Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Graham Crakers

I really am a 5 year old at heart. Why? Well...lots of reasons...but tonight the reason is...the graham cracker! I love graham crackers, I always have, and I always will. Throughout my life they have always been there for a crunchy, slightly sweet and always tasty treat. The graham cracker is my go to snack if I want something touched with honey but not overly sweet, it is my go to nibble if I my stomach is upset, it is a versatile vessel for which to put on peanut butter or chocolate chips for an impromptu s'more, and it can be used in countless recipes.

My mom always told me that graham crackers were the first health food. I kind of thought she just made that up, but I looked it up and it turns out, she was right! Created by Presbyterian Minister Sylvester Graham in 1829, these little treats were first sold under the name "Dr. Graham's Honey Biscuits," and were an integral part of the "Graham Diet." Well, this recipe calls for 7 tablespoons of butter, so I am not sure if we can consider this version a health food...but we can certainly call them a tasty treat!

Considering this life long love affair, I cannot believe I never tried to make graham crackers at home! I found this recipe on one of my favorite food blogs: Smitten Kitchen, and they sourced this recipe from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. It was a delight to make these tasty crackers, but they were also very messy, and mine did not turn out picture perfect, but they were still yummy! So roll your sleeves up and enjoy a classic treat!

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2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3/4 teaspoon of salt
7 tablespoons of butter, cut into 1 inch cubes and chilled in the freezer
1/3 cup of honey (I used Texas honey!)
5 tablespoons of milk (I used skim...I think it would have been better with whole...but I did not want to buy so much milk for just 5 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons of vanilla

1. Gather all of your ingredients.

2. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt.

3. Add the frozen butter to the dry ingredients and mix until you achieve a granular texture.

4. In a small bowl, combine the honey, milk and vanilla. Whisk together so that the honey is evenly distributed.

5. Add the honey mixture to the flour mixture and mix together until just combined. The dough will be very sticky and a bit hard to handle.

6. Place the dough on a large area covered with plastic wrap.

7. With your fingers, press the dough out into a large rectangle, about 1 inch in thickness.

8. Wrap entirely with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least two hours to allow the dough to harden.

9. Remove from the fridge and place onto a nicely floured surface. Separate the dough into two large pieces. Place the half of the dough you are not working with back in the fridge.

10. Roll out the dough to a 1/8 of an inch in thickness. The dough is very sticky so be sure to flour the rolling pin.

11. Cut the dough into smaller rectangles with a pizza cutter or pastry cutter.

12. Transfer each piece to a prepared baking sheet.

13. Add little dimples to the surface, I used a two pronged fork.

14. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. While this batch is cooling, roll out the reserved dough for the second batch.
15. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
16. Enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Enlightened Ranch Dressing

I'm currently on a quest to incorporate healthier snacks into my life. I tend to be hungry every 2-3 hours, especially when I eat light for breakfast and lunch. Unfortunately, I don't naturally think about snacks when I'm making my grocery list so I'm forced to rely on the available snacks in the vending machine or break room in the office, which typically results in my eating a bag of chips.

Growing up I used to love dipping carrots and celery into ranch dressing as part of my lunch, but bottled ranch isn't exactly on the fast track to health. And the light or fat free ranch offerings in the store tend to fall flat in the flavor department. All this motivated me to try and make a healthier ranch option that I could pack up with celery and carrots and take with me to work.

In order to achieve this, I used light mayo and low-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream along with fresh herbs. The result is a full, herby flavor that pairs really well with the fresh veggies. I will admit, however, that I enjoyed the flavor much more the second day than right out of the blender. I think that's because time allowed the herbs to mellow into the base and coexist more harmoniously than at first. So, if you want to serve this with a salad for dinner or take to work for a snack, make this dressing a day ahead for maximum enjoyment.

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Enlightened Ranch Dressing

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
3/4 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
Handful of chives
Small handful of fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill weed (or 1 tablespoon fresh dill if available)
1 clove garlic, pressed
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Start by pouring the buttermilk into the bottom of the blender.
Next add the Greek yogurt,
lime juice,
olive oil,
dill, salt and pepper.

Blend in blender until smooth.
Enjoy on a salad or with your favorite raw veggies.
Source: Adapted from Annie's Eats

Friday, August 26, 2011

Crunchy Vietnamese Steak Salad

I have searched high and low for a crisp, crunchy and flavorful Asian salad recipe. I have dined on many Asian salads in restaurants throughout the years, and I like aspects of most, but I would not say that I love any. I have also made quiet a few, all with the same humdrum results. Yesterday I stumbled upon this recipe on the Food and Wine  website (just flipping aimlessly through the recipes with pictures...yes...I am one of those people that will only make recipes with pictures!). I was intrigued by this Vietnamese version (pretty picture), I bought the few ingredients that I needed, I made the salad, and I have subsequently fallen in love with this light and bright creation!

Beautiful puppy Cort

I love her white stripe...it is almost like a painter painted this stripe!

We paired steak rather than chicken with this salad because we were really craving steak, but we didn't want an overly heavy dinner. I almost always associate steak with gluttonous over-indulgence (buttered potatoes, mac and cheese, bold red wine). However, with this salad, steak can be part of an everyday dinner that is tasty, comfortably filling and healthy!

Sweet Shafer

I omitted a few ingredients (serrano chile, mint, cliantro, shallots and onion) either because we do not like the flavor, or my grocery store did not have these ingredients on that particular day, and I was not motivated enough to go have a scavenger hunt for the missing ingredients. I also added shredded apples, Chow Mein Noodles (for crunch), used almonds rather than peanuts and used steak rather than chicken. I think it is so fun and important to be able to make substitutions based upon personal preferences and individual situations. I think it makes you a more confident chef and gives you ownership of your kitchen creations! What recipe can you change up to make it your own?

Getting into trouble together! Caught digging!

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Ingredients for Salad Dressing:
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon of water
1 small garlic clove, minced

Ingredients for Salad:
4 cups of green cabbage, finely shredded
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 apple, finely shredded
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of sliced almonds
3 tablespoons of Chow Mein Noodles (crunchy noodles that you can find in the Asian section of your grocery store...even my tiny neighborhood grocery store had these!)
6 ounces of sliced beef tenderloin, cooked (you can use whatever type of beef you wish, or chicken)

Steps for the Dressing:
1. Gather all of your ingredients.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, water and garlic.

3. Stir to combine and then set aside for at least five minutes.

Steps for the Salad:
1. Gather all of your ingredients. I shredded my cabbage and carrots myself, but you can easily by these items shredded to make your prep work a bit easier.

2. Combine the cabbage, carrots, apple, almonds, Chow Mein Noodles.

3. Toss to combine, adding the olive oil.

4. Add your sliced steak (or chicken).

I seared our beef tenderloin in a heavy pan on our range with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. 
It turned out really perfectly!

5. Add the dressing and toss to combine.

6. Enjoy with a crisp and clean Chardonnay!