Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Banana Oat Granola Bars

As a diabetic, I have to always have some kind of food to carry around with me.  For the last couple of years, my food of choice has been granola bars, mostly because they're delicious and can also substitute for a meal.  Since I've been eating them, they've become some of my favorite things.  To demonstrate, I would  like to show you part of a picture that my roommate Stacey drew before I ran a half-marathon in October.  I stored granola bars in my leggings as I ran, as you can tell...

Anyways, now that you've seen that embarrassing proof of my obsession with granola bars, on to the story.  Last year I bought 8 boxes of granola bars on a really good sale (but you had to buy 10 items on the sale...), and I got more over the summer from home.  However, even that abundance has to come to an end at some point.  I have a few left, but when I came across this recipe, I decided to try it.  And I'm glad I did!  I have tried and will continue to try other granola bar recipes, because variety is the spice of life.  But this is a good starter recipe, calling for ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and no complicated cooking instructions.  Plus they're vegan, sugar-free, and delicious!  Enjoy!

Banana Oat Granola Bars
From the Zupas Cafe Blog
Makes one 9x9 pan

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup desiccated coconut (or substitute sweetened shredded coconut)
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit, chopped fairly small (so it all sticks together better; maybe use some mini chocolate chips?)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 large ripe bananas, or 3 small ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

Combine all ingredients.  Press into a 9x9 pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Cool in pan and cut.  I cut it in half one way and in five the other way.  

Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 275 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until crispy.  

Wrap in plastic wrap or put in an airtight container to store.  To keep longer, wrap them in plastic wrap, put them in a plastic bag, and freeze them; take out and carry one with you in the morning when you go out.  The freezing will actually stabilize the bars, making them less crumbly.

Cut long...

Or square.  Your choice!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cold Soba Salad and Tempura

This is my second Daring Cooks Challenge.  We were assigned to make cold soba salad (Soba is a Japanese buckwheat noodle) with tempura (veggies or seafood dipped in a very cold water-flour-cornstarch mixture and deep-fried).

Soba noodles, halfway through eating.  The timing was a little off, so I didn't actually get a picture of both food items together...

I had a hard time finding soba noodles, and I was about to give up on ever finding them, and use some other kind of Asian thin noodle (Ramen, in my case) when I found organic soba noodles at Sunflower Farmer's Market, for $3, of course.

For my soba noodles, I made a yummy sauce that you're supposed to dip them in but which I just poured over the top.  It was really delicious, even if I had to  borrow half the ingredients from Megan :)  I topped it with some sliced avocado, tomato, and authentic omelet strips.  I would definitely eat this meal again - it's delicious, easy, and versatile.

For the tempura vegetables (I was too cheap to buy seafood, duh), I chose sweet potatoes, onions, red bell pepper, and asparagus.  I'm pretty sure none of those are really traditional, but they were all good.

To make sure that the tempura batter-veggie mix was cold enough to get a good crunch when put in the hot oil, I stuck the vegetables in the freezer for a few minutes before cooking.  I'm not sure whether it made a difference, but it made me eat a lot more of them raw, as I am somewhat addicted to frozen veggies.

To cook them, I used a small pot and my new kitchen thermometer!  Thanks Santa.  Here's the setup, after everything was done:

Although the tempura was an adventure, and pretty good, I probably won't make it again.  It's really a hassle if you don't already have a deep-fryer, it's hard to keep the oil at the right temperature, it's super-unhealthy, and the finished product isn't really spectacular. The fact that my recipe didn't have any salt in it might have had something to do with that - I ended up sprinkling it with salt like a crazy-woman, but it just wasn't enough.

Oil.  Yum.
Overall, this foray into Japanese cooking left me open to some new methods but not extremely enthusiastic about the field as a whole.  I don't have enough Asian ingredients, in the first place!  I would recommend you try the soba salad, or at least the sauce with a packet of Ramen, but leave the tempura to restauranteurs.  I think I will leave the recipe off, because it just wasn't great enough that I want to post it!

Cold Soba Salad
Adapted from The Daring Kitchen

Approx. 6 oz. buckwheat soba or other thin Asian noodles, cooked according to package directions and rinsed in cold water

Any of the following toppings, sliced to bite-size:
Thin omelet strips
Bean Sprouts
Toasted nori
Green onions
Wasabi powder
Finely grated daikon
Pickled ginger (Note: do NOT use fresh ginger)

3/8 cup sliced green onion
1 1/2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. mustard powder
1/2 Tbs. vegetable/canola oil
1/2 Tbs. sesame oil
~1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 Tbs. water

Put all ingredients but water in a small container and shake to combine.  (Alternatively, whisk in a small bowl.)  Add the water and shake again.  Pour over your cold soba noodles and top with whatever your heart desires.  Mix it all together and devour it with chopsticks.

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Muesli, aka the most addictive stuff on the face of the earth

Earlier this year, Megan and I were joking about how we're such granola people.  We cook from scratch, we like strange foods, we drive old cars (yep, I even drive a Volvo), and we like organic/health food stores.  We make our own granola bars, too.  Well, after discovering the joys of muesli, we can't call ourselves granola people anymore.  We no longer eat that honey-laden death trap that calls itself granola when there's something so delicious, so addictive, so easy, and so healthy as muesli around.

Okay, now that we're done with that.  This stuff is seriously good.  I eat it so frequently that there is a trail of oats around the apartment that I have to vacuum periodically.  But if you look at the ingredients and the preparation, you'll probably be a bit puzzled by how simple it all is.  It's something that people in Old Israel might have eaten (thank you, Isaiah class!), but it's something you won't be able to stop eating either.  Megan prefers hers with milk, as a cereal.  I like mine dry, as I usually eat cereal anyways.  Either way is delicious.  It is also infinitely adaptable - you can change the kind or amounts of dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Enjoy!

You might want to not use as much milk as I did, lest you need an excuse to use up the milk and pour some more cereal in, and then more milk to balance that out and, before you know it, the entire bowl is gone...  Good luck.

Adapted from Honest Fare

5 cups regular oats
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. whole flax seeds
1/2 cup raw almond slivers (you could also substitute any chopped nut, but I like the texture of the slivers)
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
5-6 figs, chopped*
4 large dried dates, chopped*
1/2 cup golden raisins*

*You can substitute any kind of dried fruit for this; just make sure you have about 1 cup total.  And if you get the chance, I would encourage you to try this combination, as it is quite good.

In a large bowl mix the oats, salt, and cinnamon together.  Add any chopped fruits (the oat dust will cling to their chopped edges and keep them from sticking to everything else), followed by everything else.  Mix well.  Store in a container that has room to dip your hand in, and shake every time before serving.

This picture is blurry because my other hand was reaching down to grab some of that goodness.  Yum.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My favorite carrot cake

This carrot cake is not the traditional sugar bomb.  It is really carrot-y.  It is sweetened with dates (yum!), bananas, and a little bit of honey.  I love it because it's not overly sweet, and it could serve as a breakfast food as well as a dessert.  I could imagine making it as perfectly cute, healthy little muffins.

Hey, don't make fun of the plate.  College students don't have a lot of plates that fit 9x9 cakes... :)

Also, I have news.  Big news.  I have a food processor!!!!  Our family friend Julie recently moved (back) to England :(  Fortunately, there are silver linings to every cloud, right?  As she didn't want to ship everything halfway around the world, she left a lot of her kitchen stuff behind - to me!  Among the things she left was a food processor, which is something I've been dying to have since this summer.  I love it.  My parents sent it, via some friends who came to see a basketball game, and I got it on Saturday.  My roommates can tell you that I haven't stopped talking about it for weeks.  It will make a lot of recipes easier (or even possible in the first place!), like Brussels sprouts salad, ratatouille (which I will make and post about at a later date), and, of course, carrot cake.

My baby.  Isn't it beautiful??
With a food processor, this recipe is really easy.  Even without a food processor, it's worth making.  I've had it twice in the last month alone.  So, go out and try it!  If delicious and healthy aren't good enough incentives, how about beautiful?  Raisin- and walnut-studded, bits of orange carrot peeking through at every turn, a delectable cream cheese frosting dripping off the top...

Fresh out of the oven.

Favorite Carrot Cake
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour or half a.p. and half whole wheat
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt (reduce to 1/4-1/2 tsp. if using salted butter)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup mashed dried dates (use the food processor or chop them very finely and mush them together)
1 1/4 cup mashed banana (about 3 medium bananas)
1 1/2 cups grated peeled carrot (about 3 medium carrots)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or use regular yogurt, but try to get the least liquidy part possible; you can also use lowfat or nonfat)
2 eggs

For frosting:
4-6 oz. cream cheese
2-4 Tbs. plain yogurt (optional, makes it softer)
3+ Tbs. maple syrup (adjust according to taste)

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and then walnuts.  Separately, stir together butter and dates, breaking the dates up.  In yet another bowl, combine carrots and bananas.  Add the butter-date mixture.  Whisk in yogurt and eggs.

Add flour mixture and stir just until combined.  Spoon into a prepared pan - either a loaf pan or a 9x9 pan works.  Bake 30-45 minutes for the 9x9, or 50-60 minutes for the loaf pan, until a toothpick comes out clean.    Remove from oven and let cool.  After it has cooled, remove from pan if desired.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cream cheese, yogurt, and maple syrup until smooth.  When the cake is completely cooled, frost the top.  Try to keep it around for longer than 24 hours.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Practically Perfect Salad

This is now my signature salad. That's how much I love it.  I figured that a descriptive title - aka Romaine, Brussels Sprout, Bacon, and Parmesan salad - was a bit unwieldy, and as I adapted the ingredients from Prosciutto, Pecorino, and Brussels Sprout salad, I should probably change the name as well.  And, because this salad is practically perfect, it is exactly to my tastes (obscure vegetable, check.  Bacon, check.  Cheese, check.) and my parents (sarcastically, usually) call me their practically perfect child (Mary Poppins flashback, anyone?), I would recreate this salad and its name.

No parmesan on top yet, and it still looks amazing!  I want to reach through my screen and eat this.

Moving on.  Unlike the earlier Brussels sprouts salad, this one is actually a salad, with lettuce and stuff, but with brussels sprouts on top.  Also, it's delicious.  The flavors are extremely complementary, and the roasted sprouts combined with bacon, parmesan cheese, and a yummy vinaigrette are just about perfect.  If I owned a restaurant, this would be the star dish; it's that good.  Plus, it's got a beautiful presentation.  Serve this with some crusty bread and you will impress the heck out of yourself, let alone anyone else who's eating with you.  (Side note: if you are eating this alone, don't combine the second serving's ingredients until you're ready to eat it.  Otherwise it will get mushy, which would be just too sad).


Practically Perfect Salad
Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen
2 servings

1/2 pound brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. paprika
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar*
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar, any variety (I used red wine with pomegranate)
3 tsp. Dijon mustard
Black pepper
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 oz.+/- grated or shaved parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400.  Toss the sprouts with 1 Tbs. of the oil, paprika, and a generous pinch of salt.  Arrange on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, turning once - they should be crispy on the outside and soft inside.  Remove from oven and set aside

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegars and mustard.  Add a few dashes of pepper and then whisk in the olive oil.  Add some salt, and then taste for flavor, adjusting any of the ingredients as you like.

Arrange the lettuce in two bowls and toss with half of the dressing in each.  Place half of the brussels sprouts, bacon, and parmesan on each.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.  Serve.

I saved some of the salad dressing to go on top, which made it even prettier.

*The original recipe calls for raspberry vinegar, which I don't have and don't intend to buy anytime soon...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Avocado Pound Cake

Wow, judging by the last month or so of posts, you'd think that I don't bake anymore!  Or eat anything sweet!  I guess that's justified, since I didn't really use a lot of sugar during sugar-free January, but now I'm off the bandwagon!  (Not that I was ever really on it for more than a few days at a time...)  To be honest, the first day of February started with a breakfast of York Peppermint Patties and ended with half a bag of mint m&m's.  Not pretty.  But anyway, this recipe really is amazing, not to mention gorgeous.

You see what I mean?  Perfect for St. Patrick's day.  Or any other day, for that matter...

You know how pound cake is kind of boring?  If you won't admit it, you're lying to yourself.  To be really good, it needs some fruit compote, or glaze, or really good ice cream.  And that just makes it even less healthy than it already is!  Well.  This pound cake is different.  Don't let the title throw you - it doesn't taste like avocado.  However, it is a beautiful light green.  It has an amazing texture from the cornmeal in the batter, and it hass just the right amount of sweetness.  (I know, I'm hilarious).

This picture doesn't do justice to the beautiful green color that the batter really is, but still.

Delicious?  Oh, I think so.
It's perfect plain - eat it out of the oven or, if you're like me, straight out of the freezer.  It freezes wonderfully, by the way.  You can serve it like you would any other pound cake, but it has a lighter and sweeter flavor, almost fruity.  The avocado replaces more than half of the "pound" of butter in pound cake, making it even healthier.  In short, it's perfect!

Green bread!!  (From a mini loaf pan) 

Avocado Pound Cake
From Joy the Baker
Makes 2 loaves

3 cups flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature* (or sub. salted butter and cut the salt down to 1/4 tsp.)
3 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature*
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
1-1 1/2 cup mashed ripe avocado (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 avocados)

Preheat oven to 325.

Combine flour, cornmeal, salt, soda, and powder in a medium bowl.  Beat butter with a mixer until it is softened, ~1 minute.  Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-4 minutes more.  Add avocado and beat another minute.

Add the eggs one at a time while beating, then pour in the vanilla extract.  Add half the flour mixture, all the buttermilk, and the other half of the flour.  Beat just until combined.

Pour batter into two greased and floured loaf pans.  Bake 40-45 minutes**, or until they pass the toothpick test.  Let cool before taking out of the pans and cutting.  Eat!

This picture does not need a caption.

*Tip: to get cold eggs to room temperature more quickly, dunk them in a bowl of warm water.  For butter, defrost in the microwave at intervals of 10 seconds until the butter just yields to a finger poke, but doesn't have any liquid pooling at the bottom.
**My mini-loaves took about 30-35 minutes.  I would probably check every 5 minutes after 25, though.

Avocado Mustard Toast

You know how there were a ton of avocado sales for super bowl week guacamole?  Well, here's another way to use those avocados.... an amazing way!

This is one of my favorite snacks/meals ever.  It has carbs, protein, healthy fats, and deliciousness.  It's fast, easy, and filling.  What's not to like?  I love to make it after I play water polo, or for dinner when I'm short on time, or when I happen to have some avocado on hand, or when I am craving dijon mustard, or when I feel like eating food... It's the reason that I'm on my second bottle of dijon mustard this school year. You'll need to make sure you don't have too many avocados on hand when you first try this, or you may eat them all.  You get the idea.  It's awesome!  It also provides proof for my hypothesis that ugly food just tastes better.  You'll see.  So, without further ado, here is the recipe!

Before the avocado...

And after the avocado.  It's tastier than it looks, I promise!

Avocado Mustard Toast
Simplified from the Wednesday chef

Mayo (not Miracle whip!)
Dijon mustard
1 piece of toast
1/2 an avocado
Garlic salt

Toast your bread until it's nice and crispy.  Meanwhile, combine equal parts mayo and dijon mustard in one side of a small bowl (I've gotten so practiced I just spread it on the toast).  In the other half of your bowl, mash the avocado with a fork, but leave some chunks.  When the toast pops out, spread the mayo-mustard mixture on, followed by the avocado.  Sprinkle with garlic salt.  Try to eat just one.