Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cajun Jambalaya

I thought it only fitting to make something Cajun for dinner on Fat Tuesday.  Well, that was my original intention.  I thought I'd get a jump on things and make part of it last night, and finish it off tonight when I got home from work.  I had some leftover soup in the fridge for last night's dinner anyway.  Like I said, that was my original intention.  Once I got started with this Jambalaya there was no going back.  I got caught up in the moment.  Once that spicy aroma filled the air, I decided that soup could wait another day, and... who cares if we celebrated Fat Tuesday on Monday!  So Monday night was Jambalaya night.  I figured heck, this recipe serves four people anyway, we can have leftovers tomorrow.  Again, that was my intention, but Paul sort of fell in love with this Jambalaya.  He truly got into the spirit of Fat Tuesday and overindulged.  At the end of the night there was only one serving left.  I tucked it in the fridge and promised him that he could finish it off tonight.  Guess who's having soup?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fudge Brownie Kisses and Swirls

Valentines Day is a good excuse to make something chocolate, isn't it?  Last year I made chocolate souffl├ęs, my personal favorite.  This year I decided to make Paul some brownies.  A big batch of brownies is really something we don't need to have hanging around the house.  Instead of a big pan of traditional brownies, I thought I'd make some brownie bites using a mini cupcake pan.  The last time I made them they were a big hit.  Maybe it was the Nutella I swirled in the batter.  Paul had just discovered the wonders of Nutella.  They were really fudgy and one little brownie bite was the perfect sized chocolate fix.

For Valentines Day I decided to swirl some with raspberry jam, some with Nutella, and top a few with a little Hershey's Kiss.  I used a basic brownie recipe, but the add-ins make them special.  As I am writing this I just thought to myself, I should have swirled in some peanut butter.  That would be wonderful!  Oh wait, then I would be making them more for me.  Anyway, this recipe makes about 50 bites, so you can experiment if you so desire.  Sorry Paul, you can't have all 50.  I'm packing up a box and the rest are headed to my office.  There are a few chocoholics working there as well.

I hope you all have a Happy Valentine's Day and share it with someone you love!

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.” 
 A.A. Milne, Winnie-The-Pooh

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pick Your Favorite Banana Bread

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am loving Joanne Chang's cookbook,  flour. Her banana bread recipe never disappoints.  The first few times I made it, I followed the recipe as written.  It was perfect as is, and there was really no reason to change it.  One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, we were headed into the city to see Melissa and Mike, so I decided to bake some banana bread.  I pulled out the recipe and began to assemble the ingredients.  I had four large bananas to use up, so I had to adjust the amounts of the other ingredients, producing more than enough batter to fill a single loaf pan.  I decided to bake it in mini loaf pans, allowing me to customize the add-ins.  Since I was adjusting the ingredients, I made a few other alterations to the recipe.   One thing I would not deviate from is Joanne Chang's technique of mixing the ingredients.  I think her technique is what sets this recipe apart from all the others.  She beats the eggs and sugar together for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy before adding the canola oil.  This is a key step.  Using a stand mixer makes the task a breeze.  If you follow the mixing technique, you will have the most perfectly textured banana bread that you have ever eaten...I promise.   

Melissa likes chocolate chips in her banana bread, no nuts.  Mike and Paul are very open minded, welcoming both nuts and chocolate chips.  I like nuts, no chips.  Mini loaves were definitely the way to go.  Everyone was happy.  I made them again this morning.  Over-ripened bananas tends to prompt banana bread baking around here.  Again, I went with mini loaves, this time adding a Nutella swirl loaf.  Since these loaves are baked in 6 x 2 1/2 x 2 inch paper molds, they are perfect for 2 people.  This recipe makes 4 loaves so you can share a loaf or two, or wrap up them up and freeze them for anytime that "I need a piece of banana bread" mood hits you.  Just take a loaf out of the freezer and allow to thaw about an hour before serving.  If you are wondering where you can get these nifty little paper cake molds, I purchased mine at Home Goods.  You can also find them at Sur La Table, King Arthur Flour or even Target.  An added bonus if you use paper molds...no need to grease the pan, just mix up the batter and pour it into the mold and bake.  I put the filled molds on a jelly roll pan to make it easier getting them in and out of the oven.  Just leave enough room for the air to circulate around each loaf.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Healthy Oatmeal Pancakes

In an effort to eat healthier this year, breakfast has become a very important meal.  Starting the day off with a meal that is filled with protein, whole grains and fruit. can pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day.  A healthy breakfast fills me up, boosts my energy level and will usually stave off hunger until late in the day.

It's difficult to eat a substantial breakfast on a work day.  I leave the house around 7:30AM and the thought of eating a big breakfast is the last thing on my mind.  The weekend is a different story.  I've always enjoyed making something special breakfast or brunch.  Weekend breakfasts are probably my favorite meal.  Unfortunately, they usually contains many of the foods we are trying to avoid.  In an effort to keep weekend breakfasts interesting, I needed to get creative.  I love pancakes, but I usually make them with white flour and top 'em off with butter and pure maple syrup.  I decided to make a healthier version.  These pancakes didn't require any special ingredients, just ingredients that I pretty much keep stocked in the house.  It does require the use of a food processor though.  I topped the pancakes with fresh berries, but a sauce made from frozen berries would be a good option if you can't get fresh.  This recipe made 12  three inch pancakes which fed me, Paul and another serving left over.  They are hearty pancakes! Leftovers can be wrapped and refrigerated.   For a quick weekday treat, just pop them in the microwave for a minute with some berries and you can pretend it's the weekend.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rethinking Split Pea Soup

Disclaimer:  I am not a pea soup aficionado.  I don't have much experience with pea soup.  For years I didn't think I liked pea soup. (That was a learned behavior)  For years I wouldn't try pea soup because I was told by my mother that I wouldn't like pea soup. (She HATED even the sight of pea soup). Then one day about 15 years ago I made a ham.  When we finished eating the ham, my husband said, "You've never made me pea soup.  Why don't you make pea soup with the ham bone?"  I looked at him like he had four heads.  "I don't do pea soup, you foolish man, where have you been the last 15 years of our marriage?" was my reply (or something like that).  He insisted that pea soup was delicious and I could not possibly dislike a food that I have never tasted.  I begrudgingly agreed to make my first pea soup.  I decided on a recipe that I found on the back of the bag of split peas (I was not being very resourceful).  He was happy, but I was not particularly impressed.  Truth be told, it wasn't awful, it was just a bit pea-ish, and peas have never been my favorite vegetable.  So every two years or so, usually prompted by a ham bone, I would make Paul some pea soup.

This past Christmas I made a delicious ham for dinner.   After days of eating ham morning, noon and night, and Matt and Lauren went home (Lauren loves ham like nobody's business - sorry Lauren, your secret is out), I stuck the ham bone in a freezer bag and popped it into the freezer for safe keeping.  Last week I found that ham bone and decided to commit myself to making a better pea soup.  I'd been analyzing why pea soup doesn't do it for me (besides being pea-ish).  Then it dawned on me.  It's sort of one dimensional and I object to its pasty texture.  I started researching pea soup recipes and decided to use Ina Garten's recipe as my starting point.  I've come to trust Ina, except when it comes to her use of butter and salt...it can be over-kill for me. 

I have to say, this soup was a winner!  Maybe pea soup purists would scoff at it, but this is exactly what I wanted my pea soup to taste like.  I will be making it again for sure, but I won't be waiting two years this time.  If you like pea soup, give this recipe a try.  If you don't like pea soup, suspend your belief and broaden your horizons and maybe, just maybe, you'll be a convert like me.