Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banana Nut Granola Like A Warm Hug

Y'all. Does it get better than banana nut bread? Unless your answer was cheese, then no, it doesn't. I remember one afternoon when my mother was having one of those Amelia Bedelia moments and baked this amazing smelling banana bread. With salt. All salt instead of sugar. My sister and I, still grimy and sweaty right off the school bus walked into the house and went straight for a huge slice with a pat of butter and glass of milk. We both took a huge bite and simultaneously gagged for several minutes. We then spent the next 6 hours laughing, and it didn't end up being such a bad afternoon after all. Here is where banana bread grows up, starts paying taxes and tries to be a respectable and functioning adult.

Responsible yet worthy of craving by the fistful.
Inspiration for this concoction comes thanks to Pinterest and Tracy at Shutterbean.  And the almost rotten bananas in my freezer.  Don't judge.  Like my seasonal pot holders and dish rag?  Dollar General, y'all.  Let's talk ingredients.

5 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)
1 cup pecan halves
2/3 cup Craisins 
1/2 cup shelled raw hemp hearts
1/4 cup Sugar in the Raw 
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp sea salt
2 very ripe bananas
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed in a bath of warm water so it's in liquid state
Additional sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Let's begin by mixing all our dry ingredients, shall we?  That would be the oats, nuts, Craisins, hemp hearts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt.  Do this in a huge bowl.  I had a bag of Craisins in the house thanks to my sweet and beautiful soon-to-be-sister-in-law, but if you have dried cherries, they would be totally on point here.  Set aside dry ingredients.

Mash bananas with a fork and combine with maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla extract.  It should look pretty nasty.  Not to worry.

Combine the wet with the dry.  Put in some good work and a little elbow grease here.  You want those dry ingredients to get all that moisture and flavor as evenly as possible.  Fair is fair.

Dump that stirred up goodness onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Spread into an even layer with your spatula or with your hands, if that's your thing.  Bake 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until golden brown.  It will get crispier as it cools, but if you're like me and like your granola extra crisp and toasty, feel free to leave it in the oven for a little while as the oven cools.  Just make sure to check on it periodically and give it a shake or stir.  I sprinkled mine with a little extra sea salt while it was cooling because I like my granola that way and it makes those unsalted pecans feel a little more at home.

Can you spot the gremlin?
Gremlins live for granola.
Once the granola has completely cooled, store it in a sealed container.  If I were you, I'd leave it on my counter and allow myself to feel at least a little smug. 

This should keep at room temperature for at least a couple weeks.
Breakfast this morning.  Best served with a drizzle of maple syrup and a satisfied smirk.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Butternut Squash Quinoa Pilaf

Oh, hey.  It's been awhile!  Here's the two second recap since we last talked.

I'm getting married next month!  To this guy:

Yeah, I'm pretty psyched.
 It's autumn!  My favorite time of year in general, as well as my favorite time of year to cook.  Delicious and hearty stuff that is full of comfort and joy.  Last night I made these crazy cheesy and creamy enchiladas I saw on Pinterest.  They looked exactly like the pin and I ate like 4 pounds of it.
But then I came to my senses tonight and remembered I am indeed getting married next month.  While the enchiladas totally hit the spot, if I continue to cook and eat items like that in the coming weeks, I'm gonna need a wheelbarrow to push in front of me as I walk down the aisle hauling all my double chins.  So I did what any self respecting Pinterest fanatic would do and made quinoa.  That's what all those skinny broads are eating, so maybe that'll help.  I had a small butternut squash that had been sitting on my counter so long it was bound to become a science experiment if I waited another week to cook it.  So therein lies the inspirational ingredient for this dish.

 I decided drinking a pumpkin ale was fitting as I scooped out the seeds with a spoon.  Gosh, that was gratifying and festive.
Butter toasted almonds are everything.  Dad taught me this.

Get festive!  If you're not sure how to start getting festive, grab a pumpkin ale and give the recipe below a go. 


1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 c. golden raisins

Other Components
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced small
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 tsp garam masala spice (an Indian spice you can find in any grocery store.  It smells amazing.)
1 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp butter
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
2 cups rotisserie chicken meat, chopped (Optional.  I had leftovers from the enchiladas.)
Optional crumbled feta cheese & mixed greens for serving

Preheat your oven to 420 degrees.  Put your diced squash and onions into a gallon baggie with the sea salt, garam masala (don't be scurred), and coconut oil.  If your coconut oil is solid, let it sit in some warm water until it becomes liquid.  Give the bag a good shake.  Dump your mixture onto a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick something or has been lined with parchment, your best friend.  Spread it out evenly and let it roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Give it a good stir and get some of those ingredients flipped around.  Put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes until it is soft, sweet and has some caramelized pieces.  Set aside.

Rinsing quinoa bites.  I guess it's not that hard, I just always feel like it's a hassle.  But we don't want it to be bitter, so just do it.  Put your pain-in-the-rear quinoa into a large saucepan or heavy bottomed pot on medium heat with the butter or coconut oil.  Stir it around until the rinse water evaporates and it starts to smell a little nutty and toasty.  Pour in your stock, and seasonings and bring to a boil.  Just as it comes to a boil, put in your raisins (dried cranberries or cherries would be totally delicious too) and put a lid on it.  Turn it down to the lowest heat and let it simmer 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, take it off the heat and let it sit another 5.

While your quinoa is sitting, roast your almonds.  Melt 1 tsp of butter on medium high heat and keep stirring around your almonds in the butter until they are browned and your house smells amazing.  Try not to eat them all.  Give them a good chop.

Take the lid of your quinoa and fluff it with your fork.  Add in your roasted squash & onions, as well as your toasted almonds and chicken if you're using it.  Try to fold it in so you don't break up all the tender squash.  I served it over a bed of greens with feta cheese.  You could serve it over salad, eat it alone or put it in a collard leaf to make one hell of a lunch.  Look at you, festive and fancy.  Eat up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Toble-ly Delicious Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes I feel like I might be a heartless beast of a girl.
Let me give you an example.  I have an intense love affair with the combination of oats and chocolate.  Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are like love in its most pure and patty form.  But they need to be a certain way, you know?  Adding nuts is a good thing, but when you venture outside the tree nut or peanut butter category, you've gone too far, my friend.
It's a week before Christmas, and we're at my parents' house celebrating the holidays with my mom's side of the family.  Everything is all aglow with Christmas cheer and my relatives are all looking their finest.  Mom has this huge spread of appetizers out that include several cookie jars filled with goodies she's so sweetly and thoughtfully made for everyone to share.

Wait!  Mom!  How could you not tell me you made my favorite cookie!  Cousin Ashley and I were so excited about our discovery of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the table we couldn't wait to get our grubby little hands on them.
Chomp!  Chomp...  Chomp......
"Is there cinnamon in here?"
"Yes, do you like it?" Mom asks with a sweet and loving smile on her face.
I wrinkle my nose at the thought of cinnamon being introduced to what otherwise is the perfect combination. Mom stares at me as I (without an instant of hesitation) chunk the cookie from quite a distance and with a good degree of force into the nearby trashcan and reluctantly chew the soggy gob in my mouth.  Ashley and Mom stare at me in shock that I would act like such an evil spoiled brat on Christmas, and right in front of the person who made the cookie, no less.  What can I say, I am picky about my oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Thankfully, despite my ogre-like qualities, Santa did not bring me coal at Christmas.  I got some great stuff, and some legit chocolate.  We're talking Toblerone.  That heavenly bar filled with nuances of honey, almonds and nougat.  Milk chocolate at its finest, in my opinion.  Unfortunately, perhaps my troll-ish behavior was just a warning sign that all those calories I packed on over the holidays were quiet literally making me troll-shaped.  Time to dispense with the Toblerones in the best way possible.  Time to make some cookies.  Without cinnamon.

Ignore the coffee ring and dot of hot sauce under the cutting board.  I wanted cookies RIGHT AFTER breakfast, okay?  It's oatmeal.  That's healthy, right?  Check out that Global Cook's Knife Jeremy got me for Christmas.  Yeah, baby.

Toblerone Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Inspired by Joy the Baker's Oatmeal Walnut Cocoa Nib Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen large cookies

2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 scant cup Sugar in the Raw
1/8 c blackstrap molasses
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 1/2 c old fashioned oats
1 c. coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1/2 c semi sweet mini-morsels
1 cup chopped Toblerone bars (2 full size candy bars)

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease the baking sheets if you don't wish to use parchment.  Use a mixer to whip butter, sugar and molasses together until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.  Add vanilla.  While that's working itself into a fluffy frenzy, find a medium bowl.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add this flour mixture all at once to the butter mixture and keep mixing until it's just combined.  Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, toblerone that you haven't stuffed in your face yet, and almonds.  Keep mixing until your arm falls off everything is well combined.  If you have a melon baller (The toughest tool in the drawer that gets the most dough) or a small ice cream scoop, you can use this to measure out identical little cookie blobs to go on your cookie sheets.  Make sure your blobs don't touch and try to get them the same size.  I used a tablespoon to make rounded balls about the same size.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cookies are light brown on top.      Let cool 5 minutes before transferring to cool on wire racks or just on the counter on parchment if you aren't lucky enough to have some spiffy wire racks.  That's how mellon baller and I roll.

Want to make new friends?!  Make ice cream sandwiches out of these cookies with chocolate, vanilla, and butter almond ice cream.  Scoop the ice cream after it has softened a bit and pop the assembled sandwiches in the freezer to firm up before transporting.  These cookies are just the right amount of sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy.  The Sugar in the Raw gives them and interesting little crunch, but if you prefer to swap the raw sugar and molasses for 1 cup packed brown sugar, that will totally work too.

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

This Goat Cheese and Raspberry Stuffed Chicken Breast Wrapped in Proscuitto is NOT Playing Around.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I knew this was destined to become my dinner.  That rarely happens to me.  Often, I come home from work, boil some noodles and eat them with bottled pasta sauce and canned parmesan.  True story.  
But not this time.

Do you spy Sampson's butt?  

My good friend Jonna knows how much I enjoy cooking and got me an awesome spoon rest for Christmas as well as this Pampered Chef Raspberry Habanero Sauce.

The sauce was the inspiration for this dish.  I typically don't keep sauces around, so it was fun to dream up how to best use this one.
*If you don't have a sauce like this around, you could make something just as perfect for this dish by combining one small jar of seedless raspberry preserves with two tablespoons (or less depending on how hot you want it) chipotle in adobo sauce.  Perfectly sweet, smoky and spicy. The goat cheese is a great foil for the heat and makes everything all perfectly balanced and yum.

This dish is so simple, yet really elegant.  It reminds me of a grown up version of one of my favorite eats Mom and Dad used to make when I was growing up: cream cheese and chive stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon.  You can use the same method I'll outline below and switch up the ingredients to try this gem as well.  This is like the grown up version of my classic favorite.

Raspberry and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Prosciutto
3 or 4 medium chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 oz. plain soft goat cheese (chevre)
1/3 cup spicy raspberry sauce (see note above)
4 thin strips prosciutto
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Toothpicks (for securing bundles)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take a chicken breast and pound it out till it is an even thickness and thin enough to wrap completely around the filling you will put inside.  I used my empty coconut oil jar because I'm a professional.

Note the smashed pieces of raw chicken on the side of the jar.  Keepin' it real.
Divide your goat cheese into thirds or quarters, depending on how many chicken breasts you have.  I had three, so I did thirds.  Put one third of the cheese in the center of the pounded chicken breast.  Spoon a third (or quarter) of the sauce over the goat cheese.

Wrap the chicken around the fillings and secure it together by piercing the two ends of the meat together with a toothpick.  You might be able to skip this step if it sticks together with little effort.  Be careful to remove the toothpicks after cooking so you don't impale the roof of you mouth and treat yourself to an emergency room visit.  Thanks.
Repeat the pounding, filling and sealing process with all your chicken breasts.  Wrap a sweet li'l blanket of prosciutto around each stuffed breast before placing them in a casserole dish.  If you want to use two pieces of prosciutto per chicken breast, congratulate yourself on having a beautiful mind.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  I like a lot of pepper.

Place the stuffed and wrapped breasts in the oven for 20 minutes.  Flip.  Cook 20 more minutes on the other side until proscuitto is lightly browned and juices run clear.  This dish makes it's own gravy, kind of like Gravy Train Dog Food, but better, and totally meant for human consumption.  Eating it with rice to sop up the juices is a great idea.  In fact, it's the law.  I made a wild rice pilaf.

Wild Rice Pilaf
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp garlic seasoning
Handful chopped parsely
1/4 bottle pilsner beer
2 tsp olive oil

Bring the rices, stock and butter to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Leave it alone for 50 minutes.  While that is working, saute your diced onion in the olive oil until translucent.  Add onion, garlic seasoning and beer to your rice during the last ten minutes or so of cooking.  Stir in parsley when ready to serve.

When your chicken is done, serve a piece over your rice and spoon some of that crazy good gravy over  both the rice and chicken.  You worked hard on dinner.  I give you permission to use bagged salad.  I sure did.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Easy Southwest Casserole

Oh, Christmas?  Yeah, about that... I'm over it.  I was absolutely sick the whole time.  From Christmas Eve Eve straight up through my stuffed up face this morning.  While I absolutely adored spending time with family and friends, I am ready for a new year.

Yesterday was a weird day.  Second day back at work, the least sick I had been in several days, it started off fine.  Lunchtime.  Enter moodiness, indecision and a strong craving for Mexican food.  I got in my car for my lunch break and began aimlessly driving around town until I landed very close to my house at one of the best Mexican places around: La Vaquita II.  I ate this:

All of it.  Enchiladas Poblanas en Mole- one chicken, one cheese, and some raw onions to foul my breath up for the rest of the day.  It was amazeballs.  Picture this moment: stuffy nosed loner redhead sitting with her back to the rest of the happily chatting Spanish speakers eating in the restaurant, scarfing down a full plate while the fluorescent bulbs highlight my loner status as I stuff my face in front of the huge storefront window.    Sexy.

The thing about Mexican food, is I can never get enough.  Ever.  So naturally, it's what's for dinner.  Casserole is what happens when I think I don't have any groceries and I want to get rid of random leftovers.   It's also so easy that I barely had to pay dinner any attention so I could watch copious amounts of Deadliest Catch get some cleaning done.  You can vary the ingredients with whatever you have in your fridge.  Salsa was on sale for $0.74 last time I went to the grocery store, so this made for a super cheap meal.  If you have a few more ingredients a a couple more minutes, you can make this casserole that has a little more kick.  I am posting the recipe exactly as I made it, but please use whatever you have and don't make a special trip for these ingredients.  For crying out loud, I topped a casserole containing pork with vegan "cheese".  Totally delicious.

Easy Southwest Casserole
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
generous pinch kosher salt
1 1/2 small jars medium salsa (you can sub canned tomatoes with green chilies in a pinch)
1/2 pound grilled pork tenderloin (or cooked meat of your choice/omit meat to make vegan)
1 can black beans, drained
3 good glugs Mexican hot sauce (I use Valentina or Cholula)
1 Tbsp garlic seasoning
1 cup vegan "cheese shreds" (or organic cheese)
Fat free greek yogurt and cilantro for serving

Preheat oven to 350.  Cook rice:  Bring rice and water to a boil. Add salt, reduce heat to low, and cover for 15 minutes.  
Dump one whole jar of salsa in with the rice.  Dump in can of beans.  Dice up your meat.  Dump it.  Stir.
Season to taste with garlic seasoning and fresh ground pepper if desired.  Glug in some hot sauce.  Glug, glug.  Isn't that such a satisfying sound?  Mmm hmm.
Spread your mixture in an even layer into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle "cheese" shreds over the top evenly.  If you have tortilla chips, by all means crush them over the top of the cheese.  Dollop your remaining salsa over the whole mess and pop it in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the casserole is heated through.  Serve topped with fat free greek yogurt (or sour cream) and torn fresh cilantro.   Go back for seconds.

Best when enjoyed in the company of someone you love and not under fluorescent lighting.

Ideas for variations- add or substitute the following:
Chopped grilled chicken
Tortilla chips
Pinto beans
canned black olives
canned or fresh jalapenos
Veg-all or mixture of frozen veggies/veggies in danger of dying an ugly death in your fridge
Chives or green onions
Salsa Verde

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies

First of all, you should know that you can only make these cookies for people you love.  Because cookies that require chilling, rolling, and cookie cutters are only worth it for people you love.

That said, you should make these cookies.  You should make them on a night when you don't have a lot else going on, because they are going to take some time and you are going to make quite the mess, my little cookie queen (or king).

You should also be aware that when these cookies are implemented as a bargaining tool in a cookie exchange, they are both a blessing and a curse.
Blessing:  You get mad compliments.
Curse:  You don't want to give them away.  Blast, that buttery, maple goodness is so sneaky like that.

I found this recipe over at Smitten Kitchen.  This woman is the heat, no lie.  She has performed a great miracle and has achieved a lofty goal.  A goal that I aspire to.  This snazzy lady makes her living by literally rolling out of bed, cooking whatever she feels like at that particular juncture in time and blogging about it.  And she's worked hard to get there.  Rock on, Deb.  Live the dream.

Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies
Ever-so-lightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature (I used Plugra)
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (Grade B makes for an explosion of maple flavor, but use Grade A in a pinch)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

You know what?  "They" say you should bake with unsalted butter.  I never do, probably never will.  I think it tastes more buttery with the salt, thank-you-very-much.  Do what you feel.

Use a stand mixer (if you have one and are obsessed with it like me) to combine butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add egg yolk.  Drizzle in maple syrup.  Lick cup measure. What?  Sorry.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg.  Add flour mixture into butter mixture, just until combined.  Divide your crumbly dough into 4 balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, chill in the fridge for at least two hours, or overnight.  Don't skip this step even though you're tempted.  I have skipped this step a million and a half times, and then I pout about why I can't roll out my dough and make pretty shapes.  Cry baby.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line at least a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.  If you use wax paper instead, you'll set your ever-loving house on fire.  True story.

Flour your very clean counter top or kitchen table with a handful of flour.  Keep the flour handy so the dough doesn't stick to the table, your hands, or your rolling pin.  Yes, you're going to need a rolling pin.  Don't have one?  Use an empty wine bottle, you lush.  Take one of your four doughballs out of the fridge.  Unwrap.  Plop in flour.  Beat the living daylights out of it with your rolling pin until it sweetly submits.  Roll out your dough about 1/8 inch thick and cut fun little shapes out.  If you don't have cookie cutters you are a terribly boring person, you can use the mouth of a jar to cut perfect little circles.  Cut cookies go on the parchment and into the oven for 8 minutes.  For smaller cookies, watch them and maybe take them out at 7 minutes, depending on how browned you want your cookies.  Ball up your dough scraps and wrap them and refrigerate them for after you have used up your initial dough balls.  When your cookies are done, remove the batch from the oven and slide the whole sheet of parchment and cookies off the pan so your pan can cool and be reused for another batch.  If you have cooling racks, use them now.  If you are like me and you don't have cooling racks, ask for some for Christmas.

Confession time.  I got so sick of all that leftover dough (that I had already worked and thus was more pliable than I wanted) I threw out at least a handful of it at the end.  By the Beard of Zeus, I already had like 5 dozen cookies!  Remember, there's no judgement here.  I won't tell the baking police, I promise.  Take that last batch out of the oven, clean your flour coated kitchen filled with destruction and cookies, and go have a glass of eggnog with a cookie.  You deserve it.

And how did that cookie exchange go?  I think I came out on top with some pretty good loot (and some of my leftover maple cookies I secretly hoarded).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing: A Tale of Love and Funk

I like to eat fowl smelling things.  So sue me.
Tempt me with some anchovies, oh yesss.  Woo me with your deviled eggs and I'm yours.  Tease me with your Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Cambembert, and I'm at your mercy.
When it comes to stinky, indulgent delight, it's hard to beat homemade blue cheese dressing.  My dad started this new-ish tradition for our Christmas gathering on my mom's side.  Instead of turkey, ham or more traditional holiday fare, we go for the gusto with some variation of grilled beef (standing rib roast this year), shrimp, and salad with homemade blue cheese dressing.  I look forward to all of it every year, but especially that blue cheese.  Let's make it a tradition for you too.

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing
1 medium wedge danish blue cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (I use Dukes because I'm Southern through and through)
1 1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt (so we can have some dessert too)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1 good dashes hot sauce
1 scant Tbsp mustard (I used horseradish dijon, don't use yellow mustard)
1.5 tsp garlic seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon half
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste

In a large bowl, combine mayo with yogurt.  Crumble in your blue cheese, slicing it if you need to in order to make crumbling easier.  Use a spoon to stir in the cheese and break it up into smaller pieces.  We're going for big chunks and small crumbles for flavor and texture.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste.  If you want to add a dash of cayenne, we could totally be best friends.  Let this sit in the fridge for at least four hours, but preferably overnight so the flavors can get to know one another.  You did it!  Congrats!

This dressing makes the simplest of salads amazing and satisfying.  Thanks, fat.  I love how you do that.  Now that I ate that for lunch, don't you think it's okay if I eat like four of the Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies I am making for tomorrow's cookie exchange?  Too late, I already did.
More on that story... after the break.

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