Spoiling Myself

Last month, I spent a few days at my parents’ house in Laredo, Texas.  It was such a treat.  My folks got to see my changing pregnant body in person and I got a little spoiled.  I got plenty of attention, and had a couple of generous escorts to shuttle me around and take me shopping.

But, besides their company, I most enjoyed the food.  Both my parents are talented in the kitchen and they always make sure I have my Texas favorites, so I ate really well.  Plus, while I love cooking, this pregnancy makes me tire easily and I try to avoid staying on my feet for too long, so having someone else not only do all the cooking, but all the clean-up, too, was like visiting a spa.

It was nice to come home and see my husband (who spoils me in different ways) and pets, and sleep in my own bed again.  (I missed you body pillow!)  However, I do miss waking up to ready-made food.  It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I’m so hungry when I wake up I can’t think straight and trying to put breakfast together can be a lot of effort.

So, I’ve been trying to prepare some breakfast items in advance that way I don’t have to exert much energy or brain power to feed myself first thing in the morning.  And, while I can’t have my parents cook for me right now, I can enjoy their recipes.

This recipe is a hearty breakfast bread that my mom shared with me last year.  It makes wonderful toast and provides protein, fiber, and potassium – you know…good stuff.

Toasted Almond and Apricot Bread
Makes 1 loaf

7 oz dried apricots
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
3/4 cup chopped natural almonds
1 heaping cup rolled oats or 1 cup oat flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt

Coarsely chop apricots.

Heat orange juice in small saucepan until it boils.  Stir in brown sugar and apricots.  Remove from heat and let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Add 1 Tbsp oil to medium frying pan and use it to brown the almonds.  Stir and toss the nuts so they toast evenly and are lightly browned.

If you don’t have oat flour, add 1 heaping cup of rolled oats to a food processor and blitz until it resembles flour.

Beat the eggs until frothy.

Mix in remaining 2 Tbsp oil and buttermilk.

Thoroughly blend the all-purpose and oat flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Mix in toasted almonds.

Add dry mixture to egg mixture and blend well.

Stir in apricots and their juice.

Pour the batter into a well-greased 9-inch loaf pan.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean and top is lightly browned.

Let rest in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling.

The bread will keep several days in an airtight container, or may be frozen.  To freeze, after completely cooling, wrap the loaf in foil and store in a plastic zip-top bag for up to 6 months.

I really enjoy it toasted with butter.

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Bistro Hash Browns

I just love fried potatoes.  Of course, most folks I know, do, too.  I also love it when I discover new ways to enjoy those fried potatoes.

This dish came about while I was staring at a bundle of fresh parsley from my generous friend Karen.  She has a well-established herb garden and regularly shares her harvest.  Lucky me.

I knew I wanted to use this parsley as a highlight to a dish, not just a garnish.  Then I remembered reading about the French technique of flavoring dishes with minced parsley and garlic, called persillade.  So, I consulted with one of my favorite French chefs, Jacques Pepin and found just the thing.

You can basically think of this dish as making hash browns with a simple mixture of minced parsley and garlic that, when added to the hot dish at the end of cooking, serves as a terrific flavor addition.

Pommes Persillade (Potatoes with Parsley and Garlic)
Serves 4

from Jacques Pepin’s Table

2 large potatoes, washed and peeled
2 Tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (loosely packed)
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes.

Using a colander, rinse well.

If you are not preparing the dish right away, place the potatoes in a bowl and cover with cold water.  If you leave the potatoes fully submerged, they won’t turn brown.

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat the oil.  Drain the potatoes and pat dry with paper towels.

Add the potatoes to the hot oil.  Saute over high heat for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are browned and crisped.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop the garlic and parsley together until finely minced, and set aside.  Congratulations, you just made a persillade.

When the potatoes are done cooking, add the persillade and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve immediately – this is much better served right after cooking so you can appreciate the crispy outside and tender inside.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Healthy Cocktail Snack

I always enjoy snacks during happy hour.  And, even though I’m not consuming alcohol right now, that doesn’t mean I don’t want something to nibble while everyone is imbibing.  But, I don’t want to fill up on empty calories – I want a filling snack that tastes good and is good for me, too.

Enter the almond.

Why eat almonds?

1.  They help you lose weight.  Studies show people who eat a serving of almonds at least twice a week are less likely to gain weight.  Almonds are high in calories, though; stick to no more than 1/3 cup – a small handful – each day.  Pick whole, roasted almonds.  Sugar coated almonds are not a super food.

2.  They lower your risk of heart disease.  Almonds are high in monounsaturated “good” fats, which help lower cholesterol.  By adding almonds to a low-fat diet, you can reduce your chance of heart disease by 30 to 45%.  Choose nuts with little or no salt, which can raise blood pressure.

3.  They’re a quick source of protein.  No time to make eggs in the morning?  Here’s a fun fact: A 1/4 cup of almonds (approximately 20 – 25) provides just as much protein as a single egg, strengthening everything from your eyes to your nails.  So when you’re reaching for an afternoon almond snack, you’re not only satisfying cravings but also supporting your entire body.

4.  They help strengthen your bones.  Just one serving of almonds contains 10% of your daily recommended calcium intake, making for strong, resilient bones.  They’re also high in magnesium, which supports calcium in keeping teeth healthy.

5.  They may boost your immune system.  A recent study revealed that naturally occurring chemicals found in the skin of the nut improved the ability of white blood cells to detect viruses while also increasing the body’s ability to prevent viruses from replicating and so spreading inside the body.  They discovered that even after the almonds had been digested, there was still an increase in the immune systems defenses against viruses.

These spicy almonds are slightly addictive, so do watch your portions.  But, I think you’ll find they are just as good with cocktails as they are with ginger ale.

Spicy Almonds
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 lb natural almonds
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake almonds 10 minutes on a baking sheet.

Combine butter, honey, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne in a large bowl.

Toss with almonds.

Return to baking sheet and bake an additional 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with  salt while still hot.

Let nuts cool and break apart with hands.

Store in an airtight container.

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Cake for Breakfast

Remember the Bill Cosby routine from his comedy stand-up about feeding his children cake for breakfast?

“Good morn’, Daddy.”

And I said, “What do you want for breakfast!?”  The four-year-old has the ability to see through and find the wrong thing. The child saw through my body what was behind me. She saw the chocolate cake.

She said, “Can I have the chocolate cake?”

And I said, “Chocolate cake, where?”

She said, “Chocolate cake behind you.”

And I looked… and there was chocolate cake! The child wanted chocolate cake for breakfast! How ridiculous! And I said… and someone in my brain looked under chocolate cake and saw the ingredients: eggs! Eggs are in chocolate cake! And milk! Oh goody! And wheat! That’s nutrition!

“Chocolate cake coming up.” Sliced it for her and served it.

Eggs, milk, and wheat in the chocolate cake. And…I didn’t have to cook. And the other four came downstairs. And when they came downstairs…they saw the four-year-old eating chocolate cake.

And they said, “Dad! Where did she get the chocolate cake?” And they went to the child and said, “How did you get chocolate cake?”

She said, “Dad give me chocolate cake!” And they looked at me and said, “Father… could we have chocolate cake?”

And their father said, “Chocolate cake coming up!!”

And five children sat at breakfast and the morning music was playing and they were eating chocolate cake and singing songs to me: “Dad is great! Give us the chocolate cake!”

Well, I’ve been replaying that in my mind this week.  You see I made a carrot cake for Easter dinner, and I just love leftover carrot cake for breakfast.  I mean, it has carrots, and eggs, and wheat…that’s nutrition!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 9 x 13-inch sheet cake

Cake:
1 cup pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded

Frosting:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

To make cake:  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease and flour 9 x 13-inch cake pan.

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 7 to 8 minutes, or until fragrant.  Cool and chop pecans.

In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, and vanilla.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugars at high speed until well blended, maybe 3 – 5 minutes.

Beat in the liquid ingredients.

Beat in the dry ingredients just until moistened.

Stir in carrots and pecans.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.  Let cake cool on wire rack for about 30 minutes then remove from pan and let cool completely.

To make frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese at high speed until light.

Add about 1 1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar and beat at low speed until incorporated.  Add more confectioners’ sugar if needed.  Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.

Frost cake and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

The flavors of this moist cake improve with time, so it is actually better to bake and frost the cake in advance.  The cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Easy Does It Smoothie

Avocados can be used for so much more than just guacamole.  Not that I don’t enjoy guacamole – I just don’t like to limit my enjoyment of avocados to merely being scooped up by tortilla chips.

Did you know that the avocado is considered a fruit, not a vegetable?  Many cultures serve avocados for dessert adding sugar to the fruit.  This is not something I eat all the time because I do like avocados with my savory foods, but I encourage you to keep an open mind.  I’ve enjoyed avocado ice cream and find it a delicious addition to fruit salads, however, I understand that it can be a big taste transition to someone who’s only served avocados with their tacos.

Here’s an easy way to combine a sweet taste with your avocado by adding pineapple and orange juice.  Besides, this recipe entails little risk since it just uses one avocado and is a smoothie so it is easy to share with fellow adventurous taster.  Sweet, creamy, and healthy!

Avocado Smoothie
Makes 1 large smoothie

1 small ripe avocado (pitted and removed from peel)
1/2 cup diced pineapple
1 1/2 Tbsp lime juice
1/2 – 3/4 cup orange juice
1  – 2 Tbsp agave syrup

Puree all ingredients in blender until smooth.  Adjust the amounts of  juice and agave syrup depending on your preference for taste and texture.

Pour into glass and serve right away.

Tips for selecting fresh avocados:

The best way to tell if an avocado is ready for immediate use is to gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand.  Ripe, ready-to-eat fruit is firm yet yields slightly to gentle pressure.  The color doesn’t tell you enough about ripeness – the Hass avocado will turn darker as it ripens, but other varieties remain light-green even when ripe.  Avoid avocados with dark blemishes on the skin (like many in the above picture) or overly soft flesh.

If you don’t want to serve avocados for a couple of days, purchase hard, unripened fruit.  I find that leaving the avocados on my kitchen counter is adequate for ripening, but some folks swear by the process of putting the fruit in a paper bag and adding an apple or banana to help it ripen faster.

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Live Like An Islander

Well, maybe just a little bit.  So, we can’t all live on the Hawaiian islands, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some fresh pineapple.  Especially, this time of the year (March – July) when pineapples are at their peak.

What’s holding you back?  Not sure how to pick a ripe one?  Don’t know how to cut it?  Do you buy this?

Instead of this?

I find the fruit tastes so much better when I pick it out and cut it myself, and I think you will, too.  Yes, I know it isn’t as good as freshly picked in a tropical location, but I can settle for a tasty second best if you can.

How to choose?  Look for the largest and plumpest ones with crisp, dark green leaves.  It should be firm to a gentle press and only yield slightly.  If you have a good nose, you should be able to get a faint, pleasant pineapple aroma at the base of the fruit when it is ripe.  Avoid pineapples that are overly soft, wrinkled, cracked, or have yellow or brown leaves.  Don’t believe folks who tell you that a pineapple is ripe when a leaf can be removed from the crown easily – it is often a sign the fruit is rotten.

Once you’ve gotten the fruit home, you need to cut it for eating.

I use a large knife and a cutting board.  Place the fruit on its side and slice off the lid and the base.

Stand the fruit upright again, and slice down the the side from top to bottom to remove the rough skin.  Try to leave as much of the sweet flesh as possible.  I trim off any remaining eye spots (those brown areas) as I go.

Once all the skin is removed, I lay the fruit on its side again in order to cut the pineapple into slices.

We most often enjoy fresh pineapple as is – I don’t add it to recipes.  Because of that, I just cut it into bite-size wedges, so I cut each slice in half.

Then, I trim out any remaining brown eye holes and remove the core from each half.

I further cut each half into smaller pieces.

Your cut pineapple should be stored in an airtight container (I just use a big zip-top bag) in the refrigerator for no more than 3 days.

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Spring Has Sprung

Spring has definitely arrived here in Washington, DC.  The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the tourist season has begun.

So, we’ve been staying home a bit more than usual.  After a couple of days of yard work, I was so pleased to see my herbs start to sprout and spread.  I’ve missed the light and fresh taste the herbs can bring to our meals.

I know it is a bit early for sugar snap peas, but my husband couldn’t resist them at the grocery store this week, and I decided they would make a lovely spring dish with the addition of some of our backyard mint.

Blistered Sugar Snap Peas with Mint
Serves 4 to 6

Modified from Food & Wine

2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 pounds sugar snap peas, rinsed and dried
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Put a large cast iron skillet on the stovetop over high heat until very hot. Add about 1 Tbsp of olive oil and swirl to coat pan. Add snap peas, toss a few times to coat with oil and transfer skillet to oven.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then stir/toss snap peas a few times to ensure even cooking.  Return the skillet to the oven for another 2 to 4 minutes until the peas are crisp-tender and starting to blister.

While the snap peas are in the oven, combine remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil with lemon zest.

Remove skillet from oven.  Toss the peas with the lemon zest olive oil.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle mint on top, toss again, and serve.

This dish is good served immediately when hot, or you can let it cool and refrigerate to serve later.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Mango Citrus Cooler

So, if you caught my post yesterday, you probably understand why I’m avoiding alcohol.  So for the next few weeks, things will probably look different here on Fridays.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still want to enjoy happy hour on Fridays, though.  I can still pull out my cocktail shaker and mix up some drinks for me and the teetotalers I know.  That way we don’t feel like we are missing out on all the fun.  And, if I can get an infusion of Vitamin C, all the better.

Mango Citrus Cooler
Makes 1 drink

5 ounces mango nectar
2 1/2 ounces orange juice
1 Tbsp lime juice
club soda
orange wedge for garnish, optional
lime wedge for garnish, optional

In an ice-filled shaker, combine mango nectar, orange juice, and lime juice.  Shake well.  Strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice.  Top off with club soda.  Garnish with citrus fruit.

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Bun in the Oven

Perhaps you have noticed that I haven’t posted to the blog in quite a while.  Well, at least I hope you’ve noticed.  I’ve missed all of you and I’ve missed my kitchen, too.

I’m not here to offer excuses, but more of an explanation.  Turns out Mr. Cook in a Bar and I are expecting a baby.

As good as this news is for the Cook in the Bar family, for several months this expected baby didn’t really want me to have much to do with cooking or eating or writing.  In fact, she made me feel downright sick most of the time.  Ugh.  This wasn’t a very helpful development for someone who spends her days thinking of and attempts to earn her living through food.

For now, however, I am pleased to announce that future Baby in a Bar and I have reached an uneasy detente.  I am feeling much better and I am attempting to return to my normal activities.

Okay, mostly normal activities.  You’ll probably notice a slight change to Bar Stool Fridays (sigh) and I’m sure my cravings will be clearly illustrated by upcoming entries between now and my expected due date of July.

Sorry for the cliched title, but I hope you can enjoy these literal buns in the oven.  They hit several craving high points for me – oranges, cinnamon, and of course, baked goods.

Sticky Orange Cinnamon Buns
Makes one dozen

For Dough:
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees F), divided
1/2 cup sugar, divided
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 Tbsp grated orange peel
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
5 – 6 cups all purpose flour

For Glaze:
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp grated orange peel
1 cup chopped pecans

For Filling:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Start by working on the dough.  Combine yeast, 1/4 cup milk, and dash of sugar in small bowl.  Let stand until foamy.

In a large bowl, beat remaining milk, remaining sugar, butter, orange peel, and vanilla until well blended.  Gently add yeast mixture.

Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended.

Stir in salt and cinnamon.  Add flour 1 cup at a time and stir to combine.  Add flour until smooth but still slightly sticky.  Please note the amount of flour depends on things like your measuring style and the humidity levels of your work area.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

Place in a large greased bowl and cover.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, probably 60 to 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly grease a 13×9-inch baking pan and set aside.

Stir together all glaze ingredients, except for pecans, in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil and let bubble over medium heat until slightly thickened, maybe 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir in pecans.  Moving quickly, but carefully, pour glaze into prepared pan.  Spread it out evenly with a spatula or spoon.

Beat all filling ingredients together until smooth.

Once dough has risen to double in size, turn it out again onto a floured surface.  Gently roll into a 18×9-inch rectangle.

Spread filling over entire surface of dough.

Starting with long edge, tightly roll dough into a long cylinder, pressing edge to seal.

With a sharp knife, cut into 12 even slices.

Place slices, cut-side up, into pan.

Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, probably 60 to 90 minutes.

Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool in pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes.

With a knife, gently loosen edge of buns from side of pan.  Line a baking sheet with wax (or parchment) paper.  Place that baking sheet on top of the pan and invert.

Cool buns for at lest 15 minutes before serving.

The buns are best served on day of baking, but they can keep for a couple of days if they are kept tightly wrapped in wax paper surrounded by foil.

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Filed under Bread, Breakfast, Personal

Bar Stool Fridays – Autumn Sangria

My husband and I recently visited my parents in Laredo, Texas.  Now, not to rub it in or anything, but the weather was pretty great.  Sunny.  Warm, but not hot.  Not humid.  Pretty great.

I was in the mood for a beverage with fall flavors, but I wanted to drink something refreshing that would be nice over ice…a drink for us to enjoy as we sat in the sun on the patio by the pool.

Autumn Sangria
Makes 8 servings

1 orange, sliced
1 apple, diced
1 lemon, sliced
1 bottle full-bodied and fruity red wine
1/2 cup brandy
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 – 4 Tbsp orange simple syrup (see note below)
ice

Add fruit to pitcher.

Pour in wine and brandy.  Add cloves and cinnamon stick.  Add simple syrup and stir.

Serve over ice.

To make orange simple syrup combine 1 1/2 cups sugar with 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan.  Add 1 Tbsp of orange zest and stir.  Simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolved and syrup is slightly thickened.  It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks.

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