Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blueberry Banana Bread

Did you know that you can freeze bananas? I buy bananas every few days, and it never fails that one or two of them ripen too quickly. Once that happens I just toss them in the freezer. As of last week I had 8 bananas in my freezer waiting to be used.

One of my favorite recipes using bananas are these Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. They work as a breakfast muffin or a sweet treat, and my little one loves them. Last weekend I had some blueberries to use so turned to a recipe from the blog Cookaholic Wife and found a breakfast bread recipe that would use 3 of my bananas.

To use the frozen bananas, take them out of the freezer about 15-20 minutes before they are needed. Then simple peel them and use them in your recipe. You don't even need to wrap them in plastic to freeze them - the peel is so thick that it protects the banana.

It's no secret that I prefer cooking over baking. I despise measuring, so baking can annoy me to no end. But I have really tried to push myself and bake more often over the past few years. One thing I do to make it easier on myself is to measure out every single ingredient first.

Sure, it makes more dishes, but it's easier on me, and it also makes it fun for my 3 year old daughter to help out. She loves picking up all of the bowls, pouring in the ingredients, and then mixing them.

This bread was really easy, both sweet and tart from the flavors of the bananas and blueberries, and was so perfect with my cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning.

One more picture before I get to the recipe - doesn't it look like the bread is making a funny face at the camera?

Blueberry Banana Bread
Source: Cookaholic Wife

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbs. vanilla yogurt (I substituted sour cream for the yogurt)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • Preheat the oven to 375. Spray a (9 inch) loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  • In one bowl, mash the bananas with a potato masher or fork. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Add the applesauce, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine. Then add in the flour mixture, stirring until combined.
  • Fold in the bananas and then the blueberries.
  • Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Note, I used my convection bake setting on my oven and this was done in just under 50 minutes)
  • Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Slice and serve.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quinoa with Kale, Tomatoes, and White Beans

I told you I was going to be on a bit of a kale kick! Since I first made kale about a month ago, I have made it at least 2 times a week. At least... 

My latest kale recipe was a quinoa lunch bowl with kale, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and white beans - super filling, packed with nutrients, healthy, lots of different textures, and perfectly savory. And what a great choice for lunch since you don't have any guilt when eating it and it actually fills you up for the entire afternoon.

You can eat this one cold, room temperature, or warm, depending on your preferences and mood. It was cold in my office last week so I chose to warm it up.

I usually cook with regular quinoa, but my store only had red the last time I went shopping. I didn't think it would be any different, but it actually was a touch more bitter, even after thoroughly rinsing it. So if you want something milder, stick with regular quinoa.

Quinoa with Kale, Tomatoes, and White Beans
Source: A Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations Original

  • 8 oz quinoa, rinsed
  • 2.5 cups of liquid; water or vegetable broth
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 sm onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large handfuls of chopped kale
  • 1/2 can white beans
  • 1/2 c cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: parmesan cheese
  • Put 2.5 cups of liquid and the quinoa in a pot. Bring to a boil, and then cover and lower to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until done.
  • Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add onions; sauté 2-3 minutes.
  • Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds.
  • Add tomatoes and beans; stir.
  • Add the kale, broth, salt, and pepper. Cover and lower heat to medium. Let simmer 5-7 minutes. Remove the lid and let simmer 2-3 more minutes.
  • Put half of the quinoa on a plate and top with half of the kale mixture.
  • Optional: top with some freshly grated parmesan cheese 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Refried Beans

When we go out for Mexican food I always order a side of refried beans. I love how they are so creamy and salty, and unlike anything you could ever get in a can. So when I saw that my friend Sarah was making them at home and raved about them, I knew I'd have to try them. The thought that I'd be able to have authentic refried beans at home made me so giddy!

I finally got around to it last week to go with some easy weeknight tacos. I started tasting the beans as they were cooking and couldn't believe how good they were. They really tasted just like beans I have eaten at Mexican restaurants! This is an easy recipe that can simmer as you are preparing the other parts of your meal, and then you just mash them up before you are ready to eat.

Refried Beans
Below is the original recipe; I doubled this because I knew I'd want leftovers.
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup chicken or veggie broth, divided
  • Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until crisp, being careful not to burn it. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the bacon pieces to a paper towel-lined plate leaving the grease in the pan. (Save the bacon for another use, like BLTs, or if you can't let cooked bacon sit staring at you, eat it as an appetizer :)
  • Add the onion to the pan. Cook until just tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic, cumin and cayenne, and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.
  • Add the beans to the pan. Season with a bit of salt and pepper (you can add more later, don't oversalt). Pour in 2/3 cup of the broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to a light simmer (do not cover). Let simmer for about 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Mash the bean mixture as desired. For a chunkier texture, use a fork or potato masher (I used a potato masher). For a smoother texture, pulse the mixture in a food processor. Add up to 1/3 cup more broth for a lighter texture and adjust seasonings to taste.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sauteed Kale

A few weeks ago I used kale in a sausage and pasta dish and loved it so much that I added kale to my menu again the very next day. I made the ultimate southern comfort food, Chicken and Dumplings, and served sautéed kale on the side.

Unlike spinach, my usual go to easy green side, kale doesn't cook down all that much when you wilt it, so you know how much you will be left with after it wilts. I love that it stays somewhat crisp as well. And the best thing is that you just put it in the pan, cover it, and let it wilt for 10-15 minutes - no attention needed!

I have made this recipe twice in the past few weeks - once with vegetable broth and once with chicken broth. Jon and I both actually preferred the one cooked with chicken broth, but to keep it vegetarian you can stick with the vegetable broth.

Sautéed Kale
Adapted from: Bobby Flay

  • 1/2 large bag of washed and chopped kale
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • Pinch or two each of salt and pepper (it doesn't need much salt since you are using broth)
  • Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat
  • Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes, until softened
  • Add the kale and the broth; toss to combine
  • Cover and let cook for 10 minutes
  • Remove the lid and let cook another 2 minutes or so until the liquid has absorbed
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Friday, March 7, 2014

Philly Cheesesteak Pizza

Born and raised in Philadelphia, I love a good Cheesesteak, and I have a great recipe for making them at home here. I have used leftover cheesesteak ingredients to make a cheesesteak omelet inspired by one I had in Philly, and have also had cheesesteak calzones and strombolis, but never a pizza.

These pizzas are the best of both a cheesesteak and a pizza - a super creamy, cheesy sauce is what takes them over the top! 

You can use your own pizza dough recipe for these, or buy a pre-made crust.

I made 2 personal pizzas so Jon and I could adjust them to our preferences.  My pizza followed the original recipe exactly, but I made a few changes to Jon's including adding pizza sauce and some shredded pizza cheese.

I was SO happy with these! The soy sauce with the meat adds great flavor, and the cheese sauce is to die for. Note - make extra cheese sauce because it's great poured over nachos or in a quesadilla! I actually had some leftover meat and peppers too, so the next day I made cheesesteak quesadillas using those ingredients and the cheese sauce. 

 * A few notes on the recipe and ingredients.
 - The original recipe calls for flank steak. If you don't have flank steak, try rib eye (put it in the freezer for a bit so you can slice it super thin). Another option is using frozen thinly sliced steaks packaged for cheesesteaks - note, not SteakUms but meat frozen in a meat pack by the butcher. These work fine and will save you some cooking time, and they can be shredded as you cook them instead of sliced after cooking.
 - Also, the cheese sauce is a must. Don't get worried that there isn't any cheese that melts on the pizza while it is baking - you won't need it with this cheese sauce. When you make the cheese sauce, try adding some American cheese to it to make it super creamy.
 - One final note - make extra of everything! Trust me, you will be happy to have leftovers!

Philly Cheesesteak Pizza 
Adapted from: The Redhead Baker

  • 8 oz flank steak, halved lengthwise (or rib eye or frozen thinly sliced steaks; see my note above)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips

  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1/2 sm onion, cut into strips
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tsp soy sauce

  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 oz (½ cup) extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 personal sized pizza crusts (your own, or a pre-cooked one like Boboli or even Naan bread)
  • Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in your oven, and preheat oven to 500° (keep stone or baking sheet in oven).
  • Season steak on both sides with the black pepper salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steak to the pan; cook for 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from pan; let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak across the grain into very thin slices. (or shred meat as you cook - see my note above)
  • Add the oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the onion and bell peppers; sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add sliced steak; sauté 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, onion powder and soy sauce. Arrange steak mixture over crust.
  • Combine milk and flour in a small pot; stir with a whisk until smooth. Place on the stove over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in your cheeses, whisking until smooth. Drizzle the cheese mixture over the pizza.
  • Cook the pizza according to the directions on the crust packaging. 
  • Cut into slices and serve.