Friday, March 30, 2012

Tomato & Cucumber Salad

If you know me a bit, you probably know I'm a non-tomato lover.

Okay, I like tomatoes, but my tastebuds can't muster the bitterness of a raw tomato. If it's marinated, stewed, boiled, baked, or sauced, I'm good. And I love tomato sauces. But not raw, no way.

However, I'm 28 now. For goodness sake, I need to be able to eat a tomato without making a sour face. So, for the past six months, I have tried eating tomatoes here and there in salads and dishes so that I'm getting used to them. Let's continue this in a simple, crunchy tomato & cucumber salad. This salad took 4 minutes to prepare, less time than heating up a bag of frozen broccoli. And much tastier.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad
Servings: 6    Prep time: 4 minutes flat
2 cucumbers
2 roma tomatoes
2 TB balsamic vinegar
1 TB apple cider vinegar (optional, sweet kick)
1 TB olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed black pepper

step one: Slice cucumbers lengthwise in half, and then slice into thin "moon" shapes.
step two: After removing the seeds, slice the tomatoes into small bites (not chopped).
step three: Add remaining ingredients and toss until cucumbers and tomatoes are coated.
Serve cold as a side dish.  

Happy wonderful weekend, dears, and be sure to check back for some more food fun!

Happy eating! Laurel

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lemon Cornmeal Breakfast Cake

This is a beautifully simple, delicious breakfast cake. Cake for breakfast??? Oh, yes, oh, yes.

Easter is in exactly one week + 3 days...can you believe it? Time is flying, Lent is flying and my internship is in its final three weeks.

Since Spring has officially sprung, it was time for a citrusy happy breakfast treat. Something easy, no-fuss and semi-healthy. Well, not necessarily healthy, but something not fried-and-artery-clogging.

Joy the Baker had this little breakfast cake. I have made some lemon cakes before, mostly with ganache, but nothing with cornmeal. And cornmeal is quickly becoming my new "flour of choice." I've altered her recipe to make it even more "healthy," as healthy as breakfast cake can be. You can bake it in your grandma's heavy cornbread skillet or a simple 9" round baking pan. My gma's is in storage, so a pan had to do.

Lemon Cornmeal Breakfast Cake
This lovely, easy cake is hearty and filling on grab-it-and-go mornings. It is not too sweet, a little tangy and very moist without falling apart in your hand. Yes, I eat cake with my hands when I'm running out the door. Please don't judge until you taste this cake!
makes one 9-inch cake
recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009 and Joy the Baker

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoons lemon zest
4 TB butter, melted until browned then cooled slightly

Lemon Glaze:
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
If using a cast iron skillet:  In a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat until browned and fragrant.  Use a potholder to grab onto the cast iron and carefully tilt back and forth so the melted butter greases the sides of the pan.  Remove browned butter from the cast iron to cool, and set the buttery cast iron aside.
If using a 9-inch round cake pan: Melt butter and spoon 1 TB of the butter into the baking pan. Swirl around so it coats the bottom and sides of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a small bowl, carefully whisk together eggs, buttermilk/milk, lemon zest and remaining 3 TB of butter.  Add the wet ingredients, all at once, to the dry ingredients and fold together with a spatula.  Fold until very few lumps remain.  Pour batter into the prepared buttered pan and place in the oven.

While the cake bakes, whisk together powdered sugar and lemon juice for the glaze. (I use a little sauce whisk that is mini and fabulous.)  Set aside.

Bake cake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Use a skewer or a fork to poke holes in the cake. (This is fun.) Pour over the glaze, spread evenly and let rest for about 30 minutes before serving.  This cake will last for up to 7 days, covered in the fridge.

Dare you to abstain from tasting before breakfast tomorrow morning...dare ya!

Happy eating and happier spring!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Cool Saturday

Happy Saturday, friends!

It is amazing how a stressful day can become so much less stressful when...

1) you can work in your pajamas
2) you can eat pancakes
3) you can take a break by walking your dog around a sunny park.

It's all about those little, wonderful things that add up to be really big, wonderful things in life.

Ever since Matt's brother and family visited, I have taken advantage of the park across our street. I didn't know how great it was! There is a large pond (lake?) with at least 100 koi and 30 ducks (of different varieties). Squirrels are brave, and all of those animals are very well fed by us neighbors who bring them carbs and produce whenever we visit. It's really fun to live in an environment where so many people are running/walking/biking/golfing/baseballing/working out all in the same area. I'm so glad we live in this area.

I hope you are able to get out and enjoy the weather, even if it isn't the most beautiful. Fresh air is always good...just don't get raindrops up your nose. That hurts.

Happy eating!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sesame-crusted Stirfry

What a great long weekend we had with Matt's brother, his wife and our awesome 5 year old nephew!
Along with Matt's Dallas aunt, she hosted a day of fun at the Dallas World Aquarium. She hired a driver to take us in style and, after seeing the crazy St Patty's Day traffic in our neighborhood, I am so glad I didn't have to drive in that! Many thanks to her.
We spent a ton of time together, and we are so glad they came to Texas for a few days.
Here is a quick meal that was too easy and too tasty not to share with you:

Sesame-crusted Tofu Stirfry
(30 min cooking and prep time!)

12 oz package of tofu, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cucumber, sliced into small bites
16 oz package of frozen stirfry veggie mix
1 TB sesame oil
2 TB olive oil
3 TB sesame seeds
Dash each of: salt, ginger, red pepper flakes
1/4 soy sauce
1/4 cup cornmeal or breadcrumbs

1: cut tofu into 12 small triangles. In a nonstick skillet/wok on med-high, drizzle in the 2 oils and 1 TB soy sauce. Place the tofu in the pan as one layer. Sprinkle 1/2 of the sesame seeds in and 2 TB of cornmeal and let cook for 4 min.

2: in a pot, add 1/4 cup of water and the cucumber pieces. Let cook for a few minutes, then add the frozen stirfry mix. Add a dash of salt, ginger, and red pepper flakes (optional). Cover and let cook on med high for 5-7 minutes or until fully heated and bright in color.

3: in the meantime, flip the tofu triangles and add the remaining sesame seeds and cornmeal. Let cook for 4 more minutes or until crust forms around the edges.

4: stir the soy sauce into the veggies and serve over rice (optional). Add a dash of dried fennel for a tasty twist to the veggies.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Parents Are Cooler Than Me

I think my parents are cooler than me...

They're jet-setting first class to Philly
Meeting up with our peeps for beautiful melty New York pie

They were on Letterman with Michelle Obama
And they got to see Anderson Cooper, too

Dad's been a photo-taking machine at the 9/11 memorial, checking on the status of the tallest building
And mom has the up and up of the newest fabrics at Mood

They're hitting up Broadway tonight and tomorrow
After brunch and pastries at Cafe Lalo with Tom & Meg

Wining and dining
Shopping and dropping
Sleeping in and fancy free
Oh yes, it must be

My parents are way so much cooler than me.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sam's Birthday Treats

Sam, our dog, is pretty awesome.
I know, you might have a dog or cat or mouse whom you think is the most awesome, and that's all well and fine. I'm certainly not PETA pet owner of the year, but I love our little spotted dog. He is half playful and half snoring lap dog. Sam is a bundle of fun that loves his treats, too. OF COURSE, don't we all love treats?

For Sam's 5th bday this year, I thought it would be fun to make him some little natural treats. Turns out, I had all of the ingredients at home to make peanut butter banana swirl treats. Actually, the recipe is similar to a banana bread recipe that I like to make. Sorry, I digress. I found a site that had quite a few dog food recipes, and this one looked like fun. It took a little time, but it was fun to roll these little jewels for Sam. And, since our dog is small (16 pounds), I STILL have treats for him, a month later. When I rolled the swirls together, I made 4 sections and froze three of them. When he's running low on treats, I just take out a roll, let it thaw a bit, slice it up and bake it. Really easy. I sliced these treats pretty thin, so there was actually enough dough to make about 80 treats for little Sam. WAY cheaper than treats from the store--bonus!

Pooch Peanut Butter Swirls
Adapted from here

Dough #1: 2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 egg

Combine all #1 ingredients and mix thoroughly. Knead on a lightly floured surface. Set aside.
Dough #2:
 2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup mashed banana
1 egg white
2/3 cup water
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
 1 Tbsp. honey
 1 Tbsp. cinnamon

Combine all #2 ingredients and mix thoroughly. Knead on a lightly floured surface.

Roll each dough separately to a 1/8 inch thickness, into rectangles. Place the dark dough on top, then roll up like a jelly roll. Wrap the roll in plastic and chill in the freezer for one hour. (You can make 4 smaller rolls and freeze the other three for later.) Cut the roll into 1/4 inch slices. Place them on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Yield: 56 pieces 

Happy treating!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roasted Spaghetti Squash

I have wanted to make spaghetti squash for a long time, years even. The idea of a pasta substitute inside a gourd? Alright!

Since I had no idea what I was doing, I went to Martha for help. It's a good thing.

Out of the oven, turned over

After scraping it with a fork...turns to spaghetti...magic!

Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Barely adapted from Martha
4 servings

1 spaghetti squash (3 or so pounds), halved lengthwise, seeds removed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 1/2 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1 TB dried parsley
1 TB dried cilantro
1/4 cup toasted almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush cut sides of squash with oil, and sprinkle with sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Place squash, cut sides down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, 45-50 minutes. Let cool slightly on the sheet for 10 minutes.
  2. Scrape squash with a fork to remove flesh in long strands. (This is so fun!) Place in a large bowl. Add oil, Parmesan, parsley, cilantro, hazelnuts, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Toss, and serve immediately.
Notes: This is NOT filling on its own. It might work topped with marinara sauce, but some shrimp or chicken or something is def needed on the side! Just thought I should share. I made the mistake of taking a to-go bowl of the squash to work for lunch...and was hungry an hour later! Learn from my mistakes...and then smile because you are a little smarter. :)

Happy eating!

Cranberry Apple Israeli Couscous

Preparing grains with fruit speckled throughout is pretty new to me.

I love salads with strawberries or oranges tossed throughout, drizzled with a poppyseed dressing or raspberry vinaigrettee...heck, spinach with mandarin oranges and sliced almonds was our go-to standard salad growing up.

But grains, really? Can you have fruit for dinner?

Oh, yes you can! We made Israeli couscous for the first time last week. The Whole Foods container of the stuff has been sitting in our pantry for about a year, and it was time to try it. Delicious! I love the consistency of this tiny pearl-shaped grain. Regular whole wheat couscous is our standard, but this was fun to mix it up. And adding fruit brought the dish to another level.

Cranberry Apple Israeli Couscous
This grain dates back to the 12th century and even earlier. It cooks quickly, holds the flavors of the herbs you add, and is a delicious side dish. We served this alongside baked talapia and fresh steamed broccoli.
Simplified from Giada

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup of water
1 cup broth (I used veggie)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 tart apple, chopped into bits
Dash of dried rosemary (or 2 t. fresh chopped rosemary)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, pour in the olive oil. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly browned and aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated.  Stir in the  rosemary, salt, pepper, apple, and dried cranberries.
Oh, man, I am getting hungry. Happy evening, folks.

Happy eating!

Peanut Butter Banana Oats

Oats, glorious oats!

Just when I think I'm going to get tired of eating oatmeal every other day, another way of making it interesting comes around. Here's another:

Not much to look at, but pretty tasty, my friends.
Peanut Butter Banana Oats
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 banana, cut into bite-sized pieces
Dash of cinnamon
2 TB crunchy peanut butter (or any nut butter)

Toppings: flax seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, or more fruit (blueberries are tasty)

In a medium saucepan on medium high, combine the first three ingredients. Stir as oats bubble and cook, for 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat.

Add the banana, cinnamon and peanut butter. Top with anything else you like. Yum. Add bacon if you want it Elvis-style. I'm just sayin'. Stir until banana is melty and enjoy piping hot.

Happy eating!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake

It was one of those days yesterday.

I felt sick, icky, lethargic, and literally couldn't get out of bed until 1:30. The time change did not help. And this almost never happens.

By 5 or so, I finally felt a little better. By 7, I wanted to bake something comforting. But we were lacking, in no particular order:

The trifecta ingredients to make anything baked and comforting were missing from our fridge. No problem, let's go vegan! Joy the Baker's simple chocolate cake is wonderful, and I spiced it up just a little, for fun. I hope you devour this cake as we are currently doing. MMM.

Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake
Slightly adapted from Joy 

This cake is made for people who don't have the time or energy to run to the store for ingredients. It is simple, chocolaty and delicious...enough that my husband didn't even know it was vegan! And he didn't care because it is that good.

Makes 1 9-inch bundt cake or 18 cupcakes or 12 cupcakes + 1 mini cake (in a bread pan)-->I did this one
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash cinnamon
1 cup warm coffee
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (or add 1/4 cup add'l oil)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
small handful of chocolate chips (optional)

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9-inch bundt pan with vegetable shortening and dust with cocoa powder.  Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together coffee, oil, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients, all at once to the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and cocoa nibs, if using.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  The batter will be relatively thick.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (For cupcakes, bake 18 minutes)
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
Cake will last, well wrapped at room temperature, for up to 3 days. 
Vegan chocolate banana cakelet (shorter cake)

**If you're feeling crazy, like I was, chop up a banana and throw it into the batter. Maybe 2 bananas, I don't know.
Vegan chocolate cupcakes

Happy eating!

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Birthday to Remember

My birthday was February 24th. It is now almost mid-March. I'm well aware.

You see, friends, it's been a little busy. But don't worry, I've still been eating, learning about cooking, and cooking all of this time.  My last two birthdays were good--and Matt was so sweet in planning the days--but I still had to work and school and do all of that. Last year, I remember standing at work at 10:45pm just willing the clock to get to 11pm so I could go home and celebrate my birthday with my hubby. School and work for 15 hours straight all to come home tired and not in the most celebratory mood. Not this year.

Matt and I intentionally cleared our schedules and spent the day together. And it was on a Friday...bonus. There is so much to do here in Dallas, we had a hard time narrowing things down. But, true to Laurel form, the day involved a scattering of desserts. It was lovely.

Thursday night: Mini pastries from Whole Foods~lemon-filled and iced cakes, key lime cheesecake, and an eclair. So cute and tasty!

Friday morning: Silly Lorax bfast from IHOP (free for my bday). Green eggs (spinach-filled) and ham...I didn't partake of the ham, but it was really cute. IHOP is special on birthdays because my group of 4 church girlfriends growing up started a tradition. We used to "kidnap" the birthday girl from her house and take her to IHOP--messy hair, PJs and all. We started it in jr. high and continued it until we all started moving to different states. Maybe again sometime soon...

And a pancake in a cone, filled with blueberries...can you find even one negative with this? I think not.

Dinner at Fadi's: I loved this place growing up in Houston. However, I never tried the "Veggie Plate." Fadi's gives you a sampling of 14 (fourteen!) salads and sides for $11. Insanity! The plate looks messy and colorful, but it was truly delish. And, of course, I had to have some pistachio baklava for fun.

Not pictured: Paciugo Gelato
Paciugo was started by Ugo Ginatta, his wife Cristiana, and his son, Vincenzo. After moving from Torino, Italy to Dallas, Texas the Ginatta family opened the first Paciugo gelateria on West Lovers Lane in Dallas, Texas on September 9, 2000. It was an instant hit within the community and by the end of 2001 the Ginatta family had opened two more Paciugo stores in Dallas.
So, apparently, Matt & I visited the original Paciugo without realizing it. It was delicious! Def a place we'll go again...and take friends and family to. For this day, we tried...

Chocolate Orange Saffron
Rich chocolate gelato with candied orange zests and Italian saffron, eggs, milk and sugar. Saffron is a very fine, dark red aromatic from flower stigmas. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.


Pistachio Almond
A combination of pistachio and almond, this pairing results in a slightly sweeter tasting pistachio gelato.

It was funny because we went by Paciugo after a bit at an Irish Pub (I had the Priest's Collar...mostly cider with a 1-inch ring of Guinness at the top. Loved it!). Matt vehemently said he did not feel like another sweet. Once I ordered, his tastebuds changed their mind, and we shared a small gelato with smiles and wide eyes. It was so delicious and much lower fat/calories than its American ice cream counterpart. If you aren't familiar with gelato or haven't had it in a while, grab some fresh at your nearest shop. Mmm, mmm. I know fro yo is the latest trend in suburbs across the nation, but there's just something so lovely about gelato. It's tradition, Italian, and made with a lot of pride. You really can't go wrong, you just cannot.
Thanks to Matt for the loveliest of days!
Thanks to mom and dad for sending goodies (including $$ for my caps and gowns for graduation, woo hoo), Pat (best MIL ever), Meliss (who called a few days before my bday to let me know she was "really glad I was born."), and to others who made this day and every day so special. If you think it's strange or selfish to celebrate your own birthday, get over it. :) This is a time for people to show you that they care about you, and it is your duty to do the same for them when their birthdays roll around. And, really, aren't you glad you were born? I am.

Happy weekend and most happy eating, friends. Do watch for a brunch special coming soon.