Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chocolate-swirled Banana Bread

I have a bi-monthly meeting with some colleagues that I always look forward to.  I decided that I wanted to bring a baked treat for them this week and as I looked around the kitchen, I noticed a couple of ripe bananas.  I like my bananas a little bit green so I sometimes have a hard time deciding when they're ripe enough to bake with but I hit the sweet spot with this recipe.  The bread comes out super moist and delicious and the chocolate swirl adds a little extra oomph.  I highly recommend it.


1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp cocoa-almond spread
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp coconut oil
2 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup vanilla yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a loaf pan with Pam.
Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.
Put the cocoa spread and 1 tsp of coconut oil in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds.  Stir to combine.  It didn't look like it was going to come together but if you keep stirring, it will magically blend.
Mix the remaining coconut oil, canola oil, butter and brown sugar together.  Stir in the bananas.  Mix the eggs in one at a time, blending completely each time.  Mix in vanilla extract. Add yogurt and half the flour mix and stir well.  Mix in the rest of the flour blend, only until it's just incorporated.
Pour half the batter into the loaf pan.  Pour in all the chocolate mix and spread gently to ensure full coverage. Pour the rest of the batter on top and use a chopstick to swirl.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quick Cassoulet

We call this dish "meat stew" 'round our house because that's basically what it is.  Pork, sausage, bacon (when I have it) and tomatoes and beans and some red wine all combine to make a warm and earthy stew.  It's perfect for the rainy, 40ish degree weather we've been having.  I like mine with a fresh from the oven baguette and lots of butter.  I like the La Brea Take & Bake baguettes in the bakery section of the grocery store.  


1.5 pounds pork chops, cubed
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
12 oz smoked turkey sausage, sliced
3/4 cup red wine
2 cans Great Northern beans, drained
1 can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Brown the pork with onion, salt and pepper and Italian seasoning, stirring until pork is no longer pink.  Stir in the sausage and cook for a couple of minutes.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the wine.  Simmer for 4 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for another 3 minutes.  Stir in the beans, let simmer another minute or so.  Serve with warm baguette.

Adapted from Family Circle

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Five Meat Soup/Pork Marinade

The last 2 weeks have been full of excitement, mainly the awful kind. I was sick with strep and some terrible sinus something for all last week, then it snowed about a foot twice within a week. Spending an entire week at home because of snow and sickness was supposed to create an opportunity for wondrous new dishes, but instead it created an inability to go to the store.

I did a bit of planning ahead when I was invited to see Nick Offerman (Ron! Swanson!) live with some friends. In his honor I decided on a many meat soup! Sadly my infirmity prevented me from seeing the show (saddest face ever) but I went ahead with the meal.

I settled on five meats:
Crawfish Boudin
Pork Carnitas
Sway Fish
Grilled Chicken

I sauteed the boudin and the pancetta, and the pork was pre-cooked and just needed to be shredded. I made a dark roux, threw in some onions and a few cups of stock, the meats and some frozen artichoke hearts and asparagus.

The result was kind of gumbo-like... partially because I did put some file and creole spices in too.

It was pretty good at first. WARNING: this soup may become toxic after 3-4 days. I ate it on Thursday, and both Si and I ate it on Saturday and we were fine, but then he had a bowl on Sunday morning and his stomach started making terrible noises. I felt pretty bad, but I have no idea what happened. I don't know if one of the ingredients deteriorated quickly or there was some weird chemical reaction and the chicken tried to reanimate or what.

So that was traumatic.

Today I wanted to do something with the rest of the pork carnitas and made an impromptu marinade from orange juice, brown sugar, chipotle powder, a tiny bit of molasses and chicken stock. It was delicious! However, I didn't take any pictures, so instead, here is some snow!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Caramel Apple Croissant French Toast

This is another recipe inspired by the things that I had no idea what to do with in my house. The leftover caramel sauce from the brownies was taunting me from the fridge and I had an inspiration.

milk or cream
caramel sauce
maple syrup

Whisk the egg, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowl. Slice the croissant in half, and dip the halves in the egg mixture.

The croissant didn't soak up the egg mixture very well, as you can see from the dry-looking croissant in the pan. I am not sure if they were not fresh and soft enough, or if the egg mixture was too thick, but it would have been tastier if they were more absorbent.

I fried up the bread, but watch out because the outsides brown really quickly. On the second pair I tried putting a little brown sugar in the batter, and it was good but I should have gone a little heavier and they wouldn't have even needed syrup!

I mixed the caramel sauce and maple syrup together, and they were a great compliment to the chopped apples and French toast. All in all, this was very good, but I don't think croissants make ideal toast candidates. It was kind of just like crispy croissant toast, which while awesome, doesn't have the same character as French toast with it's creamier center.

Fettucine with Sausage, Roasted Red Peppers and Spinach

I love pasta.  Love it.  Dave does too so if I come across a recipe like this one that combines our favorite things with pasta, it's a no-brainer that it's going to get worked into rotation.  It isn't super saucy but the noodles, sausage and spinach all get well coated and it's an excellent weeknight recipe because it comes together pretty quickly.


12 oz box of fettuccine
1 tbsp olive oil
12 oz hot Italian sausage, casings removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp chicken Better than Bouillon concentrate
2 handfuls of baby spinach
3/4 cup pasta water

Cook fettuccine according to directions on box.  While pasta is cooking, brown the Italian sausage over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.  Add garlic to browned sausage and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Add the red peppers, bouillon concentrate and heavy cream and simmer on low until sauce thickens, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the water and add the water to the sauce.  Add spinach to the sauce and stir until it begins to wilt.  Combine the pasta and sauce in a large bowl and toss using tongs.

Adapted from Elly Says Opa

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ratatouille Gratin

I have been thinking about ratatouille for a while. I looked up some recipes and was a little disappointed because I kind of expected it to be fancier... possibly because I saw Ratatouille and I believe everything I see in cartoons. So I decided to do a little twist on it and make it a stacked gratin. And I also left out the eggplant, because I wasn't at all interested in it.

yellow pepper
roma tomato
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt pepper

Basically you can use any amount of these that you want. I went light on the balsamic because I didn't want it to overpower everything else. Cut the vegetables into uniform-ish pieces (1/2 inch thick, 2 inches square/round), mix everything else (minus 1/2 the parm) in a large bowl and then toss the veggies in the bowl.

I preheated the oven to 425 at this point (why do all recipes say to preheat at the beginning? I usually end up with a fully heated oven for 30 or more minutes before I need it!) Then I layered everything (vertical layers, not horizontal) in a glass pan and spread the rest of the parmesan on top.

I happened to have too much for my pan, so I crammed the rest into a little ramekin to make an individual portion. This one I topped with parmesan mixed with panko because it sounded delicious.

I pulled the ramekin out after 25 minutes and the big pan after 30. You could see the juices boiling in the bottom which always makes me happy. SCIENCE! I let them set for a bit (because they were scary hot) while I grilled up some chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and some spices.

This is going to be made over and over again. I am absolutely in love with this. I feel like I was a little light on the flavors, turns out I could have gone heavier with the balsamic and spices, but even as is, I just loved this. The big dish was beautiful, and the strong parmesan flavor was perfect for the vegetables. But panko and parmesan in the small dish was a revelation. It browned up beautifully and tasted nice and crunchy with the softened veg.

I do think for this fresh herbs would have been stronger and more interesting. I have been thinking of getting a kitchen herb garden, but my kitchen window above the sink has a tiny sill and is painted shut. I will continue working on a solution for this.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Brownies

For our late Valentine's, I decided to make something that combines 2 of Si Khadir's favorite things: caramel and chocolate. Because I am a slave to the holiday, I also decided it needed to be heart-shaped. I went back and forth deciding how to make it heart-shaped... should I cut it out from a larger pan, should I try to find a mold, should I just take bites out of a cupcake until it looks like a heart... I settled on silicon heart baking cups.

I just used a chocolate chunk brownie mix, so that wasn't particularly interesting. It took about 35 minutes to bake them in the cups.

Then I melted a bag of caramels in a pot with 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of evaporated milk (however much is in one of the tiny cans). I put it in a plastic squeeze bottle and then squished it into several places in each brownie-cupcake.

I made WAAAY too much caramel sauce so I am definitely going to need some more ideas for uses, I am thinking ice cream. The caramel didn't really create a central chamber in the brownies as I had hoped, I think because the brownies are so thick, so I just created little caramel columns.

Then I made icing out of about a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon or 2 of water, 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips, and about 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. Just melt everything together and then add the powdered sugar and stir like crazy. You can change ratios to make it thicker or thinner.

I had some trouble taking the brownies out of the cups, they don't stretch quite as nicely as the paper cups. The smaller brownies came out ok, but I left the bigger ones in the cups because they were just falling apart. I poured the icing over the brownies and let it set a bit before piping little red hearts on them... how cute! (hooooorrrrkkkk)

Then I made a terribly sappy little display for when Si comes home tonight:

Yes, everyone, try not to barf and laugh at the same time. I haven't actually tasted anything yet, so I suppose there will be a follow up!

The brownies were pretty darn good, but the outsides got a bit crustier than expected, I assume because they were baked individually so they all had the crusty edge. I think cake would have been better with this combo, but it's brownies, caramel and icing so it can't be that bad. This is definitely my favorite kind of icing though... keep your butter cream to yourself, I like icing that sets up hard.

Also, that damn red ribbon above left glitter all over my house. I hate you ribbon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Breakfast Casserole

When I was a kid, Sunday breakfasts were a big deal.  While I honestly don't remember what I would eat before going to school, Sunday was the day my dad would make home fries and scrambled eggs and sausage and we'd feel so fancy because we ate brunch.  I still get the warm and fuzzies for Sunday brunch but I'm still working on timing my cooking so everything comes out hot and ready at the same time.  Enter the breakfast casserole.  It takes a little prep time but then you mix it all together, pop it in the oven and out comes a piping hot dish of deliciousness.

This casserole is adapted from one I found on

(all measurements are approximate as this was a "clean out the fridge meal")

half a bag of frozen shredded hash browns
1 cup of breakfast meat
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 broccoli crown cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup shredded cheese
4 eggs
1 cup cream (milk is fine)
generous sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

Spray some Pam in a 8x8 casserole dish.  Preheat your oven to 350.
Brown your breakfast meat in a large frying pan.  This time I used bacon and you want it to get a nice color but not get too crisp because it cooks in the oven.  Toss it in a big bowl.  Using half the bacon grease and the same pan, toss in the onions and let them soften.  Add your hash browns and stir them occasionally to help get them warm.  Liberally salt and pepper your hash browns.  Once warm, toss them in the bowl with the bacon.  Using the rest of the bacon grease, warm up your broccoli.  Once it starts to green up and get a little soft, toss it in the bowl with your hash browns and bacon and add the red pepper flakes.  In a smaller bowl, beat your eggs and cream together.  Combine your egg mix with the shredded cheese and sauteed goodies in the big bowl and pour into the casserole dish.
Bake for about 30 minutes in the oven.  Serve with hot sauce.

It reheats well so we've been eating on it all week.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thanksgiving sandwich

My company gives us a free turkey in December.  Because we were travelling for the holidays, I didn't have a chance to make the turkey until this past weekend so we're eating Thanksgiving sandwiches in February.  Wheatfields Bakery in my hometown makes this amazing sandwich with turkey, mixed greens and cranberry sauce on their Walnut Sage bread that is truly a work of art.  We don't have a Wheatfields here so I made my version of their sandwich and it turned out pretty well.


Turkey breast
artisan bread (this is La Brea Rosemary Olive Oil bread I found at Kroger)
spicy brown mustard
Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce
baby spinach

Warm up your turkey so it isn't fresh-from-the-fridge cold.  Spread mayo on both slices of bread and the brown mustard on one of the slices.  Put the turkey on the mayo/mustard slice, then cranberry sauce and baby spinach.  Put your other slice of bread on, slice it in half and devour.  This is one of those super simple dishes that packs quite a bit of flavor.  And it was nice to have the sandwich in February because I had some time to de-turkey a bit from the holidays.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Braised Leeks and Onions

I was watching some cooking shows and decided that I needed to try leeks. I swear they schedule those shows in blocks to each feature the same ingredient so you want to go get some. Conspiracy!

I bought these 3 giant leeks thinking it was totally enough, until I cut one and realized the useful part was quite a small percentage of the entire vegetable. So when in doubt, add onions. (Alternatively, when in doubt, add avocados, but I went traditional on this)

I based this recipe on Braised Leeks from Simply Recipes, and basically followed it, except I cut the leeks smaller, left out the bay leaf and added onions, and I never measure anything.

Here is the pan pre-wine. It looks prettier than post-wine. Final product:

I dig it quite a bit. The wine was a bit strong (probably just because I am not a wine-drinker) so I would consider changing the braising liquid in the future, but I will definitely play with leeks again. They were even more tender and tasty than the onions. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Hot turkey and cheese

Originally I had planned to make this post several days ago, but I got home Wednesday night and my bread was moldy... and I was too lazy to go buy more. Today I wanted to fulfill my sandwich fantasies. I wanted to make a fancy sandwich and had lots of grand ideas so I decided that a panini was the way to go. Because panini is such a fun word.

I wanted to model something on the ham, brie and apple sandwich at Dean and Deluca. I love that sandwich.  So to make it my own I used turkey (not pictured), and some really sharp cheddar cheese, sliced a little apple and then I broke out the Foreman... (...dirty dishes artfully cropped from the shot...)

I grilled that sucker up and it looked quite tasty!

And it was pretty good, but it didn't live up to what I thought I was making. What I originally intended to be a fancy, fruity panini turned out to be a plain old hot turkey and cheese sandwich. Meh face.

I think where I went wrong was heating it up. The warm apple just didn't taste like much of anything. I actually think that the sandwich would have been better cold, then the apple would have still been crisp and the cheese would have still been sharp. And maybe ham would have been a better choice than turkey. Or something that wasn't cold cuts from a package!

So I give it about a C... not bad, but I wouldn't make it again without some further experimentation.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

And so it begins with soup...

On Monday I decided to make one of my frequent "what's in the house right now" stews. Usually they turn out pretty good, but this time I was very excited about the results. This seemed to be one of the best yet!

First I boiled some lentils for 25 minutes. Then I sauteed onions, carrots and sweet potato chunks in olive oil for a bit, then added a can of diced tomatoes, the lentils and enough chicken stock and water to cover everything. Then I added a chicken breast and poached it for about 30 minutes, turning it half way through. I shredded the chicken and there was some salt and pepper in there somewhere. That's it!

The results? Tasty deliciousness. It was nice and creamy, weirdly, and worthy of a few work lunches and a bowl in the freezer for Si to try this weekend.