Monthly Archives: February 2011

Banana Nut Chip Bread

Banana Nut Chip Bread...Breakfast or dessert? You decide.

I buy a decent amount of bananas each week with the intention that I will eat them as a healthy snack at work. That never happens. They just end up on my desk getting brown all week until I toss them in the trash on Friday.

My kids don’t like bananas either, however, I have not given up on the fruit. I go through phases where I really like them and eat them for breakfast, they’re such a good portable snack, but when the weather is cold I crave comfort foods.  Many times I pop them in the blender with some frozen strawberries for an afterschool smoothie, but again cold weather sucks me into wanting doughnuts and muffins and hot cocoa and mac n cheese….see what I’m getting at? This list could go on for a while. You get my point, right?  

So, I’ve had these bananas on the counter all week, looking more and more mangy as the week’s continued. This time instead of tossing them I just went ahead and made banana bread with them. 

I’ve never been totally happy with banana bread recipes in the past. They always seems like a plain muffin with a bit of banana thrown in, so when I found this article a while back in Saveur magazine where they taste tested and had photos of about 20 different banana bread recipes I thought I should try this one out…afterall this recipe has 3 whole bananas in it. 

I did adjust the recipe a bit…some on purpose and some by accident. 1.) I refuse to buy an entire carton of buttermilk (unless it’s Christmas), so I used sour milk (1 cup of milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice and let sit for 10 minutes before measuring out 1/3 cup–or in this case 1/2 cup milk + 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice–no need to waste 1/2 a cup of milk).  2.) The phone rang while I was pulling the eggs out of the fridge, so I used two whole eggs by accident… oops 🙂 3.) Instead of using 2/3 cup pecans, I used 1/3 cup pecans and 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips…yum.

Shopping List:

1 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (see note above)

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 very ripe bananas

Instructions:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9″ x5″x2 3/4″ loaf pan with Pam Baking Spray (or grease and flour the pan yourself, I’m not so good at that so I cheat with the spray, which works perfectly) not the Cooking Spray, but the one with the cake on the front.

2. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.

*The recipe from Saveur says use a separate bowl for the wet ingredients, which I never do because I hate doing dishes as it is. You can use a separate bowl if you like, but you could also make a whole in the middle of the dry ingredients and it works just fine.

3. Whisk together sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Then, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones… see what I mean it’s just a waste of a bowl…they end up together in the end anyhow, right?

4. Add the pecans, chocolate chips and mashed bananas and stir gently to combine.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 60-65 minutes. Let it cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can wait that long. Enjoy!

Spinach Pesto Sauce

Spinach Pesto Pasta

There’s nothing better than fresh herbs wafting through your nose. All that flavor coming from a little leaf is so cool to me. Ok, maybe I’m a bit of food geek. Anyhow, I remember many a lazy summer evening eating pesto pasta for dinner when I was growing up, so I thought I’d try to mix it up a bit and add in some more veggies to that herby delight. I figure if you still keep the basil and parmesan flavors you can hide some spinach there too.

The thing I love about sauces is that they are so versatile. When I make different sauces, like this one, I start to think of all the things it would work in other than pasta. For example, this is great on a sandwich, grilled veggies, fish, chicken and stirred into some basic chicken soup. This is such a simple fast meal you can easily whip this up while pasta is on the stove or chicken is on the grill.  And to me…pesto is just a little hint of summer…man I wish it were here already.

Shopping List:

1 cup fresh spinach

1 bunch (about 1 cup) of fresh basil

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup sliced raw almonds (you could certainly use regular raw almonds, but I had these on hand)

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic

1 lemon (you really only need 1/2 a lemon, so save the other half for your iced tea)

Instructions:

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat warm the olive oil and garlic until the oil is infused with the flavor of the garlic. This will take close to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in your blender add the clean spinach and basil. Then place the nuts on top. That’s an important tip because they weigh down the leaves so the leaves will actually puree in the blender. Also add the parmesan and the juice from half of the lemon.

3. Pour the warmed garlic and olive oil in the blender too. Then, push the highest setting, on mine it’s “liquefy”. Let it go until it becomes a thick paste. You might have to stop it to make sure the leaves are reaching the bottom of the blender.

4. At this point stop and taste it, you might need to add a dash of salt and pepper to suit your taste. Toss half of the sauce over 1/2 a box of cooked pasta …and…You’re done! Dinner served. Easy, right?

5. Save the other half of the sauce in a freezer safe zip lock bag and pop it in the freezer. You can pull it out in the next two months and make this meal even faster.

White Bean Soup

White Bean Soup--slow cooked

There’s something about homemade soup that just makes life so good. At the end of the day filling your belly with a hot, steamy bowl of love is like stepping into a sudsy bubble bath  –it forces all your tension to just melt away as you exhale.

This recipe is fabulous, since you can really start it all in advance, and then it works its magic all on its own as it simmers away in the slow cooker. Yep, you heard me, pull out that crockpot you got as a wedding gift and dust it off. You won’t be sorry. Plus you can freeze the leftovers in a freezer safe ziploc bag or reimagine the extras into my White Bean Taquitos, which I will have to post later.

Oh yeah, as a side note those slow cooker bags that you can buy to line your pot certainly help on the clean up of this one. If you don’t have a slow cooker, instructions for the stovetop are also included.

P.S. This recipe is good for the belly and the wallet:)

Shopping List:

1 bag of white beans, uncooked

2 3.5-ounce packages of smoked ham, chopped

½ an onion, chopped

3 celery stalks, strings removed and chopped

1 garlic clove chopped

½ tsp. kosher salt and ground pepper

Instructions for the crockpot:

1. The night before pour the beans into a large pot and cover them with water and put the lid on. Let them soak on the counter all night.

2. The next day drain the beans and pick out any that don’t look right or any sneaky rocks that made their way into the pot.

3. Add the beans, the ham, the onion, the celery, and the garlic to the slow cooker.

4. Pour 4 cups of water over the mixture and put the lid on that bad baby and turn it on low.

5. Don’t touch it! Let it be. That slow cooking magic will work on its own.

6. After about 6 hours taste test it for salt and pepper before serving with some fresh chives or parsley on top.

**Instructions for the stovetop:

1. The night before pour the beans into a large pot and cover them with water and put the lid on. Let them soak on the counter all night.

2. The next day drain the beans and pick out any that don’t look right or any sneaky rocks that made their way into the pot.

3. Add the beans, the ham, the onion, the celery, and the garlic to a 6 quart stockpot.

4. Pour 6 cups of water over the mixture and bring the mixture to a boil.

5. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to low and cover the pot. Let it cook away for about 1 1/2 hours. This is when the  magic starts to work.

6. After 1 1/2 hours remove the lid, stir it all up, and taste test it for salt and pepper. Let it continue to simmer for another 30 minutes with the lid off. When it’s ready top it with some fresh chives or parsley on top.

*This could easily be trasnformed into a veggie version by leaving out the ham, and replacing the water with vegetable stock for extra flavor.

Serves 6-8

Chinese Noodles

These Chinese Noodles are on the table in 15 minutes flat!

There’s something about noodles, whatever form they take, I love them and so does the rest of the family. I think it has to do with the Italian in me–pasta is a comfort food for me. It’s just such a versatile kid-friendly staple, so I figure why not tackle one of my favorite parts of Chinese take-out…Chow Mein Noodles. 

I’ve tinkered with these over the years, sometimes I add more seseame oil or a bit of peanut butter, but this version is the one that tends to be most successful.

These noodles are super, kid-friendly and are a great way to sneak in veggies because the bean sprouts and carrots are the same size and shape as the noodles…and you don’t have to prep them. This is a meal that could easily be on the table in 15 minutes (including the 11 minutes for the noodles to cook). Also, you could add rotisserie chicken to this to make it a more hearty meal.

Shopping List:

½ cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)

2 tsp. hoisin sauce (find it in the Asian food aisle)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 Tablespoon sesame oil

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1 cup shredded carrots (I bought the ones preshredded)

1 8-ounce bag of bean sprouts

1 cup snap pea pods, cut into thirds

½ box of spaghetti noodles (I like the Barilla Plus, it’s multi-grain and tastes normal)

Instructions:

1. In a small saucepot  on medium heat combine the soy sauce, hoisin, garlic, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Heat this to a simmer (That’s when it starts to sizzle around the edges.), and then let it continue to cook for about 5 minutes, so that the garlic gets cooked into the sauce. If you’re cooking for a spicy group you might add a dash of cayene pepper at this point.

2. Then, reduce the heat to low to keep it warm.

3. Meanwhile, boil a pot of water and cook your spaghetti.

4. Pull out your serving bowl and put the pea pods, carrots and bean sprouts in the bottom.

5. When the pasta is cooked and drained throw it on top of the veggies and then douse it all with the sauce.  Can’t get easier than that! Serve with some chopped peanuts or cilantro.

Serves 4 entree-sized portions

Cranberry Peanut Granola Bars

Cranberry Peanut Granola Bars in front, Peanut Butter Chip in back

We love granola bars around here. It’s such a great, portable snack that I can feel good about giving the kids. Especially these bars. Check out the list of ingredients below and then compare it to the one you might buy at the grocery store. My list is much shorter, and the end result is better. If you’re looking for a sweeter version, the Peanut Butter Chip ones are delicious.

Shopping List:

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup Rice Krispies 

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup Karo syrup

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Let the paper hang over the edge of the pan so you can take it out easily.

2. Place the Karo syrup, brown sugar and the butter into a microwave safe bowl.  

3. Melt the mixture in the microwave for 1 minute.

4.  Once melted, stir it all together and add the vanilla, peanuts, oats, Rice Krispies and cranberries.

5. Spread this thick mixture in a 9×9 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper.

6. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.

6. Take the pan out of the oven, and pull the bars out as one big square using the parchment. Let them cool 30 minutes on a cooling rack before cutting.

Makes 18 snack bars. You could also crush this up for cereal or as an ice cream, yogurt or fresh fruit topping. Yum!

Peanut Butter Chip Granola Bars

Peanut Butter Chip Granola Bars crumbled over vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Yum!

My kids adore granola bars. And not just the ones dipped in chocolate. So when Food Network Magazine included a recipe for granola bars in their 50 Snacks booklet a while back, I thought I’d give it a shot and twist the recipe to suit my family’s tastes. And what do you know–they were a big success, I even passed out the extras to the kids’ preschool teachers and they devoured them too. If you like a salty and sweet combo, check out the Cranberry Peanut Granola Bars too.

Shopping List:

2 cups quick cooking oats
 
1 cup Rice Krispies 
 
1/2 cup chopped peanuts

1/3 cup Karo syrup

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon mini-chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Let the paper hang over the edge of the pan so you can take it out easily.

2. Pour 1/3 cup each Karo syrup, brown sugar, and peanut butter into a microwave safe bowl.  

3. Melt the mixture in the microwave for 1 minute.

4.  Once melted, stir it all together and add the vanilla, peanuts, oats, Rice Krispies and 1/3 cup of the chocolate chips.

5. Spread this thick mixture in a 9×9 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper.

6. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top of the granola bars.

7. Bake at 300 * for 30 minutes.

6. Take the pan out of the oven, and pull the bars out as one big square using the parchment. Let them cool 30 minutes on a cooling rack before cutting.

Makes 18 snack bars. You could also crush this up for cereal or as an ice cream, yogurt or fresh fruit topping. Yum!

Chicken Crunchies

Bags of Mickey Mouse shaped nuggets used to be a staple in my freezer…until it drove me insane. No seriously, I have had many a meal where I thought I was going to pull my hair out if my son complained any more about what was offered to him. You know how this goes down at the dinner table. It’s not pretty.

My kids would demand to have these fun shapes or they wouldn’t eat. Crazy, right? I started to get pretty mad at myself for giving into this form of extortion. And buying into the marketing of food for kids. I mean I am a pretty good cook. I should be able to get my little guy to eat chicken that’s not in nugget form, right?

So that’s when it all started–our food experiment last summer. We’ve had our good reports and bad, but my kids no longer eat nuggets. And, they love these Chicken Crunchies, which couldn’t be easier to make. These are also perfect to make a big batch and toss the extras in the freezer. If you’re not making a big batch or you’re lucky enough to have a double oven, you can cook some steak fries alongside the chickies.

Shopping List:

2 pounds thin-slice chicken breasts, each cut in half

1 egg + 2 tablespoons water

2 cups Panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon garlic salt

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Instructions: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

1. In a gallon sized zippered plastic bag combine the bread crumbs, the garlic salt, and the Italian seasoning. Mix it well, so that the seasoning is evenly distributed.

2. In a shallow bowl whisk together the egg and water.

3. Dip 3 or 4 strips of chicken in the egg wash, then toss them in the zippered bag. Shake it well (a good job for the kiddos to do) so that the chicken is coated completely.

4. Place the chicken strips on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the Crunchies are on the pan.

5. Spray the tops with baking spray. Then pop them in the oven for 12 minutes, or maybe a minute more if they are not yet golden enough.