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Friday, February 29, 2008

Naner Bread

One of my favorite childhood memories of my mom's cooking was the comforting taste of my Mom's banana bread, the top was my favorite. I used to eat the sides, middle and save the top for last. She made it once in a while and I used to eat it a a breakfast treat.

A couple years ago when I really started to bake and experiment with cooking, I decided to ask my mom for this recipe so that I could make Ben a Banana Bread, he loves banana bread, it's one of his favorite sweet treats. It seems like many of the things that I have put up on this blog are Ben approved, or one of Ben's favorites, but this is all family approved. There is nothing to change about this recipe because it makes the perfect banana bread. The right amount of banana to bread ratio, not too dense cake and amazing top crust.

All you need is a few extra bananas, and this week I bought some for the sole purpose of making Ben and his mom some banana bread.

Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sour cream
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 medium sized ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream the softened butter and sugar together until smooth, add eggs, make sure to scrape down the sides to make sure that the sugar, butter and eggs are fully incorporated. In a separate bowl mix the sour cream and baking soda together, put aside. Mix all of the other dry ingredients together. Mash bananas with a fork until a gooey consistency and bananas to to sugar and eggs. Add in sour cream alternating with the dry ingredients until just fully incorporated. Add in the vanilla, and you can add in 1 cup of walnuts if you are using them. I am not putting the nuts in this time, the bread is a lot healthier without them, and you can then eat bigger slices. :)

Bake in a 350 degree oven in a greased loaf pan for about 55 minutes. A tooth pick entered into the middle of the cake should come out almost clean. Make sure you are not putting the tooth pick into a gooey piece of banana, because it will come out looking like the cake is not baked, when it might be. Let the bread sit in the pan for around 20 minutes until it has cooled. Run a knife along the edges of the pan to release the bread and flip over. Bread should come out easily. Let sit until fully cool, then make sure to cover so that it says fresh. The loaf will last a good week on a counter, or you can place it in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Make sure you share this bread with friends and family. It's too good to just take one slice.

Tip: Also I have found that if you double this recipe it will make 3 good size loafs, as a single recipe it makes a large loaf, you can also use 2 large bananas to substitute for 3 medium ones in a pinch.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mommy's Pecan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I really wanted to do something nice for my mom yesterday. She's been having a hard time taking care of my immobile Dad. She finally left the house yesterday to go to work, which gave me an opportunity, not only to steal her kitchen to bake in but also to make her a little something special to come home to.

My mom and I love Oatmeal Raisin cookies, but we can never find a recipe that makes a decent cookie, well I mean there are very few cookies that I wont eat, but I want something extraordinary. I want something spectacular, I want the best damn oatmeal raisin cookie recipe in the world. And while I have not found that recipe yet, this one came very very close. My mom and I plan to make it again with a few changes and see if it can be that cookie. I'll let you know if I do make it again, and include what changes we made. This recipe made a small batch of cookies, it made 12 good sized cookies, which I liked a lot, becasue sometimes 36 cookies is just a lot. The original recipe can be found here. I did change a few things to the original this time. I wanted less oats in mine and more cookie.

Mommy's Pecan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg white
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup oats
3/4 cup raisins
2/3 cup toasted pecans

Preheat your over to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl cream butter and sugars together until light in color. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, and set aside. Beat in the egg white and vanilla into the butter mixture. Make sure to scrape down the sides to make sure that everything is mixing evenly. Add in the flour mixture slowly until fully incorporated. Finally add in the oats, raisins and toasted almonds.
Place in heaping mounds on your baking sheet. I use an ice cream scoop to ensure that all of my cookies come out about the same size. Because these are very chunky cookies, I would recommend flattening the tops slightly of the mounds before they go into the oven, they will not spread very much while baking, and you don't want to end up with little rocks. Mine baked for about 18 minutes, however my mom's ovens take a few extra minutes to cook everything, so I'd say start watching them around 12-15 minutes.

These were great oatmeal raisin cookies. I'm sure we'll be making this recipe again, maybe with a few changes, but it'll show up in the future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fettuccine with Chicken, Lemon Asparagus & Sun-dried Tomatoes

This morning I took out chicken from the freeze to defrost, which means I'm making something with chicken in it for dinner. I asked Ben what he wanted and he said Lemon Asparagus. Lemon Asparagus by the way is one of Ben's favorite dishes. He almost ate all of them before they made it in to this dish. So I was thinking what can I make with chicken and lemon asparagus, hmm well we could just grill up some chicken, but that seemed boring. So I came up with this almost gourmet chicken pasta dish.

Fettuccine with Chicken, Lemon Asparagus & Sun-dried Tomatoes

1/2 box of Fettuccine Pasta
Lemon Asparagus
2 chicken breasts
Pam or oil to coat
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
7 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced into strips
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Place a medium pot of water on to boil. While waiting for the water to come up, sautee chicken in a pan with a little bit of oil or Pam to coat the bottom . We cut our chicken into bite size pieces so that they would cook faster and would be the right size for eating, cook over medium to high heat. Dust chicken with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, make sure to go light with the salt especially because sun dried tomatoes are very salty and you don't want to go over board with the salt in the end. Brown on both sides and continue until almost cooked all the way through. Add in 1/4 cup of white wine to get any chicken pieces that have stuck to the bottom of the pan up, and create a bit of a sauce.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package.

Add one recipe of lemon asparagus to the chicken, white wine mixture. I also cut these bite size, if everything in the end is about the same size it much easier to eat. Since these are already cooked, you just want to toss them in while the chicken is finishing up to meld the favors together. Let simmer until chicken is fully cooked and wine has reduced. Drain pasta and add it to the chicken asparagus mixture, you want to let the pasta absorb some of the flavors from the chicken, asparagus, lemon and wine. Finally add in chopped sun dried tomatoes and just toss to mix everything together.

Serve with Parmesan cheese on top if you like, and enjoy.

This is a light but hearty meal that is pretty easy and healthy. You cannot go wrong with it. Use whatever veggies you have on hand to switch up this meal and reinvent it over again. I think it was more stratifying than the typical "chicken, broccoli and ziti" meal that you find at any restaurant. Without the cream sauce it makes this meal a lot healthier and a bit more interesting with the asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes than boring old broccoli.

Roasted Lemon Asparagus

I'm not sure how this recipe was created, but I had a lemon and I had asparagus and I thought, hmm...I think these will be great together. I have since made this as a side dish many times, and everyone always loves the hint of tangy lemon with the asparagus.

Roasted Lemon Asparagus

1 lemon
salt & pepper to taste

Make sure you break off the ends of the asparagus before cooking. The ends are woody and hard, you would not like to eat or serve them. I like to use tin foil on a baking sheet, because there are a lot of juices from the lemon and the asparagus themselves that come out during the baking, and this makes clean up a lot easier. I put Pam or oil on the foil, you need to lightly coat the baking sheet and asparagus. Cut the lemon in half, juice half the lemon over the asparagus. With the remaining half cut into slices and place on top of the asparagus. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper. You can also zest about half the lemon and spread it over the asparagus with the salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees. Baking time will depend on the size of the asparagus and how hot your oven is. Keep an eye on them after 10 minutes, make sure you don't let them burn!

These are so good, and so simple. They are a really great accompaniment to any meal. Just make sure you make enough, they go fast.

*Ben and I have also made this recipe with Broccolini and it turned out excellent as well. The broccolini absorbed more of the lemon flavor in the floretes, so it was a very different taste than the asparagus, but I really liked how both turned out.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

I'm not sure why yesterday I wanted to make focaccia bread, but while at work I decided to try and find a recipe and make it. The simple, salty bread is one of my favorites, but I only have it when I go to a restaurant that serves it.

There was a snow storm yesterday, so both Ben and I got out of work early. I thought making focaccia would be a nice afternoon activity and snack.

Making the dough turned out to be a bit harder than I thought, well only because I bought bum yeast. After two attempts at making my yeast grow I decided to just use the bad yeast, and have a bit crunchier focaccia. It would still taste the same I hoped.

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

1 package (.25 oz) active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
1-2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

First dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm water, and let it sit for about 10 minutes, it should grow and be bubbly (but if you're like me you have bad yeast...just go with it.) In a medium sized bowl combine the flour, salt, yeast mixture and the remaining 1/4 cup of water. Mix together with a spoon then use your hands to work ingredients together. You may need a little more flour or water to make the dough smooth and come together, but just go slowly adding, you can easily add too much and get sticky or dry dough. Knead the dough by hand for a few minutes. Place the dough ball in an oiled bowl and let it raise in a warm spot. (You can turn your oven on for 1 minute to 400 degrees, once the heat is off this will be a perfectly warm place for the dough to sit.) It will double in size in about an hour and a half.

Punch down the dough so that it sinks back down, and then place the dough on an oiled pan. (I used Pam to do this, but you can use either one.) Spread the dough out on the baking sheet and dimple the surface with your fingertips. Spread the oil out over the top and sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. I spread parmesan on half of my focaccia bread, but you can use it or not to your liking. I actually enjoyed the non-cheese side better than the other, but both flavors were eaten and loved by everyone, I think it just depends on your mood, and what you want to eat.

Place in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes until bread is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Make a lot, because it will go fast. This bread was incredibly easy and yummy. One of my favorites that I will be making again. You can be really creative with your toppings, use other spices or every vegetables (like olives or sun-dried tomatoes.) Be creative with this one and use flavors that you like. This is a really good basic recipe that can be used over and over again with different toppings and will always be easy and taste good. We all loved it. Hope you try it and do too.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Morning Potatoes

Ben and I have a standing Sunday morning ritual. I make him breakfast, and I try to come up with new and original things every week. A couple of weeks ago I had some potatoes laying around and thought, how I can I make some easy breakfast potatoes (home -fries) without it taking an hour to cook the potatoes. I realized if I did the majority of the cooking of the potatoes in the microwave and then finished them in a pan so that the outsides could get crispy, it would cut the cooking time by a lot.

Home Fries

2 idaho potatoes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Wash and dry the potatoes, just to get off any dirt that may be on the skin, poke potatoes with a fork so that it doesn't explode while cooking. Wrap potatoes in paper towels and place in microwave for 4 to 5 minutes, this depends on the size of your potatoes, just keep an eye on them.

Once the potatoes are cooked, take out of the microwave and cube, you can make them any size you want. Spray Pam or coat a pan with a little oil or butter, depending on what you have on hand, toss in cubed potatoes and sprinkle seasoning over the potatoes. Cook on medium to high heat until the outsides are golden and crispy, will be about 10 minutes.

This is a really healthy, tasty and easy alternative to heavier fried home fries or any other diner like potatoes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spicy Dirty Rice

Usually one of us, Ben or I actually have a craving for what we want for dinner, usually. Sometimes we can go back and forth for an hour asking, well "what do you want?" Tonight neither of us really wanted anything. I listed off just about everything that I had caned or frozen in my apartment. I can't keep at lot of food in my house since I do share a kitchen with four other girls. If we do actually want something for dinner we'll pick it up on our way over. Tonight we decided to mix everything that I had and attempt to make something good. We came up with Dirty Spicy Rice. It was delicious.

Dirty Spicy Rice

1 cup uncooked rice
2 cups chicken broth or water (or a combination of both)
1/4 tsp salt
2 chicken breasts
2-3 Tbsp lime juice
2/3 small can black beans
5 oz frozen corn

In a medium sauce pan cook one cup of any type of white rice according to the package directions. You can either use chicken broth or water, you can even use that 90 second rice in the microwave. Any type will do.

We used 2 chicken breasts that we sliced into bite size pieces before cooking. We added the seasoning to the chicken before putting it in the pan.

1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil leaves

In a sautee pan place a little oil or Pam in the bottom to coat, just after placing chicken in the pan to cook add in 2-3 tablespoons of lime juice. Let cook, and sauce render out.

Once chicken is almost finished add frozen corn and black beans. Cook until warmed through and chicken is done.

In a bowl place rice on the bottom and top with chicken mixture. And you're done.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ben's Pumpkin Oreo Cheesecake Bars

Every year way before his birthday I tell Ben I want to make his something special. Anything he wants as his birthday cake. Last year I made and transported whoopie pies 90 miles as his treat. This year I think in December I looked over at him and said, "you're going to have to start thinking about what you want for your birthday desert." Ben looked at me like I was crazy, its months away he said. In my mind theres nothing better than giving, and getting special things on your birthday, so I try and plan and make his birthday as special as he wants it.

This year he said well I really like that pumpkin cheesecake that you made me a while ago. Ok I can do that. The second time I asked him what he wanted instead of cake he answered again pumpkin cheesecake, but wait he said, can you make it with an oreo crust instead of gingersnaps? Hmmm...sure I can do that, but don't blame me if it tastes weird.

I thought that pumpkin oreo cheesecake would be an original recipe, something that I could claim as our own, until I found this recipe. However my recipe is so different that I'm going to say, while not an original idea, mine is a different take on this interesting combination of flavors.

Ben's Pumpkin Oreo Cheesecake Bars

3 Cups crushed Oreos
6 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 Cup canned pumpkin
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 Cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
3 eggs

Lightly grease a 13 by 9 by 2 inch pan and set aside. In a medium size bowl combine crushed oreos and melted butter. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake in a 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until crust is slightly firm.

While the crust is baking, combine in a medium bowl the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and flour, set aside for later.

Use softened cream cheese, this will really make the batter come together easier and make a smoother cake in the end. Just let it sit out of the fridge for an hour or so. Using a mixing bowl beat the cream cheese on high until smooth, scrape down the sides to make sure that all the cream cheese is included. Add sugar and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add eggs one at a time, and let the egg combine into the mixture before adding the next.

Stir in a third of the cream cheese batter into the pumpkin mixture, stir until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture over crust. Place spoonfuls of pumpkin batter over cream cheese batter, then swirl in with a knife.

Bake cheesecake for 40-45 minutes just until center has firmed up. This will really differ based on your oven and the weather so I would recommend to watch it closely after about 30 minutes.

Let it cool completely in pan and then cover and chill for at least a couple hours before serving.

Ok Ben's coming over soon, I can't wait to give him his birthday cheesecake. Hope he loves it.

He did. He said, "best ever." :)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Raisin & Almond Nola

Nola is no different that granola, maybe it is different thought, it has Hallie love in it. Ben and I tend to shorten any word that can possibly be shortened. Granola became Nola, Bananas became Naners. You'll get used to the short cute, love-y names that we have for our favorite foods. But nola, I eat nola every day. At work, during the week for lunch in yogurt and for breakfast on the weekends. I'm not sure when I realized that granola existed in a non-bar form but it wasn't until recently, but almost every morning for all 3 1/2 years of college, I ate granola bars for breakfast. And yes I am that oblivious to the world.

Last week I found a recipe for granola, and thought how good an idea it was to make my own. I make my own cookies, soup, etc. why have I never though of making granola before? And besides I spend like 7 dollars on granola every week at the grocery store, this way is a lot cheaper and you can customize your granola and add in any thing you like. It is such an easy, yummy snack, or meal.

This is my second attempt at making granola so I have change the original recipe a lot, so much so it seems unnecessary to post the original.


2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal (rice crispys)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 3.9 oz individual size applesauce
1/4 cup granulated sugar
just under 1/2 cup honey
1/8 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup almonds roasted or natural
3/4 cup raisins

In a big bowl combine the oaks, rice cereal, and spices. In a separate bowl stir all of the wet ingredients including sugar, apple sauce, honey, molasses and vanilla. Stir until combined, pour wet ingredients into dry and mix throughly. Mix in almonds and raisins (or any other mix-ins that you like.)

Spread out on a baking sheet in one even layer. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes, then flip granola to other side and let bake for an additional 30 minutes on the other side. Granola will break apart while flipping, just try your best to make sure the majority of it is on the other side. If some still feels wet take out the dry granola and continue baking until crunchy an additional 10-15 minutes.One thing I must warn you about granola is that it smells so good while its baking. Its just almost impossible to wait on trying it, but you should really wait until its cooled to taste it.

The first time that I made this granola I added in the raisins after the granola was cooked, but did not like it because the raisins were not part of the actual granola, just almost an after-thought that fell to the bottom of the bag. This time I added them in before baking and the raisins exploded, well not exploded, but blew up into little raisin balls. But they shrunk down as soon as the granola was cooled, and look like normal raisins again. So don't be alarmed, however cooked raisins do taste a little different than straight from the box, so you can add them in before or after cooking, it doesn't really matter.

Store in an air tight container, and will last for as long as it takes you to eat it all. It's hard not to snack on...