Saturday, September 28, 2013

Maple Flavored Syrup

Here's a quick, easy way to make your own maple syrup at home. Four ingredients. Five to ten minutes. Done. I haven't crunched numbers, but I suspect it's significantly more cost-effective to make your own syrup. It tastes good and is super easy. And it's fun to say you made your own!

Here's the recipe directly from All Recipes. Some of the reviewers added butter and/or used vanilla extract or rum extract for part or all of the maple extract measurement. If you try any of those variations, I'd love to hear how they turn out!

My syrup was pretty thin/runny, which was fine for eating but slightly less photogenic since it soaked right into the pancakes instead of glistening and oozing down the sides. For a thicker syrup, you might add some honey or use less water.

Maple Syrup

Yield: 2 cups

1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. maple flavored extract

Bring the water and sugars to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and stir in the maple extract. Simmer 3 minutes longer.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes

I'm officially declaring it fall in my household! I was going to try to hold off until either October 1 or until it was cool for several days in a row. But it was cool two days in a row, I was forced (using the term loosely) to order a pumpkin latte, Kelly brought molasses cookies to house church, and there were cute little pumpkins for sale in the produce section.

So I caved. Each sink in my house is adorned with autumn-scented hand soap. My table will soon have a centerpiece comprised of the aforementioned cute little pumpkins. And I made pumpkin pancakes for breakfast.

Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes

Adapted from Naturally Ella
Yield: 6 pancakes (2-3 servings)

1/3 cup pecan pieces (plus a couple pinches for garnish)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 cup milk

In a dry skillet over medium to medium-low heat, toast pecans just until lightly toasted and fragrant. Shake the pan frequently to keep them from burning. Remove from skillet to cool. Return the same skillet to the stove and toast the coconut, again shaking to help the coconut toast evenly and keep from burning. Remove from skillet and cool.

Reserve a few pinches of coconut and pecans for garnish.

When pecans are cool, chop until pretty fine. (Or, for more of a flour texture, pulse in a small food processor until the pecans resemble a coarse flour. Don't process too much, or it will start to turn into pecan butter.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: pecans, coconut, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. In a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together the wet ingredients: pumpkin, egg, oil, syrup, and milk. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. If the batter seems too thick, add a bit more milk.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, scoop out 1/4 cup batter and pour onto the skillet. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, until bubbles appear around the edges. Flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until nicely browned.

Topping ideas:
Maple syrup and/or honey
Toasted coconut
Toasted pecans
Sliced bananas and/or apples
Sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Before summer completely slips away, here's a recipe for a fresh, summery, easily adaptable pasta salad. Switch out any of the vegetables based on your preferences or whatever you may have bursting from your garden. Leave the chickpeas out for a less filling side dish, or keep them in for a more filling main dish.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Inspired by Real Simple
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 cup whole wheat orzo
1-2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 English cucumber, peeled if waxy, seeded if desired, and chopped
2 oz. (1/2 cup) Feta, crumbled
1-2 green onions, sliced
1 small can ripe black olives, sliced
2-3 handfuls cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 to 1 full can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain; rinse under cold water to cool, and shake well to remove excess water.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Add all the rest of the ingredients, including orzo, and toss to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired, or more of anything else. If it seems dry, add a bit more oil or lemon juice. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Spiced Veggie Tacos with Avocado Tomatillo Salsa

Ever since childhood, I've been afraid of salsa verde. You see, any time we went to Taco Bell when I was a kid, my mom always requested green sauce on her burritos. Now, I never tasted her burritos or her green sauce, but since she likes spicy foods, the obvious assumption was that green sauce is spicier than red. (To this day, I don't actually know if that's true for Taco Bell sauces.)

Also, my favorite burrito place here in town has a habanero sauce which is green, so I feel like that supports my previous conclusion that green sauce = super spicy.

Come to find out, green salsa doesn't have to be spicy! When making this Kale, Black Bean, and Avocado Burrito Bowl with Avocado Salsa Verde recipe, I found some tomatillo salsa which was the only green salsa in the salsa aisle that didn't have jalapenos or other unidentified chilies that could potentially be spicy. I took a chance and am so glad I did, because this salsa is tangy and flavorful but not at all hot--and it's killer when you add in some avocado, cilantro, and lime!

Side note: the Kale, Black Bean, and Avocado Burrito Bowl recipe was amazing. I've made it twice now (rare for me) with quinoa instead of brown rice, but just haven't managed to photograph it either time. Leftovers are also good warmed in a skillet with a couple fried eggs on the side.

Complete with kitty cat ears in the background
So when I decided to make veggie tacos adapted from Naturally Ella, it was an easy choice to add some avocado salsa verde to the mix!

For these tacos I tried out some raw tortillas that I found at Walmart next to the Mexican cheeses. While they don't hold a candle to fresh HEB tortillas (what does?), they definitely tasted better than your basic tortillas from the bread and coffee aisle--and it's kinda fun to cook them at home on the skillet, watching them puff up into pillows!

Spiced Veggie Tacos with Avocado Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Naturally Ella and Cookie & Kate
Yield: 3-4 servings

For the Veggies
1 zucchini
1 yellow squash
1/2 small to medium onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder (or 1/4 tsp. chipotle and 1/4 tsp. ancho)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

For the Salsa
1 avocado, cut into chunks
1/2 cup prepared tomatillo salsa
1/2 chopped cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime

For the Tacos
Tortillas (flour or corn)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed, and seasoned with spices above
Additional toppings such as cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream, rice, etc. (optional)

Drain and rinse the black beans, and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Prep any cheese or veggies that will be taco toppings, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Wash zucchini and squash, and cut into strips about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch thick. Slice onion. In a medium bowl, toss vegetables with the olive oil and all the spices. As you measure each spice into the vegetables, also sprinkle some into the black beans. Spread vegetable mixture onto prepared pan, and bake 15-20 minutes, until vegetables are soft and browned, stirring halfway through.

While the veggies roast, prepare the salsa. In a mini food processor, combine avocado, tomatillo salsa, cilantro, and lime juice. Process until well combined but still a little chunky. If needed, add water or more lime juice to make it runnier. (Alternatively, put ingredients into a 1-pint mason jar and use an immersion blender.)

Warm tortillas using the stove or microwave. Warm black beans in the microwave. When all components are done, assemble tacos and serve.

  • These tacos were crazy good! I didn't do any of the "additional toppings" I listed above--partly because I didn't have most of them on hand, and partly because I didn't think the tacos needed them. The spiced veggies are definitely the star of this dish, with the black beans grounding the meal and the salsa adding the perfect finishing touch of tanginess and creaminess. 
  • Even with substituting ground ancho chili powder for half of the chipotle, these veggies were definitely kickin'. So if you're a spice wuss like me, you might use even less chipotle. If you're not a spice wuss, add a jalapeno to the salsa, or roast a jalapeno or two with the other veggies.
  • You could easily add meat to the tacos, and I think sweet potato would be a nice addition to the vegetable mixture.