Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Easy is That?

When it comes to eating healthy, you've got to keep it simple.

A few veggies here, a dash of olive oil there, a sprinkling of seasonings and....voila! Dinner is done.


In the words of Ina Garten, "How easy is that?"

Tonight we invited our friend Alli over for an evening of vegan-style feasting:
Quinoa Burgers, roasted veggies, and Peanut Butter Blondies (straight from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar). This menu alone provided reason #347 why you shouldn't be afraid to prepare vegetarian meals for your meat-lovin' pals.

They'll love the food just as much as you do. Promise.

Allow tonight's recipe to serve as motivation for anyone who has set a 2011 "healthy living" resolution. This roasted veggie dish is colorful, flavorful, and heavy in the vitamin department (Please step away from that bottle of Flintstone Chewables. Who needs a pill when you can enjoy your vitamins roasted and peppered?).

You can serve your roasted veggies as a filling side dish, as a hearty salad mix-in, or on a toasted hoagie bun with cheese. Bottom line: Cut 'em, Roast 'em, Eat 'em and...Keep it simple :)

Roasted Veggies (for your New Year's Resolution)
(adapted from a recipe given to me by Mike G., my former boss and veggie-loving buddy)

Feel free to mix it up with the veggies. The original recipe calls for brussel sprouts, pears, and beets, which I didn't have on hand tonight. So, I just improvised with the bell pepper and apple. Turned out lovely just the same!

Ingredients:
  • 4 sweet potatoes, or 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • a drizzle of pure maple syrup
  • a sprinkling of dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Pecans, toasted and chopped for garnish
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

2) Toss veggies together in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and maple syrup and toss to coat. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Arrange veggies in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, toss veggies, and return to oven to bake for another 15 - 20 minutes, or until thoroughly roasted. Top each serving with toasted pecans.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quinoa Burgers


Quinoa + Garlicky White Bean Dip = Extraordinary Veggie Burger Awesomeness...times ten.

I kind of went over the top with that one, didn't I?

These little patties just blew my mind though. I loved the surprising addition of quinoa, which kicked up the protein content supremely. And using
Garlicky White Bean Dip as a binding agent? Pure brilliance, I tell you.

Tonight, we devoured these patties burger-style: loaded up with all the fixins' on a whole wheat sandwich thin (don't forget the avocado slices). And to top off the vegan-licious-ness of this dish, we used leftover Garlicky White Bean Dip as a spread for the buns. Tomorrow, these babies will transform into a crumbly mix-in for my lunch salad.

And yes, I'm one of those people whose office perpetually smells like garlic. I practically wear the stuff as perfume.

These burgers are dairy-free and vegan-happy, but if you're craving some cheesy goodness, a slice of white sharp cheddar melted on top would suit just fine.

(Psssst...If you're looking for more meat-less burger ideas, check out my
Greek White Bean Burgers or Vegan Veggie Burgers).

Quinoa Vegan Burgers
(adapted from this recipe from the Savvy Vegetarian; makes about 6 patties)

These burgers are "soft" in nature, meaning they don't form a firm patty as you may be used to with other veggie burgers. Feel free to up the "filler" content (e.g., whole wheat flour perhaps) to make a firmer patty.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (we used red quinoa)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup Garlicky White Bean and Pine Nut Spread (or about 1/2 cup of your favorite hummus)
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 TBSP ground flaxseed
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • Optional: a dash of whole wheat flour to bind/firm the mixture
  • Burger fixins' (tomato, spinach leaves, avocado slices, pickle, and extra white bean dip)
Directions:
1) Super Easy! Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mash/mix until thoroughly combined and you are able to form patties. Refrigerate for about 1 hour (if you have time. I didn't, so I skipped this step)

2) Form into 6 patties. Heat a dash of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook patties for about 3 - 4 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Serve with your burger fixins' or over a spinach salad.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Post Holiday Cooking


The remnants of Christmas are still lingering.

A box of decorations is sitting by the stairs, waiting to be packed away in the attic.

A Christmas nut roll, half-eaten, is waiting on the counter to be devoured.

And then there's that penguin-shaped hand-soap I can't bear to pack away yet. He has a bell on his Santa hat for crying out loud! Who doesn't want to look at something that cute when you're washing up for dinner?

While the holiday baking has been a blast, my body is begging for some vege-head normalcy, so yesterday we enjoyed a huge bowl of Edamame Succotash for dinner. I absolutely love this stuff. My mother-in-law first made it for us during a visit in July, and I've made a repeat creation several times since. It makes an awesome after-work snack, too :)

Edamame succotash makes a great side dish, or you can enjoy it as a main course as we did (we ate a dish of stir-fried carrots and bell pepper on the side. Talk about a vegan delight!).

Enjoying any fun eats during this post-holiday week?

Edamame Succotash

Ingredients:
  • 1 bag (1 lb.) of frozen edamame, thawed
  • 1 bag (1 lb.) of frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Consume copious amounts, guilt-free :)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Week of Sweets Conclusion: Colossal Blueberry Muffins

Friends, today marks the conclusion of my Week of Sweets.

It's true. We've noshed on Oreo Truffles. We've covered our cookie plates with Red Velvet Cookies. And who could forget the Eggnog Muffins?

This bake-happy week resulted in plenty of full stomachs, several empty boxes of butter, a number of sugary smiles, and one satisfied Hungry Spoon. Tomorrow, it's back to those vege-head recipes our gastrointestinal tracks start craving after the December sugar-high.

But for now, let's bring our Week of Sweets to a close with my Christmas morning breakfast: Colossal Blueberry Muffins. I can't take credit for this breakfast myself. We're fortunate to be spending our holiday at Adam's parents' home, and with all the comforts his parents' provide, my mother-in-law's fantastic cooking is amongst my favorite (remember her Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread? Oh heavens, yes.).

After returning from an early-morning walk with Adam and Dora, we were greeted by the aroma of fresh muffins baking: Kathy's Colossal Blueberry Muffins and Banana-Nut Muffins. Adam and I split one of each (there may or may not have also been some spiked eggnog involved. Totally appropriate.). The blueberry muffins were literally overflowing with blueberries--a fruit I've missed after the last several months of baking with apples, pumpkin, and bananas. And who doesn't need a little more crumb topping in her life?

The rest of the day involved lots of napping, reading by the fire, and me losing miserably to several games of Boggle. Hey--we've all got our talents. Mine just doesn't happen to include finding words in a scrambled cube of letters.

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope you're enjoying a weekend filled with happiness, family, and plenty of good eats.

Colossal Blueberry Muffins
(recipe adapted from one on CD Kitchen)

This blueberry muffin hit the spot for Christmas morning breakfast. It's super moist, and bursting with berries. The crumb topping takes it up a notch, too.

Muffin Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 - 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • Optional: A little lemon zest would be a great addition, but isn't necessary

Crumb Topping Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place large muffin liners in a jumbo-size muffin tray (this recipe makes 6 jumbo muffins)

2) Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and butter. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and stir gently until just combined. Fold in blueberries. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups

3) Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (Kathy's took 30 minutes). Remember: If you're using regular-sized muffin cups, the baking time will be significantly reduced!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 6, Daring Bakers Challenge

What better bread to make during the month of December than a traditional Christmas Stollen?

I'd never made, or eaten, stollen before this month. This is especially shocking since it fits all the criteria for my "Carbs I Love" List (must contain butter, sugar, vanilla, and lots of lovin'. It should come as no surprise that my list has grown exponentially in the month of December alone).

So what brought the ol' Christmas Stollen into my life? The Daring Bakers, of course!

I was thrilled to join Daring Bakers this month--a group of bake-happy folks who participate in monthly baking challenges and post their culinary results at the end of each month.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

While the results of this bread were quite impressive, I must admit that it's a time-consuming treat to prepare. I recommend prepping the dough at least a day in advance of baking. And a word of caution: This dough expands...big time. Frankly, I was surprised I didn't wake up to find it oozing out of my refrigerator, threatening to take over the entire kitchen.

Ultimately, this is a beautiful recipe for the holidays--dressed up with fresh fruit and flowers, it makes a lovely centerpiece for your holiday table.

Happy Holidays, Everyone! I wish you all a safe, warm, and very merry holiday weekend :)

Christmas Stollen
(recipe from Penny at Sweet Sadie's Baking)

Roll up your sleeves, get out the rolling pan, and get your Stollen-baking hat on. It's the Christmas season--what better time to bake a ring of this tasty German bread? This recipe makes one large wreath of bread which could easily serve 12 - 16 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 4 - 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 10 TBSP butter
  • 5 - 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest of one orange and one lemon
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. orange extract
  • 3/4 cup candied orange peel
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 3 TBSP rum
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • confectioner's sugar for dusting

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum.

2) Place the 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve and set aside.

3) In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and butter together until butter is melted (on low-medium heat). Set aside until lukewarm.

4) In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and add extracts to them. Set aside.

5) Now it's time to get mixing! Combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, gently beat in the egg mixture, yeast mixture, and milk mixture. This should take about 2 minutes, and will result in a soft, but not sticky, ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.

6) Using your hands, or the mixer, add in the candied peel, raisins, and almonds.

7) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes, until dough becomes soft and a bit tacky, but not sticky. Coat a large bowl with a little oil, place dough in the bowl and roll in the oil to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (it will rise slowly!). This dough can keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

8) When you're ready to bake the bread, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit for at least 2 hours before rolling and shaping. Preheat oven to 350 and roll the dough into a 16 x 24 inches on a lightly floured surface.

9) Starting with a long side, roll up the dough into a tight cylinder. Transfer the cylinder to a sheet pan coated with cooking spray (or lined with parchment paper) and seal the two ends together to form a wreath shape. Using a sharp knife (or kitchen scissors), make cuts around the outside of the ring, to resemble a wreath shape. Mist with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for about 2 hours (it should double in size).

10) Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking for another 20 - 30 minutes. The bread will turn a beautiful mahogony color. Remove from the oven and brush the top with butter. Sift powdered sugar on top to coat, wait about 1 minutes, and sift more powdered sugar on top.



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 5, Eggnog Muffins


This past weekend my friend Amy made a massive batch of delicious homemade eggnog.

We're talking lots of egg-separation and egg-beating, plenty of cream-whipping action, and...a healthy dose of Rum.

Talk about a recipe for beverage success.

I've heard through the grapevine that not everyone likes eggnog (gasp!). I don't understand the dislike, friends. What's not to love about liquid ice cream laced with Rum?

Needless to say, I love the stuff.

In the spirit of the season, and inspired by Amy's homemade nog, I whipped up a batch of
Monet's Eggnog Muffins last night. Holy deliciousness. Is it possible for a muffin to taste so awesome? I promise you, eggnog-haters: even you will beg for more of these nog-tastic muffies.

And yes, I just said "nog-tastic." (To be fair, Adam coined the phrase first. As my official taste-tester I like to remember the first words out of his mouth when he takes the first bite of a treat. After one bite of his muffin he closed his eyes, slowly shook his head, and said "Nog-Tastic, Kylie." This is one of the 5,349 reasons I married him.).

So drink up, dear friends! And if you're so daring, dunk a bite of this holiday muffin in a tall glass of eggnog. This nog-tastic opportunity only presents itself one month of the year. Don't let it slip away.

Eggnog Muffins
(
recipe from Monet at Anecdotes and Apple Cores)

I actually used Silk's soy "Nog," which is dairy-free and worked completely fine! But feel free to use the "real deal" in your recipe. Do yourself a favor and bake these muffins for Christmas morning breakfast. And remember: Eggnog for breakfast is perfectly acceptable on Christmas.

Muffin Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 - 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 - 1/4 cups eggnog
Crumb Topping Ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Fill a muffin tin with paper liners (My batch made 12 muffins, plus one gigantic muffin--I poured all of the extra batter in a large ramekin.).

2) Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In a small separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Alternately add the dry ingredients with the eggnog, stirring gently with a spoon. Pour batter into prepared muffin cups.

3) To make the crumb topping: Mix the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Cut butter in, and crumble with a fork. Sprinkle topping over each muffin (you will have some extra leftover topping). Bake muffins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 4, Red Velvet Cookies


My Pandora Christmas Station has gone into overdrive, and I've been singing "Jingle Bells" like it's my second job.

Did I mention that I'm watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" tonight? We all need a little Chevy Chase in our lives this time of year.

And if the old adage "You are what you eat" is true, then I've most definitely turned into a giant vat of cookie dough,
Peanut Butter Balls, and red and green sprinkles.

Friends, with evidence this clear, there's no doubt that the holidays are here.

Today's sweet recipe screams "holidays!" almost as much as Lampoon's Uncle Eddy and Chevy Chase's light display. We're talking Chewy Red Velvet M & M Cookies.

Oh yes I did.

I spied Chewy Red Velvet Cookies on
Jessica's blog earlier this month, and I knew it would be a unique twist on the classic red and green M & M cookies I make every Christmas. The cocoa powder adds a surprising flavor, and the bright red hue says "Eat me! I'm an adventurous Christmas cookie!"

If you're looking for an extra layer of wow-factor, I suggest making miniature size versions of this cookie and sandwiching a layer of chocolate ganache between two of them.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a glass of eggnog and a couch calling my name.


Red Velvet M&M Cookies
(recipe from Jessica at How Sweet Eats)

Who doesn't love red velvet cake? Better yet, who doesn't love a chewy M & M cookie? Mash these two together and you've got yourself Chewy Red Velvet M & M Cookies. The holidays are good to us, aren't they?

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. red food coloring
  • As many red and green M&Ms as your heart desires
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray.

2) Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until well-combined. Beat in dry ingredients and red food coloring. Stir in M & Ms.

3) Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 3, Molasses Cookies


Imagine sitting before a plate of the twelve best cookies created by bakers in your tri-county area. Your task: consume each tasty morsel, rate every cookie in a variety of categories, and consult with your food-loving peers to determine the ultimate holiday cookie.

Yep. It was just as fun as it sounds.

And no, I didn't tire of eating cookies (although I did save a portion of each cookie for Adam. Except for two. They were so delicious I couldn't resist eating the whole thing. What can I say? I can be cookie-selfish at times.).

Last month I met with fellow members of local newspaper's Food Panel to judge cookies for the Annual Holiday Cookie Contest. The winning cookie was voted unanimously as the best in the bunch: simple, small, and oh-so-Christmas-y, we chose a White Chocolate-Dipped Molasses Cookie as the 2010 winner.

Yesterday I baked a batch of the winning recipe with my mom and sister during our annual Holiday Cookie-Baking Day. We forgot to pick up white chocolate, so ours weren't dipped. They're still delightful, but I definitely recommend the white chocolate for an extra hint of decadence.

Now, it's time to go eat some more holiday treats. Because that's what we do in December, right?

What treats are gracing your holiday cookie trays this year?


Molasses Cookies (plus deliciously optional white chocolate coating)
(recipe from Pat H.--winner of the Dominion Post Annual Holiday Cookie Contest)

This cookie received rave reviews from our panel for its tender, moist crumb, its rich ginger/molasses flavor, and the simple elegance (and delicious addition!) of white chocolate. You'll love them without the white chocolate, too. These babies are going to be a new staple on my holiday cookie trays.


Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • Optional: White melting chocolate

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 and coat cookie sheets with cooking spray.

2) Cream shortening, sugar, egg, and molasses together until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and mix until well-combined. Roll into small balls, and then roll in decorators' sugar. Place on cookie sheet and gently press down on each cookie to flatten. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool.

3) If desired (and who wouldn't desire this?!), dip half of each cookie in white chocolate and place on wax paper to cool/firm up.




Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 2, Brownie Pudding Cake

Brownie Pudding Cake rocks my world.

Imagine combining Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies with classic Hot Fudge Pudding Cake. Ooey, gooey, warm, and fudgy...This puppy literally oozes chocolate deliciousness.

And please don't forget that scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's essential.

Friends, there is little else I can say about this recipe. It's ridiculously scrumptious, and I'm convinced it's one of the best recipes Ina Garten has graced us with. It's got the outer crust of a brownie, but the inside rocks a gooey brownie batter/pudding consistency. Molten chocolate overload in the best possible way.

I baked Ina's Brownie Pudding for my dad's birthday party today. The Grill Sergeant's birthday is on December 25, so we always celebrate the week prior to Christmas so he can have his own special day.

And with Brownie Pudding Cake on the menu, it certainly was a special day.

Brownie Pudding Cake

This molten chocolate brownie pudding will blow your chocolate-loving mind. Don't forget the vanilla ice cream...it's simply not optional.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Vanilla ice cream for serving
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

2) Melt butter in a small saucepan on the stovetop; set aside.

3) With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until thick and light yellow (about 5 - 8 minutes). When egg and sugar mixture is ready, add the cocoa powder and flour and mix on low speed until just combined. Slowly add the melted butter and mix again until just combined.

4) Pour the batter into the prepared dish and place the dish in a larger baking pan. Add hot tap water to the larger pan until it comes halfway up the side of the casserole dish. Bake for exactly 1 hour. The center will appear under-baked (oh yum!). After cooling, serve with a big ol' scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Week of Sweets: Day 1, Oreo Truffles


Well, it was bound to happen.

The baking frenzy occurring in my kitchen has been taken to a new level. I'm like Animal from the Muppets, but my tool of choice is a KitchenAid stand mixer instead of a drum set.

I'm not complaining though. Also similar to Animal the Muppet, I love the holiday season and the baking that comes with it. During the month of December, there are worse things than choosing butter and sugar as your drugs of choice.

(Side note: While we're on the topic of Muppets, does anyone remember the original Muppets' Christmas movie from the 1980s? With a guest appearance by Jim Henson at the end? Classic.)

With all this holiday baking love going on, I've proclaimed today the first of my "Week of Sweets" on the Hungry Spoon. What better way to start the week than with Oreo Truffles?

I first tasted Oreo Truffles a few months ago when my co-worker brought them in for an office "Bake Off." They won the contest unanimously. With three ingredients, a bite-size form, and a silky white chocolate coating, I knew these had to make my holiday baking list. This batch is going with us to a Christmas party tonight. I hope there are lots left over :)

Oreo Truffles
(recipe from my sweet co-worker, Sherry)

This recipe seriously turns up the volume on the classic Oreo. If you prefer, you could coat them in semi-sweet or milk chocolate. But the white chocolate just makes them look that much closer to heaven...

Ingredients:
  • 1 entire package of Oreos
  • 1 (8 oz.) block of cream cheese, softened (1/3 reduced fat version works fine)
  • White melting chocolate/candy coating
Directions:
1) In a food processor, process Oreos until they reach a fine crumb. Beat Oreo crumbs with cream cheese in a stand mixer. Roll into balls and freeze (I let my freeze overnight, although this isn't necessary).

2) Melt the melting chocolate in a double boiler. Dip Oreo balls in white chocolate and refrigerate until set.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crunchy-Toasty-Nutty


I know I made granola bars just a couple weeks ago, but I still wasn't satisfied with the softness of the final product.

When it comes to granola, I like a good solid crunch. I crave that toasty flavor. And don't even get me started on the nuts. Lots and lots of nuts.

Since the granola bars didn't completely fill the crunchy-toasty-nutty criteria I set, I decided to make plain old granola. You know, the kind you can grab a handful of and really sink your teeth into.

SUCCESS! Boy did this recipe fill my crunchy-toasty-nutty void...to the tenth power. You can serve it a zillion ways: stirred into yogurt, sprinkled on your morning bowl o' oats, mixed into a peanut butter-banana sandwich, or as an ice cream topping.

But me? I like to eat it plain and simple...one handful at a time.

Of course you can dress this recipe up with your tasty preferences (one of the beauties of granola). And I promise: If you crave the crunchy-toasty-nutty kind of granola, this recipe will certainly not disappoint.

Bonus holiday gift idea: Load your granola up in a clear jar (recycled nut butter jar?) and include it in a small basket with some sugared pecans, a cute tea towel, and a gift card to your local health food store.

Now, let me leave you with something to look forward to: Oreo Truffles will be made--and promptly eaten--on Saturday. Holy yum, I can hardly wait.

Crunchy-Toasty-Nutty Granola
(Hungry Spoon original)

This granola makes a great yogurt mix-in, but my favorite way to eat it is one dry spoonful at a time :)

Ingredients:
  • 3 cups of oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3 TBSP honey
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Optional: Dried cranberries
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet (or two) with cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flaxseed, coconut, and nuts. In a small bowl, combine the oil, honey, and extracts. Pour liquid mixture over oat mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.

3) Place granola in a single layer on baking sheet(s). Bake for 8 minutes, remove from oven and toss/stir. Bake for another 5 - 10 minutes, or until toasty. Be sure to check back often! It can get too toasty (read: burnt) very quickly! Stir in cranberries when granola is finished baking.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Santa's Favorite Treat

If Santa made requests, I have no doubt that peanut butter balls would be at the top of his list of Christmas Eve treats. It's true: The big guy in the red suit prefers these bite-sized balls of PB-Chocolate joy to a sugar cookie any day.

I apologize to those of you who tire of my chocolate + peanut butter obsessions.

And I especially give my regrets to any readers with a peanut allergy.

But when you make something that tastes like a Reese's peanut butter cup in your own kitchen, you're so bowled over with holiday happiness you just know you've got to share it with someone. Or everyone.

Peanut butter balls are a classic addition to any holiday cookie platter. They taste just like a peanut butter cup, only ten times better because they're created with that special homemade lovin'.

The first time I made these little balls of PB joy, I was told they're called "Buckeyes" by all of my college friends who hail from Ohio. That works. But so does Peanut Butter Ball. Or Chocolate Peanut Butter Addict Treats. Or you could just call them Pure Holiday Heaven.

Whatever you call them, make sure you make them, eat them, and love them. It's good for the soul. And it will certainly get you on Santa's Nice List.

Peanut Butter Balls
(adapted from this recipe at Allrecipes.com)

Your holiday cookie platter will not be complete without these little gems. They're simple to make and require few ingredients. And who doesn't love a homemade peanut butter cup?

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 jar (15 oz.) of creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 - 1/2 to 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 12 oz. bag of chocolate chips
  • 2 TBSP shortening
Directions:
1) Beat the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla together with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar until a dry play-dough like consistency is reached. Roll and/or mold the mixture into small balls and place on waxed paper.

2) Melt chocolate and shortening in a double boiler. Place a toothpick in the center of a peanut butter ball and dip in chocolate. Repeat with remaining PB balls.

3) Leave a plate for Santa. It's a holiday requirement.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Weather Comfort Casserole


After last night's vegan-licious dinner chili, I was craving something on the cheesey side tonight.

Hint: Think a little sharp cheddar, a load of veggies, some hearty pasta, and big smile on my face.

You guessed it: An innovative combination of grown-up mac n' cheese, and a vegetarian version of turkey tetrazzini (these are words Adam used to describe the dish after his first bite).

Let's get one thing straight: Mac n' cheese gets a bad name from the impostor "cheeses" that have invaded the inner shelves of grocery stores. With options like Kraft's orange cheese-flavored powder, and Velveeta's squeezable pouches of cheesy goo, it's no wonder most healthy adults run in the opposite direction of these boxed products.

Tonight's "Grown-Up Mac n' Cheese/Vegetarian Tetrazzini" recipe, inspired by Clean Eating, offers the perfect solution. All the goodness of a traditional comfort food casserole, without Sponge Bob shaped noodles, powdered cheese product, or meat. Just use whole wheat pasta, high-quality cheese, and loads o' veggies, and you've got a classy grown-up meal on your hand.

I would recommend using penne or rotini pasta for this casserole. I resorted to spaghetti because it was the only lonely box of pasta in the cabinet.

So tonight, if you're shielding yourself from the outdoor temperature of 4 degrees like I am, bake up a batch of this warm and comforting casserole. Afterwards, I recommend a spirited present-wrapping session (Adam is currently sporting his Santa hat as he enthusiastically wraps the gifts).

Grown-Up Mac n' Cheese/Vegetarian Tetrazzini
(adapted from a Clean Eating Magazine recipe)

Nothing warms you up on a cold day like a warm, hearty casserole. The chopped almond topping adds a great healthy crunch, and a nice change from the traditional bread crumb topping.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • sprinkling of flour
  • 2 cups reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 oz. whole wheat pasta
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 - 1/2 cups broccoli forets
  • 1 - 1/2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped almonds
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 2 qt. casserole dish with cooking spray.

2) In a saucepan, whisk together the milk and a little flour over medium heat. Stir constantly and bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 3 - 4 minutes. Stir in cheeses and salt, stirring until melted. Stir in yogurt, cover, and set aside.

3) Cook pasta according to package directions. Three minutes before pasta is done, add the carrots, onion, broccoli, and cauliflower. When pasta is done, drain veggies and pasta and return to pot. Stir in cheese mixture and parsley and pour into casserole dish. Sprinkle with almonds and bake for about 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Toasty Warm Dinner for a Cold Day

When the outside temperature doesn't break 17 degrees, you know you're better off inside...with a big ol' pot of chili. Which is exactly how my evening began.

But first, I'm happy to report that we're back in the hot water business at the Hungry Spoon household. The hot water heater installation was a success, so I can now resume a regular shower schedule. I'm sure everyone around me is just as happy as I am about this.

As a result of hanging out with the plumber all day, Adam was thankfully home to whip up a batch of Thai Coconut Curry Chili. It was teasing me with its delicious spiced curry aroma when I walked in the front door from work.

This Thai Chili recipe, featured in the most recent issue of Clean Eating Magazine, barely resembles the traditional chili you're accustomed to. This baby is loaded with sweet potatoes, bulgur, coconut milk, and curry powder, among other tasty ingredients. And although I don't like hot n' spicy foods, this recipe could easily be made hot n' spicy to your liking.

Now that my belly is full o' chili, I'm off to bake some Outrageous Brownies for a few holiday packages that need be mailed tomorrow. Is anyone else's stand mixer begging for mercy from all of the holiday baking?

Do you have a favorite chili variation?

Thai Coconut Curry Chili
(adapted from a recipe in Clean Eating Magazine)

The coconut milk adds a welcome creaminess to this curried chili recipe. As with most soups, the fantastic flavor in this recipe will certainly only improve with time, so this would a great recipe to make the day before serving.

Ingredients:
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 cups low-sodium veggie broth
  • 1/2 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 1 cups of cubed, uncooked sweet potato
  • 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) diced tomatoes, drained
  • Ground black pepper to taste
Directions:
1) In a large soup pot, combine the spices, broth, bulgur, sweet potato, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Set on high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.

2) Add beans, coconut milk, and tomatoes to the pot. Stir and cook uncovered until the chili is thick and the bulgur is tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Add ground black pepper to taste. (We found that the chili thickened even further after allowing it to sit, removed from the heat for about 10 minutes).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Making Lemonade with Caramel Cake



When your hot water heater breaks on Friday night, you know it's going to be an awesome weekend.

We're talking boiling pots of water to wash dishes.

Skipping a shower...or two (I shudder as I type this.).

And lots of confusing discussions about brands, prices, and energy savings on a large appliance you know little to nothing about.

Like I said: Awesome weekend.

However, even in life's "lemon" moments, there's always room for more lemonade, right?

Today's taste of lemonade: Birthday Caramel Cake with Caramel Frosting to celebrate Adam's 27th. This Caramel Cake wasn't just the bright spot of the weekend...it was to-die-for delicious. I'd give up another week of hot water for more of this Caramel Cake.

On second thought, no I wouldn't. But the cake is truly decadent and totally 27th-birthday-worthy.

Ultimately, things are looking up. We got showers at my parents' house today (I never thought I'd be so happy to see a bottle of shampoo). A new hot water heater is being installed tomorrow. There's been plenty of tree-decorating action (see cheesy picture below). And there's another slice of Caramel Cake waiting to be devoured later tonight.

Don't be fooled: My sister and I decorated the tree--we just dragged the men in for the picture.

Today was all about the lemonade :)

Birthday Caramel Cake with Caramel Frosting
(recipe adapted from James and Martha Pearl Villas' recipe in Birthday Cakes cookbook)

This was my first Caramel Cake, and I will definitely not be looking for another recipe--it was perfect! The only caveat I must mention is the baking time: this cake called for three 9 inch pans, but I only used two. After 30 minutes of baking, I basically stood by the oven with the oven light on and waited until it appeared done to take it out. So, be cautious with the baking time and check back often for done-ness!

Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 - 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 - 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 cups confectioner's sugar
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 nine inch baking pans with cooking spray and set aside.

2) In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat in the eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

3) Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, or until cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (as previously mentioned, the baking time is approximate, so check back often after 30 minutes for done-ness).

4) To prepare frosting: Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Add the brown sugar and milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Beat in the confectioner's sugar until well-blended. This frosting is very thick--in the world of icings, this was a consistency that's new to me. Work quickly when frosting the cake to prevent crumbs from mixing in (I lightly warmed some of the frosting in the microwave to keep it soft while I frosted the cake).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nuts for Sugared Pecans

Forget sugar plums.

It's all about the sugared pecans.

Warning: This is quite possibly one of the most addictive holiday snacks out there. I generally eat my weight in them during the month of December. No worries though: January was designed to make up for all of the December indiscretions.

Your stomach may cry out for you to stop the overload of cookies and fudge, but it will never turn away the satisfying crunch and sweet n' salty balance of a sugar-coated pecan.

As you're making your list of what to bake for who this season, consider these thoughts on sugared pecans:
  • They're the perfect gift for someone with gluten-intolerance. It's easy for folks with Celiac Disease to feel left out of the seasonal fun, what with all the flour-heavy baked treats. Sugared pecans will surely bring a smile to their face.
  • Consider adding these crunchy little gems to a gift for the gourmet beer-lover in your life. Fill an empty basket from the attic with select beers, a bag of sugared pecans, and a bag of homemade snack mix.
  • They're also packaged beautifully in clean, empty jam or nut butter jars.
  • They make a great stocking stuffer--just wrap them in a clear cellophane bag with some ribbon and raffia.
Can you tell I'm just nutty for this snack?

Sugared Pecans
(adapted from this recipe at Allrecipes.com)

Whether you're making these as a gift, or just for your awesome self, I promise you won't regret it. Promise.

Ingredients:
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 1 pound pecan halves (I actually mixed a handful of whole almonds into this batch as well)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, whip the egg whites and vanilla until frothy. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and cinnamon.

3) Add the pecans to the egg white mixture and stir until coated. Coat the nuts with the sugar mixture until evenly-covered. Place in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake at 250 degrees for approximately one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

4) Package 'em up and send 'em out. But not before you eat a few...handfuls.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ginger Friends


Nutritious, delicious vegetarian meals will eventually return to my diet.

I promise.

But for now: gingerbread people...and lots of 'em.

(And yes, my ginger-seasoned cookie creations are gender neutral. What can I say? My Women's Studies roots even influence my baking practices.)

This gingerbread cookie recipe is classic--no frills, no creative "foodie twists." Just pure, simple, molasses n' ginger-spiced, person-shaped treats. And where does a gal turn for a traditional, classic recipe? Her trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook of course.

Since this recipe produces so many cookies, these little guys will be spreading holiday cheer all over the place this season. First on the list is a crowd who's easy to please: my students. A roomful of teenagers + a plate of Christmas cookies = one happy crowd, and one empty plate.

Another fun idea for your gingerbread folks is to use them as gift tags. Instead of writing a gift recipient's name on a gift tag, I like to write the their name on a gingerbread cookie, package in a clear cellophane bag with a ribbon, and affix to the gift.

Again, I promise the vege-head goodness will return to A Hungry Spoon soon enough. But this season only comes once a year...and so do my gender-neutral ginger friends.

Classic Gingerbread Cookies
(recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook; makes approximately 50 cookies)

Gingerbread cookies are a classic staple on any holiday cookie plate. While the cookbook recommends using a simple confectioner's sugar icing, I couldn't resist making buttercream frosting to ice mine.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 TBSP vinegar
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • Optional: frosting for decorating
Directions:
1) Beat the shortening, sugar, baking powder, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves with an electric mixer until well-combined. Beat in the molasses. egg, and vinegar until thoroughly mixed. Beat in flour. Cover dough and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

2) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets with cooking spray and set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to approximately 1/8 inch thickness. Cut dough with desired cookie cutter shapes and place on prepared baking sheets.

3) Bake cookies for 5 - 6 minutes, or until edges are light brown (mine were done in 5 and half minutes!). Cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Decorate with frosting...because it's necessary and cute.

4) For frosting: I actually didn't measure anything when I made my frosting, but I estimate that it was about 3 TBSP butter, 1 - 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, and 1 - 2 TBSP milk. I beat these ingredients together and transferred the frosting to a sandwich-size ziploc bag. I cut a hole in one tip, and used as an impromptu pastry bag.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Cup Blondies


What could make a chewy, gooey, vanilla blondie--seemingly perfect as it is--even better?

Try throwing big ol' hunks of Reese's peanut butter cups into the mix.

As you know, birthday packages are amongst my favorite to create. My friend Anne turns 27 this week, and since I'm unable to hop a plane to Chicago to participate in the festivities, I sent my love through the mail...in the form of butter, sugar, and peanut butter cups.

Anne and her boyfriend went bananas for this summer's Peanut Butter Blondies with Milk Chocolate Frosting, so I knew I wanted to make a Chocolate + PB combo. I turned to Lindsey at Gingerbread Bagels for a recipe--she specializes in baked treats with candy mixed in (yes, these types of wonderful people do exist in real life.).

Score! She has a stellar recipe for Peanut Butter Cup Blondies that fit the bill perfectly.

It was all I could do to keep Adam from eating the whole pan, although I did save him a corner slice to munch on. I'll be making these blondies again. And again. Oh yes, and....again.

Peanut Butter Cup Blondies
(recipe from Lindsey at Gingerbread Bagels)

These treats cut smoothly and perfectly--barely a crumb left in the pan! That made them perfect for mailing--no goo or mess, just lots of blondie and peanut butter cup fun :)

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 TBSP vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 full-size Reese cups, cut into quarters (or sixths)
Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray.

2) In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

3) In a large mixing bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together. Add the vanilla and egg and beat until well combined. Beat in the dry ingredients. Fold in peanut butter cups. Pour into pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges and done.

4) Eat up! Or package 'em up, add a cute label, and mail to your buddy across the miles...