, I make sure the dishes that I plan on having the items in will, in fact, all fit in the oven at the same time. There's nothing worse than planning so well only to be foiled by dishes that won't fit!!

And then, because turkey day itself is always crazy, especially if people are showing up early in the day, I make sure to have a timeline for the day of. Not only is it important to think through the logistics of how it will all work ahead of time, I find it critical to have a list to keep me from forgetting things the day of. 

As I mentioned, my meal this year is quite a bit simpler. Thank goodness, since I've only just planned my menu. Since I'm a traditionalist, it's very similar to what I make every year. The big change is that, this year, I'm not baking up a whole turkey. I'm going to stuff a turkey breast and roll it up into a roulade. If I can find the meat in the store, I would like to also roast some turkey legs and thighs to be able to serve some dark meat (and help make gravy), but we'll have to see how the grocery stores are around here! I plan on making/prepping almost everything ahead of time, so Thursday, hopefully, will be relaxed and festive. That's my favorite kind of Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bran Muffins - Perfected!

I know I updated my original bran muffin recipe not that long ago... and I love that recipe. I really do. I love that there is no refined sugar in it. I love the rich flavor from using only date sugar to sweeten them. But you know what? Date sugar is expensive!!! That recipe calls for more than a cup of the stuff, and as I started making these muffins more and more (they're really tasty!), I found I was spending a fortune on date sugar.

So, I went back and decided to see if I could modify them a bit to maintain the flavor that I loved in this new version without breaking the bank. I think I did it, well - geeze - I know I did, because I make this new recipe all the time. These muffins are my new go-to breakfast. The half a cup of date sugar the recipe now calls for is enough to make them really yummy without making me go through ridiculous amounts of the stuff.

Incidentally, since I have moved away from the "big city," I've had to start buying my date sugar online. I've been really pleased with the NOW Real Food brand date sugar. It's very dry and powdery (which can lead to a crazy cloud of it in my kitchen), but I no longer have to sift the stuff and get out a sledge hammer to break up the clumps, which I kind of like.

If you like moist and rich, sweet but not cloying muffins, you'll love these! They are full of dietary fiber (a back of the envelope calculation suggests each muffin has over 3 grams of dietary fiber) which is an important part of a healthy diet. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too!

Bran Muffins - Perfected!
Yield: 12 standard-sized muffins

1/4 cup canola oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup date sugar
1/2 cup chopped dates (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the first group of ingredients. The bran in included with the wet ingredients so that it has time to soak up some liquid and soften. This helps the texture of the final product. Let this bowl sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the second batch of ingredients. Stir together. If adding the chopped dates, mix those in as well so that they are covered with flour. This step helps to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until mixed. Line a muffin tin with papers and scoop approximately 1/4 of a cup into each paper. I use a #16 disher (blue) flat filled. If you want, sprinkle the tops of the muffins with some turbinado sugar and/or wheat bran. Bake in the  preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until they are gently browned.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bison Saute

Here's a dish that may sound a little odd but tastes super great. To be honest, it was one of those "let's clean out the fridge" dinners that turned into a smashing success. The combination of flavors was just right and the bison really puts it over the top. Now, you could make this with ground beef, I suppose, but why would you (well, yeah, bison costs a lot more, but other than that)? The good news is that bison not only has a heartier flavor, it is healthier for you! Unlike beef, bison has minimal saturated fat and trans fat. Who'd a thunk it? Those big behemoths are packing around some good meat! I absolutely love the savoriness of the bison in this dish. Such a winner!

Bison Saute
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb ground bison
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 pint baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cups zucchini, thickly sliced/chunked
1 1/2 cups steamed butternut squash chunks
1 TBS minced garlic
1 tsp seasoned salt, or to taste

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the bison meat until it is cooked through. Drain the bison onto large a paper towel lined plate or bowl, reserving a tablespoon of the drippings in the pan. If your bison was really lean, you can add a small drizzle of oil to the pan. Let the pan heat back up over medium-high heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally until they are tender through and slightly browned. Remove the paper towel from the drained bison and put the onions in with the  meat.

Return the pan to the heat and repeat the saute process separately for the remaining main ingredients, the mushrooms, zucchini, and squash. If you try to saute them all together, they will just steam and you won't develop the full range of flavor. For each ingredient, cook over medium-high heat until they are browned and tender through. Add to the bowl/plate and continue with the next item. When all items are cooked, add the garlic to the pan, stirring briefly. Then return all items to the pan to heat together. Add the seasoned salt to taste and then serve!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Raspberry Chocolate Cake

I always love taking a tried and true recipe and giving it a little twist to end up with something that has a whole new feel to it. In this case, I took my favorite chocolate cake (the only chocolate cake in the world, as far as I'm concerned) and instead of making my usual decadent and rich chocolate frosting, I whipped together a batch of raspbery whipped cream. Making raspberry whipped cream is absolutely no more difficult than making regular stabilized whipped cream, but it ends up with a lovely pink hue and a delicate touch of raspberry flavor. What I love about this version is that it has a lighter feel and is fresh and beautiful looking when topped with a ring of fresh raspberries. Be sure to use stabilized whipped cream for this application so that it keeps for a few days without weeping and deflating.

Raspberry Chocolate Cake
Yield: 1 two layer 9 inch cake

1 recipe for Audrey's Chocolate Cake, baked in two 9-inch round pans

Double recipe of Stabilized Whipped Cream
1 pint fresh raspberries, mashed with a fork

8-10 large, fresh raspberries for decorating

Let the cake cool completely before assembling. When ready to put the cake together, make the double batch of stabilized whipped cream. Once it reaches stiff peaks, gently stir in the mashed raspberries. Place one cake round on a plate and spoon half of the whipped cream on it. Spread the whipped cream evenly to the edges. Gently place the second cake on top and spoon the remaining whipped cream on top of it. Spread to the edges. Place fresh raspberries, upside down, at even intervals around the edge of the cake. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Will keep, refrigerated, for two to three days.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cran-Orange Marmalade

I can't tell you how excited I am to finally be posting this recipe. I've only been working on it for five years now!! While every batch has always turned out good, I was having trouble standardizing the recipe. There were a couple of batches that ended up with jelling issues, either too jelled or not jelled enough, but I think I've got it perfected now. This marmalade has a wonderful blend of sweet and tart. I absolutely adore the bits of orange peel in it; they are tender and sweet with a citrus bite. There is no bitterness here!! I often just eat it straight out of the jar, but it's good for other things too. It's an important part of my favorite sandwich (Chicken and Herb Cheese Panini). It could easily take the place of straight-up cranberry sauce at your holiday table this year. And it is absolutely gorgeous! Make it for gifts; no one will be disappointed!

The first step is to prepare the peel. You need about 8 average sized naval oranges. Use a peeler to remove all the skin on each orange. Then slice the peel into thin strips. Place in a bowl and cover with cool water. Soak the peel for ten minutes and then drain.

The next step is to cook the peel. Place it in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar and simmer until the peel is soft and translucent, about an hour.

Then add the dried cranberries so they can soak up the syrup as well, This helps to keep them from floating in the final jam. Let them cook with the peel for 20-30 minutes. I especially love the dried cranberries in this jam because they hold their shape and have such a nice chewy texture.

In a separate pot, cook the fresh (or frozen) cranberries with sugar and a small amount of water. Cook until they are split and nice and soft. Cool slightly and then press through a sieve. We want the flavor of the berries without all the seeds of skins.

Lastly, supreme the oranges (that's where you peel and then cut the sections out of the membrane) and cut the flesh into small pieces. You do not want all the excess juice, just the flesh cut in pieces. Cook these pieces in a large pot with sugar until it comes to a boil, and then continue boiling for 3-5 minutes.

The last step is to put all the pieces together. Add the peel mixture and the sieved cranberries to the cooked orange and stir. Bring to a hard boil and add the liquid pectin packet. Return to a hard boil and boil one minute. Let sit five minutes before ladling into half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process in a water bath canner for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing, otherwise they may ooze and weep.

Cran-Orange Marmalade
Yield: approx 7 half-pint jars

1 1/2 cup firm-packed orange peel
3/4 cup apple juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries

Use a peeler to remove the peel from approximately 8 average sized oranges. Slice into short, thin strips. Soak the peel in a bowl of water for ten minutes and then drain. Then simmer in a small sauce pan with the apple juice and sugar until soft and translucent, about an hour. Add the dried cranberries and let cook another 30 minutes. Set aside.

1 bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar

Cook the cranberries, water, and sugar together until they split and are soft and then pass the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds and skins. Set aside.

1 cup chopped, supremed orange sections
2 cups sugar

Supreme the peeled oranges (cut off the skin and cut out the sections from the membrane) and then cut the sections into small pieces. In a large pot, add the orange sections and sugar and cook until boiling, and then continue to cook for 3-5 minutes.

1 pouch liquid pectin

At this point, add all three components together. Add the peel/dried cranberry mixture and the sieved mixture to the hot orange sections. Stir together and bring to a boil. Add the pouch of pectin and return to a boil. Boil hard for one minute. Let mixture sit five minutes before ladling into prepared half-pint jars. Leave a 1/4 inch head space and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. At the end of the processing time, remove canner from heat and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes before removing (this helps keep them from oozing). Note that this jam may take 24 hours to fully jell.

If you need more guidance on canning basics, see my Canning 101 post.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Freezing French Toast

This is one of those posts that I actually feel a little strange posting. I mean, it seems so simple; who would need a blog post about it? Well, you know, sometimes, the simplest things are the ones you overlook the longest. I freeze my waffles and favorite pancakes for a super fast, toaster ready breakfast, but I was never sure whether it would work for French toast. I suspected it would, but I never seemed to get around to giving it a test drive.

But just like with waffles and pancakes, which are - in my mind - absolutely horrible when bought at the store, store bought frozen French toast makes me cringe. Yes, I've actually tried it. Bleck! So, a couple of weeks ago, I had two leftover slices of French toast, and I thought, "What the heck!?!" I put them in a bag in the freezer, and about a week later, I pulled them out, stuck them straight in the toaster, and enjoyed French toast that tasted fresh made with absolutely no work!!!! I'm hooked now! This morning, I made made an ten extra slices to put in the freezer. I love a wholesome, filling breakfast out of the toaster. It just makes me day.

And just in case you're curious, here's how I make French toast: I basically mix one egg with about a tablespoon of (preferably whole) milk for each slice I plan on cooking. Be sure to whisk the eggs a bit before adding the milk; they're a lot easier to break up that way. Add a dash of salt, a dash of cinnamon, and a tiny dash of nutmeg. That's it! I dip each slice for about 10-20 seconds on each side. Cook over medium heat on a non-stick griddle with just the barest hint of butter. I melt a little butter on the griddle and then wipe the whole thing down with a paper towel. I don't like fried French toast any more than I like fried pancakes! Be sure to cool the slices completely before bagging and sticking in the freezer. Whola! Freezer french toast that actually tastes good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chicken Meatballs

Necessity is definitely the mother of invention... especially when it comes to recipe development! I started making these about a year ago when my boy started eating solid foods. I wanted a soft meatball that was mild and yet flavorful, low in salt, froze well, and was quick and easy to make. I initially only made them for him; I would make a batch and immediately freeze them, pulling a couple out as needed. But as time went on, I found I was snacking on them so much when I made them that maybe I should try making them for our dinner as a family. They are certainly tasty enough for anyone to enjoy! As I said, they are quick and easy to make and they freeze very well, so you can make a big batch and store them in the freezer for those days when you've forgotten to make a dinner plan.

Chicken Meatballs
Yield: 24 meatballs (using #40 disher)

1 lb ground chicken
3 slices fresh wheat bread crumbs (prepare in food processor)
1 bunch green onions (green tops only), sliced
      OR 1/4 cup dried minced onions and 2 TBS dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground thyme
1/8 tsp ground sage
1/8 tsp ground rosemary
1/3 cup milk
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
2-3 cups unsalted or reduced sodium chicken broth or stock

Mix all ingredients except the broth together in a bowl. Pour the stock into a shallow saute pan. Heat to a boil. Using a #40 disher, drop meatballs into the hot broth. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for ten minutes. Remove from the broth and let cool before freezing or serve immediately.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Favorite Five Minute Dessert

It may not look like much, but this simple, humble, quick dessert is just fabulous! It seriously takes only five minutes to put together, and you can easily enjoy it's super fresh fruit flavor all year round. It uses frozen blueberries and raspberry freezer jam, both of which taste like they were just picked (especially if you freeze your own blueberries during the summer season).

Basically, you mix about a tablespoon of raspberry freezer jam with around one cup of frozen blueberries. Stir to ensure each berry is covered with the jam. In a separate bowl, beat about two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream with a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of vanilla until it is thickened but not whipped. It should still pour. Pour the thickened cream over the frozen berries and top with a little lemon zest. That's it! Serve immediately.

My favorite part of this dish is that the cream starts to freeze a little bit from the cold berries, invoking images of ice cream. It's really quite delicious... and did I mention it takes less than five minutes?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Easy Chicken Chili

Greetings from muggy Middle Georgia! We're all moved in now and I'm trying to re-acclimate to this nasty, stifling weather. We've actually had some decent weather since we've been here, but the last week was not a part of that. This week, we've seen heat indexes in the triple-digit-teens. Yay! Despite not being super happy about being back in the muggy south (no offense, I'm really a desert girl at heart!), it sure is nice to unpack somewhere and know we're going to be there for a while. After three moves in less than two years, knowing we'll be here three years is really a blessing. I've unpacked everything! I'm planning on hanging things on the walls! We're buying living room furniture!! Gasp! It's so exciting.

As for cooking, well, unpacking and getting set up in a new place with an 18 month old running around has kept me from experimenting too much in the kitchen lately. I'm ready to get back into the really fun scratch stuff (although I have already canned some peaches and some rosemary-peach freezer jam; we are in Georgia, after all). The nice thing about scratch cooking is that it doesn't have to be complex or time consuming to make. Take this stew, for instance. It is super fast and full of convenience but is all homemade. Again, it doesn't have to be hard to be wholesome and delicious. We love it around here; I can make it in less than thirty minutes (and I don't have to remember to set anything out to thaw!) and it's a favorite of us all, toddler included! Tonight he ate his entire bowl and quite a bit of mine.

The only warning I'll throw out there is that you really will want to use unsalted stock in this stew because there are so many salty ingredients in it. I typically only add the barest hint of a dash of salt at the end and it is plenty seasoned. Avoiding overly salted soup is one of the main reasons I make my own!

Easy Chicken Chile
Yield: 4 servings

1 tsp oil
1 cup diced onions (about 1 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
2 small cans mild green chiles, drained (4-4.5 oz each)
4 cups unsalted chicken stock/broth
1 (12.5 oz approx) can chunk chicken, with broth
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup whole milk
6 TBS flour
1 (15 oz) can Cannellini beans
1 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Sweat the onions and garlic until the onions are transluscent. Add the chiles, broth, chicken, and cumin. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the onions are tender. Make a slurry of the milk and flour. Add the mixture to the soup and stir immediately. Continue stirring until the soup thickens. Reduce the heat to warm and add the beans and cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and is no longer visible. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chewy Granola Bars

 Oh my! Oh my, oh my! I just perfected this recipe after a bunch of trial runs... wow! I actually have a whole mess of really awesome recipes to share with you, I've just been having a hard time finding the time to post them. But this one... this one, I've got to make time for right this second. I have to share it with you so that you can make it. Perhaps gift some to your mother later this week, like I am (shhhhh, don't tell!).

You can make a whole bunch of different versions, including a straight up chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, or - like you see above - an almond joy version. The basic recipe and procedure is the same, you simply change the add-ins. Quick oats and crisp rice cereal make the base, but I like to add some chewier grains as well. You could just use old fashioned oats, but I really found this multi-grained cereal was perfect for this application. It has wheat, barley, rye, and oats.

The first step is to mix the dry ingredients. The hot candy part of this recipe goes quite fast since it only goes to the soft ball stage. If using almonds, I definitely recommend toasting them first. You can do it in the oven or on the stove top. This picture is from a middle batch. I chopped the almonds here, but in the end, I decided I liked to just leave them whole. Again, the joy of this recipe is that the details are up to you!

As for the molding, it will be easiest if you have two pans the same size and of the 9 x 13 persuasion. I have two quarter sheet pans that work perfectly for the task. You'll also need two sheets of parchment. I do not spray the parchment with oil, it isn't necessary and just makes the bars oily. Nobody wants oily. I lay one sheet down, pour in the hot mix, using gloved hands to push it around. I then put another sheet of parchment on top and use the other pan to push down as hard as I can, as evenly as I can. Once it's been pressed, you can remove the top pan, and - if you want - the top parchment. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or two before cutting. 

Chewy Granola Bars
Yield: 20 bars (about 1 x 5 each)

For the syrup:
6 TBS honey
4 TBS salted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

about 5 cups of mix-ins (see below for suggestions)

Have two quarter sheet pans (or similar) and two pieces of parchment available. Mix together your dry mix in ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir just until the mixture starts to bubble. Cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees (soft ball). Immediately stir in the vanilla and pour over the dry mix. Stir until somewhat well mixed. Then, with gloved hands, finish mixing by hand and pour into one of the sheet pans lined with one sheet of parchment. Use your hands to spread it out fairly evenly. Lay the other sheet of parchment on top, then place the other sheet pan on top and push as hard as you can to pack the mixture. Let the mixture harden at room temperature for at least an hour before cutting. Cut the bars first along the long axis and then cut each strip into ten bars. Cut bars using a large, sharp knife. You can use a bench scraper if it is sharp, but a large chef's knife works best. Store in an air tight container.

Suggested Mix-In Versions:
*** If you are adding chocolate pieces into the bars, let the mixture cool slightly before adding and pressing into pans.

1 1/2 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
1 cup quick oats
1/2 to 2/3 cup whole, toasted almonds
melted chocolate for spreading over top side before cutting OR 1/2 cup large, dark chocolate pieces***

2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup mini-chocolate chips***

2 cups quick oats
1 cup old fashioned oats or multi-grained cereal
2 cups crisp rice cereal
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cup raisins

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated Bran Muffins

A few years ago, I posted a recipe for bran muffins. I've been mainly eating my chocolate chip and banana nut muffins lately, but a couple weeks ago, I suddenly decided to change pace. But the old recipe exhibits one major pet peeve of mine... it does not make a convenient amount of batter. It makes enough for one and a half trays of muffins (it says it makes a dozen, but when I went to make it again recently, it made quite a few more than that). Who wants to make a half tray? So, I decided I would adjust the recipe to make one dozen muffins. I figured that was easiest, because if I wanted to make two dozen muffins, I could easily double the recipe. Well, one thing led to another, and suddenly, I found myself playing with the recipe.

First, I want you to know that the original recipe is darn tasty. They are sweet and moist and yummy. The recipe I am about to post produces muffins that are a little more moist and not quite as sweet. In fact, they have no refined sugar in them. The majority of the sweetness in this new version comes from the dates themselves. Instead of adding chopped dates into the batter at the end, I thought I would see how the muffins tasted if date sugar were used instead. Date sugar is not really a sugar, but simply dried and ground dates. But dates are so sweet, that they can be used like sugar in many instances. In the muffins, I found its use has a few advantages. First, the muffins are so incredibly moist now. It also makes eating the muffins less sticky. Those large chunks of dates, while delicious can make a mess while eating them (especially when feeding them to a one year old!). The updated recipe also has no refined flour. In the previous post, I post the disclaimer that they are "good tasting muffins, not to be confused with 'health' muffins." In this case, I think we can confidently state that these muffins are good tasting and healthy. They're not low calorie, but they are packed with good stuff!

While I've decided I like these muffins a little less sweet, if you want yours to be a little more... decadent, you can simply add 2-4 tablespoons of brown sugar to the batter.

If you want to make your life easy while mixing the batter, pour the oil into a glass measuring cup first. Then eyeball the amount of honey. Lastly, add the molasses until the total amount reaches a half cup for the three ingredients. Not only is the measuring easy, when the oil is poured in first, it makes getting the sticky ingredients out of the cup easy too.

As for decorating the tops of the muffins, in the original, I tossed a few oats on top. I got to thinking about it, and that just doesn't make a lot of sense; there are no oats in these! A better option is either to sprinkle them with a little turbinado sugar, which is a coarse grained, unrefined sugar that gives a nice crust and sweet bite to the tops of the muffins, or to sprinkle a little bran on them. You can also leave them plain, but where's the fun in that? As darkly colored as these are, they can be a little difficult to determine when they are done. For these muffins, I always use a cake tester to be sure the muffins are done.

Updated Bran Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 TBS honey
3 TBS unsulphured molasses
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup wheat bran

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/4 cup date sugar, sifted to remove lumps

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix the first seven ingredients. Mix the bran in with the wet ingredients and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes so the bran can hydrate. In a small bowl, mix together the dry ingredients together. Once the bran has swelled and thickened the wet mixture, you can mix the dry ingredients into it. Spoon into lined muffin cups. A #16 disher slightly overfull will make 12 evenly sized muffins. Sprinkle the tops with either bran or turbinado sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool slightly before serving. Keeps well in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave to enjoy at your leisure.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chickpea and Lentil Stew

I wish I could have come up with a name for this recipe that is as delicious as this dish... but, alas, all I have is the humble "Chickpea and Lentil Stew." And there is meat in there. We're carnivores around here (not that we dislike vegetarian dishes, but we're partial to meat).

The first time I made this, I had a pound of lamb and was shooting from the hip. I knew the flavor profile I was shooting for and just went for it. I was multitasking (as I am wont to do these days!) and didn't take the time to write down what I put in it. Boy was I sorry once this dish was done. It was fantastic! At first taste, I immediately knew I would have to make it again, and soon, before I completely forgot what I had done. On round two, I made a bigger pot of it (now that I knew it would be good!) and I only had beef on hand. While it is delicious both ways, if you can find the lamb, I heartily recommend it. It adds a depth of flavor to the dish that beef just can't provide.

This stew is robust and flavorful. It has a Middle Eastern edge, but - as far as I know - is not authentic in any way (I did make it up as I went, after all). The chickpeas are substantial yet creamy (especially if you use ones canned without salt), and the lentils make a nice, hearty gravy. The cumin and garam masala seasoning gives it a lovely warmth. Yup, it's a keeper!

Chickpea and Lentil Stew
Yield: serves 6-8

1 1/2 - 2 pounds ground lamb (or beef)
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
30 ounces canned chickpeas, drained (aka garbanzos - salt free, if possible)
2 TBS tomato paste
15 oz can petite diced tomatoes, with juice
4 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
salt, to taste

In a large Dutch oven (or heavy stock pot), brown the meat and drain off the fat. Over medium high heat, add the remaining ingredients. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Continue heating until the mixture just comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover to simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Depending on the brand of lentils, you may need to add a little water to keep the stew loose. Just add a little at a time until the stew is the consistency you want. Keeps very well in the refrigerator for one week.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Baked Artichoke Dip

Sometimes I forget that the simplest recipes are often the best. I made this dip as an appetizer for Thanksgiving and was blown away by the response. In fact, as the dip rapidly disappeared, I suddenly decided I'd best take a quick picture. It's certainly not the best picture I've ever taken, but it is definitely a great dip. Of course, you can't go wrong with that much Parmesan cheese! This is most certainly NOT a "healthful" dish, but - my goodness - is it ever delicious! This dip is so easy that I had never thought about posting it before. No one at my Thanksgiving had ever had it before and they raved, raved, raved about it, so I figured I'd better share it with you. Superbowl is coming you know. Perhaps you need a super tasty, easy to make, crowd pleasing dip. If so, then this dip is for you!

Here's all that's in it:

Baked Artichoke Dip
Yield: approx 2 cups

1  15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Chop up the artichoke hearts and mix together with the mayonnaise and cheese. Spoon into a one quart oven proof dish. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until hot and bubbly and the edges are nicely browned. Let cool slightly before serving.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pad Thai

Now, here's a dish to get excited about making in the comfort of your own home! For such an iconic Thai dish, there sure is a lot of really horrible pad thai out there. I mean, really horrible. In fact, I often don't order it when I'm out because it's such a crap shoot whether it will be worth eating. Fortunately, it's really not that hard to make it at home. In fact, if you buy ready-made tamarind pulp, it's not hard at all, and you can whip some up in no time flat. 

However... I am going to show you "the hard way" for one reason only. What if you can't find prepared tamarind pulp in your local grocery? Case in point: where we live now, I can easily purchase all the other required ingredients (fish sauce, palm sugar, and chile paste) at my local grocery, but I can only buy whole tamarind seed pods there. To get the prepared pulp (sometimes called tamarind paste), I would have to drive over thirty minutes to the appropriate grocery. The good news is that "the hard way" really isn't that hard. It's a little strange looking. Maybe even a little funky smelling, but not that hard.

To prepare your own tamarind pulp to use in this recipe and others, peel the crunchy pod off and strip off the funky long "strings". I know I had a picture of that here somewhere, but - for some reason - I can't find it right now. If you've never shelled tamarind before, the first time you do, you'll go, "Ahhh, yes. Funky stringy things!" Then soak the seeds in room temperature water for at least four hours, stirring and mashing periodically. To obtain a pulp with the right consistency, I use a ratio of 6-7 ounces shelled tamarind pods to 3/4 cup water. (The bowl in this picture has more water than I just recommended). They'll start out looking like this.

When they're ready to strain, they'll look more like this:

You don't have to get every last bit of flesh off the seeds, which are surprisingly large. Just be sure to use a fine meshed sieve. I found it easiest to use a rubber spatula to press the pulp through.

The result should look like this: dark copper in color and thick and creamy looking. It will smell... odd. Kind of sour and funky, but that's where you get the piquant edge that makes pad thai so good.

If you are lucky enough to have the appropriate ethnic grocery around the corner or a really well stocked neighborhood grocery, ignore the previous steps and start along with us here. To make the sauce, measure the ingredients either with a scale (my preferred method in this case, as it is a lot less messy) or with conventional measuring spoons/cups.

Heat the mixture gently in a sauce pan, just until the sugars are dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool. This recipe makes one cup of sauce, which makes one four person serving with a little left over. Double or triple the sauce recipe if you want to prepare more. This is a beautiful sauce once it's prepared. I wouldn't recommend sticking your nose in it too far. The tamarind is funky enough, but, remember, fish sauce is best tasted and not smelled!!! I like to make the sauce in advance and then I can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week before using it.

The only other "tricky" part of this recipe involves the noodles. You want to purchase 3 mm rice stick. To prepare it for cooking, simply soak it in room temperature water until it is just pliable, maybe 20-30 minutes. I usually start my noodles soaking and then do all my prep work of cutting and chopping. Typically, the noodles are about ready not too long after I've finished. You want to be careful not to soak the noodles in water that it too warm, because they can become overly soft and sticky. Yuck!

By the way, I give a range for the number of eggs to use for a four person serving as 2-4 because, well, it's a matter of personal preference. I really like the egg in this kind of dish (I'm the same way with fried rice), but not everyone feels that way.

Pad Thai
Adapted from She Simmers
Yield: 4 servings

To Make Your Own Tamarind Pulp:
6-7 ounces shelled tamarind pod
3/4 cup room temperature water

The Sauce:
75 g / 1/3 cup tamarind pulp
90 g / 1/3 cup fish sauce
75 g / 1/2 cup palm sugar
20 g / 1 rounded TBS brown sugar
20 g / 1 TBS chili paste (sambal oelek)

For Each 4 Person Serving:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 oz 3 mm rice stick noodles
2/3 cup pad thai sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
2-4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts

To prepare the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in small sauce pan and heat just until the sugars are dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool. If you need to prepare your own tamarind pulp, let the pods soak in the water for four hours and then press through a fine meshed sieve. See the tutorial above for more details.

Soak the rice noodles in room temperature water until they are just pliable, about 20-30 minutes. Drain the noodles in a colander and let drip until you are ready for them. Heat a large, flat bottomed skilled over medium heat. Add just a few drops of the oil and cook the scrambled eggs until just done. Remove from the pan and set to the side. Now turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the rest of the oil and let it heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the shallot and garlic, stirring until they begin to soften. Add the noodles and the sauce and stir-fry until the noodles are finished cooking (it takes just a minute or two). It's easiest to tell when they are done by tasting one. They should still have a slight bite to them. Add the sprouts, tossing to mix and then remove the pan from the heat. Add the egg and serve immediately. Garnish with lime and chopped peanuts.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spiced Banana Bread

Well, hello, stranger! Long time no see.

Hard to believe that another holiday season has careened by. Fortunately, it was a lovely one. We finally are in a northern (read: cold and snowy) clime, which always helps get me in the holiday spirit. We live within a couple hours of my husband's side of the family and we received visits from multiple members of my side. My mom came and spent Christmas with us! It's been a number of years since we were together on Christmas day itself... and this year was extra special! It was my boy's first Christmas. Needless to say, there's been a lot of joy around here.

Speaking of the boy! He still keeps me on my toes. He's such a good guy though; the vast majority of the time, he plays really well and lets me get some things done. Naps are still tricky... and - apparently - cyclical in nature. We have a week or so of really good naps and then a few weeks of middling naps and then a week of horrible naps. Can you guess which part of the cycle we're in today?

He's also become a really good eater. I should post a before and after photo sometime of his meal plate. Not only does he go for volume, but he loves a wide variety of foods. While there are days when he is or isn't in the mood for one food or another, I cannot think of a single food he just won't ever touch. This week I made falafel and tabbouleh and he ate both! While he takes after his father and me, being a major carnivore, he also likes his carbs. I originally came up with this recipe when he first started eating because I wanted a bread that was easy to chew, tasted somewhat sweet without a huge amount of added sugar, and was very low in salt.

The funny thing is, while he eats it fine, I've come to really love the stuff! I make it all the time. It tastes sweet without being cloying (my big beef with most store-bought banana flavored baked goods) and has a satisfying twist of spice. I also love how easy it is to make. You can simply mix it together by hand in a bowl. No creaming or beating required.

Spiced Banana Bread
Adapted from The Recipe Encyclopedia, 1995
Yield: one 4x8 loaf

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (see note below to mix your own)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
5 TBS unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup mashed, ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 4x8 inch loaf pan by spraying with oil and lining with a parchment strip, if available (this simply ensures your loaf comes out intact - if you have a really good non-stick pan, this step is optional). In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, spice, baking powder, and baking soda.

In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add to the dry mixture and stir just until combined. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for five minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on a rack. Store in an air tight container either at room temperature or the refrigerator for up to one week. Baked bread can also be frozen for up to six months.

NOTE: You can make your own pumpkin pie spice by mixing 2 TBS cinnamon, 2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger, and 1 tsp cloves. The leftover spice can be saved for use in other recipes. You can also use regular, salted butter, the resulting loaf just won't be as low in sodium.

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