Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Banana Crunch Muffins

This was my first time making this recipe for banana muffins & judging by the way they were received, it is the only recipe I'll ever need. My neighbor almost ate her husband's muffin and would've told him that I only sent over 3 instead of 4. My girlfriend Jessica's family nearly devoured them all without letting her have one. If it weren't for all their "oohs & aahs" coming from the kitchen, she might've never gotten to taste one. The recipe was created by one of my all time favorite chefs: Ina Garten a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. Even her story is inspirational. You can visit her here. I have several of her cookbooks, including the one with the recipe featured here, the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Banana Crunch Muffins

3 c. flour
2 c. sugar

2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 pound (2 sticks) bu
tter, melted and cooled
2 eggs

3/4 c. whole milk
2 t. vanilla extract

1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 2)

1 c. medium-diced bananas (1 banana)

1 c. small-diced walnuts
1 c. granola

1 c. sweetend shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 18 large muffin cups with paper liners. Si
ft the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and blend. Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and mashed bananas, and add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Scrape the bowl and blend well. Don't overmix. Fold the diced bananas, walnuts, granola, and coconut into the batter. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top. Top each muffin with dried banana chips, granola, or coconut, if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 mintues, or until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, remove from the pan, and serve.

I used 1/2 white sugar and 1/2 brown sugar to give them a hint of caramel-y flavor. I used pecans instead of walnuts since that's what I'm partial to. Use what ever rocks your boat. For the granola, I used a cheap generic brand of granola cereal and picked out the raisins. I used a muffin scoop for easy portioning and made them in two batches since I only have one pan.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Madison in Review

The Rios Family had a wonderful weekend! Sienna went for a sleepover to Babcia's house, while Rick, Tatiana & I headed up to Madison, WI. It was gorgeous. I said, "let's move here". No wonder it's ranked one of the best places to live {and cycle~#1 by Bicycling magazine in March 2006}. The architecture was amazing. The city was so clean and lively, with a variety of shopping, restaurants, and activities to choose from. The weather was absolutely perfect. PERFECT. We checked in at our hotel at about 3:30 pm, then went downtown for some shopping. It was so neat to be driving towards the city, then have the Capitol building come into view. So COOL. I stopped in to a couple of neat shops and admired all the different buildings we passed. There were so many cute coffee shops, I wished I could've gone into them all! We ended at the Capitol building, where people were talking, relaxing, playing frisbee on the Capitol lawn. The three of us took some photos on the Capitol steps next to a bronze statue. Tatiana even managed to catch a great one of Rick & I being silly together. It was approaching dinnertime so we passed by a few restaurants before I settled on The Old-Fashioned. I knew I was in the right place when I saw that they were a member of the Slow Food movement. The menu was incredible, with so many local ingredients! They had several cheese platters to choose from so Rick & I indulged in one together. Rick ended up ordering a turkey sandwich and I got a burger. Awesome burger too, with melted cheddar, a handmade garlic spread, and hickory smoked bacon. This bacon was REAL meat. It was like 1/4" thick. SWEET! We both got side salads served with house brandy vinaigrette. Tatiana got macaroni and cheese~this was the real deal though with aged Wisconsin cheddar. YUM! Then we went back to the hotel for the long-awaited {at least by Tatiana} swim session. She couldn't wait! What a fish. After our swimming & hot-tubbing, we went back to our room and ordered Cheaper by the Dozen 2. It was such a cute movie. Tatiana enjoyed it so much & I even teared up at the ending. The next morning was the start of Rick's big day. The long awaited bicycle races. Tatiana and I went for breakfast at Panera Bread Co. and then met dad to watch his second 40 minute race. He ended up dropping out of his 9 am race 15 minutes in, but thanks to our cheering, managed to finished the entire second race. He finished towards the back, but definitely not dead last. It was so much fun to watch. Slight breeze. Lots of sunshine. It was such a great weekend. So nice to spend some special Tati-time, doing the things she likes to do & not having to cook or clean. I can't wait to do it again....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cajun Seafood Pasta

I've had such a craving for seafood lately! I wish I lived on the East Coast so I could have fresh seafood whenever the mood struck. I've often thought of how the Midwest doesn't really have any great culinary traits like the other areas of the country. The coasts have seafood and the southwest has Tex-mex. Don't even get me started on the South. Those Southerners have cajun, creole, and an entire battery of culinary eccentricities to call their own. They are known for using local produce: think black-eyed peas, okra, collard greens and the like. I mean, even their Iced Tea is different. I'm so jealous. What does the Midwest have to be envious of? Beef? Corn? Wisconsin cheese? I guess we have to start somewhere. Anyway, here's a little ode to the South in the form of a Cajun Seafood recipe. Enjoy!

Cajun Seafood Pasta
1 c. heavy cream

1/2 T. fresh basil, chopped

1/2 T. fresh thyme

1 t. salt

1 t. ground black pepper

1 t. crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 c. chopped green onions

1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley

1/4 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 pound raw scallops

1/4 c. grated swiss cheese

1/4 c. grated parmesan

1/2 pound dry fettuccine pasta

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Meanwhile, pour cream into large skillet. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until just about boiling. Reduce heat and add herbs, salt, peppers, onion and parsley. Simmer 7 to 8 minutes until slightly thickened. Stir in seafood, cooking until shrimp is no longer transparent. Stir in cheeses, blending well. Serve over pasta. Makes three filling servings.

This recipe was adapted from one over at Allrecipes. The sauce will thicken significantly upon adding the cheeses. This is so yummy; creamy with a little bite!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Homemade Mustard

Yep. I'm a freak. A food freak. In most people minds, I'm sure making my own mustard propels me from average-home-cook status to chefly diva status. {At least I hope it does.} It's not even as if making mustard from scratch even requires ANY culinary skills. Just wait 48 hours then push a button?? Does that sound diva-worthy? But I'm betting that making mustard is just not something the average-home-cook would attempt. Probably just sounds intimidating, like boiling a live lobster or frenching a rack of lamb. Now that the veil has been lifted from mustard-making, maybe it is something you would attempt yourself. The simplicity (and cost vs. value) is astonishing.

1/2 c. yellow mustard seeds

3/4 c. malt vinegar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 t. salt

5 t. sugar plus additional to taste

Place mustard seeds and garlic in a non-reactive container with lid (like plastic or glass~I used gladware) and cover with malt vinegar. Let sit for 48 hours, adding more vinegar to barely cover the seeds, if needed. Scrape seed mixture into food processor. Add salt and sugar and process until it turns from liquid and seeds to a creamy mixture with seeds, about 3-4 minutes. Add additional vinegar as necessary to form a nice creamy mustard. It will thicken slightly upon standing and benefits from 2-3 weeks of aging.

Note: This recipe was adapted from the wonderful folks over at the That Home Site! Cooking forum. You might need to taste periodically while blending and add more sugar as needed. This is definitely a strong mustard taste and makes a lot!! You could substitute some brown mustard seeds for some of the yellow, but all my market carried was yellow. You could also use cider vinegar instead of malt vinegar, honey instead of sugar, a little added horseradish, and so on. Totally customizable!!

Monday, May 15, 2006

8 Things I Learned from Traffic School

Um, yep, that's right. I went to traffic school on Saturday. The worst part about getting my speeding ticket was the fact that I'm not perfect anymore. I know, it was hard for me to believe too. *Snicker, snicker* So, I figure I'll share some of my newfound knowledge with the masses.

1. Once you are going 50 mph, for every 10 mph of speed you add to that, you double your chances of being involved in a traffic related crash. 2. It is illegal for a driver under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving. 3. The most common causes of traffic crashes on I-90 are: following too closely, speeding, and improper lane usage. It is NOT: going the speed limit and getting run over or causing a crash as many of us would like to believe *wink, wink*
4. By the time you realize you are too tired to be driving, you've probably already fallen asleep 6-7 times. 5. Driving while using a cell phone is akin to drive while intoxicated, since you are not focused on the road. Your driving is actually impaired for up to 2 minutes AFTER you have ended your conversation. 6. You can receive a DUI even if your blood alcohol level is NOT above .o8. If you are pulled over due to suspected driving impairment, you can be charged with a DUI. Having a blood alcohol level above the limit of .08 is just one part of the charge. 7. According to this particular instructor, the most ridiculous law ever passed regarding driving is the "left-lane law". The law states that if you are driving the speed limit in the far left-lane and a car approaches you SPEEDING from behind, you are now breaking the law if you do not change lanes. Kinda crazy how a law-breaking driver can come up behind you, the safe driver, and now cause YOU to be breaking the law. CRAZY!! and number 8. I *love* being in school!!! Go ahead and laugh. Just being there reminded me how much I love being in class. Maybe I'll have to take one here soon......

And in case you were wondering, yes, I've been driving dear hubby nuts with all my latest info: "Pay attention to the road." "You're following too closely." "Careful!"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pesto & Chicken Pesto Sandwich


I just can't resist the pungent, fresh flavor of
basil. And now, I am totally turned on to pesto!
I grew several beautifully bountiful basil plants
(try saying that 3 times fast) about 2 summers
ago, but due to morning sickness, I was never
able to get around to making the pesto. I planted 2 basil bushes about two weeks ago, so
hopefully I will have better luck this time around.

2 c. basil
1/2 c. olive oil

2 T. pine nuts, toasted (or walnuts, if you prefer)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 t. salt

1/2 c. freshly finely grated Parmesan (NOT THE STUFF IN THE GREEN CAN)

Toast the pine nuts in a dry saute pan until lighlty brown. Let cool. Place basil leaves, nuts, garlic and salt in bowl of food processor. Blend until finely chopped. With motor running, slowly pour olive oil through feed tube. Remove basil mixture from food processor and stir in parmesan. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup. This will be enough to flavor about 1 pound of cooked pasta.

Possible uses: Toss with freshly boiled pasta, chopped tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and/or other vegetables of your choice for a yummy quick meal. Swirl in a tablespoon or two in tomato soup. Spread on chicken sandwiches (photo to follow). Add to mayonnaise for a flavorful sandwich spread.

To note: Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays and wrapped individually once frozen. You can then use it whenever you need it!

Chicken Pesto Sandwich

Slices of sourdough bread

Slices of fresh tomato

Grilled sliced chicken
Shredded italian cheese blend or mozzarella

I was planning on making these sandwiches pannini-style by lightly brushing olive oil on the slices of bread and toasting them on the grill. Of course, after planning this meal I remembered that the grill was out of gas. Lucky me! So I toasted the bread in the toaster, slathered on some pesto, then layered the other ingredients. I ended up with the cheese on top, then broiled them open-faced til the cheese was toasty. These were so yummy!! They were somewhat inspired by sandwiches Skyra & I shared once on a girls' day out. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tuesday To-do List

  1. Make mustard
  2. Make chai mix
  3. Put away Sienna’s laundry
  4. Go to Wal-Mart for diapers
  5. Make sourdough in bread machine
  6. Go to post office to mail package
  7. Pick-up house
  8. Plant Easter lily
  9. Frame mother’s day picture
  10. Finish Babcia’s album
  11. Finish Tatiana’s dress
Yep, I'm making homemade mustard. I've always wanted to try it & I recently came across a mustard making thread on one of my favorite websites. Seems easy enough. Plus, I *love* mustard. The mustard seeds have to soak for 48 hours, so all I've done so far is just get them soaking. I picked up yellow mustard seeds at Woodman's. If I like how it turns out, I'll search for the brown seeds to use in the next batch. I just *love* Woodman's. I can get a whole cartful of groceries for a hundred bucks. The selection is just amazing. They carry pretty much everything, so it's not a matter of if something is there, but where. The only thing I don't like is them bagging my stuff in paper, but I guess it makes up for not having to unload the cart onto a conveyor belt. {The ends of the carts flip down and the cashier just pulls the stuff out and scans it.} I also will be making my trusty chai-mix recipe, substituting splenda for the sugar so it can be a little healthier. Plus I can share with hubby, mom & and any other sugar-free radicals. I am so proud that I finished Tatiana's dress. I think it turned out so cute. I've already purchased more fabric to start on the next one. I think I'll be making size 4 this time though as I had to make too many alterations to this one to make it smaller. The girl is so stinkin' skinny!! I can't wait to post pictures of the mother's day album I am making for my grandma. It's about 80% done. I think it's so cute. Those are my Tuesday to-do's. Now you know what I'm up to.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Felicidades....a little late

Felicidades Cinco de Mayo! Did you know that Cinco de Mayo is not actually the celebration of Mexican Independence as many believe. It's actually to commemorate the victory of a small Mexican militia against French invaders in 1862 at the battle of Puebla, which lifted moral and inspired unity in the Mexican people. Now that you've had a brief history lesson, let's move on to dessert. In this case it's my version of a Mexican dessert: Tres Leches Cake. It's only about a bizillion calories, but who's counting?

Tres Leches Cake
6 eggs, separated

1 1/2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1/8 t. salt
2 t. baking powder

1/4 c. ice water
1 t. vanilla
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1 1/4 c. milk (whole or 2%)
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. rum, brandy, or frangelico (optional)

For the topping:
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. each vanilla & almond extracts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13" pan well with pam spray. In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the egg mixture. Mix in the ice water and vanilla. Pour batter into dish and bake for 25-30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool in dish on wire rack for 10 mintues. Meanwhile make the milk syrup: In large bowl mix together the sweetened condensed, evaporated, milk and heavy cream. Mix well. Stir in liquer if using. While cake is in baking dish, poke holes all over using toothpick or skewer and pour milk syrup over the top of the cake. Cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before frosting. For the whipped cream topping: chill your beaters and bowl in freezer for 10-15 minutes. Pour heavy cream into a large mixing bowl. Beat until soft peaks form; gradually add the sugar, then the vanilla and almond extracts. Beat until stiff peaks form, being careful not to overbeat. Spread whipped cream evenly over the cake.

This is super yummy. Definitely different from the some dry american cakes you'll get at some birthday parties. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Buttermilk Pancakes

I make this batch and freeze the leftovers for later (just let them completely cool first). The kids love 'em & there's no excuse not to have a hot breakfast any morning of the week. To reheat, I just pop one in the microwave for about 35 seconds. How easy is that?!

2 c. flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
2 T. sugar
2 large eggs
2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. vegetable oil

Combine first 5 ingredients; stir well. Combine eggs, buttermilk and oil in a bowl; add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

I think everyone knows how to make 'em from there. This make nice fluffy cakes.
from the Southern Living at Home Ultimate Cookbook

Monday, May 01, 2006

City Trappings

The city never seems to lose its lure. Maybe it's because I grew up as a suburban girl. I took the train on Saturday to help Ania with a big office project. The weather was perfect for spending the weekend indoors. Rainy and dreary. I stopped at the Red Hen before going to the office for my pre-work lunch. You know you're in the city when a sandwich costs $8. No value meal here folks! Didn't even get chips or a drink with that! Granted it was a tasty sandwich & I can't neglect the fact that it came with 1/4 of a dill pickle, but still. It was chicken with pesto, red onions, lettuce, tomato and provolone on country italian bread. Good, but not $8 good. We worked until about 7 pm, but not before the good Doc brought me a Venti Chai Frappuccino. I *heart* my Starbucks. We went home to dad's and he had fixed some Chicken Caccitore served over pasta with garlic bread and a fresh italian salad. He is such a great cook. I changed into the pajama pants I brought and what would be the odds that they were plaid, just like dad's. And we both had on green shirts to boot. How's that for the apple not falling far. It was actually kinda spooky. After a decent night's sleep, it was back to the office for more work. Piles of paperwork. I had some chinese for lunch that was awesome. The vegetable fried rice had HUGE chunks of fresh veggies: mushrooms, peppers, onions. And the sesame chicken was super. Lightly breaded and fried chunks of white meat chicken served in a sweet and slightly spicy red sauce. YUM! We also had some of Chicago's best buffalo wings from Yakzies just a couple of doors down. I caught the 4:30 pm train back home and got home with still a few hours left of kid time. The daughters were so happy to have mom back and so was the husband. The first words out of his mouth were, "Now I know why you're so happy to see me at the end of the day." He had a good taste of what my days are like, well, without the cooking and cleaning though. He now knows I'm not exaggerating when I tell him how many messes Sienna makes or how much she fusses. It was a good experience for both of us. Glad to be back home though. Home sweet home.