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Archive for February, 2011

I love garlic.  I love it most when it’s roasted.   That’s when its natural pungent odor and spicy heat transform into a rich, creamy sweetness.  Roasted garlic is delicious mixed in mashed potatoes, meatballs, pasta sauces and, my favorite, spread on toast like butter.   (I’ve been known to consume an entire head of garlic in one sitting this way.)   Best yet, the fragrance of sweet garlic roasting in the oven will warm you inside and out.

Roasted Garlic

Ingredients

    Head of garlic, as many as you wish
    Olive oil
    Kosher salt
    Freshly ground pepper
    Aluminum foil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Cut off the top of the garlic bulb, exposing a tiny portion of each bulb of garlic. 
  3. Place bulb in foil.
  4. Drizzle the cut side with a bit of olive oil. 
  5. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.
  6. Add a few tablespoons of water to ensure garlic doesn’t scorch.
  7. Place directly in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until completely tender and golden in color.

Note: I typically roast a few heads of garlic simultaneously while I’m roasting potatoes or meat.  Since meat is typically roasted at lower temperatures, just roast the garlic longer and check for doneness.

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There are few dishes that wait for the cook and her company.  In my kitchen, it is far often the other way around.  So when I need to regain some control over service I turn to the strata, a dish that is perfectly flexible, patient, and decadent.

Strata is the bread pudding made with a base of savory eggs.  This easy treat (meal) generally includes cubes or slices of bread that have been soaked in custard.  Like many egg dishes, a strata can incorporate any or all of your favorite ingredients.  Once assembled, it sets anywhere between a few hours up to an entire day before baking – making it the perfect dish to entertain with.  For me, it is the ideal vehicle to sneak eggs and milk into my toddler’s diet – neither of which he has been enjoying of late.

Strata

Ingredients

5 cups of cubed bread (use whole wheat for more nutrition; French for a more classic version)
8 large eggs
1 quart milk (lowfat is fine)
1 tsp pepper, freshly ground
1 1/2 – 2 cups grated cheese (we use low-skim mozarella)
Filling of your choice. Ours includes:

    1 cup spinach, chopped and thawed from frozen
    1/2 large onion, chopped
    1/2 cup sliced onions
    1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots
    1 cup sausage (any variety), cooked and crumbled

 

Directions

  1. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and pepper.  
  3. Add cooled sausage and vegetables (or your filling(s) of choice). 
  4. Gently fold in bread cubes and cheese.
  5.  Cover and chill for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
  6. To bake, heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Uncover and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the mixture has puffed up slightly and is golden brown on top.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Note:  Consider a sweet strata – essentially a baked french toast.

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I have yet to speak of my fondness for using bananas, avocados, applesauce and yogurt as fat replacements in baking recipes.  Hungry Girl was my initial inspiration some six or seven years ago.  Back then, I was working atop a Corner Bakery in Chicago.  Every morning the smell of buttery muffins, sweet scones, and sinful croissants would seduce my senses and question my resolve.  To be sure, there were days I made a B line for the bakery and not the office.  But, thankfully, most days the smell of their rich offerings reminded me I’d be better off wearing the fragrance on my clothes rather than as an accessory in my cheeks and thighs. 

I know what you’re thinking – baking is a science and there are some rules which need to be followed to achieve success.  I make no claim that “healthier” recipes taste like the originals they aim to duplicate.  They can’t.  And I know there are critics out there who say, “just eat the ‘real’ darn thing - live a little!”  (Or my husband’s tagline:  “Don’t mess with perfection!”)  I savor the “real” thing.  But I can’t do it every day with a clear conscience.  So I more than make do with the help of fruit, fat-free yogurt, and healthy fats.  With their help, my made-over look- and smell-alikes are undeniably delectable and satisfying. 

I’ll slowly commit my “cleaned-up” recipes to paper but, for now, here’s my favorite brown-banana-use-up recipe (modified from Baking Bites).

Banana Oatmeal Cookies (Cakes)

These little gems are crisp around the edges and bread-like in the center.  Old-fashioned oats add a chewy, grainy texture that make the cookies a fairly sustantial snack.  I’m feeling pretty full from the four I devoured while typing this post.  FHE has a couple in his palm, too – looks like soccer practice didn’t go as intended…. or maybe it did.

 
 
 
 

 

Ingredients

    1 cup white whole wheat flour
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    1/4 cup agave nectar
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup Splenda brown sugar blend)
    1 medium ripe banana
    1 large egg
    1 1/2 cups oats (I used rolled oats.  Quick oats work as well and give a slightly smoother texture.)
    1 cup dark chocolate chips (or any mix-in)

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and banana.  Mix in the sugars, agave nectar and egg. 
  3. On low speed mix in flour mixture.  Finally, mix in oats and chocolate chips.
  4. Use ice cream scoop to drop dough on prepared baking sheet. 
  5. Refrigerate the cookies while oven preheats to 350 degrees F.  (This prevents the cookies from spreading too quickly.)
  6. Bake for 11-12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.  Cookies should puff slightly.
  7. Cool for about 5 minutes before transferring.

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Worth More Than a Penny

Three and a half years ago I discovered that I shared a close due date with a classmate of mine, Penny.  We weren’t close friends at the time but as the months went on, we built a quiet friendship based on our coincidence.  Most fondly, I remember months of Criminal Procedure together.  Penny and I sat across the aisle from 0ne another and around 6:30 or 7 p.m. she and I would reach into our computer bags for a snack (or an entire meal).  We would point to our respective treats and raise an eyebrow as if to say, “Want some?”  But only our glances made it across the aisle - there was no need to expose either one of us to an hour of the Socratic method.  Let someone else provoke a deeper understanding of the law.  The 7 o’clock hour is not a good time to digest anything other than food. 

Soon after the boys were born our families started getting together for dinner.  Indeed, Penny and her family were our only real “dinner guests” for the first year.  To say we looked forward to seeing Penny because we were leading parallel lives is only half the story.  See, Penny is an excellent cook.  And if you’re lucky to be invited to her home, she’ll treat you to a thoughtful, scratch-made meal that draws inspiration from any of the many countries her family has called “home.” 

I will never forget the first meal she served us:  roasted rack of pork, pommes anna, seasoned english cucumbers, and poached pears with a homemade caramel sauce.  That night Penny reminded us the wonders of a rack of pork.  Now, we scout out the flavorful racks that are available only certain times of year.  We reserve space in the freezer for them – for a special occasion or just for ourselves to savor.  It is good enough for both. 

The recipe posted is my husband’s – but the inspiration is all Penny who, forever, will be one of my most priceless friends.

Roast Rack of Pork

Ingredients

1 pork rack with four bones attached
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1 TBSP rosemary, chopped
1 tsp bay leaves, crumbled
1 tsp thyme, chopped
4 TBSP butter or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, herbs and butter/oil in large bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Season pork lightly with salt and pepper. 
  4. Lay fat-side up on a rack set in a large roasting pan. 
  5. Coat pork (fat side only) evenly with breadcrumb mixture.  The crust should be fairly thick.
  6. Roast pork at 20 minutes per pound until crust is golden and thermometer inserted into center registers 145 degrees F.  
  7. Transfer pork to cutting board.  Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

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We’ve always delighted in a well-made hash.   Sadly, too often it is grease-laden, gut-busting, and a uniform shade of brown - a mound of burnt potatoes and unidentifiable meat.  With an impending trip to the mountains this weekend and a shelf of produce to use before our departure, we gave hash a fresh makeover.  The result?  Sweet potatoes cooked to flavorful perfection with a splash of chicken broth paired with savory chicken apple sausage, buttery leeks, sweet corn, and garden-fresh peas.  Best yet, leftovers reheat perfectly to provide a luscious bed for a fried egg the next morning.

Hash

Ingredients

    2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
    Approximately 1 cup chicken apple sausage (or any protein)
    1 leek, sliced
    2 ears of corn, shucked or 1/2 cup frozen or canned corn
    1/2 peas, fresh or frozen
    1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock, as needed
    Salt
    Freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Heat large pan over medium-high heat.  Add a drizzle of olive oil and the sweet potatoes.  When slightly browned, add chicken stock.  Cover and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add sausage and leeks and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add remaining vegetables and adjust seasoning to taste.

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Oatmeal may be a yawner for some breakfast afficionados but, for me, it is far from boring – even without accoutrements.   I have another confession: I’ve eaten steel cut oatmeal every morning at home for at least 8 of the past 9 years.  Years.  (When I strayed, it was for a whole-wheat english muffin.  To be more exact, the herbed cheese or peanut butter slathered atop the muffin.  But then I discovered you could mix those toppings into oatmeal….)   My stomach churns for oatmeal and my brain cries for it the second after my alarm Rice Kernal sounds.  Part of my addiction?  A heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and nutmeg and a spash of agave nectar added to the oatmeal.   The result is a spicy, sense-awakening, warming, creamy, rich and satisfying, healthy start to my day. 

I ate oatmeal every day of my pregnancy.   Do children take on the eating habits of their mothers while in utero?  I don’t know.  Irrespective, Rice Kernal clearly loves oatmeal.  He loves it in cookie form (duh), he loves old fashioned oatmeal, and he loves the steel cut variety.   (“I’ll dent-tay,” he once said.   I’m guessing he was concurring that steel cuts are chewy and a bit crunchy.  Al dente.)   He loves oats so much he (gasp) eats old fashioned oats raw!     

Steel cut oatmeal is satisfying in a way that no other food is.  It stands totally on its own unadorned.  But more is more, and while my choice of flavorings probably fails to intrigue anyone, oatmeal is a canvass for any mix-in(s).  For Rice Kernal, milk, berries and agave nectar are all wonderful.  Still too pedestrian?  I’ve seen cheddar cheese-green onion-bacon, pumpkin pie, peanut butter chocolate banana, and soy sauce oatmeal.   I even came across one with sprinkles!  So make yourself a bowl – or a batch.  You’ll never buy pre-packaged, processed, flavored single-serve oatmeal packs again.

Steel Cut Oatmeal

 

Ingredients

    1 cup steel cut oats, rinsed
    4 cups of water
    Desired pairings

 

Directions

  1. Bring water to a boil. 
  2. Add oats.   Bring the oats and water to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-high.  (Be careful of overflow at the second boil.  I’ve cleaned my share of crusty oatmeal messes from the stovetop.  You’ll need a helping of elbow grease. )
  3. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Spoon into bowls  and top with desired pairings.

Storage Note:  Cooked oats can last up to a week in the fridge.  The oats turn fairly solid when refrigerated so take it as an invitation to infuse some liquid sweetness in the form of soymilk, milk or cream.

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If cereal from a box or bag on your grocer’s shelf is all you crave and you do not wish to be convinced otherwise, I’ll see you another day.  I will not cause break-ups.  But if things just aren’t working out for you at the breakfast table, I have a solution to try.

I can’t say I’ve broken up with my store-bought variety yet.  I’m not ready to move on entirely.  (I justify my dependent relationship on the fact that my body “needs” it before my morning run or weight session.  Like all addictions, I know I need to break it.  Hey, I’m fessing up.  That’s step one.)  On occasion, my wandering eye drifts away from my Safeway Select bag of honey almond granola and settles on my homemade version. I’m a pretty loyal one, so this doesn’t happen with regularity.  Oh, but my head and heart say it should!

Homemade granola can be far healthier.  It is endlessly customizable.  It’s so economical.  (Really, how do stores get away with charging double digits for a bag of oatmeal sans nuts.  That’s the only expensive part!)  I might add that a batch yields enough for you to package a jar to mail across country or give away to a neighbor as a treat.  I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t attach a bow and card on a bag of Safeway Select granola.

Basic Granola Recipe

Ingredients

    3 cups rolled oats
    1 cup slivered almonds
    1 cup cashews / pistachios (preferably unsalted)
    1/4 cup dark brown sugar
    1/4 cup agave nectar (or 1/3 cup honey)
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    3/4 tsp salt
    3 TBSP flax seed
    3 TBSP sesame seeds
    3 TBSP water
    1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    Pinch of cinnamon
    When I’m feeling decadent, my mix-ins include shredded coconut, pumpkin seeds and chocolate chips.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, and brown sugar.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine agave nectar, oil, and salt.
  4. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.
  5. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add additional ingredients, if desired.

Note:  This granola is quite loose.  To make clumps, add more water or some wheat germ to help the granola bind.

Update: I just came across a banana-sweetened granola on The Cooking of Joy.  Other than 1 TBSP of honey for the entire recipe, there is no added sugar.  I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.  But I just put a yellow banana in a brown bag in hopes of pushing up the timetable.

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