Friday, July 29, 2011

Banana Bread Muffins

It's Mat's birthday today so I doubled this recipe and made him a dozen of these muffins to take to work today and made him oatmeal cookies too.  I just picture him at his desk smiling to himself while he eats the goodies and it makes these muffins and the cookies so much sweeter.  It really is the little things in life.

Makes about 14 muffins

Dry Ingredients
3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c canola oil
2 eggs 
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 ripe bananas mashed

Mix dry ingredients
Mix wet ingredients except bananas
Combine dry and wet ingredients together
Add bananas
Put muffin papers in a muffin tin and scoop batter into them (I always use this ice cream scoop for tasks like this)
Bake at 350 degree F for 20 minutes or lightly golden on the top

I had the perfect ripe bananas to use for this recipe. They were tender and speckled with brown spots.

Did you know you can replace sour cream for plain yogurt in baking recipes?  I have done it countless times and have never noticed a difference in the end result.  I always have non-fat plain yogurt in the fridge but rarely have sour cream so this is just a convenient swap for me.

I quickly mashed the ripe bananas with a fork before adding it to the batter.

The key to making good banana bread is NOT to overmix because it will ruin the texture of your bread.  You want the bread to be light and fluffy not dense and deflated.  I used my Kitchenaid mixer with a paddle attachment to combine the wet and dry ingredients barely together and then used a big rubber spatula to fold the batter a little more and then fold the bananas into it.   There are a lot of youtube videos on how to fold batter if you don't know the technique.

I like making banana bread as muffins instead of a big loaf because it helps me to monitor how much I eat!

I don't know why but the last bite is always the best.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cheesy Baked Farro

I occasionally get the hankering for something warm, cheesy and gooey.  I came across this recipe a while back when I was watching Giada on Food Network. It caught my attention because the way she was cooking it was exactly like a mac and cheese but with farro instead of pasta.  I love farro so I had to try it.

From Giada at Home and I added minor notes
Makes 6 to 8 servings

Vegetable cooking spray

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups warm whole milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated Fontina
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups farro, rinsed and drained
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (I used whole wheat panko crumbs)
Olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven at 400 degrees F.  Spray 13 by 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

For the sauce:  In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.  Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce it thick and smooth, about 8 minutes (do not allow the mixture to boil).

For the farro: In a large bowl, add the cheeses and stir to combine.  Remove 1/2 cup of the mixture and reserve.  In a large stock pot, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the farro, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender, about 25 minutes.  Drain, if necessary.  Add the farro, thyme, and sauce to the bowl with the cheese.  Stir until combined and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with the reserved 1/2 cup of cheese.  Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake until the top is golden brown and forms a crust, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Farro looks like this.  It is a hearty grain and goes great in salads and savory dishes.  I always find it at Whole Foods.

I wanted to show you guys step by step pictures of how a bechamel sauce is made.  It is the basis of any traditional mac and cheese or lasagna and good to know.

Step 1:  You first melt the butter over medium heat.
Step 2:  Add the flour and whisk.  You want to cook off some of the raw flour taste and that is why you cook it for a minute or so.
Step 3:  Gradually add the warm milk to the mixture and keep on whisking.  Notice that the milk is warm to make sure the mixture combines well.  I added mine to the microwave for 30 secs, gave it a stir, microwave again for 30 secs and gave it a stir before adding it into the mixture. 
Step 4:  Add rest of warm milk and keep on whisking for 8 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

I always spend the extra money for fresh herbs.  It makes a world of a difference in taste and it's good for you!

These are pictures before and after baking.

Tada!  I worked out extra hard after eating this but it was all worth it!  The crunchy bread crumbs on the top balances the creamy texture of the farro.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Yesterday, I found out that Mat and I were on Love and Lavender here and here and today, I found out that we are on SMP.  We're famous!  Not really.  But it is fun to see our pictures up on blogs that I read daily at one point and to see some of our hard work showcased.  =)

Now on to the slow-roasted tomatoes....  This is a fantastic way to eat tomatoes especially now when they are in full season.  GP says that these are a pantry essential and I couldn't agree more.  The roasting process causes the sugars of the tomatoes to caramelize and brings out such a rich flavor.  They taste excellent and I want them in my fridge all the time now.

Adapted from My Father's Daughter

Beefsteak tomatoes
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.  Slice the tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices.  Rub with a tiny bit of olive oil and a pint of salt and roast seed site up for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until they look nearly sun dried (the edges will be caramelized and the moisture will be almost entirely evaporated).  These keep, well refrigerated in an airtight container with a bit of olive oil, for at least a week, so make a whole bunch at once.

You can use any type of tomatoes for this recipe like vine-ripened or heirloom.  I used beefsteak because that is what I had on hand.  GP uses vine-ripened tomatoes in her cookbook and slices them horizontally in half to roast but I have found that slicing the tomatoes in slices cuts down the roasting time and I like the quicker method better.

After the roasting process, the tomatoes should look like this. 

You can use these tomatoes for pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, tarts, salads, cheese plates, etc.  I was experimenting with them for a tart that I was making. 

I will share my tart recipe once I perfect it.  There are a few tweeks I want to make before I tell you guys the recipe.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fresh Quick Guacamole

There is an abundance of avocados living in California which I am very thankful for.  I try to make fresh guacamole as often as I can because it is a great healthy snack.  It keeps me really satiated and I love that it has all the good healthy fats in it.  I think that Haas avocados taste the best because they are the creamiest so I always use Haas over other varieties.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 ripe Haas avocados
1 c onion, finely diced
4 to 6 tbs chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tbs fresh lemon juice (I used lemon juice from my lemon juice ice cubes... so convenient!)
1 tsp sea salt
Sprinkle of garlic powder

Cut the avocados in half and pit them and remove the skin
Use a fork to mush the avocados in a medium bowl
Add onion, cilantro, lemon juice, sea salt, and garlic powder

Adjust seasoning to taste

I have found that the best way to remove the avocados from the skin is the run your thumb in between the flesh and the skin as shown in the picture below to the right.  The skin should peel easily off and you should be able to pop the flesh right out.

I like using garlic powder over raw minced garlic because it is more convenient to do so and to help my breath.  My husband appreciates it! 

I have also found that the best way to keep your fresh guac from oxidizing and turning brown is to cover the guac with plastic wrap as shown in the picture below to the right.  Place the plastic wrap over the guac and push out as much air as possible before putting the top on and it into the fridge.  Trust me.  It works.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Roasted Fennel

A couple weeks ago, Mat and I had a cooking class date night at Eatz LA.  It was so much fun to do something out of the box for date night and even though I know my way around the kitchen, I thought it would be fun for Mat to learn something new and for us to do it together.  It was Mediterranean night the day we went and luckily, a huge group of people cancelled last minute so we all got our own working stations.  One of the favorite things that we made was a side dish of roasted fennel with Parmesan cheese.  If you have never cooked with fennel, it is quite interesting looking and as soon as you cut into it, you get a fresh burst of the licorice aroma.  

Adapted from Eatz LA 
Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dish
4 fennel bulbs, cut horizontally in half
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus more if needed)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil a 13 by 9 inch baking dish.  Arrange the fennel in the dish.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with Parmesan cheese.  Drizzle with oil.

Bake until fennel is fork-tender and golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.  

The green stems and fronds of the fennel are pretty useless and uneatable.  After you chop them off, discard them or use the fronds as a garnish.   Also, usually when I cook with fennel I would cut out the core of the bulb because it is too tough to eat.  However since we are roasting them, the core turns tender in the cooking process.  I left the outer part of the bulb in tact to keep the shape of the fennel bulb (sometimes that can be a little too fibrous to eat).

I always use freshly grated cheeses.  It has way more flavor and I don't even know if the stuff in the green canister is really even cheese even though it says that it is real cheese.  My rule of thumb is anything that claims to be the real thing of what it is supposed to be is always questionable.

This is the fennel before and after the roasting process.  The cheese turns really nutty and the fennel is tender and delicious.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nectarine Salsa

I love summers.  Doesn't it feel like this summer is going by so fast?  Anyway, this is the perfect summer accompaniment for grilled or sauteed fish, fish tacos or alone with chips. You can easily substitute peaches for nectarines in this recipe. I just prefer to have nectarines around the house because I'm allergic to the fuzzy skin of peaches.  This recipe is a pretty large batch of salsa so if you are only making it for yourself or only two people, you should consider halving the recipe.  Mat and I just eat a lot and that is why I'm made so much.

Makes 3 cups 

Boil a pot of water
Dip 4 ripe nectarines in the water for 10 to 15 seconds
Peel the skin with your hands and if the skin does not come off easily, put the nectarine back in boiling water and wait another 15 seconds or so and try again
Cut the nectarines in a medium dice and remove the pits (be careful not to cut yourself because they are really slippery!)

1 small red onion, diced fine
2 jalapeno peppers, diced fine and seeds removed
1 1/2 tbs lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
4 tbs chopped cilantro

Adjust the seasoning if needed 

I used metal tongs to dip the nectarines in the boiling water and take them out.

The skin of the nectarine should come off really easily as shown in the picture below.  If this does not happen for you, put it back in boiling water and try again.

I used half white and half yellow nectarines.  They look so naked!

I used the salsa to complement orange roughy fillets that I quickly sauteed on a very hot pan.  You can use any white fish like mahi mahi, halibut, chilean sea bass, or whatever looks good in the seafood department of the grocery store.  The sweet, cool salsa complements the savory, warm fish so well.  You have to try it!  This one does not disappoint.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Korean Doenjang Stew

Mat requested that I make this in the beginning of the week because we ate so much over the weekend.  This stew is really simple to make and all the ingredients for this recipe can be found at a Korean market like Hmart.  I like this stew spicy so I added 3 different types of chili pepper (jalapeno, Korean green chili pepper, and Korean red pepper flakes) but you can omit the Korean red pepper flakes if you prefer it less spicy.

Makes 6 servings

Put the following ingredients into a medium size pot
3 cups zucchini, slice into medium size pieces
1 medium onion, dice into medium size pieces
1 jalapeno pepper sliced
1 Korean green chili pepper sliced 
8 dried anchovies heads removed
5 garlic cloves thinly sliced
1/2 tbs Korean red pepper flakes (optional)
3 cups water

Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the veggies soften slightly and the onions start to become translucent

1/2 cup doenjang (soy bean paste)
Adjust seasoning if needed (add more doenjang if you like the stew more salty or add less if you like the stew less salty)

Simmer for a couple more minutes and add
14 ounce medium firm tofu, dice into medium size cubes
2 green onions sliced 

Turn off the heat and serve with warm rice and kimchi

I had to sneak in a picture of the beautiful arrangement that was sent to me from one of my closest friends, Betty.  She got it for my birthday.  Aren't they pretty and exotic?  Love them!

Truthfully these dried anchovies DO look a little freaky but these little guys add great depth of flavor to the stew.  However if you want to make this stew vegetarian, you have the option to omit these and it will taste great without them.  

The Korean green chili pepper is shown on the picture below on the right.  It is sitting on the cutting board so you can see because they are a little unusual.

I used my pretty la chamba pot to cook the stew in.  The clay pot retains heat very well which means that this pot can keep the liquid boiling for a long while even after the stove is turned off.  This pot was a gift to my husband from his brother for a Christmas gift exchange.  The gift makes me laugh because I knew that my brother in law gave this gift to Mat but it was really a present for me.  Haha!  But Mat just gets to enjoy the food that is made from it.  =)

This soy bean paste (doenjang) is very similar to miso but it has a more pungent taste and smell.  

Green onions and tofu are added last because they don't need to be cooked but just warmed through.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Farmers Market Sandwich

A good restaurant will try to find the freshest ingredients to serve to their patrons and cook seasonally.  I try to apply the same principles at home because it really does taste the best and makes a world of a difference.  I got a couple beautiful heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market, red leaf lettuce, a cucumber, fresh baked sour dough bread and made a veggie sandwich.  I just get whatever looks good that day.

Makes 1 sandwich

Mix together
2 to 3 tbs mayo
2 basil leaves julienne

Spread mayo mixture on 2 slices of bread
Place washed red leaf lettuce, peeled cucumber slices, tomato slices on the bread

How easy is that?  I sound like Barefoot Contessa.  Lol! 

By the way, is there anyone else reading Bossypants?  I am listening to the audiobook during my commute.  Tina Fey narrates it and she is sooooo hilarious.  I have been laughing out loud in the car by myself the past week or 2. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Frozen Grapes

I went to the farmers market on Saturday like usual and since it was my birthday, the married couple who I always get my organic fruit from gave me grapes for my birthday =)  They told me to freeze them and eat them like candy and so I did.  I'm not going to write the recipe because it's so easy to do. Grapes are considered a "dirty fruit" so try to get organic grapes or if you don't, wash the grapes a few times in cold water.

Wash the grapes first.


Pull each grape off the stem.

Put the grapes in a ziploc bag and then the freezer.

Eat them!  Mat and I think they taste better a little thawed.  They are great after a work out and you want to cool down.

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