Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ezekiel Bread

Ezekiel Bread

I've made a discovery - well, actually Jamie read about it and then told me - about a bread that I just have to rave about for a little bit.  In my efforts to eat more protein and vegetables, good carbs and less refined sugar and flour, I've been wondering just how I can get some healthy carbs in my food plan other than oatmeal and beans.  Nothing against oatmeal and beans, but I'm about sick of oatmeal for breakfast every day - as much as I do like it - and I need an alternative now and then.  And without some type of carbs inside me, I just feel too hungry and lightheaded throughout the day.

So, Jamie learned of a flourless bread (not gluten-free, though, because it does contain wheat) called Ezekiel Bread and I hunted it down at our local Sprouts Farmer's Market.  Based on the verse from Ezekiel 4:9, it's a bread baked from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, then rolled in flax seeds, and it is a great source of protein and fiber.  It helps that it tastes great, too, and is a dense, nutty and hearty bread that is fantastic toasted and spread with a little peanut butter.

Ezekiel Bread
Ezekiel Bread

They also make a cinnamon raisin English muffin that I just love, and has become my new favorite snack, spread with raw almond butter, a drizzle of local honey, and a tiny sprinkling of coarse Kosher salt.  It's so yummy!

(Note, this is not a promotional or a paid post; this is just me, telling you about something I found that I really, really like.)

Ezekiel Bread

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Undecided on Plantains...

Pork Plantain Stew

Have you ever eaten plantains?  I had never tasted one, until a few weeks ago when Jamie tried a recipe for Caribbean Pork Stew with Plantains from a cookbook he got for Christmas, Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Slow Cooking.

I really loved the stew...  minus the plantains.  The pork was tender and succulent, and the orange and brown sugar broth was rich and flavorful with garlic, cinnamon and ginger.  But when it came to the plantains, they were just, well, all wrong.  Granted, I expected them to taste like bananas, and while I realize they are not supposed to, that is still what I was wanting from them.  But the thing is, they didn't even taste good for what they are.

They simmered in the stew during the last 30 minutes of cooking, and when we dished it up and gave the plantains a taste test, we expected something soft and full of the wonderful flavors of the stew that they should have absorbed.  But instead, I got a hard, impossible-to-swallow, starchy bite that tasted like an uncooked potato.  Worse than that, really.  It was just awful.  I literally spit it back out.

On the positive side, I would highly recommend this pork stew recipe, as it was absolutely fantastic without the plantains, so when we make it again, we'll use potatoes instead.  Dried plums would be nice, or even a regular banana added right at the end would be an interesting twist.

Pork Plantain Stew

We tried to salvage the plantains by rinsing them off and caramelizing them in a skillet with a little butter and brown sugar, thinking that all they needed was a little more cooking time, but they just seemed to get harder and more inedible the longer they cooked.  Our next theory was that perhaps it was possible to overcook them, so we took our last remaining uncooked plantain, peeled and sliced it, and proceeded to caramelize it with a little more butter, brown sugar, and bourbon, just for few minutes on each side.  Still inedible.  I actually disliked them more than beets!  Looked pretty, though.

So, if you hadn't already guessed, I am not a fan of plantains and probably won't be using them again, but I'm wondering if anyone reading this has had a similar experience with plantains, what sorts of cooking methods you've found are successful or not successful, or if you agree that they're just not something you enjoy eating, no matter how they're cooked?

Scroll down for the pork stew recipe...  without plantains.  :)

Pork Plantain Stew

Caribbean Pork Stew with...  Potatoes
printable recipe

  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2-3 medium potatoes, any kind

In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Meanwhile, toss the pork with the flour, salt and pepper.  Working in batches, brown the meat in the oil, about 5 minutes per batch, adding more oil as needed.  Remove meat from the pot and set aside.

Add the onion to the pot and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger, cinnamon and bay leaf and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the wine to deglaze the pot and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom.  Stir in the orange juice and brown sugar.

Return the pork to the pot and cover with the lid.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours until the pork isvery tender.  Occasionally skim the fat off the surface of the liquid.  Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Cut the potatoes (peeled, if desired) into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot.  Cover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

the Way to a Man's Heart is through Chocolate Chip Pie...

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie

One thing that I've believed my whole life was that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  I come from a family who loves their sweets, with my grandma constantly baking to satisfy my grandpa's sweet tooth.  I mostly remember her baking layer cakes slathered in sugary frosting, which he would then eat with thick slices of cold butter and a mound of whipped cream.

My mom's homemade cookies were almost constantly in supply, and she could never pick just one favorite pie to bake at the holidays, so there was always pumpkin, apple, chocolate and pecan to choose from.  When she would bake a cake, my dad would follow her around the house asking when it was going to be ready to taste.  After many, many years of this, he discovered boxed cake mixes and canned frosting, and realized that if he could learn to follow the instructions on the box, he could have a cake any time he wanted.  My parents' pantry was stocked with an assortment of cake and frosting after that.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie
Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie

I don't think I won Jamie's heart with my cooking, though, since I wasn't much of a cook yet when we started dating, but I quickly realized that he has quite an appreciation for good food, and he loves something sweet after dinner on Friday nights.

I had been planning a little bit of a celebration dinner this last Friday night, a day that marked the end of a difficult time for me and the beginning of a new opportunity.  As I shopped for the perfect piece of tenderloin for steak tartare and ground beef for meatloaf, baguettes, cheese, red wine, baby carrots and red potatoes, I thought of the dessert I had planned to make that night, vanilla pots de creme.  Simple but rich vanilla bean custard, maybe with caramel at the bottom of his and raspberry for mine.

During the last six months, this period of time that's been such a struggle for me, he's listened patiently as I recounted each day's events, held me when I cried, advised me on what to do, offered me his support and love, and always been one-hundred-percent, unconditionally on my side throughout it all.  My joy in finding a new opportunity, one that I hope will make me much happier, is his joy, too.

And so, I decided against the pots de creme, which he would have liked, and which I may still make next weekend, but there was something better I had in mind for our dessert that night, something more for him than for me.  A pie that I hadn't made in probably seven years, and even then just a few times around the holidays - chocolate chip pie.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie
Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie

Calling this just "chocolate chip pie" is an overly simplistic description of how fantastic this pie is.  It has the most decadent gooey filling full of butter, eggs, dark brown sugar, toasted pecans and bittersweet chocolate chips.  A good pinch of Kosher salt and a hint of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.  The filling, while staying gooey underneath bakes into a crackly golden brown crust on top.  All in a buttery, flaky pie crust.  With ice cream, of course.

The thought of this pie is taunting me as I write this, since I'm only allowing myself one small serving of dessert per week now, and since I can't have another taste of it, it's all I can think about as it sits so temptingly on the counter.

But it was for Jamie after all, and not for me.  My way of saying, thank you for loving me for who I am.  Thank you for being exactly who you are.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie Pie
printable recipe

  • 1 unbaked pie shell (see my recipe for all-butter perfect pie crust)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft (not melted)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 325.  Roll out the pie dough and fit it into a deep dish pie pan or a tart pan with removeable sides.  Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on medium speed for 4-5 minutes until foamy.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Switch the mixer to the paddle attachment and beat in the dry ingredients.  Beat in the butter and vanilla until smooth.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.

Spread the filling into the pie shell.  Bake for 55-65 minutes, until the top is golden brown and crackly and the filling is mostly set (no longer jiggly) but it should still be gooey if you stick a knife in (during the last 20 minutes of baking, cover pie loosely with a piece of foil if it begins to brown too much).  Cool for several hours on a wire rack until the filling is completely set, then serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream.

Yields 10-12 servings.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce, and our Valentine's Weekend...

Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce

There was this commercial about pie back in the 90s where the husband was raving about how his wife had made him a pie – I think it was lemon meringue – and what made it so special was that she had made it for him on a weekday no less, not even waiting until she had more time on the weekend.  Of course, her secret was that she hadn’t made the pie at all but had bought it from the frozen section at the grocery store, but it was so tasty that he thought it was homemade.

Well, as Valentine’s Day fell on a Thursday this year , there was no better excuse to make something sweet in the middle of the week, something just for my man – a Triple Layer Chocolate Cream Pie with Tart Raspberry Sauce.  A pie like this takes time and love – and a head start the night before so that the next evening was relaxing and fun, with nothing left to do but whip the chocolate cream for the topping, and make the raspberry sauce.

Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce

I wasn’t the only one who went all out for our Valentine’s dinner, and Jamie came home that night with the makings for a salad with berries, walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette, camembert cheese, wine, lamb chops which he seared and then glazed with a balsamic marionberry glaze, and polenta which he’d made the evening before so it could have time to chill in order for him to slice and sear it with a little butter.  Heart-shaped polenta, no less.  Isn’t he sweet?

After a relaxing dinner together, we cut into the pie to give it a taste.  The graduating layers of chocolate – from a thin layer of dark bittersweet ganache on the bottom, to a filling of creamy chocolate pudding and finally a light topping of chocolate whipped cream – were perfectly balanced by the tart, and very bright red raspberry sauce.  He ate a piece later on over the weekend with some caramel sauce drizzled over it, and while he liked that too, he said he really liked the raspberry sauce the best since the tartness was such a surprising and contrasting flavor with all that chocolate.

Just for a little texture, I sprinkled a few white chocolate chips between the ganache and pudding layers, but any flavor of baking chips, toffee bits, or even some toasted nuts in between the layers would be good.  The crunch is a nice contrast to all the creamy chocolate.

Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce

He also planned a romantic evening for us in downtown Denver that weekend, so Saturday afternoon we headed to the surprise destination of Teatro Hotel, where champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and rose petals were waiting in our room.

After a drink at a martini bar down the street, we shared an amazing dinner at the Kevin Taylor restaurant in our hotel, which is reputed to be one of the very best restaurants in Denver.  For the first time ever we tasted foie gras, which was like melt-in-your-mouth duck butter.  Then there was a bite of crispy pork belly with squash puree and gingerbread crumble.  Bison short ribs with beets, which, I hate to admit that I actually enjoyed.  And butter-poached lobster with mushrooms in a baked potato consomm√©.  All of it decadent.  All so delicious.

Then we walked to one of the theaters in the Performing Arts Center where saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet, a first for both of us, although we both knew the gist of the story.  Just once, I’d like to know that Romeo and Juliet actually manage to run away together, instead of ending so tragically from the ridiculous lack of communication between all the characters.  It’s too bad the theater can’t change the ending, but I suppose that would cause an uproar among Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Chocolate Cream Pie with Raspberry Sauce

As for Jamie and me, only happy endings and so much to look forward to in our future….  And homemade – never storebought – chocolate pie.

Triple Layer Chocolate Pie with Raspberry Sauce (for Valentine’s Day)
printable recipe

Graham Cracker Crust:
·         1 ½ cups finely crushed graham crackers (1 sleeve)
·         2 tablespoons granulated sugar
·         ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
·         4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate Ganache:
·         4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
·         4 ounces heavy whipping cream
·         ¼ cup white chocolate chips

Chocolate Cream Filling:
·         3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
·         1/3 cup granulated sugar
·         1/4 cup cornstarch
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         2 cups skim milk
·         1 cup whole milk, heavy cream or half 'n' half
·         4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
·         2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
·         1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Whipped Cream:
·         1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
·         2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
·         4 tablespoons powdered sugar

Raspberry Sauce:
·         8 ounces fresh (when in season) or frozen raspberries, thawed
·         2 tablespoons water
·         1 teaspoon lemon juice
·         2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350.  In a deep-dish pie pan, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork to moisten.  Press the crumbs evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside and cool completely on a wire rack.

Prepare the Ganache:
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a bowl.  In a saucepan, warm the cream over medium low heat just until it starts to bubble around the edges.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate; let stand for 3 minutes then stir with a spatula until smooth.  Spread the ganache over the cooled crust; sprinkle with the white chocolate chips.  Set in the refrigerator.

Prepare the Filling and Chill Pie:
In a medium saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, corn starch and salt.  Gradually whisk in the 3 cups milk/cream.  Set the pan over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, while whisking constantly.  Once you see it start to boil, cook for two minutes, continuing to whisk constantly, as mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth and creamy.

Pour into the prepared crust over the ganache layer.  Smooth out the top, and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic resting against the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill pie thoroughly for 3-4 hours, or overnight, until set.

Make the Chocolate Whipped Cream:
Pour the whipping cream into a bowl and whip with an electric mixer until it begins to thicken.  Sprinkle the cocoa powder and powdered sugar over the cream and continue whipping until medium to firm peaks form.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Make the Raspberry Sauce:
In a blender or food processor, puree the raspberries, water and lemon juice until smooth.  Pour through a mesh strainer and discard the seeds.  Pour juice into a small saucepan and stir in the sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and simmer until slightly reduced and thick enough to coat a spoon.  Chill until ready to serve.

Garnish the Pie:
Before serving, swirl the chocolate whipped cream over the pie.  If desired, garnish with chocolate curls or sprinkles.  Serve each slice with a drizzle of the raspberry sauce.

Yields 8-10 slices.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Super Bowl Sunday is over and done with, but I still have a recipe for a casual and easy party dessert to share with you.  After all, you don’t need football to enjoy peanut butter and chocolate, do you?

In spite of the fact that I really don’t care much about sports, I admit that I’ve always been a little envious of others who were so much better at sports than I was, who simply looked more graceful, more coordinated, more confident.  Riding my bike, roller skating back and forth on the cement patio behind our house, hiking in the mountains now and then and splashing around in the pool was about as athletic as I got.  And occasionally hitting a softball in the front yard with my dad, although I found it frustrating that no matter how well I was able to hit the ball when he tossed it, I couldn’t seem to hit it when anyone else was doing the pitching.

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

In junior high, the P.E. classes for girls were basically a joke – a couple laps around the gym, a few minutes of crunches and useless leg-lift exercises, and then a half hour of playing at whatever was the assigned activity for that semester.  The semester we had to do tumbling was a nightmare, as the teacher seemed to have no concept that someone who hadn’t been trained since childhood to do a leaping full-body flip off a balance beam into midair would not be able to suddenly do it at the age of 14 without crash-landing on her face.  If only someone had thought to turn those useless classes into Yoga or Pilates sessions, and they would have done some good.

As far as a sports program at my high school, there was nothing for the girls to participate in except for volleyball.  Even the boys only had basketball, football and wrestling.

So I drew and painted, sang in choir, played percussion in band, sewed, cooked, read, wrote, dreamed…  and my already sluggish metabolism seemed to die into something practically non-existent, as I didn’t learn early on the importance of exercise, or how to find a physical activity that was interesting and enjoyable to me, and that I could excel at.  Something I’m trying to rectify now, which of course, is much, much harder at 34 than 14.  I need to find my exercise niche that will wake up my metabolism from its sleepy state.  I started a new workout routine this week, and every muscle in my body hates me right now!

My brother played basketball all through high school, and I’d shoot hoops with him now and then, but having to sit through a basketball game on TV was slightly torturous.  I’ve never understood the appeal of watching sports, as it pretty much bores me out of my mind to watch a whole game of anything on TV.  So I could have let Super Bowl Sunday come and go with hardly a glance, except that I have a boyfriend and friends who actually like football.  And while I could care less about the reason for the day, I was looking forward to an afternoon visiting with friends, as well as the nacho/taco bar.

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

As I thought about a party dessert to share, I knew that something too fussy or pretty would just be out of place, so I immediately thought of chocolate, peanut butter and pretzels.  Salty and sweet.  Crunchy and creamy.  That sounded perfect.

This bar cookie is no-bake, except for the pretzel crust.  Then you top the cooled crust with a creamy, lightly sweetened filling of whipped peanut butter, cream cheese and marshmallow cream that’s been folded together with crunchy, salted peanuts and chocolate chips.  On top of the filling is a simple “ganache” made from melting peanut butter and chocolate chips together until smooth.  Lastly, rows and rows of pretzels and a sprinkling of Kosher salt to finish it off.  After chilling thoroughly, the bars are ready to be cut and served.

I made a big pan of these for the party, and only had 4 or 5 left to take home, which made me happy.  The only downside is that they really are best cold, since the no-bake filling softens at room temperature, especially in a kitchen that’s overheated from 30 crock pots full of taco meat and queso.  And since guests may not help themselves to something that’s in the fridge, rather than out on the counter with the rest of the food, you can keep these cool on the counter by placing the pan in a larger pan that’s filled with ice.  This really was a perfect party dessert!

Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Chocolate Pretzel Bars

·         2 cups finely crushed pretzels (from about 4 cups whole mini pretzel twists or snaps)
·         ½ cup all-purpose flour
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

·         1 cup creamy peanut butter
·         1 cup marshmallow cream
·         8 ounces cream cheese, softened
·         1 teaspoon vanilla
·         1 cup powdered sugar
·         1 cup lightly salted peanuts
·         1 cup semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips

·         1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
·         ½ cup creamy peanut butter
·         Whole mini pretzel snaps twists
·         Kosher salt

Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a 9x12 pan tightly with foil, leaving a 1-inch overhang at each end.  Spray with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine the crushed pretzels, flour and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork to moisten.  Press firmly into the bottom of the pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

Prepare the Filling:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter, marshmallow cream, cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar on low to combine, then on medium speed for 3-4 minutes until smooth and creamy.  Stir in the peanuts and chocolate chips.  Spread evenly over the cooled crust.

Make the Topping:
In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate chips and peanut butter.  Place the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water).  Stir occasionally with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Spread evenly over the filling.

Arrange the pretzels on top of the chocolate topping and sprinkle with the Kosher salt.

Refrigerate until firm, at least 3-4 hours, or overnight, before lifting the foil out of the pan and cutting into bars.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Yields 36 bars.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen