Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinner for a Buck

The New York Times' Well blog ran a column today featuring 20 healthy foods that can be had for under $1 a serving - not a bad price in this day and age (especially for someone like me who could spend hundreds of dollars on groceries each week). The list originated on the Divine Caroline site and features foods like eggs, tofu, broccoli, and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Click here for the entire list.

I loved this list (although I could quibble with a few of the choices), and it was both a good reminder to eat some foods I don't use very often and a good affirmation of some of the foods we eat regularly. I try to always keep a can of beans in the pantry, usually chickpeas, cannellini beans, or black beans. They save me whenever I'm looking for a side dish or a super quick lunch to take to work. And they're endlessly customizable. Making something Latin flavored? Spice up black beans with red onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Italian? Stir in olive oil, fresh sage or parsley, scallion, and lemon juice. If you have it on hand, add in tuna canned in olive oil for a great tuna salad on its own or between bread.

You can pretty much taste your way to deliciousness with beans and their seasonings, but here's the recipe for the black bean salad to get you started:


Serve with tacos, quesadillas, chicken or pork tenderloin.

Ingredients: 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 TB canola or vegetable oil
1 TB lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 TB red onion, finely chopped
2 TB cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Mix all ingredients in medium bowl.
2. Adjust seasoning if necessary.


• For French chickpea salad, stir together chickpeas, olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallot, fresh thyme and salt.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Baking Results - Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

Okay. I did not eat all of the squares missing from the pan. But, in all honesty, I could have. This candy is like a drug to me. There is something about the crunch of the graham crackers mixed with the peanut butter and offset by the chocolate that absolutely slays me. A word of warning: it is extremely sweet. The phrase “tooth-achingly sweet” always comes to mind when I take a bite. But then after the fifth, sixth, or seventh bite I’ve forgotten about the sweetness. By the tenth I’m quickly strategizing about how I’m going to force myself to put the pan back in the fridge.

Make these. Just make them.

I would advise, however, having a plan for these candies before you prepare them, e.g., sharing them with office-mates, taking them to a holiday party, etc. Don’t make them just for yourself or your family. They are too irresistible.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares

2 sticks butter, melted
1 cup smooth peanut butter (like Jif or Skippy, not “natural” peanut butter)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (approx. 14 squares/7 rectangles)
1 lb. powdered sugar
12 oz milk chocolate (melted)

1. Butter a 9 X 13 inch baking pan. I use a glass Pyrex dish.
2. In a large bowl stir together the butter, peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar. Pat into prepared pan.
3. Pour melted chocolate into pan over peanut butter mixture. With a spatula spread the chocolate in an even layer.
4. Refrigerate the candy for 45 minutes. Then cut it into squares (you want to do this before the chocolate hardens completely, hence the 45 minutes).
5. Store in the refrigerator, and if possible, show some restraint!

A couple of tips:

• To produce the graham cracker crumbs, I put the crackers in a large Ziploc bag then bang them with a meat mallet. A rolling pin would also work. So would the back of a pan or possibly even your fist. (You could probably forget the whole bag thing and just use a food processor, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.) Or, of course, if your grocery store sells graham cracker crumbs by the box you could just buy one of those.

• Instead of dirtying a bunch of pans constructing a double boiler, I have had great success melting chocolate in the microwave. The trick is to only use 50% power and to run the microwave in short bursts. For 12 ounces of chocolate I usually start with two minutes and then continue in one-minute blocks until the chocolate is just melted. If there are still a couple of solid bits that’s okay. Just stir the whole thing and the small chunks will melt.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Baking Results - Pumpkin Bread

For baking novices it’s hard to believe that a gently sweet, tender bread studded with plump, chewy raisins can be simple to make. But, it is! Basically you just mix a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, pour it into loaf pans, and then bake it. The bread is delicious spread with peanut butter for breakfast and makes a great hostess gift. (I’ve decided that this is my new hostess gift strategy – bringing them something to eat for breakfast the next day.)

Here’s the recipe, and I highly recommend it:

Pumpkin Bread

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups or 1 can pumpkin
1 cup raisins (or cranberries or a mix of the two)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans but walnuts would also work)
1/2 cup coconut
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350ยบ. Grease four small loaf pans.
2. In a large bowl stir together the dry ingredients (flour through baking soda).
3. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the four loaf pans and place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until the tops of the bread are firm and golden and a toothpick inserted into the breads comes out relatively clean.
5. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Then remove the loaves from the pans and cool them completely on a wire rack.

P.S. These loaves freeze extremely well. Once they’re completely cool, wrap them in aluminum foil and then place them in a zip-top plastic bag. Thaw on the counter.

P.P.S. Check out the great four-loaf pan above -- they're all connected! From New York Cake and Baking.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Big Weekend

This is it – the big holiday baking weekend. I spent some time over the last couple of weeks deciding what to make. It’s always a balancing act. I don’t want to let go of my tried-and-true Christmas favorites, but every year I find more and more recipes I want to attempt…. That’s a problem unto itself, really, because since I’m making most of these goodies to give as gifts I need sweets that I KNOW will deliver. And, unfortunately, this year I just didn’t have the time to test a bevy of cookie and candy recipes.

So, I’ve settled on a combination of the classic and the au courant:

Chocolate Peanut Butter squares – These little beauties are so outrageously delicious that I’m actually a bit of an addict. My mom made them when I was a kid, and with only five ingredients and no baking there’s no way I could strike them from my list.

Pumpkin Bread – Another childhood recipe that has stood the test of time (although I usually cut the amount of sugar the recipe calls for). This is a pumpkin quick bread studded with nuts, raisins, and coconut. Timeless – and for a reason.

Maple Nut Granola – A new one! Some of my friends don’t like getting cookies for the holidays (I know, I can’t fathom that either), so I’m going to make a big batch of granola, a moderately healthy alternative. I tested this recipe from Gourmet last weekend, using maple syrup instead of honey and switching up some of the dried fruit. I loved the cardamom flavor and the sesame seeds, but I think I will tweak the recipe a bit more, borrowing here and there from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

Chocolate Pistachio Cookies – Finally, the real gamble. I’ve been holding onto this recipe (which I can’t seem to find on-line), also from Gourmet magazine, for these shortbread-like cookies for a few years. I’ve never tried them, but I am so confident in their deliciousness that I went to New York Cake and Baking today to buy beautiful little cellophane bags to stack them in. Fingers crossed…

A note on New York Cake and Baking Distributors – I visited this store for the first time today and immediately fell in love. The shelves on the walls are lined with cake, muffin, and bread tins of every shape and size (crosses, hearts, dogs, cartoon characters, etc.). Tables in the middle of the store are packed with nifty gadgets and tools (tiny rolling pins, small Microplane graters, Silpats, and pastry tips), plus rows and rows of sanding sugar, sprinkles and other edible decorations. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. This store is just one more reason to love living in the Big Apple.