Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nutella Swirled Banana Bread

Recently, I had two revelations. First, when trying to Instagram a picture of banana bread, it looks like the same shade of brown on each filter. Also, I eat more banana bread than I do bananas. Maybe I unconsciously ignore the bananas just until they are too ripe to comfortably eat, yet perfect for banana bread. But I still love bananas as is for breakfast or a snack. Yet I consistently over-buy and under-eat, winding up with bunches of very, very ripe monkey fruit. That over-ripeness is the perfect combination of sweet and mushy that makes banana bread so good. Plus the sugar. And in this case, and nutella. That's right, NUTELLA!!! It doesn't get much better than hazelnuts and milk chocolate. Nom!

As good of an improvisational cook as I am, I'm also a disastrous baker. I attempted to make raspberry white chocolate scones for my family's mother's day afternoon festivities and they turned out awful. They tasted fine, but they were ugly and definitely not scones.  My attempt at cookies turned out more like muffin tops at Christmas. I have made blueberry pie before, but only with store-bought pie crust. Banana bread seems to be the only thing I can make without fantastically screwing up. And I have made a dozen different versions, some more sweet, some more rich, and some gluten free.

This recipe is a rich one. And I mean the sort of filthy rich you find in Newport Beach.... or not. When this wonderful smelling loaf comes out of the oven, cut yourself meager slices. Trust me. The nutella tends to settle towards the bottom, condensing the batter below it somewhat. And the sour cream keeps this baby ultra-moist. I would not recommend subbing half of the flour with almond meal as I have done with many banana bread recipes before, because this is so rich as it is. I found this recipe on FoodGawker, featured on the blog BunsInMyOven, but I've changed around some of the instructions based on my experience baking this particular recipe. And this is probably my favorite (and most sinful) version of banana bread I've made so far. Enjoy!

(aka epic get-in-shape-for-summer fail)
adapted from BunsInMyOven
prep 15 min, cook 60 min, ready in 75 min

1 stick or 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3/4 Cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup mashed bananas (~2 medium)
1/2 Cup sour cream
1/2 Cup walnuts (optional)
1/2 Cup Nutella
Tools: oven, 9"x5" loaf pan, rubber spatula, wooden spoon, small bowl, 1 medium and 1 large mixing bowls, measuring cups/spoons, butter knife, immersion blender (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F and grease 9"x5" loaf pan. Stir together dry ingredients (soda, cinnamon, flour) in medium mixing bowl and set aside.
(not using immersion blender) Cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix well. Fold in bananas, sour cream, and nuts (if using) until combined.
(using immersion blender) Add sugar to dry ingredients in the large bowl and mix. Blend together bananas, eggs, vanilla, and butter in medium bowl. Add to dry ingredients and mix or use blender to make batter.
Spoon nutella into small microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds or until soft and liquid-y. Pour 2/3 of bread batter into loaf pan. Pour nutella over top of the batter, using the rubber spatula to get all of the nutella and gently spreading it over the batter. Cover nutella with remaining batter. Use a butter knife to swirl the batter (I recommend big spirals around the long axis of the pan from front to back keeping the knife at about a 45deg angle from the countertop). Bake for 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Greek Style Tilapia

I'm not a big fan of seafood. Honestly, I avoid seafood in markets just because of the smell. So maybe I don't like it because I can never seem to find fresh enough to not make me want to cover my nose and mouth and run away. I can tell you for sure that I'm not a fan of tuna or salmon unless it is wrapped in rice and seaweed and topped with a creamy, spicy sauce. I do love scallops, but they are so expensive I never buy them. (Maybe after I start working I'll treat you all to my bacon-wrapped scallops recipe!) Shellfish creeps me out just looking at it, and I'm not a fan of the texture of mollusks. The only thing that is left is white fish which I can tolerate if it is prepared with some seriously flavorful companions to mask the fishy taste.

So what on earth am I doing posting a fish recipe then? Well, everyone else over 5 years old seems to like fish so I can't avoid it all the time. In fact, the only reason I made this is because Amy suggested it when I visited her in DC.  She found the original recipe from Epicurious, which called for mahi mahi. Alas, Safeway did not have any fresh mahi mahi, so we settled for tilapia - a substitute our taste buds and wallets found acceptable. We followed the recipe, omitting the tomato salad and mint, and substituting the mayonnaise with my favorite kitchen-equivalent-of-a-swiss-army-knife GREEK YOGURT. It turned out so beautiful and gosh darn tasty that I am no longer (as) afraid of fish! (white fish anyway....) Too bad I'm moving to the squarest state in the land, landlocked, with prohibitively huge mountains to the west and nothing but grass and guns to the east, where decent fish is bound to be rare. But I hear the Mexican food is amazing! (it is where Chipotle started, after all)

Enough boring chit chat, let's get down to it. This recipe is ridiculously easy, and I don't really have many tips. I suppose I prefer thinner filets over thick ones. And I'd recommend coarsely chopping the little dill leaves to release some of that flavor. Finally, if you've never heard of Epicurious, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. So go there.... After reading this recipe of course.

(aka... tilapia? more like DILL-apia!)

4-6 tilapia filets, fresh
6 oz plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
~ 4 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp lemon juice
1 medium/large lemon
+ cooking spray (olive oil), salt, pepper

Preheat broiler to high. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spread around a glug of olive oil or spritz some cooking spray. Place the filets on the aluminum foil, and top with salt and pepper (you can go light on the salt here). Strip the dill leaves from the stems and coarsely chop. Combine dill, feta, lemon juice, and greek yogurt and stir well (you can do this in the yogurt container). Slice the lemon into 8 thin slices, deseeding as you go. Spoon yogurt mixture liberally onto the filets, spreading around to cover most of the fish. Top with lemon slices and spritz with cooking spray. Broil fish about 4-6 inches from heat source for 8 mins or until just cooked through (fish flakes easily). If the top starts to burn, cover filets with aluminum foil and broil until fish is done.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Homemade Pasta

I love pasta. I love it so much. Being the pasta lover that I am, I finally realized - why have I never made my own?! I've always heard that homemade pasta is approximately 23059872938472x better and more of a PITA than store-bought varieties, so I waited until I was feeling extra-committed before embarking on this adventure. But a few weeks ago the urge to cook struck me, and I invited the wonderful Sarah over for dinner before hitting the town for a girls' night. Sarah was so eager to help that she ended up doing all the hard work for me! She mixed the dough, kneaded it, rolled it out (with a tapered pin nonetheless, what a trooper), and cut it into nearly-perfect fettucini-shaped pieces. All the while I threw together a rustic tomato sauce (paled in comparison to the pasta) and kept Sarah's wine glass very full. It took a long time, but it was well worth the effort I didn't exert. It is hard to describe why it tastes so good; I suppose the best way is just really extra pasta-y and far from bland. After I move, I will surely keep my eyes peeled for any cheap manual pasta-rolling machines - until then, I need to keep my crap to a minimum even though I have so much semolina flour left over.

This recipe is deceptively short (and taken directly from the side of the Bob's Red Mill semolina flour bag). It is much easier to write than it is to execute, so I would recommend only trying this if you have an extraordinarily adept partner like Sarah, or you are ready to slave over a meal for well over an hour. I can absolutely guarantee it is soooo worth it. And the leftovers might be better than serving immediately. Or maybe it was because we ate it after lots of margaritas and champagne. I'm going to go with the leftovers are pretty effing tasty no matter your BAC.

(aka... I have a whole new respect for Italian grandmothers)

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 Cups semolina flour

Combine flour and salt in medium mixing bowl. Beat eggs in separate bowl with water and oil. Add to flour and mix to make a stiff dough. Knead 10 minutes or until dough feels elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes. On a lightly floured surface (all purpose is fine for this), roll out to desired thickness and cut into desired shape. (You'll probably want to roll it out even thinner than in the above picture, and it might even be a little transparent. The gluten in the semolina flour is really stretchy, so don't be afraid of the dough falling apart too easily.) Bring large pot of water with 1/2 tsp oil floated on top to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender. When making lasagna, no need to boil noodles.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Warm Quinoa Salad

Administrative note: I've decided to stop giving these recipes grades. Not because I'm less than a week away from finally being free from the prison known as engineering school, but because I don't want to post anything that is below an A- anyway.

Quinoa. It's a seed, it's a superfood, it's kosher for Passover! I am honestly in love with this grain that was apparently almost wiped out after the Incas were forced to grow wheat and corn by the Spanish conquistadors. Next year is also going to be the International Year of Quinoa, and NASA even wants to use it in plans for extended spaceflight due to its high nutritional content and ease of cultivation. Did I mention it's incredibly easy to cook, very filling, and not expensive? Apparently it is also gluten free, contains all amino acids (and therefore a complete protein), good source of carbohydrates and fiber (so your bloodsugar doesn't spike), and is high in numerous vitamins and minerals. Now THAT is what I call a superfood.

Here are the only things you need to know to make quinoa:
1. Rinse first. Even if the package says it's pre-rinsed, just rinse it again under cold water to remove the bitter coating.
2. Place 1 part quinoa and 1.5 parts liquid in a pot with a lid. I use low-sodium vegetable broth and sometimes dried herbs, depending on the occasion.
3. Cover pot. Turn to medium-high heat. After all the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. (the little 'tails' on the kernels will start to come off when it is nearly done)

That's it. Seriously. Usually it takes less than 10 mins to make a cup of uncooked quinoa. And I like to throw it in a salad with some greens, chopped veggies, and flavorful dressing to serve on its own or alongside a slab of delicious meat. In this recipe, I'm limiting myself to just the basics so you can make this in less than 10 minutes. This is the side-dish I make more than anything else, and it is easy to tweak depending on what you are serving. (Anthony recently brought home some amazing strawberries, so we chopped those up and added pecans and grilled chicken with balsamic vinaigrette... delish!) And remember that this is more of a quinoa salad than a garden salad.

(aka... in my mind this doesn't even qualify as a recipe)

1 cup dry, uncooked quinoa (I prefer tricolored)
1 1/2 cups broth of choice
1 bag baby spinach
1-2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (smell them to see if they are worth your time)
1/2 red onion
4 tbsp Goddess dressing (any lemon/garlic/tahini dressing will do)
+ handful nuts and/or dried fruit and/or garbanzo beans, whatever else your heart (or stomach) desires

Rinse quinoa well under cold water in a sieve or flour sifter for more than 30 seconds. Empty into small saucepan, scraping the wet quinoa into the pot with a spoon. Add broth, set to medium-high heat, and cover. While quinoa is cooking, chop up tomatoes and onion and place in medium to large mixing bowl with spinach. After the liquid is absorbed, fluff quinoa with fork and add to mixing bowl (yes, while it is hot - I like that the spinach gets a tiny bit wilted). Add in whatever else you want into the salad (nuts, fruit, beans, etc). Top with dressing and toss, adding more if desired (a little goes a long way I find). Serve immediately or store in fridge for up to 3 days. Voila, you have a filling, fresh, flavorful, and nutritious side dish sure to even please the carnivores and potato-lovers!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring Vegetable Risotto with Lemon and Thyme

Overall Grade: A-

Spring has sprung. And with it comes allergies and my favorite vegetable - asparagus. Thanks to Gia for introducing me to the simple deliciousness of roasted asparagus (with the tough ends snapped off!) back in the day at one of our now-defunct risotto parties. As far as risotto goes, I have a particular fondness for it since mastering one of Rachael Ray's recipes; it was the first real meal I ever learned how to cook, I can confidently say it is what inspired this hobby (if not passion) of mine. And if any of you reading are my close friends or family, you already know about my obsession with lemons all too well (slurp slurp). So naturally my impartial judgement of dozens of risotto dishes has chosen lemon risotto as the most delicious member of the risotto family.

So one night I was starved for ideas and decided to flip through the Weight Watchers cookbook my roommate left behind after moving out. I came across this recipe (featured on WeGottaEat), and I nearly jumped for joy. Asaparagus AND lemon risotto?! Count me in! When purchasing the ingredients, I was a little nervous that the dish would turn out bland, so I hedged my bets and decided to include zucchini and onions in the recipe. And seriously WW - risotto without butter? No way. So I added that back in, too. In retrospect, I should have left out the zucchini, so I'll leave it out of the recipe. Also, this recipe yields a very large amount of rice, so feel free to scale down -- leftover risotto is not as good as fresh (but still delish). I gave this recipe an A- only because I had to tweak it, and it is just not my favorite risotto dish.

For the risotto virgins out there, here is some background and helpful tips... Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish using Arborio rice, white wine, onions, garlic, butter, and parmesan cheese, in which the rice is slowly cooked to release the starches and produce a wonderfully creamy texture without any cream. It is a blank slate for pretty much any flavor combination like mushroom and garlic or sage and butternut squash. Actually cooking the dish is not especially fast, but it is rather simple as long as you keep an eye on the pan - soften onions and garlic and herbs until fragrant, toast rice, cook off the wine, slowly add hot broth by the ladle until done! And voila, an easy dish that is sure to impress.

[aka springthyme is here]
Tools: ladle, large nonstick pan with rounded bottom, large saucepan

1 lb of fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off (get it from a farmer's market!)
2 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or more for stronger taste)
1.5 Cups Arborio Rice (TJ's sells boxes for less than $3)
1/2 Cup dry white wine
~5 Cups low sodium vegetable broth (again, TJ's has the best reduced sodium broth I've used)
1 small lemon
1 Cup frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 C parmesan (I swear TJ's isn't paying me, but they have such cheap cheese!)
2 Tbsp butter
+ olive oil, salt, pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Chop asparagus into 1" pieces and cook in boiling water until bright green, about 2 minutes. Strain water and rinse with cool water to prevent further cooking (which will make them mushy). Heat broth in same pot over low heat to keep warm. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in your rounded bottom pan over medium heat. Chop onion and leek and add to pan with thyme. Saute until onions slightly soft about 3 min, then add crushed and minced garlic cloves and saute until fragrant, 1 more min. Wipe your mouth because you are probably salivating profusely from the delicious aroma. Add the uncooked rice and toast the rice for about 4 min or until translucent, being careful to not let it burn. Stir in the wine and cook until absorbed. Add stock 2 ladle-fulls at a time, constantly stirring until mostly absorbed. Take care to not let the rice at the bottom stick! When rice is nearly al dente, zest half of the lemon's skin into the rice. Cut the zested lemon in half. Add juice from half of the lemon, plus peas, asparagus, parmesan, and butter. Add one more ladle of stock (if you run out of stock, just use 1/2C warm water) and stir well. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately with parmesan and parsley garnish if desired. Pairs well with herbed chicken and a light and crisp white wine.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kale Chips with Herbed Yogurt Dip

Overall Grade: A-

First off, I want to thank Gia for being the lead chef on an iteration of this recipe. Hey girl hey!

Now. Let's talk superfoods. I hear so many things in the foodie blogosphere about "superfoods" and working these masked vigilantes into your dietary routine. Whether it is quinoa, blueberries, kale, and so on, everyone seems to worship these foods because someone else thought they were super. Well, I'm not convinced. So I did a little investigating. Turns out the word 'superfood' isn't really definitive at all. It (according to google) refers to foods with a high phytonutrient content or considered to be especially healthy. But what I've read on the subject seems to be more focused on getting more of specific nutrients - omega 3s, fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, and the nebulous antioxidants - from naturally occurring sources like fruits and vegetables. Plus some probiotic recommendations in there too. And this might be perfectly obvious, but just because blueberries are superfoods doesn't mean blueberry pie is suddenly healthy. Though there may be an argument it is healthier than apple pie in a number of ways.

OK so I may not be totally sold on the superfood gig, but I can't see any drawbacks to replacing potato chips with kale chips and a sour cream-based dip with a fresh yogurt dip. So whether you want to eat healthier, jump on the superfood bandwagon, or write a comic book about Kalewoman and the Greek Lantern, I recommend at least trying these for yourself for a diet-friendly as much as a budget-friendly snack. It's so easy I hesitate to even call this a recipe. And while kale chips are great for satisfying your crunch craving, they just aren't as sinfully satisfying as potato chips. But as my buddy Ben Franklin once said, "A calorie saved is a calorie burned!" Or was that pennies....

The recipe for the chips portion is based on trial and error, but the yogurt recipe is from a new site I found called 5DollarDinners. As a disclaimer, the yogurt pictured is a previous experiment I did with tahini and lemon and garlic, but it didn't turn out well. I'd recommend leaving the herb dip for an hour or so in the fridge to let the flavors warm up to each other. Also, you should experiment with different ingredients in the dip. Treat the always-forgiving greek yogurt as your blank canvas to express yourself gastronomically.

After making two different versions of these chips, I've come up with some do's and dont's for your own kale chip adventures. First, make sure you don't crowd the chips. They don't crisp properly and end up mushy. Second, don't try salt and vinegar chips because your kale chips will again not crisp very well. Third, make the chips big enough!

[aka woman vs superfood]

(Note: all spices are for dried amounts)
1 bunch kale (~10 large leaves)
1-2 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
6 oz greek yogurt, plain
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp basil

Combine the yogurt, onion powder, parsley, sage, celery salt, and basil then keep in fridge. Preheat oven to 425F and line a cookie sheet or baking pan with aluminum foil (if you want easier clean up at the expense of the enirvonment a little bit). Wash and dry kale (I mean really dry it!). Rip leafy parts into large chip-size pieces, removing the center stems. Place dry kale pieces in a mixing bowl with olive oil, salt, garlic powder and mix well until kale is lightly coated with oil. Arrange leaves in thin layer on pan with no overlap, and bake the leaves in shifts for best results. Bake in heated oven for 10-12 mins or until slightly crispy (they crisp more in the first few minutes out of the oven) but not brown. Remove chips from pan to a bowl and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the leaves. You may serve immediately or store in an airtight container for a day or two; the dip will keep longer and can be used for sour cream on a baked potato or a veggie dip.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bacon, Apple, Goat Cheese Omelet

Overall Grade: A+

[This isn't my prettiest or best-cooked omelet but hopefully you get the idea and have probably started salivating already.]

I have to admit that I more-or-less stole this idea from an item on Marathon Grill's old menu. They served scrambled eggs, goat cheese, crispy bacon, and green apples inside a sinfully buttery and flaky croissant with a side of potatoes. I personally LOVE Marathon's brunch - especially their Bloody Mary's - but my wallet does not afford me such drunk-brunch luxuries as much as I'd like (aka daily). And considering I'm attempting to fool myself into thinking I'm being cautious with my carbs, the potato and croissant obvious offenders had to go.

Goat cheese at TJ's is mega-cheap, and because everything else is in small portions, the cost of this dish is quite low without sacrificing taste. This has got to be my favorite omelet of all time. And I eat a lot of omelets. I love it so much, this was actually the first thing I cooked for Anthony back when we started dating, so clearly its pretty good (why else would he be with me after all? it's not like I have a personality or my own thoughts considering I'm just a woman). Really though, if you take nothing else away from this post - please remember that crumbly cheese, bacon, and apples are a heavenly combination... I like blue cheese with red apples and goat cheese with green apples, and don't forget the bacon!

If you do not have the omelet mastered, here is my advice....
1. Add salt and pepper before cooking.
2. Cook over medium heat. Don't get impatient with eggs or they will cook unevenly. (as shown above unfortunately)
3. (Probably most important) While the eggs are cooking, pop the big bubbles and move the pan around to cover the hole with uncooked egg.
4. Use your spatula to un-stick the edges and a little underneath. Do this the whole time the egg is cooking.
5. Unless you like runny or burned eggs (I don't, obviously), wait until the egg is mostly set but still jiggly (not runny) on the top. That's the perfect time to add the inside ingredients and flip in half.
6. I'd recommend using a smaller pan to make omelets so the eggs don't spread out too much and are hard to handle.

(aka gourmet I have another)

4 eggs, whisked
2-3 thin slices bacon, cooked
4 oz goat cheese (don't get the pre-crumbled kind, it tastes grainy in the omelet)
~1/2 green apple
+salt, pepper to taste

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat (smaller pan means more compact and easier to control omelet). Whisk eggs with salt and pepper in small mixing bowl. Cut apple into small chunks with the skin on (I like to toss them in some leftover bacon grease for 2 min just to soften slightly), then crumble the bacon into smaller pieces. Set aside. Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray or melt a pad of butter. Pour in half of the egg mixture. Use a spatula to unstick the sides of the egg while it's cooking. Pop any big bubbles with the spatula and move the pan around to cover the hole with some uncooked egg. Keep unsticking/popping until the eggs are mostly set but still a little jiggly on top. Add half of the chopped apple, crumbled bacon, and small chunks of goat cheese along one side of the omelet (just use your fingers to separate the cheese into chunks). Flip over the right side of the eggs to cover. Seal the omelet on the open side by pressing down with the spatula lightly. Let the inside warm up and the cheese melt, then flip. You can omit the flip if the egg is definitely cooked through and you don't want to risk ruining a pretty omelet (I do this all the time). Repeat with remaning ingredients. Serve with slices of the left over apple and a croissant! (or more bacon for the low-carbers)