Not-So-Irish Soda Bread Buns, with Orange Zest and Cranberries

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Roo turned down the car radio. “Do rappers realize that some of their lyrics make no sense?”

“You mean when Chingy raps that he likes, ‘black, white, Puerto Rican or Haitian, like Japanese, Chinese or even Asian?”

“Even Asian?”

I opened my purse and pulled out a ziploc bag. “But that’s not even close to Mase rapping, ‘Young, black and famous, with money hanging out the anus.”

“No. The best is Dre’s ‘Never let me slip, cause if I slip, then I’m slippin.'”

I laughed, tearing the soda bread bun in two and handing a half to Roo. “What does that even mean?!”

Roo grabbed the bun and shrugged, “At least they’re direct, even if it doesn’t make sense. Like Chris Brown singing, ‘I’m gonna make you wet the bed.’ Class act.”

“Ugh, who says stuff like that!?” I groaned, “I still can’t believe Rihanna’s back with He Who Must Not Be Named.”

“Did you just compare Chris Brown to Voldemort?”

“I’m convinced he appears like Beetlejuice if you say his name three times.”

“That’s how I feel about Kesha.”

“You mean you don’t like to feel ‘like a sabertooth tiger, sipping on a warm Budweiser?'”

Roo turned the radio back up. “I want my ring back.”

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Carrot, Raisin and Cranberry Quick Bread

I opened the door to our apartment. “You will not believe what happened at yoga,” I said, kicking off my sandals and walking into the living room.

“What, The Moaner make another appearance?” Roo asked.

“I wish.”

Roo took a bite of toast and set it down on the coffee table. “What happened?”

“Well, as you know, sometimes I come off as a creeper.”

“Go on.”

I folded my arms and threw myself onto the couch next to Roo. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Roo picked up his toast again and took another bite. A raisin fell onto his lap. “Ok.”

I eyed the raisin for a moment. “Well, you know how I love it when a yoga instructor takes a class I’m in?”

“Something about it being inspirational?”

I smiled. “You’re so good. Sometimes I really can’t believe you listen everything I say.”

Roo laughed. “So a yoga teacher took the same class as you -”

“Right. She set her mat down next to mine -” I paused.

“And?”

“And I may have been watching her through some of the poses.”

“And she caught you watching?”

“That’s not even the bad part.”

Roo waited.

“When the class was told to fold in straddle, facing the right side of the room, that was the side the instructor was on. And our mats were really close.”

“And?”

“And when I went to fold, I accidentally brushed the instructor’s butt with the bun on top of my head,” I said, pointing to my hair.

Roo burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny.”

“It’s a little funny.”

“It is not! I had to apologize profusely in a whisper, because it was during class. Do you know how creepy an apology sounds in a whisper?”

“Well I’ve never been assaulted by a bun in yoga class, so I wouldn’t know.”

“I don’t know if I can ever show my face there again.”

“Here,” Roo said, handing me his slice toast. “Have some of this. I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

I picked the raisin off his lap and placed it on the plate. “It’s not enough.”

“What’s not enough?”

“There’s like two bites left. And they’re the worst ones. No cranberries or raisins in either one.”

Roo smiled. “Alright, I’ll cut you another slice. Thankfully you made two loaves last night.”

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Chewy Granola Cookies

I am not the easiest person to live with.

For one, I’m becoming my mother at the wee age of 30.  I realized this when I started to wash out the kitchen trash can last weekend.  Really, who does that?  My mom.  Oh, and me.

Also like my mother, I ask, without fail, the second after Roo takes a bite of food how it is.  (FYI “it’s good,” is not a proper response.)

Second, there were a few times where it was pointed out that I have a hard time throwing things away.

“Babe, we have so many empty glass jars.  I feel like we’re one away from being cast on Hoarders.”

“What are you talking about?  I use them, like all the time.”

“For what?  Besides leaving them in a paper bag on the floor.”

“That’s where they live!  I don’t have any cupboard space.”

“Because there’s no room in the cupboard from all your glass jars.”

Lastly, I may or may not have had two meltdowns so far this week.  But in my defense, the first was from burning my hand….by grabbing a pan that had been in the oven.  The second was after realizing there was shattered glass in every single cup we owned….because I dropped a bowl on top of those cups and it um, shattered.

So when Roo asks if there’s a way he can have cookies at ‘snack,’ (which to me is essentially second breakfast), I try to make it happen.  After all, I need to keep someone around to identify my body when it’s found underneath a mountain of fallen glass jars.

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Pumpkin, Molasses, Cranberry and Golden Raisin No Knead Toasting Bread

“I can’t believe you said that! Now I’m going to have to eat my feelings in peanut butter.”

“Sometimes I think you try to find things I say offensive, just so you can find an excuse to eat peanut butter.”

“……I can’t believe you said that! Now I’m going to have to eat my feelings in peanut butter!”

“Like I said.”

Roo may have a point, but I’ll never admit it.

Would you?

…Don’t answer that.

One of my favorite ways of eating peanut butter is standing by the kitchen cupboard and eating it out of the jar with a spoon.  I swear it tastes 10 times better this way.

I also love it on classics like toast.  Practically burnt toast with a dollop of peanut butter has been my breakfast for the majority of these bitterly cold mornings  (it’s 24F as I type).  This sticky, crunchy, lip smacking treat makes waking before sunrise almost bearable when paired with a hot cup of tea.

I said almost.

This past weekend I made a couple loaves of a recent favorite: pumpkin and molasses with dried cranberries and golden raisins.  It’s a great toasting bread, where the natural sugars from the pumpkin and molasses have this wonderful crunch; almost caramelized with an ever so slight, sticky chew.  It’s chock full of raisins and cranberries, but I love that the pumpkin still shines through.  Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger enhance the pumpkin’s warmth, but notes of caramel that can be tasted in the squash naturally make it a perfect partner to deep, lush molasses.

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Breakfast Under Five Minutes: Quinoa with Dried Cranberries, Golden Raisins and Slivered Almonds

I am not Bethenny Frankel.

I don’t even watch The Real Housewives of Whatever.  (My mother on the other hand loves that series.)

Some may even say she’s a better example of a human being than me.

Like, she’s a hardcore yogi.

Her arms are way more jacked than mine.

She’s either one of the best business women of 2011 or her agent/manager is Yoda.

What I owe in interest every 10 days for my student loans is probably what she makes per hour.  Correction, minute.

She owns an obedient, little dog while I have two cats that love to overeat and have tried to ruin Christmas by knocking over the tree.

But.  But!

I recycle.

Ok, I don’t know if she recycles or not, and quite honestly, even I don’t recycle sometimes.

I’m a terrible person, I know.

However, I hope that this quick and easy breakfast will convince you to forgive me for my non-Bethenny arms, drowning in student loan interest and occasional recycling ways.

This warm bowl of quinoa is creamy from the soy milk, has a hint of sweetness from the maple syrup and chock full of different textures with bright, sweet-tart cranberries, slightly plumped golden raisins and crunchy slivered almonds.  Quinoa is also a complete protein, so put down your cold, chalky protein powder shake and treat yourself to a warm breakfast that almost tastes indulgent.

Seriously.  You deserve more than that shake (despite what Sue Sylvester tells you).

*Roo was extremely dubious when I placed this in front of him from breakfast, not knowing how to deal with a non-savory quinoa dish (he suddenly forgot that he’s eaten it in a cake before).  Just try it.  I promise you it won’t taste like a quinoa patty with maple syrup on top of it.  Pinky swear.

Adapted from Bethenny Frankel

Makes One Serving (recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, etc.)

Ingredients

Half cup of cooked quinoa

3 tablespoons of soy milk (or any other non-dairy milk)

1 tablespoon of maple syrup

Half tablespoon of dried cranberries (or whatever you prefer as a yummy dried fruit)

Half tablespoon of golden raisins

1 tablespoon of slivered almonds (or whatever nut you prefer)

Equipment

A bowl

A clean spoon (or whatever you plan on eating the quinoa with, to mix the ingredients)

Microwave (or if you don’t own one, a small pot)

Add the cooked quinoa, soy milk (or other non-dairy milk), maple syrup, golden raisins, cranberries (or whatever you prefer for dried fruit) and slivered almonds to a bowl.  Mix together with a spoon (or whatever eating utensil you have on hand) and throw in the microwave to heat through for a minute or two (depending on how strong your microwave is).  If you don’t own a microwave, dump the ingredients after mixing into a small pot and place on you burner on medium low heat.  Cook till heated through, stirring occasionally.  Serve warm.

Pumpkin Cranberry “Bites”

Lately I’ve noticed my desire for something sweet after dinner has become worse and worse. Usually, I would eat piece of fruit after.  Somehow it progressed to a piece of dark chocolate, to now cookies or cake.  All of which wouldn’t bother me, except the feeling I get prior to satisfying my growing sweet tooth.

It’s a need.  Like, a feeling of unrest until I get something laden with sugar, kind of need.  I don’t feel this way after breakfast or lunch, so I’m at a loss as to why having something after dinner has become such an issue.  And unfortunately, this nighttime habit of having one cookie usually doesn’t stop at that.  It’s as if once I start feeding my sweet tooth, the bigger and more demanding it becomes.

I’ve also noticed that Roo gets a bit irritated after dinner when he goes rummaging in the kitchen and comes up empty handed.  There has even been a few times when he’s asked if I was planning on making a cake or cookies that evening.  Inquiries like that made me realize we’re probably not doing something right.

In an effort to curb our nightly vice, I poured myself into my one-too-many-cookbooks to find a treat that wouldn’t leave me jittery after, or my sweet tooth demanding more until it made me sick (it happens).  I wanted something light, made with few, but mostly natural sugars, and a hybrid between cookie and cake (because I couldn’t make up my mind about which one I wanted more).

What came about was a pumpkin cranberry “bite.”  It’s a cakey cookie packed with the quintessential flavors of fall, perfect for “eating in the now.”  Pumpkin and cinnamon wrapped around a few cranberries make a lovely after dinner treat, especially with just a dab of peanut butter.  I love making a cup of earl grey with lemon and having one or two of these while Roo and I sit on the couch watching Parks and Rec reruns.  While you don’t need a good cup of tea or Parks and Rec to enjoy these “bites,” if there’s any take-home-message, it would be to try them with just a bit of peanut butter.  Please.

Adapted from Happy Herbivore

Makes about 20 “bites”

Ingredients

Half cup of pumpkin puree

Half of a large super ripe banana (like black), mashed

2 tablespoons of non-dairy milk (I used “original” almond milk)

Half cup of sugar (this yields a not too sweet bite, which is what I was after.)

Half teaspoon of ground cinnamon

One and a half cups of old fashioned oats

Half cup of white whole wheat flour

Quarter teaspoon of baking powder

Quarter teaspoon of baking soda

One eighth teaspoon of fine sea salt

A Quarter to Half cup of dried cranberries (or raisins, whatever your fancy)

Equipment

1 medium sized mixing bowl

1 small sized mixing bowl

A whisk

A spatua

A clean tablespoon

A cookie sheet (lined with parchment paper, optional)

Cooking/Baking spray *this is a must as there is basically no fat in the cookies

Place the oven rack in the middle position in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the pumpkin puree, mashed banana, non-dairy milk and sugar.  Mix till combined.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add the old fashioned oats, white whole wheat flour, ground cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Whisk the ingredients together until well combined and there are no lumps.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Stir together till combined.   (*It may look dry at first, but keep going, it’ll all come together.)  Add the raisins/cranberries if using.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that all the ingredients are incorporated.

With a clean tablespoon, spoon out the batter onto a lined or greased cookie sheet.  The bites don’t run together when baking, so they can be put fairly close to one another.

Bake the bites for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they are firm and springy.

Allow the bites to cool on the cookie sheet before eating.

*Seriously, try a little dab of peanut butter on these. So yummy!

Sweet Potato Spice Cake with Dried Cranberries

This cake is good.

This cake is so good it shouldn’t even have my usual “blah blah blah, my day was so crazy because of this and that,” and “I’m hilarious!” introduction.

Seriously. Awesome.  The turbinado sugar creates an almost caramelized bottom as it settles in the cake, and the cranberries.  People, the cranberries!  They are the perfect accompaniment to the sweet potato, that literally melts away in this cake.  The cranberries become lush, as they plump up and become enveloped in a moist, molasses flavored (thank you Turbinado), spiced cake.  Yes, this cake is kind of a big deal.

As Roo said, “Babe, why is this crazy good?”

I’ve already wasted too much time.  Make this now.

Adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients

2 cups white whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Half teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

Quarter teaspoon baking powder

Quarter teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups Turbinado/Demerara sugar (I used it for a lovely caramelized bottom, but you can use whatever you have on hand)

Three Quarter Cup of Olive Oil

3 flax eggs (3 tablespoons of ground flax and 9 tablespoons of water, mixed together and set aside for about 10 minutes)

one peeled and finely grated sweet potato (about 3 to 4 cups)

1 cup dried cranberries

*optional* Half cup tart Montmorency dried cherries, chopped (I love dried fruit that plumps up in a cake, you may not be loving the life of an 80 year old, so put in what you like)

Equipment

A nine inch cake pan

A large mixing bowl

A medium mixing bowl

A food processor with the ‘fine shred’ disk, or a hand grater

A whisk

A spatula

Parchment paper (optional) or baking spray or butter and flour for your pan

Place the oven rack in the middle position of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Line the cake pan with parchment paper, or spray with baking spray, or butter and flour it.  Whatever your fancy.  Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the white whole wheat flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Stir to well with a whisk.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl add the flax eggs, sugar, olive oil and vanilla extract.  Stir well with a whisk.  At first it’ll look like an oily mess, but keep going, it’ll come together.

Add the finely shredded sweet potato to the large mixing bowl.  Fold it in with a spatula till combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, in increments, folding them together until just combined, then adding more until the dry ingredient bowl is empty.  Add the cranberries and the cherries to the large mixing bowl and fold in till combined.

This batter is going to be extremely thick.

You’re going to question it, I know. But trust it!  It’s going to be goooooood.

Pour/spread the batter into the cake pan.

Bake for about forty five minutes to an hour.  (My stove runs incredibly hot, so it takes only 45 for me.)

Cool within the cake pan for about fifteen minutes.

Remove from the cake pan and cool completely.

This cake freezes beautifully, so bake and hoard folks, bake and hoard.

Zucchini Cake with Dried Cranberries and Dark Chocolate

It finally happened.

I turned 30 over the weekend.

In all fairness it was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.  Roo planned the entire evening in advance; letting me know that there was going to be a party, but who was coming, and where we’d be going, was going to be a surprise.

At first I thought this would drive me crazy as I’m a total control freak, but you know what?  It was lovely to have someone other than myself plan my birthday party.  No one else had ever done that for me before (except my mother, when I was a child), and it was kind of great.

We spent most of the actual day in bed.  We watched the sparrows who have taken over our front porch, come back and forth with bits of twine, flying up into the cracks of wood, making nests for future generations of home invaders.

I made a lazy breakfast around noon – eggs over easy, fried bacon, and toasted everything bagels with chive and bacon cream cheese.  It was exactly what I needed.  In fact, Roo commented that we hadn’t had a “fatty breakfast” like that in ages.  And it’s true.  When he told me his cholesterol results months ago, I went into “heart healthy” overdrive.  Cakes were to be made with eggs whites and olive oil.  Steak was no longer allowed in our household.  And butter went into permanent hibernation in our freezer.  I don’t know exactly how much damage I did to his arteries from that breakfast this weekend, but it was my 30th.  I think I was allowed to be a little selfish, and Roo never argued.  Killing with kindness indeed.

The day after my birthday however, was probably one of the worst “day afters” I’ve had since I’ve lived in Ireland.  I again spent most of the day in bed, but it was to spoon my pillow and vow that I would never let my so-called-friends order shots for me called, “blueberry pancake” or “the homecoming” ever again.  And what’s really strange is that when you’re feeling like that, you want nothing but the fattiest, greasiest meal to “cure” you.

When I was finally able to sit upright, Roo asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I replied, “A Whopper, with cheese.”  Thankfully he convinced me to come up with something better.  We ended up ordering steak and cheese subs from Moogy’s.  Oh, and there were curly fries. And chive fries. Oh, chive fries.

But with that weekend of utter indulgence, I needed to get us back on track with food items that weren’t deep fried or may have been named “Bessie” the week before.  We went back to our normal routine, having oven roasted fish and lots of braised kale this evening.  And like clockwork, when House came on – which I always insist we watch – I grew antsy and went back to the kitchen to work on something to make for tea when I would come home after work this week.

This cake is one of my favorites.  It’s made with egg whites and olive oil and we haven’t missed all that butter that’s traditionally made with its cousin, banana bread.  It’s also easy to substitute a lot of the mix-ins for whatever you like. I’ve even thrown in shredded coconut.  Dried cranberries and dark chocolate are my favorites, but you could go with chopped nuts, or maybe some dried cherries.  If you try something else, please let me know!

Adapted From Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

3 egg whites (you can also use 3 large eggs)

1 1/2 cups of sugar (this yields a not too sweet cake, if you’d a sweeter cake use 2 cups)

1 cup of olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups of grated zucchini (you can use 2 cups, I just tend to grab two large zucchini and grate it all, which usually comes to about 3 cups)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have whole wheat flour, you can use 3 cups all purpose for the total flour used)

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups dried cranberries (I love dried cranberries that plump up in cake, if you’re not that much of a fan, use a cup)

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% cacao)

Equipment

9″ cake pan

Food processor or hand grater

Two large bowls

Spatula

Whisk

Parchment paper, or butter and flour to grease your cake pan

Place the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the cake pan with parchment paper, or butter and flour the cake pan.  I highly recommend the parchment paper as it’s easy clean up.  I have not made this recipe using butter and flour, so I can’t say whether or not the cake will get stuck in the pan.  With parchment, it’s lifts right out.

With a food processor or a hand grater, grate the zucchini until you have 2 -3 cups worth.  If you have two giant zucchini, and end up with 3 cups, it’s safe to use all 3, as I have in the past.  If you only end up with 2 cups, it’ll be just as delicious.  Set aside.

Mix the egg whites and sugar.  Add the oil and then the vanilla extract.  It will look like an oily mess at first, but keep going, it’ll eventually come together.  Take your spatula and be sure the scrape the bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour(s), cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a whisk.  Add the cranberries and dark chocolate.  Stir to combine.

Add the zucchini to the wet ingredients.  If it freaks you out to not squeeze out the excess liquid from the zucchini, then by all means, squeeze away.  If there’s anything to be learned from me, is that I’m lazy.  And thankfully lucky because the cake always turns out great without doing anything to the zucchini after grating.  Stir the zucchini in to combine.  Take your spatula and scrape the bowl.

In increments, add the dry ingredients to the wet.  I usually add the dry to the wet in two parts, but go with what you’re comfortable with.  I add the dry ingredients, then stir until they’re just combined, and then add the second half, and stir till combined again.  Again, take your spatula and scrape the bowl to ensure that all ingredients (ie there isn’t a wet pool underneath everything else at the bottom of your bowl) are combined.

Fill the cake pan with the batter.  Place into the oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes.  For me, the cake is fully baked at the 50 minute marker.  But our oven is a bit small and runs rather hot.  Around 45 minutes, check with a chopstick, toothpick, or even a knife, to see if the cake is done.  There should be a little bit of crumb hanging on, but not actual wet batter when you remove it from the cake.  Check every three – five minutes until the cake is done as you do not want to over bake this cake.

As usual, I can never wait for the cake to cool for me to eat it.  I’ve cut into it when it’s hot, and it’s delicious.  It’s also delicious the next day.  And the next.  If you’re a purist and must wait till it’s cooled, do so on a wire rack.  Or devour immediately.  Those who do, never judge.