Monday, January 31, 2011

Granola Bars

I am always looking for good snacks to have around the house and for my 4.5 year old to take to preschool. His school is nut-free, so this easy recipe for granola bars is perfect.

This is a great recipe for kids to help with: measuring, stirring, and putting the batter in the pan are all fun for kids to do. In our kitchen, we have a Learning Tower, which was the best investment we made when our oldest turned 1. Now, both boys can stand at the counter to watch and help.

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups of rolled oats, 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of flax seed or wheat germ, 3/4 tsp cinnamon, 1 cup AP flour, and 3/4 tsp salt. In a small liquid measuring cup, mix 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, 1 beaten egg, and 2 tsp vanilla. Stir liquid mixture into dry mixture until combined. Carefully mix in 3/4 cup of chocolate chips, raisins, or dried cranberries. Use your hands to press the mixture evenly into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350, until golden at the edges.

Cool for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to loosen the edges and turn the pan onto a large cutting board. Immediately cut into 16 bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut.

P.S. To grease pans for baking, I use a bottle of spray oil. I really hate the smell of the propellant in those cans of cooking spray (like Pam) - ugh. Luckily, my grocery store sells little plastic spritzer bottles of oil. It does not spray as evenly as the other kind, but it works just fine. You can also buy a reusable pump-style bottle at a kitchen-supply store, but mine got clogged.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cheesy Scones

I have been updating the layout of my blog and posted some links to my friends' blogs. If I forgot to list yours, let me know!

One of the links is to my friend Emmy's cooking blog, Yummy by Emmy. She is a fantastic cook and decided to start blogging about it too. She recently posted a recipe for Mini Cheddar Scones. I made them to go with our dinner tonight, and they are very easy and really delicious!

I actually halved the recipe and used parmesan cheese instead of cheddar. Yum!

Nutella Muffins

I'm back! The past week our whole family got sick and then we had a snowstorm and power outage. Needless to say, not much cooking got done.

I finally have my appetite back, and I wanted something sweet. I found a jar of Nutella in the pantry the other day, so I decided to make these super simple muffins - they're like a brownie, really. If you've never had Nutella (and don't have nut allergies), get yourself to the store! It's a super yummy chocolate hazelnut spread that is totally addicting. I first had it as a crepe filling, but it's great on toast or crackers or with fruit like bananas and apples (or just eaten right off the spoon - ssh, don't tell).

To make the muffins, beat two eggs in a medium size bowl. Add one cup of Nutella, half a cup plus two tablespoons of AP flour, and one cup of chocolate chips and mix until smooth. Fill 24 greased mini-muffin cups, and bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Cool about 5 minutes, then use a knife to pop them out of the pan. If you don't have mini-muffin pans, you could probably use regular muffin pans but you'd need to increase the cook time, maybe to 18 minutes?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

French Toast

I love breakfast; it is my favorite meal of the day. On the weekend, I make more elaborate breakfasts. We are able to sit around the table, read the paper (we still get the "dead tree" version), and linger over a cup of coffee. Thankfully, our kids are old enough to amuse themselves now, although they usually sit at the table with us for some of that time.

Today, I had half a leftover loaf of bread that I had bought to make croutons, so I decided to make french toast. This is my favorite recipe, based on one from Alton Brown. I love it because it uses honey rather than sugar.

To make the custard dipping mixture, whisk together 1 cup of milk (Alton uses half and half, but that's too rich for me), 3 eggs, 1/4 tsp salt, and 2 Tbsp honey. Depending on the type of honey you have, you might need to heat it in the microwave for 10-20 sec beforehand or else it won't mix easily - I have local honey and it isn't as thick, so I don't need to heat it first.

Heat a pan with 1-2 Tbsp butter, dip the bread into the custard to coat it thoroughly, then place it into the pan and cook for about 3 minutes per side.

I have a two-burner griddle pan, which is perfect for this. I have to take this opportunity to thank both our sets of parents, sisters, and brother for giving us this awesome new range for Christmas. Our old one was about 20 years old, and the thermostat in the oven was really off (we would have to set it back 50-75 degrees). My favorite part of the new stove is the continuous grate and 5 burners!

Friday, January 21, 2011


I like variety. I rarely cook the same thing twice. I am always tweaking recipes and looking for new things to try. One thing that took me a long time to learn how to prepare was tofu.

Here's what I do:
  1. I buy only extra-firm tofu. I find it easier to work with and I like the texture better.
  2. After draining, I wrap it in a dish towel, squeeze out some moisture, and then let it sit for about 5 minutes.
  3. I dice it into small cubes.
  4. I saute it in olive oil and season it well. Otherwise, it's kind of bland. Tonight, I sauteed garlic in the oil first and then after I added the tofu, I seasoned it with salt and curry powder.
  5. The trick is to leave the tofu in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it. This allows it to brown and get crispy on the outside.

Tonight, I'm serving the tofu in a warm salad of sorts. There's arugula on the bottom, then curried couscous with currants, bell peppers, broccoli, the tofu, and then a little feta cheese sprinkled on top. Yum!

The tofu and couscous and veggies could also be served in a flatbread or tortilla.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Top Chef

I love watching Top Chef. I've been watching it since the first season - I stumbled onto it in the middle of the night while up with my oldest son, then a newborn. I am especially enjoying the current All-Star season.

I was excited that three local DC chefs - Carla Hall (of Alchemy catering), Spike Mendelsohn (of Good Stuff Eatery and We The Pizza), and Mike Isabella (formerly of Zatinya and opening his own place soon) - were in the All-Star cast. As I mentioned before, I love to support local businesses, especially restaurants.

Last night's episode was Restaurant Wars! In addition to rooting for Carla and Mike, I also really like Richard Blais and Fabio Viviani. How can you not like Fabio? He is so entertaining. If you haven't read his blog or hilarious twitter feed, you should.

I don't want to spoil last night's episode, in case you haven't seen it yet, but here are some funny online recaps of the show:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

Last post of the day. Thought you might want to know what I'm eating for a snack as I work on my blog. I really like quick-breads and muffins because you can usually whip them up with what you have on hand. In this case, I had a bunch of really ripe bananas. I usually throw in a handful of chocolate chips, because who doesn't like chocolate chips??? And it ensures that my super-picky older son will try some! You can leave them out and/or add some chopped nuts.

Banana-Chocolate Chip Bread
Using a mixer, cream 6 Tbsp softened unsalted butter and 1/2 cup sugar. Add 3 mashed ripe bananas, 1 tsp vanilla, 3 beaten eggs, and 1/2 cup of buttermilk, and mix until combined. In a bowl, stir together 2 cups AP flour (you can use up to half whole wheat flour - I like King Arthur's white whole wheat), 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and mix until combined. Add 3/4 cup of chocolate chips. Pour batter into a greased 9" x 5" loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Don't have buttermilk? For every cup needed, add 1 Tbsp white vinegar to slightly less than 1 cup of milk. Let stand for 5-10 minutes.

Recipe Inspiration

I get recipes from many different sources. When I first started cooking, I relied heavily on cookbooks, like Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. I also learned a lot from Alton Brown and Rachael Ray on the Food Network. Alton Brown taught me a lot of basics - I still enjoy his show and have a few of his books. The thing I learned the most from Rachael Ray was improvisation - I loved how easily she could modify a recipe on the fly, how organized she was, and how quickly she could get a whole meal together. I also used to clip out recipes from the weekly Washington Post Food Section.

Nowadays, with the internet making it so easy to find recipes, I compile them on my computer, using Microsoft OneNote software to make my own cookbook of sorts. Whenever I see a recipe on a blog or from a friend on Facebook or even in the Post, I copy and paste it into my computerized book. It's really easy to organize and search for recipes. And rather than waste paper, I just bring my trusty laptop into the kitchen while I'm cooking.

One thing I really had trouble with when I became a parent was meal planning. Before kids, I would create a list of weekly meals, or swing by the grocery store on the way home from work and create a meal on the fly. With kids, especially after the birth of my second son who has a lot of special needs, I found this task overwhelming. We relied on quick meals and take-out for a long time.

Then I discovered The Six O'Clock Scramble, which is owned by local DC area mom Aviva Goldfarb. It really has made it so much easier to get dinner on the table during the week. For an annual fee, I get a weekly email with 5 entree recipes, suggestions for sides, and a shopping list. The recipes have a lot of variety and are very easy to modify; I often use them as a starting point and change things as I go. I can't share the recipes that I get since it's a subscription-only service, but just to give you an idea, this week's recipes are
  • Hoisin Baked Chicken; 
  • Spice-Dusted Tilapia With Lemon And Garlic; 
  • Penne With Smoked Sausage, Tomatoes And Peppers; 
  • Baked Eggplant Parmesan; and 
  • Tuscan White Bean Soup With Sourdough Croutons.
I love the variety, and the recipes are healthful and don't rely on a lot of meat. We are not vegetarians but I try to serve meat only a few times a week. The reasons for that I'll have to save for another post. :)

*I love supporting locally-owned businesses, so I will link to them from time to time. I do not have any affiliation with any of them - no ulterior motives here!


After some encouragement from friends, I've finally decided to start a cooking blog. It will hopefully be an easy way for me to share recipes and other musings about food.

I am married with two young boys and currently living in the close-in DC suburbs. I have always enjoyed cooking and experimenting with food, but in the past few years, cooking has become a true hobby. Since I am a stay-at-home mom, I have a little more time to spend in the kitchen. I have discovered that I really enjoy cooking things from scratch and trying new things and that it actually calms and relaxes me when I've had a stressful day.

I hope that you will comment on my posts and share your feedback. I love learning about new recipes and techniques!