Archive for January, 2012

Banana buckwheat bread

Who else likes to experiment with different flours? Me too. Buckwheat flour has been on my list since I noticed a popular, local eatery, Crepes De Luxe, touting that they used it to make their nearly tire-sized crepes.

So buckwheat works to make hearty crepes, I wondered about using it in breads and muffins. The texture of buckwheat flour is noticeably courser then white flour and even whole wheat. I thought it might pair well with a recipe that tends to be moist anyway. Banana bread! I don’t like banana bread that gets too gummy. Have you ever had that happen where on day #2 of cutting into your banana bread the top is sticky? Buckwheat might just solve the problem.

As long as I was using buckwheat flour, which happens to be packed with nutrients, I wanted to keep all of the other ingredients as healthy as possible. I looked for a butter-free recipe that was also slim on sugar. But of course I added a few dark chocolate mini chips to the mix because they’re full of anti-oxidants. (Okay, it doesn’t take much for me to add chocolate to just about anything, but hey, dark chocolate is good for you.) I tweaked a recipe from Ginger Jen to come up with my version.

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes + baking

Servings: 4-6


Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar)

3 ripened bananas

2 eggs

1/3 cup oil

2 tablespoons milk (I used fat-free Greek yogurt)

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup mini dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients, except the sugar, chips, and nuts.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas using a handheld mixer. Add the eggs, then oil, then sugar, and blend until combined.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the banana mixture, just until moistened.
  5. Mix in the chocolate chips (if using) and walnuts.
  6. Coat one regular-sized loaf pan or two mini-sized ones (I prefer the smaller size) with cooking spray and pour the batter into the pan(s).
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the loaf tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool before cutting.

Kid reaction: I honestly didn’t think my kids would go for this heartier bread. Admittedly, the mini chocolate chips helped but I kept asking my youngest if she thought it tasted any different from our regular, whole wheat banana bread. She didn’t seem to notice and even walked off with the pieces I was using to take pictures for this post! I did think the bread was a bit drier and tended to crumble more than my usual recipe, but I liked it, especially since the crust stayed crisp on day #2.

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6 Favorite Spots at Cleveland’s West Side Market

With my crew overlooking the market

My kids each have favorite finds at Cleveland’s West Side Market, an indoor/outdoor food mecca that boasts about 100 vendors selling everything from fresh blackberries to spicy beef jerky.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the market so I thought I’d share some of my favorite food vendors there. Although I haven’t yet visited all of the booths—and we do try to visit a new place each time we go—these are my top finds.

You can download a map so that you won’t get lost when you visit. Then again, getting lost has its advantages—new discoveries.

Ohio City Pasta

One more pack of raviolis please.

What to buy: ravioli, yummy sauces & specialty butters

We usually buy a couple different kinds of ravioli along with one carton of sauce to make a meal at home. My kids love the asiago cheese-stuffed ravioli with the lobster cream sauce. There are also daily specials. The walnut butter was a hit, but the cilantro-lime linguine (my choice) wasn’t so tasty.

Theresa’s Bakery

What to buy: monk cake, pecan rolls

Monk cake is a West Side Market original. Chocolate cake with layers of mouse and raspberry filling are enveloped by a thick piece of chocolate. There are two bakeries that happen to be right next to each other that both sell monk cake. Cake Royale, created it, but

Say it with reverence...the monk cake

Theresa’s offers it too. I’m partial to Theresa’s version since it’s denser and less sweet than Cake Royale’s but I’m holding out a final verdict until I’m sampled it a few more times;) Maybe I also favor Theresa’s since I’m addicted to their pecan rolls.

Frank’s Bratwurst

What to buy: the best brats. ever.

I don’t like brats, really. Mr. Squid tried to get me to try Frank’s, but I wouldn’t budge until someone walked by me eating one and it smelled…heavenly. The folks at Frank’s make the brats using ground veal and then flash fry them before cooking. The result is a crispy brat outside and a moist, smooth inside. When they ask, make sure to get the hard roll versus the soft and even though the

Thank you for the handmade veal brats, Frank's

sauerkraut is good, I’d stick with just the meat and the roll to get the full flavor.

J+J Meats

What to buy: beef jerky, bacon, whatever’s on sale

My tween actually saves her allowance to spend on homemade beef jerky at J+J. The little mom-and-pop shop has been busy since it was featured in The Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” as Iron Chef Michael Symon’s pick. The folks who own J+J also own another food booth with the same offerings, Czuchraj.

Steve’s Gyros

What to buy: gyros

Steve's, 'nuf said

You have to get in line at Steve’s before about 11:15 a.m. to avoid the lunch crowd. And I mean crowd. And there are rules to Steve’s line. No cutting. No holding a place for someone else. No ordering more than one extra sandwich per person. Yeah, it’s that good. This booth solidified its fame in an episode of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. I’ve eaten gyros off the street in Greece–these are better. Maybe it’s the mounds of meat that have been basting on the vertical spit all day or the warm, fresh pitas, or the creamy yogurt sauce. Whatever it is, a stop at Steve’s is a must (a regular sandwich IMHO will easily feed two people).

Crepes De Luxe

What to buy: sweet or savory crepes

Looking for a vegetarian meal? Or maybe something sweet that’s not too heavy? That’s when I head to Crepes De Luxe. Whether you choose a savory a crepe that’s piled with veggies and cheese or a dessert one filled with fresh fruit or Nutella (or both!), these huge crepes are folded so they’re easy to eat while you meander through the market. And each one is made right in front of you.

*If you go to the West Side Market (and you should) it’s open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday during the day. Check the website for hours and where to park. Keep in mind that some vendors are open different times than others.

I couldn't resist..one more monk cake shot

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Black out dinner

Ah, it was dinner by candlelight on Tuesday night. Now before you go thinking this was some romantic meal that I planned for Mr. Squid, truth be told I have a wind-drenched snowstorm to thank for our hours by candelight. That’s right, our power was knocked out for most of the afternoon and into the evening.

The occasional power outage doesn’t bother me. I’ve got my forehead camping light stashed in my nightstand and enough candles to keep things cozy when I need to use ‘em for light. And it just so happens that I’d already put dinner in the slow cooker earlier in the day so our meal kept warm even though the power went out a few hours before dinnertime.

Our dinner? One of my favorites because it’s simple, healthy and easy enough to make with limited visibility. I add four frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the slow cooker along with two jars of pasta sauce (per Cooks Illustrated picks, I’ve been using Classico lately). That’s it. Let it cook on low for five to six hours and then make a pot of pasta to serve with it. Luckily, we have a gas range so I was able to light the burners no problem and even made some garlic bread for dipping.

You’ll notice the strange blue glow in the picture above. That’s not my camera flash, but the light from my forehead flashlight.

Your turn–has anyone else been without power lately?

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How to use cotija cheese

Photo credit: sigmafoodsusa

“That cheese I like,” is what my middle daughter calls cotija (coat-eeha) cheese. She sprinkles it on nearly everything. And for good reason: the cheese has the sharpness of grated Parmesan, but not the bite. While the crumbly cheese  originated in Cotija area in the state of Michoacan in Mexico, I’m finding it more widely available in grocery stores in the U.S.

Here’s what you need to know about using cotija cheese:

When do you use cotija cheese?

Sprinkle it on salads and Mexican dishes. Oooo, and it’s also good on roasted vegetables and to garnish soups.

Can I use it in place of Parmesan cheese?

I wouldn’t. Cotija is saltier than Parmesan, so a little goes a long way. I find that it’s creamier, smaller, and softer too. BUT, I would use a little bit of Parmesan cheese as a substitute for cotija in Mexican dishes. The Americanized versions of enchiladas, tostadas, and tacos are often coated with bland, cheddar cheese. Why not try making your dish a bit more authentic (hey, and tastier) by adding a bit of grated Parmesan on top and not using any other cheese?

Where can I find it?

cojita-coated tostada

Your best bet would be to look at a Mexican grocers, but large supermarkets may have it too.

Is there anything else I should know?

Like grated Parmesan, cotija cheese lasts for months when it’s refrigerated, so no rush to use it right away. Also, cotjia cheese doesn’t melt. It’s often called, Mexican Parmesan.

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Buttermilk apple muffins

Muffins are my comfort food. So this week as the temperatures dipped into the teens and the snow finally came rolling in (it’s still a blur of white outside the window), I decided to play around with the ingredients of an apple muffin recipe I’ve had since high school.

The original recipe calls for mixing in the buttermilk and apples separately just before turning out the batter into the muffin cups. Recalling an oatmeal cookie recipe that keeps the raisins soft by marinating them in whisked eggs and almond extract, I thought I’d try letting my apple dices take a dip. I wanted them to bathe in flavor so I mixed in the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest too.

I wasn’t done experimenting. I wanted to keep the calories and fat to a minimum in these snowy day treats, so I used Land ‘O Lake Light butter that nixes half the fat of the good stuff (my take: using it in baking is fine, but it’s too stiff for spreading and using in frosting as you would regular butter).

Now for the sugar. I cut part of it, and then replaced it with something I found at my local natural foods grocer, Mustard Seed Market. Coconut sugar. I love the flavor of real coconut anyway. I’m not convinced that there’s any real health benefits from the coconut sugar, the brand is Madhava and it’s organic. It still has 15 calories per teaspoon just like your average table sugar. But what intrigued me was the flavor: kinda a cross between molasses and shredded coconut, the package calls it “a caramelized maple flavor.”

You don’t have to use light butter or coconut sugar in your muffins, but please, do soak the apples!

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 16 regular-sized muffins

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

2/3 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups diced apple

1 cup flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

3 tablespoons ground flax (optional)

Oatmeal

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Peel and dice the apples and then soak them in the buttermilk, cinnamon, and nutmeg (if using) for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cream the sugar with the butter until it’s light and airy.
  4. Add the egg and mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients.
  6. Gently stir the dry ingredients in with the creamed mixture, then add the buttermilk-soaked apples and nuts.
  7. Divide batter in 16 regular-sized muffin cups and top with a few oatmeal pieces.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until just browned.
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Naan pizza

Saturday night I had hungry kids and zero energy. While this usually equals a lackluster standard grilled cheese and top ramen for dinner (honestly, top ramen is on my comfort food list), I wanted to do something fun and different for my crew. Roaming through the fridge I stumbled on an idea (I’d been to Costco earlier that day which explains both my exhaustion and my superpack of naan): using naan, which is an Indian flatbread kinda like a pita but with more heft and a dose of clarified butter (called ghee) that I thought might make for a crispy crust with pizza fixins.

I made two version of naan pizzas: a traditional ham and cheese pizza and a margarita version. The meal was quick and easy. More important, it passed the ‘mom, can-you-put-this-in-my-lunch-for-school’ test.

*Next time I might try going for more traditional Indian flavors, maybe sauteing spinach and putting it with a creamy cheese for riff on palak paneer.

Here’s how I put it together.

Naan-traditional pizza (Ok, I liked this pun, but my teenager just rolled her eyes)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and slather each naan piece with spaghetti sauce. Top with pepperoni, green peppers, sausage, olives, or whatever you have on hand, cheese, and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is golden.

Margarita naan pizza

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly brush the naan with olive oil. Top the flatbread with thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh ground pepper, fresh or dried basil and mozzarella cheese. Normally, margarita pizza has fresh mozzarella on it, but since I didn’t have any I used pieces of a Laughing Cow light Swiss cheese wedge and then grated mozzarella. I like the creamy cheese combined with the broiled.

Your turn–Have you ever tried naan? Are you a fan?

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Five favorite food joints in Detroit

Last weekend, Mr. Squid and I surprised the kids with a weekend away in Detroit to see the musical Wicked and to visit some of our favorite southeast Michigan foodie haunts. While Detroit’s reputation might be more tied to auto-making, or ‘the Big three,’ Michiganders would say, this town knows how to eat.

Here are my favorite foodie spots in and around Detroit.

1) New Yasmeen Bakery

We drove straight from Cleveland to New Yasmeen. There you’ll find meat kibbee, tabouli, fattoush, madardara, and a dozen other dishes I can’t even pronounce, but love sampling. That’s what you’ll find at this Middle Eastern restaurant in the heart of Dearborn. The city also happens to have one of the largest Middle Eastern populations of any town in the U.S. In other words, if you’re looking for authentic flavors, stock up on pitas and hummus here.

Chicken shawarma

My suggestion: Chicken shawarma–grilled chicken pieces spiced with cardamon, allspice and slathered with a garlic/yogurt/tahini sauce, peppered with pickles and wrapped in a homemade pita.

What the kids liked best: Uh, the pastry counter. Seriously, they have chocolate cups filled with whipped vanilla and chocolate cream. On the savory side, my two youngest daughters downed cheese pies while my oldest polished off a meat shawarma.

2)Best China

There’s no website for Best China and if you blink, you’ll miss this dive that’s tucked in a mini-mall behind a gas station in Canton. The owners, who are from Shanghai, have two menus, one for English speakers, and another full of regional favorites, all listed in Chinese.

My suggestion: Sesame chicken. I know, I know, it’s not authentic Chinese cuisine, but I could seriously drink the sauce that doesn’t suffer from the sticky-sweet flavor, or worse, ketchup-based blandness you normally encounter when you order sesame chicken elsewhere. Order the pork potstickers (fried or steamed) as soon as you get in if you want them before your meal, otherwise you’re likely to get them as dessert, which is just fine with me.

What the kids liked best: Everything. But dipping their potstickers in sauce with their chopsticks is always fun.

3)Lupitas Tacqueria

Real Mexican tacos--no cheese, no crisped shells, lots of flavor!

Regular readers know I love Mexican food, especially tacquerias, or taco shops. In the Mexicantown area of Detroit there are several good places for authentic fare, but Lupitas stands apart for their tacos and endless chips and plentiful salsas that are served as appetizers. *Lupitas is only open for lunch and I must admit, I think it’s better during the week versus the weekend.

My suggestion: Tacos al pastor, which are made with pork that’s marinated, then roasted on vertical skewer and before it’s slivered off in pieces. If you’re feeling more adventurous ask for the torta ahogada, which isn’t on the menu, but is a specialty of Mexico’s Jalisco. The sandwich is usually filled with pork, beans, and cheese then it’s dipped into a chile-infused sauce. Warning: it’s hot!

What the kids liked best: Tacos lengua. My middle child who shuns peanut butter loves tacos lengua, or beef tongue tacos. Go figure.

4)Mudgie’s Deli

Located in Detroit’s Corktown district, Mudgie’s inventive dishes–on one visit the soup of the day was cheeseburger–use fresh, local ingredients. For a taste a Mudgie’s check out their recipe here for brownie waffles.

My suggestion: We weren’t able to visit Mudgie’s on this visit, but I’ll admit I follow their Twitter feed just to get meal ideas. Whatever the special is, that’s my order.

Mudgie's Deli decadent brownie

What the kids liked best: Brownie waffles, of course.

5)Leo’s Coney Island

Coney Island restaurants are a Michigan novelty. You just don’t get these anywhere else. Even though the restaurants are named after the chili-doused New York dog, the food here tends to veer more toward Greek flavors–along with your typical diner fare. Note: there are several different Coney Island chains, Kerby’s (spell coney with a K), but Leo’s are the best IMHO.

My suggestion: The Greek salad. And make sure to get the small (the large feeds 4+). Mr. Squid likes the Greek salad with peperoncinis, feta, olives, beets, and chickpeas so much he bought a bottle of dressing to bring home.

What the kids liked best: The coney dog

I just had to pass along more pictures from New Yasmeen. Enjoy!

It took us three days to finish off this chocolate-filled, chocolate cup

My youngest sampling kibbee

Mmmmm, the deli counter

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Cooking with anise and fennel

Sometimes labelled anise or fennel in the produce section

New Year’s resolution alert: yup, I was getting into a little food rut in December (possibly a happily induced sugar coma) so I’m refocusing myself on what I enjoy most–trying new foods or playing around with old ones and encouraging my kids to do the same.

Ingredient: anise or fennel

So let’s start the new year off with anise. You’ll find anise hanging out with the Swiss chard and spinach in the produce section. It looks almost like a giant-sized green onion with stalks that have small pieces gutting off that reminded me of dill.

Flavor

Mild licorice. Now here’s where it gets a little confusing: anise and fennel are not the same vegetable, although from what I’ve found you can use the two interchangeably in recipes. They have a similar flavor, although fennel is said to have a stronger licorice hit. When thumbing through recipes, I’ve often found fennel on the ingredient list, but not as often in the produce section.

Not to confuse the matter even more, but there is also a spice used typically in Asian cooking called anise, or star anise that looks like a dried flower you can grate and use in stir-fries or sweets. For a complete discussion about anise, I found WHFoods.com a good primer.

How to use anise or fennel

I’ve just started playing around with this new-to-me ingredient. So far, I’ve used it as a filling along with French entrees, like pairing it sauteed mushrooms as a filling in buckwheat crepes (recipe to come) and in Italian dishes that are already packed with vegetables. But you can also slice it thin to add zing to salads or coleslaw.

It was Compari on the Park‘s chef Zachary Yaquinto that got me to try anise–his recipe for fagioli calabrese calls for fennel, but since I could only find anise, I thought it was worth a try.

Wash the vegetable thoroughly before removing the feathery stalks from the bulb. Chop the bulb in half and then slice thin to use in the fagioli calabrese. I saved the top to use as a garnish. But you can also use them as you might fresh herbs–I’m thinking they’d be excellent in a homemade vinaigrette. Note: the licorice flavor is stronger when it’s used raw and becomes sweet when sauteed.

Kids reaction

The first time I made the pasta fagioli calabrese with the anise my teenager noticed the licorice undertones right away–and didn’t like them. She still ate it, but mentioned she’d rather have less anise and more spinach (I know, more spinach? I think I’m actually raising my kids to love spinach as much as I do). The next time I served it, my oldest didn’t even notice the anise. And my younger two who hadn’t liked their pasta mingling with so many other ingredients had no comment on the anise but were diligently trying to pick out any red peppers they found. By the end of the meal my oldest professed this was ‘one of her favorite dishes.’ Beyond the anise, the other big winner in this meal was the white canneloni beans (my substitute instead of butter beans). The combination of sweet anise, little tube pasta, beans, spinach, Parmesan cheese, and Italian sausage went over well with my crew (even if I had to eat all the red peppers my youngest two corralled to the side of their plates).

Your turn–have you cooked with anise/fennel? What did you think?

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