Sunday, December 14, 2014

Banana Bread Overnight Oats

If you have been on Pinterest in the past two years, you have heard of overnight oats.  I have seen tons of pins about them, and even pinned quite a few of them myself.  But to be totally honest, I was a little skeptical.  Oats that don't get cooked?  Oatmeal that is eaten cold?  Gross.  Then again, millions of people were pinning the recipe.  It couldn't be all bad.  I finally got the guts to try out a few recipes last month.

Here's the basic idea of overnight oats: you mix up oats with the milk of your choice (I use vanilla almond milk) and usually some Greek yogurt too.  My favorite recipe also calls for chia seeds to thicken it up a bit.  Then unless you want flavorless oatmeal, you add some sort of flavoring.  I've tried bananas, blueberries, almond, and apples, among other flavors.  That's it: you're done.  Put the container in the fridge, and by morning, your overnight oats have turned into breakfast.

I like to consider it more of a breakfast pudding; especially with the chia seeds, it has more a pudding consistency than oatmeal; plus it makes it totally acceptable to be eating it cold.  I was grossed out at the thought of cold oatmeal, but it's really so good.  It's also fine at room temperature, which was good because I can throw a container of it in my lunchbox and eat it at work before lunch without needing to heat it up.  In fact, I've never actually heated it, but I am sure that's good too.

Let's talk about this recipe in particular.  It really does have all the food flavors of a banana bread: bananas, cinnamon, maple syrup, even a hint of nuts from the milk.  Sooooo delicious.  I have never even added the pecans in the morning (mostly because I forget), but I imagine they would be a very welcome addition.  Besides tasting great, it's quite filling, with all the protein you get from the yogurt, the chia seeds, the oats, the almond milk.... you get it.  And how easy is it!?  Mix everything together and put it in the fridge.  Basically the easiest breakfast you can imagine.

So, yes, I am a believer of overnight oats.  I've made it many times in the past few weeks, and after many recipe trials, I can honestly say that there is really only one that is good enough to share with you.  The flavor, texture, and consistency of the banana bread overnight oats were far superior to the other recipes I tried - but if you have a favorite overnight oats recipe, let me know, because this is my new thing!  In the meantime, try this one; you'll be a believer too, I know it!

Recipe:

banana bread overnight oats
from the Wheatless Kitchen

Ingredients:
1/3 cup whole oats (gluten-free if you so choose)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 banana, halved
1 tablespoon real maple syrup
pecans for topping

Instructions:

1) In a container, combine the oats, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, cinnamon, maple syrup, and half of the banana, mashed.  Stir to combine.

2) Let sit in the refrigerator overnight to thicken.

3) Top with pecans and the other half of the banana.  Serve and enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chicken Apple Sausage Couscous

I'm really becoming a master at this cooking meat thing.  I've tried lots of different types of meat in an attempt to feed my husband more than just quinoa and lentils - although, gotta love him, he happily eats those too.  In fact, I think he is really a vegetarian in disguise.  There are some meats he will not eat, like anything that has been ground, or sausage.  Yeah, I found out about the sausage after I had already bought the ingredients for this chicken apple sausage couscous.  Oh well.

Forget about the sausage, since it was in there but neither Mark nor I ate it.  Let's talk about the other flavors.  This is no ordinary couscous.  Thyme, cumin, coriander, and curry powder (not to mention a hefty helping of pepper) spice it up beautifully, and then there are dried cranberries to give it a touch of tart sweetness.  Pine nuts give it a great crunch, and, for sausage-eating carnivores, there's some apple sausage in there for ya.

Mark and I agreed that the couscous itself was delicious, and invited over Kenzie, Nick and my mom to eat with us and help us out with the sausage.  How did they feel about it?  I'll let this picture speak for itself.

If you eat sausage, please make this.  It's tasty and quick and easy and healthy.  You won't be sorry.

Recipe:

chicken apple sausage couscous
from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
serves 4 - 6

Ingredients:
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 yellow onion, sliced into half moons
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces precooked sweet apple chicken sausages, or other type sausage/kielbasa, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dry whole wheat couscous

Instructions:

1) Start the couscous cooking according to the package directions.  You can cook it in water, but cooking it in chicken broth gives it a boost in flavor.

2) Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium-low to medium heat, tossing frequently, until they are golden.  Remove the pine nuts to a small bowl and return the skills tot medium heat.

3) Heat the olive oil until rippling and hot.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the chicken sausage and brown lightly, about 2 - 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup of the chicken broth to the skillet with the salt, pepper, thyme, cumin, coriander and curry powder.  Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Cook until the onion is very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated and/or absorbed.  It should still be slightly wet but not soupy.

4) Add the cranberries and the remaining chicken broth (2/3 cup) to the skilled.  Simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the cranberries are heated through and softened a bit.  Stir in the cooked couscous and let the entire mixture simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed but the couscous is not dry.  It should still have some tender moisture to it but not be saturated with broth.

5) Stir in the toasted pine nuts and serve immediately.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Honey-Lime Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Corn Tacos

Can we talk about how much I wish it was summer?  I am literally having trouble feeling my fingers, and my heat is on. My laptop is so cold, it's hard to put it on my lap.  I'm covered in blankets and I am still desperate for July weather.  Argh.

So let's talk about something hot.  How about tacos?  How about tacos with sweet potato, black beans, and corn?!  How about those veggies are tossed with cumin, paprika, coriander, honey, lime and cilantro?  These are flavorful little tacos where I promise you won't miss the meat.

Also, let's discuss corn tortillas.  Remind me again why I don't use them more often?  They get so toasty and golden in the skillet and have much more flavor and texture than flour tortillas.  Plus, most of them are gluten-free.

I will admit to a really weird thing I did with the leftovers: I added the vegetables to scrambled eggs and made myself some breakfast burritos.  I know, honey-lime eggs don't sound good, but I swear they were better than you would think.  The honey-lime thing wasn't overwhelming.  I just loved this filling so much, I wanted to eat it at all meals.  Don't judge me.

Recipe:

honey-lime sweet potato, black bean, and corn tacos
from Cooking Classy

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled if desired and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, diced (1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
corn tortillas
toppings such as romain lettuce, purple cabbage, cotija or feta cheese, diced avocados, salsa, etc.

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil, then place sweet potatoes on foil.  Drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to evenly coat.  Sprinkle evenly with cumin, paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper, and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  Toss evenly to coat.  Bake in preheated oven 15 - 20 minutes until tender, removing from oven and tossing once halfway through baking.

2) Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Once hot, add onion and sauté until caramelized, or golden brown on edges and tender, about 5 - 6 minutes.  Add garlic during last 30 seconds of sautéing.

3) Reduce heat to medium-low, add in drained black beans, corn, honey, and lime juice.  Heat until warmed through.  Toss in roasted sweet potatoes and cilantro.  Serve over warm tortillas with desired toppings.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Homemade Hamburger Helper

I'm pretty much the only food blogger I know, but last year, Laura's friend started her own.  Fresh Mama is probably far more legit of a food blogger than I am; she makes up her own recipes and has a Facebook account for it and everything.  And of course, she has some pretty good recipes.  I tried a couple out recently, and here is the first one.

It's probably not surprising that I have never had Hamburger Helper.... first of all, because it has hamburger, but second of all because it comes in a box.  I am really not much of a box eater and I never have been, because my parents weren't.  Besides Ramen noodles and Spaghettios, we have always been real food eaters.  With that said, I know millions of people have loved Hamburger Helper for years.  This is one of Fresh Mama's recipes that Laura tried and she talked me into trying it for myself.

Here's how it works: you make a healthier, weird chemical-free version of the powdered mix.  It makes such a big batch, you will have enough for 5 batches of Hamburger Helper.  Then you mix it up with ground beef, elbow macaroni, and cheddar cheese.  Apparently, that's that!  I couldn't stand to serve my family a meal without any vegetables, so I added peas, corn, and a shredded carrot, but that's up to you.

I wrote directions on the bag to make it even easier!
I made this one night when Nick, Mom and Kenzie were over; Mark was out, so he didn't get to try it.  Nick loved it, as I knew he would; it just seemed like his perfect meal: cheesy, saucy meat and noodles!  Kenzie liked it a lot too.  The two of them were so happy with it, I ended up giving them the bag of seasoning mix so that they can make it next time.  My mom was also a fan, but she thought it was a bit too sweet (there are a tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of sugar in the seasoning mix).  Again, we aren't sure what the real Hamburger Helper is like, but we are guessing that it's a little sweet.  If you aren't a fan of the sweetness, feel free to reduce it or cut it out.

The bottom line is that this recipe can really streamline your dinner preparation.  Once you have the seasoning mix, you just brown the burger; add hot water, milk and seasoning; add the pasta, and cook (and any vegetables if you are so inclined!).  The cheese gets mixed in last.  And voila: dinner is ready.  Not so vegetarian-friendly, but definitely budget- and clock-friendly :)

Recipe:

homemade Hamburger Helper
from Fresh Mama

Ingredients:
for seasoning mix: *will make enough for 5 batches
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
for meal:
1 pound ground beef
1 cup hot water
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups elbow or small shell macaroni
3 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoons seasoning
1 cup shredded cheese

Instructions:

1) First, make a bulk batch of seasoning.  Mix all seasoning ingredients in a small bowl or mason jar and mix thoroughly.  This makes 5 servings of seasoning.

2) Brown ground beef in large skillet.

3) Add hot water, milk, and seasoning.

4) Add macaroni.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low 10 - 12 minutes until pasta is tender.

5) Once pasta is cooked through, add cheddar cheese and stir well.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Maple Pecan Banana Muffins

Get excited about these muffins.  My mom is, anyway.

These muffins are chock full of amazing things.  Bananas, pecans, and maple syrup, first of all.  They are slightly sweet but not too sweet - they are totally acceptable for breakfast or dessert.  The subtle hint of maple syrup adds some complexity to your everyday banana bread flavor, and the pecans on top give them a great texture.

Second of all, they are actually low fat.    Yes, I mean that.  As in, 142 calories, 4 Weight Watchers Points+, and 5 grams of fat.  How on earth is that humanly possible, you're probably wondering?  Secret ingredients like white whole wheat flour, egg whites, and applesauce.

So, how good are these?  I have made three batches of them so far, most of which my mother has devoured.  She has become obsessed with them and asks me to make them all the time.  I currently have quite a few black bananas, so they might be in her near future.  And they should probably be in yours too.

Recipe:

maple pecan banana muffins
from Skinny Taste
makes 12 servings

Ingredients:
3 medium very ripe bananas
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup maple sugar (or brown sugar)
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup pre maple syrup
2 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup crushed pecans

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a cupcake tin with liners.

2) Mash bananas in a bowl, and set aside.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk.  Set aside.

3) In a large bowl, cream butter and 1/4 cup maple sugar with an electric mixer.  Add egg whites, mashed bananas, maple syrup, apple sauce, and vanilla.  Beat at medium speed until mixed well, scraping down sides of the bowl.

4) Add flour mixture, then blend at a low speed until just combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Spread the pecans evenly over the muffins.

5) Bake the muffins on the center rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Slow Cooker Barley and Chickpea Risotto

I was about to post another Halloween recipe -one that is most definitely Halloween and couldn't in any way be made to seem Christmas-y - but then Mark and I put up our tree tonight.  And we have the lights off, just sitting in the glow of the tree, and the glow of Elf on TV, of course... so the thought of blogging about spider cookies is just beyond what I can handle. I'm going to skip over it for now.  Hopefully next September I'll remember.  Will you remind me?  Spider cookies.  September.  Thank you.

Forging straight along: you know my new love for my slow cooker, and also my love for risotto.  I've made corn risotto twice since mastering the art of risotto, and each time, the pan has been scraped clean.  It's so delicious, and so much easier than I expected, but it is labor intensive.  You have to stand there stirring nonstop for at least a half hour.  I normally don't mind this, but it's definitely not a weeknight meal.

Another important note: I have probably 3 pounds of pearl barley in my pantry.  I have no idea why.  I am not even sure what recipes I needed it for.  All I know is that I bought it twice, and once it was from Wegman's where you fill your own bag and I got a little overzealous with my bag filling.

So put my love for slow cookers and risotto, and my overabundance of pearl barley, all together, and then imagine my glee upon finding a recipe that combines them all: slow cooker barley and chickpea risotto.  It has some great little surprises in there, too: chickpeas for protein (yes this was a full meal here, and then lunch for many days!), cauliflower, and carrots.  The secret ingredient is lemon juice that gets squeezed over the whole thing when it's done cooking.  It brightens all the flavors (like thyme and garlic) and ties everything together.  I happily ate the leftovers for days - it reheats beautifully.  Make it on a Sunday afternoon, be ready by dinner time (it's ready in 3 hours), and enjoy it for the rest of your hectic week.

Recipe:

slow cooker barley and chickpea risotto
from Foxes Love Lemons

Ingredients:
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 small yellow onion, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/4 cups pearl barley, rinsed
1 can (15.5-ounces) garbanzo beans/chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups less-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Instructions:

1) Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add carrots, garlic, cauliflower, and onion.  Cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Stir in thyme and barley, cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

3) Transfer mixture to slow cooker bowl.  Stir in beans, broth, water, salt, and pepper.  Cook on high 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until barley is tender and most liquid is absorbed.

4) Remove and discard thyme sprigs; stir in lemon juice.  Serve in warm bowls garnished with cheese and parsley.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Taco Dip

I have not posted in my blog for a week, and my excuse is so pathetic: I could not for the life of me decide whether or not I wanted to share the next two recipes.  I kept going back and forth.  It has nothing to do with how delicious they were, because they were great; this one in particular was so great that I made it twice within a week.  It's because of the untimely-ness of the recipes.  Okay, here's the deal: they are  Halloween recipes.  Halloween. As in, October.  And today it's December and so far from Halloween that it's not funny.  I'm having a Christmas party tonight, for God's sake.

I've learned my lesson; I should have bumped this to the front of my recipe list and shared it at Halloween time, even though my rule is to strictly go in the oder in which I have made things.  Because when my next post is spider cookies, I will crush your Christmas spirit and disgust you with my poor planning.  Sorry.

The good news is, you can actually customize this for any holiday.  In fact I will probably be making it for tonight's Christmas craft party.  Even though the official name of it is graveyard taco dip, it doesn't have to be a graveyard!  You create the graveyard with cookie cutter cut-outs of tortillas; they get baked and crisp up and you can stand them up and make a graveyard (I made ghosts, cats, pumpkins, etcetera).  However for Christmas, you could easily make ornaments, trees, stockings, and so on.  It's really about what cookie cutters you have!  And I luckily got a box of 100 for my shower with cutters for basically every holiday, so let the taco dip reign continue!

Now let's talk about the dip itself, because it is so good.  I made it for a mini Halloween party that I had here, and then again for our work pot luck lunch; I even brought the rest of it in to my grad class and we polished it off that night.  Everyone loves it because there is so much goodness to love.  There's a layer of refried beans,  then a layer with a sour cream and taco seasoning. The third layer is my favorite: it's a super cool, creamy and delicious mixture of mashed avocado, garlic, and Greek yogurt (the original recipe called for mayonnaise and I refuse).  I could eat that layer by itself with a spoon, I swear.  The fourth layer is salsa, and then I added my own fifth layer of shredded cheese.  You can finalize the deal with some chopped scallions to make it look like grass, but if you aren't making a graveyard, it won't matter if you skip them.  This is such an easy dip to put together, but it's just so delicious.  Serve it with tortilla chip and encourage people to eat the homemade tortilla chip decorations too.

Happy Hallowchristmas!


Recipe:

taco dip
from Chickabug

Ingredients:
1 can refried beans
2 cups sour cream
1 package taco seasoning
2 avocados, mashed
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 large tortillas for decoration

Instructions:

1) In a small bowl, mix the taco seasoning and sour cream.  In another small bowl, mix the mashed avocados, minced garlic, and mayonnaise.

2) In a small Pyrex dish or plate, layer the beans, sour cream mixture, avocado mixture, salsa, and cheese.  Sprinkle the scallions on top.

3) Chill at least an hour, or until ready to serve.  The dip can be made a day ahead and kept, covered, in the refrigerator.

4) To make the tombstones or other holiday decorations, cut the shapes you want out of tortillas.  Place the cut-out shapes on a parchment paper-lined cookie tray and bake at 350 degrees until the tortillas are nice and brown.  Add the shapes to the dip just before serving.