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Banana Bread

May 12, 2012

Earlier this week I had an excess of bananas browning themselves on my counter, and I was craving something sweet, so banana bread was the obvious answer. I’ve loved banana bread since before I can remember, and while I’ll eat nearly any interpretation, I will always favor my mom’s recipe.

This week I added chocolate chips to the 1 1/2 recipe I made. My plan was for a double batch, but when I mushed up my bananas, I only had 1 1/2 cups, so I decided to try the half batch out as muffins. Although I didn’t get a picture, they came out gorgeous and delicious. I’ll be making this recipe as muffins again in the future.

Banana Bread

Image

1/3 c. butter (I think we also did this with oil growing up with makes the bread more tender)

1/2 c. sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. mashed bananas

1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

1/2 c. chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs and beat well. Stir together dry ingredients with a whisk (cheater’s version of sifting); add to creamed mixture alternately with banana, blending well after each addition. Stir in nuts or chocolate chips if including. Pour into well-greased loaf pan. Bake 45-50 minutes or until done. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Wrap and store overnight.

Note: A single batch makes a dozen good-sized muffins, which bake 22-25 minutes, or until done.

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Simple Granola

May 3, 2012

My creative itch is finally returning as our little girl settles into a routine that lets me get more sleep. I’ve been eating the same breakfast for the last 8 months (I tend to go on kicks like this where I’ll eat the same food for breakfast or lunch for months at a time – not the healthiest, I know, but I get plenty of variety in the rest of my diet). However, I’m finally getting tired of my protein smoothie and have been playing around with various easy breakfast ideas that still provide enough nutritional punch for me as a nursing mom.

Growing up, we always had fresh homemade granola around (because my mom is awesome like that) and so it eventually occurred to me that I could also make my own granola. The recipe my mom used growing up resides in one of our lost cookbooks, and while I could have asked her for a copy, I felt like creating something new. So, keeping in mind some of the ingredients I’ve liked in my granola bars recently, as well as a little searching on typical wet to dry proportions, I put together what turned out to be a great simple granola from what I had in my kitchen at the moment. My “aha” moment was using coconut oil for part of the fat since new research is showing that it’s actually a really healthy fat when it’s not hydrogenated. It also gives the granola the crunchy but not too hard texture I crave in granola when baked low and slow. Next time I make it, I’ll add some hemp or chia seeds to up the protein content.

Simple Granola

5 c. oats

2/3 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut

1 c. finely chopped almonds (I wanted pieces no larger than a 1/3 of an almond, just personal taste)

1/4 c. butter

1/4 c. coconut oil

1/2 c. honey

1/4 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla (I used the vanilla seed concentrate I got from Williams & Sonoma a while ago)

3-4 tbsp. molasses

3/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 275. Combine oats, coconut, and chopped almonds in a medium bowl. Stir until combined. In the interest of minimizing dishes, melt butter in a 2 c. liquid measuring cup. Add coconut oil to melted butter and stir until oil melts. Then add honey, sugar, vanilla, molasses, and salt. Stir until well combined. Pour over dry ingredients and stir until evenly coated. Spread mixture on two rimmed baking sheets or shallow baking pans and bake for 30-40 minutes or until medium brown. Granola will not be crunchy when you first pull it out of the oven. Let cool on baking sheets, then break up into chunks and store until ready to eat.

Spicy Peanut Butter Pasta

February 27, 2012

James cooked a lot while I was pregnant. If I wasn’t too nauseous to be in the kitchen, then I was often too tired. So one night he decided to try this recipe from a book he was reading, The Expectant Father. (We recommend this book, by the way, if you’re pregnant for the first time; aside from providing a new favorite recipe, it helped James know what to expect from me, how the baby was developing, and what to expect in his own journey to fatherhood.) The bold flavors, reminiscent of a Thai peanut sauce, and healthy serving of protein quickly won us over.

By making this with the Barilla Plus pasta (a high protein pasta available in most major grocery stores, and your best friend during Lent), we had a complete meal with no more effort than boiling pasta and making a quick sauce. Whether you’re busy, fasting, or pregnant, this makes a fairly quick and very tasty meal as well as good leftovers (if you’re just serving two). Also, it’s easy to omit or reduce the red pepper flakes if you’re not into spicy food.

Spicy Peanut Butter Pasta

Cooking time: 10 minutes          Total time: 20 minutes

 Serves: 4 generous portions, or 2 with leftovers

1 lb. angel hair pasta

1 tbsp. sesame oil

4 tbsp. peanut oil

6 cloves garlic, minced (or a large spoonful of TJ’s crushed garlic)

1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

10 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 c. creamy peanut butter

6 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

6 tbsp. soy sauce

4 tsp. white sugar

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (optional)

cilantro to taste, optional

Cook pasta according to directions on package. Drain and drizzle with the sesame oil, tossing to coat evenly. Set aside. Saute garlic and pepper flakes in a the peanut oil in a large frying pan (make sure it’s one you can use with a whisk – our metal whisk and non-stick frying pan don’t play well together). Add scallions. Turn heat to high and stir for one minute or until scallions are wilted. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients and use a wire whisk to thoroughly mix into a thick sauce. Pour over pasta while sauce is still warm, tossing to coat evenly. Garnish with cucumber and/or cilantro, if desired.

Thai Rice Soup

December 16, 2011

Thai Rice Soup basically functions like chicken noodle soup – it warms your soul and refreshes you when the days are dark and miserable and all you want is some real sunshine. Also, if you make it spicy, it will help clear your sinuses during cold season. Add to that a great way to use up leftover rice and an impossibly simple and quick recipe and you have a winning dish.

Fresh ginger and sliced chilies add heat (if you want), while cilantro and scallions lend their freshness to balance the umami broth. I added diced tofu for some protein, but you could easily sub in shrimp, chicken, or egg if you prefer. Or just leave it with the simple goodness of a rice soup. Just make it soon and you won’t regret it.

The original recipe is from our previously mentioned favorite Thai cookbook, Foolproof Thai Cooking by Ken Hom, but we’ve adapted a bit in seasoning and in what we add.

Thai Rice Soup

Serves: 4     Prep time:  10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

1 1/4 c. cooked rice (adjust to taste)

1/2 block of firm tofu, diced (optional)

6 c. veggie or chicken stock (I used Better than Boullion)

3 tbsp. fish sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tsp. vegetable or peanut oil

3 tbsp. crushed or finely chopped garlic

Garnish:

2-3 scallions, chopped

2 tbsp. finely shredded ginger

1-2 small fresh Thai chilies (optional)

handful fresh cilantro leaves

Combine cooked rice, tofu, and stock; bring to a simmer.  Add fish sauce and black pepper and simmer for 7 minutes.  Meanwhile, sautee garlic in the oil in until lightly browned. Serve into soup bowls and garnish to taste with the garlic, scallions, ginger, chilies, and cilantro (the fresh ginger and the chilies both add heat; I skipped the chilies in my most recent batch because of pregnancy heartburn.) Serve immediately.

Black Bean Sweet Potato Burritos

November 27, 2011

Pregnancy (well, really, the nausea accompanying this pregnancy) caused the hiatus in posting recipes on here. We’ve still been cooking, but it’s mostly been pretty simple, sticking to old favorites that actually sound good to me these days. There have been a couple of new recipes, however, including this one passed on by my mom.

Vegetarian, very easily made vegan, fairly inexpensive and packing a nutritional punch, this dish has a lot going for it, but really you should make it because it’s so tasty and comforting. Tender bites of sweet potato, nearly caramelized onions, and earthy black beans coated in a vibrant spice mixture, (topped with a bit of cheddar, if you’re so inclined) all wrapped up in a tortilla. It’s even better with salsa, sour cream, or diced avocado. Oh, and it makes fabulous leftovers.  So if you’re just cooking for one or two, you can cook once and have several lunches or dinners ready for the rest of the week!

I’ve tweaked the recipe some from the original, adding more onion and spices because we tend to like our flavors more robust, but the original concept is more or less intact.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burritos

1 tbsp. olive oil

3 1/2 c. peeled and diced sweet potatoes

1 1/2 c. chopped onion

2 cans black beans, drained (this was slightly over 2 c. for me)

2 tbsp. cumin

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. ground chilies or chili powder (optional – this is for piquancy)

pinch of crumbled oregano

1 tsp. salt (or to taste)

10 tortillas, 9 inch-ish sized (this fits well in a 9×13 pan)

1 1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

Salsa, sour cream, or diced avocado to garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat; add onions and sweet potatoes, cooking until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Add water as necessary to prevent sticking. I sometimes find that covering the pan for a few minutes once I’ve added some water helps to speed the cooking process.  Add black beans, spices, and salt, cooking until heated through. Remove from heat.

Scoop a generous portion of the bean and potato mixture onto each tortilla and sprinkle with cheese, if desired, before rolling up. Place burritos in a lightly greased 9×13 baking pan.  You will have to squeeze a bit to get the last couple in the pan, but they should fit snugly.  Cover and bake for 20-25 minutes (you can uncover for the last few minutes if you like a crustier top to your burritos).  Serve with desired garnish and enjoy!

Northern Style Phad Thai

October 7, 2011

Phad thai is probably the single most recognizable dish on a Thai restaurant menu, at least for Americans.  However, most are unaware that there is more than a single version of this dish.  While both northern and southern style phad thai involve rice noodles, stir-fried eggs, bean sprouts, and fried or fresh tofu, along with the requisite sprinkle of ground peanuts, the flavor and experience of the two dishes almost separates them from qualifying for the same name.

Southern style, easier to find in the US, characteristically has an orange sauce coating the noodles with a distinct tamarind flavor in the better varieties, as well as small bits of aged chewy tofu.  The garnishes typically sit around the noodles, creating a plate that invites you to dive in and create your own perfect balance of soft noodles to crunchy bean sprouts, pungent cilantro, and sweet carrots.

Northern style can be challenging to track down unless the chefs at a particular restaurant hail from northern Thailand.  Northern style phad thai looks almost as though it has no sauce (though it in fact has a generous portion), with flecks of red and green chilies dotting the (often) wider rice noodles, along with a hearty amount of bean sprouts already mixed in and lightly stir-fried along with the noodles.  Garnishes are similar to the southern style, with scallions, and a generous portion of coriander, and coarsely rather than finely chopped peanuts being the primary differences I’ve noticed.  The whole dish is very fresh and light, even when incorporating fried tofu as the protein of choice.  We are slightly obsessed with finding good northern style phad thai (though I admit that I can heartily enjoy a good southern style as well), and often end up just making our own in order to achieve the freshness that we want.

Our favorite recipe comes slightly adapted from Ken Hom’s Foolproof Thai Cooking, and the only change we make is to cook it with fried tofu rather than shrimp, because I don’t like shrimp.  This is definitely a recipe where you want to have all of your ingredients prepared ahead of time, as the actual cooking process doesn’t take long once you get started.  A wok is very helpful for cooking your noodles evenly during the stir-frying process, but not entirely necessary.  We’ve made plenty of tasty phad thai in a deep skillet, albeit with a much messier stove stop at the end.

Northern Style Phad Thai

Prep time: 25-40 minutes (depending on your proficiency) Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4-6

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8 oz. wide dried rice noodles (as you can see, narrow ones also work in a pinch)

2 tbsp. vegetable or peanut oil

1 block tofu, drained, cubed, and fried until golden brown (see note)

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic

3 tbsp. finely sliced shallots

2 large, fresh red or green chilies, seeded and chopped

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp. lime juice

3 tbsp. fish sauce

1 tbsp. sweet chili sauce

1 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

6 oz. bean sprouts

Garnish

1 lime, cut into wedges

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh coriander (same thing as cilantro)

3 scallions, sliced

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped roasted peanuts

2 oz bean sprouts

1 tsp. dried chili flakes (optional)

Soak the rice noodles in a bowl of hot water for 25-30 minutes, then drain.  Heat the wok until hot, then add garlic, shallot and chilies and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Add the drained noodles (I find tongs very helpful in stirring and lifting the noodles during the stir-frying process) and stir-fry for another minute.  Then, add the beaten eggs, lime juice, fish sauce, chili sauce, sugar and black pepper and continue to stir-fry for 3 minutes.  Finally, add the tofu and bean sprouts and stir-fry for 2 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, (more fish sauce for saltiness, more lime for sour, more sugar for sweet) keeping in mind that Thai cooking assumes that each diner will tweak their serving with the garnishes.  Transfer to a platter, garnish, and serve at once.

Notes: While pre-fried tofu is available from Asian grocery stores, we strongly recommend that you fry your own, both for freshness and for flavor.  To fry tofu, make sure that you completely drain the tofu, getting as much moisture out as possible before frying.  Then heat enough vegetable oil in a wok to submerge your cubes.   Make sure to get the oil hot enough–350-375–before beginning to fry, or you’ll have soggy tofu (putting in a dry cube of bread or the end of a bamboo chopstick to see if it’s surrounded by bubbles is a good test if you don’t have a deep-fry or candy thermometer).  Work in small batches (it usually takes me 3-4 for a single block of tofu) to keep the temperature up and to minimize splattering.  Fry until golden brown, then remove onto a paper towel covered plate.

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

October 7, 2011

This delectable, fiery sauce, from Ken Hom’s Foolproof Thai Cooking, (hands down our favorite Thai cookbook) is the key to our northern style phad thai, but also makes an excellent dipping sauce for Thai spring rolls or pot stickers.  Be sure to wear gloves while working with the chilies, especially if you intend to seed them, as the capsaicin (the element in hot peppers that makes them taste and feel hot) will burn your hands, though eventually they just feel numb.

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

Time: 30 minutes    Cooking time: 15 minutes

Makes: about a cup of sauce

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6 oz. large, fresh red chilies, finely chopped (seeded if you want a milder sauce)

3 tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. white rice vinegar or malt vinegar

1 tbsp. fish sauce

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

salt to taste

5 fl. oz. water

Combine all ingredients in a wok or saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn heat very low, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool before blending until mostly smooth (an immersion blender is immensely helpful here, though a standard blender or food processor also work).  Reheat in wok or saucepan for about 3 minutes to bring out the flavor, adding more salt if necessary.  Once cool, it is ready to use, or can be stored in the fridge in a jar.

The finished sauce