All posts by Bonnie Mac

Holy Guacamole

While we’re on the subject of the wonders of dried herbs and spices, it’s only fitting that I discuss our “secret ingredient” Guacamole.

When I realized that I couldn’t eat cheese, James and I started making A TON of guacamole and putting it on everything you’d eat with cheese, mostly sandwiches.  Turkey burgers, shredded pork, tacos – guacamole was a staple.

After making the recipe in many different ways, we found some tricks that not only made our guacamole easy to throw together, but balanced the flavors perfectly.  The one secret was garlic powder instead of minced garlic.  If you’re not going to heat minced or pressed garlic, it can be extremely potent and make your breath heinous – not just while you’re eating it, but for days.  Using garlic powder gives the flavor without any of the bite, and in powdered form it can distribute evenly throughout the dip.

Our other secret ingredient?  Jarred Jalapenos instead of fresh.  These last a really long time in the refrigerator and can come sliced and even diced, although I’ve had a hard time finding the diced ones lately.  The jarred jalapenos still have lots of heat but you don’t need to worry about touching them with your bare hands – the capsaicin has been muted by the liquid in which they’re packed.

I can count the number of times I’ve seen James truly angry on both hands.  He is, 99% of the time, the most calm, reasonable and kind person I have ever met.  But one of the times I experienced his anger was, fortunately, not at me but at a fresh jalapeno.  We were making guacamole while dog-sitting for my sister, and we bought all the ingredients to make dinner while we were there.  James bought a fresh jalapeno and scraped the seeds out with his fingers, “like Bobby Flay does.”  Then… he rubbed his eye.

This is what you’d call “a lesson learned the hard way.”  James was in terrible pain and I’d never experienced something like this before.  So I hopped from one foot to the other anxiously crying “Oh James, I don’t know what to do.”  And one of the few times I’ve ever heard him shout, James yelled “GOOGLE IT!!! GOOGLE IT!!!”

Fortunately and unfortunately, it’s a common problem but most of the advice online tells you how to prevent the burn, not how to cure it – there’s actually very few ways to cure a capsaicin burn besides time.  To cool the burning, you can ice the skin you rubbed with capsaicin, but it will not solve your problem.   We were advised to wash his hands with just soap (without water) before rinsing – the soap will adhere to the capsaicin molecules, whereas just water will actually spread them more easily.  For terrible cases like James, his hands were literally burning for 24 hours.  We had to soak his hands in milk the next day.

Therefore – pickled jalepenos are the norm in our household.  But not only are they safer, they add the right amount of heat to our perfectly balanced guacamole.  It’s party, season, y’all, so keep this recipe handy.  Oh – and you’re welcome.

Bonnie and James' Perfect Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup red onion (1/2 half small onion), diced
  • 1 TBL jarred jalapeño, diced finely
  • 1-2 TBL of lime juice, to taste (we use 2)
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Core avocado and scoop flesh into a bowl
  2. Dice your onion and jalapeno and add to avocado
  3. Add lime juice, garlic powder, and salt
  4. Using a fork, press down on the flesh of the avocado to achieve the desired texture.  We like ours very smooth, but I know preferences vary.
  5. Mix together all ingredients and taste, adjusting seasoning to taste as needed.
  6. Serve immediately.

Procedure with pictures and anecdotes

Ah, avocados – how I love them, even though they are probably the most frustrating fruit to buy and store.  Here’s some tricks I learned in my cheese-less days…

Picking avocados: A ripe avocado’s skin will be black, not brown.  Pick up the avocado and squeeze gently – it should yield to the pressure, but not feel mushy.  A hard avocado will not be ripe for another few days.  Finally, you’ll see at the stem end of the avocado that there’s a small nub, almost like a button.  This can be easily flicked out with a finger – if it’s a nice light green (not yellow), you’re good to go!

Cutting avocados: On a cutting board and using a chef’s knife, slice the avocado lengthwise – once the knife hits large pit, rotate the avocado so that you’ve sliced the flesh in half all the way around the fruit.  Put down your knife and twist each side of the fruit in opposite directions – this will separate each half so you can scoop out the flesh.20141019_165853  I like to use the heel of my knife to take the pit out of the avocado.  Fold a thick dish towel over several times and hold in your outstretched hand so that your skin is completely covered.  Place the half of the avocado with the pit into your towel-covered hand.  Place the heel of your knife on the pit and, with a very focused, deliberate motion, lodge your knife heel into the pit.  YOU DO NOT NEED A STRONG “WHACK” – remember, your hand is on the other side of that towel!  (For a good, quick video of this – check out CHOW’s video here.)20141019_165934Once lodged, grip the knife blade from the dull side and twist the avocado and knife in opposite directions.  The pit should easily dislodge from the flesh of the avocado.  Press the pit gently downward, again from the dull side of the knife, to slide off the blade.

Some people do not like using the knife method, which is perfectly fair – you are definitely driving a knife towards your hand.  Hence the towel.  You can also use a spoon to scoop the pit from the flesh – the riper your avocado, the easier this will be.  Not the cleanest method, but certainly safer.

To get the avocado flesh out of the skin, I usually slice the flesh while it’s still in the skin.  Again, using the towel-to-protect-your-hand method: make lengthwise cuts in the flesh and then widthwise cuts in the flesh to make a grid.  Use a spoon to circle around the flesh in the skin and then scoop out.

Storing guacamole: This is a tough one, and there’s a lot of theories of how to keep guacamole from browning on the internet.  My favorite is to lay plastic wrap directly on top of the guacamole, after smoothing it into an even layer.  This keeps the guac from having a lot of contact with oxygen in the air, which causes the browning.  This works well for about 24-hours, but sometimes there will  be a very thin layer of brown on the top of the guac.  I usually scrape this off before eating.  I’ve noticed that the longer you try to keep it, the farther down the brown will extend.  However – it doesn’t last long enough in my house to be much of a problem.

Granulated garlic: Looks like this!20141019_172344Use it for a myriad of possibilities in the kitchen.

Juicing a lime: If you’re using freshly squeezed lime juice, and you have weak little baby hands like me, here’s a few tips:

  1. Roll the whole, un-sliced lime on your cutting board to break down some of the fibers.
  2. Once sliced in half, poke holes in the flesh of the lime to help release the juices.
  3. You can use a reamer, but I find limes so difficult that sometimes I use the fork as a reamer instead, squeezing the lime around the fork to release the juice.  It may help to re-pierce the lime in several spots as you try this.20141019_171746

Using a fork to squash avocado:20141019_171342Happy Guacamole!20141019_172433

 

Thanksgiving 2: Reenie’s Bread Dressing

As I’ve stated before, my mother really didn’t like to cook.  Yet, she made sure our family of 6 ate a home-cooked meal every single night and sat down at the table together at the end of the day (except for Friday which was, of course, pizza night.)  When I went to college, my tastes in food and interest in cooking soared to a much more adventurous place than my mother’s would ever go.  But despite that, my mother taught me invaluable lessons in the kitchen, from how to store food, how to make food stretch farther, etc.  One of the greatest was using dried herbs and granulates while cooking.

There are so many options for these dried spices and our apartment in full of them.  They last much longer than fresh herbs and don’t require any kind of chopping, which makes them perfect for busy families, weeknight meals and, especially, experimenting.  They can help you save a dish that’s missing something or guide you to creating a brand new recipe.  I am incredibly grateful to my Mom for introducing me to their wonders.

This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving Day with James’ family and we had a second Thanksgiving with my family on Black Friday.  I made stuffing for both Thanksgivings and for my family I made my Mom’s traditional bread stuffing, which consists of all dried herbs and granulated onion powder.  It’s a simple dish and absolutely delicious – all the flavors you expect from Thanksgiving without any of the work.  When splitting up the side dish duties this year, we realized that my Mom’s “bread dressing” and the family’s famous “rice dressing” had almost the exact same ingredient – one has bread and butter, the other has rice and bacon.  Otherwise, all the ingredients are the same.  Why mess with perfection?

I did experiment a little bit, of course.  I increased the butter by… 150%, which frankly was a little overkill.  But below I give you the recipe that I think will come out just right.

Reenie's Bread Dressing

Ingredients:

16 slices Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread (one loaf)
8 TBL butter (1 stick) – 6 TBL melted, 2 TBL cut into small chunks
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 & 1/2 cups chicken stock

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Melt 6 TBL of butter.  Keep remaining 2 TBL in refrigerator until step 8.
  3. Cut or tear bread into chunks.
  4. Mix all dried spices together.
  5. Pour half  of melted butter onto bread and toss to coat.  Pour remaining butter and toss again so butter is as evenly distributed as possible.
  6. Immediately after, while butter is still wet, sprinkle dried spices while tossing so coating is even.
  7. Add 1 & 1/2 cup of chicken stock to moisten bread.
  8. Pour dressing into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
  9. Cut remaining 2 TBL butter into small chunks and distribute on the top of the casserole.  (The butter doesn’t need to be cold, but it helps when handling with your fingers!)
  10. Bake in oven for 30 – 45 minutes until top is crisp.

Procedure with anecdotes and pictures:

Unfortunately I lost a lot of my pictures, so I don’t have any visual illustration of mixing the dressing.  I hope my description above will suffice!

Mom loved to keep Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread in the house and that’s what the bread dressing was always made from as well.  I made sure to pick that up for this dish as well, but I’m sure any wheat bread would be great.20141128_115559

Another wonderful feature of this recipe is that you don’t need to wait for the bread to get stale – it can come right out of the bag!  That really saves on time and prep.

I find it’s easier to cut the bread with a bread knife than to tear into chunks with my hands.  I was able to cut four slices at a time, which made it really fast.  I found that cutting length-wise first made it easier to hold the slices together as I cut.20141128_12350220141128_115839

Dotting the stuffing with butter is something I just learned in this past month from Bon Appetit and it yielded great results – lots of crunchy, buttery pieces for everyone to enjoy, giving contrast to the soft pieces buried underneath.  I totally recommend it – what’s 2 more tablespoons of butter on Thanksgiving?20141128_125515

20141128_172144
Yeah… it got a little burnt. Stick to 30-45 minutes and you should be safe! And it was still tasty!

 

Thanksgiving Dry Run: Cornbread Stuffing

This year for Thanksgiving, James and I have volunteered to bring a dish we’ve never tried before but that I’ve always wanted to make: cornbread stuffing.  Or I guess, more exactly, cornbread dressing since it won’t be stuffed inside the bird. We’re from Philadelphia and cornbread is not really a staple of family meals, although always welcome.  Stuffings or dressings that don’t use regular sandwich bread have always fascinated me, since that’s what I grew up eating – Mom’s bread dressing is always made with Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread.  I’m also interested in the texture difference that chunks of cornbread would lend to stuffing – but most importantly, the flavors of slightly sweet cornbread combined with sage and rosemary sounds heavenly.  James’ brother, Andrew, the brave host of Thanksgiving even with the most adorable 3.5-months-old baby now residing in their home, welcomed the side dish and we’re excited to contribute.

Cornbread stuffing actually requires the use of two completely new recipes to us: baking cornbread and then the cornbread stuffing.  We could buy the cornbread, of course, but I saw several warnings that grocery-store cornbread would be too sweet.  And I had to concede that can happen – grocery-store cornbread can often taste like corncake.  So we decided to do a dry run and make both recipes, so we can be sure it’s delicious on Thanksgiving Day.

I only do dry-runs for really important things: I’ve done a few Christmas Cookie dry-runs, feeding my office with the tests, or before we’re going to make a special meal for someone.  But having the audacity to volunteer yourself for the most important part of the Thanksgiving table and trying a new recipe?  You must have some nerve.  Thanksgiving is the most sacred of meals in the year: if you’re contributing, you better bring your A-game.

The best way, in my opinion, to do a dry run is to do the recipe once exactly as written.  Therefore, I did no such thing.  Who has time for that?

When waiting at the doctor’s office one morning, James and I went through a whole bunch of recipes for cornbread stuffing on our phones and narrowed down the ones we liked.  Eventually, we settled on an Anne Burrell recipe, but we decided to sub in bacon for sausage, and omit cranberries and walnuts, to make it more crowd-pleasing.  All the rest of the ingredients seemed right on.

I found a recipe that reviews lauded as a sturdy cornbread that wouldn’t fall apart, that seemed perfect for this dish.  We needed 10 cups of cornbread, and in the very helpful video from Anne Burrell it looked like she just used two 8-inch cornbreads, so I’m trusting that I was right about that.

And therein lies one of my biggest frustrations as a home cook – poor recipe writing for normal people.  This recipe called for 10 cups of cornbread.  Sorry, but cornbread isn’t measured in cups.  Had I decided to base the amount of cornbread I needed to make on the number of cups in the recipe, I would have made 5 cornbreads instead of two.  Can you help a girl out and tell me how I get to 10 cups?  Come on now.

We’re feeling really good about the stuffing at this point, but we do have a few tweaks to make, which I’ve included in the recipe below.  I’ll make updates once Thanksgiving Day has gone down!

Cornbread Dressing

Adapted heavily from Anne Burrell’s recipe

Ingredients:

Cornbread (makes one 8″ x 1″ loaf):

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 3 TBL yellow cornmeal
  • 1 TBL baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 4 TBL) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Cornbread dressing:

  • 2 pounds bacon
  • 2 medium-sized onions, diced
  • 1 heart celery, diced
  • salt
  • 3 gloves of garlic, pressed
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2  8-inch cornbread loves, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 cups chicken stock

Procedure:

  1. First, bake your cornbread, at least 6-hours prior.
    1. Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
    2. Grease your pans
    3. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.
    4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
    5. Grease pan, pour batter into pan, smooth into an even layer.
    6. Cook for 30-33 minutes, until a skewer or knife inserted into the center of the loaf can be removed (mostly) clean
    7. Cool, remove loaf from pan, leave loaf out in the open air to stale
  2. When ready to make the dressing, preheat oven to 350ºF
  3. Chop all your ingredients – onions, celery, herbs
  4. Cook bacon in a skillet on the stovetop.  Cut bacon into pieces with kitchen scissors or with a knife.
  5. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain
  6. Let fat cool slightly and removed from pan.  Leave about 4 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan. (You heard me.)
  7. Add onions, celery and 1/2 tsp salt and cook in bacon fat on medium heat until they are lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  9. Remove “aromatics” mixture from heat and let cool slightly – you’ll be mixing it with your hands soon.
  10. In a very large bowl (I mean VERY large), combine cornbread chunks, chicken stock and aromatics.
    1. Add chicken stock 1 cup at a time.  You may not need a full 5 cups.
    2. This may be easiest to do by hand: reach down into the bowl, and pull your hands up as if folding the mixture on top of itself.  It may take about 2 minutes until mixture is thoroughly combined.
    3. The final mixture will be very wet, but about half of the cornbread cubes will still hold their shape.
  11. Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and the mixture is very hot in the middle.
  12. Although delicious hot, we found the dressing even more delicious after sitting in the fridge for a day.  Heat in the oven again before serving.

Procedure anecdotes:

Since I’m serving this for guests, I took extra care to make sure my onion was properly diced, which can be a daunting task.  If you’ve never done it before, you make cuts in the onion in three directions.  It’s easiest in this order:

Horizontal slices (about 3):20141116_160028

Vertical Slices:20141116_160109

Now you can see the little cubes you’re aiming for, you can make perpendicular slices:20141116_160129

For the bacon, we cut the slices into pieces, instead of crumbling the bacon after it was crisp.  I wanted big chunks instead of bits.  James likes to cut each slice into the pan, as opposed to slicing the pieces altogether.

20141116_155710 20141116_155725 20141116_162747

 

I don’t always use fresh herbs, but it’s fun for something special.  Fresh herbs taste deeper, in my opinion – you get more of the flavor.  For the rosemary, you can strip the leaves (or “needles”, really), off their sprig by holding onto the top of the sprig and pulling your fingers downward.  You do not need pick them off one by one!  The smaller “branches” that hold the leaves are perfectly safe to eat.20141116_162512

With the sage, the recipe calls for 10 leaves.  I pile these leaves on top of each other and then roll them up, almost like a cigar! Then I slice into very thin ribbons or “chiffonade.” I then run the knife through the ribbons again several times to get a very fine mince.

20141116_162108(0) 20141116_162236

 

Finally – that yummy cornbread.  As I said above, the recipe we used isn’t my ideal cornbread for eating with some BBQ – it isn’t very moist and doesn’t have an interesting flavor on its own.  However, we hit a home run for the stuffing.  It works PERFECTLY – not too sweet and very sturdy.  It’s very easy to cut into cubes and mix with the aromatics and chicken stock.20141116_162742 20141116_163709

The finished mixture is half crumbly, half chunky – the texture really could not be more perfect!

Oh.20141116_164106

Yeah.20141116_172742

 

Girl.20141116_173843

 

Purple Stride

Please visit my family’s team page, Run MacD, and donate or share.

October 23rd is my mother’s birthday.  Today, she would be 65-years-old.  When I knew that my mother was going to die before she turned 65, I became incredibly angry.  And not for the reason you might think – not because I would lose my mother before I turned 30 or because she would never know my angel of a nephew, Jude.  I was angry because my Mom had a very simple, delightful, adorably “Reenie” plan for her 65th birthday.  She was going to ride SEPTA, the public transportation sytem in Philadelphia, all the way to the end of the line and back.  Because when you turn 65, you can ride SEPTA, anytime, anywhere, for $1.

My mother wasn’t afraid of getting old, which is why it makes me so angry that she didn’t have the pleasure of becoming an old lady.  My mother died at 63, just a month before her 64th birthday, from pancreatic cancer.

Just a little over a year ago, through a strange turn of events, I became my Dad’s second-in-command caretaker for my mother.  I don’t have a speck of medical experience, in fact I need to lay down when I have the slightest bit of blood drawn or I’ll faint, but 4 days a week I would stay with my parents and act as my Mom’s nurse, doing my best to acclimate to her ever-changing needs and keep her as comfortable as possible.  Not because she was needy or demanding – not at all.  But because her decline was so quick, and she changed day-by-day.  She had already stopped her chemotherapy at this point.  We all knew she was going to die.  We were just biding the time, helping her through the last difficult months of her life.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I would come back to my apartment in Virginia so emotionally exhausted that I hardly ever actually made it to the office.  The stress made any physical pain I was feeling, like migraines or menstrual cramps, ten times worse.  Months later, after my Mom passed away, I would be diagnosed with PTSD.

But believe it or not, I wouldn’t trade the honor of being by my mother’s side in those final months for a second.  Not for anything. Because if my Mom was going to go through this pain, I was going to be with her, no matter how badly it has scarred me.  What I went through was nothing to what she went through.

Pancreatic cancer is a beast.  Before my Mom was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what my pancreas did or where it was.  But pancreatic cancer creeps up on you like an ambush, undetected until it’s already at Stage 4.  After that, it’s a swift killer.  We were actually lucky that we had Mom with us for a year, even an extremely tough year.  12 months survival after diagnosis is rare.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my Mom’s Stage 4 diagnosis in October of 2012 was essentially a death sentence.

But death is only part of what makes cancer so horrible – the suffering at the end of life is the other part.  When I talk to medical professionals about the fact that my Mom had pancreatic cancer, they have a consistent reaction: a sharp intake of breath, avoiding eye contact and shaking their head.  That’s because pancreatic cancer is also one of the most painful diseases out there and it is a terrible way to spend the last months of your life.

I’ve thought a lot about how to illustrate how much a pancreatic cancer patient suffers without sharing too much of my mom’s personal struggle.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to insult her memory by sharing things she wouldn’t want shared on the internet.  So I asked a doctor to help me describe it.  He told me that, as far as doctors can tell, the pain of pancreatic cancer is so intense that it’s comparable to breaking your back but never healing.  At the height of pain in the journey of a pancreatic cancer patient, the only relief you can give the patient is to dose the painkillers until the patient is in a comatose state.  And still the pain can break through.  I know.  I saw it happen.

But it doesn’t need to be that way – there are amazing medical breakthroughs being discovered every day!  Penn has tested, with success, a revolutionary new treatment that literally reprograms your T-cells with HIV to attack cancer cells and it’s now being tested on solid tumors like ovarian and pancreatic cancer.  A young man named Jack Andraka has created a blood test that is faster and cheaper than any other test currently used, which could help me or my siblings detect pancreatic cancer before it becomes inoperable.  But these tests and treatments take years of research and testing before they can be offered to the public.  And in order to give these incredible scientists the resources they need to forge ahead, we need awareness of this disease and more funds to sustain them.

On November 1st, my family is going to participate in Philadelphia’s Purple Stride 5k for the 3rd year in a row.  James and I are disappointed that we can’t join them, since I’m undergoing my second surgery for the year next week.   However, check out our page, Run MacD, and donate if you can – every little bit helps, and you’ll see that some team members are close to their fundraising goals.  You could help bump them over the edge!

But if you can’t make a monetary donation, there’s still something incredibly valuable that you can do.  Please share this post on the social media of your choosing.  It may show another person caring for an ailing parent that they’re not alone.  It might encourage someone with disposable income to throw a little our way.  And it may, hopefully, raise awareness that this disease is out there and it ain’t going anywhere unless we stand up to it, together.

Thanks so much for reading.  Even just your eyes on this page, in this moment, mean so much to me.

Long live the memory of Big Reen the Machine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chicken Meatballs

Ground poultry has been extremely trendy in the past, oh, 10 years or so and I’ve been fascinated with how it could become so mainstream.  Because for years now, I’ve found ground poultry extremely difficult to work with.

Unlike ground beef or pork, which has enough fat to create a rather homogeneous product, ground poultry can only be described as “goopy.”  The mixture is so fluid that I can hardly use my hands to form balls or patties, and often end up sculpting  a patty with my spatula in the pan.  And forget about flipping the burgers – just cross your fingers and then try to fix it after the mixture flops into the other patties.

Yet I see copious amounts of recipes using ground poultry on the internet and offerings in restaurants.  So what am I missing?!  How am I so incredibly terrible at using this ingredient?

It seems that the missing secret was fat.  I couldn’t imagine adding another liquidy ingredient like egg to my mixtures and never did – to my own detriment.  With this delicious recipe for Chicken Meatballs, I finally caved and added the egg and the meatballs turned out perfectly.  Perfectly!  In fact, I had figured out how to take pictures with my phone by voice command and rigged it up to be able to take pictures of the goopy process of making meatballs without touching the phone, but there was really nothing to show.  The mixture comes together like any other meatball.20141013_173603

This recipe has another fabulous ingredient that I never would have thought to use myself – rolled oats in place of traditional breadcrumbs.  Add a little fiber, why doncha?  The rolled oats didn’t add any distinguishable taste but helped to keep the meatballs together while adding wholesomeness.  Count me in.20141013_180034

Chicken Meatballs

  • Servings: 16-ish meatballs
  • Print

Adapted from the recipe by Janie Hoffman on Epicurious

1 pound ground chicken
1 large egg
1/3 cup coarsley grated or minced red onions
3/4 cup rolled or “old-fashioned” oats
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 TBL extra-virgin olive oil
1 TBL fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes – star ingredient

1. Preheat the oven to 475°F
2. Combine all ingredients. To save time, I put the oregano and red onion in a food processor and pulverized them.
3. Grease a jelly roll pan or other rimmed baking sheet (I used nonstick cooking spray, but your can use some oil on a paper towel, too.)
4. Roll the mixture into medium-sized balls, about three tablespoons, and place on baking sheet.
5. Bake in oven at for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165°F

Pictures and anecdotes

The original recipe is from a cookbook called The Chia Cookbook and uses a “chia gel” in place of egg.  I don’t have a problem with eggs, so I went ahead and added the egg and they turned out great!20141013_173259

I used shallots for this recipe, thinking I was clever.  I am not clever.  Shallots are great because they have a slightly less pungent flavor than onions.  I learned to love shallots when I lived alone because often just one little shallot is plenty for a meal for one – then you can keep the others with their peel intact for another meal.  However, the shallots were incredibly annoying to peel to have enough for this recipe – it took forever!  However, once peeled, I put both the shallots and the oregano in a small food processor instead of mincing or grating.  I saved a lot of time this way – will definitely be trying it again in other recipes!20141013_172716

Baking tips:

Baking is easier because you can put the meatballs into the oven and walk away but the method does not give you an even brown – unless you want to turn the meatballs halfway through cooking time, which makes it slightly less easy.  Still, I prefer this to browning on the stovetop, which can be very messy.  The original recipe suggests that you grill the meatballs – I can’t because I don’t have a grill, but a very interesting idea!

To find the perfect cooking time, I used one of my favorite kitchen tools – my oven safe thermometer.  You probe the meat and a long, oven safe cord attaches to the temperature display outside of the oven.  The trick is to position the tip of the probe in the center of your meatball, so that it doesn’t touch the pan, which will be a different temperature altogether.  My model also has an alarm that is triggered by the temperature.  Set the desired temperature and walk away – the thermometer will tell you when your food is done.  Brilliant!20141013_17562220141013_17561620141013_175737

They smell AMAZING – herby, cheesy, meaty, fantastic.  The red pepper is my favorite part, which gives you lovely heat at the end of your bite.  I think they would go great with the original recipe‘s pasta and lemon sauce or pretty much anywhere you’d use beef meatballs.  We stuck them in butternut squash soup and they were awesome.20141013_180018

 

Butler’s Orchard Pumpkin Festival

October 9th is James’ birthday and we’re in the midst of the annual multi-celebrations for this special day.  That’s what happens when you’re as beloved as this gentleman.

In addition to having friends over for dinner, James and I had decided to go on a food adventure – apple-picking, which neither of us have done.  Unfortunately, the orchard we had decided to visit had already harvested all their apples by this weekend but was hosting a “Pumpkin Festival” throughout October, where both pumpkins and red raspberries could still be picked.  Knowing that there would probably be a lot of families there, we decided to go anyways.   We’re both children at heart and often find ourselves at family-friendly places like museums and zoos because a) they’re mostly free here in D.C. (thank you, Smithsonian!) and b) we love to learn.  We also find ourselves having many philosophical conversations about parenting.  Since we have 3 new babies in our families combined, we talk about babies and families and parenting a lot.  I guess not the worst thing in the world for two young adults considering having our own family someday.  (James is turning 29 and I’m about to be 30.  Are we young adults anymore?  …Please do not answer this rhetorical question….)

When we arrived, and paid our $11 per person, we found that while this festival was probably a highlight of the Fall for most children, there was not much we could do.20141004_143434

We did enjoy some delightful Fair food: James had a hot dog with BBQ beef on top and a lemonade big enough to swim in.  I’m experiencing some pretty intense acid reflux from my gallbladder removal, so I enjoyed some delectable butternut squash and apple soup.  It was most likely made with chicken broth, which imparted a delectable savory-saltiness to counterbalance the sweetness.  I loved it!  There were tons of delicious treats to be had: apple cider donuts, caramel apples, soft serve ice cream, but alas, another sad fact of getting older is that we knew better than to spoil our appetites when we had pulled pork, mac and cheese and peanut butter layer cake waiting at home for us. 20141004_143152

We visited the petting zoo and enjoyed that quite a bit (we’re a little bit obsessed with the idea of having a pig as a pet.)20141004_145540After watching delighted children enjoy games and hayrides for a while, we exited the festival in search of the raspberry picking.

This was definitely our favorite part of the Butler’s Orchard experience.  James could remember a time when he went blueberry picking as a young child in the dead-heat of summer, but I had never done anything of the kind.  We boarded a wagon pulled by a tractor and went through a silly little “haunted” forest where there were some pretty hilarious displays of gravestones, ghosts and goblins.  The forest opened up to the raspberry fields.

You may have noted from other posts in this blog that I am trying to get more berries into my diet.  They’re low-calorie and their bright color suggests that they’re full of disease-fighting antioxidants.  Also they taste amazing!  So I try to eat them in my yogurt every morning.  A great way to start my day with fruit, too.

Raspberries are incredibly expensive, even in season, so I don’t eat as much as I’d like.  They also spoil very quickly at home, so they’re not very convenient, and therefore I hardly ever buy them.  However, they’re my favorite fruit, hands-down, and James said we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

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All raspberry bushes!

It was a fantastic experience!  I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were a little bit rushed because we were having company for dinner.  First of all, we were given absolutely no instruction on how to pick the raspberries.  You get on the wagon, they drop you off in the field and that’s it.  We noticed that some berries had turned black and shriveled, while others looked plump but were white.  We assumed that we should stay away from these.  We concentrated on the bright red ones like you’d find in the store.  When you pull the raspberry from the bush, it pops off without a problem, and there’s a small, snow-white core that stays on the bush.

I know now why these berries are so expensive.  You can see from the pictures that the raspberry bushes are huge (practically as tall as me), and very green, meaning there aren’t many raspberries on each bush.  We are picking at the end of the season but you really need to look for the berries – some bushes only had one or two ripe berries left.  James and I picked for about 15 minutes and had about 3/4 of a pound of raspberries to show for it.  The harvest must be incredibly time-consuming for big distributors like Driscolls, explaining why raspberries can sell for $4.50/8 oz.  I paid about $3.75 for my 3/4 lb., which was practically a steal!20141004_154022

It was a short-lived adventure, but one we’d love to try again.  Learning where your food comes from is an eye-opening experience that makes me appreciate the journey of my sustenance.  If you can, I suggest going out to discover one of your local farms and what activities they might offer.

 

Banana Oatmeal Muffins – “I’m crazy about fiber”

Two years ago, I moved to Washington, DC to be closer to James.  I got a new job at a company that had a few similarities to my old, beloved position at the Walnut Street Theatre: a casual office with almost all young people my age.  And yet the Walnut had become my home – I knew everyone and felt comfortable being 100% myself, letting my freak flag fly, unleashing my passion for my work and my love of theatre.  The Walnut staff was truly my family.  So when I moved to this new job, I was completely terrified to be in a new place and didn’t find making friends easy.  There was a lot of talk about getting drunk at parties, which is not my thing, and… there was no theatre.  Theatre folk are a special breed of loud and gregarious people and I felt lost without the flamboyant, boisterous personalities.  I was feeling pretty lonely.

One morning, in the office kitchen making instant oatmeal, a very nice co-worker tried to chat up the shy new girl.  “Makin’ oatmeal, Bonnie?”, he asked.  “Wow. So many people in this office eat oatmeal.  I can’t remember the last time I ate oatmeal.”20140814_202533

Bolstered by his kindness to reach out to me, I replied with honesty.  “Oh yeah, man.  I’m crazy about fiber.”

Which lead this very nice chap, who I have had many good interactions with since, to laugh awkwardly… and leave the room.  Great way to make friends, Bon.

Despite this, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject of fiber and its immense health benefits.  Yes, yes, fine, fiber affects your bowel movements.  In a good way!  Like Taro Gomi famously told us “Everybody poops” and fiber can fix lots of unpleasant digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation.

But beyond that, fiber is like magic.  It can help to prevent lots of diseases like cancer and heart disease and keeps you fuller than white grains, so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight.  But my favorite thing about a lot of fiber-rich foods?  It tastes great.  I’ve been subbing out pasta and white rice for whole grains like farro & barley and I’m so much happier for it.  They’re full of fiber and lend an interesting flavor and texture to my dishes.  Not that I don’t love some white food now and again, but if fiber-rich food actually tastes better – why go without?20140825_120441

The biggest problem I’ve found is with baking.  Baking is an exact science and experimenting with baked goods can be hazardous for the amateur cook – you can end up making something inedible and waste a lot of hours and ingredients in the process.  Replacing white flour in a recipe pretty much changes everything about the chemistry and I’m still learning about how exactly baked goods work in the first place.

However, I knew the internet would have my back.  I scoured the internet for a banana bread (because I had several frozen bananas in my freezer) with a whole grain flour to try.  The best recipe I found, with absolutely no white flour at all, was on Honest Fare and utilized lots of ingredients I had on hand: rolled oats, yogurt, low-fat milk.  I adore banana bread and I adore oatmeal – put together, they must be heavenly!20140825_120540

I tried the recipe exactly as Gabi describes (well, without the addition of walnuts or raisins) and it turned out pretty great – but the muffins weren’t as moist as I would have liked.  I still spread a little butter on them to reach the mouthfeel I wanted, which defeated the purpose of a baked good that I could enjoy AND feel good about eating.

So I thought a lot about the ingredients and considered increasing the yogurt or the milk but, in the end, decided to up the bananas in the recipe from 2 to 5.  Why 5?  Because I had a container of 5 smashed up bananas in the freezer.

The result was a little disconcerting because I needed to bake my muffins longer but was never able to insert a knife in the center of a muffin that came out clean.  Fortunately, this resulted in cooked-through but insanely moist muffins.  They did not seem to rise very much at all but the taste was delicious.  A baked good full of fiber that you can dig into for breakfast or a snack knowing you’re doing your body good: life is full of surprises.20140825_120504

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

  • Servings: 18 muffins
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Adapted from the recipe “Yogurt Banana Oat Muffins” on Honest Fare

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup plain, low fat yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 5 bananas, mashed
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour (made from 1 and 1/2 cups ground rolled oats)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Combine all of your wet ingredients, including rolled oats and sugar.  Let the rolled oats soak in the wet ingredients as you prepare the dry ingredients.
  3. Pour 2 cups of rolled oats into your food processor and pulse until they’ve reached a flour-like consistency, about 25 pulses – takes 60 seconds!
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the oat flour and the rest of the dry ingredients.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and gently fold the mixture together to combine.
  6. Spray your muffin tins with nonstick spray (or similarly grease) and fill each muffin bowl 2/3 full with batter.
  7. Bake the muffins for 22 minutes.  At 11 minutes, rotate the trays 180° and switch the racks of the trays.  A toothpick will probably not come out dry when inserted into muffins – these puppies are moist!

UPDATE: On January 23, 2016, I made these muffins again with 1/4 cup sugar and thought they tasted just as good.  The extra bananas add quite a bit of sugar to the original recipe I adapted.  Also, once I had processed the oat flour, I threw in the walnuts for a few pulses so that the pieces would be smaller for these small muffins.  Worked like a charm!

Pictures and random annotations:

Frozen Bananas: Let’s talk about these bananas, shall we?

When I first made this recipe, I used two frozen bananas, as described in the original, still in their skins.  What an experience!  Although the bananas were perfectly safe and delicious, this process was super gross.

I put the bananas in the refrigerator to defrost and thankfully on the bottom shelf – when I picked them up they were limp and had leaked a brown substance all over the bottom of the fridge.  Gross.20140814_204238 20140814_204358

I cut the tip of banana off and squeezed the fruit into the bowl to combine with the other wet ingredients, along with all of the gross brown liquid that came out of them.

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The bananas will be brown on top, but that familiar cream/yellow on the bottom. Everything is edible.

When I tried this the second time, I used a container of five mashed up bananas that I had frozen.  I similarly defrosted them in the refrigerator overnight, but they were much easier to work with and incorporate into the batter.  I recommend mashing the bananas before you freeze them, but probably best to freeze them in 1-2 banana portions.

Ground oats:

Some illustration to show you just how you’ll want those oats to look.  Also see video for how long you should pulse.

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Combining ingredients:

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Wet ingredients on the left, dry ingredients on the right
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Combined!

Filling tins:20140825_102053 20140825_101641

MOIST muffins – see how the knife was never quite clean when inserted and removed.
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