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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pomegranate Banana Bread

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Banana bread is one baked good Ryan and I never get sick of. How can we when there are so many variations? Banana Blueberry Bread, Strawberry Banana Bread, Zucchini Banana Bread, Whole Wheat Banana Bread, and many more still on my to-make list! This time around, I decided to get creative and try to make a pomegranate banana bread using more of the POM juice I was recently sent.

While the flavor of the POM juice was not particularly noticeable in this bread, it did lend a nice moistness to the loaf (not to mention some extra anti-oxidants!). Typically when I make banana bread, I accidentally (but not apologetically, ha) undercook the bread, leaving chunks of goo in the center. That wasn't the case with this bread; instead it cooked evenly throughout. Of course, I don't know whether the juice had anything to do with this. The walnuts in this were key; I think the bread would have been too boring without...so be sure to add some sort of nut to give it some crunch and texture!

Pomegranate Banana Bread
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tbsp wheat germ
-1/2 tsp salt
-3 small ripe bananas
-1/2 cup pomegranate juice
-1/2 cup sugar
-2 tbsp butter
-2 eggs
-1 tsp vanilla
-1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix bananas, pomegranate juice, butter, vanilla, and sugar until smooth.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir into wet ingredients just until blended. Mix in walnuts.
3. Pour batter into a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Bake at 325F for 55-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Basil Parmesan Crackers

My friend Maggie and I have always had fun in the kitchen together, but since our trip to Chicago we have been especially excited to challenge ourselves in the kitchen. That list includes some extensive desserts, complicated main courses, and crackers. After we bought some delicious homemade crackers to go with our fig and olive tapenade, we were eager to try ourselves. On one Saturday afternoon, we set about in her kitchen making a spread of various appetizers to enjoy, crackers included.

Maggie actually covered the first half of the recipe, making the dough and letting it sit. We then got busy rolling it the dough out and sticking each cracker "sheet" into the oven, anxiously peeking every few minutes to check its progress. We were silly to worry, these crackers were amazing! Crispy and bursting with a cheesy basil flavor, these were awesome with our goat cheese, pesto, and sundried tomato spread.

I recommend rolling the dough as thinly as possible before cooking it. The thinner it is, the more cracker-like it'll be. Don't be afraid to let the crackers firm up and brown a bit in the oven. They continue to crisp up after being removed from the oven, but you definitely don't want soggy crackers! We returned a few batches to the oven for a few extra minutes of cooking to prevent this. If you want uniform crackers, use a pizza cutter or knife to cut into even shapes. We preferred to cook in large sheets and then break into chunks for a more authentic look.

These would be great with other cheeses or herbs; I also can't wait to try a version that includes sprinkling some seeds on top! Impress friends at your next gathering and make crackers from scratch--these can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container (though they're best the day they're made!). 

Basil Parmesan Crackers
adapted from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking

-2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 tsp sugar
-2 tsp salt
-1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
-1 tbsp solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
-1 tbsp cold unsalted butter
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
-2 tbsp fresh parmesan 

1. If creating dough by hand, stir together flour, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and parmesan. With a pastry blender, cut in the shortening and butter until large, coarse crumbs (size of peas) are formed. Add in the cream, mixing with a fork until a rough mass is formed. (You can also use a food processor to make the dough. Adding the ingredients in the same order and pulsing after each addition until the dough comes together)
2. Place the dough on a clean work surface and press it together, adding a few extra drops of cream if dough won't hold a soft shape. Gently shape the dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 min-1 hour (dough can also be frozen at this point for up to one month)
3. Preheat oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough, putting it on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into two equal pieces. 
4. Roll each half as thin as you can without tearing (dust with flour as needed). (We rolled our dough into more than 2 pieces because it was easier to bake and transfer.) Transfer sheets of dough onto baking pans and, if desired, cut into smaller shapes. 
5. Bake crackers 1 sheet at a time until they are crisp and brown (12-15 minutes). Transfer to wire racks and allow to cool completely. If you haven't already cut into shapes, break cooled crackers into pieces before serving. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

POM Banana Blueberry Popsicles

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Yes, a popsicle recipe at the end of September. Call me crazy. I'm trying to come to the terms with the changing of the seasons as St. Louis has decided it's time for the blasted humidity and excessive temperatures to hide away until next summer. While I'm sad to say good-bye, there are lots of things to look forward to this fall. For instance, I have three weddings to attend this October, a fun review and giveaway scheduled for the blog (from CSN...have you heard of them? They have over 200 stores online...everything from dining chairs to wine racks to baby toys), and then a marathon to run in less than two weeks! I'll give you more information on the giveaway from CSN in the next few weeks!

Anyways, I made these several weeks ago but kept forgetting to take a picture of them and post the darn thing. When I finally did take the photo, I realized 2 of my 4 popsicles were missing. Hmm, wonder who THAT culprit could be!

My Blog Spark and Yoplait sent me a set of popsicle molds along with a coupon for some a free Yoplait Whips yogurt (yum!) and a cute insulated lunch bag. I was eager to make some fun popsicles and decided some of my POM juice sent to me would be a perfect ingredient.

These popsicles are just blended fruit and juice...meaning you can eat them for breakfast! The frozen banana helped dull the rather tart pomegranate juice and these were like eating a smoothie in solid form. While I cannot wait to try some other varieties of popsicles (fudgesicle anyone?!), these were a yummy and easy first go-around!

One Year Ago: Chocolate Marshmallow BarsCaramel Apple Dip, and Tortilla Pinwheels

POM Banana Blueberry Popsicles

-1/2 cup pomegranate juice
-1 frozen banana
-1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Pour mixture into popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Coffee Ice Cream

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A coffee lover, I am not. I have spent countless hours in coffee shops, studying, reading, chatting with friends, but not ordering cups of coffee. I love the smell and yet every time I reach over for a sip of Ryan's, you'll find me scrunching my face in disgust.

More recently, I've discovered I can tolerate coffee if it includes one of two things: loads of sugar, or alcohol. Okay, confession: I might even like coffee prepared this way (preferably with the alcohol).

And then there's coffee ice cream. I put coffee ice cream in a whole different "coffee" ballpark. I love the stuff. So it was no surprise that this became my next ice cream to make in my ice cream maker, after the peanut butter and the basil.

This ice cream is more like an icy coffee drink than creamy smooth ice cream, largely due to the ingredients. Still, it's simple ingredients that are quick to throw together when you need that coffee dessert fix. I loved the texture and the flavor of this and next time I plan to figure out how to sneak some Bailey's in there too!

One Year Ago: Praline Party Mix and Super Easy Spinach Dip

Coffee Ice Cream
recipe from Fake Ginger
-2 cups half and half
-2/3 cup sugar
-2 tsp vanilla
-2 cups strong coffee

1. Heat half and half and sugar over low heat, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.
2. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and coffee. Chill mixture in refrigerator or freezer for at least one hour.
3. Freeze mixture according to your ice cream maker's directions. Place finished ice cream in an air tight container and freeze for an additional 2-3 hours before serving.

And, as promised, a list of the (many!) ice creams Ryan and I tried while on vacation...I promise we don't normal make crazy amounts of ice cream a normal occurrence, but we felt the need to live it up on vacation, especially with so many great places in Maine and Boston tempting us with their creative flavors! We tried to get something new at each place and often opted for two scoops instead of one just so that we could taste that many more flavors. Everything in moderation, right? We'll eat some extra kale chips or okra fries to make up for it ;)

The Ice Cream List:
-Maine Explosion (I forget if this is the right title, but it was vanilla ice cream with peanuts, chocolate swirl, and cookie dough)
-Apple Crisp
-Maine Bear (raspberry ice cream with chocolate chunks)
-Coffee Oreo
-Almond Butter Crunch
-Pumpkin Pie
-Oatmeal Cookie
-Maple Butter Walnut
-Butter Pecan
-Pineapple Basil
-Bananas Foster
-B3 (Brown Sugar, Brown Butter, and Brownies)
-Ginger Molasses
-Carrot Cake
-Black Cherry
-Coconut Almond Chip

Ice Creams from:
-Fox's Lobster House (York Beach, ME)
-Village Ice Cream (Kennebunkport, ME)
-Beal's Ice Cream (Portland, ME)
-JP Licks (Boston, MA)
-Toscanini's (Cambridge, MA)
-Christina's (Cambridge, MA)

Wow, what a list! It's hard to pick a favorite among those, but Ryan was very insistent that I attempt to recreate the maple butter walnut. I'd also like to try to make the carrot cake. We were impressed by the creativity of so many ice cream shops in their flavors. In St. Louis when we go out for ice cream it's usually frozen custard so we aren't up to date on all of the crazy flavors available. Too fun!

Scroll down for proof that we really did eat that much ice cream...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maine & Boston Foodie Recap

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At what point does one become a foodie? I'm hesitant to use the term. Not only do I not know if I qualify, but it sounds a little snobby to me. True foodies or not, Ryan and I love food. So much so, in fact, that a big part of our vacations is trying the local cuisine and immersing ourselves into the food scene. I spent just as much time researching restaurants as I do sightseeing activities when we plan a vacation. After some top notch food finds in Arizona and San Diego, we were eager to see what the East Coast had to deliver.

And deliver it did! From the twenty (yes TWENTY) flavors of ice cream we tried (more on that tomorrow) to the unique restaurants we stumbled upon, we had several days of excellent eats. We tried to do as much walking as we did eating...after all, we had to burn calories to be hungry every few hours for more food adventures!

While I am not going to bore you with detailed descriptions of every meal, I did want to highlight a few places that we particularly liked. Heading to either of these locations and want to know more? Feel free to email me with questions (natalie.mclaury@gmail.com).

In Maine, we got our first taste of seafood (fried clams and lobster bisque!) at Fox's Lobster House, a cute little restaurant in York Beach.  More seafood (lobster roll & steamed clams) was enjoyed at the Ramp in Kennebunk, a fun little bar and grill with eclectic decor.

 Then there was the incredible mouthwatering pizza from MiCucci Grocery in Portland, Maine. We're talking thick, almost eggy crust topped with fresh tomato sauce and melty cheese. Though it sounds simple, it was anything but and it absolutely lived up to our high expectations after hearing Julie and Samantha rave about it! Served from a tiny counter in the back of the store, people line up to grab steaming slices to go. The workers seem to have a steady stream of pizza popping up on the counter, ensuring each customer that they'll get a fresh piece. MMM, while I typically love pizza with lots of crazy toppings, this one was perfect!

Perhaps the highlight of our eating in Maine, with the exception of our lobster feast of course, was our dinner in Portland at Local 188. Portland is known for its abundance of first class restaurants and we ended up here after a recommendation from the wine distributor at a wine tasting we attended in the area. Ryan's aunt and uncle were fabulous enough to treat us to an excellent meal here. While I thoroughly enjoyed my salad and giant plate of warm flatbread and hummus, the real star of the show was Ryan's seafood paella. This thing was gigantic and full of scallops, shrimp, shark, lobster, mussels, and white fish. Too big to finish, he managed (with my help of course!) to put a pretty big dent in the amazing plate of seafood and rice. I can't rave enough about Local 188--from the food and its presentation to the adorable servers in aprons to the funky decor, it was a fabulous meal!

Then there's Boston, where we found ourselves gorging on more delicious eats. Twice, we found ourselves at Parish Cafe, a fun restaurant whose menu is made up of creations from local renown chefs. Both the sandwiches and then the drinks we had here hit the spot.

Because we love eating food out of trucks (remember the tacos in San Diego?), we were eager to try Clover Food Lab, a food truck in Boston serving healthy, vegetarian meals during the week. Based on recommendations from an employee, we enjoyed an eggplant and egg sandwich, roasted carrot salad, rosemary fries, and tarragon lemonade (plus two free chocolate pb cupcakes that we're guessing were vegan). It was definitely a great alternative to typical fast food, though we weren't as impressed as we thought we would be. The sandwich was great but the fries needed more rosemary and the salad needed less oil!

We had a really fun dinner out at Myers + Chang, a South End restaurant featuring interesting takes on Chinese, Thai, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese foods. We loved each of our dishes: dan dan noodles with spicy peanut sauce, gai lan + ginger, (incredible!!) miso-glazed carrots, and asian braised short rib soft tacos. There were so many intriguing things on the menu, I wish we could return!

Breakfasts might have been our favorite meal time in Boston after the discovery of Mike and Patty's. The teeny tiny corner shop was tucked away in an adorable neighborhood and served up some of the best breakfast sandwiches we have ever had. People show up and wait up to 30 minutes for their breakfast or lunch, sitting on the sidewalks around the place in small groups or with their dog. We spent our wait scheming how we could get Mike and Patty (both incredibly friendly people!) to come to St. Louis and open up a second location. Until then, we've taken to recreating some of their recipes, which you can expect to see on here in the next few weeks!

Sadly, Mike and Patty's is closed on Mondays, so we spent our final breakfast in Boston at Flour Bakery. I knew I liked the place as soon as I saw their motto:

A rather decadent breakfast, we enjoyed twice baked brioche (drool!), a currant scone, and one of their famous sticky buns. Everything there looked delicious and I was tempted to stick around for lunch!

Of course, a trip to Boston wouldn't be complete without a stop or two at Mike's Pastry. Walking around the city you will find tons of people walking with the signature Mike's Pastry box. While some may argue that there are better bakeries in Boston's North End, we were more than satisfied with what we found there. The glass cases were full of amazing looking desserts, but we opted for the cannoli. The amaretto and espresso cannoli we tried have converted both Ryan and I to cannoli-lovers!

So there you have it, lots and lots of yummy eats on our vacation! Aside from eating, we had tons of fun exploring Maine's coast on a scooter, kayaking on the Charles River, taking in a Sox game at Fenway, and brushing up on our American history in Boston. East Coast: we'll be back!

Parish Cafe and Bar on Urbanspoon

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

Mike & Patty's on Urbanspoon

Flour Bakery + Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mike's Pastry on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast with POM Syrup

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For weeks now, we have had a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread hanging out in our freezer, compliments of a Groupon to Breadsmith. (Side note: Breadsmith is awesome--we have been incredibly impressed with all of the bread we purchased there!) I knew I wanted to use the bread for french toast, and the stars finally aligned when my brother-in-law and his girlfriend gave Ryan and I a new cookbook for our birthdays. They mentioned that they had had the french toast out of America's Test Kitchen Family Cookboo and approved, so I decided to make this my debut recipe from the book.

Paired with some POM syrup that Ryan whipped up (basically the glaze I used on these cheesecake bars), this was a decadent and filling dinner. Friends Paige and Zach joined us and Paige declared that she was still full the next morning. That's the sign of a good meal, right?

I have never used flour in my french toast batter before, but our french toast turned out crisp and flavorful, so I think I'll use this recipe from now on. You could easily substitute other bread, though in my opinion, you can't go wrong with cinnamon raisin!

One Year Ago: Cinnamon Cranberry Almond Oat Pancakes

Cinnamon Raisin French Toast with POM Syrup
French Toast recipe adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

-8 slices cinnamon raisin bread
-6 tbsp butter, unsalted
-1 cup milk
-1 large egg
-2 tbsp sugar
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-3/4 tsp cinnamon
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1. Place bread on a wire rack. Put rack in oven over a baking sheet and bake bread at 200F for 15 minutes.
2. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large bowl. Mix in milk, egg, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Slowly whisk in flour until there are no lumps.
3. Dip each piece of bread into the batter, flipping after 30 seconds to fully saturate bread.
4. On a griddle or a hot skillet, melt 1 tbsp of butter and place dipped bread on hot surface. Cook each side until crispy and beginning to brown (approximately 2-3 minutes per side.
5. Repeat with remaining bread, batter, and butter.
6. Serve hot with syrup.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Twelve in Ten Challenge: Cooking Lobster & Shucking Oysters

This month's Twelve in Ten Challenge ended up being a twofer...and it coincided perfectly with our trip out east! In retrospect, I am very, very thankful we happened to be on vacation when the need to squeeze in a September challenge arose. Firstly, because Ryan's Aunt Julie was a huge help in the lobster prep (and by that I mean Ryan and I were mere accessories to the task at hand!). I don't think I could have tackled fresh lobster at this point, as you'll see by my face in some of the pictures below! Secondly, fresh seafood from the coast of Maine vs. "fresh" seafood in Missouri? No comparison; this one clearly worked out for the best!

My goal for this particular Twelve in Ten Challenge, which was actually a Ryan suggestion, was to make something with shellfish. As I said, this ended up becoming a two-part challenge. We were able to fulfill part of it while in Kennebunkport, Maine, and then had another shellfish experience in Boston a few days later. While this may not totally qualify as "cooking" in either case, I'm still counting it because it's my challenge and therefore my rules! The whole purpose of this challenge was to expand our food horizons and as you'll see, we certainly did.

First up: the lobster. I've had lobster tail once or twice before and I've seen lobsters swimming in the tanks at grocery stores, but never have I combined these two experiences. Never, that is, until last week! In the end, our experience was much more authentic than a trip to the nearby grocery store. Ryan's aunt and cousin took us to one of the many Lobster and Fish Houses in Kennebunkport where we plugged our noses, selected a dozen soft-shell lobsters, and left, live lobsters in tow!

Once back at their house, the lobsters were transferred to the kitchen sink for a few final moments of...freedom? (can you call it freedom when they're tied up? I suppose not...) Samantha, Ryan's cousin, demonstrated the art of lifting (and consequently, throwing ;)) a captured lobster. Soon the water was a'boiling and the lobsters' time was cut short! One by one, each was thrown into the pot. Julie was on lobster duty, Ryan manned the pot, and I played photographer. Much to our surprise, the lobsters succumbed to their fate without a single scream. Minutes passed and before we knew it, bright, beautiful (and dead! I checked and double-checked!) lobsters were removed from the pot.

After a quick lesson in shelling lobster, I found myself knuckles deep in lobster meat, spraying lobster juices across the dining room table and blissfully digging in. Paired with corn on the cob, potatoes, and a nutty brown bread, we couldn't have asked for a more authentic lobster boil! Thank you again, Julie, what a fun way to complete our challenge!

Just three days later, Ryan and I found ourselves walking all over the streets of Boston. On a sunny Saturday, we ventured off of the historic Freedom Trail for yet another new shellfish experience. This time: oysters! I'd read online about the oyster shucking lessons at Mercado del Mare, a fish market in the North End neighborhood of Boston. We agreed that it fit nicely with our Twelve in Ten goal and decided to take advantage of the free lessons.

Oysters were completely new to me. Not only was I unfamiliar with shucking them, I had also never eaten one! The woman, presumably one of owners of the shop, who taught us was great! Friendly and helpful, she did a great job explaining and showing us the process before letting us fend for ourselves. We shucked two different kinds of oysters, one type from Maine and the other from Cape Cod (we preferred the Maine ones!).

I felt like a true easterner, shucking oysters and throwing them back with a little cocktail sauce and lemon juice. Strange textures don't bother me, so I liked the oysters, although I struggled with finding a way to eat them gracefully! For those of you living in, or planning to visit Boston, I highly recommend taking some time on a Saturday afternoon to shuck some oysters! (They only offer lessons from 1-3 pm on Saturdays.) Lessons are free and you pay for what you eat.

Both shellfish adventures were had were a blast. Without the Twelve in Ten Challenge, I don't think I would have sought out oyster shucking in Boston...and yet I'm very glad we did! What new food experiences have you had lately? I need ideas for upcoming challenges!

For more Twelve in Ten posts, click here.
One Year Ago: Apricot Bran Bread