Monday, August 30, 2010

Homemade soft pretzels & cinnamon-apple breakfast pizza

As usual, my two most recent cooking adventures were inspired by my never-ending quest to get keep my girls full for more than 30 minutes. I swear they have tapeworms! The other day, they each ate scrambled eggs, two slabs of bacon, half a bagel, and a bowl of fruit for breakfast, and they still claimed they were starving about 45 minutes later. Sigh.

I came up with the idea for breakfast pizza when I was standing in front of my open fridge, a perplexed look on my face, wondering what to do with the pathetic contents of the shelves (which happened to include a few apples and some whole wheat flatbread). I am constantly trying to think up inventive breakfasts that the girls will actually eat, especially now that Sydney has started preschool and can't snack all morning long like she sometimes does at home.

To make the "pizza," I cored, peeled and sliced the apples, then cooked them in a saute pan over low heat, using Earth's Balance Buttery Spread (non-dairy butter alternative). I added a little brown sugar and some cinnamon. Then, when the apples were soft, I threw in some quick-cooking oats and water (I based the measurements on the oat package). Then I cooked the apples and oats for about 5 more minutes, or until the oats were soft.

I spread the apple/oat concoction onto some flatbread, which had been lightly brushed with the Earth's Best Buttery Spread. Then I stuck it into the oven at 350 until the flatbread was crisp.

Verdict: My girls ate it all up and declared it "yummy." Personally, I thought the flatbread was a little dry. If I did it over again, I would probably use actual whole wheat pizza dough instead of the flatbread.

Now onto the soft pretzels. I can't take credit for these - I used Alton Brown's recipe, simply because it was the first one that popped up when I googled "homemade soft pretzels." I don't know why I felt inspired to make soft pretzels. I guess I was thinking it would be a fun "mommy and me" cooking activity with the girls. But, as those things usually go, I basically did everything myself while yelling at the girls not to get raw dough stuck in the carpet.

I followed Alton's recipe exactly, and the pretzels turned out pretty well. They weren't quite as chewy as I like, but I am convinced that has to do with the tap water in Arizona rather than my baking skills. Seriously - I saw a show on the Food Network that explained the reason NY bagels and pizza are so good is because the New York tap water gives the bread that chewy-yet-crisp texture. So that's my excuse from now on when I fail to make amazing bread products.

If I make soft pretzels again, I may try a whole wheat version to make it a little healthier. Or I could really get creative and combine my two endeavors to create apple cinnamon whole wheat breakfast pretzels!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mango and wax bean smoothie (yes, I'm serious)

Almost every time I pick up my bountiful basket, I discover some sort of unique vegetable or fruit that I've never cooked with before. This past week it was wax beans. Wax beans are really just green beans that are yellow; and as far as I can tell, they don't taste much different.

At first, I thought I would steam or saute the wax beans and serve them as a side dish - just like regular old green beans. Then, while whipping up a delicious mango smoothie for an afternoon snack, I got an idea. Given the title of my post, I'm sure it's not hard to figure out what that idea was.

I thought the mango/wax bean combo might work for two reasons: 1) since the wax beans are pale yellow, they wouldn't turn the smoothie a strange color, and 2) the sweetness of the mango and banana would counteract any strange flavoring that the beans added.

Although I was anticipating a decent result, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wax beans actually made the smoothie...wait for it...better! The beans gave it kind of a fresh, herbal taste and cut some of the super-sweet fruitiness. If you don't believe me when I say it was good, here is a quote from my husband: "I would never guess there were vegetables in here if you hadn't told me." He even described it as "delicious." And my kids loved it too!

I can honestly say I might buy wax beans from now on for the sole purpose of adding them to smoothies. I'm sure plain old green beans would work too, but they would throw off the coloring.

Here's what I threw in the blender:

2 ripe mangos, peeled and chopped
1 banana
2 handfuls of uncooked wax beans, ends trimmed
a few splashes of OJ
enough yogurt to make it creamy*

*To make the smoothie non-dairy, I used So Delicious cultured coconut milk yogurt in strawberry. I am so grateful for the new So Delicious line of non-dairy products because they use coconut milk instead of soy. Coconut milk not only tastes sweeter and creamier than soy milk, but it's safer for people with dairy allergies since many of them are allergic to soy as well.

TIP: Since making smoothies can be a pain (all the peeling, chopping, washing, blending, etc), I've started making up a big batch of smoothie mixture without ice, and storing it in a sealable container in the fridge. Then when I want to make a smoothie later in the week, I can just pour some of the smoothie mix into the blender or Magic Bullet, add some ice, and I'm done!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good gazpacho (if you like gazpacho, that is)

I really, really want to like gazpacho. It's full of healthy veggies, cool and refreshing, and pretty to look at. But every time I read a gazpacho recipe, my first and only thought is "yuck." It just seems wrong for soup to be cold.

Then I read a post about gazpacho at the Foodinista blog (you can find the post here), and I just felt I had to make it. The way she spoke about gazpacho was so passionate and inspiring, and when I clicked through to the original recipe by renowned chef Jose Andres (where it's poetically named Andalucian Cold Tomato Soup), I was sold. I pictured a beautiful glass pitcher in my fridge, filled to the brim with fresh gazpacho, and me going back again and again to pour myself delicious bowl after delicious bowl, pumping my body full of antioxidants, lycopene, and other vegetabley goodness.

So I went to Whole Foods and bought all of the ingredients, except for oloroso sherry. I couldn't find it, and figured that regular old sherry would do. Plus since I wasn't sure if I would like it, I didn't want to spring for some expensive bottle of sherry that would rot in my cabinet.

I followed the recipe precisely, but instead of making croutons, I toasted some baguette slices and topped them with a parmesan tapenade (store bought).

The best way I can describe how I felt about it was "eh." I could tell it was good gazpacho, but I think I am just never going to love gazpacho - no matter how good it is. It was kind of like that time my husband and I went to a highly rated Mexican restaurant and waited two hours to try their world famous mole, only to practically gag on it. Apparently what we'd thought was good mole (from our favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican place that probably poured their mole out of a can), was nothing like true, authentic mole. And I guess we hate true, authentic mole.

The moral of the story is...if you like gazpacho, this recipe is worth trying out. If you don't like it, I don't think this recipe will win you over. Alas, my quest for the perfect cool lunch on a blazing hot day will have to continue.

P.S. The cheesy baguette was really good, though. And the gazpacho makes a nice dip for it. :)