no-bake apple and carob chip granola bars

A recipe caught my eye on Pinterest the other day and I thought I’d give it a go.  We go through a fair number of granola bars in any given week, between the husband’s lunches, Kat’s snacks, my pre-workout snack, etc., and let’s be real:  your garden-variety, store-bought granola bars can be the equivalent of eating a candy bar.  So, I spend a lot of time reading labels while I shop, searching out the healthiest options on the market.  Frequently, I’ll just make my own.   I have a great crispy granola recipe I’m pretty fond of,  but I’ve never tried to make granola bars.

True confessions?  These didn’t successfully turn out as bars.

More true confessions?  You might as well eat a candy bar as eat this granola.

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Don’t get me wrong.  It’s tasty.  And, although granola is pretty widely known for being very calorie dense, my go-to recipe had a lot of sugar in a variety of forms (brown sugar, molasses, honey, dried apples, etc.).  Even though I substituted a few ingredients, I wished later I’d cut down on some of the other sugar (see Cook’s Notes, below).

The finished product was sweet (a little too sweet for me), but deliciously chewy.

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The instructions were very strict about the 60 second boil, indicating less than 60 seconds would result in granola that fell apart, or more than 60 seconds would result in bars that ended up too hard.  I clearly failed to meet the required 60 seconds, despite my best efforts (how hard can that be, really?), because my granola didn’t want to stay in bar form.  While I managed to successfully cut and wrap a few to photograph, the rest we ate out of hand or I sprinkled over Greek yogurt and berries at lunch.  That was my preference with this particular recipe.  Give it a shot making bars, though.  I’d love to hear if anyone has any real success.  Enjoy!

 No-Bake Apple and Carob Chip Granola Bars (recipe adapted from My Small Potatoes)

 Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 2 c rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 c puffed brown rice cereal
  • 1/2 c dried apples, chopped
  • 1/3 c carob chips
  • 1/8 c sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/8 c chopped almonds, toasted

Directions:

  • Toast sesame seeds and almonds over medium heat, stirring regularly so as not to scorch.  Remove from pan when golden.
  • Combine oats, brown rice cereal, dried apples, carob chips, toasted sesame seeds, and toasted chopped almonds.  Mix well and set aside.
  • Line 9″ x 13″ baking pan with wax paper.  Spray with non-stick cooking spray to make removal of the bars easier.
  • Melt butter over medium heat.
  • Stir in brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, honey, and molasses.
  • Bring to a boil for 60 seconds then immediately remove from heat and pour over dry ingredients.
  • Working quickly, mix wet and dry ingredients until evenly combined.
  • Scoop into lined baking pan and spread evenly, packing the mixture hard with your hands.
  • Let cool before removing from pan and slicing in to bars.

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***Cook’s Notes – this granola was too sweet for me.  Don’t get me wrong, it tasted fine, but when I make it again, I’ll reduce the brown sugar to 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  I’d also probably reduce quantities of honey, as well, from six tablespoons to four, because I don’t think the additional two tablespoons add anything significant to the recipe other than more sweetness.  And honey is naturally sweeter than refined sugars, so you can use less of it.  Also note, when using dried apple rings, make sure you buy apples with no sugar added.  We’ll see.  This one definitely needs some tinkering to get it just right, but I think it would be worth it in the long run.

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blueberry buckle

I didn’t take any pictures while we baked because a certain someone was eager to lick the bowl.  Also, we’re barely unpacked from a 2,100 mile cross-country trip and it was a small miracle just to find the camera.  This is just another classic summer fruit recipe.  Take advantage of fresh, local produce and do something good with it.  Personally, my favorite way to eat berries is right off the bush, but layered in cake batter and smothered in a crumbly topping isn’t bad, either.

There are a ga-zillion versions of blueberry buckle awaiting you on the internet.  I’m not sure this one is much different, at all.  It’s done in a spring form pan versus a cake pan, but that’s about it.  It would also be easy to adapt for baking in individual ramekins.  Eat it in the morning with coffee, or add freshly whipped cream or a little dollop of vanilla ice cream and call it dessert.  Versatile, but classically summer!  Enjoy!

Blueberry Buckle

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c milk (I used 1%)
  • 2 c blueberries, washed and de-stemmed

Topping:

  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 c unsalted butter, cut in to mixture cold

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375° F.
  2. Cream together butter and sugar.  Add egg to mixture.  Set aside.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Add to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with milk.
  5. Add blueberries.  Fold to combine.
  6. Place in prepared 9″  spring form pan, add topping, and bake for 35 minutes.

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***Baker’s Notes:  If you only have an 8 1/2″ pan, bake for an additional 10 – 15 minutes longer.

spice cake

This cake could be frosted, but there might not be enough left to frost after everyone discovers how yummy it is.  So, if you frost it, do so quickly.

There are no prep pictures of this cake because I threw it together on a whim one evening after a bout of tears in the grocery store parking lot.  We’d been decorating for Christmas and we opened up several boxes of things I’d brought from my mom’s house last fall.  It was hard.  Really hard.  Walk-away-to-get-my-car-keys-to-go-to-the-grocery-store-for-some-obscure-item-so-I-can-sit-anonymously-crying-in-the-parking-lot hard.

And if there’s anything to make me feel better in an emotionally charged moment, well, it’s a good cry in a parking lot and baking a cake!

As I said above, if you want to frost it, don’t let anyone near this cake until you’ve done so.  I planned on it (a nice brown butter drizzle would have been excellent), but it was sliced and packed into lunch boxes before I had a chance.  After that, consensus was just leave it be.  It’s perfectly delicious without frosting and frosting is messy in lunch boxes, anyway.  This cake would make a wonderful addition to a holiday brunch buffet, in which case I’d definitely frost it to give it that finishing touch.  I think you’ll love it either way.  Enjoy!

Spice Cake (recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c low-fat buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Grease a 13×9 baking pan, or grease and lightly flour a 9″ bundt pan; set aside.  Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds.  Add sugar and vanilla; beat till well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Add dry mixture and buttermilk alternately to beaten mixture, folding in after each addition just until combined.  Pour into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in a 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes for the 13×9 pan, or 45 minutes for the bundt pan, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.  Cool sheet pan completely on wire rack.  If using bundt pan, cool for 10 minutes on wire rack.  Remove cake from pan and cool thoroughly on wire rack.

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***Baker’s Notes:  The original recipe suggested baking in either the sheet pan or 2 8 1/2 inch cake pans, but I wanted a bundt cake.  Mine is a 10 1/2″ bundt pan which can hold between 10 and 15 cups of batter.  This recipe makes about 8 cups of batter, so my bundt pan wasn’t anywhere near full to capacity.  Therefore, the finished cake was a little thinner than if I’d used a smaller bundt pan.  My baking time was 45 minutes.  If you use a smaller bundt pan, just make sure to check the cake at about the 45 minute mark.  It may need a little more time.  When the cake begins to pull away from the edges of the pan, you’re just about there.

java spice bread

So….clearly I’m in the throes of some sort of fall spice preoccupation.  But it’s fall.  Fall doesn’t last that long around these parts, and neither does winter.  And that means I have to strike while the iron is hot, or, in this case, cool and overcast.  Which it had been for the last couple of days.  Rain.  Low clouds.  More rain.  Flooded washes.  Fall’s full weight.  And I’m loving every minute of it; the inspiration to bake on a cool, gray Friday afternoon.

This recipe is delicious.  I opted to eliminate the pecans simply because I didn’t have any in my pantry and didn’t feel like going out for one item.  The bread is warm and spicy and aromatic.  It would make a wonderful addition to a breakfast or brunch buffet on Christmas morning.  I know I didn’t care for the raisins in my previous recipe, but they worked beautifully in this one, giving an added burst of sweetness.  This one comes highly recommended.  Seethe Baker’s Notes, below, for further suggestions in prepping this lovely bread.  Enjoy!

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Java Spice Bread (recipe courtesy Grand Temptations:  Recipes from the Junior League of Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1 3/4 c + 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 c + 2 Tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3/4 c honey
  • 1/8 c (= 2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 c strong black coffee, cold
  • 1/2 c pecans, chopped (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine the raisins with water to cover in a small microwaveable bowl.  Microwave on High for 3 minutes; drain.  Remove the raisins to a paper towel and let stand until cool.  Place the raisins in a small bowl, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp flour and toss to coat.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Combine 1 3/4 cups flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  3. Combine eggs, honey, butter, and coffee in a bowl and mix well.  Fold in to dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.  Stir in raisins and pecans (optional).
  4. Pour batter into greased and floured 9-inch loaf pan.  Bake for 55 minutes.
  5. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Store, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 1 week.  The loaves also freeze well.

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***Baker’s Notes:  Use really strong coffee.  If your average daily brew tends to be on the mild side, brew an extra strong cup for this recipe to give your bread a nice coffee undertone.  Also, the original recipe instructed to bake for 1 hour, cool in the pan for 15 minutes.  That was way too long.  I adapted to 55 minutes in the oven, but I think you might even want to check it at 50 minutes to ensure maximum moistness.  This bread would make excellent hostess or teacher gifts.  Bake in mini loaf pans and wrap in pretty Christmas cellophane bags.  Re-calculate baking time for the mini loaves.

pan-seared steak with red wine-cherry sauce

I’m a huge fan of the sweet cherry – being a native Michigander, and all.  My husband, a native Ohioan, believes Michiganders are willing to put cherries in anything; pies, bread, wine, soda, sausage, you name it.  And, on that count, he’s right.  Frankly, I think it’s just a jealousy thing.  He’s from Ohio who managed to marry a girl from Michigan.  Ohio has….um, well, no cherries.  Their state tree breeds a poisonous nut, for Pete’s sake.  Yeah, it’s totally jealousy.  Not to mention, Michigan is full of peninsulas and Ohio is pretty square.  Not a peninsula to be found.  Hence, I dubbed this syndrome “Peninsula Envy.”  He thinks I’m being funny.  Denial is the first sign.

If you’re married to a Michigan girl who grew up spitting cherry pits into the sand on the front porch of the family cottage, and cherries start to show themselves in grocery stores (sadly, not Michigan cherries) round about Father’s Day, it’s a good bet you’re getting something for dinner with cherries in it.  Fortuitously, the July issue of Cooking Light arrived at the house late last week.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  Cooking Light is one of my all-time favorite cooking magazines.  Everything I’ve cooked from the magazine has been consistently good.  This issue certainly doesn’t disappoint – it’s full of amazing looking dishes, and even gave a shout out to Traverse City, Michigan, home to the Cherry Festival, on The Hungry Traveler 2013 top 10 list of delicious food excursions across America.

The red wine cherry sauce was quite good, especially infused with the star anise.  I had to make two alterations; one discussed below and the other being obvious from the photo.  The recipe called for beef tenderloin steaks, but I sent the man to the store and he came home with filets.  Cooking time quickly adjusted and they came out pink and perfect!  I served the steaks with garlicky almond green beans (poo poo’ed by the kiddo…too much garlic, apparently), which were delicious, and the man of the day gave the meal two thumbs up.  A perfect manly meal for a perfectly wonderful dad.  Enjoy!!

Seared Steaks with Red Wine-Cherry Sauce (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 cup sweet cherries (such as Bing), pitted and halved
  • 1 star anise
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine (Merlot or Pinot noir)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 425°.

2.   Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle steaks evenly with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add steaks; cook 4 minutes. Turn steaks over; bake at 425° for 5 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steaks from pan.

3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 2 minutes or until just tender, stirring frequently. Add cherries and star anise; cook 1 minute. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Discard star anise. Stir in butter. Spoon sauce over steaks.

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Cook’s Notes:  I couldn’t get whole star anise in the bulk spice section at my local organic grocer, so I ended up with anise seed, instead.  Very fragrant, but supposedly not as flavorful.  Because it was anise seed, I didn’t add it with the cherries.  Instead, I bound the anise seed in cheese cloth and let it steep in the wine for about 30 minutes ahead of cooking.  The wine really picked up the anise flavor and it definitely flavored the sauce.

cocoa fudge cookies

Two or three times a year we have a “movie night” in our cul-de-sac.  A neighbor has an inflatable outdoor projection screen.  They stream Netflix  through their iPhone and….well, I don’t know how all the techie stuff works, but I do know I got to watch Cars II on a gorgeous spring evening with a lot of other families and their kids, noshing all sorts of tasty treats.  That’s one of the rules:  bring a treat to pass!  There’s never a shortage of food…or wine, for that matter!

This time around we opted to bring cookies.  I was scanning the contents of my pantry and spotted the unsweetened cocoa, which became my inspiration ingredient because I’m always looking for an excuse to add cocoa to baked goods.  A quick Google search turned up these little lovelies from Cooking Light.  I wasn’t the least bit surprised when they baked up thin and crispy because the picture provided with the recipe clearly presented a thin cookie.  But I was surprised to bite into one and discover, between the crisp exterior, an almost brownie-like inside.  Thin, yes, but soft and chewy and nicely contrasting to the original texture.

These cookies were delicious on their own and perfect for dunking, but given their crispy outsides I think they’d also be perfect for making a sandwich cookie.  Maybe even an ice cream sandwich-type cookie.  I didn’t try it, but I would think the outer cookie would hold up nicely if you added a layer of ice cream after they’ve cooled completely.  Serve immediately, of course.  Cookies and ice cream are not meant to be eaten slowly.  Enjoy!

Cocoa Fudge Cookies (courtesy Cooking Light, January 2002)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, soda, and salt; set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in cocoa powder and sugars (mixture will resemble coarse sand). Add yogurt and vanilla, stirring to combine. Add flour mixture, stirring until moist. Drop by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray.
  3. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until almost set. Cool on pans 2 to 3 minutes or until firm. Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.

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Nutritional Information (provided by Cooking Light):

Amount per serving

  • Calories: 78
  • Calories from fat: 31%
  • Fat: 2.7g
  • Saturated fat: 1.6g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 0.8g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.1g
  • Protein: 1g
  • Carbohydrate: 13.4g
  • Fiber: 0.5g
  • Cholesterol: 7mg
  • Iron: 0.5mg
  • Sodium: 54mg
  • Calcium: 12mg

chocolate chip buttermilk banana bread

There isn’t a shopping trip to my local grocer that doesn’t involve bananas since we’re big banana lovers in this house.  As the weather heats up, my stock of frozen, over-ripe bananas increases dramatically because their shelf life seems to decrease dramatically.  You’re never supposed to put bananas in the refrigerator, but I guess you’re not supposed to keep them in a desert, either.  Point being, I always have some banana-bread-ready specimens in the freezer.

This recipe came to the top of my in-box recently via Anne at Uni Homemaker, a blogger I follow and whose recipes always look simple and delicious.  She had adapted her recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod who had, in turn, adapted it from somewhere else.  Along the way, the adaptations included less and less granulated sugar – a change I’m always happy to see, and more vanilla (also never a bad thing).  I was also intrigued by the buttermilk, and I just so happened to have a bottle in my fridge perilously close to its expiration date.

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I was feeling better about the reduced sugar when reality set in:  how good is any banana bread without chocolate chips??  Honestly, without them, I’m not sure anyone in this house would give banana bread a second glance.  So, for fun we threw in a few of those, too.  Who needs reduced sugar, anyway?  I’ll justify it by continuing to tell myself buttermilk has fewer calories and less fat than regular milk.  So, what’s a few chocolate chips, right?

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While the recipe originally said to cool completely before serving, there was no way that was happening.  Personally, I like mine a little warm so the chocolate has that decadent, gooey consistency.  To cool, or not to cool…that’s your dilemma.  Either way, it’s tempting, moist, and delicious.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 c granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 c mashed banana (about 3 medium)
  • 4 tbsp low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 c semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease a 9-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, mashed bananas, buttermilk, and vanilla until well mixed.  In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir in thoroughly.  Slowly fold dry ingredients into banana mixture being careful not to over mix.  Gently stir in chocolate morsels.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55-60 or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool the bread in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove from pan and place on wire rack until completely cooled.  Slice and serve.

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Baker’s Notes:   Since buttermilk is more acidic and quite a bit tangier than regular milk, I thought there would be a noticeable flavor difference between this recipe and my standard recipes.  I can honestly say, though, I detected no difference at all.  After our taste test, I perused the internet for other buttermilk banana bread recipes and found quite a few, most of which called for a lot more buttermilk – anywhere in the range of 1/3 to one full cup.  I also discovered that the tanginess in buttermilk is mellowed during baking, so I think 4 tablespoons isn’t enough to  make a perceptible difference in taste.  The final product was no less delicious, but I think I might make it again using more buttermilk to see if I can’t bring out more of the buttermilk flavor.

meat-of-choice teriyaki

This recipe came from one of my many, many Pinterest pins (can you say, “Get a life?”).  Actually, it’s so easy to pin from anywhere now that killing time at gymnastics or swim lessons or waiting for school to let out is a lot more productive.  (You can follow my pins here, if you’d like).  And Pinterest is absolutely overflowing with amazing recipes I can save for later, or a rainy day, or the day my husband comes home from the doc and tells me his cholesterol is too high.  Huh??  Ok, that’s just genetic, but to the extent I can make my already healthy cooking healthier?  Yeah, I’m in.  I kinda want to keep him around for a while.

The original recipe was for Teriyaki Turkey Tenderloins (say that three times fast), but my butcher was out of turkey tenderloins.  And, hey, it’s teriyaki.  Doesn’t that pretty much go with everything?  So, while I ended up using chicken breasts, any meat will do: chicken, turkey, pork, your choice.  It was also a little different from my standard teriyaki with the addition of sesame oil and chili-garlic paste.  The chili-garlic gave this version a nice kick and a little heat, but not overpowering.  I’ll definitely use it again – maybe on the last of the shrimp in the freezer now that my healthy cooking just got healthier.  Enjoy!

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Teriyaki Chicken

Ingredients:

  • turkey breast tenderloins, chicken breasts, or pork tenderloin (meat-of-choice), approx 1 – 1 1/2 lbs
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbps fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ c  low-sodium soy sauce
  • ½ c orange juice
  • ½ Tbps sesame oil
  • 2 Tbps rice vinegar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ½ Tbps chili garlic paste (optional, or cut back quantity to taste)
 Instructions:
  1. Place meat-of-choice in a resealable plastic bag and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and pour in to resealable bag containing your meat-of-choice.
  3. Marinate at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  4. Pre-heat grill to medium high heat.
  5. Place your meat-of-choice on the grill and cook to recommended temp (have a meat thermometer handy).
  6. Let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

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mediterranean-style stuffed pork tenderloin

Let me start by saying I’m particularly challenged when it comes to stuffing food with other food: tortillas, burritos, lettuce wraps and, apparently, pork tenderloin.  While I’m incredibly diligent about portion sizes when I’m eating, I seem to lose all sense of proportion during preparation.  So, while it was clear to  me I had more than enough stuffing to fill my tenderloin adequately, I used all of it.  Every last morsel.  I hate to waste, you know, and if I didn’t use it I’d probably have just sloughed it  into the trash.  Senseless, I think.  Because when push comes to shove, I’ll just make it fit (as you’ll see in the photos below).  Hey, this isn’t a professional photo shoot, here.  I make it, I shoot it, we eat it.  I don’t have time to “style” my food.

Ignoring the obvious over-stuffing, this recipe is fantastic. super healthy, and brimming with an incredible array of flavors.  Since pork is a super lean meat, the dish comes by that flavor via lots of other good-for-you ingredients.  The red pepper, capers, pine nuts, and feta cheese play off each other perfectly and give the meal a truly Mediterranean flair.  It’s heart-healthy, low-fat, and high in protein.  I served it with a mixed grain rice and a small salad since the stuffing is full of veggies, anyway.  We love it.  Hope you try it and enjoy!

Mediterranean-style Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, butterflied and pounded flat
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 oz spinach
  • 1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp capers, depending on preference (you can also use pitted Kalamata olives)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c low-fat Feta cheese, crumbled
  • kitchen twine
Preparation:
Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat. Add finely chopped red pepper and saute for several minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant.  Be careful not to scorch the garlic.  Add spinach, cooking until wilted, then remove from heat.
Butterfly the pork tenderloin (cut vertically down the middle but not entirely through the pork), and use meat hammer to flatten, being careful not to break through the pork. Place hammered pork over three or four long strands of kitchen twine.  Add the spinach and red pepper mixture, spreading across the flattened meat.  Next, add nuts, capers, and Feta cheese.  Gently roll the pork together and secure with the kitchen twine.
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Rub the pork with olive oil and bake at 375° F for about 40-60 minutes (depending on the size of the pork roll).  I usually check with a meat thermometer and pull the meat from the oven when internal temp reaches 140.  Let rest for 5 minutes, slice, and serve.
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lentil soup with beef

We went up to the mountains last weekend to celebrate my (ahem) 29th birthday…again!  When I told non-Arizonan friends we went “up north,” I was questioned about what it means, exactly, to go “up north” in Arizona.  Personally, it’s pretty much anywhere it isn’t 90 degrees on my birthday.  For us, that meant stealing off to Pine, AZ, located about 110 miles northeast of the valley and tucked into the mountains just below the Mogollon Rim.  At 5,500 feet of elevation, it meant I got to wear jeans and socks and real shoes.  With closed toes!!  Ahhhhh…

It also meant I didn’t have to cook because, you see, it was my birthday weekend, and those duties were off-limits to me.  I got to sit on the porch and drink red wine and read.  I got to relax and hike and see some pretty spectacular scenery.  Perfect for a birthday weekend, if you ask me.

We did eat a couple of meals out, including lunch one day at a cute little mom-and-pop restaurant called The Randall House.  The air was cool, the fall leaves were crunchy underfoot, and the sun was shining brightly in a gorgeous blue sky.  The day called for lunch in the shade on the patio and a cup of their homemade Beef and Lentil Soup.

Needless to say, I was disappointed at the end.  Disappointed it was gone.  Disappointed I hadn’t ordered a bowl instead of a cup.  Disappointed they wouldn’t give me the super-secret recipe!!  So, of course, when we got home I set out to replicate the amazing soup I’d had at The Randall House.  It had to be done!  It was of such urgency, I didn’t even photograph the prep work.

This recipe was super easy and came courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis at The Food Network.  If I set out to recreate a really good bowl of homemade soup, this recipe was spot on.  The soup is incredibly flavorful and hearty.  My only adaptation to the recipe was to reduce the amount of beef stock.  I have a pretty large Dutch Oven, but the original recipe called for 84 ounces (more than 10 cups) of beef stock.  I think I used about 6 cups of beef stock.  This made the soup a bit thicker, but I prefer heartier to too-thin broth.  Eyeball it.  If it looks too thick, add more stock.

Enjoy!

Lentil Soup with Beef

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 6 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cups (about 11 ounces) lentils, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)

Preparation:

Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add half of the beef and cook until brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining beef.

Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, rosemary, and oregano to the pot. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juices from the bowl to the pot.

Add the broth and tomatoes with their juice. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the meat is just tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Add the lentils. Cover and continue simmering until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Season the soup, to taste, with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.