5/28/2013

avocado brownies

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Okay, nobody freak out. First things first, no, your brownies will not come out green, they will not taste like avocado (though they will taste deceitfully buttery, which some may consider the same thing) and yes, you can sub avocado for oil or butter in just about any baking endeavor, if you're feeling daring.



I've been wanting to try this method for some time now. Always debating where to hide the avocado, brownies seemed like the perfect gateway. The cocoa would play as a coverup, which it did quite well. I got my final push of inspiration alá The Chubby Vegetarian. A blog dedicated to the reminder that a meat-free life doesn't mean you deprive yourself of a full range of foodie goodness, chocolate included.


For this recipe, you'll need:

One avocado, mashed (Disclaimer: all avocados are not created equal. I bought one the other day that was the exact size and shape of a baseball, while I've picked up other monsters that weigh in around three pounds. Not kidding. For this recipe, a medium-ish, regular-shaped avocado is best.)
3/4 cup of cane sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 ounces of dark chocolate
1/8 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped


Okay, my favorite thing about this recipe? How to choose, but one of them is definitely the fact that ripe avocados are already the texture of room-temperature butter. No waiting for it to thaw out and soften, it's already there! Maybe sure you go for one that isn't overly ripe, however; they tend to develop a stringy, unappealing texture that even chocolate can't solve. Find one that is firm; not rock-hard, not mush. (Tip: avocados will ripen basically overnight if you put them near some bananas.)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together your avocado, sugar and cocoa powder. If you can't fight your curiosity, this is the stage to have a taste. Not bad, right? Melt your chocolate (which is ideally broken into smaller pieces) and your milk in the microwave for thirty seconds. Stir, resist drinking and heat for another thirty seconds. Add to your magic mixture and stir until combined.


Add your eggs, flour, salt and vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly. Fold in your walnuts and then spread your mixture into (ahem) a 5 x 8-inch pan. Or, if you're as unprepared as me, a round cake pan. Which in fact worked beautifully. I half considered whipping up another batch, baking another brownie round and sandwiching them together with raspberry jam. Next time.


Bake for 20 minutes - I went for about 22-23 minutes. Then again, my oven is old. Chubby Vegetarian suggests you let these lovelies cool for 30 minutes. I find that to be appalling and/or humorous. I tried. Seriously. I opened windows so the place would smell less chocolatey. I made it about 16 minutes. But who doesn't love a warm (okay, hot, but GOOD) brownie?!

These were perfect. Honestly. I've never made brownies, either avocado or butter-based, though I have taste-tested my fair share of both homemade and boxed varieties: this one wins.




5/15/2013

banana nut muffins

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Ah, yes. Banana nut, a total classic combination. A fail safe. One that will never lead you astray. (Unless you are, like cute Colin, a walnut-hater. I say: All haters, try them once in a cookie or a scone and see if you change your mind. It's a nice crunchy balance to otherwise sweetness. No one's asking you to eat them straight, become the Walnut King. Omega-3's, people, omega-3's! Ah, but he's so cute.)

Having a hankering for this particular flavor, I decided to stalk the cookbooks (and, okay, the internet) for the perfect recipe. I've done this before, of course, and came through with what is now a favorite healthy version of banana bread, to which we've often added mix-ins like dried fruit, nuts or, ahem, chocolate. All equally delicious, if I do say so myself.


So, couldn't I just transform this successful recipe into muffin-form, you ask? Well, maybe, possibly. But then that wouldn't be a challenge, would it? And THEN, I might not have combined ideas from several different recipes and landed on the let's-sub-coconut-oil train (a ride I frequent more than ever, these days), which always leds a nice, subtle crispiness to all the baked goods it touches: a nice crunch to the edge of cookies, a zen crustiness to the top of a cake. You get the idea. Coconut oil is for winners.


For this particular winning recipe, you will need:

3-4 ripe bananas (I realize this vague, but use your best judgement. Are the HUGE? Teeny-tiny? When you mash them all up, do they add up to about a cup and a half? Perfect.)
1/3 cup melted, but not hot, coconut oil
3/4 cup of sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine your mashed bananas and coconut oil. They might take a minute to blend, but fold vigorously and you'll get there. Mix in your sugar, egg and vanilla. (I also came across several recipes that incorporated a tablespoon of espresso around this step. A grand idea, but as I was espresso-less, I moved on.)

Add your cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Mix thoroughly and then add your flour, folding quickly until just incorporated. Stir in your walnuts.


Add the mixture to a baking tin, which you can either line with paper cups or grease (very lightly) with a little more coconut oil, for a little more crunch in the muffin exterior. I went paper this time because, let's face it, clean-up seemed like a drag. Who wants to do dishes when there's eating to be done?



Bake for about 22-25 minutes or until deep brown on top. These came out with great color, actually. Dark but not burnt, the exact color I think of when a recipe calls for a "golden brown" finish. Perfect with a little jam or with nothing at all, these were great for an on-the-go breakfast or a hey-I'm-hungry snack. (I recommend that particular kind of snack at least twice a day.)



5/08/2013

marhaba, again.

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Now: to write about Marhaba, a little tucked-away Middle Eastern restaurant in Lambertville, NJ is a major MAJOR thrill, a thrill big enough to denote using the same word twice (twice) in one sentence. Dare you say to that five times fast.

Really, though, despite my love for their display of ambient lighting via several hanging lanterns (all true), it makes for a generally difficult picture-taking scenario most evenings, unless I were comfortable using my very bright, very disturbing flash while other patrons try to enjoy their falafel, and frankly, I cannot.


So though we frequent Marhaba enough to be considered regulars (seriously, the wait staff knows us), I have only been able to record a handful of perfectly-seasoned moments there, due to my courteous restraint.

HOWEVER: when you are smart enough to visit Marhaba during their lunch hours OR during the time of year when the sun doesn't set somewhere around 4PM, bless you, you will find daylight on your side and photographs of your brilliant meal are then possible.

Though there are many vegetarian options on Marhaba's menu, and I've tried (and loved) just about all of them, I decided to stray to a newly added dish, one that became part of the permanent menu at Marhaba after a successful run at restaurant week: koshari.



A basic Egyptian street food that can vary slightly by region, koshari is a dish of rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni, all topped with tomato sauce, fried onion and garlic. And mine in particular came with a hard-boiled egg, for a balance of creamy with the acidity of the tomatoes and garlicky punch. I mean, you tell me what's not to love about that. 

Colin opted for a steady favorite in the vegetarian ouzi (hold the mushrooms, please), a phyllo "pocket" filled with rice, spiced vegetables and golden raisins.



And of course, you also can't go to Marhaba without getting their falafel: the taste is definitely signature and a little more heat-heavy than most other falafel I've tried. And unlike other varieties, this homemade stuff is really dense, the ingredients all visible, aka sesame seeds everywhere: yum. Pair that with their amazing za'atar bread, and you have the best meal, possibly, on earth.



5/01/2013

zesty orange loaf

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I've discovered (again, while in Mexico) another blog that I've become head-over-heels in-love/stalker-obsessed with: Lottie & Doof. With a name full of whimsy, food photos that nearly jump off the page and onto my plate (which I'm holding up to my laptop ... no, just me?), L&D has got everything I'm looking for, including this amazing recipe for orange loaf.

Since I've already tried my hand at a grapefruit pound cake once or twice this season (okay, four times),  I thought I'd mix it up and expand my horizons to other members of the citrus family.

Now, I love all citrus fruits. I love tangerines and clementines and tangelos. I don't discriminate. And I could easily dig into a five-pound bag of oranges and only halfway through realize what I've done. Seriously: it's a love that deep.

So when it comes to incorporating any member of the citrus family into a baked dessert - well, I am sold in thirty seconds or less. There may be a moment of hesitation as I think something like, "Well, I guess I could just eat these pomelos as they are," but. It always comes and goes.


For this recipe, you'll need:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons orange zest (from about 3 medium-sized oranges)
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan. (Yes! Finally, a pan size that I actually own!) Line the bottom and 2 long sides with parchment paper.

Whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Combine sour cream, orange juice and vanilla in a small bowl - nope, it won't curdle, in case you were wondering the same thing I was. It actually was pretty difficult to resist dipping a spoon into this pretty, peachy-colored mixture. But set aside, if you can.


In the bowl of an electric mixture (if you have one) and using the paddle attachment (le sighhhh..), combine your sugar and orange zest on a low speed. This will start to smell amazing almost INSTANTLY. Drop your butter in about 2 tablespoons at a time until thoroughly combined. Then increase your speed slightly, until the mixture appears light and airy. Add your eggs one at a time, beating slowly to incorporate.


Once you've added all your eggs, alternate between your flour and sour cream mixtures, mixing thoroughly with each addition. (L&D advises that you start and end with your flour mixture. Don't question it.)

Scrape your batter into your prepared pan and bake for about 45-60 minutes - for me, the golden number (which may or may not be a baking pun) was around 52 minutes. All ovens vary, of course.


This cake came out beautifully and strikingly orange, in fact. The color, that is. The taste was more delicate, but definitely there. (It likely would have increased if I had added the glaze recipe, but I'm not really a glaze kind of girl. Unless we're talking about donuts. I'm always interested in talking about donuts).

Still, this light cake could pass for breakfast and an after-dinner option, which is my favorite kind of dessert: not too sweet, not too heavy. Almost as perfect as an orange itself - almost.