Category Archives: Fruit

Banana Matcha Smoothie

It’s hot in Chicago. So hot, all I want to do is eat smoothies. And frozen yogurt. I’m mildly obsessed. As in, Wednesday I sat on an El for forty minutes just for Forever Yogurt. I told you I was obsessed.

Unfortunately, I’m stuck on a college campus eating dorm food and bagged lunches for the next two and a half weeks as a sleep deprived version of myself plods through Teach for America Institute. That means no frozen yogurt. That also means no smoothies. A girl can dream though, right? And dream of this smoothie I will.

This smoothie is a Jessica original inspired by a drink I once had at, according to their website, the largest Japanese Market in the United States, Mitsuwa. My mom and I make a trip up to Arlington Heights from my childhood home in the western suburbs once or twice a year. While we always take the time to wander through the supermarket, we really go for the food court. I can’t resist the barbeque pork buns or the dirty cheap, amazingly fresh sushi. Nom nom.

In the corner of the food court is a little tea shop slash ice cream store. Usually too full from stuffing my body with spicy tuna rolls, I’ve only ordered from there once. That once, I decided to get a banana matcha drink that caught my eye for some strange reason, particularly given the fact that I had no idea what matcha was at the time. Regardless of the mystery ingredient, when the drink was presented to me I dove right in. Let me tell you, it was good. So good, in fact, I left Mitsuwa with a tiny container of matcha that day.

I had zero idea of how the drink was made so I went home and started to experiment. I opted to use a frozen banana instead of the room temperature ones used in the food court shop. I tossed some milk and matcha into the blender along with my banana and managed to create a pretty solid concoction on my first try. That usually doesn’t happen. I’ve played with the recipe since, adding soy milk or yogurt as my liquid, stirring in honey or vanilla extract, and topping it with granola. Below is my favorite version to date. Undoubtedly, my experimenting will continue though. It always does.

Banana Matcha Smoothie 

There are two important ingredient notes to be aware of: First, Matcha green tea can be found in Japanese grocery stores and some specialty tea shops. Do not try to use regular green tea. Matcha is ground into a powder much finer than the green tea found in most grocery stores. The later will not mix into your drink well. And really, who wants to be sipping bits and pieces of tea leaves?

Second, I played around quiet a bit with how to add the bananas. I like my smoothies thick and prefer to eat them with a spoon instead of drink them through a straw. If this is you, peel the bananas, slice them into 1/2 inch chunks, let them freeze, and then add them to your smoothie. If you prefer a more liquidy smoothie, either add more yogurt, let the bananas defrost slightly, or blend for longer. I have found that either way, it is best to cut the bananas into chunks before freezing as it allows them to break down in the blender quicker. Oh! And one more ingredient note. Feel free to use milk or soy milk instead of Greek yogurt.

Serves 1

1 1/2 overripe bananas, sliced and frozen (see note above)

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons honey

1/4 teaspoon matcha

Granola, if desired

Add the bananas, Greek yogurt, and honey to a blender. Blend just until smooth, stopping and scrapping down the sides with a spatula as needed. (Depending on the quality of your blender the bananas may take quite some time to puree. Be patient and try using the pulse function to soften the bananas.)

Add the matcha and, using a spatula, fold it into the banana mixture. Blend for 15-30 seconds. Pour into a glass and top with granola if desired. Eat using a spoon.

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Filed under Cookies, Drinks, Fruit

Roasted Rhubarb and Apples with Earl Grey Tea

I was going to write a beautiful post on graduating. One about moving on, saying goodbyes, starting anew. One in which I reflected on my experience and shared profound words of wisdom. One like this, or as close to that as someone who studied Social Policy and Spanish can get. Then life became a whirlwind. I went from crazy energized camp counselor, to purple robe wearing graduate, to brand new teacher all in one week. In. One. Week.

Lifelong learning was a common theme among the graduation speeches given at Friday’s ceremonies. Suitably, last week, my last week before officially closing out my time at Northwestern, was a week filled with learning. I found myself more stressed than I had ever been in the past four years, maybe minus the time I wrote three fifteen page papers in four days. That was stressful. This was a different type of stress though. I had that feeling of the world caving in on me, like everything in my life was being turned upside down and shaken up. It was like I happened to find myself inside a martini shaker being tossed every which way. It was a stress that even destroyed my appetite. Me, not hungry. Can you believe it? And that was when the learning began, a learning that will continue throughout the summer as I step in front of a class for the first time and into the school year.

Luckily my appetite is back as is my longing for the kitchen. Unfortunately, I’m currently living in a dorm, kitchenless, again. Bummer. Never fear though, I have plenty of posts stored up and will be journeying home regularly to whip up some baked deliciousness. I happen to have more rhubarb sitting in my freezer. For those of you who don’t know me, it’s my new ingredient obsession. I can almost hear it calling my name now. While I’d love to test it out in a new recipe, this one is so good I just might make an unusual repeat. Subtly tart yet gracefully sweet, this roasted rhubarb is perfect served on top of yogurt or ice cream. If you’re like me though, you’ll dig into it on its own. Rhubarb is a vegetable though. In my mind, even with loads of sugar, that means healthy and being guilt free after devouring the entire batch in one night. Great.

Roasted Rhubarb and Apples with Earl Grey Tea

adapted from Food52

I envision this being a springtime, post-farmer’s market recipe as it was for me. For this reason, the quantities are far from exact. I find that often times it can be hard to judge just how much of an ingredient you’re purchasing at a market. So, for this recipe, if your bunch of rhubarb happens to yield more or less than the 2 1/2 cups I used, don’t worry. This recipe is not an exact science. I would suggest the following as general guidelines: Aim for about a 1:1 ratio of rhubarb to apples. If anything, air on the side of more rhubarb. Use about 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of rhubarb and apple. Remember, there are 4 tablespoons in a 1/4 cup, 16 in a cup.

In terms of ingredients, if you bought your rhubarb from a farmer’s market, make sure to wash it well. There will likely be dirt caught in the ridges. I suggest using a crisp, tart apple. Braeburn, Pink Lady, and Fuji should all work well. Lastly, I ate my rhubarb spooned on top of Greek yogurt. It would also be quite delicious with vanilla ice cream or eaten on its own. The rhubarb can be served warm, but I actually preferred mine cold. After some time in the fridge, the juices will have thickened slightly and the flavors  will have melded together.

2 bags of Earl Grey tea

1 bunch of rhubarb (just under 1 pound), chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 medium sized apples, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Zest from 1/2 orange

Seeds of one green cardamom pod, ground with mortar and pestle

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil water in a tea kettle. Pour 3/4 cup boiled water into a measuring cup. Add tea bags and let steep for 3 minutes. Remove tea bags and set aside to cool.

Place chopped rhubarb and apple in a medium casserole dish or oven-safe pot. Add sugar, lemon juice, orange zest, cardamom, and slightly cooled tea. Gently toss. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes stirring halfway through the cooking time. When a fork slips easily into the fruit, it is ready. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold. (See notes above).


Filed under Breakfast and Brunch, Desserts, Fruit, Vegetables

Apple Butter and the Beginning of Holiday Baking

After school and my home, the majority of my childhood was spent at the house of my best friend from those early, yet not too distant, years of my life, Grace. Grace’s family loved food just as much as mine. I remember indulging in the most delicious tacos topped with queso fresco, a cheese foreign to me up to that point in time. I remember eating steak on an average weekday night and digging into a mound of homemade crepes the morning after sleepovers. And I remember being introduced to apple butter. To the elementary school aged Jessica, apple butter seemed elegant and elusive. I associated it with teatime in the South of France and imagined myself eating it straight from the jar in an ironically lady-like manner. But I was a lowly American living in the suburbs of Chicago, which instead of cobblestone streets and scenic nature views, boasted towering, gray skyscrapers and pollution. Apple butter was clearly out of everyday reach…

…until I realized sometime in high school that apple butter was quite easily concocted in the comfort of my home in those same Chicago suburbs where I’d been born and raised. My apple butter kitchen experiments began with a recipe found online that called for a disastrous cup of sugar to every pound of apples. That sounded like apple butter induced diabetes waiting to happen. Regardless, I tried it and realized, yes, it was far too sweet. After tweaking the recipe for several years, I developed my apple butter. This is the apple butter I would package up in mason jars with a red bow and a hand decorated holiday tag for my aunts and uncles one Christmas. (A jar of which I found this summer still sitting in my Aunt Alison’s fridge. Apparently, not everyone loves apple butter as much as I do.) This is the apple butter I make each winter and slather onto thick, toasted slices of the hoska my Grandma brings us from the Czech bakery. And this is the apple butter you should make. Right now. Unless, like me, you’re busily filling your kitchen with mountains of cookies. Then you can wait I suppose.

Today my list of things to cook over winter break reached thirty. Thirty recipes! How in the world am I going to cook, and then eat, thirty different dishes? Of those thirty, ten are for cookies and of those ten I have already tried three: World Peace Cookies, Ginger Sandwich Cookies, and Gooey Buttercake Cookies. If you’re observant, unlike me, you may have notice I’ve only included recipes for the first two in this post. There’s sadly a quite unfortunate reason for that. When whipping up the Gooey Buttercake cookies, a seemingly simple recipe, I made an amateur mistake. I used baking soda instead of baking powder. Me? Make a mistake in the kitchen? Yup. It happens more regularly than I care to admit. And this time it resulted in flat, baking soda flavored cookies. Fail.

While I continue on my cookie-baking quest, perhaps you can take a step back and give them a try for me. If you do, let me know how they are. And maybe even save one for me.

Apple Butter

I usually use a combination of apples. Braeburn, Pink Lady, Fuji, and Gala all work well but there are certainly many more viable options. In general, I’d say go with what’s on sale. Additionally, the sugar and spice quantities can be adjusted to taste. Keep in mind though, I’ve been adjusting this recipe for a while now and this is the best combination of flavors I’ve come up with thus far. Just saying. I also like my apple butter lightly spiced and not too sweet though. If you prefer a different flavor some adapting may be in order.

Makes about 8 cups

5 to 6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place the finely chopped apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the sugars, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well.

Cover and cook on high 1 hour stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to low and cook 9 to 11 hours until the mixture is thickened and dark brown. Stir occasionally. 

Uncover, turn off the heat, and let cool for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

World Peace Cookies

from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

I added a tablespoon of orange zest to the original recipe to give these cookies a little bit of a holiday flare. The results were highly approved by my family. I’ve made these cookies without the orange zest before though too and they were equally as delicious!

Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 85% cacao), chopped (no pieces bigger than 1/3 inch)

1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth but not fluffy. Add both sugars, vanilla, and sea salt; beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended (mixture may be crumbly). Add chopped chocolate; mix just to distribute (if dough doesn’t come together, knead lightly in bowl to form ball). Divide dough in half. Place each half on sheet of plastic wrap. Form each into 1 1/2-inch-diameter log. Wrap each in plastic; chill until firm, about 3 hours. (Dough can be made 3 days ahead of time if kept chilled.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using thin sharp knife, cut logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Space 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies appear dry (cookies will not be firm or golden at edges), 11 to 12 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Ginger Sandwich Cookies

from Food and Wine

Makes about 20 cookies 

For the Cookie

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/4 cup unsulfured molasses

For the Filling

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350° and position racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until incorporated, scraping down the bowl.

Working in 2 batches, drop scant tablespoons of the dough onto the baking sheets, 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, until risen and fallen and slightly firm; shift the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through for even baking. Let cool slightly, then transfer the parchment paper to racks and let the cookies cool completely. Bake the remaining cookies.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the confectioners’ sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the lemon juice.

Arrange the cookies in pairs on a large work surface. Spoon or pipe 1 rounded tablespoon of the lemon filling onto the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, pressing them together so the filling spreads to the edge.

These can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for up to one week.


Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Cookies, Desserts, Fruit

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

That’s it. I’m done. Graduated. Never again will I call myself a college student. (Until I go to grad. school, but in that case I’ll be a grad. student. Different. Very different.)

To celebrate, I baked myself a cake. And because, in my humble opinion, lemon always wins the epic lemon v. chocolate debate, it is this beautiful French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon, brought to us by Molly Wizenberg, that I decided to bake.

Admittedly, my decision to make this cake might have had mostly to do with the story Molly penned about it in her cookbook, A Homemade Life. The story tells us how some random guy, who lived all the way across the country, emailed her about this very cake. And how she responded, asking just a couple questions, either to appear polite, or perhaps, to slyly keep the conversation going. And then how emails became text messages, which became phone calls, that turned into that first, in-person rendezvous, which led to a relationship, and then a marriage. Maybe that’s how I’ll meet the love of my life, the one my parents seem to think I’m hiding from them. Little do they know, online dating is looming in my future.

Maybe if I bake this cake often enough though, I’ll be able to avoid that fate. I’ll leave my windows open one sunny, spring afternoon and let the intertwined aromas of lemon and sugar drift through the air. The beautiful man, who will just happen to be walking past, will smell the wafting scents and, unable to resist, make an immediate detour for my apartment. “Excuse me, but that cake…I just have to have a piece!”. Alright, so maybe not, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. This cake is that good.

Moist and light, the cake itself is delicious. The syrup soaks perfectly into it giving the cake an extra lemony kick. What seals the deal though, is the icing. Oh man, that icing. Gently encasing the cake with a shiny, smooth, sugary shell, the icing adds a simple complexity to the cake, making it at once luxurious and homey. Its sweetness, which flawlessly contrasts the tartness of the lemon, transforms this cake from one that might last a day or so on your kitchen counter to one that is lucky to survive the evening. While you may be tempted to eat this cake, in its entirety, yourself, it is a cake that ultimately must be shared.

And share I did, because, through the endless reflecting that has defined this quarter, I’ve come to one conclusion: What’s made me love Northwestern, love love love, are the people. The random kid I sat next to in class who happened to have the most incredible stories and insights. The casual acquaintance who always gave me the biggest smile and the brightest hello. The best friend who pulled all-nighters with me, taking study breaks to discuss those big question of life that are best confronted when anyone with an ounce of sanity is asleep.

To all my fellow Northwestern students – from the strangers I wish I’d met to the best friends I’ve known since freshman year – you are who I will miss. Thank you for giving Northwestern a special place in my heart. Now, lets eat cake.

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

from A Homemade Life by  Molly Wizenberg

Molly suggests a couple of variations: “Instead of making a lemon-flavored cake, try orange or tangerine, or Meyer lemon, when in season. You can also try replacing the vegetable oil with a fruity, round-flavored olive oil; it brings a subtly richer flavor and wonderful fragrance. And for an especially delicate, sweetly fragrant cake try replacing 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup very finely ground blanched almonds.” Next time I think I’ll try some olive oil and ground almonds. And there will definitely be a next time.

Makes 1 9-inch cake

For the cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the syrup

1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/4 cup lemon juice

For the icing

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and grease it too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add lemon zest and whisk to mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring to mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir to just combine. Add the oil and stir well. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep going, and it will come together into a smooth, pale yellow batter. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a wide, flat plate or pan. Remove and discard the parchment paper. Invert the cake back onto the rack so that it sits upright, with the shinier, slightly domed side facing up. Set the rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the syrup ingredients. Spoon the syrup slowly atop the warm cake. Some of the syrup will run down the sides and onto the baking sheet; don’t worry. Cool completely.

In a small bowl, combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.

Serve immediately–the icing will still be soft and a bit juicy–or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.


Filed under Cakes, Desserts, Fruit

Grape Focaccia with Rosemary and Goat Cheese

Cooking for one person is hard. Very hard. Recipes are simply not made to feed one, which means I usually end up with loads of leftovers. A good thing, except that in the following days I eat the same thing over and over and over. Even with the most delicious meal ever, boredom eventually sets in. So, whenever there’s a family gathering, I feel personally obliged to cook. People to pawn food off on? Yes! Not eating the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next three, four, five days. An even bigger YES!!!

There’s only one slight problem. Ok, lets call it a major problem. While my immediate family – my mom, dad, and sister – have slightly different palates than my own and may be a touch less adventurous, they tend to try whatever I whip up with gusto. My extended family however…Well, they like their mayonnaise based potato salads, burgers with American cheese, and super chocolaty boxed brownies. Adventure is not their middle name. For some reason, this hasn’t stopped me from bringing tupperware containers full of “strange” food to family gathering. And the last was no exception.

After reading a recipe for grape focaccia with rosemary on the Smitten Kitchen website, I was immediately intrigued and, admittedly, slightly perplexed by the combination of flavors. When, several days later, I read a surprisingly similar recipe for Fresh Goat Cheese on Flatbread with Grapes and Rosemary Oil, in Pam Anderson’s Perfect Recipes for Having People Over, I became convinced the grapes, rosemary, bread combination must be one that worked. I wanted to give the focaccia a try because 1. I had the time to deal with a yeast bread for once and 2. I liked the idea of a light, fluffy bread instead of the more dense, crunchy flat bread. The grapes, which I found at the farmer’s market, and the rosemary, which hails from my backyard, were both shoe-ins for the concoction. The goat cheese I pondered for a brief moment until I saw freshly made, local goat cheese at the farmer’s market a mere few steps from the grapes. And the goat cheese was in too.

I followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe for the focaccia, which produces two loaves. Uncertain of the seasoning that should be used given the addition of the goat cheese I made one with the original sugar-salt combination and another with salt and pepper. While the sugar gave the dough a shiny, crunchy top layer the black pepper won out flavor wise by miles. It paired perfectly with the rosemary complimenting, rather than overpowering, the sweet, roasted concord grapes and the rich, creamy goat cheese. On top of the flavor, for some reason the pepper sprinkled dough had that texture I wanted – light and fluffy – while the sugar coated dough did not. I can’t tell you why, some mystery of food chemistry perhaps. Regardless, this proved a surprising victory for pepper over my epic, sugar-loving sweet tooth.

Pepper and sugar aside, the focaccia is in my book, and my family’s, a keeper. While they did not devour the tender slices of focaccia topped with juicy grapes, subtle seasoning, and a touch of goat cheese like I did, they gave it a try. And they seemed to approve. Trust me, they’d tell me if they didn’t.

Grape Focaccia with Rosemary and Goat Cheese 

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

While my version below calls for pepper, the original used sugar. If you want to try that version simply follow the link above. You can always do what I did and try one of both! Regardless of which you follow, I strongly recommend reducing the original amount of salt, 2 teaspoons, to no more than 1 1/2 teaspoons as the recipe below dictates. Even that may be too much. In this case, proceed with caution when it comes to the salt.

Makes 2 focaccia or about 32 appetizer sized slices

3/4 cup (177 ml) warm water (105° to 110°F)

2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk, slightly warmed

1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast

2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt

6 tablespoons (90 ml) olive oil

1 1/2 cups halved Concord, red or black grapes, seeded

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, chopped

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 ounces goat cheese (for serving, optional)

In a large bowl stir together the water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir well. Place the dough on a flat, well-floured surface and knead for 8 minutes.

Brush a large bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Put dough into the bowl and brush the top with additional oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a cool place until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Press the dough down with a floured hand. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two balls. Brush a large baking sheet (or two small ones) with olive oil and place the balls of dough on it. Brush the tops with more oil. Set aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel. After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch circular shape. It will be dimpled from your fingers. Cover again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush tops of dough with remaining olive oil and sprinkle grapes, rosemary, coarse sea salt evenly, and black pepper over the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Let cool before serving. Ten minutes before serving pull the goat cheese out of the fridge. Cut each loaf in to 9 to 12 slices. Spread each slice with a small amount of goat cheese or simple place the goat cheese next to the bread and allow guests to spread as desired.

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Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breads, Fruit

Blueberry Cashew Salad with Herbs

My blog under went some late night changes, or rather early morning changes, at say 3am ish yesterday. You may have noticed the new picture at the top. I decided the blog needed something new, something more fitting to me, my food, my writing. I know what you’re thinking, “If that picture serves as any representation of the food on this blog, what can the food possibly taste like?”. Delicious and, most of the time, homey and simple, is the answer. At least that’s what I like to think. That being said, I also decided last night to eliminate some old posts I wasn’t absolutely in love with. While the decision was perhaps induced by the late hour and my recent lack of sleep, it was made because I want to make sure every recipe on this blog is something I would want you, my reader, to make. Something you’d want to make so badly, that as you’re reading you’re asking yourself whether you have all the ingredients in your kitchen or whether you’ll have to make a super quick trip to the grocery store. But enough of me rambling. Let move on to more important things, like the recipe you just may have all the ingredient for…

…and that recipe happens to be a salad. Yes, a salad. Believe it or not, I like salad. I don’t like them when I’m working all summer at a camp in middle-of-nowhere New York and it’s all I eat every lunch and dinner for nine weeks because I can’t stand white pasta and platters of questionable meat. Take for example, this summer. Luckily about midway through my epic camp experience the nurse started giving me sunflower sprouts she was growing in the infirmary. That added some momentary excitement to my salads and inspired me to start growing my own, which I have yet to start doing. I’ll start though. I promise.

Despite the seemingly endless number of salads I ate in the all too recent past, I clearly have not been entirely turned off from them seeing as how I’m posting, after only a week of being home, a salad recipe. My standby salad involves dried cranberries and walnuts over a bed of whatever kind of leafy greens I can find in the fridge. Occasionally I’ll add sliced apples or some blue cheese but I’m usually quite content with just my cranberries and walnuts. But there’s one problem, the cranberries and walnuts always fall to the bottom of my bowl. While it makes for a pleasant surprise when I finally reach that point, it also means the rest of the salad can be kind of bland. That is, unless I’m up for a challenge during lunch. You know, just a normal lunch in the life of Jessica, digging around for the cranberries and walnuts hidden under a pile of salad and then, once found, battling to keep them on my fork while I attempt to stab a piece of oh so abundant but unruly greens.

The solution, however, was an easy one. Chop the nuts and dried fruit finely enough that they’ll cling to the greens but not so finely that their crunch and chew will be lost. After the salad’s structural problem was solved, up came the ingredients for debate. Tired of eating the same thing I decided to go for a change of pace. Inspired by one of my favorite granola bars, the Blueberry Vanilla & Cashew Kind bars, I opted, clearly, for blueberries and cashews. And that was the end of the story. Almost.

The idea for fresh herbs, which add just the necessary touch of complexity to this salad, came from Melissa Clark’s recipe for “Hello, Salad (Tender Greens with Herbs and Hazelnuts)” in her cookbook, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I’ll take this opportunity to make a quick plug for the book, which in the several days since I picked it up at the library, I have fallen in love with. Each simple, yet beautiful recipe is preceded by a short vignette that showcases her “New York Times” food writer talents and inspires and encourages her readers to be creative in the kitchen. I loved the book so much that I decided to buy it. And considering how cheap I am, that’s saying something.  Perhaps you too should buy a copy. You can read it while you’re eating a healthy, light Blueberry Cashew salad. That is, if you’re talented enough to read and eat at the same time, which I, sadly, am not.

Blueberry Cashew Salad with Herbs

If you’re not particularly in love with blueberries or cashews you can substitute in a different dried fruit and/or nut. Apparently I’ve been in to flexible recipes lately. If you opt for making this salad a meal, feel free to add chicken. Sliced breasts grilled with some pesto or raspberry vinaigrette would be quite nice.

Makes 1 meal sizes salad or 2 side salads

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon cashews, chopped

1 tablespoon dried blueberries, chopped

1 tablespoon soft mixed herbs (such as cilantro, basil, parsley, or mint), chopped

2 cups loosely packed spinach

Mix the lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl toss the dried blueberries, cashews, and herbs until combined well.

Sprinkle the dried blueberries, cashew, herb mixture over the spinach. Drizzle the salad with the lemon-olive oil dressing.

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Filed under Fruit, Salads, Sides, Vegetables

Homemade Granola Bars

I’m back! Apologies for not informing all of you  – that is, my massive fan base  – I would be departing Chicago for the summer to spend it in the lovely Fishkill, New York where I was, sadly, kitchenless. Although since said massive fan base consists entirely of family and friends (need I remind you that in my first post I claimed I would gain international fame within two weeks. It’s been over two weeks sure, but trust me, the international fame is still a comin’) you all probably knew where I was headed this summer. Thus, no need for forewarnings about my lack of posts.

Now you probably expect me to go in to some lengthy explanation of my summer adventures. More on those to come later. Maybe. For now, there are more pressing things at hand. Like Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. (If the author’s name sounds vaguely familiar but you can’t quite place it see if this helps: He also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)

Pollan’s book had been recommended to me several times before but it took going to Boston to get me to read it. Well, Boston wasn’t really the deciding factor. It was more my friend, who I was visiting in Boston, handing it to me and telling me to read it, which got me to open up the book. And now I wish I had a million dollars because if I did I’d buy you all a copy and have my personal assistant mail it to you.

It was that good. More than good. Revolutionary. That might be a slight exaggeration. Lets say…eye opening, although that doesn’t seem to do it justice. Anyway, instead of summarizing the book I’m going to let the author do it for you here. What I will tell you is that Pollan gives his reader a very simple pieces of advice, eat food. Yes, eat food. That means real food. Plants, vegetables, whole grains. Not Go-Gurt and 100 calorie packs. Not Lean Cuisines and Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Cookie Dough. Not Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Frosted Flakes. Not even white flour, as much as it can be avoided. He does not say move west, become a hippy or a mountain man or whatever you want to call it, and start growing all your own food. No, no he says eat food with the understanding, at least in my mind, that sometimes it’s just not possible. Of course the book goes far beyond Pollan’s simple piece of advice. To help you understand Pollan’s whole argument and all his suggestions I believe it’s my turn to give you a simple piece of advice: Read the book.

For these granola bars we can thank Michael Pollan then. After reading the book, more like after reading ten pages of the book, I felt inspired to go home and start cooking more of what I eat on a daily basis, that is, pantry staple so to speak. And granola bars are certainly a staple in my life.

I had long ago read about these granola bars on, once again, the Smitten Kitchen website. I was immediately drawn in by the hundreds of comments it received as well as it’s flexibility (see my notes below!). Long before I read this recipe though I had fallen in love with Cran Lemon Zest Earnest Bars, aka the most delicious granola bars ever. Shortly after my discovery, the Whole Foods nearest me stopped carrying the brand. (This summer, however, I found some on the east coast and, after a short investigation, found out that they can be bought online with free shipping and no tax. Score.) So, using the original recipe on the Smitten Kitchen site, I decided to try to replicate the Earnest bars I had once eaten so religiously. And below is my version. While it is not a perfect replication it is equally delicious if I do say so myself. And, I know exactly what’s in them. 100% real food.

Homemade Granola Bars

adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

Remember, this recipe is very flexible. Very very flexible. The flax seed and wheat germ can be completely omitted if desired. Instead of cranberries, walnuts, and almonds you can use any combination of dried fruit and nuts as long as it equates to 2 to 3 total cups worth. (Other possibilities include, but are certainly not limited to, dried apricots, cherries, or blueberries, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, coconut, sesame seeds, or chocolate chips.) The lemon rind and lemon extract can also be omitted. You can substitute vanilla extract is desired or just leave out the “extract” component entirely. Finally, you can likely use all olive oil (or a different type of oil like sunflower or canola) or all butter for the fat. The skies the limit!

I highly recommend following the link above to the Smitten Kitchen site and reading the comments Deb’s followers have made in regards to this recipe. There are some fabulous tips and suggestions. The beauty of this recipe is that you can truly make it your own but a little guidance can still be helpful. The advice from all those who have tested this recipe before may just give you this needed guidance and a dose of inspiration. I for one will be trying chocolate and coconut in mine next time.

Oh, and one more thing…apparently the bars freeze well. I haven’t tested this out yet but if it indeed proves true what a great way to have homemade granola bars on hand at all times!

Makes about 16 bars

1 2/3 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup whole grain oat flour (or 1/3 cup oats, finely ground in a food processor or blender)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/4 cup ground wheat germ

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup walnuts

3/4 cup almonds

1 teaspoon lemon rind

1 teaspoon lemon extract

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons melted butter

1/3 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup honey (or maple or corn syrup)

1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Coat the parchment paper and exposed sides with a non-stick spray or lightly grease.

Stir together all the dry ingredients, expect the lemon rind. (The dried fruit and nuts can be chopped, or not, to taste. Obviously, the less they’re chopped the chunkier the bar.) In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon rind, lemon extract, olive oil, melted butter, peanut butter, honey and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry using a fork until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack or, after about 20 minutes, lift and remove the bars from the pan using the parchment paper. Place on a rack in their paper to cool the rest of the way. (The latter method can speed up the cooling process.)

Once cool, use a serrated knife to cut the bars into squares. (If the bars seem crumbly, chill the pan of them for 30 minutes. Then cut them cold.) To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container. In humid weather, it is best to refrigerate the bars.


Filed under Appetizers and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Fruit