I Haven't Just Been Lazy

I've been moving. Packing up and moving.

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See you next door!


Marlo Approved Banana Nut Muffins

Two bananas on my counter this morning were walking the plank to the trash can. They were by no means rotting, just heavily freckled, soft and super sweet. In many households they would still be considered edible maybe even ideal, but I detest bananas this way. In fact I've been known to gag eating such bananas. My naners need a little green on top. The peel needs to be flawlessly yellow and crisp, and the flesh just a bit sour. Obviously the aforementioned bananas were way past their prime in my mind so it was either the trash or the oven.

I didn't have enough to make my favorite banana bread, so I thought I'd try this recipe for banana muffins. I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. The muffins were very moist, light and fluffy. They weren't too sweet or too heavy, so I didn't feel like a piggy eating one as my second breakfast.

Marlo liked them, too. I packed up the remaining 11 muffins into paper bags to take to Jeff's office and stupidly left the bags on the coffee table while I packed up Marlo's lunch for the day. I'm such an amateur. Of course Marlo pulled the bags off the table, pulled out a muffin and began shoving fistfuls into her mouth. When I finally noticed, I panicked thinking she was going to either choke on the nuts or have an allergic reaction and suffocate. I fished out all the contents of her mouth, found no nuts, then proceeded to laugh and grab my camera.

Banana Nut Muffins
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1 egg
2 large ripe bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
demerara sugar (sugar in the raw)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a standard muffin tin or line cups with paper liners.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffly. Add egg and mix in completely.
3. Mash bananas in separate bowl and mix in milk and cinnamon.
4. Whisk together flour, baking soda and baking powder in separate bowl.
5. Starting and ending with flour mixture, alternate adding flour and bananas to butter and sugar. Only mix until just incorporated.
6. Fold in pecans.
7. Fill muffin cups with batter and sprinkle tops with demerara sugar.
8. Bake 18-20 minutes.


Burgers with Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce

"This is quite possibly the best burger I've ever eaten."

No joke. That's what Jeff said to me following the "mmmmm" after his first bite. I'm not going to kid myself, it's not true. It couldn't possibly be the best one he's ever eaten. He's eaten a lot of good quality burgers. Like the burgers at Ted's and Bub's. But they seemed to all be forgotten last night. I would have to agree with him that it was a pretty awesome burger, and that's a good thing because it took more prep work than usual. This wasn't just a slap some ingredients together, mold into a patty, and grill kind of burger. The sauce takes a good half an hour to make. But boy is it worth it!

The original recipe called for blue cheese to be incorporated into the sauce. We've tried blue cheese burgers before and neither of us like them, so I left it out and just sprinkled some Asiago shavings on top. Glad I did. They were seriously perfect, and quite possibly the best burgers we've ever eaten.

Burgers with Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Sauce
Adapted from Closet Cooking

2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme chopped
6 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms
salt & pepper
glug of red wine (original recipe calls for brandy - we don't keep brandy in the house)
1/3 cup beef broth

3/4 lb. ground beef
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. shaved Asiago cheese (optional but necessary all at the same time)

1. Melt the butter in a pan.
2. Add the onion and saute at medium heat until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
4. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and saute until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Be careful here not to burn the onions. I lowered the heat a tad and stirred quite frequently.
5. Add the wine and broth and deglaze the pan (scrape up all the brown delicious bits from the bottom).
6. Simmer until it has reduced and thickened, about 3-6 minutes.

For Burgers:

1. Season ground beef with salt and pepper to your liking. Mix well with hands (seriously get over it and use your hands).
2. Form into two equal patties.
3. Grill over high flame 3-5 minutes each side depending on how well you like your burgers done.
4. Lightly toast sandwich buns on grill.
5. Top toasted buns with burger and spoon sauce over burger.
6. Feel like a million bucks when your family swoons.


Place Your Bets!

Last week Jeff and I made a bet as to when we think Marlo will take her first steps. I guessed July 24th and he guessed a few weeks earlier. Now I wish I could change my date. Monday morning she woke up with the strength of five bulls. She can now stand for extended periods of time (okay, a minute or so). Here she is standing at her toy chest pulling out random toys and throwing them on the floor.

Riveting, right?

But seriously, out of nowhere, she began maneuvering her dolly stroller around the living room like she was born doing it. It's fun to see how she really understands how to control it and get it to go where she wants it to go. She's also very good at getting herself unstuck.

So, what do you think? How long before she walks (unassisted)?


Three Sweet Years

Three years ago today Jeff and I were driving back to Chicago following our Cincinnati wedding at Alms Park. The previous day we had said vows, danced, got sunburned (just me) and smiled for pictures. Now we were headed back home to hop on a plane to California. It was the start of a beautiful marriage. After we traveled all of San Francisco by foot, pedaled across the Golden Gate bridge, got drunk for 3 days straight on really awesome wine, and opted out of sleeping at a creepy horror movie house, I'd done a rough tally that we successfully evaded death about 12 times.

I'm not being dramatic. we almost died on our honeymoon. I'll save you some theatrics and just warn you never drive to Eureka no matter what the Chamber of Commerce website says; also, if you want to go to Mendocino, wait until you're 50 - you'll probably enjoy it more and definitely do NOT think it's a good idea to drive Highway 1 down the coastline back to San Francisco.

Please learn from our mistakes. There are portions of Highway 1 that have eroded away and the road just isn't there in one lane anymore. Your lane. They kindly warn you with a single orange cone, but if you miss the cone by chance, you and your lovely will be plummeting Thelma and Louise style into the Pacific. Also, it's not the best road to travel at night. It's dark. There aren't gas stations for miles - tens of miles... twenties of miles. Oh and no cell reception, so don't dare run out of gas. And there are deer. Lots of deer, flying out in front of your car on their way to the beach. Again - Thelma and Louise.

Thankfully, we survived Highway 1 along with a half dozen other flirtations with death and I took this as a great omen that our marriage was built to last.

So far we're doing pretty good. We've smoothly made it through buying an apartment in a Chicago seller's market and then selling it in a buyer's market. We made it through both of us finishing (almost finishing) our educations. We made it through a big move to a new city and a new life. We made it through pregnancy. Childbirth. And 10 months of Marlo.

Doesn't sound like much does it? It isn't. I know. But I have faith we could make it through tougher times if they arrive.

So to celebrate our greatness as a duo, we had our favorite fancy meal last night, Pesto Halibut Kebabs. I was absolutely shocked when I visited the butcher yesterday and saw that the halibut was running only $17.99/lb. Wha?! I'm used to paying about $4 more per pound for the fish. Apparently the recession has really done a number on the demand for fancy fish and the prices have plunged, well, at least at Joe's. So, I reccomend checking out the price of halibut where you live and feasting on it more often this summer. This is a really easy and quick way to prepare the fish. Turns out delicious every single time!

Pesto Halibut Kebabs
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 lb. Halibut skin removed and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper cut into 1-2 inch squares
3 Tbsp. pesto
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
salt & pepper

If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 10-20 minutes so they won't burn in the oven. Preheat broiler.
Combine pesto and vinegar in large bowl. Lightly season fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add fish and pepper squares to pesto mixture and toss to evenly coat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Skewer fish and peppers, alternating so you begin and end with peppers. This amount makes about 4 kebabs with 4-5 pieces of fish per skewer.
Line kebabs in a baking dish coated with cooking spray and place under broiler for 8 minutes.

Serve to husband. See him smile.

See baby daughter look on with jealousy.

Jeff brought me home a bottle of Mumm Champagne (one of our favorite wineries from our honeymoon) and a bottle of Albarino - a wine we mutually love. Having a surprise dessert up my sleeve I opted to pop open the bubbly. I made these delicious Toffee Topped Brownies and dipped strawberries in the leftover ganache. It made for a lovely dessert with our Napa champagne.

Toffee Topped Brownie Bites
Adapted From Annie's Eats

For the brownies:
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the ganache:
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

For topping:
Toffee bits (or coarsely chopped Heath Bars)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the unsweetened chocolate and butter. Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt, and whisk until combined. Stir in the flour until just incorporated. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter into each mini muffin cup.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until completely set. Allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Remove brownies from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it simmers; remove from the heat. Add the bittersweet chocolate to the heated cream, let stand for 30 seconds, then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well blended.

Gently dip the top of each brownie in the ganache and then sprinkle with toffee bits. Allow the glaze to set completely before serving.

He also surprised me with a pretty cool new cookbook called Local Flavors. It's all about cooking with goods from farmer's markets, which is just in time for Carmel's Farmer's Market season. Both of us are interested in trying new ingredients. Neither of us have a whole lot of experience with different greens like chard and kale. This book gives a lot of ideas on how to prepare these veggies. I'll be sure to let you know when I stumble upon something fabulous!


Comfort Food

In great contrast from the previous post, how 'bout some meatloaf and french fries?

Alright, so this is NOT meatloaf and french fries Paula Dean style. I'd like to think these are possibly the healthiest version of both. The meatloaves are made with ground turkey and the muffin tin portions really curb your ability to go back for another slice, and then another slice... I like that. The french fries are delicious and oven baked with olive oil. Not too shabby, eh?

Turkey Mini Meatloaves
Adapted from Cooking Light

This recipe makes about 5 mini loaves. Jeff and I are happy eating just 2 loaves each. I keep the 5th for lunch the next day. But I suppose the 5th could go to someone particularly hungry, or a really good puppy, or a small child...

1/2 cup chopped onion
Rounded 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, or whatever you have on hand)
1 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 lb. ground turkey breast
1 large egg white
4 1/2 Tbsp. ketchup, divided
1/4-1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (depending on taste)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 5 muffin cups in a regular muffin pan with cooking spray.
2. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; saute 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
3. Combine onion, breadcrumbs, and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) in a large bowl. Stir in 2 1/2 Tbsp. ketchup. Fill prepared muffin cups with meat mixture; place muffin tin on baking sheet.
4. Combine remaining ketchup and Tabasco sauce in a small bowl. Brush mixture over meatloaf tops. Bake for 30 minutes or until thermometer registers 165 degrees.

Oven Baked French Fries
Adapted from Joy the Baker

3 or 4 medium sized Russet potatoes, rinsed, scrubbed and dried
2 Tbsp. olive oil plus 1 teaspoon
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence
1/2 - 1 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pour 1 teaspoon of oil on baking sheet and spread around with a paper towel, greasing the sheet before you add the potatoes.

Slice cleaned potatoes lengthwise into 1/3″ thick slices, then slice those slices into smaller potato strips. Place on the baking sheet and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons of oil. Toss the potatoes in the oil to coat. Place in oven for 25- 35 minutes, removing the tray every 10 minutes to toss and stir the potatoes, then returning to the oven. Cook until browned.

Remove from the oven and immediatley add salt and Herbes de Provence. Toss and serve.


Asparagus Chickpea Brown Rice

This might be the most nutritious and healthy dish I've made thus far. I just couldn't resist when I saw the recipe. I love asparagus, chickpeas and tahini, so why not all together all at once.

Aside from the minor prep work needed before you get started, this is a pretty quick little side. Jeff and I both loved it, and it made for pretty good lunch leftovers the next day. The trick with this dish is to season just right with salt and to add in a little more dressing while eating.

Asparagus Chickpea Brown Rice
From 101 Cookbooks

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 14-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch segments
2-3 cups pre-cooked brown rice
1 cup almond slivers, toasted
kosher salt

Tahini Dressing:

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped
1/4 cup tahini
zest of one lemon
scant 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hot water
scant 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare rice according to package directions

Make the dressing by whisking together the garlic, tahini, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Add the hot water to thin a bit and then the salt. Set aside.

Add olive oil to a big skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl the oil around to coat the pan, then add the chickpeas and sprinkling of salt. Let the beans saute for a couple minutes. Add the garlic and onions. Stir for a minute. Stir in the asparagus with another pinch or two of salt, cover with a lid for a minute or two to steam - just until the asparagus brightens and softens up just a bit. Uncover and stir in the rice and almond slivers. Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve in a big bowl drizzled with a few tablespoons of the tahini dressing. Serve remaining dressing on the side and let each person add more dressing to their tastes.

Serves 4-6.