Sunday, January 15, 2012

Eat: Fancified Oatmeal

Today, I stand up for bowls of neglected oatmeal everywhere! For too long, they have endured countless rejections among the breakfast tables of America. No more! Prior to a few years ago, I never even touched oatmeal. This was thanks largely in part to vague childhood memories of it being “ucky”. Then, I learned that one does not need to eat it plain, in fact, one can flavor it with a multitude of things. Brown sugar, cinnamon, or maple syrup, just to name a few. This week’s recipe for Fancified Oatmeal is a testament to how delicious the grain can be. The oatmeal is baked with a mixture of chocolate, brown sugar, pecans, strawberries, and bananas. It can be made for a larger breakfast crowd, but is also suitable for a smaller audience since the oatmeal is perfectly good reheated. Although I should warn you that the bananas will turn brown after a day or two.

The fantastic thing about this dish is that you can modify it in so many different ways. I substituted ground cinnamon in place of the orange zest and Chinese spices the original recipe suggested (quite frankly, because that sounds weird and gross). You can leave out the chocolate for a healthier option, or double it if you have a signicantly sweet tooth. Pecans can be replaced with whatever you happen to have in your pantry: walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and the like. If bananas aren’t your thing, just double the strawberries...or add cherries...or forget the fruit altogether! See what I mean?!? You could make this baked oatmeal every weekend for the rest of your life and it never be exactly the same.

TIME: 40 minutes
YIELDS: 6-8 servings
MY SOUNDTRACK: Weekend Edition (NPR)

2 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1-2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of pecans, chopped
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1/3 cup of chocolate chips
2 cups of milk (I used skim)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons of butter, melted
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced

1. Preheat your oven to 375°F and grease a medium size baking dish. Mine was 8x8 inches, so anything around that should be fine.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and half of the pecans, strawberries, and chocolate. You will use the rest of the pecans, strawberries, and chocolate later.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter and vanilla extract.

4. Transfer the dry oat mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining pecans, strawberries, and chocolate on top as well as the banana slices. Lastly pour the milk blend over everything. Gently shake the baking dish (don’t go crazy here, just jostle it in slow motion) to help the liquid spread throughout the oats.

5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes and get ready for some heaven.

Tip: You can do steps 1-4 the night before, store in the refrigerator, and pop into the oven first thing in the morning!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Eat: Healthy Sweet Potato Skins

By now, it is no secret that we love sweet potatoes at my house. It is also no secret that I love to find healthy recipes, too. This week these non-secrets come together with Healthy Sweet Potato Skins. My idea of potato skins usually involves several small potato halves filled with greasy yellow cheese and bacon bits. This recipe from Pinch of Yum shares very little with its traditional counterpart. In my onion, the “skins” are more like twice baked potatoes than anything else. Not that that is a bad thing. The dish features fewer but larger potatoes filled with chickpeas, sautéed spinach and shallots, sour cream, and mozzarella cheese. This delectable, savory dish can function as a lighter meal by itself or a great side to something a bit heavier.

TIME: 1:20 (includes inactive baking time)
YIELDS: 4-6 servings

2-3 large sweet potatoes
1 ½ tablespoons of butter
1 fresh shallot, minced or ½ teaspoon dried
1 bag of fresh spinach
¼ - ½ cup of light sour cream
1 (15oz.) can of chickpeas, drained
shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 ounces of neufchâtel (light cream cheese)

1. Begin by baking the potatoes for 60+ minutes at 350°F. You will know they are done when they are tender and can be punctured with a fork. The more tender, the better. It is not a bad idea to do this step ahead of time since you can't know for certain how long it will take for the potatoes to bake.

2. Carefully cut the sweet potatoes in half and let them cool for 5-10 minutes. You can also cut off the hard nubby ends of the potatoes.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooling, sauté the shallots in butter over medium heat for a few minutes or until translucent. Stir in the fresh spinach and heat for 2-3 minutes, until the spinach has cooked down . I think this is easier to do if you add small handfuls of spinach gradually. Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

4. Using a spoon, scrape the sweet potato out of its peel, leaving a thin shell (around ¼ inch, making sure it can stand up on its own). If the potatoes were thoroughly baked, this step should be a snap. In a large bowl, mix the newly removed sweet potato with the sour cream (and cream cheese, if using). Next, stir in the chickpeas, spinach mixture, salt and pepper.

5. Fill each half with the sweet potato mixture and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Place in a greased 9x13” pan and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

For crispier texture: prior to filling the potato skins, drizzle each with oil and bake for about 5 minutes.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Eat: Grapefruit Pie

Over the past few weeks, whenever I mentioned my plan to make a grapefruit pie I received roughly the same response: a confused grimace. One friend even declared “What??" followed by "Gross!”. I will be the first to admit that I, too, was skeptical up until the moment I took my first bite. This raises the obvious question of why grapefruit pie? It all began with a fundraiser…

My father-in-law agreed to buy some fruit for a local charity. Knowing that Matthew has an affinity for grapefruit, my in-law selected the tart fruit in anticipation of a nice surprise for his son. What he did not know was that this box would hold inside it EIGHTEEN grapefruit. (Yes, you read that right and no, it is not a typo). Upon the arrival of this gift, I knew that I needed to find a recipe ASAP that would knock off a few of these bad boys. All I can say is thank goodness for

In short, this is just like any other fruit pie except its success is solely dependent upon the preparation of the grapefruit. What makes grapefruit bitter is actually the pith (soft white tissue between the skin and membrane), not the fruit itself. I found a helpful tutorial that showed me a great method to ensure that all of the pith is removed. This was incredibly time consuming. As my husband put it, I became “very Zen” as I stood in my kitchen for forty minutes delicately removing every little wisp of white. The good news is that Matthew along with his parents (our lunch guests—it only seemed fair that they get to enjoy some of the fruit too) all declared that the pie was delicious. Truthfully, it mainly tastes like strawberry-flavored gelatin with the grapefruit providing more texture than anything else.

TIME: 2-3 hours
YIELDS: 6-8 servings

1 pie crust, baked
4 pink grapefruit
½ cup of white sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1 (3 ounce) package of strawberry-flavored gelatin

1. Begin my preparing the grapefruit. Here is the tutorial that I used: How to Flesh a Grapefruit . I would try to explain the process myself but I did not take any pictures (with my hands being full of fruit and whatnot) and it is definitely the type of lesson that needs visual aids. A useful tip to keep in mind is that it is better to sacrifice a bit of the actual fruit than to let even a little pith creep into your pie. Trust me, it is worth the slow effort. Plus you will find you get more efficient as you go.

Once all of the skin and pith are removed, cut the grapefruit into bite size pieces. Place in a strainer over a large bowl. It will need to drain for a few hours or until it yields ¾ cup of juice—whichever comes first. I let my batch drain for two hours, the original recipe calls for four.

2. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and collected grapefruit juice (¾ cup) in a small saucepan. Bring the mix to a boil and then stir in the packet of strawberry gelatin. Allow the filling to cool for a few minutes.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the grapefruit pieces and the filling until well blended. Carefully pour this into the pie crust and gently move your new pie into the fridge so that it can solidify.

I assure you that this pie is amply sweet and can be served without the aid of whipped cream!