30 April 2011

The elusive quest for healthy banana bread

With a bunch of bananas browning at a rapid rate this past week, there was no better time but the present to tackle the ongoing and elusive quest for perfect a healthy and delicious banana bread. I have been fond of this treat since introduced to it by my mom and now having gone through a slew of recipes, I've discovered I like my banana bread rather simple. I want the rich, but clean flavors of vanilla and banana shining through, and the texture just right, with a surprise of raisin in the occasional bite. And guess what? I achieved just that with two great low fat recipes! Of course, if you prefer a more dolled up banana bread with spices and the addition of nuts, please customize this bread to your preference!

Banana Bread

  • 1 and 1/2 c of whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c of sugar
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/4 c of fat free greek yogurt OR 1/2 c of softened butter and 1/2 c of unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 3 bananas
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Fork
  • Spatula
  • Greased loaf pan (I used an olive oil cooking spray to get the job done)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.
  2. Mash bananas up with a fork and mix well with eggs.
  3. Stir in remaining wet ingredients.
  4. Fold in dry ingredients to the banana mixture until well incorporated.
  5. Pour into loaf pan evenly. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread is cooked. If at 35 or 40 minutes the top is as brown as you would like and is at the texture you prefer, but the the bread still jiggles and does not come up clean, cover the the loaf pan loosely with tin foil and continue baking for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes and then allow to cool completely on a rack. Do not attempt to cover the bread in any way for at least 3 hours, or the moist bread will stick and get, well, icky, on whatever you have covered it with.
  7. As you can see, my breads came out as two different colors and slightly different heights. The one made with greek yogurt is the lighter looking bread, which to me appears untraditional, however I find the two have the same texture inside. The one made with a mixture of apple sauce and butter is the browner of the two then, and has a slightly harder and crunchier top, but for me isn't reason enough to bake it again with butter. Enjoy!
p.s. Cleaning out your fridge can produce extremely colorful dinners!

28 April 2011

A crap load of cookies

How do you like them alliteration? Nice, right?

Well, let me start off by apologizing if I left someone actually in suspense. Last week's innovative flashlight use in the kitchen was so that I could break up the mini cadbury eggs and add them to some cookie dough. These eggs hands down constitute my favorite candy (I scoured 3 stores before I could find them last week) and I simply had to take advantage of them!

I incorporated my little pretties into two different cookie recipes I found online that had received rave reviews, with one being vanilla, the other chocolate. While, my dad stated it best later that weekend upon trying one of each type with, "You are certainly not afraid of using sugar", I must warn that the chocolate cookies are truly only for those craving chocolate in a concentrated form, not for pseudo-chocolate lovers. (Actually, perhaps Andy said it best when he said I could an enabler for adult onset diabetes.) Anyways, I highly recommend trying out these recipes when you have the opportunity. I might actually play around the the vanilla recipe as a base for other cookies, because the addition of instant pudding mix makes a cookie just so decadently soft. Either that, or I need to figure out the magical properties of the contents of instant pudding mix. And now, without further ado, links to these two magnificent recipes!

Chocolate Pudding Cookies from 101 Cookbooks
Vanilla Pudding (Chocolate Chip) Cookies from Two Peas and their Pod

This week's batch went back to a childhood favorite: peanut butter cookies. Okay, the decision to make peanut butter cookies might have had something to do with the fact that I had been staring at pictures of the cookies all day at work. Anyways, since I also received a camera over the weekend, I was even able to take some pictures along the way! The recipe was flavorful and extremely simple, however I should have listened to the original directions when they said to pull the cookies out of the oven after 10-12 minutes, even if they still look undone. I instead put them on the top rack for an additional 5-8 minutes, which gave them a beautiful golden brown color to them, but also dried them out. (Truth be told, they were very soft and tender when they first came out, but they hardened in the cooling process.) In the future, I hope to modify this recipe with some of that magical instant vanilla pudding mix in order to achieve texture perfection!

Peanut Butter Cookies (from smitten kitchen with slight adjustments)

  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c butter, softened
  • 1 c peanut butter, room temperature (I used half creamy, half chunky)
  • 3/4 c (white) sugar
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tbs milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c peanut butter or semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Hand or stand mixer
  • Spatula
  • Cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper or silicone sheets (like Silpat)
Instructions (please mind the numbered pictures, they aren't steps so much as reference points!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, beat together butters until smooth.
  3. Once smooth, add in sugars until fluffy and creamy.
  4. Mix in eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.
  5. Add dry ingredients and combine with peanut butter mixture until well combined.
  6. Fold in chips by hand.
  7. 7. Make 12 tablespoon-sized drops of dough evenly spaced across lined cookie sheets (so that 2 sheets would produce 24 cookies). If desired, at this point, lightly press drops of dough with a fork in order to produce criss-cross markings.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes, and definitely, no longer than 15 minutes.
  9. Cool cookies on sheet until able to transfer onto a wire cooling rack without them losing form, then allow them to cool completely on rack.

20 April 2011

Mini Cadbury Eggs and a Flashlight

I won't say quite yet what I'm doing with a flashlight in my baking, but be excited!

More to come later..

18 April 2011

Cheese Featured 3 Ways

This past Friday an impromptu surprise birthday party was thrown for one of my friends. I was given 24 hours notice, which included my allotted hours for sleep (my love for sleep rivals my love for food, and that's saying something) and the following work day, but I up for the challenge. After considering what I had in cupboards and fridge and what ingredients I could buy downtown, I settled on providing some appetizers. Now while I tend to eat and cook with healthy, natural ingredients accompanied by spices and strong flavors, there are occasions that call for going all out, such as this party! Unfortunately, I appeared to have a lapse of memory and failed to consider that my healthy diet is also driven by a medical condition which prohibits me from indulging in fatty foods. Whoops. If you are like me, please be warned! These appetizers, while tasty and convenient to prepare, are anything but easy on the stomach!

First up was a taco dip that has been a staple at pretty much every family gathering on my mom's side for as long as I can remember. It's nothing fancy, but it's simple and delicious. I also went with an easy spinach and artichoke dip that I found on Closet Cooking. (Might I note that the artichoke bread from this blog is absolutely brilliant? You don't even have to go through the dipping motions, the dip is served pre-slathered on bread!) Lastly, I was reminded by the puff pastry dish filled with jam and brie at the party of another childhood favorite.

Taco Dip
  • 1 pint of sour cream
  • 12 oz of cream cheese (room temperature)
  • Taco seasoning mix, to taste
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 tomato (optional)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 8 oz of sharp cheddar or "Mexican" blend cheese, shredded
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Chef's knife
  • Casserole dish
  1. Mix sour cream, cream cheese, and taco seasoning in large bowl.
  2. Transfer mixture into serving dish, such as a 9 x 13" casserole dish, and spread out evenly.
  3. Chop peppers and onion into 1/4" wedges or smaller. Remove seed and pulp from tomato, then chop tomato into similar sized pieces as the other vegetables. (If preparing the day before, stop here and continue assembly right before serving to avoid the vegetables' juices from leaking.)
  4. Add chopped vegetables in an even layer to the serving dish.
  5. Sprinkle cheese evenly over vegetables.
  6. Keep refrigerated until party time, then serve with chips and/or dipping vegetables of choice.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip (from Closet Cooking with slight adjustments)
  • 10 oz package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 14 oz can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped finely
  • 4 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1/2 c of sour cream
  • 1/4 c of fat free plain greek yogurt
  • 1 - 2 tbs of minced garlic
  • 1 tbs of garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp of red chili pepper flakes
  • 1/4 c of parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 c of mozzarella cheese, shredded

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Cutting board
  • Chef's knife
  1. Preheat oven at 425 degree Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix together cream cheese, sour cream, and greek yogurt.
  3. Stir in spinach and artichoke.
  4. Add minced garlic, half of the chili flakes, and half of the grated parmesan to mixture.
  5. Smooth out mixture and then top with garlic powder, remaining chili flakes, and and remaining cheese.
  6. Bake dip for 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown around the edges. Serve with dipping utensils of choice! (I highly recommend pita chips!)

Baked Brie with Applies and Cranberries (from Pampered Chef)
  • 8 oz round of brie
  • 1 tbs of butter, melted
  • 1/2 c of apple, chopped
  • 1/4 c of sliced almond
  • 1/4 c of dried cranberries
  • 1 tbs of packed brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Baking sheet
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine chopped apple, sliced almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix gently with melted butter.
  3. Cut brie cheese in half horizontally, or the long way. (Envision the brie like a hamburger bun at this point.)
  4. Spoon half of apple mixture into the middle of the cut brie. (Following the hamburger analogy, the apple mixture should be placed where the hamburger is placed in a bun.) Spoon remaining mixture over top of the brie (or on top of the imaginary top half of the bun).
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until cheese has softened and is beginning to melt. Serve with crackers and bread.

14 April 2011

Apple & Craisin Whole Wheat Muffins

So it turns out the muffins I experimented with last night turned out to be a success! I even gave some little miniature muffins to three of my friends, each having their own palate, in order to get more feedback on the muffin. While I wanted to try the recipe for whole wheat apple muffins from smitten kitchen, I just couldn't justify having a stick of butter and a cup of sugar go into my future breakfast treats. So my goal then was to make something that would be easy to grab on the go as breakfast, but that is equally nutritious as it is convenient. In truth, I did so by using a lot of whatever was in the kitchen (thus the craisins for some added sweetness), so feel free to continue making adjustments to the recipe!

Apple & Craisin Whole Wheat Muffins (based on Deborah Madison's basic buttermilk muffin recipe)

Yield: 12-15 muffins

  • 2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c instant oatmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/3 c buttermilk
  • 1/3 c fat free vanilla yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large apples, diced thinly
  • 1/4 c craisins
  • spatula
  • large mixing bowl
  • small mixing bowl
  • muffin tin
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease muffin tin with method of choice (I sprayed my tin with an olive oil spray).
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in the large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the liquid ingredients to the small mixing bowl and gently mix.
  4. Fold liquid ingredients into dry mixture.
  5. Fill tins to top with batter.
  6. Bake in muffins in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes.
  7. After 20 minutes has elapsed, move tin to the top rack for 5 additional minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are evenly golden brown and no longer jiggle when tin is moving.
  8. Remove from heat and turn out muffins.
I found these muffins to be incredibly moist (perhaps too moist?) but with great, almost nutty, texture as every bite is filled with tender muffin, small apple chunks, and the occasional craisin. In the future, I'd try this recipe again, but with less buttermilk and maybe even more oatmeal. (Taste testers, comments? Suggestions?) Overall, though, it was a success and kept me satiated at work for a good 4 hours!

13 April 2011

I'm alive, I swear!

I really need to get better at this blogging thing. I'm great at READING them and even trying out new recipes, but not so great at posting these endeavors. To buy me some leeway from whatever loyal fans I may have, I've added a blog roll to the side so that you all can enjoy in the primarily blogs that inspire me! And a testimony to demonstrate that I've been staying true to spending lots of quality time in my tiny kitchen, I give you this!

Colleen and Amelia, two of my best friends and labmates, came running into the office yesterday looking for cookies. I've been making them weekly, so people have come to expect them at this point. Anyways, at the request of Colleen I made another batch of brown sugar cookies. I found the recipe at Baking Bites last week and made it for those who are less chocolate inclined, but apparently both chocolate and non-chocolate aficionados alike appreciate this recipe! They came out EVEN better since I made sure to really cream the butter and sugar for a good 5 or so minutes. Then I also baked a recipe from the Flour cookbook for "Chunky Lolas", but I made some adjustments to the recipe. Overall, they might be my new favorite recipe, as they are loaded with raisins, choco chips, oatmeal, and coconut flakes. It calls for pecans, which I would have loved to add, but I don't have a wholesale club membership yet, so I'll save off on buying nuts for baking since they're so darn expensive. Anyways, they came out PERFECTLY!

Then today I continued the kitchen mayhem. I practically sprinted home from work in order to try my hand at the creamed spinach recipe from smitten kitchen that I had been oogling. I had never had creamed spinach as far as I can recall, but man, I have not had such delicious savory scents filling up my kitchen in I don't even know how long! I made the dish to my likings, so with smaller portions, especially with respect to the roux it calls for. I also loved the idea of an over easy egg dribbling over the creamed spinach, so I went ahead and included that, but because I lacked a baguette in my kitchen, I included some potatoes in the creamed spinach. But really, just make it now! Stop reading and make it!

Still reading? Okay, I just played around with Deborah Madison's basic buttermilk muffin recipe from her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book. If the apple muffins come out well, which I will test tomorrow for breakfast, I will be sure to come back and post the recipe I used! I will also try and create some sort of tasty picture to go with it, since this post right here is a whole lot of text.

Happy eating, folks!