Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tis the Season

I love Spring. 

A lot happens at the tail end of Winter and through Spring: a huge number of fabulously, wonderful birthdays (Justin's, mine, Charlie's and Auggie's for example); thin, fresh asparagus; straight from the garden lettuce; flowers everywhere; and every now and then the weather will tease us with a preview of summer--hinting at what is to come. Spring also reminds me that until the end of summer, I won't have to hunt, too much, in the produce section at the grocery store. It is amazingly satisfying to walk out into the backyard empty handed, and come back with a mound of crisp lettuce that's just a wash away from my salad bowl--and this is just the beginning.

So, here we go.

This is what we had for dinner last night: a blended green salad from the backyard and stuffed pork loin. Justin was in charge of the pork loin and I was responsible for the salad. Like me, he is a little bit of this and a little bit of that kind of cook. From what I understand he did the following:

Cut a slit in the side of pork loin and fill with Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper.
Rub the same Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper on the outside, drizzle everything with olive oil and grill on medium high heat for about 4 and a half min per side.
Remember to let the cooked meat rest on a cutting board for about 5 to 8 min before serving.

It was a perfect dinner.

My Green Salad with Simple Vinaigrette

I wash and chop lettuce from my garden and put it all into my large wooden salad bowl.
We love adding any of the following: red or green onions, walnuts, pine nuts, grated parm/feta/goat cheese, tomatoes, and/or olives.

My quick salad dressing (for 2 or 3 people who love a large salad)
Please note that I do not measure when I bring a dressing together. And I prefer a more acidic dressing, which means that I use more vinegar and mustard than most people. At the end of the day, mix and taste, and mix and taste until you find something that you love. Once you get the hang of it, it is hard to create a bad dressing, and it will be so much better and faster than anything that you can find in the dressing aisle at the grocery store.

In a small bowl combine the following:
A couple glugs of the best olive oil I have.

Add about an equal amount of a favorite vinegar. Currently I'm using half balsamic vinegar and half apple cider vinegar together--odd I know, but I love it. And I feel like I'm bringing a bit of my grandma to dinner because she loved apple cider vinegar and all that it can do for the body and soul--a true cure all in her opinion.

Add a half-way-up-the-prongs-of-a-dinner-fork scoop of mustard (your favorite). I love stone ground mustard.

Add, about 2 tsp to 1 Tbsp of Karam's Garlic Sauce, which is amazing. It might only be available here in the heater Seattle area. (I didn't find their website, but they do sell it on Amazon Fresh.)

Add, about 1.5 tsp of Amore's concentrated sun dried tomato paste.

A pinch of salt and a bigger pinch of pepper.

Then I mix it (a quick whip with the wrist) with a fork until it comes together.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Triple Chocolatly Goodness

It's the middle of March, and it snowed the other day. It rained today, but it was a cold monsoon, slushy, icy kind of rain. Since I am still getting over the flu that knocked me out this past weekend, this weather feels extra cold. While I am not up for an outside winter adventure with the kids and I can't luxuriate in a hot bath (at least not until the kids go to bed), I can turn on the oven and play with chocolate. There isn't much better, especially this time of year, than having the oven on, warming my kitchen and infusing my house with the smell of baking chocolate.

While Auggie napped in his super cozy fleece sleep sack, Charlie and I worked on our cold, wintery, wet afternoon projects: brownies (me and her) and painting (her).   Because baking brownies is so easy and almost impossible to mess up, it is one of my favorite treats to bake with Charlie, and because she loves chocolate and loves to stir, this is a perfect yucky day activity.   One of the best reasons to bake for no specific reason, especially in the middle of winter, is the bone warming heat that the oven generates and the soul warming treat that comes out of that oven. Second to that is being able to share our creations with friends and family.

I haven't met anyone who doesn't love these brownies -- even non-brownie people love them.  Actually, one of my nephews isn't a fan, but his reason was that they were "too chocolaty," but I don't view that as a problem--do you?

Here are more photos of our fun this afternoon and, of course, the recipe. I have included the amount for all-purpose flour needed for the traditional recipe--but, the almond meal/brown rice flour combo is, I feel, much better.

Super Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies

7 ounces semisweet chocolate in chip form or chopped
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate in chip form or chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into quarters
3 tablespoons cocoa powder 
3 large eggs 
1 cups granulated sugar 200g
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon table salt 
1/2 cup (45g) almond flour
1/2 cup (55g) brown rice flour
(for the Gluten Lover’s use 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour 5 oz rather than the 2 flours above)
5 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 8-inch square pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. This makes it easy to remove the brownies from the pan once they have cooled.
In medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate pieces and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. 
Or, melt the chocolate pieces and butter in the microwave. Microwave on high for one minute and whisk. Microwave in 30 second intervals, whisking after each 30 seconds, until smooth.
Whisk cocoa powder into the melted chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt together in medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. 
Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture.
Lightly fold in flours with a spatula, add chocolate chips, mix until just combined--do not over mix (more of an issue when using all-purpose flour). 
Pour mixture into prepared pan, bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean, but with a small amount of sticky crumbs clinging to it, check after 30 to 35 minutes.
Leave in pan until cool.
Use the over hanging foil as handles, gently pull the brownies out of the pan to finish cooling.
These brownies will not cut well if they are too warm. Also, it is best to wipe the knife between each cut. I tend to cut the square into 16 pieces.
These brownies can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated or frozen.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Best Laid Plans

I am finally going to make some cheese. I eat a lot of cheese, but I've never made it before.

While I was breast feeding little Auggie I had to give up a few of my favorite things: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy and cheese. I knew that I was missing cheese, but I guess I missed it more than I realized. One day, while at Whole Foods, I found this cheese making kit and I had to have it. It has been sitting in my kitchen for months, looking at me, waiting.

Now that cheese is back on my "can eat" list, I'm going to try it out. We are also spending a lazy weekend with friends up on San Juan Island. This place always invites a lot of rest and kitchen creativity. Along with this cheese I am also going to bake up batch of G-free brownies, and my original peanut butter chip/chocolate chip cookie. One of our friends is going to try a milk poached whole chicken for dinner tonight--should be interesting.

(After a few hours)

Even the best laid plans may not work out. Due to timing issues and failing to ensure that I had all the ingredients on hand, I still have not made cookies or brownies. As for the cheese, I just got lazy. Kind of. I decided that I had to go on my all time favorite run, make a fort with Charlie and help Aug with his pulling-up-to-standing technique. Not a bad trade off. Charlie did spend some time in the garden looking for something for our table. This is what she brought in:

Alas, no baking. But, there are two whole chickens doing their thing in the two ovens. Like my best laid plans, our friend decided to not go with the milk braised chicken. Instead, one chicken is being simply roasted--always super yummy. The 2nd chicken, after being browned, is in a giant pot in the oven sitting on a pile of onions, brussels sprouts, red potatoes, carrots, white wine, chicken stock, and garlic. I love being up at the cabin.

(After a few more hours)

I was able to bake the cookies, so yummy.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Crazy in Here

I've lost count of the number of projects/things to do residing on my counter. Here is what you don't see: post pumpkin muffin mess, dishes from the kid's dinner, my dinner prep, and a little fake Nemo fish growing in a bowl (see photo at the bottom of this post). At least I'm eyeball deep in artwork (the purple thing is Charlie's Octagon Octopus from "O" week at school).

Charlie has a new and exciting addition to her art area--a jet pack that she made at school. They are at the tail end of their solar system and space exploration series at school. For the last few weeks I have been re-learning about planets and non-planets from a preschool perspective, it's pretty interesting stuff. It might be hard to tell, but her jet pack is made from a cereal box covered with foil, Duck Tape as straps and even includes orange/red streamers representing propulsion flames. When we got home from school she put it on upside down (the flames on the top, not the bottom). I politely mentioned that it was on upside down. Well, she quickly informed me that she could wear it anyway that she wanted. I think I might be in trouble with this little one, but you gotta love her independence.

One of the best parts of my cluttered counter are the projects that are just starting to take shape. This past summer Charlie and I (mainly me) tended to our garden. As a result she is really into planting, harvesting, flowers, digging and watching seeds turn into baby plants. It will be great to watch August learn about the garden this summer--hopefully by then he will have dropped the need to put everything and anything in his mouth. Anyway, I stopped by City People's today and picked up some early Spring seeds and windowsill starting containers. As of dinner this evening we have a few different lettuce options, cilantro, green onions and (for fun) spaghetti squash seeds nicely tucked away in their little dirt beds. Grow well little seeds.

And here is Nemo.

Until next time, Enjoy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Have old bananas?

Make chocolate cupcakes.

I bet you thought I was going to suggest banana bread. Don’t get me wrong I love banana bread, but I’m very picky about my banana bread. I love most nuts, but not in baked goods. So banana bread with walnuts or pecans? No go. Also, a lot of versions end up as greasy banana bread gut bombs; which isn’t appealing to me at all. But, I do like chocolate. And as Valentine's Day is right around the corner, and I make these all the time, I figured that I would share my yummy chocolate/banana cupcake recipe.

I discovered the inspiration for this chocolate cupcake recipe before Charlie's 3rd birthday. She loved them and so did all the gluten eaters at her party. A chocolate cupcake recipe that calls for about three very ripe bananas and chocolate? I couldn’t resist. If I am going to have chocolate, a moist, dark chocolate cake is good, a great truffle is pretty hard to pass up and a fudge-like brownie is ideal (especially with vanilla bean ice cream). But Charlie, oh my little Charlie, she loves chocolate in any form equally. She loves, loves, loves chocolate and loves to help me bake, so this is perfect.

An added bonus about this recipe is that it isn’t bad for you. How often do you find a cake recipe that has a decent amount to fiber in it? Did I mention that they have chocolate chips in them? And because it is filled with pretty wholesome ingredients I’m ok if Charlie wants to have one day after day. It feels good to be able to say “yes” to her as often as I can. Between Celiac and her being three and a half I find myself saying “no” more than I like. When she wakes up from a nap and asks for a cupcake, “with your frosting mama,” I can say, “sure, if you help me mix the frosting,” and feel good about it.

I have made a conscious effort to find and make treats, like these cupcakes, as healthy as possible, which allows Charlie, and soon Auggie, to be able to have them more frequently. I have noticed that when I can say “yes” to her pleas for a cupcake or other “treat,” she will want it for a few days and then move on to something else. I bet that if I said “no” to her requests she would fixate on whatever it is she wants and then go overboard. It is amazing to see her have a cookie or cupcake and ¾ of the way through, stop eating it and ask me to save the rest for later—I love that. While I am not a nutritionist, I’m assuming that since most of the sweet things that she does eat do have some good-for-you elements, they don’t affect her body the same way that other overly processed sweets would. She gets super excited about them, is very appreciative, and says “thank you mama for the cupcake” over and over again while jumping and smiling. But there isn’t that crazy frenzy after she eats them, or tantrums if I say that she can’t have one. Her love of chocolate is amazing and to see her get so excited about it and these cupcakes makes me smile. They're also so, so, so easy to put together that Charlie can really help. She can’t crack an egg yet, but she is a great stirrer, and we are working on her egg cracking skills. 

There are a lot of articles encouraging everyone to eat more whole grains and to use other flours besides white all-purpose flour. I think that this recipe is a great way to experiment with different grain flours because it is easy, the flours can be bought in small bags for not a ton of money and are sold in larger mainstream grocery stores. The trick is to keep enough bananas around so that you have three that are over ripened.

I always make the full batch and freeze most of them; they freeze really well. When I pull a couple out of the freezer to eat, I don’t let them defrost on the counter. I put them in the microwave for a few seconds. As a result, the cake defrosts of course, but the chocolate chips soften up, almost becoming little pockets of molten chocolate—not a bad thing to find when you take a bite, right?

Chocolate/Banana Cupcakes

Makes about 24 standard cupcakes. Pre-heat oven to 350*

300g ripe bananas
150g cane sugar
3 eggs
80g light olive oil
4oz applesauce
2tsp vanilla

100g teff flour
25g millet flour
25g brown rice flour
50g almond meal
20g cocoa powder
1Tbsp psyllium husk powder
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp baking soda

100g chocolate chips (I have been using 50g semisweet and 50g bittersweet)

In a medium bowl, mash the bananas and set aside (I use a fork). 

In a separate bowl whisk together the teff flour, millet flour, brown rice flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, psyllium husk powder, salt and baking salt.

Using a whisk, in a medium/large bowl, mix the sugar, eggs, olive oil, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in mashed bananas.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients, mixing until combined.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon into non-stick sprayed and lined cupcake pan, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake for about 20 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let the cupcakes sit in the pan for a few minutes, then have them cool on a cooling rack.
Once cool, frost with your favorite frosting, or not. These cupcakes do not require frosting to be yummy.

The batter can also be baked in loaf form and then sliced and eaten like a tea bread or pound cake. The cooking time for the loaf pan is different: bake in a greased pan for about 40 min.

Charlie’s favorite is a chocolate cream cheese frosting, which is ideal for me as I can mix a small batch of it together in a bowl with a fork in only a couple of min.

For the full batch of cupcakes:

16 ounces (2 packages) of room temp cream cheese
1 cup powdered (confectioner) sugar
3 TBSP cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer.

With a paddle attachment, mix on medium low until well combined.

Frost the cupcakes.

Omit the cocoa powder for a vanilla cream cheese frosting. 
For Valentine's Day, add a couple, or a few, drops of red food coloring to the vanilla frosting to make it pink.