Category Archives: Featured

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

 

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
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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

 

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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Bonnie Mac and Cheese

The time has come.  It’s been years of pain, discomfort and embarrassment avoiding high fat food due to the 2 centimeter-sized gallstones in my belly.  But finally I can share with you all – I can eat cheese again!  Pain free!!!

It took about 6 weeks until I was finally ready to try cheese again.  The gallbladder surgery makes you feel funky and it takes a while for your body to figure out how it should digest again.  But at a rainy beach weekend with my girlfriends, I dared to say “No it’s okay – I’ll eat the pizza.”  They were terrified of what might happen to me (nothing that would be inconvenient for them, thank goodness), but we went ahead and ordered the pizza.  I went ahead and ate the pizza.  And then … NOTHING HAPPENED.  Which is the point!  No hot flash, no sweating, no cramping, no needing to lie down.  I could enjoy that pizza and that’s all.  Pure bliss!  (It was really good pizza with arugula and prosciutto, too, a fitting way to enter back into cheesedom.)

But enough about pizza I got in Rehoboth, let’s talk about cheese we can enjoy together.  If my title is any indication, as soon as I knew I could make cheese, I immediately bought some extra sharp cheddar and made the greatest cheese dish on earth: mac and cheese.  Cheese sauce.  Pasta.  Heaven.

One of my favorite things about cooking is watching ingredients turn into something else.  Which I know sounds “DUH”, but I don’t mean roasting a tomato, although that is amazing.  I mean taking cream and whipping it into fluffy clouds or beating together a batter that becomes cake (Reenie Cake, naturally.)  Well the Mac and Cheese recipe I’m about to share with you is another one of those – you take butter, flour and milk to create a thick, velvety sauce before your eyes that just needs cheese added to it. It’s amazing.

The recipe comes from my favorite cook book Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci.  I’ve given this book as gifts to many aspiring cooks because it is exactly what it promises – simple, easy-to-follow advice to make extremely stunning and impressive food.  Linda had me cooking risotto and cheese-stuffed chicken breasts very early into my cooking endeavors.  And she taught me so much about food and cooking that I’ve applied to many recipes of my own.  God bless you, Linda.

I make this recipe exactly (almost) as Linda describes and she turns fancy french cooking into something possible for this amateur here.  We’re going to make a roux, add milk to make a béchamel sauce and add cheese to make a Mornay Sauce.  Sound scary?  It’s not!  But it is weird

When you start to add the milk to the roux, the mixture seizes up into a big clump, so you need to add more milk quickly and keep stirring.  My only complaint is that Linda doesn’t describe what happens when you add milk to the roux.  She only says “Have faith and continue to add the milk.”  Rather ominous.

So in order to help you visualize this recipe, James, angel that he is, filmed the entire progression for you and helped me edit this video into true perfection.  This will allow you to see all the various stages so you, too, can achieve homemade mac and cheese glory.  I am here to serve. (THANK YOU, JAMES!!!)

This recipe asks you to be stirring almost constantly for about 15-minutes, which I really love.  It’s a simple recipe, but you’re really earning that creamy sauce, putting lots of love and effort into the dish.  You feel very accomplished when it’s done – and you SHOULD.  You just made homemade mac and cheese!  You’re the bomb.

Ready, Get Set – BONNIE MAC AND CHEESE!

(I do require that you refer to the dish that way from now on.  In honor of my struggles.  I think I deserve it.)

The following video will show you the progression of the sauce.  Specific times for each step are indicated below.

Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: Possible to serve 6-8, depending on how willing you are to share...
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Adapted ever so slightly from the “Macaroni and Cheese Variation” written by Linda Carucci in Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. medium shell pasta
  • 6 TBL unsalted butter (I use salted butter and adjust the salt at the end)
  • 5 TBL flour
  • 3 cups milk (I have always used 1%, but I’m sure whole milk would be delightfully decadent)
  • 2 cups (.5 lb) shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp kosher salt plus more for pasta water (with salted butter, I ended up using 1 tsp at the end)
  • A few shakes of hot sauce or 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper

Procedure:

  1. Boil water in a large pot, add salt and pasta and cook until al dente.
  2. Measure out all of your ingredients and grate your cheese.
  3. In a 3 qt. pot, melt your butter.
  4. Add your flour and whisk together roux for about 2 minutes. (0:23)
  5. Add the milk 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in between.  The mixture will change texture several times as you add. (0:42)
  6. Continue to add milk 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture turns smooth.  Add all remaining milk at this time. (2:45)
  7. When the milk is combined, switch to a slotted spoon and stir in a figure-8 motion (3:24) until you’ve reached the napé stage (when you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of the spoon and it stays in tact, without filling in.) (4:05)
  8. Add your cheese, about a 1/2 cup at a time, and stir to combine in between each addition. (4:15)
  9. Taste your sauce (careful, it’s hot!) and add salt and hot sauce as desired. (6:00)
  10. Pour your sauce over your cooked pasta and serve or store.

Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes

  1. Boil water in a large pot, add salt and pasta and cook until al dente.

I cooked my pasta almost as soon as I came in the door from work, far before I was making the cheese sauce.  When the pasta was fully cooked, I drained and coated with the lightest coat of olive oil I could manage, to keep it from sticking.

This isn’t usually recommended, because the olive oil covers the natural starches brought to the surface of the pasta when cooked, which helps grab onto the sauce.  But as far as time management is concerned, I found this much easier.  I like to cook my pasta in my largest pot, which gives it room to move around in the water while cooking, but it also takes a long time for the water to boil – sometimes 15 – 20 minutes.

The pasta cooled to room temperature, but when the hot cheese sauce was poured on the pasta, the dish  was heated back up again.  I found this tactic much easier than cooking the pasta and making the sauce at the same time, because the sauce needs your full concentration.

I enjoy using Medium Shell pasta, because the sauce gets stuck in the shells like delightful little bowls of cheese sauce.  Mmmmm…

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2.  Measure out all of your ingredients and grate your cheese.

Mise en place (everything in its place) will be your friend.  Again, the sauce will take your full concentration for those 15 minutes.  Be prepared!

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You can use any cheese in this recipe, although cheddar is most traditional.  Just make sure to do a little research on which cheese is a good melting cheese.  Not all cheeses melt well and can become stringy or clumpy.  Here’s a good article with a couple suggestions – I really want to try smoky gouda next.

3.  In a 3 qt. pot, melt your butter.

You can use a larger pot, but I think that a 3 qt. pot should be your minimum.  You’re doing a lot of whisking and stirring and a smaller pot could cause sloshing of hot liquid onto your feet!  Not fun.

Cut your butter into tablespoon-sized pats first, for quicker melting.20140808_201456

See video for visual of steps 4 through 9.

4.  Add your flour and whisk together roux for about 2 minutes. (0:23)

This will cook the flour in the butter, for added flavor.

5.  Add the milk 1/4 cup at a time, mixing in between.  The mixture will change texture several times as you add.  (0:42)

6.  Continue to add milk 1/4 cup at a time until the mixture turns smooth.  Add all remaining milk at this time.  (2:45)  (This actually happens at 1.25 cups, but I read the recipe wrong – ha!  I added all the milk at when there was just 1 cup left.  Things still turned out fine.)

7.  When the milk is combined, switch to a slotted spoon and stir in a figure-8 motion (3:24) until you’ve reached the napé stage (when you can draw a line in the sauce on the back of the spoon and it stays intact, without filling in.) (4:05)

8.  Add your cheese, about a 1/2 cup at a time, and stir to combine in between each addition. (4:15)

9.  Taste your sauce (careful, it’s hot!) and add salt and hot sauce as desired.  (6:00)

I think the hot sauce is clutch in this recipe, but I didn’t add it when I made this video because the dish was made for two dear friends who are also new parents and hot sauce is not for everyone.  I, personally, add the hot sauce and  pour the hot sauce over the mac and cheese when it’s on my plate.  The hotness cuts through the rich cheese sauce with delightful contrast.

10.  Pour your sauce over your cooked pasta and serve or store.

20140808_20391020140808_20392320140808_204114Oh yeah, girl.

 

Spicy Peperonata – and a Pepper Problem

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This is one of those recipes that I’ve held onto for years and years and years.  While we’re on the subject of colorful fruits and veggies, this could not be a more perfect recipe to try.

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I think perhaps my favorite thing about this recipe is the dressing of lime juice and mint – a divine combination.  I thought the mint would “cool down” the hot pepper in the recipe, but that is not its role – it complements the spice in a very sophisticated way, balancing instead of counteracting.  It’s absolutely worth going out and buying mint.  (Or if you have mint in the garden, well, you’re just a badass, aren’t you?)

There’s just one teensy, weensy catch with this recipe: the spicy pepper.  Seems easy, no?  But this recipe calls for a poblano, which is a larger, much milder pepper than your jalapeno but with a similar dark green color, that often looks a bit collapsed.  Like so – poblano-chili-pepper

They’re a fairly common pepper, yet I have found that  a lot of grocery stores (especially my beloved Trader Joe’s) has limited variety in peppers.  Oh, they’ll have your various colors of bells (which is also helpful in this dish!), but beyond that you’re out of luck.  So what’s a girl or guy to do?

When we made this recipe about a year ago, we went to a store with a large variety of produce but with dismal labeling and couldn’t find the poblanos.  We found one that looked like a poblano, but it was labeled as a very hot pepper, and we didn’t want that.  Then there were these bright, lime green peppers that were a similar size to poblanos.  And from what I thought I had learned about peppers, the bigger they are, the milder they’ll be.  So I was certain that these would be fine and James, like the good and faithful man that he is, believed me.  Poor James.

After we sliced up all the peppers and threw them in the pan, we started to clean up because the recipe is practically done at this point (another bonus!)  James started to cough and couldn’t figure out why – he thought he just had something in his throat.  But then I started coughing, too – my eyes were stinging and water would not give me relief.   We’re both rather sensitive to chopping onions, which has resulted in quite a bit of drama in the kitchen, but this was different – and it was permeating the entire apartment.  That’s when I realized – the pepper I chose was not mild at all!  Indeed, it was so hot that it was sending its capsaicin molecules flying into the air and choking us both.   Capsaicin is the chemical compound in hot peppers that produces that burning feeling so many people enjoy.  When your pepper starts to affect you before you’ve actually begun eating, you know that pepper is going to pack a punch.

The resulting meal was outrageously hot.  We tried serving it with sour cream to cool the burn, which it did, but it really was not the meal we had intended.  If you love super hot peppers, then go ahead and try a different pepper in this recipe.

For me, I’ll continue to seek out the poblano, although the heat level will vary a bit every time.  Peppers are living things, after all, subject to lots of environmental differences that will change the way they grow.  In the case of the recipe pictures below, I made a special trip to Whole Foods which does a great job of properly labeling their produce and has a greater variety than Trader Joe’s, thus finding a poblano with just the right amount of subtle heat.  If you’re lucky enough to live by a Wegman’s, they also do a great job with labeling and even specify the hotness of each pepper – not to Scoville-scale specificity, but they give you a general idea.  Also, if you live by a Wegman’s, COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS AND NEVER MOVE.  That place is paradise.

Versatile, you say?  Oh absolutely.  We served the peperonata over chicken and farro but you could serve with anything – pasta, polenta, grains, toast, over eggs, over steak – even all by its lonesome.  My only regret this time is that I didn’t double the recipe: we went through it fast.

The recipe below I tweaked from Bon Appetit because I found their dressing to be incredibly oily.  I would just add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and increase if you like.  In my opinion, the lime juice is the real key ingredient in the dressing.

Spicy Peperonata – serves 4

Ingredients: 

  • Olive oil (I prefer extra virgin, but you could go extra virgin in the dressing and a cheaper oil for pan frying, if you prefer)
  • 2 TBL fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 fresh poblano chile, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

Process:

1. Juice your lime, chop your mint, and combine with as much extra virgin olive oil as you desire.  Season with salt, pepper and coriander.

2. Slice your bell peppers and onion to about 1/4 inch in width.  Slice your poblano peppers to 1/8 inch in width, to spread out that peppery goodness.

3. Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat some more oil in a frying pan to medium-high heat and add your chicken.  Caution – this is a splattery process!  Get your chicken breasts crispy golden and cooked through.  Remove from the pan.

4. Add your peppers and onion to the pan.  Move the veggies around to coat with the existing oil in the pan.  Add some more oil until all veggies are lightly coated.  For a cooking process like this, it’s best that the oil distribution is even so the heat conduction is even and everyone cooks at the same time.

4. This process takes about 10-15 minutes.  Stir often until the veggies are limp and reduced in size by about half.

5. Mix in the lime/mint dressing and serve atop chicken breasts.

Process with Pictures and random anecdotes:

1. Juice your lime, chop your mint, and combine with as much extra virgin olive oil as you desire.  Season with salt, pepper and ground coriander.

You don’t need to grind coriander fresh by any means – but I have a spice grinder that I never use, so I figure, why not?
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In order to measure fresh herbs, I just take the appropriate measuring spoon out and use it to estimate how much herb I need to chop.  By no means does herb measurement ever need to be exact!20140714_174219

2. Slice your bell peppers and onion to about 1/4 inch in width.  Slice your poblano peppers to 1/8 inch in width, to spread out that peppery goodness.

You can compare sizes here: 20140714_181823

Make sure to use the tops of your peppers as well!  Once you slice the top off, the stems and pod of seeds can be very easily detached from the flesh of the pepper.  No need to waste an inch!20140714_180638 20140714_180937

3. Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Heat some more oil in a frying pan to medium-high heat and add your chicken.  Caution – this is a splattery process!  Get your chicken breasts crispy golden and cooked through.  Remove from the pan.20140714_184335

4. Add your peppers and onion to the pan.  Move the veggies around to coat with the existing oil in the pan.  Add some more oil until all veggies are lightly coated.  For a cooking process like this, it’s best that the oil distribution is even so the heat conduction is even and everyone cooks at the same time.20140714_184316

4. This process takes about 10-15 minutes.  Stir often until the veggies are limp and reduced in size by about half.20140714_185712 20140714_185724

5. Mix in the lime/mint dressing and serve atop chicken breasts.

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