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No Bake Granola Bars

31 May

In addition to cleaning out the refrigerator before our trip to Boston, I set about making some healthy snacks to munch on during the 8-hour trip north. Obvious choices included vegetables and fruits (and the leftover quiche), but I wanted something a bit more interesting and, let’s be honest, I needed something sweet.

IMG_2659[1]I’m trying this new thing where I actually use the foodstuffs in my pantry and freezer, as opposed to just stock-piling them like I’m preparing for an apocalypse. My eyes flitted from the almonds to the raisins, oats, and (oh, yes!) chocolate chips when I realized I had a good idea going.

IMG_2644[1]I sealed the deal when I spotted some leftover shredded coconut from I don’t know when and decided to make an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ version of granola bars. To make it even easier (because granola bars are so difficult), I made them no bake so all I had to do was pop them in the fridge after mixing everything together.

IMG_2645[1]The beauty of homemade granola bars is that you can customize them exactly how you like them. It’s so much better than standing at the grocery store and thinking to yourself, “those would be so good if only they didn’t have (blank)” or “I would buy those in a heartbeat if they only included (blank)”. In the land of individuality and customizing things for each consumer (because we’re all special little snowflakes), the granola bar is one of the best ways to express your epicurean individuality.

IMG_2646[1]The verdict on these babies? So ridiculously good, I couldn’t even stop eating them if I tried (and I didn’t really try, to be honest).

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I’ve posted the recipe for this particular granola bar because I think it is super duper scrumptious, but I think that as long as you’ve got the oats as a foundation and the honey as a sweetener and adhesive, you can let your imagination run totally wild and throw in whatever strikes your fancy (read: whatever you have in your cupboard and need to use before it goes bad).

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No Bake Granola Bars

Makes 10 granola bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned/rolled oats
  • 2 oz. almonds, chopped (about 25 almonds)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 Tablespooons chia seeds ( these also act as a good adhesive!)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (in liquid form – just stick it in the microwave for 10 seconds if it’s solid)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup honey (depending on how sweet you’d like them – if you’re adding chocolate chips, I’d lean towards the 1/4 cup end)
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (heated so you can drizzle it in)

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Directions:

  1. Mix oats, chopped almonds, raisins, coconut, and chia seeds in a large bowl until well combined. Note: If you want the chocolate chips to be solid, add them in last, after the coconut oil and peanut butter have cooled so they don’t melt. If you mix them while the liquids are hot, the chocolate chips will melt so the whole bar will have a hint of chocolate.
  2. Add coconut oil, honey, and peanut butter until the mixture holds together (if you can form it into a ball and it stays, the mixture is ready). If you are waiting to add the chocolate chips, do so now when the mixture is cool.
  3. In an 8×8″ square pan lined with wax paper, press the mixture into the pan so it covers the bottom and the top is level.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour (the coconut oil will solidify and the peanut butter and honey will thicken up so they will hold together quite nicely).
  5. When ready to serve, cut into 10 servings and dig in. It is best to keep these in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat them, but they warm up to room temperature quickly.

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Secret Ingredient All-Purpose Crust

29 May

The night before we were set to leave for Boston, Stef and I needed to do a bit of fridge clean-out. Namely, he had a lot of veggies that he had yet to use and we were desperate to find a way to use a whole bag of spinach, a container of mushrooms, and a nearly-full carton of eggs.

IMG_2666[1]What started out as frittata quickly morphed into something a bit more adventurous. I was desperate for the crisp crust (read: carbs) of a quiche and had just enough time to prepare it while Stef was out on his run.

IMG_2667[1]Much to my chagrin, there was no butter to be found in the bachelor pad that he calls home. I was ready to resign myself to a crust-less quiche, when the stubborn, bull-headed Sara made an appearance. Normally she only rears her ugly head when giving someone the silent treatment or doing something just because a person said “I bet you can’t…”,  it is thanks to this annoying determination that I can present a quiche the crust firmly on.

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The secret to this crisp crust does not rely on butter nor shortening for its flakiness, but uses olive oil to get an all-purpose crust that can be used for virtually anything that requires a crust.

IMG_2669[1]My view towards olive oil is similar to the way the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding sees Windex: it is the cure for everything and there is no situation where olive oil cannot be used. It is with this mindset that this no-butter quiche was born. It won’t replace the delicious buttery flavor of a normal crust recipe, but it’s perfect for vegans or when there’s no butter to be found.

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“Secret Ingredient” All-Purpose Crust

Makes 1 crust for 9″ pie pan, easily doubled

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (a gluten-free flour like spelt could easily be substituted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 ice water (the colder the better!)

Directions

  1. Mix flour and salt in bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat oil and ice water water with whisk or fork. The idea is that using ice water will thicken the olive oil to achieve a similar consistency to butter or similar shortenings.
  3. Pour olive oil mixture into flour and mix with fork until dough forms.
  4. Roll out to desired thickness and press into 9″ pie pan.
  5. Fill and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until done.

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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

20 May

I am a person of routine. From my brand loyalties to my beauty regime, I like the same things over and over and over again. The same love for the familiar extends to my meal choices.

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The greens base for my lunch salads has been Romaine for a solid six months now and I’ve been perfectly okay with it. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to change things up.

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Last Thursday, while perusing Trader Joe’s and rocking out to the Shakira radio on my Pandora (my hips don’t lie), I spotted a big sign advertising the big bags of peppery arugula and stopped in my tracks. Glancing from the package of Romaine hearts in my hand to the weed-y arugula, I contemplated a break in routine.

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Feeling rather daring, I tossed the lettuce aside and reached for the rocket, as if I were making a big decision and not simply deciding what I’d be bringing for lunch this week. Still, it felt almost naughty to break up the monotony and since then I have been finding excuses to put arugula on everything, including grilled cheese.

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Now normally the only thing I like my grilled cheese is cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I make an exception for butter’s guest appearance but the real star of the show is the warm, melted creaminess of hot cheese on crisp bread. It just screams comfort and I was making a calculated risk by adding any semblance of health to the mix.

Still, the peppery greens were calling to me from the fridge and I am glad I didn’t resist because the spiciness of the arugula really balances out the creaminess of the cheese while adding a nice satisfying crunch to go along with the bread. The colors don’t look bad either.

If you’re wary of adding salad to your sandwich, have no fear – this recipe has more than enough cheese to make clear what the main attraction is. A combination of parmesan, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar blend in a complex medley of saltiness and richness to make this a truly sophisticated grilled cheese.

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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 small Roma tomato, sliced
  • A small handful of arugula
  • 2 slices bread of choice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, softened enough to be easily spreadable
  • 1 oz. of each sharp cheddar, grated parmesan, and shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Spread the butter on one side of each bread slice.
  2. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat.
  3. Put 2 bread slices in the skillet, buttered-side down.
  4. Layer half of the cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese on each piece of bread.
  5. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese melts and the bread is golden (not burnt!)
  6. After cheese is melted, remove from skillet and place on plate then top with arugula and sliced tomato.
  7. Close sandwich and cut diagonally.

Including instructions for a grilled cheese seems a little silly, but the art of the grilled cheese does take some work – it’s a delicate balance to make sure the cheese is melted without burning the bread. In my experience, it is absolutely necessary to spread butter liberally on each side of the toast to keep it golden and crispy.

If you’re a grilled cheese purist, do me a favor and go on a limb like I did with my salad – change is good for the soul.

[Recipe] Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto

14 May

My boyfriend has a few things in his life he loves immensely. The first is soccer – playing, watching, discussing – he lives the sport. He loves soccer so much that he agreed to play back-to-back games on a Saturday morning, with the first game starting at the ungodly weekend hour of 8 AM.

The second is pesto. He eats just about everything and in large quantities (case in point: he managed to polish off a 4-pound container of strawberries in just over 24 hours last weekend), but nothing quite gets his heart palpitating like that delicious, basil-green sauce.

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Being the youngest child of an Italian mama, he’s had his fair share of quality Italian food and pesto is no exception. This makes him a bit of a snob and he turns his nose up at any jarred/store-bought varieties of the stuff, declaring it decidedly inferior to the freshly ground sauce made at home, particularly with basil leaves that had been plucked from the plant just moments before.

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We usually make pesto in large batches and freeze it in small Tupperwares for easy access to pesto pasta or pesto cream sauce. We make quite a bit of it, but the last time it happened was at the end of August, so he’s had to go without for a few months now and it was quickly becoming unacceptable.

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After a trip to Costco led us down the nut aisle, he put his foot down and declared that we would spend the rest of the afternoon making pesto. Having no other plans, I agreed and picked up the requisite 5-pound bag of walnuts, but not before contemplating the pignoli sitting just adjacent.

You see, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to food. I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t try to “fake” a recipe and I would much rather plan my daily eats knowing full well that I’ll be indulging in full-fat, dairy ice cream rather than processing a frozen banana and pretending it’s the real thing. I have no problem with people making protein “frosting” or pseudo-cupcakes, but please don’t flood my Instagram saying it “tastes just like the real thing!”

It doesn’t.

But I digress; my original point is that I like to make food the way it’s meant to be made, particularly with Italian cuisine because they are notorious (along with the French) for cooking things just so because that is how it has always been.

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Pesto comes from the Italian region of Liguria, specifically Genova, home of a certain Cristoforo Colombo. The name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means ‘to pound or crush’ in the remote past conjugation (nerd alert). An official recipe for the paste that originated with the ancient Romans was first published in 1863 in  a book titled, La Cuciniera Genovese  by Giovanni Battista Ratto and if you go to the south of France, you’ll find a similar recipe for pistou, though they don’t use nuts.

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The traditionally accepted way to make pesto is using a marble mortar with a wooden pestle (pestle/pesto – get it?). First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then basil leaves are added and ground until creamy. The cheese is added at the very end, with some extra-virgin olive oil to help it along the way.

And it is for this reason that I always feel a twinge of guilt when Stefano and I have our pesto parties.

Stefano grating away

Stefano grating away

I am a fake.

That is, my pesto is decidedly not how it is supposed to be made.

Granted, my only real flaw is that I replace pine nuts with walnuts and parmigiano-reggiano with pecorino romano, but they are crucial ingredients and any Italian I know would be insulted that I dare call my impostor sauce ‘pesto’.

Not a mortar and pestle.

Not a mortar and pestle.

However, my dietary choices are dictated more by my bank account than Italian gourmands, so I will have to live with myself knowing that I am a gastronomic phony, a culinary charlatan.

Be that as it may, I will share with you my recipe for Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce in the hopes that you can save a few dollars and enjoy this with a bit more piece of mind than I can.

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Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (tightly packed, around 2-3 oz.) fresh basil (if you really wanted to break tradition, you could substitute a peppery arugula *wince*, but whatever you do, don’t use dried basil)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (spring for extra-virgin)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled

Directions:

  1. I always start by sticking the garlic in the food processor and giving it a few pulses, so it gets minced and then adding the nuts to get those chopped up, as well.
  2. Add the basil and get that mixed in before adding the olive oil.
  3. Add the olive oil in a consistent stream as the food processor is going. This ensures that you get a nice, smooth product at the end.
  4. After the mixture is well combined, add the cheese at the very end.
  5. Eat immediately or store in Tupperware in the freezer to use at a later date. I like to add a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep the pesto from turning a brown color. Pro-tip: Freeze pesto in an ice cube tray for easy to use portions!

You can make extra and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then you have individual portions of pesto!

If you’re curious, here is the “official” pesto recipe, as decided by the Genova Pesto World Championships.

[Recipe] Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 May

If you need any proof that I’m getting older, look no further than my cookie preference, which used to look something like this:

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Once appalled at the fact that someone would ruin a perfectly good cookie by putting raisins inside, I oftentimes find myself rejecting the classic chocolate chip in favor of the formerly shunned oatmeal raisin cookie.

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It’s shocking, really.

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Well, I love Josh Groban, so I guess that makes me an old person who likes raisin cookies.

Actually, I am hesitant to even call these cookies, because they’re really more of a breakfast food. The only “dessert”-y aspect is the added sugar – all the other ingredients could be in your morning oatmeal! But they look like cookies and they bake like cookies so that’s what we are going to call them.

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These little nibbles are super tasty and uber healthy for a dessert. If it makes you feel better to call them something else, by all means label them “circular breakfast bars” or “round chewy old people treats”. A rose by any other name, right?

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Oatmeal raisin cookies are old. They are a later version of oat cakes, which have been popular in Scotland and England since oat harvesting first began in 1,000 B.C. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to somebody to add some raisins for some sweetness and since the Middle Ages, “oat cakes” have contained nuts and raisins. The first recorded oatmeal cookie (albeit sans nuts or raisins) recipe was written by Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1896 (here’s the original recipe!). It was touted as a “health food,” because sugar hadn’t been demonized in the 19th century. They were too worried about famine or something to focus on counting calories. Anyway, they became super popular and by the early 1900s (which is why all the old people dig them), an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe appeared on every container of Quaker Oats.

Nowadays we know better than to think anything with this much sugar is a health food, but I still maintain that these cookies are perfectly acceptable to eat for breakfast. Think of it as baked oatmeal. In delicious cookie form. I wouldn’t be opposed adding a scoop of ice cream to them either. Versatility: I like that in a cookie. Are they growing on you yet? Here’s the recipe. Give it a go and try not to age 50 years in the process.

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Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 2 dozen, 2″-sized cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional, but I like the added crunch!)

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Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. In a large bowl, mix the applesauce, sugar, yogurt and vanilla until smooth and well-combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  5. Add raisins and optional chopped walnuts/pecans.
  6. Bake cookies on lightly sprayed or parchment-lined baking sheet. Even without the spray and parchment I found that they only stick a little, but this will make your life easier.
  7. Bake cookies for ~12 minutes, depending on your oven. You’ll know they’re ready when they are golden and crisp around the edges, but soft (almost undercooked) in the middle.
  8. Let cool for 5-10 minutes and then eat 1 or 4 as soon as you can and tell me it doesn’t taste like breakfast!

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