Archive for June, 2012

Bacon bleu cheese guacamole

Here in Cleveland, people utter the words bacon bleu cheese guacamole in hushed tones. Celebrity chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon featured this guacamole in a Food Network episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The place where he sampled the guac? Lopez on Lee an unassuming restaurant in Cleveland Heights where Rick Bayless once donned the head chef hat.

I haven’t been to Lopez on Lee (the night Mr. Squid and I decided to go we ended up at a Cambodian restaurant instead). But as a guacamole fan, it’s easy to imagine how to pull off this recipe: good guac IMHO is a matter of mixing together half of your ingredients first while saving the other half to stir in. The half-and-half method makes for a creamy guac that still has chunks of flavor tucked inside.

Here’s how we make bacon bleu cheese guac at our house:

Recipe

Prep time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 (easily doubled)


Ingredients

2 avocados

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

4 strips bacon, cooked & crumbled

1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 clove garlic, minced (optional)

1/2 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded & minced (optional of Sriracha)

Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In bowl, add the inside from one of the avocados and the Greek yogurt. Mash and blend using a fork.
  2. Mix in the cumin, pepper, garlic, and half of the bleu cheese; combine until smooth.
  3. Slice the other avocado into small pieces, then stir into the smooth mixture along with the bacon and the rest of the bleu cheese crumbles.
  4. Adjust seasoning and serve with tortilla chips.

Kids’ reactions:

My teen liked the pungent flavor of the bleu cheese mixed with smoky bacon and creamy avocado. My younger two sampled small tastes but weren’t real anxious to try more. This guacamole is definitely for more grown-up taste buds. If you’re looking for a 4th of July showstopper, this is it.

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Tips for tackling summer snack attacks

Anyone else suffer from the summer snack attacks? You know where potato chips, boxed mac ‘n cheese, and other usual no-nos or occasional treats become regulars in your kitchen cabinets? During the school year I’m pretty good at planning out dinners beforehand and having relatively healthy snacks on hand for my kids after school. While I thought summertime would make it even easier for my kids to eat good-for-them foods, what with berries, peaches, melons and all sorts of goodies available, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

I’ve discovered a few tips for the summer snack attacks that we’re trying around our house, maybe they might work for you too.

Keep it whole. It takes minutes (seconds, really) to down a cup of applesauce. But eating an entire apple? That involves more time and attention. I’ve found my kids feel fuller and are more satisfied when they eat whole fruits and veggies instead of juices or sauces.
Keep it cold. On a hot summer day my kids (okay, so do I) crave ice cream and other icy sweets to cool off. My teen started a trend that’s become a tradition around our house–eating berries right out of the freezer. While you can pick and freeze your own, I also like Costco’s mixed bag of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.

Keep it fun. So your kids like some unconventional snacks, hey as long as they’re good-for-them, I say go for it. My middle child loves to eat whole limes–she’ll take her time sucking out the juice then eating the inside. She’ll happily spend her entire 10 minute swim break at the pool taking apart her lime, piece by piece. I can’t think of a better snack, although I’ve seen a few people give her a doubletake as they pass by. My youngest likes banana chips dipped in peanut butter.

Keep it handy. Stash the once-in-awhile snacks where your kiddos won’t seem them all the time and make sure healthier snacks are always within reach. I like to keep bowls of fruit in the middle of my kitchen table so it’s easy for my kids to grab a healthy treat. In the fridge I put mini carrots, cut up cantaloupe and baby cucumbers in various clear containers so my kids know right where to find them.

Your turn–what do you do to help your kids eat healthy snacks in the summertime?

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Green rice two ways

Question: what do you do with leftover spinach? You know when you’ve forgotten about a bag of spinach and it ends up mushed in the back of the fridge until you discover it there. It’s a not so fresh that you want to make a salad out of it, but you don’t want to throw it away. Around our house, I often saute “leftover” spinach and put it in baked ziti, pasta, or even smoothies.

Flipping through the July/August issue of Cuisine at Home, I found another idea–green rice. The simple recipe uses a puree of spinach and cilantro to serve with BBQ shrimp (I wasn’t impressed with the overly sweet “creole” shrimp recipe). The flavor-infused rice is a great way to perk up a normally ho-hum side dish. Here are my two versions:

Green rice with spinach & cilantro

*Works well with spicy Mexican or American dishes

Prep time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4-6


Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup Basmati or Jasmine rice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 cup chicken broth, divided

1 cup milk

2 cups fresh spinach

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 lime

1/2 serrano chile (optional)

  1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft.
  2. Rinse the rice in cold water, then add it to the pan; cook for about one minute.
  3. Stir 1 cup broth and the milk into the rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minute until tender.
  4. Meanwhile, puree the spinach, cilantro, juice from the lime, pepper (if using) and 1/2 cup chicken broth in a blender. Stir the spinach mixture into the rice and heat through (about 3 minutes).
  5. Serve.

Green rice with spinach & basil

*Works well with Italian or French dishes

Substitute 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves for the cilantro, a lemon for the lime, and add a dash of cayenne pepper in place of the serrano.

Kids’ reactions:

My youngest shied away from trying the rice at first saying, “What’s the green stuff, mom?” But after watching her older sisters finish off their plates she downed hers too. I served the rice with a wedge of lime for squeezing. I’ll definitely make this again.

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Sweetened vs. unsweetened coconut

Photo credit: Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Coconut

Have you noticed how your fingers feel sticky after handling sweetened coconut? Me too.

You might also have picked up on the biting, saccharine after-taste sweetened coconut tends to leave in your mouth. In the past, I’ve usually used sweetened coconut in recipes for two reasons 1) I couldn’t find unsweetened coconut at the grocery story and 2) sweetened coconut goes on sale for killer deals.

But I’ve turned a coconut corner. Lately I’m opting for unsweetened coconut–I find the flavor and texture are much more appealing.

What’s the difference between unsweetened and sweetened coconut?

As the name implies–it’s sugar! Sweetened coconut lays on the sugar to keep the coconut shreds soft while giving it a longer shelf life than the unsweetened variety. Take a look at the sugar content in a sweetened package (my bag at home had a higher sodium count than the figures I found online)–per serving (2 Tbsp) it has 5 grams of sugar and a whooping 60 mg of sodium. With unsweetened coconut, a serving (3 Tbsp) has only 1 g of sugar and 5 mg of sodium. What a difference.

What about baking with unsweetened versus sweetened coconut?

You’ll find that unsweetened coconut is drier than sweetened when you bake with it. You can up the moisture in unsweetened coconut by either adding a little water to the shreds before using it or if your recipe is moist enough (like with muffins), don’t worry about it. I often add coconut into a blender with other ingredients anyway so I don’t notice my cookies and muffins turning out any drier. BUT most coconut macaroon recipes do call for sweetened coconut. That’s probably the one recipe where unsweetened just won’t work.

Where do you find unsweetened coconut?

It used to be I could only find unsweetened coconut around the holidays–the checker at Trader Joe’s once told me it’s considered a “seasonal ingredient.” Humph. You can order it online from King Arthur but I’ve found many organic grocers carry it year round with other Bob’s Red Mill products. Now for it to go on sale–sorry, it does cost more than the inexpensive bags of sweetened coconut, but it’s so much fresher and tastier.

How about some recipes using unsweetened coconut?

How about my favorite chewy oatmeal cookies (add in 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut to the flour), or triple chocolate coconut banana muffins? I’ve also pulsed unsweetened coconut with panko (Japanese style bread crumbs) to coat pork tonkatsu and coconut shrimp.

Your turn–do you use sweetened or unsweetened coconut, or both?

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Can a good workout cure a picky eater?

Coconut shrimp

My kid eats…shrimp! Finally. Do your kids ever fall in and out of love with certain foods? That’s how it’s been with my youngest. She used to be a shrimp fiend. Then, notta. Wouldn’t even take a bite, and that’s a no-no around our house. I’m not sure when she stopped liking shrimp but I wasn’t about to let her give up on this fast-cooking seafood marvel that I serve about once a week.

Among picky eater experts there’s a saying that it can take over 10 tries to introduce your child to a new food. But there’s nothing about how many tries it takes to re-introduce a food to a child who has decided she doesn’t like it.

And that’s where I got creative: yes, I’ve continued to make shrimp. Here’s some of our favorites:

But just having shrimp on the table didn’t guarantee that my normally not-to-finicky eater would take a bite. Enter basketball camp. Five hours of it. My youngest came home exhausted, and hungry. I made a dish I didn’t figure she would like, but it’s one I’ve been craving, shrimp etouffe (I would pass along my recipe but it’s different every time). It’s spicy, packed with peppers and onions and I thought my kiddo would fill up on the wild rice and corn. Nope. She polished off her shrimp then asked for seconds, and thirds (I’d only given her three to start). By the end of the meal, my hungry kiddo was a shrimp eater. It might not work all the time, but if you have a once-adventurous eater that’s nudging toward pickiness you might take her outside for a nice long workout then inside for a good meal.

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Triple chocolate coconut banana muffins

Sometimes my kids won’t eat bananas around our house just waiting for them to get ripe enough so that I’ll make these muffins. I’ve been meaning to pass along this recipe for awhile, but I do the batter just a little bit differently each time–sometimes I mix up the kinds of sugar I use, other times it’s the flours that get tweaked.

But I made a batch this week that was so good I had to pass this recipe along. So if you have some bananas that are getting ripe and you love the combination of chocolate and bananas, these muffins are for you!

Recipe

Ingredients

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or 1 1/2 cups all-purpose, 1 1/2 cups wheat flour)

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (if available, or regular cocoa)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened preferred)

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt

2 eggs

3 ripe bananas

8 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon almond or coconut extract

2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.
  3. In another bowl, beat the bananas until smooth and then add the yogurt, eggs, and extract.
  4. Melt the butter and chocolate chips together in a glass measuring cup in the microwave (I usually set it for half power for a minute, then stir.)
  5. Stir the dry ingredients into the yogurt mixture just until blended.
  6. Gently blend the chocolate-butter into the yogurt mixture, then stir in the mini chocolate chips.
  7. Fill 24 muffin cups 2/3 full.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

*Tweaked from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook recipe for Big Beautiful Muffins.

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Easy tomato salsa using a molcajete

My formula for stress relief at the end of a long day: break out the molcajete and make some salsa. That’s what I did last night.

A molcajete is pretty much a the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle with Aztec origins. Mine came from a side street market in Mexico City and weighs 10 pounds (thank goodness my husband got it before the airlines started charging you to check your bags).

Made of volcanic rock, the molcajete’s porous surface absorbs the flavors of what has been ground in it before. So the garlic rub you might have used to start off a salsa a month ago will leave hints of flavor in the guacamole you make today; every batch is entirely unique.

For instructions on how to season your molcajete you can check out my post on Wandering Educators.

To create a basic tomato salsa at home using a molcajete here’s what you need:

Recipe

Time to mash the garlic

Prep time: 15 minutes (depending on how hard you grind)

Servings: 4

Ingredients

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped into slices* (See note)

2 slices onion

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds)

Then the onions...

1 lime

Peppers (you can use whatever kind of heat your family prefers–cayenne powder, fresh serrano peppers, jalapenos)

Directions

  1. Place the cumin and garlic in the molcajete bowl. Grind into a paste using the hand tool.
  2. Next, grind the pepper of your choice in the molcajete bowl. I often use dried chiles, but fresh is great too.
  3. Add the tomatoes, onion, and cilantro to the molcajete and start grinding. (My kids have fun doing this).
  4. Mix in salt to taste and serve at your table in the molcajete.

salsa ready to serve

*Note: Many salsa recipes call for you to remove the tomato skins before grinding. I’ve found that the skin comes off during the process and you can take it out easily. Another option is to use drained, canned tomatoes. These work well, especially the roasted variety.

Your turn: Have you ever used a molcajete? What about a mortar and pestle?


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