Paleo Almond Pancakes

I’m not totally in love in bananas. I only eat them if they are so ripe they are brown, or I put them in smoothies. Sometimes, I bake with them because who doesn’t love a classic banana bread? But overall…I don’t love bananas.

As I scoured the web for a Paleo pancake recipe, I repeatedly found that a key ingredient is mashed banana. Disappointing, at best. After days of patience, I came across The Roasted Root’s Almond Flour Pancakes. They are SO good. I made them this morning and will probably make them every morning for the rest of my life. Trust me, add raspberries.

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Almond Flour Pancakes
recipe hardly adapted from The Roasted Root
yields 9 pancakes

1 3/4 C almond flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
3/4 C almond milk

In a medium sized bowl, combine almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a liquid measuring  cup, measure out almond milk, add extracts, then add the eggs. Whisk very well until all wet ingredients are well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently combine, then set aside while you warm up your skillet.

This is essential: use oil to cook your pancakes. Don’t use butter. I would assume that coconut oil is your most Paleo option; however, I use olive oil for everything because why not? I’m not hardcore Paleo. Cook these over medium, medium-low heat. You want the pan hot enough to give the cakes a crust, but not so hot that the cakes don’t cook all the way through. It’s a delicate balance that I’m still working to figure out. Careful flipping these cakes! They’re delicate.

Serve hot off the skillet with maple syrup and fresh raspberries.

Moroccan Lamb Stew

I never cooked lamb before cooking this stew.

I feel lucky to have become friendly with a colleague who raises her own animals. When cooperative, her chickens provide me with eggs, and recently, I purchased some lamb. My mom, a wonderful woman and great ‘meat and potatoes’ home cook, does not like lamb, and I really allowed her get into my head about it. I know I like lamb; I’ve had it before. However, after listening to Mom talk about the horrible characteristics of lamb, I began to feel pretty shut down about my purchase. I had to remind myself that my mom doesn’t like goat cheese, either…a sure sign (at least in my eyes) that I made a safe decision in purchasing the lamb.

So, I made this stew. It was 100% better than I expected, probably because I was expecting scary things from the lamb. I was very wrong to expect such scary things. The lamb was so tender, and it well-acquired the various flavors of the stew. My colleague asked me for the recipe, so here it is.

Moroccan Lamb Stew (in a slow cooker)
serves 6 or so

1 lb lamb (I’m tempted to just leave this as is, because it’s funny, but I suppose I should specify – I used 1 lb of stew cut lamb; you could use a larger piece and slow braise it, or you could cut down a larger piece into stew pieces; more meat would not hurt this recipe), seasoned with salt and pepper prior to cooking
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 t minced ginger root
1 T cumin
2 t coriander
1 t fennel seeds
1/2 t cinnamon
salt & pepper!
2 C chicken broth
1 19oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3/4 C roughly chopped dried apricots
1/2 C raisins
1 t lemon zest
3 heaping handfuls of kale, destemmed and chopped

In a large saute pan, heat 2 T of your preferred oil over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on all sides until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Place into the bowl insert of a slow cooker. Use the same sauté pan to cook your onion and bell pepper. After 4-5 minutes, add the garlic and ginger root and let it all go for 3 more minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cinnamon, and salt & pepper. Combine well and cook for an additional few minutes. When the mixture is looking soft and smelling beautiful, add to meat.

Turn on slow cooker to high. To the cooker, add broth, chickpeas, apricots, raisins, and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Top the stew with the kale, cover, and let it go. It will be ready in 4 hours. Enjoy.

Easy peasy.

Ravioli

I think homemade pasta is a very special thing. It is absolutely delicious and noticeably more fantastic than the stuff you buy in a box, and because the process of making pasta is tedious and time consuming, making it for someone else truly sends a “you are loved” message. Below is the recipe for ravioli that I made for my family this past holiday.

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Sausage and Cheese Ravioli / Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
makes over 100 ravioli – you may want to cut the recipe in half or quarters, unless you’re really hungry!

Cheese

32 oz whole milk ricotta
8 oz shredded mozzarella
1/2 t dried oregano
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground pepper
pinch of cayenne, or more – but don’t leave it out!

Spinach
10 oz package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained well

Sausage
8 oz (or half of a 16oz package) Jimmy Dean hot sausage, cooked

To make the fillings, I first combined all ingredients to make the cheese filling, constantly tasting to ensure that seasoning was just right. I recommend that you do the same. This recipe will make over two pounds of filling, or ping. I separated the ping into two bowls, each with one pound of filling, and added spinach to one bowl and sausage to the other. I left the remaining ping uncontaminated in order to make simple cheese ravioli. I refrigerated the ping until I was ready to make ravioli.

I used Tyler Florence’s pasta dough recipe exactly as written. Because I rolled out the dough very thin, I was able to get double the ravioli per batch. If you’re looking to use all of your ping, you will want to make about two and a half batches of pasta dough. I used a scant tablespoon of ping per ravioli, and that was probably too much.

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I’m definitely no ravioli expert, but I think these came out fairly well for my first time making them completely on my own. I did use a pasta roller and borrowed muscle for the rolling process. I used A LOT of flour. I fork-crimped my ravioli edges, sometimes poorly, which was a bad thing because the filling can ooze out when the ravioli is boiled. Because I made over 100 ravioli, I laid them out on cookie sheets and froze them overnight before packaging them into containers.

I found that boiling them was less about time and more about appearance. Pasta color changes as it cooks, so I just watched for my ravioli to float and uniformly change in color. Maybe 5-6 minutes for fresh, and a little longer for frozen.

By all means, if you have any questions, leave a comment below, and I’ll do my best to answer!

Homemade Holiday 2014

I need to be real with you about the holidays. The way many people act post-Thanksgiving right through the December holidays really bums me out. I feel embarrassed for those who are so holiday-crazy-brained that all of a sudden they forget how to be decent human beings. We already deal with enough rudeness the other eleven months of the year; the added indifference toward others around the holidays is truly unbearable for me. Isn’t is amazing how, in the midst of giving to others, we forget how to treat those present around us?

In order to avoid the box store chaos, I made all gifts homemade this year. My mom, as well as my closest friends, were gifted Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean extract. My dad was gifted caramel syrup, which he likes to put in his coffee every morning. Finally, my extended family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents were gifted packages of sausage and cheese and spinach and cheese ravioli as well as a jar of marinara sauce. Below are a few of my homemade holiday recipes for 2014.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract
makes six 9 oz bottles

Made with help from The Kitchn

25 vanilla beans (I ordered mine from Amazon)
1 handle of cheap vodka

It’s simple…slice your beans, or not. For every 9 oz of vodka you pour, use or so 4 beans. I found the bottles with white caps at Michaels; they are perfectly sized, but I wish they had pour spouts. Shake your bottles a little bit every day, and your extract will be ready in 2 months.

Homemade Caramel Syrup
makes 16 oz

Made with help from The Kitchn

1 1/2 C sugar
scant 1/2 C water, plus separate 3/4 C water
1 t corn syrup
1 t vanilla extract
pinch of salt

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, scant 1/2 C water, and corn syrup. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to medium high. Continue to stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil until mixture turns a medium amber, or other desired color. Remove from heat.

Carefully, carefully pour in the separate 3/4 C water while stirring. When it splatters, it hurts, so be careful. Once the syrup appears to have come together, add vanilla extract and salt. Immediately pour into a clean canning jar and apply lid and ring; the jar will can itself. Let cool on the counter for a few hours before transferring to the fridge.

Root Vegetable and Sausage Hash w/ Eggs

I love to have friends over for brunch. I fondly remember a cold, snowy morning two years ago when I was temporarily crashing on the futon in a couple of my friends’ apartment. There were always people around, and I would make brunch – cornbread with sautéed spinach, bacon crumbles, and poached eggs. Or pancakes that would accommodate everyone’s tastes and dietary needs. Now that I have my own particular dietary needs, I’m always struggling to find exciting food that won’t cause me to get sick. Actually, that’s a lie. There are plenty of delicious foods I can eat; the issue is with finding the time to prep them. This recipe for root vegetable and sausage hash with eggs is moderately time consuming, but Megh-friendly! I made it for friends a few weekends ago, and we dressed it all up with guava mimosas and elaborately garnished bloody marys.

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Root Vegetable and Sausage Hash w/ Eggs
serves 4 hungry lumbersexuals

1 1/2 C diced butternut squash (1 cm. pieces) – this is less than half a typical-sized squash
1 1/2 C diced turnip (1 cm. pieces) – this is one very large turnip
1 1/2 C diced carrot (1 cm. pieces) – this is just about 2 large carrots
generous splash of olive oil
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t dried thyme leaves
sprinkle, sprinkle cayenne pepper

reserved bacon fat- doesn’t everyone keep this on hand?!
1 small onion, diced
3 fresh mild italian sausages, removed from casings
4 eggs
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet or baking pan with aluminum foil.

Prepare your root vegetables. This means peel, cut, and dice. Dice small – about 1 cm. chunks. For each veggie, you will want a liquid measuring cup filled just over the 1 1/2 C line. Toss prepared root vegetables with olive oil, garlic powder, thyme leaves, and cayenne. Spread out onto baking pan so that vegetables rest in one layer. Roast in preheated oven for 15 – 18 minutes. When the vegetables are finished, a fork will be able to pierce a carrot without much give back. Let the veggies cool on the counter while you continue preparation.

In a shallow, oven-safe dutch oven or large skillet, over medium heat, melt 2 T of reserved bacon fat. I don’t cook bacon a ton, but when I do, I save the drippings in a reused glass jar with a lid. This is a very tasty fat to keep on hand! Anyway, I digress – add the sausage to the pan and cook until brown, about 5-7 minutes. Remove sausage from pan and set aside. Add the onion to the dirty pan and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Now it’s time to add the roasted root vegetables. (It’s also time to preheat the oven again, this time to 400 degrees.) Add another 2 T of reserved bacon fat, increase the heat to medium high, and add the vegetables. Cover all of the space on the bottom of the pan, and press the vegetables down. Leave them alone for 5 minutes or so before tossing them around and repeating the process. Do this again and again until your vegetables are as dark, crunchy, and as caramelized as you want them. Once vegetables are cooked, return the sausage to the pan and stir to combine. Crack four eggs over the top of the hash, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and transfer skillet to the preheated oven. Let them cook for 7 minutes in the 400 degree oven, then turn off the oven and set the broiler to high. Broil for 2-3 minutes, or until whites have set. The yolks will still be runny.

Yum!! It’s time to eat!

Banana Bread

This is your simple, basic banana bread. No bells and whistles here. Try adding nuts, or even better, mini chocolate chips!

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Banana Bread
Makes two loaves; serves 20 -24

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 C sugar
4 eggs, beaten
5 super ripe bananas, mashed
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 C flour
2 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two loaf pans by laying a piece of parchment paper across each of them. You should have edges of parchment hanging over the long edges on both sides. Laying the parchment this way will allow you to easily pop! the bread out of the loaf pans. Grease the areas that are exposed, near the short edges on both ends.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk dry ingredients (flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg) until combined. Set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to whip butter and sugar. Whip for many minutes in order to incorporate air into the mixture; you’ll want it to be almost white before you add the eggs. Remember to constantly scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla extract and combine. Add the banana and blend the mixture for awhile. You really want to see it come together before adding the flour mixture. This should be the last time you mix thoroughly, as once the flour mixture is added, you don’t want to overwork your batter.

Add half the flour mixture. Give it a light mix and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and mix until just combined.

Pour batter between the two prepared loaf pans. Bake for 60 minutes, or until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle of a loaf comes out dry.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least two hours before popping the loaves out of pans.

Monster Cookie Bars

I teach sixth grade at a middle school in Maine. This week, the student council is sponsoring a Food Drive. All the food collected will be donated to the local food pantry and will benefit members of our community. It’s a great cause, but sometimes, preteens and adolescents struggle to understand the potential magnitude of this kind of event. Food insecurity is a scary real issue, and it’s EVERYWHERE. If you want to know more, check out No Kid Hungry, the national campaign to end childhood hunger.

Just an FYI – in case you don’t already know it – preteens and adolescents are kind of all about themselves. Us adults call this egocentricity. It’s totally alright because it’s the way these big kids/young adults are SUPPOSED to be! So, why not celebrate our kids being exactly the way they are supposed to be by tempting them with tasty treats?

Tonight I baked peanut butter free (too many allergies!) Monster Cookie Bars. They will be used to reward the homeroom students who donate the most food items to the Food Drive tomorrow. Here’s my recipe.

*Disclaimer: Do not, and I repeat DO NOT, choose to bake this recipe on any day when you have low patience, no energy, a bad attitude, or anything else negative going on with you. The dough spreading and M&M dropping process requires time and attention to detail. 🙂

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Monster Cookie Bars (peanut allergy friendly)
recipe makes 24 large triangles; 48 mini triangles

This recipe is pretty much Nestle’s original Tollhouse, but with a twist or two.

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 C quick oats
1 t baking soda
1/4 t plus a pinch more kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract (trust me, do it)
1 regular sized bag of milk chocolate chips
1 large bag of plain M&Ms (you won’t use them all, but plenty will end up in your mouth throughout the prep and baking process)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper so that you have excess hanging over both long sides.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk dry ingredients (flour, oats, soda, salt) until combined. Set aside. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer or stand mixer to whip butter and both sugars. Whip for many minutes in order to incorporate air into the mixture; you’ll want it to be almost white before you add the eggs. Remember to constantly scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing very well after each addition. Add both extracts with the second egg. Whip the mixture for awhile. This should be the last time you mix thoroughly, as once the flour mixture is added, you don’t want to overwork your dough.

Add half the flour mixture. Give it a light mix and scrape down the sides of the bowl. You’ll notice that the dough is particularly sticky from all the whipping. This is good. Add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips with your favorite wooden spoon.

This is where the going gets tough. Spreading this sticky cookie dough onto your sheet pan must be a labor of love; otherwise, you may possibly throw it all out the window…literally. I may have gotten that frustrated baking once, but only once, before. Make sure you have clean hands, because from this point on, you’ll need them. Using a combination of a spatula, your hands, and a knife, spread that cookie dough. You may get fearful that you won’t have enough dough to fill your pan. You’ll be fine. Just be patient, love the dough, and carefully, carefully spread. I make five piles of dough – one in each corner of the pan, and one in the middle. I make the one in the middle extra large so that I can pull from it when I’m having a hard time building my edges. Once I think I’ve succeeded and all my dough is spread, I do a double-check. Is the surface of the dough even? Are there any gaping holes? If you miss either of things, you’ll regret it when your baked product comes out of the oven.

Once you have a sheet pan full of beautifully spread cookie dough, grab the other half of that bag of M&Ms you’ve been devouring. Pour them on! I take my time doing this because I like when my bars are pretty. You can do what you want! My only suggestion is that you take the time to press each M&M gently into the dough so they may bake right in!

Bake your bars in the preheated oven for 21-22 minutes. The edges will be golden, and when you press into the middle, the dough will not bounce back. Let the pan cool on wire racks for an hour; then, carefully remove the bars by pulling up on the excess parchment on both sides of the pan. Let the bars continue to cool on wire racks for another hour. Then, creatively cut on your x-large cutting board.

I hope the kids enjoy these tomorrow!