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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Fall is upon us here in Connecticut, and we are entering into the most magical time of year in the Nutmeg State. This weekend, Greg and I took a long drive on our way to the annual Celtic Festival in Hartford, and the display of foliage was just spectacular.  The Celtic Festival featured a  “weight over bar” event in the Highland Games and samples of traditional Welsh cookies.  If the two namesake festivals are any indication, we learned that Celtic and Asian cultures differ tremendously.

We have a surfeit of overripe bananas on our counter these days, and smittenkitchen just posted a new “crackly” banana bread recipe a few days ago. Though I have my long-standing go-to banana bread recipe, the raw millet added in this version caught my fancy. Millet is one of the staple grains around the world, but in the U.S. is primarily used as birdseed. The protein content of millet is roughly equivalent to that of wheat four, and it has a nice fluffy texture that is similar to that of couscous.

I made a number of adjustments to the smittenkitchen version of this recipe. First, I eliminated all additional sugars. The recipe called for brown sugar and maple syrup, but bananas are really sweet enough on their own. Additionally, after seeing this horrifying infograph recently, I decided we don’t really need to contribute to our lifetime intake of processed sugar.

The other big adjustment is that in place of whole wheat flour, I used a homemade almond-oat flour.Wheat flour is delicious and inexpensive, but we’ve found that almond-oat flour just adds a nice touch of extra flavor and nutrients. 1 part almonds, 2 part oats — grind it up in a food processor or Magic Bullet or blender, until it is finely ground. A few small chunks of almonds may remain, and for most baking purposes, a bit of extra crunch is nice.

Our version also is a bit more heavily spiced than smittenkitchen’s. I can also envision this being delicious with some ground cardamom or dark chocolate chunks. Enjoy!

Crackly Banana Bread (original from Smitten Kitchen)

3 large ripe-to-over-ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/3 cup melted butter or oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
1 teaspoon freshly ground allspice
1 1/2 cups almond-oat flour
1/4 cup uncooked millet

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until virtually smooth but a few tiny lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then oil, brown sugar and syrup. Sprinkle baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over mixture and stir until combined. Stir in flour until just combined, then millet.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on rack.

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Artichokes Redeemed

When Greg and I were dating in New York, we used to have a number of ingredient-themed dinner parties for select guests and roommates. New York was great for this, where dinner parties weren’t just dinner parties but adventures into exquisite new foods, and Fairway (the mecca of foodies) was just a few blocks away. There was a squash night, a duck night, and an ill-fated artichoke night.

The artichoke-themed dinner party was a disaster, and the only edible dish was a soy-based artichoke dip which used jarred artichokes. The roasted artichoke hearts were prickly with an uninspired dipping sauce, the steamed artichokes were bland, and the artichoke pasta was only acceptable because we used artichokes from a jar. I distinctly remember FDS (a former roommate and unlucky guest) cautiously nibbling away at the outer peels, uncertain of which pieces were to be discarded and which pieces to be consumed. We swore off fresh artichokes that night. (That said, FDS seemed to enjoy everything we made.)

Three years later, perched atop the reduced-price produce rack at Stop and Shop, was a box full of baby artichokes. There were easily 20 of them, for only $1.99, and our inner adventurers just couldn’t resist.  This time fresh artichokes delivered.

Sauteed Baby Artichokes and Tomatoes

~20 baby artichokes
12-15 cherry or grape tomatoes
grated hard cheese to taste

Prepare the artichokes by peeling off all of the outer layers until you reach the soft pale yellow inside. Be liberal in your discarding, as any ambiguous pieces will likely be too tough to eat. Save the outer peels for broth (see below).Quarter the artichoke hearts, and immediately place in a large bowl of water with lemon juice. This will keep the artichoke hearts from browning before cooking–this happens fast.

When all of the artichoke hearts have been prepared, heat a large skillet with 2 T of butter and some oil. When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, drain the artichokes, and toss them and the tomatoes into the skillet. Season liberally with salt, cover and let simmer.  Check often, stir often, and taste often (for doneness, of course!).  When the artichokes look/taste mostly done (you’ll know because they are soft), add crushed red pepper, and lemon juice. When the tomatoes are blistered, they are done.

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of hard cheese (e.g. pecorino romano, parmesan, etc.) This can also be served with pasta or garnished with basil or oregano.

Artichoke Broth

Discarded outer artichoke peels
6 c water
2 bay leaves

Homemade vegetable broth is one of the easiest things to make, significantly cheaper than store-bought varieties, and contain all known ingredients and nothing processed. We regularly make a big stock pot full, store in 1-qt containers, and freeze until ready for use. It can be used as a base for other soups and curries or as a special addition to quinoa or rice.

We made artichoke broth the same way we make regular broth — bring all ingredients to a boil, salt liberally, and let simmer for some time. The longer it cooks, the more flavorful it is. We were in a rush to make some quinoa with dinner so we cooked it for only 20 minutes or so, but even that was enough to lend a nice artichoke-y flavor to the quinoa.

If you don’t have artichokes, you can use an onion, a few carrots, and a few stalks of celery instead. Typically, we store the outer onion layers, carrot peels, and the inner parts of celery in the freezer until we are ready to make stock. We typically use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken as well, which does add extra flavor, but vegetable stock is just as good. The key thing to remember is, pre-packaged broth is never as good as homemade!

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We’ve been experimenting just a bit with raw desserts these days, both in an effort to maintain our healthy streak and to minimize the amount of  heat we’re contributing to our already-toasty apartment this summer. The raw desserts we’ve had the most of lately are the usual suspects like popsicles and banana milkshakes, but we also just recently tested out a raw chocolate coconut banana pie.

The basic gist of the raw food diet is to eat uncooked, unprocessed foods as the majority of one’s diet, with the assumption that raw foods typically have higher nutrient values and healthy micro-organisms. This diet is typically vegan, though sashimi and carpaccio are not strictly excluded. We’re not big proponents of this diet, primarily because it doesn’t seem to be a way to eat in balance–plus we love cooking–but we will say that the raw dessert recipes we’ve seen are incredibly creative and will likely grace the pages of this blog in the near future.

Raw Coconut-Chocolate-Banana Cream Pie

For the crust:
1 1/2 c whole nuts (we used almonds)
1 1/2 c pitted dates (we used dried plums)

For the filling:
1 c whole almonds, soaked overnight
1/2 c water
1 banana
2 T cocoa powder
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1 T vanilla extract
2 T agave

Make pie crust: Coarsely chop nuts and salt in a food processor. Add dates, pulse until thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds. Press nut mixture firmly and evenly into a 9-inch pie plate, wetting fingers as needed. Set aside in refrigerator. (See photo above.)

Make filling: Toast coconut flakes in a hot pan until slightly brown and fragrant. Set aside. Grind nuts to a coarse paste in a blender. Add water, agave, and vanilla extract; blend until smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping sides as needed. Mixture should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Add cocoa powder and banana, and process to combine. Pour into prepared shell, spreading evenly. Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

Original recipe here.

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Barely one week into September, and it already feels like fall. Connecticut was hit with some dicey weather over the weekend, resulting in some gusty breezes, fallen branches, and comfortably cool weather to start off the week. Taking advantage of the coolness on Sunday, Greg and I decided to head out for a little jaunt through the woods of Haddam, CT. Little did we know this excursion would end up in an emergency roadside assistance call placed to the local police when we lost our trail and found ourselves wandering alongside an unmarked road. Thankfully, the local authorities came to our rescue and we were able to make it back to our car with little incident. Good reminder to pack a GPS or Eagle Scout along with you on your next hiking trip!

We’ve been experimenting with some raw desserts recently and have hit upon a few successes (more on those to come). This one in particular has an excellent, flavorful, aromatic crust that we’re excited to use again in future recipes. Cashew “cream” is a pretty common filling in raw desserts, and though it’s not quite the same as fluffy layers of dairy, it approximates cream closely enough and is a completely guilt-free substitute. Enjoy!

Triple-Citrus Raw Bar

Coconut Almond Crust:

1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c almonds
2 t coconut butter
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 c liquid used for soaking dates*

In a food processor, pulse the almonds with coconut flakes until it is pebbly, like almond meal. Combine other ingredients and blend until you have a sticky mess.

Place the mixture in a 9″ pie pan and press down and against the sides until even. Freeze until ready to use.

Lemon Cashew Filling:

1 c raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
5 dates, soaked overnight*
5 clementines, juice and zest
2 T lemon juice
1 T coconut butter
1/4 c mandarin preserves

Place the cashews in the food processor and blend until “creamy”. These will likely still have a few clumps but process until the consistency of a wet peanut butter. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth.

Once the crust is ready, spread an even layer of the mandarin preserves on the bottom of the crust. Pour the lemon cashew mixture on top and evenly spread. Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top (optional).

Refrigerate for 30 minutes until firm. Serve cold.

* Soaking dates in water can soften them and make them easier to blend. The soaking liquid can then also be used as a flavored “simple syrup” to moisten the coconut-almond crust.

Photo and original recipe found here.

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As part of our current “diet,” we’ve begun to really indulge in our morning meals.  Our omelettes overflow and we’re blending an embarrassing amount into our smoothies.  Thankfully, what’s kept us from feeling like we’re sliding into gluttony is remembering that our breakfast still has fewer calories than lunch or dinner–which maybe should change.  If there’s any meal of the day to indulge, it’s breakfast.

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast regularly has been linked to increased longevity, higher metabolism, longer attention span, and sustained energy. It’s also a great opportunity to add some much-needed fiber, fat, and fruit to a body starved of nutrients after an 8-hr hiatus.

That said, it’s amazing what the packaged-food industry has done to this most essential meal! Rather than promoting good health through eating real foods, the food industry has taken over breakfast with its promise of rainbow-colored treats and cocoa crispies. Even the standard run-of-the-mill store-bought granola will contain a deceptively high amount of fat and sugar under the guise of healthful eating. Most granola recipes will contain half a stick of butter or a cup of maple syrup, and scaling back will lead to pitiful flakes of lightly toasted oats, barely resembling the substantial clusters found in store-bought varieties.

Enter the avocado. Hailing from Miami, Greg’s mom was in town last week with a hostess gift of two of the most ginormous avocados we’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you’re born and raised on Haas avocados, these South Florida beauties will knock your socks off. The two that we received were at least as big as pineapples, covered in a bright green skin, and sometimes called alligator pears. (I thought they were bowling-ball sized, but Greg insisted they weighed less than 8 lb. each).

Now a quick plug on avocados — they are high in monosaturated fat, which can improve heart health and keep cholesterol low. They are also bursting with vitamins C, E, K, folate, and fiber. Avocados, along with extra virgin olive oil and some nuts, are often considered to be among the best fats that a body can take in, in moderation of course.

Avocados work surprisingly well in granola because of their fatty content (remember, good fats) and their smooth, spreadable texture. Unlike the aforementioned granola recipes I’ve tried, which rely on bad fats and bad sugars to achieve desirable clusters, avocados are an incredibly healthy substitute. And because we typically eat granola with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, there was no need for an additional sweetener. The vanilla, cinnamon, and toasted coconut gave it enough aroma and flavor that no sugar was needed. This recipe is by far the tastiest and most guilt-free granola recipe I’ve ever made! (And would you believe I dreamed it up in my sleep?)

Coconut Avocado Granola

1/2 Florida avocado (or 1 Haas avocado)
1 T natural peanut butter
2 c rolled oats
1/2 c coconut flakes, unsweetened
1/4 almonds, slivered
1 t cinnamon, cardamom, or other spice of your choice
1 T vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Blend avocado, peanut butter, vanilla, and cinnamon until well-combined and smooth. There should be no clumps. Stir in rolled oats, coconut flakes, and slivered almonds.

Spread evenly on prepared cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally for even toasting. Let cool before storing. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Happy August, everyone! We’ve had a very full and good weekend so far here in “the Hav”, with a few friends visiting from out-of-town to partake in some lechon. The unfortunate things about lechon are: 1) it’s so enormous it really takes a full party to eat, and 2) it’s time-consuming and therefore requires a real occasion to make it worth making. 7 hours on the grill means we can’t make this baby on a normal weeknight!

The occasion for celebration this time around is that three of our favorite former roommates (MT, AT, and LL) were in town visiting. Perhaps the next time you come to visit, we’ll make that an excuse to fire up the grill for some lechon again!

Lechon

As far as the pork goes, this time around we tried something a little different.  First, just because it was easier to get, we used a bone-in, skin-on shoulder (instead of the boneless, skinless shoulders sold at Costco).  Perhaps the bone added flavor, but not that we could tell.  It did, however, add difficulty to carving.  The second change was that the first three hours we cooked the shoulder directly on the grill and finished the last four hours wrapped in foil.  This created a smokey, crunchy crust without drying it out.  This is a change we definitely recommend.

One additional recommendation — do overestimate the amount of meat you’ll need. We bought a 7.5 lb. bone-in shoulder for a party of 8 adults and 1 baby with a healthy appetite for meat, and ended up with barely an ounce of leftover lechon. A big part of the reason we had no leftovers is that the bone really took up a lot of the 7 lb. We spent too much time cooking for us to not end up with leftovers, so we are definitely going to overestimate in the future.

Cheese Plate

This bit is pretty exciting. Greg and I have taken to eating cheese plates pretty regularly as a pre-dinner snack, usually just a small sliver of 3-year Vermont cheddar with a few slices of peach. Cheese plates are a great way to start a party, since they’re a very low-maintenance, prep-ahead appetizer that keeps guests entertained until the main meal is served.

This cheese plate pictured above has the following: 1) toasted almonds dusted in salt, sugar, and cinnamon; 2) a small wedge of pecorino romano with a drizzle of agave; 3) hand-picked peaches from Lyman’s; 4) 3-year old Vermont cheddar.

Cabbage-Fennel-Celery Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch celery, thinly sliced
sesame oil, agave, salt to taste

This is a pretty different slaw from the type we usually make. This includes cabbage, fennel, and celery, and very minimal dressings to allow the vegetable flavors really stand out on their own. (Also, I’m suffering from a bad case of strep throat so am a bit timid about extra seasonings these days, especially anything acidic or spicy. Under normal circumstances, we would have added some apple cider vinegar or habanero salt in a heart beat!)

Slice all vegetables extremely thin, ~1/8″ thick. We used a fabulous mandoline that we had received from our two good friends on the other side of the pond (we know you’re reading this, M&A!). Salt the vegetables, and let sit, refrigerated, for at least two hours. This step helps to tenderize the cabbage.

Gently whisk together agave and sesame oil, and drizzle over the slaw. Toss all vegetables until well-combined, and taste. Add additional seasoning, if needed.

Peas-Feta-Avocado Salad (not pictured)

3 c frozen shelled peas
6 oz. feta, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Defrost frozen peas in microwave or by running under hot water for 30 seconds. Toss with cubed feta and cubed avocado. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

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