Monday, April 29, 2013

Raspberry Crumb Bars

This weekend was a blur of activity involving family, friends, presents, and lots and lots of food. Emma Rose was baptized on Sunday (more on that later!) and we had so many family and friends make the trip for the blessed event. My parents and six of my younger siblings drove in from Indiana. My sister Catherine and her boyfriend made the trek from Columbus, Ohio. My older brother Michael, his wife Maria, and their little son Michael II also traveled from Michigan to spend the weekend with everyone. I think it was the largest gathering of my side of the family since Michael's wedding (we were still missing my two little sisters who could not shirk their college studies to join us!). Paul and I felt very blessed to have so many people present to support us and welcome Baby Emma as a child of God.

Speaking of Baby Emma, she has definitely nailed the zombie stare.

In preparation for the reception following Emma's baptism, I was busy in the kitchen (with my helper Matthew by my side) preparing various goodies. We wanted to keep things simple and serve only a few desserts and snacks. One of the items I baked was a simple batch of Raspberry Crumb Bars. An oatmeal cookie base sandwiches a thin layer of tart raspberry filling to create a snack that is not to sweet and delightfully fresh. They are pretty fantastic served chilled from the fridge, at room temperature, or warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Feel free to serve them for breakfast too - the oats make them semi-healthy (at least we can pretend!).

Raspberry Crumb Bars
adapted slightly from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

For the cookie crust and crumb:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

For the raspberry filling:
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper or foil in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.

Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the butter and pulse until loose crumbs form.

Reserve 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and use your hands or the back of a large wooden spoon to push the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan. The crust should touch the sides of the pan. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool. Keep the oven on while you make the raspberry filling.

Meanwhile, make the raspberry filling. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour together. Add the raspberries, lemon juice and butter and use your hands to toss gently until the raspberries are evenly coated.

Spread the raspberry filling evenly on top of the cooled crust. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly on top of the filling. Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, then carefully lift the bars from the pan and cut into squares. I actually ended up sticking the whole pan in the refrigerator (after the bars had finished cooling) to allow the bars to firm up a bit more to ensure easy cutting and portioning. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two days.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lentil Salad with Olives, Feta, and Mint

I'm not gonna lie, when I announced to Paul that we were having "a deliciously healthy lentil salad" for dinner, he looked like I had actually informed him that fried earthworms were on the menu. Lentils are not one of his favorite things. He finds their texture weird and their taste almost tinny.

I personally do not fully comprehend Paul's hatred of lentils. They are excellent sources of healthy protein, folate, and fiber and taste pretty awesome. I have been in the mood for light, fresh, and healthy meals lately and randomly decided to grab a big bag of french lentils while cruising around the grocery store with Matthew and Emma.

"What are these, Mommy?" Matthew asked as I tossed them into the cart.

"Lentils, honey. They are kind of like peas!" I announced cheerfully - because I am really, really trying to sell him on healthier food choices.

But, of course, the inevitable response was: "YUCK. That's gross. Disgusting!"

(Just one of those three adjectives would have sufficiently gotten the message across, but Matthew seems to have a flair for the dramatic).

"Please don't feed me LENTILS, Mom!!!"

I'm guessing he gets both his taste buds and judgmental attitude towards legumes from his father.

However, being the good sport he is, Paul agreed to eat the dreaded lentils (there may or may not have been the promise of ice cream afterwards if he cleaned his plate). And wouldn't you know it?...after his first bite, he announced that the salad was actually good. Quite good! He really enjoyed the fresh flavors and found the texture of the lentils to be enjoyable. He ended up polishing off a second helping.

The key to the texture of the lentils lies in the unique cooking method. First, the lentils are brined for one hour before being gently cooked in a 325 degree oven. The gentle cooking method allows the lentils to soften without falling apart or bloating, lending a pleasant, creamy texture to the salad. The punchy vinaigrette, briny olives, creamy feta, and bright mint all blend together harmoniously to create a delicious, light meal! I will definitely be making this dish again and attempting other variations of lentil salad. I think this dish would also function as an excellent accompaniment to some grilled chicken or fish.

Lentil Salad with Olives, Feta, and Mint
adapted slightly from Cook's Illustrated

Note: Do not use yellow or red lentils here. They are not as sturdy and will completely disintegrate during cooking yielding more of a thick, sludgy soup rather than the toothsome salad we're going for here!

1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
6 cups water, divided
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
5 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 large shallot, minced
1-2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Place lentils and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl. Cover with 4 cups warm water and soak for 1 hour. Drain well.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place drained lentils, 2 cups water, broth, garlic, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt in medium saucepan. Cover and bake until lentils are tender but remain intact, about 40-60 minutes (mine took closer to the 60 minute mark). Meanwhile, whisk oil and vinegar together in large bowl.

Drain lentils well. Remove and discard garlic and bay leaf. Add drained lentils, olives, mint, and shallot to dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with feta.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Motherhood 2.0

As I type this out, a precious little angel is sleeping against my chest, breathing softly and gently, the trace of a smile lingering on her tiny face. Just over four weeks old, she seems to be thriving beautifully as evidenced by the growing rolls on her thighs. She is officially just a teeny bit too long for newborn sleepers even though I just shoved her into one because I am unwilling to surrender it - the smiling frogs on the front pockets and the adorable little ruffle around the tushie area are overwhelmingly cute. We have definitely had some struggles with sleep deprivation, painful feedings, and worries concerning her lingering jaundice but it is all forgotten when we gaze into her gorgeous blue eyes and watch them carefully survey the room, wide and alert, absorbing every sight and sound.

Lots of people have asked about my adjustment to life with two children. It has definitely been challenging. I have had moments of slight depression when I realize how much longer it takes to get ready to go outside for a walk, to the park, to the store. It seems that when I have to be somewhere at a given time, I must allow myself at least 45 minutes to ensure that the baby is properly fed, Matthew is completely dressed (the kid likes to randomly take off his pants at the most inopportune times), and I am showered and wearing an outfit that does not include yoga pants. It will take some time to adjust but I can already see that we are improving.

Despite these obvious and expected adjustments, I have noticed that I am finding Emma's infant stage so much more enjoyable. I am more confident, more self-assured in my role as a mother. I have successfully  nurtured one child from infancy to his current phase of toddler stubbornness and I know that I can do it again, perhaps drawing upon the mistakes and lessons learned during my previous experience to improve my parenting skills. This sense of peace has enabled me to relax and just enjoy caring for this tiny little person...this incredible gift from God that has been entrusted to my care. Earlier this week, as I sat on my bed feeding Emma while Matthew snuggled into my side with a book to read, I was a bit overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for my life.  I have a caring husband, two beautifully healthy children, a comfortable home, and a supportive network of friends and family. God is so good and I am so incredibly blessed.

The piles of laundry will continue to grow, the house will not seem as clean as before, and the dishes might take a teeny bit longer to make their way into the dishwasher, but I am okay with that. I do not want to miss a single opportunity to snuggle with my baby girl and her big brother.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Magic Chocolate Flan Cake

On Friday, Paul ended a six month stretch of endless paperwork and studying by finally sitting for his PE license exam. It was a grueling, day-long exam that tested his engineering expertise in a wide range of different areas in order to determine whether he is deserving of the title "Professional Engineer." If you had asked Paul a month ago whether he had any trepidation about the exam, he would have replied confidently (and perhaps with a touch of arrogance): "It's in the bag. No problem!" However, during the days leading up to the exam, Paul somehow evolved into a nervous, anxious, wild-eyed, wreck-of-a-man who drank no less than 10 cups of coffee each morning while desperately pouring over the 3000+ pages of his study guide. Even when he was not actively studying, his mind was continually working through problems in his head. At one point, while trying to construct a meal plan/grocery list for the week with him, I noticed that his eyes looked glazed and a bit unfocused. Not exactly out of the ordinary for Paul (he has a history of falling asleep mid-conversation - it's the Nistler Disease at work) so I continued to chat through the list until he suddenly interrupted me by sitting upright and declaring: "THAT'S what they wanted! Those tricky B@$T@RD$!!"

Apparently, he had just figured out one of the problems that had been giving him issues during a practice exam.

For obvious reasons, I was very excited for Paul to take the exam so we could return to normal life and not have every conversation involve a discussion of fluid dynamics or heat transfer. Plus, he has been looking forward to getting his PE license ever since we were seniors at Notre it was a big day for him!

He came out of the test feeling pretty good about everything and now we only have to wait two months until we find out whether he passed or not. However, I am confident that he did just fine. The guys has never failed at anything in his life. 

In celebration of completing his exam, I made Paul his favorite dinner - Sweet Potato and Chorizo Enchiladas with Mexican Rice. For dessert, I wanted to make something that fit into our fiesta-themed meal, but the only thing I could think of was flan. Now, Paul LOVES flan. I personally don't really care for it and frankly find it a little strange that Paul loves it so much considering his abhorrence for things like pudding, mousse, and souffle. However, I remembered spotting a recipe in an issue of Cook's Country a few months back for a Magic Chocolate Flan Cake - an unusual dessert featuring a moist chocolate cake topped with a layer of vanilla flan and finished with a decadent caramel sauce. The "magic" part of the recipe is that the cake batter and flan mixture switch places in the bundt pan during the baking process. I figured that the chocolate cake layer might make this dessert semi-enjoyable for me as well.

The cake was a breeze to put together (the ingredients for the flan layer are dumped into a blender and pureed...done). The only caveat is that you do need to plan ahead since the cake requires at least 8 hours of chill time to ensure that the flan sets up well enough to be unmolded neatly. I was a little nervous when it came time to flip the cake onto a serving platter, but it unmolded beautifully. And we all LOVED it! Decadent, creamy, and moist - this was an amazing end to the meal! Matthew hated the flan layer because of the texture, but he willingly gobbled down the cake portion of his slice. If you are looking for a show-stopping dessert for your Cinco de Mayo celebrations, this is the one! We are already planning on making it again soon.

Magic Chocolate Flan Cake
adapted ever-so-slightly from Cook's Country

For the Cake:
1/2 cup caramel sauce or topping (store bought or homemade)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Flan:
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
2 1/2 cups whole milk
6 ounces cream cheese
6 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup nonstick bundt pan, taking care to get in all the nooks and crannies. Pour the caramel sauce into the bottom of the pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate and butter and microwave at 50% power for 1-minute increments, stirring in between, until the mixture is melted and smooth, about 2-4 minutes. Whisk the buttermilk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla into the melted chocolate mixture until incorporated. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Pour the chocolate batter evenly over the caramel.

Add all the flan ingredients to a blender and process until smooth. Slowly and carefully pour the flan mixture over the the cake batter. Place the filled cake pan in a large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour warm water into the roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the bundt pan. Bake the cake until a toothpick comes out clean and the flan registers 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 75-90 minutes. Remove the Bundt pan from the roasting pan and place it on a wire rack to cool completely. Refrigerate for 8 hours (or up to 12).

To remove the cake from the pan, fill a large bowl with hot water and place the bottom third of the Bundt pan in the water for 1 minute. Carefully invert the cake onto a flat plate or cake platter. Slowly remove the pan letting the caramel drizzle over the top of the cake. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Peanut, Honey, and Banana Steel-Cut Oatmeal

We are beginning to settle into a normal routine with Baby Emma. I would be completely lying if I didn't admit that it has been a bit of an adjustment. There have been times where she is screaming her head off to be fed, while Matthew is begging for something as if his very life depended on it, and I have a pot of sauce/soup/some type of food simultaneously boiling over on the stovetop. Moments like that really stress me out.

The biggest issue so far has been finding time to feed myself! Breakfast is especially difficult. By the time I get Matthew situated and make myself a pot of coffee, Baby Emma is begging for food (as if she was not just fed less than 30 minutes ago). By the time I am done feeding her, Matthew needs to get washed up and dressed for the day. By the time that is finished, Emma is whining because her reflux is bothering her. I pick her up and bounce her around for a bit. After that, she is ready to be fed again. (NOTE: during this whole time, our stupid cat is meowing loudly because he loves to whine about nothing in particular from the hours of 8:00-11:00 AM. Then he passes out for a long afternoon nap - probably from the sheer exhaustion of it all!). By the time I get her down for her morning nap, Matthew is asking for a snack (which is ridiculous because his breakfast consisted of enough food to feed a family of four). I give him a snack and finally get to sit down for a glorious cup of coffee - and by this time it is half past ten!

Quick and easy-to-prepare breakfasts are obviously a must. Oatmeal is one of our standbys. It is cheap, healthy, and Matthew will readily eat it most mornings. He gets sick of cereal really quickly, but enjoys the ever-changing oatmeal variations we make each week. I love steel-cut oats because they have a slightly chewy texture and are not at all mushy when compared to their quick or rolled cousins. The only issue with steel-cut oats is that they take a bit of time to prepare, normally requiring at least 20-30 minutes of boiling time to soften. However, if they are soaked in hot water overnight, their cooking time is drastically reduced and they can be prepared in about 10 minutes flat. And I can totally finish these up with one hand while bouncing baby girl on my hip. Matthew enjoys this version we made this morning with peanuts, honey and banana. I enjoyed it a couple hours after he did (once it was stone cold - at least the coffee was hot) and it was still delicious!

Peanut, Honey, and Banana Steel-Cut Oatmeal
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

3 1/2 cups water
1 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used this white chocolate peanut butter - yum!)
2 bananas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup honey-roasted peanuts, chopped coarse

Bring 3 cups water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Remove pan from heat; stir in oats and salt. Cover pan and let stand overnight.

Stir remaining ½ cup water, milk, and honey into oats and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until oats are softened but still retain some chew and mixture thickens and resembles warm pudding, about 4-6 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Stir in peanut butter and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in bananas, sprinkle with peanuts, and serve!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Indian Butter Chicken

Paul goes back to work tomorrow and I am saddened and slightly terrified to be left managing the two munchkins all by my lonesome. It has been amazing having Paul around to entertain Matthew while I care for sweet little Emma. There have been a couple rough moments with Matthew where I was trying to feed the baby and he kept throwing fits/threatening to stick his fingers in electrical outlets/raiding the refrigerator. He knows when I am preoccupied and feels the need to take full advantage of the opportunity to make some mischief! I know we will adjust eventually but I have a feeling that this coming week might prove to be a bit difficult.

Remember how I teased Paul about his inability to plan and prepare meals that do not involve hard-boiled eggs? Well, he was determined to prove me wrong during his paternity leave. He even prepared our entire Easter feast all by himself. Granted, we did not sit down to eat until 9:00 pm (by which time Paul had thoroughly exhausted himself!)...but I was so proud of him nonetheless (and extremely grateful because I was willing to just order a pizza). He even made buttermilk biscuits - and they were fantastic!

One of the other meals he prepared was this delicious Indian Butter Chicken. We have enjoyed this dish a couple times from Indian restaurants and Paul had been drooling over this recipe ever since he spied it on Mel's Blog. I woke up from a nap to the smells of cardamom, jalapeno and garam masala wafting from our kitchen. Paul had the sauce for this dish all prepared and simmering over low heat as he finished the naan dough. And again, everything was absolutely delicious! We were able to enjoy the leftovers from this dish for three days. This dish was even better the next day because the refrigeration period gave the flavors a chance to meld together and upped the intensity level of the heat from the jalapeno seeds.

I guess I owe my hubby a huge apology. His cooking has been fantastic these last couple weeks. I might have to employ his skills more often now that he has proven his kitchen prowess.

Indian Butter Chicken
adapted slightly from Mels Kitchen Cafe

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 jalapeƱo, with seeds intact, finely chopped (omit seeds for less heat!)
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
Hot cooked Basmati rice for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Naan for serving

In a large 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, ginger and jalapeno. Stir often while cooking until the onion is translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in garlic, garam masala, chili powder, cardamom, and coriander. Cook, stirring constantly, for another minute.

Scrape the mixture into a blender or food processor and add tomato paste and chicken broth. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Pour the sauce back into the skillet and add the half-and-half. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and stir in the chicken pieces, salt, and pepper. Keep the sauce at a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly.

Cut three tablespoons butter into chunks and stir into the sauce until melted. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

Serve the chicken and sauce over hot rice.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

TWD: Rustic Potato Loaves

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe featured an easy, unique recipe for potato bread. My husband's ears immediately perked up when he heard that potato bread was on the baking agenda. He loves the soft, moist, slightly-off-yellow loaves of potato sandwich bread you can buy at the store. He claims they make the best grilled cheese sandwiches. However, I quickly informed him that I was fairly certain this recipe would produce a loaf unlike the potato bread he is used to. These loaves have a chewy interior and crusty exterior that is more reminiscent of a good, hearty, rustic Italian loaf.

The dough was a breeze to put together. First, potatoes are quartered and boiled until knife-tender. Then, they are allowed to air dry before being mashed and mixed with flour, olive oil, and yeast. The recipe instructed to boil the potatoes with the skins, but then was rather ambiguous as to whether the skins should be mashed into the dough or not. I chose to remove them because I thought it would be a little off-putting to have chunks of skin randomly scattered throughout the finished loaf.

The dough is kneaded in a stand mixer for about 15 minutes before a scant 20-minute rise period. A quick shaping and the loaves are given one more 20 minute rest before being thrown in the oven to bake. Easy Peasy!

The end result was a full flavored, soft, and slightly salty interior encompassed by a satisfyingly chewy, crackly crust. This is a great bread to enjoy slathered with a bit of butter while still warm. I was super surprised by how developed it looked and tasted given the extremely short rise times. This would be an awesome loaf to make and serve for company when you are especially short on time! It was also a nice, easy recipe to make for my first time back in the kitchen after the birth of my daughter. She spent some quality time with her big brother while I worked on these loaves...

The only criticism I have of the recipe is that it made my kitchen smell a bit like french fries afterwards. I had not really noticed this until my husband came downstairs excitedly and asked: "Are you making fries too?!?!?"

I think he was slightly disappointed to learn that it was still just the bread he was smelling. He consoled himself by eating half a loaf for lunch.

If you would like to give this fantastic recipe a try, please head on over to Simply Sweet where Dawn has posted the recipe in its entirety.