Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Detox January, Week 4: tragic salted chocolate cookies

Salted chocolate cookies
I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this post.


Well, firstly because I wanted this to be a celebratory "you-made-it-through-Detox-January-so-have-a-cookie" post, and it's not going to be.

Also, because generally these posts are about recipes or techniques that I have tried and tested and then recommend to you. But those cookies staring you in the face over there, regardless of their good looks, are not ones I would recommend very highly.

So is an anti-recommendation blog-worthy?

In the interest of being real, I decided it should be.

Lest you think that we eat awesomely all the time around here, with nary a slip-up.

Oh man, I started out with high hopes for these cookies. In fact, I was hoping they might rival the lauded salted oatmeal cookies, as they are billed as salty-sweet and there's a goodly amount of kosher salt in the recipe. But I was disappointed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Detox January, Week 3: "Chef Boyardee" Broccoli Pasta

Broccoli pasta (it's like pesto!)
I realized that I've given you little other than dessert recipes during Detox January ("Let them eat cake!"), so I think that needs to end today.

But it doesn't end in a bad way, I promise. It ends with a lovely, easy pasta dish that I guarantee will become part of your weeknight repertoire, based on the easiness-to-awesomeness ratio.

Loyal reader Cristina turned me on to this one last year after hearing the story on NPR. Turns out "Chef Boyardee" was a real person: one Ettore "Hector" Boiardi (apparently there needed to be a phonetic dumbing-down of his Italian last name so that waspy America could pronounce it ... sigh).

Boiardi was an accomplished chef and had a successful restaurant in Cleveland when he decided, in true entrepreneurial fashion, to bottle and sell his popular sauce -- which eventually led him into a food manufacturing and importing business.

His whole family, apparently, were and are no slouches in the kitchen, his chef-niece Anna Boiardi included. Last year, she published a cookbook-cum-memoir, Delicious Memories: Recipes and Stories from the Chef Boyardee Family, which includes some of her family's best-loved recipes -- including this broccoli-centric one from her mother.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Detox January, Week 3: Chocolate Chip Banana Bombs

Chocolate chip banana bombs (or, Da Bombs)
Trust me, I didn't come up with that name.

I found the recipe for these cake-like cookies via an iPhone app called Big Oven. (Mr. Ninj heard about it on NPR and suggested I check it out.) It's an online cooking community and repository of user-submitted recipes. One of its coolest features is called "Use Up Leftovers" -- you can enter up to three ingredients and it will suggest recipes using those ingredients.

This week I had a few bananas beginning to turn scary-brown. I thought about banana bread, but that just wasn't doing it for me. So I typed "bananas" into the Big Oven app.

I got many results for banana bread: Easy, Quick, Crazy-Healthy, Best-Ever, Dad's, Not Yo Momma's and more.

Then I came across Da Bombs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Detox January, Week 2: Bake Sale Chocolate Muffins

Two-ingredient chocolate and pumpkin muffins -- so good, they're even bake-sale-worthy.

two ingredient chocolate pumpkin muffins, suitable for a bake sale
Chocolate muffins (or cupcakes, if you prefer)
Chocolate muffins, OK, but I bet you're wondering about the bake sale part, right?

There's a backstory...

I recently learned that there is a backlash developing against the resurgence of interest in domesticity or what we of a certain age learned long ago as "home economics." I know, I know, this shouldn't be news, right? I mean, every time something becomes popular or trendy, a backlash ensues, yes?

So now baking is under fire.

(Not to mention raising chickens, but that's off-topic right now. )

This all came to a head when a contributor in The New York Times bemoaned the fact that people have actually been offering up Oreos or other store-bought treats as fodder for fund-raising bake sales. She apparently started an online uproar (summarized excellently by Jennifer Reese over at The Tipsy Baker), which has spiraled into an attack on what one of her critics calls the current "anti-feminist homemaker fetish."

Yipes. All she suggested was that you might actually want to BAKE for a bake sale.

So, as an Anti-Feminist Homemaker Fetish-ite, I offer up the following as a peace offering for the two camps:

Delicious, bake sale-worthy, low-fat/low-calorie/low-Weight-Watchers-points* chocolate muffins (or cupcakes, if you prefer) that even the busiest CEO can find time to make.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Orecchiette Bolognese: Homemade Pasta for Cook It! 2012

Homemade orecchiette Bolognese
Homemade pasta -- so much easier than you think!

One of the bloggers I follow, Caroline at Grow It Can It Cook It, decided to issue herself a challenge for 2012: to try one new cooking technique each month during the year that she has always wanted to try. And now she's invited the rest of us to play along at home.

Can you guess what January's challenge is? Yep ... homemade pasta.

Since I do not have a pasta machine, I knew I'd have to try something that doesn't need to be rolled into sheets. I've made gnocchi before, but as it is largely potatoes, I looked around for something else, something with semolina.


In Italian it means "little ears" and you can see why: the little indentation that makes the "ear" is perfect for holding a nice chunky Bolognese sauce (recipe below).

But back to the pasta itself.

Very simply, it is semolina flour, regular flour and warm water mixed together to form a dough, which is then shaped and dried slightly. That's it! Sure, a bit more time consuming than opening up a box of dried pasta, but so much classier.

You can definitely do this. I'll even walk you through it -- with pictures.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Detox January, Week 2: Nutella-banana popsicles

Nutella-banana pops
Yes, you read that correctly.

Nutella-banana popsicles.

Yes, for our Detox January.

Because each pop is only about 145 calories and 5 grams of fat (based on my getting 14 pops out of the recipe).

And they are loaded with fruit, which we all know is good for you and very Detoxy.

It's partially a size thing but also an ingredient thing; that is, the size is smallish and the ingredients are just two: yep, Nutella and bananas.

Making these pops really couldn't be easier. In fact, I'm not even going to both to write out a "recipe" because it's ludicrously simple.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Making hard cider: part 3

Bottled cider, ready to drink (almost)
I did tell you you would have to be patient...

But it's ready! Two months of settling and our cider is beautiful, clear and golden, which means it's ready to bottle.

First, you're going to need some bottles. You can use beer bottles or wine bottles but I prefer the Grolsch-style, swing-top bottles with rubber-seal caps.

Yes, the bottles will require an initial investment, but the whole dealy is reusable each year (make sure you ask for the bottles to be returned if you give any of your cider away as gifts).

And hey, remember the bucket that you started fermentation with way back in October? And the siphoning equipment? You're going to need them again, because part of the bottling process is racking the clarified cider back into the buckets to separate it from the last bit of sediment sludge (i.e., what you've waited two months to be rid of). But you are a racking expert now, so no worries.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Detox January, Week 1: Fruity Israeli couscous

Fruity Israeli couscous with chicken
Detox January does not, I repeat, does not involve eating miniscule portions of carboard and kale.

Well, we eat kale but usually with some kind of snappy salad dressing, rather than cardboard.

Really, I'm just trying to point out that you don't have to go on a hardcore diet or cleanse to eat a little better and be a little healthier to feel a little better, which is the goal of Detox January.

(Sidebar: What the hell is up with the cleanse craze right now? It's like the hair shirt of eating. I mean, doing penance for a few weeks is not going to help you get healthier in the long run. As Jason Gay wrote in his recent humorous article in the Wall Street Journal, "There is no secret. Exercise and lay off the fries. The end.")

Enter this lovely pasta dish, which started out life as a side dish (perfect with roast chicken or pork tenderloin) but makes a wicked awesome main with the addition of some cooked chicken or turkey.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Detox January, Week 1: Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

Peanut butter-oatmeal breakfast bars
"Mocktail Hour" with a virgin Bloody Mary is not quite the same as the real deal with a chartreuse vodka gimlet, but hey ... otherwise Detox January is not bad at all.

(Sidebar: Except for the annual mob scene at the gym. But I'm not worried: the resolution-breakers will be gone by the end of February. Cynical? Yes. But it's true.)

Take, for instance, these breakfast / snack bars. Wicked, wicked good! And no baking involved -- just some melting. And everyone can find time for a little melting.

Regular readers will recall that I am always on the hunt for good make-ahead, grab-and-go breakfast recipes. I think this one may be the best one yet: sweet yet salty, chewy yet crunchy. Perfecto!


Ninjas don't lie.

At least I don't think so.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Detox January (and a lemon poundcake recipe)

Lemon pound cake (really, it's light!)
Happy New Year! But, more importantly, Happy Detox January!

Regular readers will remember that each year Mr. Ninj and I celebrate (perhaps not quite the right word choice) a little something we call Detox January.

We started doing this a few years ago, as a break from the overindulgence of the holidays and to get the new year off to a good start -- and, quite frankly, to try to drop a few of those excess holiday pounds before we head off on our February vacation, which involves putting on a swimsuit.

Detox January is not some overly ambitious resolution that you know you won't be able to keep (new gym membership, anyone?); it's more like a short-term, mini resolution that you know you can achieve.

The rules are simple. For the entire month of January:
  • Abstain from all alcohol (but if a recipe calls for a little bit, that's OK) 
  • Eat a bit healthier every day (I don't expect you to get crazy here -- we just try to eat more veggies than cookies and keep our recipes more Cooking Light than Julia Child) 
  • Exercise more than you did in December 

See? You can totally do this!