Chewy or cakey?

Do you have bananas that suffer from over-ripeitis? Try this cure.

People have opinions about chocolate chip cookies. Do you like them crumbly and puffed up high? Or thin, chewy puddles on the baking sheet? Personally, I am a chewy lover.

A batch of banana chocolate chip cookies I made to take to a gathering at the park last weekend ended up more on the cakey side. There was a hint of chew, but mostly cake. In my experience, it has been harder to achieve the type of chocolate chip cookies I prefer at home.

Despite the texture issue, these are flavorful cookies that went over well with our friends. I often have one or two bananas perishing in the fruit basket. Because I don’t like waste, I am always on the prowl for banana recipes other than my usual go-to banana bread. These cookies fill the bill. I made the recipe as-is this time. Next time, I will tweak it in an effort to achieve the holy grail of chocolate chip cookies – thin, caramely and chewy.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (You could easily use 1 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup white. No one would notice.)
1 teaspoon coarse salt (I didn’t have coarse salt so I use 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt.)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large mashed ripe banana (1/2 – 3/4 cup)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghiradelli bittersweet chips would be even better.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk together both flours, salt, and baking soda in a bowl.

Put butter and both sugars into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low.  Add egg and vanilla; mix until combined.  Mix in banana.  Add flour mixture; mix until just combined.  Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

Drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper by the rounded teaspoon, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 8 to 10 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days. They taste even better the next day – more banana flavor.

Ratings:

Me:     A-

Scott: A

Luca:  A+

Alia:   A+

Malad?

Taco salad makeover

It’s not a town in southeastern Idaho.

Nor is it a suburb of Dubai, India.

It’s a salad! It’s a meal! It’s a malad! Okay. Not the catchiest name, but what else can we call these one bowl wonders? One of our favorite malads is taco salad. Even Alia will eat this one . . . not without a bit of prodding because of the vile, crunchy stuff known as lettuce, but – hey – you can’t have everything.

Before I came across this recipe, my experience with taco salads was limited to those served in restaurants, if you call Taco Bell a restaurant. I grew up on those taco “salads” – a big, greasy flour tortilla filled with ground beef (possibly mixed with pink slime?), cheese and a little, tiny bit of green stuff. This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated ditches the big, greasy shell for crushed tortilla chips. You know. The ones in the bottom of the bag that you throw away? Start saving them. When you have a few cups, make this salad. If you can’t wait, take out a rolling pin and crush the crap out of whole ones. This is also a very greens forward recipe. You may have noticed the whole meat thing. I use a mix of Yves Meatless Ground Round and canned black beans instead. You could easily just use beans or stick with the ground beef, of course.

Malad is not the most appetizing name, but don’t let that keep you from trying this updated taco salad. Better than Taco Bell – guaranteed.

Taco Salad (serves 4 generously)

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 tablespoons lime juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
scant 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper
12 oz. Yves Meatless Ground Round (or a can of black beans, drained)
1 can black beans (low sodium is better), drained
1 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 hearts romaine lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 cups corn tortilla chips, broken into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Optional add-ins: diced avocados, shredded pepper Jack or cheddar cheese, or minced red onion.

Combine lime juice, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and 1/3 cup olive oil  in a lidded jar and shake to mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining teaspoon oil in large skillet over medium heat until warm. Add remaining garlic, cumin, chili powder and cayenne, if using, and heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the Yves Meatless Ground Round and black beans and cook, breaking up clumps with wooden spoon, until heated through. Stir in tomato paste and water and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm.

Toss lettuce, tomatoes, and chips (and any other add-ins – I always included shredded, sharp cheddar) with lime juice dressing in large bowl. Add enough dressing to coat, but not soak (I usually don’t use all the dressing). Divide salad among individual plates and top each portion with some bean mixture. Serve topped with sour cream if desired.

Ratings:

Me:  A (It think the tangy lime dressing and tortilla chips make the salad.)

Scott:  A++

Luca:  A++ (This is one of his favorite dishes.)

Alia:  B (She happily ate everything but the Romaine.)

Voilà Quinoa

Quinoa Burgers

Quinoa is the darling of the health food world. It offers one-stop nutrition with its complete protein, loads of fiber, phosphorus (!), magnesium and iron. According to Wikipedia, quinoa is being considered for consumption on long space flights because of its high nutritional value. And, you can even wash clothes with the saponin that coats quinoa.

I can guarantee there is almost always a bag of quinoa in our freezer . . . which has been there for about 6 months. Despite how good this pseudocereal is for us, I have had a hard time incorporating it into our regular meal rotation. Rice seems to have earned squatter’s rights on our plates and it hasn’t budged.

On the occasions that I have gone against the (rice) grain, two types of quinoa preparations have proven successful – salads and croquettes. My two favorite salads are Double Broccoli Quinoa and Quinoa and Black Bean Salad – both are particularly good for potlucks and cook-outs. My first foray into quinoa was Deborah Madison’s Spicy Quinoa and Potato Croquettes, which are particularly tasty topped with Moroccan Chermoula. The quinoa burgers I found on Pinterest are along the same lines as the croquettes without the potatoes. They are much like what I imagine turkey or chicken burgers to be – delicate and subtle with a pleasant grainy texture. Unfortunately, I had the bright idea to douse mine with sweet-spicy barbeque sauce and vinegary slaw. The quinoa burger didn’t have a chance under all those pungent tastes. I tried again the next day. This time, I dolloped a bit of horseradish mayonnaise on top, which was perfect.

Move over rice. Voilà, it’s quinoa!

Quinoa Burgers

makes 10-12

adapted from Eating Well Living Thinner

scant 3 cups cooked quinoa (see below for cooking instructions)

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or other variety, if you prefer)

1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1 medium carrot, finely grated (I think you could easily add 2 carrots.)

3 eggs

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 green onions, chopped, including white parts

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic pepper

Olive oil for pan frying

In a large bowl combine the cooked quinoa, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, carrot, eggs, flour, green onions, cilantro, pepper, cumin, salt, and garlic pepper.

Heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  My mixture had the consistency of thick pancake batter so I used a 1/2 cup measure to dip out a scant 1/2 cup for each patty.  Three patties fit in the frying pan at a time. Cover and let fry undisturbed for 5 minutes. Once the edges look dry and there are some bubbles on the surface, turn up the heat to medium high for a few minutes to brown the patty. Flip and fry the other sides on medium high for 3-4 minutes. The patties should be firm to the touch. Repeat procedure with the rest of the mixture until it is all used up.

Serve on a bun with burger fixings of your choice. The flavor is somewhat delicate, so mild condiments work best here.

You could easily freeze the leftovers and reheat the patties in a 350 oven for about 8-10 minutes.

To cook quinoa:

1 cup uncooked quinoa

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with warm water for a few minutes. This helps remove any residual bitter tasting saponin. In a medium saucepan bring the 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil over high heat.  Add quinoa and reduce heat to low.  Cover and cook for 18-20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed and the seeds are tender.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Ratings:

Me:  A (based on the second time I ate one with horseradish mayonnaise)

Scott:  A

Luca:  B

Alia:  B (With a little prodding, she ate all the burger and left the bun.

Egg Salad with a Kick – No Fooling!

Egg salad sliced tomatoes tucked into a pita

Lunches for adults are most often an afterthought around here. There is thought put into lunches packed for school and daycare . . . deep thought. Are they balanced? Will they eat what’s packed? Is there too much dairy? Too much grain? Can I slip in another fruit or vegetable? But the adults eat leftovers or a banana and granola bar woofed down at a desk or standing in the kitchen.

On this particular Friday afternoon, I found myself with some time on my hands and a few beautiful, local, free range eggs. A jar of prepared horseradish provided some inspiration.

I still woofed down lunch standing at the kitchen counter, but it was one tasty inhale. Since hard boiled egg fest is coming up next weekend, you may want to tuck this recipe in your back pocket.

Egg Salad with a Kick

adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

serves one hungry mother

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (I used Hellman’s light)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 – 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

2 teaspoons chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste

Place 3 eggs in a sauce pan. Add water to cover with 1-2 inches above the eggs. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Transfer eggs to an ice bath and cool for about 10 minutes.

Peel eggs and chop. In a medium bowl, mix with mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish (to taste), and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Rating:

Me:  A (This is the best egg salad I have made.)

(No one else had this or cared to . . . and for this, I am grateful.)

Repurposed Rice

An offering

Coconut curry on Saturday and Tofu, Broccoli, and Mushroom Stir-fry on Sunday means two containers of plain-ish rice in the refrigerator today. A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchencomes to the rescue. THIS time, the rice won’t get shoved to the back of the refrigerator until it remains undiscovered until it is too late.

There is a little old German woman who lives in my head. Through the years, she has been more of a detriment than anything else – no fun (except for the college years when she inexplicably disappeared), unreasonably high standards, and a little obsessive compulsive. She hates waste. She is the reason I pile all the “seen better days” food at the end of the counter before I can actually admit that it has gone bad. Lately, I have been trying to make the best of her frugal ways and find ways to repurpose leftovers before they go south. Why not? It’s good for the environment and saves money. Leftover rice is perfect for fried rice the next day.

I love ordering fried rice at Chinese restaurants, but when I have attempted it at home the result has been woefully bland. This is the first fried rice recipe I have been happy with. It is a bit more than vegetables, egg and rice. There is fried tofu (or Quorn as was the case this particular night) and this lovely coconut milk-soy sauce-lime-sugar mixture poured over the rice at the end.

It’s a win-win. Tasty fried rice and the little old German lady (and Alia) is appeased . . . for today anyway.

Curried Fried Rice with Tofu, Red Onions and Sugar Snap Peas

Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I use light coconut milk and freeze what is in the rest of the can. It is a little curdly but totally useable at a later date.)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (The original recipe calls for peanut, which I don’t have at this time.)

1/2 medium red or yellow onion, chopped (The original recipe calls for TWO onions. That’s way too much for me.)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup frozen peas

8 oz Quorn Chik’n Tenders (or tofu – see original recipe)

1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced.

2 medium garlic cloves

2 teaspoons curry powder (1 1/2 teaspoons mild, 1/2 teaspoon hot)

5 cups cooked and chilled long grain rice, large clumps broken up

Chopped cilantro to taste

Combine the coconut milk, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the eggs and cook until they begin to set, about 20 minutes. Scramble and break up the eggs with a spatula. Continue to cook until eggs are cooked through but still tender, about 30 seconds. Transfer the eggs to a bowl.

Raise the heat to high and add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil to the empty skillet. When oil is shimmering, add onions and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and Quorn. Cook until thawed. Add the chile, garlic, and curry powder. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add rice and coconut milk mixture and cook, stirring constantly until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and cilantro and stir to distribute evenly. Serve immediately.

Ratings:

Me:  A+ (I have had this for breakfast, lunch and dinner since I made it. I love it.)

Scott:  N/A (Scouts)

Luca:  N/A (Scouts)

Alia: B- (In the beginning, she was enthusiastic, but this waned as time went on. She did finish her bowl though.)

The Other Soup

The soup that made a tomato soup lover out of Scott.

There are two soups I can count on for an A average rating from the critics – red lentiland tomato. This isn’t just any tomato soup. This is THE soup that made a tomato soup lover out of Scott. On occasion, when we are eating this meal, Scott announces (in his best Ward Cleaver voice), “Kids, this is the soup that made me LIKE tomato soup” followed by an appreciative head nod.

Tomato soup as he knew it – as I knew it – was of the Campbell’s variety. Read: salty, watery, ketchup-y. *Shudder* This soup is thick, flavorful and a bit creamy. Any grilled cheese would be happy to take its place beside it . . . or quesadilla . . . or Asiago garlic bread.

This really IS good food.

Fire-Roasted Tomato Bisque

slightly adapted from Food & Wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (The original recipe has 4 tablespoons of butter. It is not necessary because it is thick and rich enough with 2.)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups water + 2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon
Two 14 1/2-ounce cans crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen. I am a bit of a hoarder of these.)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream (You could certainly leave this out. It is definitely gilding the lily.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic, cover and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir over low heat for 1 minute, or until the flour is fully incorporated. Add the water, Better Than Bouillon, tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar and bring to a boil. Cover partially and cook the soup over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 15 minutes.

Transfer half of the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the saucepan. Or use a stick blender and puree to your preference in the pan. I like it pretty smooth. Add the heavy cream and cook until the soup is just heated through. Season the soup with salt and black pepper. The salt is key to a flavorful soup. I begin with 1/4 teaspoon, taste, then add more if needed. I typically use 1/2 a teaspoon.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with grilled cheese or quesadillas or cheesy garlic bread.

Ratings:

Me:  A

Scott:  A

Luca:  A+ (He did say it would be better with a few gnocchi thrown in.))

Alia:  A+ (YAY!)

Why I Do the Things I Do

I can’t answer this question about everything, but I can about making dinner for my family most nights.

1. I’m a control freak and this is something I can control. I can’t do much about 80 degree weather on March 1st or the war in Afghanistan, but I can make sure my family eats nutritious food most of the time. Eating at home and making most of our meals from scratch allows me to control what goes into our bodies – allows me to make sure our bodies have “good energy” (this is how I explained it to Luca when he was a toddler). It seems like there is a news story every day or so which convinces me this is a good thing for me to do. Have you seen the headlines about pink slime? Or Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me?

Do we always eat nutritious, whole foods? No and no. I aim for 80% of the time. And, I am always trying to cut out processed food. Right now, I am down to snacks and Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese. I still buy crackers (healthier versions, but processed nonetheless), granola bars, and sometimes COOKIES (you know, the NATURAL Oreos). A bag of potato chips occasionally finds its way into the cupboard over the sink too. The only thing that is completely off-limits in our house is soda. So, perfect we are not.

2. I’m cheap. Making our own food is less expensive than going out or buying the frozen variety. And, it tastes better . . . usually.

3. I enjoy trapping my family at the dinner table and subjecting them to my cooking. And more importantly “Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.” Whew! It’s like the family meal is religion or something. We do not eat together every night – about 4-5 nights a week. Like everyone else, we have Scouts or school activities or yoga (ahem), but I am trying hard to maintain this as sacred time for our family.

Is our evening meal always the site of jovial chatting about the days events? No, but we keep trying.

4. We don’t eat anything that ever had a face or a butt. If we ate frozen meals or at restaurants, our choices would be pizza or pasta or pasta or pizza or fried rice. End of story.

5. It’s kind of a hobby. Or an obsession? I don’t know which – there is such a fine line between the two. I like to curl up with a good cookbook whenever possible. Trolling the internet for recipes can be a stress reliever for me. I probably spend more time on Pinterest than I should, but I can’t help it. So many recipes so little time. And, I window shop in food stores – yes, I do.

Why do you prepare meals at home?

Curry, Curry in a Hurry

Potato Chard curry - not the most vibrant looking dish, but pretty vibrant in flavor.

Saturdays in our house are often filled with house projects and errands. I usually take more time to make dinner on these days and these dinners are more elaborate. On this particular weekend day, I believed I had all the time in the world in the morning. Alia and I went to our co-op and international foods store and took our time sampling and picking up a few things. I don’t know about you, but I love exploring our international grocery –  hundreds of  hot sauces and curry pastes in cans with Thai characters, any kind of dal imaginable, and frozen dumplings in brightly colored bags. So, we dawdled.

We arrived home and everyone had lunch, then we planted Luca’s bean project and a cabbage he brought home from school. Then, the day seemed to disappear . . . I went for a run, a friend called about an impromptu gathering for another friend who was passing through, Scott got out the industrial sized weed eater and started hacking away at bushes. I decided on a quick curry I had wanted to make earlier in the week. I prepped all the ingredients (with Luca volunteering to help! He separated the leaves from the rainbow chard – he called it disco chard.) before going to my friend’s, then put the dish together when I arrived home later.  While the curry simmered, I made a simple rice pilaf.

It was tasty and came together quickly – perfect for a Saturday that (pleasantly) got away from me.

Potato and Chard with a Green Curry Sauce

slightly adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen (This is one of our go-to cookbooks – quick, flavorful meals arranged by season . . . only one or two clunkers so far.)

1 tablespoon canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk, with 1/2 cup thickened cream scooped out and reserved
1 tablespoon (to taste) prepared green curry paste (I bought Maesri Green Curry Paste at our international grocery. Thai Kitchen brand is more widely available. I started out with 1/2 a tablespoon then added more as the dish came together.)
1/2 cup water
2 lbs. yukon gold or red potatoes, cut into bite-size chunks (I threw in a couple Russets because I didn’t have enough Yukons. The Russets did break down a bit, which was fine. They added a thickness to the sauce. I would not make this with all Russets because you would end up with mashed potatoes.)
salt
1 bunch swiss chard, leaves removed from the stems and chopped
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon or more fresh lime juice

Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, no more than 1 minute.

Add the 1/2 cup thickened coconut cream and curry paste. Simmer briskly 2-3 minutes until the liquid evaporates and a thick paste forms.

Add the remaining coconut milk, water, potatoes, and 1/2 ts. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Stir in the chard, cover and cook, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Add salt to taste and serve over rice.

Ratings:

Me:  B+ (See Scott’s comment below. I did hold back on the curry paste because of the kids. I can see this dish as a platform and adding other vegetables like red bell pepper or zucchini during the summer.)

Scott:  B (“It needs a little something else – more heat, another vegetable.”)

Luca:  A (“I would give it an A+ if the rice wasn’t so salty.”)

Alia:  D (She had a few bites, but that was it)

Bar Food for Dinner

Friday Night Decadence

I went to watch a series of films made by mothers (none about cooking though) late this afternoon so Scott was left with dinner duties. As I walked out the door, I suggested nachos. An appetizer at most sports bars, this is not the healthiest meal, but we all love it. And, of course, I tweak the typical “recipe” some to make it a little more nutritious.

Scott started with Santitas chips (Cook’s Illustrated did a tortilla chip taste test and these came out on top) arranged in one layer on a large cookie sheet. He combined some Yves Meatless Ground Round, a drained can of black beans and some homemade taco seasoning in a cast iron skillet and heated through. Scatter the bean mixture on the chips and top with shredded extra sharp cheddar. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned in places. He then added toppings – chopped tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. We usually serve sour cream and salsa on the side. If I happen to have an avocado, I make guacamole, but I am the only one who eats it.

Do you ever eat bar food for dinner? Or are we the only decadent ones?

Ratings:

Me:     A

Scott: A

Luca:  A

Alia:    A

(No comments . . . everyone was too busy eating.)