Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Elvis Protein Bars

A really healthy, high protein recipe on Dinner Plan-it? Here's Kimber!

Well, look who is back again. Me! I know, I know...another long hiatus, but I am back for a post...and you'll be seeing a bit more from me too here and there.

Life is ever changing, to say the least. No longer am I a Clevelander. Once again, Pittsburgh is my home. Yep, you got that right, I've moved back after many years to help with my Dad.

One thing he needs the most (besides a new heart) is good food packed with protein, so along with homecooked meals loaded with chicken, beef, beans and lean pork (he won't eat most of the hospital "food"), I've been experimenting with protein bars, protein breads and all sorts of stuff to pump up his protein level. Somme attempts have been epic fails, some turned out okay, but the one I will share with you today is top notch. I can attest to this because my dad really liked these protein bars, I liked them, but most surprising of all, my mom LOVED them!

So here is what I have for you. It's a nod to Elvis' favorite peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The result is a little bit of rock n roll made up of a bit of smooth and crunchy peanuttiness, a little maple-y, banana-y sweetness, a punch of protein and the salty smokiness of bacon. Yes. Bacon. It's what I like to call Elvis Protein Bars!

For the protein, I used Muscle Pharm Combat Protein. It has an excellent nutrition profile and the taste is awesome. I purchase it through Bodybuilding.com or Musclepharm.com. You can certainly use other proteins, but of the ones I've tried I just found this to be the best tasting product for this particular recipe.

If you work out - like I do - or just need a pick-me-up during the day, this might be the rockin' recipe for you.

Elvis Protein Bars

  • 1 1/4 C dry-roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 2/3 C Muscle Pharm Combat Protein, Banana flavor (4 scoops)
  • 2 C oats - I used certified gluten-free oats to make these GF (for my mom)
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1 heaping t cinnamon 
  • 1/3 C plus a smidge more of REAL maple syrup
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked very crisp (but not burned!), crumbled
  • 1/3 C dark chocolate chips - again, use gluten-free chips if you're making these GF

Put 1 cup of the peanuts and the salt into a food processor and process until it becomes peanut butter (this takes a few minutes - be patient...it will happen). 

Add protein powder, oats, banana, cinnamon and maple syrup to food processor and mix with short pulses until it comes together into a dough-like consistency. If it's too crumbly, add a bit more maple syrup, if it's too sticky, add a bit more oats (the size of the banana can be a factor in this part). Fold half of the bacon into the mixture until mixed in evenly.

Take an 8" X 8" baking pan and line with parchment paper. Press the protein bar mixture into the pan evenly.

Chop the 1/4 cup of remaining peanuts coarsely and sprinkle over top of the protein bars, then sprinkle remaining bacon on top of that. Gently press the peanuts and bacon into the top of the protein bars.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave and drizzle over the protein bars. Place the pan in the fridge for 20 minutes to set. Once they are set, cut into 10 bars.

Nutrition Per Bar: 277 calories, 28 carbs, 12 g fat, 18 grams protein, 182 mg sodium, 11 g sugar

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dark n Stormy Stew

"It was a dark and stormy night." Remember Snoopy at his typewriter, sitting atop his doghouse, clicking out that cliched opening line to his novel? That thought may have just brought a smile to your face, it certainly does to mine.

You may not know (then again, you might just be hip to it already!), but there's another kind of Dark n Stormy that brings a smile, too...the classic cocktail of dark rum, ginger beer and lime by the same name. Not only that, there's Dark n Stormy Stew, too. Yep, why not put the same flavors that work as a cocktail into a rich, hearty and spicy beef crockpot-simple stew? No reason not to...so I did!

Rum and ginger paired perfectly to make a satisfying winter stew loaded with butternut squash, pearl onions, fingerling potatoes and lots of savory gravy redolent with ginger, clove and allspice to echo the spice notes of fine dark rum and good ginger beer. As the stew simmered slowly over the hours, flavors melded into such a conglomeration of sweet, savory, gingery, rummy goodness that even butternut squash became as one with the sauce.

What do you accent the inspirational cocktail with? Lime. And there's no more proper finish to the stew either than bright and fresh lime. Just as the green citrus fruit perks up the dark sweetness of the cocktail, freshly grated lime zest and a hefty squeeze of a lime wedge do the same thing for this savory stew. Lime and gingery beef stew may sound like an odd combo, but trust me...the accent of lime takes the party to new heights.

As for the perfect cocktail pairing? A Dark n Stormy, of course! Here's the recipe for BOTH the stew AND the cocktail.

Dark n Stormy Stew

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds beef flapsteak (that's what I had in the freezer - use your own favorite, tender stew beef)
  • 2 1/2 C butternut squash, cubed - you know I use the already peeled and cubed squash the grocer conveniently has waiting in plastic tubs in the produce section (repurpose the plastic...wash it out and use it to store cookies!)
  • 12 oz bag of frozen pearl onions (hey...if YOU want to go to the trouble of peeling all those teeny, tiny fresh pearl onions, go ahead....we'll wait for you to catch up....)
  • 2 pounds fingerling potatoes, cut in half 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • 1 t. powdered ginger
  • 1/2 t. allspice
  • 1/2 C dark rum - I used Meyer's
  • 7 oz bottle ginger beer - I use Fever Tree
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 5 oz. (1/2 a can) beef broth
  • 2 limes - 1 zested, 1 cut into wedges

To get good deep beefy flavors going in a crockpot stew, you know I always like to start by browning the meat in a skillet - that's where we're starting this time, too.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. While the oil is heating, season the beef liberally with salt and pepper. Brown the beef cubes in 2 batches. Remove each to the waiting crockpot.

Add the rum to the skillet and stir well to get all those browned bits into the rum. Set aside.

Add the squash, onions and potatoes along with the spices to the crockpot and give it all a good stir. Pour the rum that's still in the skillet and a bottle of ginger beer over the contents of the crockpot. Cover.

Start the crockpot on high and cook for an hour, then lower the temp to low (my crockpot only has settings of "off" "low" and "high.") and continue cooking 4-5 hours until the beef is tender and the squash has nearly disintegrated - it becomes part of the rich sauce.

To thicken the gravy, mix 2 T cornstarch with half a can (5 oz) beef broth and stir into the stew. It will thicken in minutes.

To Serve: Ladle the stew into bowls, sprinkle a little lime zest over each and serve with a wedge of lime to squeeze over the top. 

Classic Dark and Stormy - The Cocktail

  • 2 oz dark rum - Gosling's preferred
  • 3 oz. ginger beer - Fever Tree or the excellent Pittsburgh-made Jamaica's Finest by Natrona Bottling
  • a nice big lime wedge

In a collins glass filled with ice, add the rum and top with ginger beer. Add lime juice, stir gently and serve.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Almond Pecorino & Mushroom Chicken With Wine

Looking for a quick (yet somewhat fancy schmancy) dinner the other day, I hit upon this idea inspired by a recent trip to Trader Joe's. 

Strolling the inexpensively exotic aisles of TJ's, I found a bag of almond meal that I thought might make a pretty doggone good breading for pork or chicken. Not only that, thanks to one of my regular Costco trips, most of a giant-economy-size wedge of pecorino Romano patiently waited in the cold cut refrigerator drawer nearly begging to be used. (Why yes, you adorable hunk of deliciousness...of course you can come to the breading party.) 

The idea was for the outside of the chicken to become a cross between crunchy toasted almonds and a crispy, cheesy frico*. 

Okay, so I had golden planks of cheesy, nutty fried chicken sizzling away in in the hot skillet in front of me on the stove. It was a nice start, but it wasn't quite "schmancy" enough for me yet. What makes everything better? Butter. Better than that even? Wine. Mmmhhhmmm, now I was on to something. Oh that wine? From Trader Joe's in Cleveland. (Yes, there are some things that Cleveland does right!) 

Once the chicken came out of the pan, a couple pats of butter went in, then a pile of sliced assorted "gourmet" mushrooms and finally a healthy splash - or tidal wave really - of white wine. Once cooked down a bit, the mushroom wine sauce turned an easy - yet fancy - fried chicken into a quite the almost-elegant weeknight dinner. 

Although this one doesn't quite qualify as one of my quickies, it comes very close. Only seven ingredients and one pan still makes  terrific weeknight dish in my book! And schmancy.

Almond Pecorino & Mushroom Chicken With Wine 

  • 1 C almond meal 
  • 1/2 C pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 3 T butter 
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced across the width of the breast almost all the way through and open like a book (If yours come apart, so what? No biggie.)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 C white wine - Chardonnay was the Two Buck Chuck choice of the day!

First, in a sturdy plastic bag, mix the pecorino and almond meal. Set aside. Season the chicken with Kosher salt on both sides, put them into the bag and gently turn and coat the chicken with the breading. Remove the chicken to sheets of wax paper and pat any remaining breading onto the breasts.

In a large skillet, heat canola oil and 3 T butter until good and hot. Gently lay the chicken in the skillet and brown well on both sides until both sides are crispy. Don't let them burn. Remove chicken to a platter and set aside.

Add the remaining 3 T butter to the pan and melt. Add the mushrooms and let cook for a minute or two; add the wine and stir well until the sauce is slightly thickened. Because the cheesy breadcrumbs are in the pan, the sauce will be rustic...that's a good thing! 

*NOTE: Not sure what a frico is? Simply a pile of grated cheese - my fave is parm or pecorino - fried in a skillet or baked in the oven until crisp and crunchy.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Black Beans And Rice With Chunky Avocado Salsa And Crispy Plantains

Once in a while a basic, staple recipe gets a little gussying up, a little freshening to make it something altogether new...a makeover per se. Beans and rice certainly qualify as one of those basics. 

Cuban beans and rice, Jamaican beans and rice, New Orleans beans and rice...black beans, red beans, pinto beans...white rice, black rice, brown rice...all the classic ingredients in almost infinite combinations still have the same culinary bones. There's a reason the combination is a favorite in so many cultures - actually, there are a couple of reasons. Beans and rice are easy to make, cost smart and a real comfort food. 

What makes today's recipe different from the tried and true versions? Beans and rice are rich with earthy flavors, deep, creamy and smooth. Why not brighten it up with cool cubes of avocado tossed with citrus-y fresh lime, spicy and crunchy jalapeno, colorful sweet cherry tomatoes and just a teensy bit of cilantro for an extra fresh kick to a chunky counterpoint salsa? And what the heck...as long as we're doing a makeover, might as well gild the lily with  a garnish of plantains fried crisp in coconut oil that really takes the redo over the top!

Presentation? A bowl of beautiful black beans, topped with a healthy scoop of brown rice, then a pile of sassy avocado salsa with a couple of crispy sweet and salty, coconut-y golden plantains for good measure. I'm guessing even Clinton and Stacey would approve of this makeover!

Black Beans and Rice 
With Chunky Avocado Salsa and Crispy Plantains

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 cans black beans, drained
  • 1 cup chicken stock - a good store bought one is just fine
  • 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ t. salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cooked rice (white, black, red, brown - or whatever cooked rice you have tucked in the back of your fridge) (confession....I used Trader Joe's frozen brown rice - so good, so easy!)

In a large pot, add 2 T. olive oil and heat. Add the chopped onions and green pepper. Saute until soft, add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the drained black beans and stir into veggies. Cook another 10 minutes to meld flavors.

Add chicken stock, vinegar, bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, lower heat immediately. Cover and simmer about half an hour or until it’s not too runny, not too dry. If it’s too runny/soupy, let some of the liquid cook off; if it’s too dry, add more stock. Mash slightly with potato masher to thicken a little. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To serve: Ladle beans into individual bowls, top with a good scoop of  rice and crown with avocado salad and a sprinkling of cilantro. Serve with fried plantains.

Avocado Salad

  • 1 avocado, seeded and cut into ½” cubes
  • ½ cup quartered yellow grape tomatoes - I bought the heirloom kind with nearly all the colors of the rainbow!
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced or pressed 
  • 1/2 t. finely minced jalapeno
  • 3 T freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ t. salt
  • 1 T olive oil or avocado oil
  • 1 T finely minced cilantro - or more if you really like cilantro...I do!

Mix lime juice, salt, oil and cilantro well. Set aside. Mix the avocado, tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno well. Pour dressing over, mix and serve.

Fried Plantains

  • 2 plantains, cut across into 1 ½” sections
  • canola oil

Heat oil in a heavy skillet. Saute plantain sections on each side until browned. Remove from skillet to paper towels. (You can do this earlier in the day.) 

When you’re ready to eat, heat oil in skillet again. Put in each precooked section and smash it down with a spatula to flat disks. Brown and turn over to brown on the other side. Remove to paper towels again and salt immediately. Serve.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Passion Fruit Blood Orange Ginger Fizz - A Valentine's Brunch Cocktail

Valentine's brunch anyone? Okay maybe the actual day is on a Friday this year, but who says you can't continue the lovebird celebration into Saturday, too? There's absolutely nothing wrong with a big romantic night on the town followed by the afterglow of an intimate brunch the next morning...WITH an appropriate cocktail!

What could be better in a cocktail created just for Cupid's favorite holiday but passion fruit? The name says it all. And what would play the supporting role better than the lush Valentine red juice of blood oranges? Makes for one gorgeous brunch cocktail for two, I'd say. 

Pump up the excitement with a little exotic green cardamom, a touch of lime, my favorite Hendricks gin and a little fresh sparkle of ginger beer and you have a pair of sexy cocktails to start your morning after with style.

Now that you have the brunch cocktail, get cracking on those dinner plans for the night before and don't forget the roses!

Passion Fruit Blood Orange Ginger Fizz

  • 1 passion fruit, cut in half lengthwise - found mine at Whole Foods
  • 1 blood orange, juiced - about 1/4 c. - yep, Whole Foods again! Have another one handy for the garnish
  • 2 green cardamom pods, I get mine at Penzey's in the Strip or if you don't live near a Penzey's, you can order from them online
  • 1/8 lime
  • 1/2 t. superfine sugar
  • 2 oz. Hendricks gin
  • ginger beer - I used Fever Tree

Scoop the pulp from one passion fruit half into a tin, set the other half aside. Add sugar, green cardamom pods and lime wedge and muddle until the pods are crushed and the lime is mush. 

Add the blood orange juice, stir and strain into another tin and add ice 3/4's of the way up. Cap, shake and strain again into  2 glasses. Top with ginger beer, scoop the seeds and pulp from the other passion fruit half and divide between the glasses, garnish with a blood orange wheel. 

Happy Valentine's Day!