Sunday, January 29, 2012

Banana Nut Steel Cut Oats

This, ladies and gents, is by far my favorite winter morning breakfast.

Unless you include pancakes or waffles or french toast.  So by "favorite" I mean "the best possible thing I can afford to eat all the time."  Which this definitely is.

If you're an oatmeal fan, then chances are you've tried steel-cut oats.  If you're not an oatmeal fan, then by all means TRY STEEL CUT OATS!

Sorry.  Didn't mean to get scary on you for a second.  But seriously - if you hate regular rolled-oats oatmeal, these could change your mind.  The oats, instead of being steamed and rolled, are steamed and then cut into small pieces with a steel blade.  Hence steel-cut oats - oh hey!  As a result, they retain more of the oat husk and have even more of those great whole-grain properties.  For those of you who aren't health nuts and don't give a rat's patoot about health values, they maintain a chewy texture - no mush here!  More good news: most steel-cut oats, especially Irish oats, are gluten-free!  Just check whatever brand you find to make sure they are, if that's a concern.  They do take a bit longer to cook, but there's a quick version of steel-cut oats too.  Which is what I use.

I have several variations of my Friday morning oatmeal, and this one is definitely my favorite so far.  I cook the oats with a combination of water, vanilla soy or almond milk, and Stevia, and I add sliced bananas, crushed or chopped walnuts, a nice sprinkle of cinnamon, and just a touch of light brown sugar to finish.  They're creamy, wholesome, sweet, and chewy with highlights of rich banana and crunchy nut - exactly what I want to eat when I see snow out my window in the morning :)

Banana Nut Steel-Cut Oats
A Dancer Bakes original!
Serves 1

3/4 cup water
1/4 cup quick-cooking steel-cut oats (such as McCann's)
1 packet stevia (I use Stevia in the Raw)
1/4 cup vanilla soy or almond milk, with more as needed or desired
1 medium to large banana at desired ripeness, sliced
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp light brown sugar

On the stove:
Heat the water in a small (2-3 cup) saucepan over medium-high heat till it reaches a rolling boil.  Add the oats and stevia.  Allow to cook uncovered for 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until the water has been mostly absorbed by the oats and the oatmeal has thickened.  Stir in the soy or almond milk and continue to cook until the milk is absorbed and the oatmeal is creamy.  Add the cinnamon, walnuts, and banana slices, stirring well to incorporate.  If the oats are too thick for your taste, add more of the milk and cook until your desired texture is reached.  Allow to sit for 1 minute.  Pour the oats into a bowl, sprinkle with brown sugar, and serve.

In the microwave:
Pour the oats, stevia, and water into a deep, microwave-safe bowl.  Cook on high for 2.5-3 minutes, stir, and return to the microwave for another 1-2 minutes, checking and stirring frequently.  Remove from the microwave and stir in the almond or soy milk, followed by the cinnamon, walnuts, and banana slices.  Add more milk and return to the microwave if necessary until desired consistency is reached.  Allow to sit for 1 minute.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and serve.
Microwave note: if your microwave runs hot and tends to make things boil over, consider adding 1/4 cup raisins to the oats and water before cooking them.  The dried fruit will absorb some of the excess moisture, which will keep the oats from boiling over - just remember you'll probably need more milk than the recipe calls for later!  And the oatmeal's just as delicious with raisins in the mix :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gluten-Free Kahlua Almond Brownies

So I'm not really into the whole gluten-free-living thing.  I love bread and cake.  As in LOVE.  And anyone who has Celiac will tell you that the GF alternatives to the real thing are just...not the same.

That being said.

This recipe is now my go-to for brownies.

I baked up a pan of these for a gluten intolerant friend's birthday.  The first sign of success: the batter was un-freakin-believable.  They made the kitchen smell like chocolate heaven as they baked and cooled (the cooling part took WAY too long for me.  I'm impatient).  After cutting the brownies, I gave scraps to my roommates and I shared another scrap with Jon.

The roommates declared them the best things I've ever baked.  Jon made deeply satisfied yummy noises.

I declared them too dangerous to keep in the house - never have I been more grateful that something I baked was a birthday treat!

So of course, I baked another pan to photograph and blog.  Really, everything I do is for you.

These brownies are fudge with flour.  For real.  They are fall-apart tender and gooey all at once.  The Kahlua and sea salt add little surprise top notes to the deep dark chocolate base, with the almonds (or any nut really - I want to try hazelnuts as the original recipe suggested) adding a mild crunch.  They're so rich that a small square, enjoyed slowly, doesn't make you feel deprived at all.

That doesn't, of course, stop you from wanting to eat the.whole.pan.  All at once.

I think these could easily be made with regular all-purpose flour instead of almond or brown rice without sacrificing the awesomeness of the recipe, so if you don't want to spend the money on the fancy flours, don't - give them a try and tell me how it goes!  I still have the remains of a bag of brown rice flour on my shelf, so I'll be content with this one gluten free treat for a while :)

Gluten Free Kahlua Almond Brownies
Source: lightly adapted from She's Becoming Doughmesstic

10 tbsp salted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 cup high quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp Kahlua
1 tbsp vanilla (preferably Mexican - it pairs beautifully with chocolate)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup almond or brown rice flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used semisweet)
1/3 cup slivered almonds (or nut of choice - give hazelnuts a shot!)

Preheat the oven to 325˚F (I had more success at 350˚).  Line an 8x8" pan with foil or parchment, leaving an overhang on two sides, and spray the lining well with nonstick spray.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove. As the butter melts, mix the sugars, cocoa powder, sea salt, Kahlua, and vanilla together in the bowl of a mixer.  Add the hot melted butter immediately and mix well to combine.  Allow the mixture to cool for approximately 5 minutes - you don't want the eggs to cook when you add them!

After 5 minutes, add the eggs one at a time, beating well to combine after each addition.  Add the flour and beat the mixture vigorously for 2 minutes - the batter should be thick and fluffy.  Stir in the chocolate chips and almonds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-32 minutes - they'll still be a bit gooey, but they'll firm up as they cool.  Leave them in the pan on a rack to cool for about 30-60 minutes, then place in the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes - this will facilitate cutting.  Lift the brownies out of the pan using the foil or parchment overhang, cut into squares, and enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Some Stories

So as you may or may not have noticed, I've been off the's been a bit crazy around here!

On a super fun note...less than FOUR MONTHS till my wedding!!  Planning is in full swing and we've actually been insanely productive lately on that front!  Our engagement photos also came in - an absolutely brilliant set of pictures thanks to Jenn and Ben of the Buffalo-based Ayres Photography!  Here's one of our favorites:

Then the next part of life: dance!  At the beginning of every spring semester, the university's dance company comes back to school a week early to rehearse for our concert in February.  This year, the trip to Buffalo was preceded by a gorgeous weekend in NYC for a company audition!
I took the train up to the city the day before - with temperatures in the 50s! - met up with Jon, and spent a lovely afternoon and evening together doing things like catching a Parsons Dance APAP showing at Ailey (brilliant...every member of the company is incredible) and...buying new ballet shoes because...I forgot mine at home before the audition...yep.

The next day, I was up bright and early to get put together and warmed up for my audition.  I went to the studios, prepared for slippery floor conditions thanks to my Parsons friends, met up with a bunch of friends from my school, and next thing I knew, I was dancing for the director and rehearsal director of the company!

And summarily getting cut.

First professional rejection: CHECK.

But I feel like I danced well, so I didn't feel bad about getting cut.  In fact, I laughed about it, went and got doughnuts at The Doughnut Plant at Chelsea Hotel - a must visit for foodies in NYC: the doughnuts were so.good... - and drove home to Buffalo with the love of my life, ready to get back into the swing of all things dance.

I spent the next week sweaty, bruised, and sore beyond belief from rehearsing three different pieces for about 10 hours a day.  Just when I thought I was on my way to recovery, a choreographer would throw a new combination at us, and by the time we finished polishing that phrase I was right back where I started!

If I ever hear anyone say that dance is for sissies again, I might punch them.  After learning proper boxing technique so I don't hurt myself.

But overall, the week was fantastic!  I had a great time, successfully tested my snow tires in a blizzard, lost about three pounds, gained two of them back at a progressive dinner party (for which I made a double recipe of Hot Fudge Pudding Cake - it's a crowd pleaser!) and got some of the best sleep of my life thanks to exhaustion.

Then came MLK Day.

It's the only three-day weekend of spring semester.  I haven't had that day off in three years thanks to rehearsals, and this year was no different.

Except that it was.

Because this happened:
That, dear friends, is what happens when a school bus backs up onto the hood of your car while you're sitting on a campus road on your way to rehearsal with absolutely no idea that the bus full of children is going to suddenly back up after it has already opened its doors and you can't back up because there's an SUV behind you and you're so panicked that you forget you have a lovely contraption called a car horn that is meant for these exact times until you're watching your hood crumple while you curse, pray, and cry your eyes out in terror.

So that was my holiday!

Please, do not follow my example and get crushed by a yellow school bus.  It wasn't fun.
A little bit funny now...but not fun.

You are now caught up on my life, whether you wanted to be or not!
Coming up next: my first gluten-free baking adventure!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Oddest Cupcakes I've Ever Made

This post is not going to come with a recipe.

Why, you ask?

Well, cause I haven't quite done with it what I want to yet!  But...these things were just too interesting to keep to myself.

First, a little background:
My friend Jenni and I have been close since she moved into the house on the corner when we were six years old.  Now, we go to college in different states, so we don't get to see a whole lot of each other.  When we do get together, though, we have a blast!  And it almost always involves food.

Last time, we made cupcake lasagnas - miniature lasagnas made with wonton wrappers, which were super cute! - and Annie's cookies and cream cupcakes, which are now some of my favorites.  So this time, when Jen suggested a hang-out geared around cupcake making, I enthusiastically agreed.

She showed me the recipe as soon as we entered her kitchen, and I don't think I've ever been so intrigued:

These were Cardamom Apple White Cheddar Cupcakes with Butter Frosting.

I'll let you contemplate that for a bit.

Yes, there are both apples and cheese in these cupcakes.  They're entirely sweetened with Lyle's Golden Syrup - for those who've never had it, it's like a caramel version of corn syrup.  And the frosting?  It's not your typical frosting - it's essentially sweetened whipped butter!  The original recipe called for an entire pound of butter in the "frosting" and showed it piled up like ice cream on top of the cupcakes.  Yikes!!

We cut the amount of butter in half...we're nowhere near that decadent.
As much as we do loooove butter.

But despite my teensy lingering doubts, I tried one.
And died a little inside.
It was sweet, moist, and didn't taste like a cheese cupcake - which I was a bit worried about.  It had good flavor balance and spice, like the most interesting spice cake ever.  But to me, it was less of a cupcake and a bit more of a muffin, so I came up with a list of things to try for next time.

I want to reduce the oil in them - the original amount called for was a bit excessive and left the cakes a bit greasy.  I'd try reducing the amount of golden syrup in the cake itself too - that stuff is really sweet, so for muffin purposes it'd be a bit much.  More importantly, though, I want to make them as muffins, so I want to try a crumble.  Since the frosting is more of a compound butter than a buttercream, I want to mix it up as I did this time, then reshape it into sticks, wrap it up, and chill it.  Later, I'd cut that golden syrup butter into some flour, brown sugar, and cardamom to make a crumb topping that gets sprinkled over the tops of the muffins before they're baked.

So, thanks to Jenni's rather brilliant idea for a baking experiment, I leave you today with no recipe, but hopefully some curiosity!  I hope to be back later with the muffin version, and I promise I'll tell you how to make those ;)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Company Rice Casserole

First of all, Happy New Year!  Though my New Year's Eve wasn't spent the way I wanted, or the way I spent the last two, it was a happy time with family and I have nothing but hope for 2012 :)


You know how there are some foods that are really tasty but photograph really badly?

Well, this is one of them.

This is a variation on a casserole I grew up eating.  It was a basic combination of white rice, cream of mushroom soup and turkey sausage covered with melty cheese.  My mom had long since swapped out the cream of salt soup for a medium-thick white sauce, and this time around my dad and I decided to healthify (spellcheck is telling me that's not a word...I don't care) it even further.  I changed the white rice for brown, thawed some peas, sauteed up some mushrooms with the turkey sausage, and voilĂ ! 

The method of assembly had to change with the ingredients, though.  The white rice would usually cook in the oven with the white sauce and some extra water.  Swapping in brown rice would've made that process longer and considerably more interesting, so my dad suggested just pre-cooking the rice.  Sold!  Once all the separate parts were done, we stirred them all together, topped them with some cheese, and stuck the dish in the oven to warm up.

The results of our health experiment: delicious.
Next time I want to try a variation on a theme: sub in some Italian spiced turkey sausage and use mozzarella on the top!  Maybe even some parmesan in the white for thought!

If you need a relatively quick and healthy meal, give this a shot.  Bonus: plenty of leftovers!  Just...forgive it for not being pretty...

Company Rice Casserole
Source: modified from a family recipe

1 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice, such as basmati
_ oz turkey sausage
1 tbsp salted butter
4 oz cremini or white button mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1 cup frozen petite peas, run under cold water to thaw
3 tbsp margarine (preferably trans-fat free)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese

Cook the brown rice according to package directions.  Set aside.
In a large skillet coated with cooking spray, brown the turkey sausage, breaking it up into pieces.  Remove it and set aside.  Add the butter to the skillet, allow it to melt, then add the mushrooms and saute until browned and reduced in size - cook as much liquid off as possible.  Take the skillet off the heat and set aside.
To make the white sauce, melt the margarine in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and salt and stir together quickly till yellowish clumps form (appetizing, I know).  Add the milk, whisking vigorously to combine and break up any lumps.  Switch to a wooden spoon and stir constantly until the sauce has thickened quite a bit.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.  Pour the rice, sausage, mushrooms, and thawed peas into a medium-large casserole dish.  Pour the white sauce over the top and stir to combine thoroughly.  You may need to add another splash of milk to coat everything.  Place the casserole in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until heated through.  Pull the dish out of the oven and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.  Put the casserole back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Serve and enjoy!