Cleanse & Mend

Yeah, yeah. So you came here last Tuesday and noticed my blog had disappeared, eh? That news is sooooo last week. Ironically enough, it seems that being hacked is just the motivation I was looking for to revamp the site, clean it up a bit so to speak. So to the slimy douchebag out there who decided to ruin my day last Tuesday, I can now say, “thanks, asshat, because now i made my blog fancy.” I can neither confirm nor deny other obscenities that may have come across my innocent lips. And yes, I stuck my tongue out at him, too.

Anyway, I hope you like the new look. Thanks for coming back.

In other news, I thought this would be a good time to fill you in on that weird comment I made the other day about eating vegan for 2 days. It really wasn’t a big deal, but to me, noticeably not eating meat for that long isn’t something I intend to do on the regular (I say this while pounding back a hearty dish of jambalaya – more on that in the future). Sure, I often times go many days without eating meat, but not because I am forcing myself to, but because I choose to (which is different, I promise), because I do enjoy many a vegetarian entree. The vegan eating is the one that gets me – the no dairy, no cheese, no honey, etc.

Nonetheless, I did do it. One day involved a full-on juice detox from a company called Juice to You. I saw a coupon come across one of the many email subscriptions I receive, and since it seemed interesting, and since the bottles were pretty, I figured I may as well give it a try. I survived, and I did eat pretty healthily for a week. The juices were extra tasty, filling, and relatively easy to drink. Did I feel differently? Not really, but it was only a day. Maybe I’ll try the 3-day detox next time – if they release another coupon, that is. Or maybe I’ll just get that juicer I have on my wishlist and make my own.

The juice detox reminded me of a drink/smoothie I hadn’t made since living in Chicago. I’m sure there have got to be a handful of you still reading at this point, and hopefully you aren’t about to “X” out after I tell you this: it was full of spinach and flax seeds, totally vegan, and one of my very favorite smoothies.

Still there?

Okay – there’s a banana and some sweetener in there, too. And oats. I tell ya – there is not one moment where I drink this smoothie and think to myself, “man, this tastes like freaking spinach”. It’s all oat-y and banana-y and milk-y, and you should try it just to see if I’m telling the truth or not. But I promise you, I am. The juice detox reminded me that I need more greens in my diet, and blending them up in a creamy beverage each morning is mindnumbingly easy.

Plus, it saves me from having to drink tea and coffee every morning, putting me on the brink of being addicted again, and thus turning into a total crazy lady in the process of weaning off of said caffeine-ation once I start to feel guilty about it. Clearly, that’s a bad cycle, you see. Now that I say this, consider this smoothie my gift to you in more than one way. You’re welcome.

Spinach, Banana, & Oat Smoothie
makes 1 drink

time commitment: 5 minutes

this drink is super flexible and great for forcing some veggies and fruits into your diet. i’ve added raspberries, an apple, and cranberries before (not together, at different times), and have also added in pomegranate juice and other juices in place of or in addition to the milk. if i had some blueberries, i bet that’d be tasty too.

printable version

ingredients
1 T whole flax seeds
1 1/2 c baby spinach
1 banana
1/4 c oat bran
1 1/4 c vanilla soy milk
1 T agave nectar or honey
ice

instructions
in a blender, whiz the flax seeds around to grind up for about 30 seconds. add spinach, banana, oat bran milk, and agave nectar/honey (in this order to weigh down the spinach) and mix for about 2 minutes until well blended. add ice and blend until desired texture (i usually add about 8 pieces of ice).

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Crêpe Master

I consider myself a pretty decent cook. Alright, a good cook. I’m not sure how much of what I know was learned in culinary school versus by experimentation and reading many a food magazine and book, but nonetheless, I feel pretty comfortable making most things.

Su-prem-ing? I’ve got that in the bag. Homemade pumpernickel? Hells yeah. Even gorgeous marshmallows, which are soft and pillowy and not hard on the outside like the ones from the store.

Crêpes? They scare(d) the bejeezuz out of me. You see, in culinary school we were forced to make certain “must-knows”, and crêpes were one of them. That’s what I get for having a French instructor right? Fortunately, it was only a few miserable hours of my precious time, and after a few duds and torn pieces of what would have been a crêpe had I pieced it together,  I was able to move on to the next task, tail between legs. I decided then and there that I would never make crêpes at my B&B (yes, the one waiting for me in Napa….), no matter how soft and buttery and downright lovely they are. Those guests best like their waffles and poached eggs, that’s all I gots to say!

I’d finally gotten over my inability to crêpe (I think I made that up…), and then I sous chefed for my now super preggers friend Caroline a couple of months back and watched her bust out crêpes for 8. Needless to say, I was jealous, but inspired. And when figuring out what French-inspired dessert to make for the bouillabaise-slash-Rockband-failure party (also referred to as the lots-of-wine-between-four-people-in-five-hours party), I knew I had to master the crêpe, or go down trying. And what better way than after a few bottles of wine? Plus, it was either that or the soufflé, and my soufflé record was also 0 for 1.

Fear no more, friends! Turns out crêpes are not only easy, but fun to make once you’ve got the technique down pat. And did I mention how perfect they are with homemade nutella and bananas? {Secretly, I was simply dying to make nutella and besides a lone spoon, there isn’t any better way to serve it than with crêpes, non?} Turns out all you need is batter of the perfect consistency, a small amount of it at a time, and a non-stick skillet. Hence, I now blame my crêpe faux pas on the crappy school skillets, or perhaps my inability to procure one of the good ones.

I might also add, while I’m confessing here, that I was so confident in my crêping (made up again?) skillz I bragged to Caroline a couple of weeks ago during another of my sous chef appearances and in effect, got to try my hand at ’em again.  This just in: they’re even easier sober, and I’ve officially deemed myself a real-deal crêpe masta!

Next up, the macaron, and maybe one day, another soufflé. But don’t hold your breath for that one….


ps – thanks to my friend, Katherine, host of the bouillabaise-Rockband-fail party, for the lovely crêpe pictures!

What’s your favorite type of crêpe?

Whole Wheat Crêpes w/ Nutella & Bananas
makes at least 8 crêpes with plenty of leftover nutella

i’m not gonna lie here – this is a must-make and totally worth the work, which isn’t much. the crêpe batter can be made well in advance, and the nutella truly comes together in minutes once you shell the hazelnuts (which I bet you can buy toasted and shelled) and is far better than the over-processed stuff from the store. it’s creamy, rich, and my one stray from traditional adds a hint of coconut. also – made with natural sugars, and you can adjust the consistency of the final product to your liking by adding water or more agave nectar. make this.

printable version (full recipe)

ingredients
1 recipe whole-wheat crêpes (below)
1 recipe homemade nutella (below)
2-3 bananas, sliced

instructions
make nutella and crêpes. spread nutella (however much you want) over crêpe and load with sliced bananas. fold up and chow down :).

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Homemade Nutella
makes ~1 1/2 cups

leftovers go great anywhere – on a spoon, on an english muffin, with fruit, whatevs. store in fridge.

printable version (nutella only)

ingredients
2 c hazelnuts
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract, optional
1/2 c agave nectar
1/4 c powdered sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
pinch of salt

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. spread hazelnuts evenly onto baking sheet. bake ~7 minutes, or until fragrant. remove and immediately wrap in kitchen towel (allowing steam to further remove shells). after about 10 minutes, rub towel vigorously to remove remaining shells (this method should get most of them off, but you may have to go in and rub again!). put shelled hazelnuts in food processor and process until a coarse, pasty consistency. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth chocolatey consistency. if chunky, add water by the tablespoon until desired texture.

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Whole-Wheat Crêpes
makes at least 8

printable version (crêpes only)

ingredients
2 eggs
pinch of salt
3 T sugar
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c milk
butter, room temp
water, if needed

instructions
whisk eggs in medium sized bowl. add salt through milk and mix until smooth; will appear “runny” (we ain’t makin’ pancakes here, we want thin). if not using immediately, refrigerate, but let sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before using.

get a small non-stick skillet and warm it up over medium-hi heat. using your room temp butter, rub it into your pan (if the pan is hot enough, the butter will bubble a little). using a ladle or measuring cup, measure out 1/4 c of batter and place into middle of skillet. pick the skillet up and move the batter around by tilting the skillet in a circular motion so that it covers the bottom of the skillet. let the crêpe cook until the tops are bubbling (1-2 minutes), then use a thin spatula and slowly lift the crepe (since you’re using butter and a non-stick skillet, it should lift super easily). flip crêpe and cook on the other side until browned in some spots. remove and repeat until out of batter!

troubleshooting: if the crêpes are browning to fast, turn the heat down a little. if the crêpes are thicker than you like, put less batter in the skillet, or use a little water to thin out the batter.

Banana-fana-fo-fuffins

I used to eat Luna Bars for breakfast every day. The chocolate-raspberry and caramel nut brownie were my two favorites, with the cookies n’ cream and the peppermint bars taking a very close 3rd and 4th, respectively. I used to buy 20 bars at a time, stocking up every 4 weeks and driving the checkout clerks at Whole Foods bonkers, at least the ones who rang up each flavor separately. I preferred the ones who cheated, gave me the “10% off case discount”, and rang them up all at once.

After the 1-2 year Luna phase (not to be confused with a ‘lunar phase’, which is related to the illuminated portion of the moon and is much less than 2 years…), I went into oatmeal phase and stayed there, switching between Quaker and Kashi brands, for almost a year. I grew tired of washing my oatmeal bowl at work every morning, and those days when I didn’t wash it, I felt icky and it was harder to wash the next time, further enhancing the annoyance. And plus, homemade oatmeal for dinner, laden with brown sugar, dried cranberries, and walnuts, is much better, and I like to do that once a week to keep the oatmeal vibe alive ;).

Then those granola bars, those lovely granola bars, came into my life. I make different versions of them regularly, recently using barley in place of oats (more protein & fiber) and dried blueberries for the fruit (which ain’t cheap, so that won’t happen often, that’s for sure). They are perfectly chewy but still crunchy, healthy but still somewhat sweet and tasty, and most importantly they are filling.

I’m still in granola bar phase, but every so often it’s nice to rotate something into the weekly mix, and generally that rotation includes muffins. I was inspired by a plethora of posts using bananas and chocolate chips over the past few weeks, including David’s banana cake and Kristin’s banana chocolate walnut cake, and set out to make a healthy breakfast version to use some bananas I’d frozen (cryogenic-style, to preserve their ripeness) a couple of weeks ago.

[For those of you turning your nose up, stop it. Right this instant. Those ‘naners are perfectly edible and when baking, the darker they are, the better. I like to let them get really dark before freezing them, as they’re most tasty at that point.]

I’m also recently turned on by non-all-purpose flours, and after a little research I surmised that bananas and spelt flour would be soulmates, or something. Ironically, I’d just bought some for a focaccia recipe (stay tuned, friends), so out of the freezer the ‘naners came and after a little thawing, straight into the oven they went, along with some spelt flour, some walnuts, and chocolate (banana’s other soulmate; it has more than one..).

The end result? Like I said, a match made in heaven, for certain.

Have any of you used spelt flour? And if so, what for?

Mo’ breakfast:
Tomato-Poached Eggs
Homemade Granola Bars
Oat Bran & Fruit Muffins

 

Muffins, Muffins, bo-buffins,
Banana-fana fo-fuffins,
Fee-fi-mo-muffins,
Muffins!

 

Spelt Banana-Chocolate-Walnut Muffins
Adapted from Wednesday Food Blogging

printable version

Did I mention these lil’ muffins are vegan? Probably not, since I’m not a vegan. It just sorta happened that way, as I was searching for ultra-healthy adaptations. And FYI, the flax seeds are a great substitute for eggs that provide loads of fiber and omega-3’s (1 T ground flax seeds + 3 Tbsp water (or other liquid) = 1 egg). Lovely even for us non-vegans.
ingredients
2 tablespoons organic flax seeds, ground
1/4 cup water
1 cup wholegrain spelt flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
1/2 c chocolate chips, optional
1 T dark Jamaican rum
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup walnut oil (or vegetable oil)

 

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray; set aside. Whisk ground flax seeds and water in a small bowl; set aside.

Combine spelt flour through chocolate chips in small bowl. Combine rum, bananas, sugar and walnut oil in a larger bowl, add flax mixture. Add dry ingredients, a half cup at a time, and stir until combined. Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake for ~30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean. If necessary, cover with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent over-browning.

*Of note, various sites claim that, although spelt flour is not gluten-free, it’s tolerated by people with wheat allergies. Anyone know why?

For Your Muffin Top

For someone claiming to dream of owning a Bed of Breakfast, you wouldn’t know it from reading this blog. Aside from the granola bars, I haven’t really shared much of anything breakfast-related, other than some waffles (albeit with a kick-ass cherry sauce). I won’t lie – it’s not that I’m not sharing because I’m stingy, selfish, and want to keep all the recipes to myself (or my nonexistent B&B) – it’s because there really aren’t many of them. There… I admitted it. I am a bad breakfast blogger.

I do cook breakfast – if by cook, you mean throwing cereal in a bowl or whipping some homemade jam on a piece of toast. Sometimes, I really do it up; I can make a mean french toast and I thoroughly enjoy the breakfast casserole (stratas, quiche, you name it). I just sleepily & groggily omit the picture-taking, and therefore can’t prove that I’ve really done much cooking at all until at least noon.

And so, I’m pleased to say that, after allowing you all a couple of days to vote on what today’s post would be, over 1/3 of you chose breakfast (over dinner, dessert, and canning)! I must say I was surprised and had actually expected dessert to win, since we haven’t talked about dessert in these parts since those infamous homemade marshmallows; marshmallows that drew thousands of curious, hungry readers. Which reminds me, if you’re still hoping for dessert, specifically of the marshmallow form, you do not want to miss this coming Tuesday’s post! Promise.

Either way though, thanks for playing along. It was fun, wasn’t it? I’ll keep the tradition going as long as the votes are comin’ – hopefully there will be many more next week since I’ve already posted the poll (look to your left, and scroll up, and you’ll see it – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand vote.). So do it – it’s easy, it’s fun, and it makes me oh so happy to know that I’ll be posting what you ask for. So go ahead, humor me.

I should also add that, since I was surprised, I did not crazily photograph these here muffins, and instead took pictures of pudding, chicken, and marmalade. But nonetheless, you get the jist: they’re ultra sexy, so healthy they’ll make you sick, and so easy you might consider making them weekly for your Monday thru Friday breakfasts (well, maybe alternate between the granola bars and these).

Even better though, is that since they’re healthy, eating these lil’ muffins (and their tops) won’t contribute to your muffin top. You can thank me later :).

Oat Bran & Dried Fruit Muffins
Adapted from Techniques of Healthy Cooking, makes 12-16

portable and filling, these muffins work great for those who are on the go. if stored in an airtight container, they should last through the week (I know because I’ve been eating them all week and they get better each day). should you choose to whip up a batch of these little creatures, I’ve included my adjustment suggestions; I haven’t tried them, but I’m sure they’ll do the trick: make sure your fruit is in small pieces, add a teeny dash of salt, and some vanilla.

printable recipe

ingredients
5 1/2 oz dried fruit, cut into small pieces (1 heaping cup)
4 oz oat bran (1 1/3 c)
3 oz rolled oats (a little less than 1 c)
2 1/2 oz all purpose flour (~1/2 c)
1 1/2 oz brown sugar (1/4 c)
3/4 oz baking powder (1 1/2 T)
pinch of salt
1 t g cinnamon
5 oz mashed ripe banana (~1 large banana)
2 t grated orange zest
2 oz fresh orange juice
1 oz vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 c skim milk

instructions
preheat oven to 400 F. combine dried fruit, all dry ingredients (oat bran through cinnamon), and banana into food processor. Process until evenly mixed. Transfer to large bowl.

in another bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Add this mixture to the dried fruit mixture and fold until just combined.

to make 12 muffins, spoon 1/4 c of batter into each of 12 buttered or sprayed muffin tins, or into disposable muffin cups (for 16, measure ~1 1/2 oz). bake until surface of muffins are golden and until they feel slightly springy when touched, about 20 minutes.

turn the muffins out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

My Name is Puddin’ Tain

top view bread pudding

Yes, I’ve been to culinary school. I like to consider myself a pretty decent (alright, a damn good) cook. Sure, I know how to make pizza from scratch, and I can achieve the creamy custardy consistency required to make ice cream taste so smooth it feels like silk in your mouth. Heck, I can even bake (and braid, mind you) a fantastic loaf of challah bread and I know, if given a second chance and the right types of flour, that I can knock a gluten-free pie crust outta the freakin’ park. Yes, siree.


I felt downright proud making it through the last year and learning the intricacies of baking, the mother sauces derived from classic French cuisine, and even how to butcher a chicken, duck, cornish hen, or any other two-legged bird I could get my hands (or my knife, rather) on. Instead of all of those things, do you wanna know what I get most excited about? You wanna know my favoritist thing of all time to make?

sugar to caramel part two

Caramel. Yup. I could make it every single day and I would not be any less fascinated by it. Chris would verify that – every time I make it, I call him into the kitchen to ‘watch the magic show’. And maybe it isn’t that cool to you – but I can’t get enough of it. I love watching powdery, snow white sugar morph itself, with only heat as its’ instigator, into a smooth, creamy, golden river – a river that tastes so enchantingly exceptional I’m sure it must be an outright criminal offense to eat it in some countries.


Is it hard to make? Well, no. And yes. For the most part, you turn on the heat, sugar in pan, and watch it do its’ thing. But getting the right color may take practice – the darker it gets, the more bitter it tastes – which isn’t a bad thing, depending on what you’re making. Bitter, dark caramel is tastiest as crème caramel, but the lighter kind is my favorite.

vanilla, rum, bananas

This recipe was unequivocally meant for me, as it contains caramel, for one, and bread pudding, for two. To complete the trifecta, it definitely doesn’t hurt to add in something derived from molasses. Have I mentioned bananas yet? Oopsie – yeah, bananas are in here too. In fact, Bon Appetit described this recipe as being “bananas foster in bread pudding form”. Bon Appetit don’t lie.


Fo shizzle. The second I tasted it (let’s be real here – the second I tasted the caramel and realized that was only the drizzle), I kicked myself for holding out for so long. But this is the kind of recipe that’s meant to be shared – as much as I would have loved to eat it all by my lonesome, I also knew that wouldn’t be fair – this dish is rich, wholesome, and meant to be loved and enjoyed by many.

bread pudding

[Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same.]



Rum, Caramel, & Banana Bread Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2009; serves 8





ingredients


caramel sauce
2 c powdered sugar
1 1/4 c heavy whipping cream, divided
1 T dark rum
1/4 t salt
1 T unsalted butter

pudding
7 c 3/4 inch cubes challah bread (from 1 lb loaf)
6 large eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/8 t plus 1/4 t salt
1 c heavy whipping cream
2 c whole milk (or half & half, for even richer goodness)
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
3 T unsalted butter
2 T dark rum
1 T fresh lemon juice
4 medium just-ripe bananas, peeled, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces


instructions


Spread powdered sugar evenly in large nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat without stirring until sugar begins to melt and caramelize on bottom (sugar layer will slide when skillet is tilted), then stir until all sugar is melted and deep amber and caramel is smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 cup cream, rum, and 1/4 teaspoon salt (some clumps will form). Stir until caramel is thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Mix in remaining 1/4 cup cream. Remove from heat and add butter; stir until sauce is thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Strain sauce into small bowl. [Cool, cover, and chill. Rewarm, stirring over low heat, before using.]



Preheat oven to 350 F.


Spread bread cubes out on rimmed baking sheet. Toast until beginning to feel dry but not hard, about 7 minutes. Cool on sheet. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Bring cream and milk to simmer in medium saucepan. Very gradually whisk cream mixture into egg mixture. Strain custard into medium bowl; mix in vanilla. Cool to lukewarm, about 30 minutes.


Whisk brown sugar and butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until smooth sauce forms, about 1 minute. Whisk in rum, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add bananas and toss just until coated, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.


Lightly butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish (8-cup capacity). Scatter 1/3 of bread in dish. Top with half of bananas and half of syrup from skillet. Scatter half of remaining bread over. Top with remaining bananas and syrup from skillet, then remaining bread. Pour custard over. Let pudding stand 30 minutes, occasionally pressing down bread to submerge and to absorb custard.


Meanwhile, get the oven back to 350 F. Place dish with pudding in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Add enough warm water to pan to reach halfway up sides of pudding dish. Cover baking pan with foil. Bake pudding 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until puffed and set in center, about 45 minutes longer. Remove from water bath and let stand 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with warm caramel sauce.