Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One of the Best Oatmeal Cookies Ever!

I mentioned cake recipes being posted this week, and there is still a couple more to come. But first I had to come here and post about these cookies I tried today. They were the absolutely BEST!
So, before I keep going I need to thank my friend Valentina, because this recipe was an adaptation of a recipe she posted on her blog, Trem Bom. Thanks Valentina!!
The recipe is for Oatmeal Cookies with Almonds and Apricots, and really, these were one of the best cookies I tried lately; they hit the spot for a nice afternoon treat and at the same time are filled with healthy and wholesome ingredients.
Oatmeal and whole-wheat flour are paired with some butter and brown sugar; deliciously chewy chopped apricots and slivered almonds are added to the batter finishing up the goodness with the yummiest combination of all! I guess other dried fruits and nuts could be used in many different combinations here, but these were ingredients I had on hand and to be true, it was so good that I am not even thinking about modifying this recipe any longer.
The base of the cookie was just perfect, simple but yet flavorful, and held it together nicely without being dry. The cookies came out nicely browned and crispy on the outside, with a consistent inside, making, in my opinion, for the perfect healthy cookie!
And if you have kids around you too might be wondering if this would work with chocolate chips inside… well, being the chocoholic I am this is definitely what I am going to try next, and I bet they are going to be great!
I loved the texture, the crisp and crunchy outside, and was really surprised with how nice and soft the apricots got during baking; it was truly delicious. I used sliced almonds and really liked that they became crispy and toasty in the oven, giving the cookies a slight crunch without interfering with the cookie as whole, as some big chunks of almonds sometimes do.
These cookies were not only delicious but also super easy to make; a great recipe that will certainly be repeated here many and many times to come!
By the way, Valentina’s original recipe is posted in Portuguese at her blog. I made a few adaptations myself, and that is what I am translating and posting in my kitchen space, but you can certainly take a peek at the original recipe here. And even if you don’t understand the language, it is still worth to take a look over the great collection of recipes and pictures that she has posted there!

Oatmeal Cookies with Almonds and Apricots

1 ¼ cups oatmeal
1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
1 stick of butter (113 grams / 8 tablespoons), melted
1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325F.
Add dry ingredients in a bowl, including almonds and apricots. Add melted butter and egg and mix well until everything is well incorporated.
Shape dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 18 minutes or until golden and delicious!

Even Matheus' army guys agreed that these cookies were worth fighting for!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Banana Cake

It seems every time I want to make some healthy cake for breakfast we all agree to make it a banana cake! If it is not cake, then it is muffin, and which one is the favorite around here? Oh yes, banana muffins!!
I had three very ripe bananas sitting on the counter last week and decided to make a cake on an afternoon. What a great idea it was. We had cake for snack and on the next couple days for breakfast, and the cake was not just very moist but deliciously tasty too!
I sort of created the recipe based on what I had on hand and on previous cake recipes I made. And since it came out so good I wrote down the recipe later on so that I could post it here and share with you all!
The picture is definitely not the prettiest one, but I have to say that the cake was one of the best I have made!
Simple, easy and so good! Perfect when you have excess of bananas, or just when that little cake craving hits on the afternoon but you just want some comforting flavors without ruining the healthy eating habits you are so hardly trying to conquer.
The boys here raved about this one, I hope you like it too! Oh, and I used raisins (per Matheus request), but chocolate chips would be just as good here!!

Simple Banana Cake

About ½ cup raisins soaked in some warm water or apple juice (just to make them plump!)
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter (1/4 cup), at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas
½ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven 350F.
With a mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add vanilla, eggs, bananas, and buttermilk and beat until well mixed. Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Mix until everything is incorporated. Add raisins and mix with a wooden spoon.
Pour batter into a greased bundt pan and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cake recipes to come…

First of all, a little late Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! And Thanks for those who stopped by to wish us a happy holyday as well, you all are the reason I love this blogsphere!
It’s been a while since my last post, however I haven’t abandoned the kitchen, especially with the Thanksgiving and all the cooking and yummy food it involves.
This year we went to one of our best friends house, and we did have a great time there! I wish I had taken pictures of everybody and the delicious feast we had, but surely enough I did the favor of forgetting my camera… oh well, it happens to all of us!
We contributed with three dishes, a simple mixed leaf salad topped with apple slices and dried cranberries, cranberry compote, and a sweet potato casserole! All were very good and got me many compliments. The one my friend likes the most is the cranberry compote, and although I cannot show you pictures, I can certainly share the recipe here, just let me know!
Well, enough of that Thanksgiving talk, as I believe most people here in the US had its share of it, right?!
So, moving forward to the nice cake picture above. Well, I think it looks nice, but I have to tell you that it tasted even better than it looked!
Really, it was a very nice cake. Extremely moist and not as dense as I was expecting it to be, especially with the “pound cake” presented in the recipe title.
As I said, the cake part was delicious, full of yummy fall flavors and as moist as it could be, good, really good! And lets not forget the glaze, which as a great exception, I loved too!
I am not a fan of glazes, frostings, powdered sugar stuff on top of my cake, and you know, this cake might not even need a glaze at all, but this one was so good that I was glad I included it too, plus it did made the cake look prettier!
The glaze was simply made with buttermilk, sugar, cornstarch, and a tad of butter, which definitely made it taste smooth. It was sweet for my taste, but that is how glazes are supposed to be, right?
I really liked the tang provided by the buttermilk and it complemented the cake flavors really well, even more so because the cake was not overly sweet, so it was a very happy combination in between the two. And as a fellow baker who tried this recipe mentioned in the CLBB, this glaze was almost drinkable by itself! Yes, I found it to be that good, and will certainly use it in other recipes as well!
All in all, we had a nice week and a happy Thanksgiving!
And for the title of the post, it is just as it says; be prepared to see a few more cake recipes posted around here in the days to come. Our microwave broke and while we don’t replace it the husband doesn’t have a quick way to reheat his beloved muffins, so I have been baking muffins and cakes almost daily for breakfast, and we are eating it as snack too. They are healthy cakes, of course, and I have a couple recipes and pictures that accumulated to share here with you!
So, please come back, and in the meantime try this pumpkin cake, it was a delicious surprise to all of us, and to some friends that I took the cake to share with on a breakfast gathering. Everyone really enjoyed this one!

Pumpkin Pound Cake with Buttermilk Glaze (Adapted from Cooking Light, Dec. 2006)
15 ounces pureed pumpkin
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour (13 ½ ounces)
1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I used 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon cloves)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk

1/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
While you get your ingredients ready, put pumpkin puree in a fine sieve and lay it on top of a bowl to drain excess liquid.
With a mixer cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended. Add the drained pumpkin and vanilla and mix well. Add baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices, incorporate those ingredients and then alternately add the flour and the buttermilk, mix well until well blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes, remove and let cool over a rack.
For the glaze, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook it over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and drizzle over cake.

Editing to add: for the pumpkin pie spice, according to foodsubs you can make your own by combining "4 parts cinnamon + 2 parts ginger + 1 part allspice + 1 part nutmeg, all ground OR equal parts cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, all ground."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Penne Al Forno

The recipe I am posting today is a very nice one, with restaurant flavors! Well, and it should be, because I got the recipe from our local newspaper, and it actually came from a local restaurant, which coming to think about it, it may even be a chain, it is called Biaggi’s.
We went to this restaurant twice already and, coincidentally, my husband had this very same dish. He liked it a lot and, fortunately enough, the recipe was featured in a section of the newspaper where people ask for recipe of dishes they have had at restaurant and eatery places around the town.
The husband was really happy to see the recipe; he even clipped it out and saved it for us to try on the weekend. So, under his commandment, I prepared it for our Sunday’s Pasta Lunch!
The original recipe actually called for ziti, but I used penne pasta, which was what I had on hand.
The dish is full of flavors, imparted mainly from the prosciutto that is initially sautéed and the white wine later added to the sauce. It is a rich and creamy, deliciously tasty sauce that I believe most people would enjoy!
I actually would have liked it more without the prosciutto in it, as it is not my favorite flavor, but the sauce would certainly suffer from the lack of it, as it does give some nice sort of “smoky” undertone to the whole dish.
I made half recipe and used half-half instead of the cream asked for in the recipe, just because that was what I had on hand. To be quite true, I don’t think the sauce was less good because of it… and it was probably a nice change for our hips!
The chicken and shrimp are very delicious together with the sauce. This is not your everyday pasta; it is more of a special dish, to be made on weekends and even when you might have company around, but certainly one that is worth trying at least once!
Hope you all enjoy too!

Note: I just want to say that I am sorry for the picture being presented inside the pan… I should actually have baked it in a casserole-type dish, but just for the sake of my “dishwasher husband”, I decided to bake it in the same pan I made it and save my loved one a few minutes in the sink.
And as it was done everyone was so eager to try the dish that I ended up not plating it nicely enough for a decent picture… Hope you still enjoy it as it was!

Penne Al Forno
(adapted from the News and Observer newspaper)

1 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup chopped onion
4 ounces diced prosciutto
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
8 ounces shrimp
½ cup white wine
3 cups heavy cream (I used half-half)
2 ounces (1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
6 tablespoons chopped scallions (green onions)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain and reserve.
In a pan melt butter, add onions and prosciutto and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and chicken, sauté for 3 minutes. Add shrimp and continue to cook for 3 minutes more.
Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half, 3 minutes. Add cream and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and scallions, season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cooked pasta and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour pasta into prepared dish, top with mozzarella and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. (I baked 10 minutes and them put it under the broiler for 2 more minutes to brown the top!)

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Grandma’s Banana Cake

Today’s recipe is one that a lot of Brazilians like; especially those grew up around my family and got to know my grandma’s yummy foods. This was one of her cakes that everyone loved, and after being together for a while, I learned that my husband liked this cake very much too!
So, when I have a few extra bananas hanging around, if I don’t make muffins, into Banana Torte they turn!

It is basically caramel and bananas layered in the bottom of the pan with a cake batter poured on top. When you cut the cake the bananas are deliciously cooked and ooey gooey due to the caramel, lending the yummiest and sweetest taste to the cake base, really, really good!

A super simple and easy recipes, that uses basic ingredients we all have at our homes, but that to me couldn’t exemplify better the flavors and aromas that I used to sense in my grandma’s house.

This cake does bring great memories to me, and a lot of smiles on the faces of my loved ones!

Oh, and the name of the recipe was my idea here… my grandmother used to call it simply Banana Torte (Torta de Bananas), but doesn’t the caramelized bananas look like jewels on top?!


Grandma’s Anna “Jeweled” Banana Torte

Bananas to cover the bottom of the pan
Sugar to caramelize the pan
3 egg whites
3 egg yolks
1 cup warm milk
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

Melt enough sugar to cover the bottom of a cake pan (rectangular or round). Slice bananas and put on top of caramel, covering the entire bottom of the pan.
Beat egg whites into stiff peaks and reserve. In a blender mix egg yolks, sugar, and milk. Pour batter on a bowl and with a wooden spoon mix in the flour and baking powder. Using a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes. We like it served warm!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chocolate Syrup

Kids must talk about a lot of stuff when they are at preschool. Even though Matheus only stays at school for 3 hours, he sometimes come home with the greatest ideas, and sometimes not all that good…
Lately he has been asking me to take him to a specific fast-food chain, just because a couple of his friends said it is their favorite place to eat. Oh my, and here I go, planning on a day to take my kid to have some greasy chicken nuggets… yuck! At least I hope that all my teaching about healthy foods will help him make good choices when eating out as he grows up.
Another of his requests lately was that he wanted to try chocolate milk make with chocolate syrup, instead of the chocolate powder we normally use. Well, this one was easy, as I had a recipe on my to try pile just waiting for an excuse to be tested.
Besides being super easy, it is a healthier choice for chocolate syrup, made with natural and simple ingredients, as opposed to the “corn syrup and artificial flavorings’ filled” commercial variety.
I made the syrup yesterday, and at night the three of us enjoyed yummy cups of chocolate milk! Fun, and delicious! It does taste really good, plus it is great to use in ice cream and all kinds of desserts, and to make your plates look pretty too!

Note: I made 1/3 of the recipe and it yielded me one squeeze bottle! Oh, and there was a couple tablespoons of corn syrup on the original recipe, which I omitted, as I don’t have that stuff in the house.

Cocoa Syrup
(Adapted from foodtv.com – Recipe from Alton Brown)

1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small pot, bring water and sugar to a boil and whisk in cocoa, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup. Whisk until all of the solids have dissolved. Reduce sauce until slightly thickened. Strain and cool to room temperature. Pour into squeeze bottles.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Apple-Date Bars

I made this recipe yesterday and it was so good that I had to come here and share with my blog friends! The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine, and it is another one that will certainly be repeated, as I already got requests to make it again.
These apple-date bars were a nice treat for a cold afternoon, something sweet and warm that will definitely make you feel good. What can be better than warm apples with the sweet taste of cinnamon to it? Add some nuts and a few flavorings more and what you get is a tasty and moist bar, with juicy and yummy apple pieces inside, divine! I love baked apples; apple cake and muffins are my favorite, so this was for sure one of the best treats for me.
And for those of you that like dates, then you will probably like it even more! The combination is good, however, I have tried and just can’t get myself to like dates. I have tried dates by itself, wrapped in proscciutto, in baked goods, and nope, they are definitely not for me. So many good reviews on this recipe made me want to try them again, but I assure you, this was it for me. I don’t know why, but their texture and taste are just difficult to swallow, plus I can barely eat ¼ of it, as I find them to be sickly sweet.
Yeah, I know, most people enjoy them, and so did my husband and my son (they really liked them in the cake!), unfortunately they are not for me; but I am proud that I gave them another try.
I halved the recipe when I made it yesterday, baking it on a square baking dish; but I have to say that I should have made the whole thing as the bars were literally devoured (mainly by me!) on the same day. Most reviewers of this recipe mentioned the bars being great on the next day, but I didn’t get a chance to try. There was indeed one piece left, and Matheus asked me to save it for him to have for breakfast today. I warmed it slightly for him today and he loved it even more! He was sad to eat the last piece, and already requested that I make it again soon, “This apple cake is very delicious Mommy”!
I have a ton of bananas ripening on the counter right now, and when I mentioned making something with bananas today he looked at me and said: “but that apple cake was so good, I wanted more apples, not bananas in my cake!” Cute, huh!?!!
Here is the original recipe from Cooking Light, but I made mine with half all-purpose and half whole-wheat flour, added a little more apples than asked for (my apples were big!), used walnuts instead of pecans (what I had on hand), and also reduced the sugar by half, and believe me, they were plenty sweet for us, even more with the super sweet date pieces around (which I will leave out next time…).
Hope you all like it too, they were very moist and delicious, we really enjoyed them here at home! And with less sugar and some whole-wheat flour, they sure are suitable for a yummy breakfast treat!

A picture of them right out of the oven!

Apple-Date Bars
(Adapted from Cooking Light, Oct. 2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
7 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1 large)
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled Red Delicious apple (about 1 large)
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup chopped pecans
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 325°.
Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Set aside.
Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at high speed for 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add egg and egg whites, beating well after each addition. Stir in applesauce and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture; stir just until combined to form a stiff batter. Toss dates with 1 teaspoon flour. Toss apples with juice. Add dates, apples, and nuts to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour batter into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tilapia Baked in Couscous

I have been posting so many sweets and baked goods that it doesn’t even look like I cook anymore. It is definitely not it, since I do cook our meals everyday, but I have mostly been making easy and simple things, and haven’t had many new recipes or pretty pictures to post here.
Last weekend though I tried a savory recipe that was worth mentioning here. I will begin saying that I really liked the method of preparation here, since it was easy, simple, and quite practical, as you basically have only one dish to clean. But I have to say that the flavors can definitely be improved.
We liked the combo of tilapia and couscous, plus the cooking method kept the fish really moist, which we all enjoyed a lot.
You basically lay the fish fillets on a baking dish and scatter the seasoned couscous on top of them, add a bit of water to the dish, cover up with foil, bake for 20 minutes, and voila! A nice and easy meal for those busy days that we all have, quite often I might say.
As I said, the fish was very moist, and the couscous perfectly cooked, nice and fluffy! However, the fish here absorbs some of the flavors that are sitting on top of it, so I think that the couscous could have been better seasoned. Cumin and lemon do go together well, as do fish and lemon too, but I still don’t think it was the best combination for my palate on that day. In a certain way it did complemented each other, and the dish was tasty too, but I guess I would like something different for the couscous. I was thinking about something like a “parmesan-type” flavoring, but am not sure it would go well with the fish.
Actually the flavors I have in mind seems to go better with chicken than with fish, so I am considering trying this method with chicken breasts… it might work, don’t you think?
Also, I think that the flavors would have benefited by the use of vegetable broth (or fish broth, it does exist, doesn’t it?) instead of water in the bottom of the dish. It would have added some seasoning to both the fish and the couscous.
See, I did like the method and the idea of this dish, and will certainly try it with the variations I have in mind. Meanwhile I will leave here the recipe for those who would like to try, as it was a very easy to make dish!
Oh, I just wanted to say that I found the quantity of the couscous to be a lot more than necessary for 4 people. I adapted the recipe for 3 fish fillets and used about 6 ounces of couscous, which did increased in volume quite a bit and basically took up a lot of space in the dish. You can barely see the fish in the picture, as it was literally covered up with the couscous. We had quite a bit of it leftover (and wasted, as it had the fish smell/taste to it, both which I don’t care much when reheated…) so you may feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your tastes and appetite!
Another thing is, I forgot to add the parsley to my finished dish, and only realized that after we were already eating the fish… so, my picture looks a lot paler than the one in the magazine, which was so bright and vibrant-looking. I was a little disappointed with that, but the dish tasted good, so I decided to let it go. But in case you want to see the major inspiration for me trying this dish, there is a nice picture here, and the original recipe, as I did change a few things on mine... mostly reducing the fat)
I served ours with stuffed squash and some baby roasted potatoes (the potatoes were not necessary here, but I had it in the pantry for a while and needed to use them up….), all of which I baked while preheating the oven/baking the fish, definitely a happy meal to us all!

Tilapia Baked in Couscous
(Adapted from Rachel Ray Magazine)

10 ounces couscous
½ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
½ tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 lemon thin sliced
4 (8oz) tilapia fillets
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the couscous, almonds, sun-dried tomatoes and cumin and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil and the lemon juice.
Arrange the tilapia fillets in a single layer in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, season with salt and pepper. Cover the fish with the couscous mixture and arrange the lemon slices on top. Pour 2 ½ cups water around the fish, cover with foil and bake until tender, about 25 minutes. Top with the parsley.