Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal cookies

I had a very overripe banana (and only one so no good for bread) so I decided to try to make banana cookies, but since I'm not a huge fan of banana baked goods, I added cocoa powder too (peanut butter would be better instead/in addition to the cocoa, but two of my friends are allergic to peanuts, so I decided to make them shareable). I didn't measure much (for instance the brown sugar and vanilla were just finishing off a package), but I'll do my best to guess. Though I would probably recommend more vanilla, mostly because I put at least a teaspoon in everything I bake. Also note that I usually use a heaping measure of cinnamon, so when I say 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, I probably used closer to a full teaspoon, but I do this for all recipes as a matter of personal taste. I would however suggest using more butter, using peanut butter, or adding chocolate chips. Or all of the above. As with the brownies, I underestimated the fat, so if i make these again, I will certainly use more.

1 medium banana
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4-ish cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2+ teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup flour
3/4-1 cup oatmeal (or until dough is not too moist and holds together)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350. Mash the banana beat in egg, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, until smooth. Add flour, 1/2 cup oatmeal, cocoa, and baking powder. Add oatmeal until it reaches the desired consistency. Spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet by heaping teaspoon. It made 15 small cookies. Bake for about 10 minutes.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I love Trader Joes

I don't always have time to cook a full meal, so on these nights Trader Joe's is my best friend. My favorites are things I pretty much always keep on hand, and I'll often buy one or two other items for fun and a super fast, relatively healthy, tasty meal. I will soon do a report on their Harvest Grains Blend, which everywhere I've found online raves about.
I thought I'd take time to list a few of my favorite products and what I do with them (listed in the order I pick them up in the store):
  • Stoplight peppers, these are frozen, precut bell peppers. They are not as good as fresh, don't get me wrong, but they are good to zest up spaghetti or make a tasty addition to my scrambled eggs. Actually, my scrambled egg "recipe" is so good that it is beyond a convenience food at this point. I like to add peppers, cilantro, and crushed red pepper. Yum.
  • Frozen cilantro/basil cubes. Lets face it, fresh herbs can be expensive for a grad student, when you cook for one it's hard to use a whole bunch, and when sharing a fridge with 3 other people there isn't really room to keep these AND all the regular vegetables. Trader Joes sells them in cubes with a teapoon of frozen herb, which is perfect for adding to eggs, soup, pasta, my favorite thai stir fry, or really almost anything you would normally add these herbs to. And it's much better than substituting dry for fresh in recipes.
  • Black cocoa almonds. Trader Joe's has everything covered in chocolate, but I'd say these are my favorite, not too sweet, very chocolatey and the almond provides a nice crunch. But like I said, they also have the best collection of chocolate covered things I've seen, and lots are good, but not the chocolate covered ginger. I would stay away from that if I were you.
  • Pesto tortellini. My suitemate introduced me to this. It's simply an awesome quick meal, I like it with a little Parmesan/Romano cheese blend (which incidently, I also got at Trader Joe's)
  • Precooked/seasoned chicken/turkey sausage. Pork sausage is something you will never see me eat. But I don't mind chicken sausage in the right context. These are delicious because they come in many great flavors, and oh so easy because they are precooked. Keep them in the freezer and just defrost. I like to cut them up and cook them with (fresh, not frozen) bell peppers and brown rice. It might be my favorite quick and easy meal, and one sausage and one pepper plus a half cup of rice has the perfect amount for lunch leftovers the next day. I've tried and like the sweet basil pesto, but I'm sure they are all really good.
A few other things I've noted that are good: ground beef is actually cheaper at Trader Joe's than at Publix or Kroger, unless by some miracle you find it on sale (and i won't eat the stuff in a tube). Also, I may be the pickest yogurt eater you will ever find: I hate gelatin, preservatives, artifical sweetener, and excessive natural sweetness in my yogurt, which means I stick to the somewhat expensive Stonyfield Farm. But Trader Joe's yogurt is not only tolerable (which is not a weak statement for me), but actually pretty good. And it's about 25 cents cheaper than Stonyfield Farm per carton, which is a lot given the amount of yogurt I eat. I also like the texture of the long skinny fruit leathers at Trader Joe's. I would also encourage you to give many of their sauces a try, there's a few I've tried and they are all pretty good, but which ones are good is a matter of personal taste. Also, I've found lots of gems in the frozen convienence foods (masala seasoned veggie burgers, samosas, chili lime chicken burgers, etc), but those seem to rotate.

And for the record, Trader Joe's did not pay me for this endorsement, but maybe they should have.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Garlic Sauce

I found a recipe for rigatoni with eggplant and garlic sauce, but I guess I don't like eggplant enough to eat it regularly. But the garlic sauce was fantastic, and actually relatively healthy, as far as creamy sauces go, so I thought I'd share. And on a more personal note, I would encourage you not to eat this before swim practice, I had awful stomach aches due to all the dairy.
  • 1/2 head of garlic
  • 2 cups milk
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 branches thyme or 2 pinches of dried
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped basil or 1 teaspoons dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/3 Tablespoons flour (ie. 1 Tbsp+1 tsp)
  • Grated parmesan/romano cheese to taste
Peel and press the garlic and cook in the milk, with the nutmeg, thyme, basil, and bay leaf over low heat. Make a roux (new cooking term, yay, which essentially means a thick sauce made from a mixture of fat and flour) by adding the flour to the butter and cooking for a few minutes. Then add the milk mixture and whisk. Cook over the lowest heat for half an hour, stirring frequently. When done cooking, add cheese and use as you like.

My recipe involved browning eggplant and making rigatoni, then baking it all together. This was okay, but like I said, I'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but I wanted to try it according to the recipe before making recommendations. I think this would definitely be a great sauce with some sauteed red pepper and maybe some spinach.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Easiest bread (so far)

So this week I made whole wheat bread with brown sugar, rather than honey from this website. I cut it in half, which I doubt caused any problems, but the bread did not turn out well, despite the straightforward directions. It did not rise as much as it should have. It does however, taste fantastic and I would definitely be willing to try this bread until I get it right. It is probably the only whole wheat bread I've loved eating without jam. But it probably won't work for sandwiches this time. I know I posted the link, but to help you cut it in half (or to help me cut it in half next time), since I can never remember how many tablespoons are in a cup (though it shouldn't be that hard).

Whole Grain Wheat Sandwich Bread

2 1/2 tablespoon, 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/2 Tablespoon brown sugar, divided
1 cups warm water (105F-114F)
1 packages active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoon)
2 1/2 to 3 cups whole wheat flour
3/8 cup powdered milk
1 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tbsp and 1/2 teaspoon oil


1. Dissolve 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar in warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. Add yeast and let mixture stand.

2. Place 2 cups flour, powdered milk, remaining brown sugar and salt into mixer bowl. Attach bowl and with dough hook, mix on Speed 2 (low speed) for about 15 seconds, until ingredients are combined. On the same speed, gradually add yeast mixture and oil to flour mixture and mix about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Stop and scrape bowl as necessary. (Note that I just stirred this with a spoon, which might be my problem. I usually knead dough with my hands)

3. Continuing on same speed, add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at the time and mix until dough clings to hook (it will be very sticky and thick). Knead dough on speed 2 until sides of the bowl are clean.

4. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a dish towel (note, use a damp towel or plastic wrap). Let rise in a warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

5. Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf* and place into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.

6. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350F and bake 30 minutes longer. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. (Note: I think this might be a problem, next time I'm going to try baking it on 350 for the full 45 minutes)

*To shape dough into a loaf, roll into a large rectangle, about 9×14 inches. Starting at the short end, roll dough tightly and pinch to seal the seam. Pinch ends down and turn them under, placing the dough seam side down in a loaf pan.

I finally learned what this meant, thanks to this video on youtube. I should really start watching food network more...

Friday, February 20, 2009

My cheapest healthy dinner

Okay, so the spices aren't always extremely cheap, but once you have them, they last a while. Also, I have a farmer's market at which I can buy spices for about $2-3 a pound, so several ounces costs about 50 cents. But this is actually a delicious recipe. I'm not a fan of split peas, so I was a little concerned the first time I made it, but I love it. It's extremely filling an has a great flavor. Plus it is basically split peas, which are great for you!

Split Pea Dahl

1 cup dried split peas
2 tablespoon oil (not olive!)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper

Boil split peas in a quart of water until they are tender (about 45 minutes). Then fry the spices in oil until they are fragrant. Add a half cup of the split pea juice to the spices, simmer for a few minutes, then add the mixture to the split peas. Simmer the peas and spices for a few more minutes, then serve with brown rice or eat like soup.

Edit 2/20/10: I computed the cost of this meal for the food stamp challenge.  At the prices I paid for spices (an average of about 60 cents for 2/3 of a cup), this meal cost me 54 cents.  For 3-4 servings!  That's ridiculous!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bread Number 3

I made this week's recipe because I bought powdered milk and wanted to get use out of it. That was a poor choice. The bread may be the tastiest that I've made, but the texture is weird, kind of chewy, and it was very complicated: lots of shaping and changing bowls and weird things like spraying with water. But the recipe is here. I didn't do most of the shaping, mostly because I couldn't understand what it was telling me to do. I'm a math grad student, I don't understand funny wording and there were no pictures. I also didn't have a baking stone, and I figured once I put it in the oven, I couldn't screw it up too badly, so I just put it in and baked it like any other loaf, without all the pans at the bottom of the oven. This turned out fine, but I only baked it for a half hour at 400 and it got a little darker than I like it. This might be why the texture is bad, I'm not sure.

Final opinion: it's pretty good bread, but not worth the hassle.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Dinner for Three

So I actually kind of like Valentine's Day (one of the best excuses to eat chocolate), so I decided to celebrate myself and make a nice steak dinner. But one of my friends didn't have plans, so I ended up inviting a couple single friends over and expanding my steak dinner for them. I do not make steak dinners all the time (in fact, this was my first time), but I am of the belief that if you do something, you need to do it right. So I bought three very nice, thick filets (they were great cuts of meat), a few potatoes, and a couple heads of broccoli. I bought the steak fresh, but too late in the day to marinade for a long time, so it only marinaded for an hour, but the flavor was very good. My marinade was red wine with 3 large cloves of garlic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a few grinds of sea salt and cracked pepper. Unfortunately, an hour after I had this going, the kitchen in my apartment was crowded (I live with three other people and two were in the kitchen at the time) so I claimed my stove space when I could. I seared my steak and then broiled it Unfortunately, I wasn't patient enough with the meat thermometer and therefore ended up overcooking my steak. I like steak at a nice medium well, and this was definitely well done. It was also slightly dry, probably due to overcooking it. However, it was such a great cut of meat, extremely tender due to the cut and the marinade, and was therefore delicious. I mashed the potates with a clove of garlic and a few spoonfuls of light sour cream and they were fantastic. I don't usually like garlic mashed potatoes (I tend to be a food purist, I don't like my food to be particularly complicated and I tend to like to things separate, at least when they are supposed to be), but these were awesome.

And then I served my brownies with the weird cherry ice cream. My friends though the dessert was fantastic. Most people who have tried the brownies do like them, especially if they like dark chocolate, since they are a little more bitter than regular brownies. They are certainly worth trying again with oil rather than butter to hopefully make the consistency a little less dense and a little more... brownielike.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Experimental Brownies

When I first heard of diabetes when I was younger, I had the brilliant idea to make cookies and brownies sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar. I am very anti-artificial sweetener, so that is not an option (if you give me anything that has artificial sweetener, I can taste it, and it ruins the food for me). I completely forgot about this until about a week ago, when I was bemoaning the fact that I bought a half gallon of cherry juice for smoothies but it was too strong and so it was really just sitting around. Then I had a great idea: try to make brownies with juice, rather than sugar. The result was, well, interesting. The drawbacks might be a result of the recipe that I based it off of (and the additional modifications I made like switching from oil to butter). They had an odd texture, kind of what baked pudding might be like, rather than the fudgy, chewy, somewhat absorbant texture of brownies. They are slightly less sweet than most brownies, though I think they are sufficiently sweet, but their flavor was not as rich as most brownies. However, they did smell wonderful when baking. All in all, they are brownies, which means I eat them and like it, but they just don't have that fudgy wonderfulness that I love. However, I recently bought this cherry ice cream that is too sweet, but eating it with these brownies makes the ice cream actually taste okay.

Well, here's what I did:
Cherry Brownies:

1 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 cups cherry juice
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
Dash of salt
1/2 chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup dried cherries (more or less)

Boil 2 cups cherry juice down to 1/2 cup. Stir cocoa and baking soda in bowl. Blend in 1/4 cup butter. Add boiling cherry juice and stir until mixture thickens. Stir in eggs and remaining butter. Stir until smooth. Add flour, vanilla and salt. At this point I added the remaining cup of cherry juice (I boiled it down slightly, mostly to help the butter melt). Blend completely. Add chocolate chips and dried cherries. Pour into lightly oiled 13x9 or 2-8" square pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

So after the previous bread which was too sweet, I tried to find a whole wheat bread with less sugar and honey, and this Peter Reinhart bread was recommended by multiple sites online. This is how mine turned out:

I kind of liked the flexibility of making everything ahead of time, but I still had to knead it and wait, put it in a pan, and wait, which meant it took even more time than making everything at once. Also worth noting, I didn't have whole milk, so I used skim (which is probably horrible to people know how to bake bread, but this is one of the challenges of being a grad student: there is not room in my fridge for both whole milk and skim milk).
It tastes pretty good, definitely like whole wheat bread, and it is great with jam. I'm sure it will make great sandwiches, plus it is whole wheat, so it has the added plus of being hearty.

I'm still new to using yeast, so I'm not very good at it yet. I don't think either loaf I've made so far has risen as much as it ideally should, to the size of a normal slice of bread used in a sandwich, but this one was closer.

The Quest for Perfect Bread

So I've recently realized that store bought bread bothers my stomach. Simple solution: make my own. However, as a graduate student, I have limited space and money, which means I do not have and cannot obtain a bread maker (or a stand mixer for that matter). So I've searched recipes online and I'm going to try one each week until I find the perfect wheat bread for sandwiches. Last week I tried this:

1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (see additional notes for a 100% whole wheat version)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant active dry yeast

1. *Combine first 6 ingredients in a large mixing bowl; stir.

2. Add flours and yeast, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

3. Punch dough down; knead for a few minutes until smooth and then form into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pan and cover. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. If loaf starts browning too soon, lightly lay a piece of foil on top of the loaf to prevent too much darkening.

5. Remove bread from oven and allow to rest in pan for a few minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cover with a cloth. Slice and enjoy while still warm! Leftover bread can be stored in an airtight bag or frozen until needed.


I'm sorry for not taking a picture, I wasn't planning on do this until I searched for a good student food blog and couldn't find one. But the summary of the bread: it was delicous, but very sweet. It would be fine for a peanut butter sandwich, but I bought turkey this week and it didn't work very well because of the sweetness. So it is not the best sandwich bread out there, but it is great to just snack on (I love anything sweet). So I'm going to try another bread, a Peter Reinhardt bread I found, it's a little more complicated, but you make a starter and soaker a day ahead of time, which is more convienient with my unpredictable schedule. I'll probably post later today, actually.