Friday, May 21, 2010

Chocolate Banana Bread

I thought it was our secretary's birthday. So I wanted to make her something chocolate-y and delicious. I came up with this little recipe. It was perfect.
Except today wasn't her birthday. In fact, this isn't even the right season for her birthday. It's in October. Got it. But I'm pretty sure she still appreciated the loaf of chocolate banana bread goodness.

ps. This pretty is inspired by but not at all connected to the chocolate chocolate chip banana bread by Joy the Baker. :) Though I made that too. 


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk*
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup chocolate chips

* buttermilk can be mimicked by adding 1/2 Tbsp vinegar or lemon juice to milk to equal 1/2 cup. Let set at room temperature at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar and oil until combined. In separate bowl, mash bananas. Add bananas, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla to sugar/oil mixture and stir thoroughly.

In separate bowl wisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa. Add to wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips. 

Grease the sides and bottom of two (2) 9x5" loaf pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sweet and Sour Chicken

I have been slightly uninspired lately when it comes to dinners.
The dinner hour rolls around and I suddenly realize I hadn't even begun to plan a meal. 
That is SO not like me. 

But thankfully there are thousands of fellow foodies out there who HAVE been inspired lately.
And I came across this recipe at the perfect moment.
Last year, The Pioneer Woman developed a recipe sharing website as a branch of her blog.
Called Tasty Kitchen, it's a brilliant collaboration of home cooks and trained chefs combined. 
Recipes are tried and true. 
Easy to browse.
Beautifully displayed.
It's really lovely. 
You should check it out.

In any case, this sweet and sour chicken recipe was featured in a post by PW today.
And when I saw the list of ingredients and noticed they were all staple items, I knew I had found tonight's meal.
It was perfect.
Super easy to put together.
A leeettle bit time consuming, but totally worth it.
And I'm sure I'll get quicker at throwing it together in the future.
But I'd say you should give yourself at least an hour and half before meal time to start preparation and cooking. 

recipe adapted from Melanie on Tasty Kitchen
3 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt And Pepper
1 cup (or less) Cornstarch
2 whole Eggs, Lightly Beaten
¼ cups Canola Oil

for the sauce:
¾ cups Sugar
4 Tablespoons Ketchup
½ cups Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Garlic Salt

Cut chicken breasts into chunks or large bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Dip chicken in cornstarch and then in egg (yes, this will be messy but it will be worth it, I promise!). Heat a thin layer of oil in a large skillet to medium/medium-high heat. Sauté/fry the chicken in the oil until browned on all sides but not cooked through. Place in a single layer in a baking dish coated with non-stick cooking spray.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix sauce ingredients together and pour over chicken. Bake for one hour, turning chicken every 15 minutes. 

While the chicken is baking start cooking the brown or white rice--to yield approximately 1 cup per person. 

Prepare fresh veggies (broccoli, green pepper, green onion, shredded carrot, sliced mushrooms, etc) or frozen veggies to be stir fried in the same skillet used to cook chicken. Sauté veggies for 5-10 minutes over medium heat with a light drizzle of oil and a sprinkle or two of soy sauce. 

For extra sweet and sour sauce, make another batch of sauce and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Stir constantly and let cook over medium heat until thickened and reduced, about 6 to 8 minutes.

Deep Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream

Remember these brownies?
The brownies of thick, chewy glorious chocolate heaven?
I made them for our Valentine's celebration.
But I froze half of them. For such a time as this.

We have both been craving ice cream something crazy recently.
And we've indulged ourselves a few times with our favorite local ice cream parlour.
I remembered the ice cream maker Kevin's parents bought for us.
And I decided to put all apprehension aside and go BIG.
Forget about the heavy whipping cream.
The cost and the calories.
And go for it.
Come on, Mel, you know it's going to be aaaamazing.

Boy, was I right.
I took a few ideas from Annie's ice cream recipes.
And looked up the options in our owner's manual.
And tweeked until I came up with this.
A cup of rich chocolately, fudgy ice cream that you will never forget.

It's so rich that even I couldn't finish it. 
You must make this.
It's totally worth every calorie.
(Although I might take that back in five or ten years.
But let's just pretend it really is worth it. :D)


2 cups whole (or 2%) milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped 
OR ½ semisweet and ½ unsweetened
1/4 to 1/2 pan crumbled thick and chewy fudge brownies (or other favorite variety)

In a large sauce pan, combine the whole milk and heavy cream over medium low heat. Add vanilla. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. 

Combine the sugar, cocoa, eggs, and egg yolks in a medium bowl; using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat until thickened like mayonnaise. Measure out 1 cup of the hot milk/cream mixture. With the mixture on low speed, add the cup of hot milk/cream to the cocoa mixture in a slow, steady stream and mix until completely incorporated. Stir the chopped chocolate into the saucepan with the hot milk/cream. Stir the cocoa/egg mixture into the hot milk/cream. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and begins to resemble a chocolate pudding. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a bowl (or a 9x13 inch glass pan). Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the chocolate mixture, and refrigerate until completely cooled. 

Pour the chilled custard into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker, turn the machine on and let mix utnil thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Add in chopped/crumbled brownies. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving. Keep the remaining mixture sealed in an airtight container in the freezer. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Homemade Pizza Tips

After last night's impromptu mid-week pizza night (we're rebels, I know!), I decided it was necessary to share to tips and tricks of the pizza making business. This is a learned skill, I am certain. If homemade pizza weren't so incredible I would have given up after the first time I nearly destroyed the thing upon transfer or when I dropped the unbaked pizza on the oven door or when the crust wasn't cooked through.  But homemade pizza IS amazing and therefore I adopted the "try, try again" mantra. Don't give it! It's totally worth it! 
  1. Give yourself ample prep time. The recipe I use for my pizza dough yields enough for two pizzas. The bread machine whips up the dough in under 2 hours (2-3 hours if you're making perfect pizza dough by hand/mixer), so give yourself at least that much time before wanting to start the pizza process (which includes 30 minutes of oven preheating and 20 minutes of baking.) 
  2. Cut the dough in half. With one half start your pizza or place tightly wrapped in the fridge to use within 2 (or so) hours. Wrap the other half in plastic wrap and place in a zippered freezer bag to use for later. When defrosting the dough, take out of the freezer and place on the counter for at least 4 hours or in the refrigerator for close to 8 hours. 
  3. Invest in a pizza stone. This tool makes for the best homemade pizza. Though, I would love a pizza peel to make things even simpler! 
  4. PREHEAT the pizza stone to 500 degrees while you prepare the crust and toppings. This is essential to the baking process--if the stone is not preheated the toppings will be perfectly cooked but the crust will still be doughy. 
  5. Transferring the pizza to the oven. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat when preparing the crust. The transfer of the prepared pizza crust to the preheated ultra hot pizza stone is NOT an easy process. Believe me, I've dropped many a pizza on the oven door or ended up with a completely folded or deformed pizza thanks to a poor transfer.  
    1. lightly flour the baking mat. (the baking mat is made for the heat, so when it touches the preheated stone it will be fine!)
    2. Roll out the pizza dough and when you achieve the desired shape and size re-flour the mat and place the crust on top--being sure it can slide around easily. 
    3. Top the pizza. 
    4. Lightly pat down toppings to keep them from falling off during transfer. 
    5. Double check the mobility of the crust on the mat--shake it lightly this way and that to be sure it can slide easily onto the stone. 
    6. Open the oven door, pull out the rack holding the preheated stone. Grasp the silicone mat with pizza with both hands.  Slowly and gently shake the dough left and right to ease the pizza onto the sizzling stone.  
    7. Bake for 17-20 minutes for perfection in pizza form. 
    8. Remove the entire stone from the oven and place on a heavy duty hot pad trivet or the cooling rack it came with. 
    9. Let pizza rest 2 minutes for cheese to set. (You don't want to lose all the cheese off the slice when you make the first cut, do you?)
    10. Slice and enjoy! 
    11. When finished with the pizza stone just wipe off with a barely damp cloth and store away for next week! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pappa al Pomodoro

This Tuscan bread and tomato soup is amazing. 
Perfect on a cold, rainy day like today. 
Made with common ingredients kept in my pantry, it was not difficult to through together and the final result had my husband saying he'd marry me all over again. :) 

I found this recipe on Annie's Eats, and she had adapted it from an Ina Garten recipe. 
I, too, took the recipe and made it my own. 
I used fresh tomatoes, dried basil, pork bacon, French bread, and no wine and ended up with a dish I'd serve again and again. 
The only thing I totally screwed up on was the bread. 
It needed to be dried before being added to the soup. 
And I had just pulled this beautiful loaf out of the oven hours earlier. 

This resulted in dough-y clumps in the soup that I could do without, but I KNOW it would be perfect had I actually followed the directions. :)

For the soup:
1/2 cup (or less) olive oil (or canola)
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup medium-diced carrots
1 cup medium-diced celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups (1-inch) diced dry ciabatta bread (or French bread), crusts removed
2 (28-oz.) cans Italian plum tomatoes (or 6 large fresh tomatoes plus 1--14oz can stewed tomatoes)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry red wine, or extra stock
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (or 2-3 tsp dried)
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the topping:
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta bread
2 oz. thickly sliced pancetta, chopped (or pork bacon)
24-30 whole fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp. olive oil 

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.  Cook for 10 minutes, until tender.  Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes.  Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse briefly just until coarsely chopped.  Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

For the topping, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Place the ciabatta, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp.  The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp.

Beat the soup with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up.  Stir in the Parmesan.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve hot sprinkled with the topping.

French Bread

With a bread machine on hand, this loaf of French bread couldn't be any more perfect. 
Unbelievably soft on the inside.
Perfectly crisp on the outside. 
You can't beat it.  

For large (1 1/2 pound) loaf
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
2 tsp margarine or butter, softened
3 1/4 cups flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp regular active or bread machine or quick acting yeast 

Spray inside of bread machine pan with non-stick spray. Add ingredients in the order listed--creating a well in the flour to add sugar, salt, and yeast. Place pan in machine and select "dough" cycle. 
When cycle is complete turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a 15x5 inch rectangle (or two small rectangles). Roll up along the longest length of the dough, pinching after each roll. Place dough log on a large baking sheet. Make 3-4 shallow diagonal slits in the dough. Cover with a light cloth and let rise 30-60 minutes, or until double. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until loaf is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped. 

Weekly Shopping: May 10th

As previously promised I am sharing my weekly grocery shopping experience with you lovely folk.  
I typically check Meijer's sale ads first. 
If the sale items aren't what I'm in need of, then I just pass on that stop for the week. 
(Note, Meijer's sales are great! but their regular prices can easily be beat by Walmart. I prefer to avoid both when possible, because Aldi and Ciolino's Market trump all.)

Today I stopped at Aldi and then hit Ciolino for their new "Stupid Tuesday" sale.
Yes, that's what they're calling it.
Because the prices are stupidly low.
And they really are. 
Check out my purchases this week! 

1 gallon skim milk  $1.75
5lb all purpose flour  $1.39 (x2)
1 (14oz) can whole kernel corn $0.49 (x2)
1 dozen large eggs $0.89 (x2)
12 oz bag chocolate chips $1.69 (x2)
12 oz bag frozen broccoli $1.19

Total: $11.86

Ciolino: Fruit and Vegetable Market
1 dozen large eggs $0.66 (x2)
5 pack fresh garlic $0.98
3lb bag apples $0.98 
bananas $0.58 (1.75 lb at $0.79/lb) 
fresh broccoli $0.70 (0.79lb at $0.89/lb)
vine tomatoes $1.44 (1.94lb at $0.74/lb)
green peppers $0.50 (2 at $0.25 per pepper)
10 lbs Idaho potatoes $1.29
1lb strawberries $1.00

Total: $8.79

Final Total: $20.65

A few notes:
I bought 2 dozen eggs at Aldi AND 2 dozen eggs at Ciolino because I didn't realize Ciolino had such a great sale going on and because I just can't pass up a great deal on something I know I'll use. Between all of my baking and the daily meal consumption of eggs in various forms, we will use them all. I wonder how many eggs we'll go through when we have a bunch a little ones running around? eek! 

About eggs--they're amazing. I have recently fallen in love with them in a new way. I have one over easy alongside a slice of toast for breakfast every morning.  The protein, fat and carbs are a perfect start to the day and helps me stay full until lunch.  

Another thing about eggs--don't pay too close attention to the expiration date on eggs. They should last a pretty good long while after that date. BUT to be certain crack them open in a separate bowl to be sure they look and smell satisfactory before dumping them into your favorite batch of cookies. 

The broccoli was doubled on today's shopping trip as well. But again, that's ok. The frozen broccoli is always useful--the perfect side dish or a great potato topper or lovely to through into soup. I couldn't pass on the price of the fresh broccoli. I love eating fresh broccoli. It's a great snack. Perfect for dipping in hummus too! 

THREE pounds of apples for $0.89!! That's insane. I would have bought loads and loads, but I already have a drawer full. But seriously--$0.29 a pound!! Go crazy. And if you don't love apples already you should learn to love apples. They're useful for snacking, baking, saucing, cooking, and more. And there are SO many varieties you're likely to find at least one type you like.  I'm a fan of granny smith, golden delicious, jona gold, braeburn and many more. 

Potatoes are another great item to stock up on. If you get a lovely fresh bag (without blemish or growth sprouts or and squishy-ness) they should last for weeks in a cool dark place. (Not the fridge!) Potatoes are perfect when you don't know what else to eat. They can be baked, mashed, boiled; made into wedges, fries, salads, or soups. 

What did YOU buy on this week's shopping trip?! 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grocery Shopping Tips::"Good" Prices

edit: A lovely spreadsheet screen shot has been formatted for your shopping convenience. 
Check it out!!

I've been getting an increasing number of questions on "How Do I Do It?"
How do I shop so frugally? 
Eat so (health)fully? 
Plan meals that inspire and entice? 

I am one of the "lucky ones" I guess you could say. 
These budget conscious ways of me actually come naturally.
"Wait, what's that you say?"
Yes, saving money, bargain hunting, price comparing, unit pricing...
all of those tactics have become such an integral part of my life that I don't even realize it's "abnormal."

I give me parents [almost] all the credit for this. 
They trained me.

They taught me.
They were an example to me.

Now, granted, I could have thrown their advice in the garbage can.
But I didn't. 
I took it. 
and I ran with it.
And I'm still running. 
Hey! I guess I'm a marathoner after all! 

But seriously, I can't imagine NOT getting the lowest price. 
It just goes against everything everything I am.

This is why I never thought to give pointers.
But I'm so glad some of you thought to ask.
I would love to share. 

To get my ideas down on "paper."
I plan to do periodic posts on my shopping trips.

What I bought.
How much I paid for it.
What "good prices" are.
What meals I planned around those items. 

The third item in that list is, I believe, one of the hardest to learn. 
And yet, even when you have a good grasp of it, it's a constant process of updating prices. 
Thanks to economics, prices go up.
prices go down. 
So you've got to stay on top of your game

I would say it took me close to a year to have a full range of price comparisons in my head or on paper. 
(Yes, there were spreadsheets.)
I called my mom on almost every shopping trip. 
Because you can't know you're getting a good deal unless you know what a good deal is. 
You can't assume that because it's from Sam's Club or a Meijer sale or even Aldi that the price you're paying is a bargain. 

I hate to break it to you. :)

So I think I will begin here. 
"What are 'good' prices?"
(This list will be edited and updated as needed.) 

  • Milk (gallon)   
    • $1.99 
    • (or less! I prefer $1.75)
  • Eggs (dozen)   
    • $0.99 
    • (or less than $0.85. I stock up if they're $0.75 or less)
  • Yogurt
    • $0.05/ounce*
    • (typically, buying a 32oz container is cheaper than individual cups, but not always.)
    • Use small tupperware (or other brand) containers to take individual sizes in a packed lunch.
  • Margarine 
    • $0.50/pound (4 sticks)
  • Butter 
    • $1.99/pound (4 sticks)
    • I stock up if it's cheaper than $1.89 per pound. Just stick the boxes in the freezer! hey'll keep for months!
  • Cereal 
    • ~$1.99 (or less) per pound (16oz.)
  • Cheese 
    • $1.99 or less per pound 
    • I often buy my cheese in large bricks then slice into manageable/usable portions. Wrap individually in plastic wrap, store in a zippered storage bag and freeze for months. Just remove the cheese to the fridge to defrost for at least 6 hours. 
  • Apples
    • $0.99 or less per pound 
    • Our local farm market sells 5lb bags for $2.99 meaning just $0.60/lb
    • Store apples in the "crisper" drawer of your fridge and they should keep for weeks.
  • Bananas
    • $0.33 or less per pound 
    • Store bananas on the countertop, separating them to slow down the ripening process.
    • When bananas get brown either use them in banana bread OR peel and slice into small pieces, cover in plastic wrap, store in a zippered bag and freeze. Use these frozen bananas in smoothies or defrost to use in banana bread another time! 
    • Oftentimes, Meijer will sell over-ripe bananas for $0.29 or even $0.19/pound. Stock up! and use the freezing method!
  • Bread 
    • $1.00 or less per loaf
    • Look for sales on whole wheat or whole grain loaves! They do get this low! 
    • Then go ahead and stock up, place loaf in a plastic bag, tie shut and freeze for a few months. 
    • Just last week, I found whole wheat loaves (regularly $1.89) for $0.25 per loaf!--that's a big rarity, but keep your eyes open. 
    • OR make your own bread! I have plenty of delicious (manageable) recipes here!
  • Canned goods 
    • $0.49/15oz can (Aldi has THE lowest priced canned goods I've ever found.) 
  • Vegetable or canola oil 
    • $1.99 (or less) per 48oz bottle  

*To figure out price per ounce divide the total cost by the total ounces
In my yogurt example, I divided $1.59 by 32oz.