Sunday, October 18, 2009

Banana-and-PB-Stuffed French Toast

Have I ever shared how much I adore French toast?

Actually, I'm a francophile in many regards - I so dearly love their wine (Beaujolais being my favorite, and only available this very time of year!), their language (though I speak little - "J'adore les croissants avec poulet et Jean-Paul Gaultier!"), their fashion - oh, and did I mention their food? I spend about 92.8% of my time daydreaming about wandering through Le-Grande-Jatte-esque landscapes, picnicking with a baguette, some stinky cheese, and some red wine near a bridge, followed by a jaunt through the Louvre and maybe dinner in some obscure post-beatnik cafe--

--and then I remember I'm actually sitting in front of my iMac, thinking up banner ads. Sigh. Now might be a good time to mention two things: 1.) I've never actually been to France, and 2.) I'm not at all convinced that French toast bears any resemblance to anything the French actually eat for le petit dejeuner. That notwithstanding, my love for French toast (much like my love for the fried potatoes and the kisses for which they are so well-known) endures despite its dubious provenance.

Usually, I make it very simply: egg, milk, cinnamon, butter, maple syrup. Done. But, a few almost-too-ripe bananas weeping on my fruit tray and a new jar of homemade peach honey whispering from within the cupboard, I decided to make that IHOP-bastardization of French toast - Stuffed French Toast. Although this came out nicely and was a fantastic way to start a lazy weekend morning, I truly prefer French toast in its simplest form, but since this insisted on photographing well and being somewhat interesting, I decided to share it. So, thank you, France, for your toast! And thank you America, for your irrepressible spirit of excess!



4 thick slices bread (I used whole wheat)
a few spoonfuls natural (unsweetened) peanut butter
1-2 ripe bananas, sliced into rounds
drizzle of peach honey (or regular honey)
2 eggs
1 T. heavy cream (milk is fine, too)
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 T. butter
maple syrup for drizzling


Beat the eggs, cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat.


Spread 2 slices of bread with the peanut butter, then top with the banana slices. Drizzle honey over both. Top with the other pieces of bread, making two sandwiches.


Melt the butter in the pan. Dredge each sandwich in the egg mixture, until coated. Fry on the first side until golden-brown. Flip and fry on the other side until golden-brown. Remove from heat, slice in half, drizzle with syrup, and serve. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Old College Try: a Pasta Party

Glory, glory to old Georgia!

Yes, friends, I'm thrilled to share one of my most exciting blogs to date - guest-wise if not menu-wise. My old college friend Raj was in town for the Men's Health Urbanathlon, with two friends in tow. I was hugely flattered when Raj wrote to tell me that he's a huge fan of my blog, and wanted to spend one of his few nights in Chicago having dinner with me. And even better, I had guests on my hands that needed to carbo-load, and I think we all know at this point how I feel about pasta (Pasta, will you marry me?).

To mix things up, I decided to invite my also-new-to-Chicago friend Ryan, and of course, Ross was on hand to eat up and weigh in. It was a funny, interesting, smart, eclectic group of people gathered in my little shoebox, and I for one had a fantastic time.

For backstory: Raj and I met [WARNING: shameless plug in 3...2...1...] on an Alternative Spring Break program my junior year at Georgia. My friend Amy and I led a trip to Alabama to work at a home for people living with HIV and AIDS. Like the other ASB trips I went on or led, it was life-affirming and outlook-changing. Raj followed in my footsteps, not only leading trips, but also helping to lead the entire program - eventually doubling the number of trips (there is even a trip that comes to Chicago!).

As far as conversation goes, you couldn't ask for a more accomplished, more interesting group of people - as far as dinner goes...well, I know I'm my harshest critic, but I think it may have left something to be desired. Everything tasted good, but as Ross ended up admitting, it wasn't my most creative meals to date. Additionally, I mistimed quite a bit of the action, and we didn't get as much time to eat as I would've liked. Despite these criticisms, my guests seemed to like everything, and hopefully they were well-fueled and well-rested for the race.

The turkey bolognese, I thought, was pretty tasty - I actually really like the flavor that the turkey, as opposed to a traditional sausage and beef blend, lent to the sauce. And the veggie sauce actually turned out to be quite a hit, even among the omnivores! I was sure I'd ruined it when I let the carrot-onion-celery mixture burn, but it actually really deepened the flavor of the sauce, giving regular old canned tomatoes a more fire-roasted flavor.

It was great to catch up with a fellow Bulldog (he's still in school - Law - by the way), and meet new friends with the same zest for life and good-natured Southern charm that Raj is known for.



1 and 1/2 lb. ground lean turkey meat
2 T. olive oil
1 and 1/2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 small sweet onion
2 ribs celery, chopped into small pieces
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 and 1/2 large cans whole plum tomatoes with basil
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2-1 c. red wine (more as needed)
fresh chopped basil
sprinkling of dried Italian herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley, red pepper flakes) to taste
1/3 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 pack spaghetti



2 T. olive oil
1 and 1/2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 small sweet onion
2 ribs celery, chopped into small pieces
salt and pepper
1 and 1/2 large cans whole plum tomatoes with basil
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2-1 c. red wine (more as needed)
fresh chopped basil
2 cloves garlic
sprinkling of dried Italian herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley, red pepper flakes) to taste
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
2 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 pack spaghetti


In a nonstick skillet, brown the turkey meat with some salt and pepper. Set aside.


In both pots, heat the olive oil. Cook the onion, carrot, and celery over medium heat, seasoning with salt and pepper, until they start to get some color. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasonings, wine and garlic and some more salt and pepper. Add the turkey to the pot that will be the meat sauce.


Cook all this for awhile, covered, stirring occasionally and breaking up the big tomato pieces with a wooden spoon. As the sauces cook, keep an eye on how liquid-y they are, and add some more wine as needed if they're getting too thick/dry.


Add the broccoli and zucchini to the veggie sauce. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti. Add the fresh basil to the sauces. Turn the heat down on the turkey sauce and add the cream. Stir and cook a little more. Taste the sauces and adjust seasonings. When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it and set aside. Serve and enjoy!


Raj: I liked the spicy tang to the veggie sauce - it wasn't too sweet or too creamy. And the salad dressing was excellent.

Patrick: Very good. I actually liked the vegetarian sauce more than the meat sauce.

Ryan (male): I'd want to try the sauce over angel hair, since I like thin pasta. I was worried about the sauce's spice, but it was fine. And the music was good.*

Ryan (female): I liked the spicy kick to the veggie sauce. It was good, although I did have to pick out the visible tomato chunks. By the way, your cat is psycho.

Ross: This was ok, but not very creative. I expect more from you at this point.

*Ross put on our perennial favorite dinner mix of classic Sinatra tunes. Always a hit.

So it appears that the Veggie Sauce was the winner. Who knew? And all that time, I thought I'd burnt it.

Catching up with an old friend and making news ones was the real highlight of the meal, though. Thanks so much to my guests for spending a night in Chicago with little ol' me! And....GOOOOOO DAWGS! SIC 'EM! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Haluski & Chocolate Apple Bread

You know what I like? When I get to bake a chocolate cake and call it "bread."

If this is bread, can I make a sandwich out of it? How about toast? Would it follow that it could be justifiably slathered in a.) butter, b.) peanut butter, or c.) jam? Let me tell you, friends, that if this is indeed bread, man can, in fact, live on bread alone (or woman, at least). Because this bread is - I think you already knew this - made of chocolate.

As if that fact alone weren't enough to make you run immediately into your boss' office and alert her that you have swine flu and must leave the office posthaste (in order to go home and bake this "bread," naturally), let me tell you this: this bread that is magically chocolate - it's also...pretty healthy! To be clear, it's not exactly the nutritional equivalent of a shot of wheatgrass, but as far as chocolate baked things go, it's one of the better things you could eat.

How is this possible, you ask? For one thing, I adapted a chocolate and zucchini bread recipe, subbing in apple for the zucchini (I had several apples that needed some love quickly). I also used olive oil as the fat (not butter), and reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe (because I figured the apples would lend a natural sweetness on their own, which they did).



1 1/2 cups shredded raw apple
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (not Dutch-processed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips (optional - I didn't use these)


Grate the apple, using a medium sized grater. Set aside.


In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice. Set aside.


In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla extract until well blended (about 2 minutes). Fold in the grated apple. Add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Then fold in the chocolate chips (if using).


Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the bread has risen and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 to 65 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and cool completely. Makes one - 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf.

This Chocolate Apple Bread was so good, even Sascha Fierce wanted in on the action! Go make this right now!

Luckily, the photos of the bread came out nicely, because Haluski, while simple and delicious, is not very photogenic. It's simply cabbage, onions, and noodles, which is pretty monochromatic (which I like in my outfits but don't like on my plate). If you can get past that, though, you'll have a great dinner whipped up in no time.

Haluski is a Polish dish that's traditionally made with a lot of butter - we're talking 3 sticks of butter. I only used about a half-stick of butter, which still sounds like a lot, but this recipe makes about 5-6 servings, so it's really not that bad (for one serving, you end up eating the amount of butter you'd spread on a couple slices of French bread). The real key to making this dish amazing and and not bland is seasoning it really well. Throw in a few pinches of salt, cook it, taste it, then add more if needed. You just really do not want to under-season it, because under-seasoned cabbage just isn't pleasant. The salt will also help the cabbage and onions to release their moisture, aiding in the cooking process.

I had some leftover hot Italian sausage that I quickly browned and scattered around Ross' plate, but I topped mine with a simple fried egg (I must say, one of my favorite ways to add protein to a dish - I'm an absolute egg fanatic). The original recipe is meat-free, and I've seen a lot of online Haluski recipes that use a rustic dumpling in place of egg noodles. With more time on my hands, I'd make the dumplings, maybe adding some potato for texture, but since I was crunched for time, I just threw in the noodles and it was still good. (I've made it before using egg noodles, which are great. The No Yolks brand are delicious as well as better for you than other types of egg noodles.)



1 medium head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or yellow), halved and sliced into thin half-moons
6 oz. dried pasta (I used fusilli, but egg noodles are traditional)
1/2 stick butter (calm down, I'll explain)
1-2 T. olive oil
1-2 eggs (optional)
1 hot Italian sausage (optional); or kielbasa, if you like
salt and pepper


Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet that has a lid. Add the cabbage and onion, season well with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally. This should cook until the veggies are tender and beginning to caramelize.


Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.


About 5 minutes before you want to turn off the heat on the cabbage/onions, add the noodles to the haluski in the skillet. Add some olive oil, season some more with salt and pepper, and toss the noodles with the rest of the mixture. Cook a few more minutes.


If you're going the route of topping your haluski with a fried egg (that's how I like mine), fry the eggs when you add the noodles to the pot. I served Ross' portion with some hot Italian sausage, simply browned in a pan and scattered around the haluski. Place some haluski on each plate, top with an egg and/or sausage, serve, and enjoy!

The Haluski came out great - and it was still yummy the next day when I ate it for lunch. One of the best things about it, too, is how cheap it is! I found the cabbage for 19 cents/lb. at my local grocery store, onions are cheap, and so are noodles - and this recipe makes enough to feed at least 4 hungry people! I think Haluski is the perfect example of people all over the world have been able to create delicious meals out of very little that then become hallmarks of their local cuisine - some leftover cabbage, a little onion and butter, some flour and water made into dumplings - voila! A Polish national treasure.

Thanks for reading! More soon...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mushroom-Swiss Grass-Fed Burgers (and one Portobello Burger)

Welcome to my Flexitarian Table.

Remember that post awhile back where I declared myself a Flexitarian, someone who eats mostly vegetarian food, but occasionally eats meat? That was inspired by a conversation I had with my vegetarian (and sustainable-food-knowledgeable) friend Kara. That conversation led me to this book, The Flexitarian Table. And that book led me to this meal.

Now that my omnivorous (and meat-loving) boyfriend is back, meal planning has required a bit more thought. For the past 6 months, it was simply, "What do I want to eat tonight?" Now it's, "How can I make a meal that we'll both love without going back to my formerly meaty ways?" Which brings me back to this wonderfully written and culinarily inspiring book. The author explains that his family of foodies has a variety of requirements: vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous. He was a chef in a vegan restaurant for years, although he himself eats not only eggs and dairy, but also meat and fish.

The thing that makes Peter Berley's book so unique and engaging is that he finds creative ways to essentially make one meal that can satisfy many dietary needs by making simple ingredient switches. Yes, sometimes this may require an extra pan or two, but by and large it doesn't make prep any more difficult.

Inspired by his strategic meal-planning, I came up with this simple dinner that could please not only myself and Ross, but our friends The LeCroys, who most definitely know their burgers. By making the burger "mushroom-Swiss" themed, that made it easy for me to just use a portobello mushroom as my burger patty, eliminating the need for extra ingredients or a whole other meal or side dish.


1 lb. 100% grass-fed ground beef (I used 85/15%)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
1 tsp. Worcherstershire sauce (I never spell that right)
a few dashes burger or grill seasoning
4 slices baby Swiss cheese
3 large portobello mushroom caps (1 kept whole, 2 chopped into chunks)
1/2 large white onion, sliced into half-moons
4 brioche buns (or any hamburger buns you want)
2 lb. baby yukon gold potatoes
big handful chopped fresh herbs of your choice (I used parsley, green onions, and rosemary)
3 T. olive oil
3 T. butter
mixed salad ingredients, any you like


Boil the potatoes until tender, but not falling apart, in a large pot of salted water. Drain, rinse with cool water, and set aside.


Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the beef, Worchestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and grill seasoning with the egg using your hands. Shape into three burger patties. Set aside.

In a nonstick skillet, heat about 1 T. olive oil and cook onions and mushrooms, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper, until they're browned to your liking. Remove from pan and set aside.


In a large skillet, melt the butter and oil. Place the potatoes in the skillet, pressing down gently to smash them slightly. Allow to cook until browned on one side. Turn over and cook until browned on all sides, sprinkling in the herbs about 5 minutes before you're done. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and toss in the remaining butter and oil in the pan before serving.


Meanwhile, heat a grill pan over medium heat. Grill the burgers, and the portobello mushroom cap, until desired doneness, adding cheese about 4-5 minutes before you want to take the burgers off the pan.


Place each burger on an open bun. Top with some of the onion and mushroom mixture and any condiments you want. Serve with the potatoes and salad, if you're having salad. Enjoy!

A few notes on the ingredients: I wanted to use 100% grass-fed beef, because even though I wasn't going to be eating it, supporting sustainable farming practices when feeding my friends and loved ones is just as important to me as if I were chowing down on the beef myself. (Sarah even commented on how different in color my burgers were than burgers made from regular corn-fed ground beef - nothing creepy, it just makes you cognizant of the fact that whatever what you eat eats, you eat too. Corn-fed beef is fattier and lighter in color. The grass-fed beef I bought was a rich brick-red, with very white, not yellowish, fat.)

I also splurged on the bakery brioche buns, which turned out to be vegan (I didn't know that when I bought them). I usually opt for whole wheat buns, but these were absolutely delicious, and they really added that "restaurant quality" to the overall meal. The potatoes turned out great, too! I think I just found my new favorite way to cook potatoes. I've been seeing a lot of the Food Network-types make these "slightly smashed" baby potatoes, and now I understand why: when you brown them in butter and oil, and season them well, the gentle smashing opens them just enough to so that they soak up all the flavor from the pan, but they still retain that pleasant, not-too-mushy baked-potato texture.

I hope this meal, as well as The Flexitarian Table cookbook, inspires you to create meals that bring everyone - no matter their style of eating - together for a meal. Because aren't all disputes ultimately solved at the dinner table?

Thanks for reading! More soon...
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