Friday, December 31, 2010

Espresso Banana Muffins

I've been sick for the past week.  Horribly sick.  I haven't cooked ANYTHING all week.  We've eaten a lot of random takeout and a few things from the freezer, or simple stuff like pasta.  I've been dying to cook something, but still don't have all my energy back.  We had a whole bunch of bananas going brown on the counter, so I wanted to bake something with them.  It was between these Espresso Banana Muffins from Super Natural Cooking and the Moosewood brownies on the 101 Cookbooks website - both use espresso powder, which I got for Christmas and really wanted to use.  The muffins won (obviously).

The flavor profile is genius, but the texture is not for me.  That being said, I made some adjustments, so maybe I ruined them.  Or maybe they are just like that.  I only had sweetened french vanilla yogurt, so I reduced the sugar and vanilla to 1/2 cup and 1/2 tsp.  I'd like to try it the right way next time, and maybe add baking soda to see if I can get them to rise more.

See you in 2011!  :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coconut Cookies

Every year, my mom has a cookie exchange, and I make several dozen cookies to trade with a group of people.  Last year I made Carrot Oatmeal Cookies full of coconut.  This year, after much deliberation and a somewhat last-minute decision, I settled on the Coconut Cookies from Good to the Grain.

Let me tell you - I do not want to see another cookie recipe for quite some time after this ordeal.  My head is spinning.  This recipe has you do things in such a strange way.  If you know a bit about the ingredients you're working with, it will probably make sense to you (as it did to me after an a-ha moment) but it makes for quite a difficult experience.  You basically cream sugar and eggs together, add the dry ingredients, add room-temperature butter (here's where it starts to get difficult - I could hear my poor little mixer begging me to stop torturing it), THEN you add coconut milk.  In the recipe's defense, I was making double batches, but go over to your mixer, fill it 2/3 of the way with dough, then add 2 1/2 cups of liquid, and see where it goes.  Not into the dough, that's for sure.  I won't be surprised to find spots of coconut milk in some unusual places.  That being said, I can understand why this is done this way.  Coconut flour is very absorbent and it sucks in liquid fairly gradually.  I'm sure the internet could explain it to you better.

Naturally, when you are making eight batches of an unusual cookie recipe (in my case, four double batches), something is bound to go wrong.  With the unusual order of adding ingredients, I completely forgot the butter for my second batch.  I went all the way through to the coconut milk before I realized it.  The only thing I didn't waste was two cups of shredded coconut.  So I tried to put the butter in anyway.  Eventually I accepted that it was not salvageable and now I've got several dollars sitting in the bottom of my garbage can.  Wonderful.

I was up very late making dough.  It was my plan to scoop the balls of dough, roll them in coconut, and put them in the fridge that way to bake this afternoon, but when I rolled one out, it just kind of melted everywhere, so I decided to just put the dough straight in the fridge and turn it into cookies today instead.  This worked out well because the dough was firm to start with and got softer as I worked through the container, but not quite as soft as it had been when it was first made.  I made one cookie sheet with a 3 tablespoon scoop, as the directions told me to, but I panicked and switched to a 2 tablespoon scoop so that I wouldn't be short on the number of cookies.  Unsurprisingly, this also shortened the baking time (an even 16 minutes worked perfectly) so this process took a very long but surprisingly quick 3 hours.

I was skeptical about the expensive ingredients and the amount of work I was doing for these ridiculous cookies.  But when that first batch came out of the oven (the bigger ones, obviously they couldn't be used for the exchange and therefore absolutely had to be eaten immediately) they were pillowy soft inside, with a crisp coconut-flaked outside.

I now had five dinner plates and three cooling racks covered in stacks of coconut cookies.  My plan for wrapping them up was to use a fold-over plastic sandwich bag (got those by accident and need to use them up) placed inside a paper bag with the top folded down, holepunched, and tied with a ribbon.  I ended up putting them in fold-over plastic sandwich bags and put those inside paper bags.  11 cookies in each.  I folded them over and tied a ribbon vertically and called it a day.  (I don't even own a holepuncher!)  By that point it was time to leave so I was really cutting it close!  But I made it, with all my cookies.  And people seemed to like them.  :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cherry Vanilla Smoothie

Today's breakfast was the Cherry Vanilla Smoothie from So Easy.  It tasted pretty good, but as-is, I feel like it's more of a dessert.  It tasted like cherry vanilla ice cream to me.

I'd make a ton of adjustments to the recipe.  First, it was too sweet, so I'd cut down on the honey.  Maybe take it out entirely if still using the vanilla yogurt.  Second, I think it's really strange that the vanilla is so prevalent here, but was completely lacking in the oatmeal - I think it could use a bit less vanilla here, maybe even none with vanilla yogurt.  Ken suggested just a drop of honey and plain yogurt, and he usually likes things sweeter than I do.  Finally, I think the serving size is too large.  Maybe you need a piece of almond butter toast or something to go with it, but I'd cut down the serving size.  For comparison, the serving size is equal to the mid-size cup at Jamba Juice - 2.5 cups or 20 ounces.  Way too much!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Vanilla Spice Oatmeal

We're going on vacation in a few weeks, to a warm place where people wear bikinis, and after trying some on at the mall, I realized it was time for a little calorie-cutting.  I went through Ellie Krieger's books and picked out a bunch of recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even a few for dessert.  I'm also planning to try to work out every day from the day after my last final to the day before I leave for vacation.

For breakfast yesterday, we tried the Vanilla Spice Oatmeal from So Easy.  It was easy, but it wasn't very vanilla-y or spiced.  I probably should have trusted my instincts and added more of the vanilla and cinnamon, especially since those wouldn't contribute much in terms of excess calories.  I used currants instead of raisins, and those plus the chopped toasted pecans are what gave the oatmeal its flavor.  I like how oatmeal is inherently creamy anyway, but it did need a bit more flavor.

I'm not sure whether I'll make this exact recipe again, but I like the formula it presents.  Oats and water, plus a dried fruit, a nut, and a spice.  This could go in many directions!  I'm already thinking of flavor combinations.  Apricots and pistachios come to mind.  Dried cherries and five-spice, too.  So I look forward to playing around with my oatmeal flavor profiles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Orzo Soup

We've been participating in Meatless Mondays with Georgie at  For Ken, it's a challenge not to eat meat all day - he'll eat whatever I make (or tell him to make!) for dinner, so that part's not hard, but lunch seems to be the big challenge for him.  For me, it's hard because I can't eat Sunday's leftovers, and because it's the beginning of the week - I start off strong with my meal planning, but then get sidetracked when I realize I have to plan meatless for Monday.

Choosing a meatless meal, however, is not a challenge at all.  I cook mostly vegetarian anyway (I don't like touching meat, ew) and most of the recipes I want to try are vegetarian.  My favorite site for vegetarian recipes is  I've been procrastinating on my studying for finals by going through the archives of the site, starting with the very first post back in 2003.  (I'm somewhere in 2009 now.)  I've come across some recipes I've never even seen before, and others I had forgotten about.

This Orzo Soup was one I had seen in my pre-soup days, and the pretty picture appealed to me.  When I scanned the recipe I realized it would be super quick and easy, which is necessary for my Monday night meals, especially at this time in the semester when I don't have time during the day to get started on dinner before class.  So on my way home from work I stopped at the grocery store, where I picked up a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and a bunch of spinach.  When I got home, I got started right away, and dinner was on the table in 20 minutes.  (I find that I can pressure myself into making meals quickly by starting the cooking process before I'm ready - I try to time it so that it doesn't backfire and end up overcooked, but you can't win them all...)

I decided to try to make my bowl look just like the one in the picture on 101 Cookbooks, and I think I got pretty close.  You can cut the calories here by excluding all mentions of olive oil and using just a tiny dusting of Parmesan (it's a bit boring if you exclude it altogether).  I also recommend starting off with half the red pepper flakes and working your way up - it's got quite a kick to it.  I'm sure I'll make this again since it was so easy - with whole wheat orzo or another whole grain pastina, if I can find it, because I've grown to prefer the flavor of whole grain pastas.  You can use any green you've got sitting around, though cook the heartier ones a bit longer.  In the future I might try the fire-roasted tomatoes with garlic - I picked up that can first (without realizing) but opted for the plain ones this time.  The "egg drop" was a great protein option, I might add one more egg white next time (I halved the recipe, so I used only one).

I'm hoping to be posting more often starting a week from yesterday - my finals will be over and I will finally be able to do something I like to do (COOK!!!) so there should be some fun stuff coming up.  I still haven't picked my cookie for the annual cookie exchange, which is also a week from yesterday, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Coconut Macaroon Pancakes

I don't get much natural light in here - all our windows are on one side of the building and it's a side that never faces the sun - but I think I've managed to get good shots overall.  I think this lead photo may be my best shot so far.

I was looking for a recipe that would use the remainder of the coconut milk that I had opened for the roasted banana bread, but I wasn't able to find anything that would use ALL of it.  So, I adjusted a recipe for Coconut Macaroon Pancakes to use the amount I had left.  I used 1/2 cup or 4 ounces of coconut milk for the banana bread, so I had 10 ounces of coconut milk left.  I used a ratio to change the amounts in the recipe to be appropriate for the amount of liquid I had.  I had to round in some places but tried to stay as close as possible to the original ratios without adding any insanely precise measurements.

Coconut Macaroon Pancakes
10 ounces of coconut milk
1.5 Tbsp agave nectar (or honey)
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp whole wheat pastry flour (I expect you could use any type of flour)
2 cups unsweetened dried shredded coconut
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs whisked in a medium bowl
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp natural cane sugar or brown sugar (I omitted this the first time around)

Follow the instructions here.

I attempted to do a banana-muscovado variation here which I encourage you to try if you make these.  I put a small pat of butter in my pan along with a small spoonful of muscovado sugar.  As the butter melted I mixed them together.  Then I put banana coins down in the bottom of the pan and spooned the pancake batter over top.  This would have been successful if I stuck with a pancake small enough to flip, but I tried to make a bigger one, and now I'm eating caramelized-banana-coconut-macaroon-pancake-crumble.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Swiss Chard and Pork Dumplings

Since I struggled all year to use the chard that we get from our CSA almost every week, I was happy when I saw this recipe for dumplings made with chard and ground pork.  Making the dumplings was very easy.  You just mix together the filling, scoop a bit onto the wrapper, wet the edges, and seal it up.  I enjoyed doing it.  I made them in mid-September and froze them for later.  Now that I'm working on eating my way through the freezer, I wanted to try them.

They turned out to be very tasty.  The filling could have used a bit more salt.  We steamed them and ate them with a dipping sauce made of 1 clove pressed garlic, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.  I whisked it together so it became somewhat emulsified.  Now we have one quart bag left, a different shape dumpling, so I look forward to having them again.  Maybe we'll try a different dipping sauce.  Also somewhere in my freezer I know I have several wonton wrappers, so maybe I will make the shrimp and chive variation suggested at the end of the recipe.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roast Banana-Pumpkin Breakfast Bread

I've been making a list of possible edible gifts for Christmas, and I came across a recipe for Roast Banana-Pumpkin Breakfast Bread.  The picture looked amazing.  At first I thought it had pumpkin in it, but it turns out to be only pumpkin SEEDS.  (I'm considering a variation for the future already!)  I figured I'd try making it in mini-loaves to see if it might be a nice Christmas gift for some of my family members.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of cake flour, so I made some adjustments.  I wanted at least half whole grains here, so I used half all-purpose flour and half white whole wheat flour.  A substitute for cake flour, which I found online, is to add two tablespoons of cornstarch to the bottom of the measuring cup, and fill the remainder of the one-cup measure with flour, so I did this for both cups.  Since I was baking mini-loaves, I baked them for 40 minutes.

I started making this around 8AM, so just the smell of the rum-soaked raisins nearly knocked me over.  I was nervous about how they'd turn out in the bread.  One of the four mini-loaves fell apart, so of course I had to eat the piece that broke off.  At first, I thought my concerns were warranted and I thought to myself that I would use less raisins next time or cook a bit of the alcohol out of the rum.  But as I took a few more bites, I decided that wouldn't be necessary.  This is DELICIOUS.  I love banana bread as it is, but I think roasting the bananas gave an extra dimension to the flavor, plus the plentiful add-ins made it more interesting.  My cake flour substitution seems to have worked, and I may try all white whole wheat flour next time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crunchy Slaw Salad

We've still got some cabbage to use up from my last CSA pickup.  (There's also some turnips, rutabaga, and sweet potatoes, and some parsley and cilantro that are holding up very nicely.)  The cabbage soup used half a head, and we used the other half for this Crunchy Slaw Salad from Super Natural Cooking.  It was part of a meal that used something from the freezer, something leftover, something that's produce, and something on the counter that needed to be used up.

The something from the freezer was my Orange Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Soup.  I think it thinned out a bit.  (However, this whole moving soup to the fridge, spooning some chunks out, and putting it back in the freezer is working out really well.  I wasn't eating any soup for a while because I thought I'd have to finish the whole 2 or 4 cups, but that apparently isn't the case.)  The something leftover was the marinated onions used in the "Classic" Grilled Cheese sandwich we had a few days ago.  The something produce was, obviously, the cabbage, but we also had some questionable apples on the counter.  I took the firmest one and had to toss the rest.  :(  And finally, the something on the counter was the delicious bread I got from Panera for those same grilled cheese sandwiches.  (I want to note also for my own future reference that I omitted the cream from the cabbage salad dressing.)

So we were left with a very nice meal: an orange vegetable soup, a cabbage slaw with some apple shreds and walnuts, and a nice slab of bread toasted in the oven with Gruyere and marinated onions.

I'm enjoying the challenge of trying to use food from the freezer.  I made a breakfast polenta with some defrosted raspberries to sweeten it up.  It was a nice breakfast but not a "recipe" worth sharing.  Something that is, though: a helpful holiday cookie guide :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Strawberry Oatmeal

I like to mindlessly read health and fitness articles, and last night I came across a "program" with a "menu" of healthy meals and snacks.  Half of them were boring or contained things I won't so much as look at (canned tuna makes me want to throw up) but I got a few little points of inspiration.  The article also made me want to eat yogurt, which I will go out and get today.

Right now, I'm eating breakfast.  I have resolved (sort of "end-of-year resolutions") to eat more oatmeal and to eat bigger breakfasts in general.  I'm also trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  I took some inspiration from the article I read last night for this oatmeal recipe (really just the strawberry part) and from an old Cooking Light recipe that had you add wheat germ to oatmeal (I do it all my own way now).

Strawberry Oatmeal
Makes 1 serving

1. In a small saucepan/pot, put 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup vanilla soymilk.
2. Take out a 1/2 cup dry measuring cup.  Spoon in 1 tablespoon wheat germ.  Fill the rest of the cup with old-fashioned rolled oats.  Add this to the saucepan when it starts to simmer, plus a pinch of salt.
3. Put 8 frozen strawberries in a small microwave safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute.  Drain as much liquid as possible (careful, I lost 2 strawberries in the process) and squish them up.
4. When your oatmeal is cooked to your desired consistency, mix in your strawberry smoosh.  Transfer the contents to a small bowl.
5. Take out the spoon you will use to eat with - you should be eating with a small "teaspoon" silverware (regular spoons).  "Measure" one spoonful of sliced almonds and top your bowl with it before digging in.

Optional: add a small spoonful of ground flaxseed.  This is another resolution of mine that I always forget about until the bowl is empty :(

Monday, December 6, 2010

Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard

This "classic" grilled cheese recipe comes from Nancy Silverton's sandwich book.  I know her name from mentions in Kim Boyce's book, Good to the Grain, which has not made an appearance here in a while but is a huge inspiration to me.  I asked for this book for my birthday because I like sandwiches.  I like going to a cafe and having some delicious panini-pressed goodness oozing with flavor.  I wanted to try some at home, but it's always easier when you have a bit of guidance.

This wasn't the first recipe I intended to make, but it was actually kind of spontaneous.  I had everything on hand except the bread.  I stopped at Panera for something crusty, since it was on the way, and took home a "country loaf."  This was not only delicious but ended up being perfect for what we were making.

I didn't actually make this myself, which always makes things taste better.  The sandwich has four main elements: the thick, crusty bread is smeared with whole-grain mustard and layered with slices of Gruyere and marinated onions.  Then you spread some butter on the outside and clamp down your grill press for some tasty crunchy brown grill marks, which also melts all the cheese and softens the onions up a bit.

My one criticism of this sandwich is the salt factor - I would at least halve the salt in the marinated onions.  I suppose they were sort of quick-pickled, but it's worth a shot as I was super thirsty eating this sandwich and the salt was just at that point where it starts to detract from the flavor.

We had this soup with a tiny bit of Smoked Tomato Bisque, a perfect accompaniment to grilled cheese.  The soup seemed to have lost a bit of its salt content in the freezer, but with the saltiness of the sandwich, it was good.  This also helped me to discover something interesting/important about frozen soup.  I had read that you can refreeze something you defrost in the refrigerator, so I put the soup in the fridge this morning to thaw with the intention of serving some and re-freezing the rest.  When I took it out of the fridge, I was disappointed to find that it was still frozen.  However, I decided to try to scrape a bit out with a spoon, at which point I discovered that although still frozen, I could scoop large flaky chunks out.  So I did that and put the rest of the soup back in the freezer.  Now I know I can have small portions of my soups with just a bit of advance planning.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rustic Cabbage Soup

I must be making up for my dislike of soup all these years.  The parade of soup continues with a Rustic Cabbage Soup.  After a few weeks in the fridge I brought out a cabbage and it was cut into bite-size pieces.  A pound of Great Northern beans, thanks to my pressure cooker, split perfectly between this soup and the next day's batch of Ribollita.  I used the recommended 1/2 cube of Rapunzel w/ herbs, which is growing on me (I usually use the plain veg one).  A few very old but viable potatoes were made into matchsticks and tossed in.  Of course, there's always an onion, and garlic too.  As I'm looking at the original recipe again I'm noticing that I missed the grated cheese on top, but oh well, less calories right?

While I'm loving the soups I do occasionally crave solid food, so this week we revisited those delicious scallops we had a few weeks ago, and I'm counting on some lemon pepper shrimp soon too :)

As of right now I'm all caught up on my posting.  I'll be eating from the freezer a lot this month thanks to school/finals, but expect some fun things soon: my cookie exchange pick (still trying to decide between several whole-grain options), a few health-food experiments, probably some holiday-themed nonsense, and (surprise!) more soup.