Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best Banana Cake with Caramel Frosting

If you're noticing an uptick in banana recipes lately, you're not alone. I have too. I like to buy lots of bananas. Always have. And now that I have two babies and babies love bananas, the problem is spiraling out of control. And when those bananas turn brown, my mind just goes into overdrive brainstorming what I can bake with them. 8 times out of 10, I go with my trusty banana bread with chocolate chips.  I looooove waking up to fresh baked banana bread on Saturday mornings. This past weekend though I decided to pave a new path and try banana cake with a caramel frosting. So good. So banana-y. So caramel-y. 

Cake Recipe
  • 2 eggs, at room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk 
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9x11 in baking dish.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl with a standing mixer; add the sugars, vanilla, and bananas. Add in the baking powder, soda, salt and flour, stirring until combined.  Mix in the buttermilk and vegetable oil.  Pour into baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the caramel frosting (PS - easiest caramel frosting in the world)

Frosting Recipe
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in the brown sugar, and cook on low for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk, bring to a low boil and then turn off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the powdered sugar (needs to be sifted if you don't want it lumpy!).  When cake comes out of the oven, immediately pour the frosting over the cake.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Corn with Basil & Feta

We're getting a babysitter in 2 hours and 56 minutes. 55 minutes. Not like I'm dying to leave our baby boys, but I kind of am. They are so fun and cute and busy but the day is just about 6.5 hours too long. And also, does anyone have any tips for re-implementing a 3rd nap into the day? Besides ambien?

Actually, I think I don't feel quite as trapped as a lot of new moms do. I have lots of places to walk to for lunch or other things, and I think my threshold for being home/not in a social setting is higher than most. That is probably the engineer in me coming out...someone that could sit in their cubicle and write code all day and be perfectly content. Or maybe that's why I chose engineering.  It actually makes me think about an interview I had when I was trying to get out of engineering and into sales..when they asked me why I wanted to leave Lockheed Martin I said that I needed much more social interaction. What? No I don't. I'm a terrible fit for sales.

All of that being said, I do in fact truly enjoy social events on a sporadic and reasonable basis, and tonight I am thrilled to be getting out. I also love to have people over for dinner, and that was the inspiration for this side dish. Picking the main part is easy...what to go with it is really the age old question.  This is perfect because it is fast, easy, and pretty. All the things you need when entertaining.

  • 4 ears corn
  • ~2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3-4 tablespoons crumbled Feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • S&P
Start by cutting the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife.  Heat the olive oil and butter in a saucepan, then add the corn.  Cook through, stirring frequently, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat, season with S&P, and throw in the feta and basil. That's it! 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Chicken & Veggies with Peanut Sauce

I can't tell you how many times I ordered #49 in college. I don't remember the name of the Thai restaurant, the name of the street it was on, or even the name of the dish I ordered every single time. I only remember that it was #49.  It was grilled chicken with steamed veggies topped with the most delicious tasting peanut sauce I have ever laid my tongue on. It was perfect to me because peanut sauce is pretty rich, so I liked the healthy balance of the grilled chicken/steamed veggies versus an oily stir fry. Looking back, the healthy balance went out the window when I asked for extra peanut sauce and crushed peanuts, and then doused everything in it including the fried rice. I tricked myself, similar to when I used to order the broccoli cheese soup in the bread bowl at Panera (back then I didn't realize that the 600 bread calories counted).

So I tried to recreate 49 here, and while the flavor is damn close, it was missing the cozy Thai restaurant and my dinner date, best buddy, and little sister Bente.  We shared so many fun nights there in Madison and both always ordered the same thing.  Maybe if I ...
Oh! There she is. #49 is complete.

Recipe (for 4)
  • 1.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cups large/rough chopped carrots (I used the pre-bagged carrot chips)
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons 'simply' or natural peanut butter (less sugar than regular ol' Jif)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Coconut milk (the Thai stuff in the can- make sure to stir first!)
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup - 2/3 cup hot water (depending on how thick you want it)
  • Rice or Zoodles
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts, for topping
The sauce is easy! Simply add the PB, coconut milk, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, sriracha,  curry powder, and ginger to a food processor and blend until smooth.  Slowly add the hot water, 1/3 cup for a thick sauce, up to 2/3 cup for a very thin sauce.  I used 1/3 cup in the photo above so it was pretty thick.  A couple notes about ingredients: try to use 'simply skippy' or 'simply Jif' or one of the natural peanut butters from whole foods. The regular ones will be a little too sweet. Also, make sure to use the Thai coconut milk in the Asian food aisle, not the coconut milk by the almond milk.  Stir it all together before you measure the 1/3 cup, as coconut milk separates in the can.  And finally, I think you could also make this with red curry paste instead of yellow curry powder. After you add the desired amount of hot water, set the sauce aside.  

The rest is easy. I grilled my chicken breasts in a grill pan; pounded them thin and then about 3-4 minutes per side. I steamed the broccoli, carrots and water chestnuts in a little water over the stove for about 10 minutes until tender but slightly crisp.  I served ours on Zoodles to be a little healthy, but rice is soooooo good with this peanut sauce. Drizzle the sauce on top along with some crushed peanuts and voila! #49.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easy Salmon Salad

I used to have 'fat pants' that I wore to work on Mondays. Literally every Monday, I wore my black Express wide leg trousers. I don't know if they were technically considered 'wide leg,' but I got them in a size larger than normal and there was something about their fit that left looooots of extra room for my weekend wine, ice cream, pizza, and cosmopolitans. FYI these pants are circa 2005, literally, so I don't know that you'll be able to find them now (in case you were looking).  I wore them just about every Monday until I was about 4 months pregnant with twins in 2016, when even my fat pants weren't forgiving enough. Yes, I wore the same pants on and off for over 10 years; the hem coming undone on the bottom was super sharp looking.

You see, when the weekend rolls around you guys, all bets are off. What bets am I talking about? I don't know.  But while I can eat and drink with discipline Monday through Thursday, I simply can't do it on the weekend. Nor do I want to. I loooove indulging. And I love food (duh). And I love wine. And I looooove salt. So when Monday rolls around, I simply don't fit into my normal pants. And then I spend the next couple of days cleaning up my mess. And THAT is what this post is about.  A nice healthy "clean" lunch/dinner/snack to get you back on track. 
PS. I use the word 'clean' lightly, as I'm fairly certain 'clean eating' doesn't include mayo. 

Recipe (for 2)
  • ~1.5 cups cooked salmon, chopped/shredded into large chunks (about 10-12 oz fillet)
  • Juice of 1 large lemon (about 2 tsp)
  • 3 teaspoons light mayo (or greek yogurt)
  • ~3 teaspoons fresh chopped dill
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pickle or celery
  • S&P to taste
Prepare the salmon as desired (gilled simply here without the sauce).  Chill. Chop/shred with a fork into large chunks. Mix in lemon juice, mayo, fresh dill, pickle and/or celery, and salt & pepper. I ate mine on some delicious seeded crackers, but on top of toast or just by itself would be great. Tastes so fresh and healthy! This is a perfect recipe when you have a little leftover salmon from a dinner out or if you chronically over cook for your family like I do.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chocolate Banana Bread

Nothing makes me think of home more than banana bread. Silly, I know, but it's my favorite comfort food and I spent most of my life thinking my mom invented it (that and graham crackers).  When I was little, my mom and I would play board games and on special days she would give me a piece of freshly baked banana bread. That feeling of comfort and excitement has stuck with me through the years and now that I am a mom, it makes me think of all the little things our moms have done throughout our lives that have had such a lasting impact on us. My mom did a million different things every day that turned 4 little babies into 4 strong, happy, confident women.  It's a feat that I don't take lightly now that the challenge is upon me, and I only hope that I can live up to the same accomplishment.

And with Mother's day approaching, it also made me reflect on her mother, my grandmother, who we lost this year at the grand old age of 97. She was a bright, fiery spirit that I admired my whole life. She was a strong, witty, outspoken and independent woman, who even in her final months very seriously claimed that 'God must have forgotten about her.' But nobody could have forgotten Georgia Carr; she was a woman who we all knew was special and we didn't need her passing to remind us.

The truth is I always wanted to be as extraordinary as my grandma, but it looks like I'm not going to be. I know this because by the time she was my age, she had literally been involved in the prisoner liberation in Dachau, Germany at the end of World War II, when the concentration camps and POWs were released into the streets.  I giggle even as I type that because it's so unbelievable - she was in her early 20s and accomplishing such big, worldly things.  She was a proud member of the Red Cross and served soldiers during WWII in Austria, Germany, and England. This was an extraordinary thing for a woman in that time, but she carried this passion and determination with her throughout her entire life.  She was the first person to swim all the way across the Detroit Lakes in Minnesota (at the age of 15). She took flying lessons because she wanted to learn to fly a plane. She graduated from college with a teaching degree in math and phy ed. Once her 5 children were born, she was a Scout leader, PTA president, UNICEF volunteer, and church leader. At her funeral, I was so touched by the clear impact she had on members of the church; her old pastor came back to give the sermon and so many women came to help with the lunch and talked about Georgia's impact. 

She also had a fun, competitive streak. As kids, we never once won a game of scrabble or checkers against her (why on earth would she let us win, she would ask my mom).  She was part of a bridge club that was far less about socializing and eating/drinking with other women, and much more about winning. My grandma had a spark, a determination about her; And as amazing as her time in the Red Cross was along with her other accomplishments of swimming, flying, and a college degree in the mid 1900s, it's her lifelong activism that really inspires me. I feel like once she settled down, married my grandfather and had 5 kids of her own..she still managed to make an ordinary life extraordinary. Her leadership in her kids' activities and schools, in the church, volunteering..and still finding time to have fun (sort of) with the bridge club. That's what I find truly awe inspiring; to maintain that level of passion and activism with everything you do, quite literally from WWII to the PTA. She was one of a kind, truly. We could all be a little bit more like Georgia, and if her funeral taught me anything, it's that I need to get moving. 

So happy mother's day to all the moms and grandmas out there. It's a holiday that is truly deserved..and a time to feel proud of what we do and the little people that we are molding into big people - hopefully happy, content, and full of life.  

And while my mom may not have invented banana bread, the fact that I thought she did for so many years really says it all. She was a supermom who made everything great; from games of Trouble to school lunches to our family dinners that I am now trying my best to replicate. The impact both my grandma and my mom had on me is clear; now fingers crossed I can do the same for my own children.

And on that note, onto the recipe. Banana bread, but with chocolate, so hopefully my boys will think I invented it.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 medium bananas
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a bread pan.  Cream the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer. Add the egg and vanilla.  Mix together the baking powder, soda, flour, and cocoa powder in one bowl, and mash the bananas and milk in another. Add a little of the flour mixture to the butter mix, then add a little of the banana, alternating until all is incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and bake for about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Blackberry-Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

Just when I think having twins couldn't possibly be any more amazing, I discover something new that just makes my heart explode. Last week it was the babbling they do at each other, apparently understanding what the other is saying. The week before that it was that when one learned to climb the stairs, the other one insisted he do it too (with much less ease, grace, and a lot more grunting). And the week before that it was their love for chasing each other around in their walkers. Can you imagine anything cuter than two tiny babies chasing each other with extraordinarily fat legs? Heart explosion.  

But this week I came to an extra extra special realization.  From now until who knows how long, probably the end of time, when one gets sick - so will the other. Awesome. Sure, regular siblings have similar challenges, but twins just CONSTANTLY gravitate toward one another. They play with the same toys. In fact, the only toy they ever want is the one that the other one is currently playing with/slobbering all over. So the germ swapping is immediate, unavoidable, and miserable. And yet somehow it was so cute to watch them respond so differently to the same acted like someone amputated his leg and that there was no way he was coming out of this alive, while the other just continued smiling, squealing, and stuffing his face with McDonald's pancakes. Two very different boys, two very distinct heart explosions.

In the midst of all this sickness, I decided to make grilled marinated pork tenderloin.  Why? Because it tastes great with wine.

If you decide to make this - and you won't regret it - make sure you leave enough time for marination. Is that even a word? I doubt it. Pork is one of the few meats that really does take on a 24 hour marinade perfectly; it infuses flavor without making the meat gummy or overly saturated.  I recommend at least 8 hours, but if you can swing 24, do it. Plus, if you're making this for a summer BBQ, how great to have your main dish basically done before guests arrive? All you have to do is pop it on the grill. You will LOVE this sweet and flavorful pork.

Recipe (serves 4-6)
  • 2 pork tenderloins
  • 1 cup blackberry preserves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 crushed bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large ziploc bag, add the pork and refrigerate for as long as you can, up to 24 hours. Mine was probably actually more like 27 when it was all said and done.  Then, you can grill the pork tenderloin perfectly and easily using this 7-6-5 method. It works perfectly.  Heat the grill to high. Remove the pork from the marinade (reserve the extra if you want to reduce to a sauce).  Place the pork on the grill, cover, and leave undisturbed for 7 minutes. Flip the pork over, cover and grill for 6 more minutes. Turn the grill OFF, and let sit in the covered grill for 5 minutes. The pork should register about 140, then you can remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes (it will keep cooking a bit here and raise about 10 degrees).  Our grill gets SUPER hot - like hard to keep below 500 hot - so I usually only leave it in the last phase for about 4 minutes. If your grill stays closer to 400, I would do the full 5. But even when I do the full 5, the pork is not too overcooked or dry.  Anyway, that's the way to do it. If you want, you can reserve the extra marinade and reduce down on the stove for 10 minutes or so and serve with the pork. Make sure to bring it to a boil for at least 10 minutes since it was hanging out with the raw pork.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cloud Egg Avocado Toast

I feel like the cloud egg solved lots of my problems. I love to put a poached or fried egg on my avocado toast, but frequently experience one or more of the following:
1. Egg white does not cover sufficient toast surface area
2. Level of yolk runny-ness is inconsistent
3. Egg white texture is not what I was hoping for

I could go on but those are the highlights.  So the cloud egg, which is trending amongst foodies for good reason, is an unbelievably easy way to make a fun-looking egg with an incredibly satisfying texture.  You can find recipes all over the place, but I tried a few and this is how I like it best.

  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan
  • dash salt
  • 1 piece honey wheat or whole grain bread
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray with nonstick spray.  Separate the egg white from the egg yolk, careful not to break the yolk. Put the egg white in a medium sized bowl, and beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form - about 2 minutes. Lightly mix in 1 teaspoon of grated Parmesan and a small dash of salt (parmesan is already salty so don't be too heavy handed). Spoon the egg white onto the baking sheet to create one puffy egg cloud, and use your fingers to create a little crater for the yolk. Bake just the white in oven for 3 minutes. Take it out and carefully place the egg yolk in the cloud. Bake for 3 more minutes.  Remove and let sit for a minute.

Toast the bread, spread 1/2 avocado on top, then season with a dash of salt and lemon pepper. Top with cloud egg and be very, very thankful that you have a mouth to eat such delicious things.