Saturday, March 24, 2012

White Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are pretty popular on restaurant menus but I had never tried making my own until now. It was super easy and featured some of my favorite flavors like fresh cilantro, spicy peppers, and lime. They were also very easy to make. While the fish marinated in lime juice I was able to get everything else chopped for the pico de gallo and cilantro cream sauce. For a healthy substitute, I made the cream sauce with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream and it was delicious and even tasted great on the pineapple. I had considered making refried beans or brown rice as a more typical side dish but my boyfriend and I both love pineapple and I found a huge one at the grocery store. Tacos are also great for a crowd because everyone can pick what they want or don't want on their own taco.
I used tilapia for my fish tacos but haddock or cod would also be fabulous and I suspect shrimp would be as well. Be careful not to marinate the fish any longer than 15-20 minutes. Because of its delicate protein structure, fish tenderizes much quicker than chicken or beef.

White Fish Tacos


For the fish:
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
¼ tsp. cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tilapia (or any mild white fish)

For the cilantro cream sauce:
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. cilantro, minced
6 oz. nonfat plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch of stevia to taste (or sugar)
salt and pepper to taste

For serving:
6-inch corn tortillas, slightly warmed in the oven or microwave
crunchy lettuce, iceberg or Romain
pico de gallo (recipe later)


1. Combine the lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and garlic in a shallow dish.  Whisk together until well blended.  Place the fish in the mixture, turning to coat.  Let marinate 15-20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the cilantro cream sauce.  Combine all the ingredients for it in a small bowl and mix until well blended.

3. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the fish and cook about 3 minutes on each side. Remove to a plate, adjust the seasonings, and let cool for a few minutes.  Shred the fish into bite-sized pieces with two forks.

4. Assemble tacos on tortillas with shredded fish, cilantro cream sauce and toppings as desired.

Marinara Sauce

My family always called marinara sauce gravy, but when I call it that around other people they never have any idea what I'm referring to. No matter what its called its delicious as long as its home made, that garbage that comes in the jar is nothing like the real thing, its way too sweet due to unnecessary added sugar and no veggies. Real marinara has a strong tomato and garlic flavor and is filled with chunks of bell peppers and onion. My mom makes a more traditional sauce with meat such as meatballs, sausage, spare ribs, or any meat that happens to be in the fridge. The long cooking time makes the meat fork tender and fall right off the bone. Obviously my vegetarian version does not have any meat so I sub a poblano for a green bell pepper or add a little jalepano for a kick and my mom even asks me how I make mine now. 
Making home made tomato sauce is incredibly simple but it does take a little planning because it needs to simmer for a while on the stove. Of course its great on pasta and pizza but its also fantastic just on veggies! It freezes very well thus I usually make a double batch and freeze portions in glass jars. The portion size depends on your preference.

Marinara Sauce

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped (or a green bell pepper)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 a jalepano, minced (use this if you can't find poblanos)
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced (use less if you don't love garlic)
1/4 cup of red wine, which ever you drink
2 28oz cans crushed tomatos
1 8oz can tomato paste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder, oregano, basil or an Italian seasoning blend
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in large pot over medium high heat. Add the peppers and some salt and sauté about 5 minutes then add the onion and continue to cook while stirring until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook until light golden.
2. Deglaze the pan with the wine, meaning, add the wine and scrape any burnt bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, this will happen quickly. Turn the down to super low and let it simmer for at least 1 1/2 - 2 hours stirring occasionally.
4. Serve with Parmesan cheese :)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Banana Split Cupcakes

These banana split cupcakes turned out absolutely beautiful. Its a fluffy banana cupcake with sweet strawberry filling topped with fresh whipped cream, rich chocolate ganach, rainbow jimmies and a maraschino cherry. I love maraschino cherries, I order rum cokes just for the cherries and sneak them from the bar top when no ones looking lol. Back to the cupcakes, this recipe made 30 so I brought a dozen to work and a dozen to my boyfriend and his roommates leaving the rest for my family. These tempting treats were quickly devoured by my coworkers and family and my boyfriend had one for breakfast. They were a huge hit.
gather all necessary ingredients and equipment before
 you start to make things go more smoothly
I found this recipe on Annie's Eats and copied it exactly for the most part. I think the only thing I changed was omitting the canned pineapple because I hate canned pineapple. I considered using fresh but worried about the enzymes destroying the cake. I also used thawed frozen strawberries and added and extra tablespoon of powdered sugar to the berries. I also had to double the amount of whip cream because the amount she listed was not enough for all 30 cupcakes.
unusual beginnings
A big concern I had when decorating these was worrying the ganache would melt the whip cream. To avoid this catastrophe, I let the frosted cupcakes chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours. I also let the ganache cool to the touch before applying it. Another concern was having to keep these treats refrigerated, I think refrigeration dries out cake and kills flavors however, these cupcakes are incredibly moist and were just as good the next day. I had also never made cake were the butter and sugar creamed like this recipe. Usually creaming yields a light and fluffy butter and sugar combo but this was grainy looking and I was concerned they were not going to rise properly. Lucky for me they rose perfectly but this could have been due to the large amount of baking soda. I think if I were to make these again I would cut down the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 cups to get a more standard batter.

Broccoli and Lemon Quinoa with Cashews and Shrimp

This meal taste much better than it looks! Quinoa is a seed that cooks like a grain. It's super versatile and can be substituted for rice or couscous in most recipes. Its fantastic for a vegetarian entree because its very high in protein compared to other grains. Its also a welcome change to the same old rice or pasta side dish for the omnivore in your life. My boyfriend really likes quinoa proving that its not just for hippie vegetarians. Quinoa has a light and fluffy unique texture and takes to other flavors very well. I have used in every meal from breakfast to dessert and the only downside is that its about $4 a box.

The addition of cashews in this dish adds a nice salty crunch and the fresh cilantro brought some brightness and enhanced the lemon flavor. Usually when I prepare this I use parsley not cilantro but either works great. Fresh herbs can really elevate a meal and are definitely worth a few extra dollars at the grocery store. Shrimp pairs well with this meal especially if you squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them to tie all the flavors together. The best part about this meal is that its super quick to make and theres only two pans to clean up after, perfect for a busy night.

Below, I detail cooking the quinoa in stock and water but its also fantastic prepared with a little white wine or fresh lemon juice. The ratio is 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid but I like to use slightly less liquid if I'm going to squeeze lemon juice over it or dress it in anyway because the grain will absorb that extra liquid as well.

Broccoli and Lemon Quinoa with Cashews and Shrimp

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup vegetable stock
3/4 cup water
1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
1/2 poundish of shrimp, peeled and defined
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsly
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
the juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh cilantro or parsley
1/4 cup cashews, toasted

1. Combine the quinoa, stock and water in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, give it one good stir, cover it and turn the heat down to low and let it simmer. When the water is almost fully absorbed, add the broccoli florets to the top and season with salt and pepper, do not stir, recover until the liquid is fully absorbed. When its done, squeeze 1/2 of the lemon over it.
2. Meanwhile, season the shrimp with the salt, pepper, dried parsley, and a little garlic powder.
3. Heat a large skillet with a little oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, they cook quick so don't leave them unattended.
4. Serve with cashews and fresh herbs over the the quinoa and squeeze the other lemon half over the shrimp.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PB Banana Oat Muffins

sweet and healthy for an everyday snack
I have been baking these muffins regularly for about 3 years now. It all started when I shared a banana chocolate chunk muffin from Trader Joe's with my friend Lisa and she suggested I could make my own to save money. Not only did I produce a less expensive muffin but I created one with more protein and less sugar than anything I could buy. I used a basic recipe I found online that featured peanut butter and ripe bananas to replace the butter and add sweetness. Then I substituted Truvia for the sugar, eliminating any processed sugar from my muffins. All the while experimenting with various types of flour; soy, wheat, and oat to name a few, mixed with protein powder to up the protein content. For a long time I used a combo of soy flour and chocolate protein which was great until I stumbled upon peanut flour in the aisles of Trader Joe's. Peanut flour proved to be a dream come true, high in protein, low in fat, and full of fiber, it also tasted just like peanut butter which is my absolute favorite! The three dollar per bag peanut flour was also so high in protein it eliminated the need for pricey protein powder in the muffins. Currently, I am trying to figure out a way to keep the muffins pooffed up, once they come out of the oven the tops tend to flatten out which doesn't affect the flavor, just the appearance.
For this version I used half peanut flour and half oatmeal which produced a heartier crumb. I also folded in some chocolate chips I had leftover from a cupcake recipe but you can mix in 1/2 to 1 cup of anything like walnuts, blueberries, or raisons.
chocolate oat chunks surrounded by peanut butteriness

Peanut Butter Oat Muffins

3 ripe bananans (brown ones)
1/4 cup peanut butter, melted
1/3 cup trivia or sugar
1/3 cup water or milk, omit if using regular sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon pure vanilla exrtact
3/4 cup peanut flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips, or mix in of choice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin.
2. In a medium bowl, mash the bananas and add next five ingredients blending well.
3. In a measuring cup, or another bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and stir to distribute.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined, you may need to add more water or milk. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes.

I have made this many times with only two bananas and it has been completely successful. If using regular sugar, don't add any water/milk until the end. Besides adding sweetness, sugar also lends moisture to baked goods. Most sugar substitutes do not. I have yet to try these muffins with honey or maple syrup but I think these liquid sweeteners would be successful. Oat flour can also be substituted for the peanut flour. To make oat flour, put rolled oats in a food processor and pulse until flour consistency, measure the 3/4 cup from the oat flour not the rolled oats.

Rosemary Simmered Cannellini Beans and Parmesan Garlic Chicken Wings

Beans work great when cooking for vegetarians and omnivores at the same time. They serve as a protein packed entree for the vegetarian and a fiberful side dish for the meat eater. Plus they are super easy to make. I like to make a big batch of dried beans and then freeze them in 1-2 cup portions, then when I want to use them I either move them into the fridge the night before or microwave them. The dried beans are cheaper but if they seem like to much prep work, canned beans work just as well and at .99 cents a can they're pretty cheap as well. Much less costly than meat. I did use canned cannellini beans for this dish because I didn't have any dried on hand. It was a snap to make, I just simmered them with some aromatic rosemary and roasted garlic. I love roasted garlic, its deep caramelized flavor takes garlic to another level.
I made Parmesan garlic chicken wings for my boyfriend, he said they were very good but I can;t say for myself. I used this recipe from Steamy Kitchen and just made a few changes based on what I had in my kitchen. I subbed dried basil for the dried oregano because some how, I was completely out of oregano! And I used roasted garlic instead of fresh like the Steamy Kitchen recipe called because not everyone enjoys raw garlic.
Another aspect that makes it easier to cook vegetarian and meat meals at the same time is to use the same herbs and seasonings for both dishes.

Rosemary Simmered Cannellini Beans

1 can cannellini beans, not drained
1/4 cup water
1-2 tablespoons roasted garlic
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or basil
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil and Parmesan cheese to serve

1. Combine everything in a medium sized pot over medium high heat. When it just reaches a boil turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until it thickens. Serve topped with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Broccoli and Red Pepper Bake with Parmesan

This broccoli and red pepper bake with Parmesan cheese was a colorful side dish next to rosemary simmered canneli beans and garlic Parmesan chicken wings, unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture until I already started eating. I found this recipe on the NY times website through a google search. They call it Broccoli Gratin with Red Pepper and Parmesan but it doesn't seem au gratin to me so I changed the name. Au gratins are like a French casserole and have a nice browned cheesy breadcrumb crust and most often, they start with béchamel sauce, a thick creamy white sauce. It starts with a light roux, equal parts butter and flour lightly cooked, and then milk is gradually whisked in and its simmered until thick enough to coat a spoon.
 Bechamel is one of whats known as the 5 mother sauces of French cuisine. Mother sauces are the main sauces that all other sauces start with they include Hollandaise, Tomato, Espagnole and Veloute. Most people are familar with Hollandaise sauce which is featured in eggs Benedict and Tomato sauce which is very common in Italian cuisine. Tomato sauce is unique from the other mother sauces because it does not require a roux to thicken. Espagnole is for dark meat such as beef, it begins with a dark brown roux and veal stalk and is the starter of demi-glaze. Veloute is a pale colored sauce and is commonly served on chicken, it is made with a light roux and usually chicken stock, it forms the base of Supreme sauce which is very commonly served with chicken.
  This veggie dish has no sauce therefore I don't think it qualifies as a classic au gratin dish, and while it dose have breadcrumbs and cheese, its crusty top is not nearly as thick as traditional gratins. It was a nice light side and much fancier than just steamed broccoli with cheese on top. The red peppers added a touch of sweetness and a beautiful splash of color to the plate. I used roasted garlic which melted into the oil and added a deep caramelized flavor but fresh garlic will work just fine. The only thing I did not like about this veggie bake was the three pans and steamer I had to clean up after preparing it. The broccoli needs to be steamed first and the red peppers must be sautéed until softened and then it needs to be baked in a casserole dish. However it was delicious and when I make it again I'll probably try to prep the veggies earlier in the day to avoid massive clean up after dinner.

Broccoli and Red Pepper Bake with Parmesan 

1 1/2 pounds of broccoli, crowns chopped, and if desired, stalks peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
heavy pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon roasted garlic, or 3 cloves minced fresh garlic
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
1 handful fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 big handful of panko or bread crumbs
chopped fresh basil for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Steam the broccoli until tender crisp. Run it under cold water when its done to preserve the color if desired.
2. As the broccoli is steaming, heat the oil in a large skillet and add the peppers and salt & pepper and saute until the peppers are softened. 
3. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs and cheese in a small bowl and set it aside. Season the bread crumbs with salt and pepper if they are not already seasoned.
3. Add the garlic, steamed broccoli, rosemary, and red pepper flakes and stir well to coat every thing in garlic and oil. Turn the heat down and let it cook for a minutes or two.
4. Transfer the veggies to an 8x8 casserole or baking dish. Top with the cheesy breadcrumbs and bake for about 10-15 minutes until the cheese if fully melted and the topping is somewhat browned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Peanut Butter Truffle Cupcakes

This cupcake is for serious peanut butter fanatics. It starts with an easy one bowl moist chocolate cupcake based off a Martha Stewart recipe. Then its cored out and filled with a rich peanut butter and white chocolate truffle. Its topped with a peanut butter buttercream frosting which taste like a Reese pieces. I had intended to fold the chopped pb cups into the cake batter but I forgot! Instead I folded some into half of the truffle center which was much better than the plain truffle. While this cupcake is  good, I think the truffle center is too rich. If I were to make these again I would simply omit it and just have a plain chocolate cupcake (possibly with chopped pb cups mixed in) with the smooth peanut butter buttercream frosting.
bought half price after valentines day!

Peanut Butter Truffle Center

3/4 cup peanut butter cups, chopped
1 bag white chocolate chips
1 cup smooth peanut butter

1. After chopping the pb cups, stick them in the freezer for at least and hour. This will keep them from melting into the truffle batter.
2. Melt chocolate in a medium sized bowl in the microwave (or preferfed melting method). Add the peanut butter and stir to fully combine, you may need to put it back in the microwave for a 20 seconds or so.
3. Fold in the pb cups and refrigerate until its set, about an hour or two.

extreme peanut butter

Peanut Butter Buttercream

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt

1. Using an electric mixer, or stand mixer if you're lucky, cream the butter and pb until its light and fluffy.
2. Gradually add the powdered sugar until fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Add the vanilla, salt, and heavy cream and beat until fluffy. Start with just 1/2 a cup of cream and go from there adding more if necessary, it should have a smooth consistency.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tex-Mex Rice n' Bean Casserole

Cilantro is my favorite herb ever, I think its why I like Spanish food to much. Its bright flavor adds a splash of freshness to this tasty Tex-Mex rice n' bean casserole. It was my first time making this recipe and it turned out delicious, super cheesy and pretty healthy too. And while its vegetarian, it also received great reviews from meat eaters. Its made of spicy brown rice, black eyed peas, veggies, and cheddar cheese to hold every thing together.
I cooked the rice earlier in the day to save time so this meal was super quick to make and after dinner there was only ONE pan to clean up!

Tex-Mex Rice n' Bean Casserole

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, obviously
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water

1 can black eyed peas, slightly drained and NOT rinsed
1 14oz can diced tomatoes with chilies
2-3 big handfuls baby spinach
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup fresh cilantro plus more for garnishing
lots of salt and pepper to taste

1. For the Rice: Heat the oil in a medium sized pot. Add the onions and cook about 5 minutes then add the garlic, paprika, red pepper, and salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil and sauté until fragrant, it should smell nutty. Add the water and bring to a boil, stir once, reduce heat to low, and cover, do not stir or uncover for 40 minutes or until all the water is obsorbed. Once its fully cooked, wait 10 minutes then fluff with a fork.
2. Casserole Assembly: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8x8 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Dump all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well except for 1/4 of the cheese. Transfer mixture into the prepared pan. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
3. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the casserole and bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve with extra cilantro.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cauliflower Part 2, Cauliflower Pasta

FNM's picture looks much nicer than mine

I saw a recipe for Sicilian cauliflower pasta in Food Network Magazine and thought it would be a tastey way to use up the other half of cauliflower I had left from the pizza. Pasta is a great main dish or side for weeknights because its super quick and its a great base for veggies or any left overs you might have. Its also easy to just add meat to half and leave the rest vegetarian. This recipe starts off with a classic garlic and oil sauce, which is delicious on its own, and then the rest of the ingrediants are added. I really liked the addition of rasins, it gave it a little sweet fruitiness without overpowering the rest of the flavors. I didn't change much from the original recipe. I left out the dill, used a different color raisin and I added a lot more garlic, FNM calls it Sicilian and they only use one clove, crazy.

Cauliflower Pasta
adapted from Food Network Magazine

1/2 a box penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 a head of cauliflower, chopped small
1/4 cup rasins
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
juice from half a lemon
a hefty pinch of salt
lots of parmesan cheese and black pepper

1. Add the penne to a large pot of salted boiling water. Add a drizzle of olive of oil and stir. Cook until al dente. Drain and reserve a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper, and some salt cook for about 2 minutes. Add the cauliflower and raisins and continue to cook until the cauliflower is tender-crisp and slighty browned.
3. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the pasta, parsley, lemon juice, reserved cooking liquid, salt, pepper and parmesan.
4. Serve with more grated parmesan!

Its easier if you just toss the cauliflower in the food processor to get it nice and small rather than chopping.
Pasta with just garlic, red pepper and parmesan is delicious on its own, you can add any of your favorite veggies to make it a complete meal.