Sunday, February 28, 2010

Banana Bread French Toast

Whoa. Remember I tweeted about making some loaves of banana bread last week?! Well, one of the recipients was Johnny's friend and co-worker, Goran (you might remember him from the D.C. trip recaps). He told Johnny that he made french toast with it last time. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head upon hearing this! I had to try it!

All you'll need:
4 slices banana bread, cut in 1/2" slices
2 eggs
~3 Tbsp water

Pre-heat a square frying pan over medium-low heat. The key to any good french toast or pancakes is getting the pan's temperature just right with pre-heating!

In a shallow bowl or pie plate beat 2 eggs with a few tablespoons of water (or milk) to thin out.

Cut your banana bread into four 1/2" slices. (Ok, maybe five slices so you have one to nibble on!)

Soak each slice of bread for a few seconds each side to absorb the egg mixture.

Spray the pre-heated pan with non-stick spray and lay the four slices on, evenly spaced. Cook on medium heat for a minute or two each side until lightly browned and no longer soggy from the egg.

Remove from the pan and place on a plate. Tip: If cooking more than one batch, the perfect place to store the plate is in the microwave! It is an insulated little box that will keep the heat in while you continue with the next batches. Just add each batch to the plate and place in the microwave and close the door until ready to eat! This also works for dinnertime if you are on slightly different schedules and expect to eat a little later.

Served with scrambled eggs, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Perfect with a pat of butter and some real maple syrup drizzled over top! It took on a delicious new personality. Surprising me the most were the walnuts which toasted from the frying pan's heat and developed a really nutty, full-bodied taste!

Amy at Please Don't Eat Me! gave me a really fun little award! Thanks, Amy!

The "rules"
1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you.
4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth.
5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.

Ok, let's see how well you know me, which is the truth?!
1. I don't know how to swim.
2. I skipped 2nd grade.
3. I played the clarinet in middle school band.
4. I type 40 words per minute.
5. I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY.
6. My bellybutton is pierced.
7. I wear a size 6 shoe.

Passing it onto:
1. The Diva
2. Biz
3. Laura
4. Allie
5. Sarah
6. Maggie
7. Ally

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Firsts - Home made Stock

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday everybody! Thank you so much for those of you who linked up last week, it was exciting to see this little project of mine have some love in its debut! For those of you who are new, click the graphic above or on my side bar for more information!

I actually have two firsts this week. The first is that I used my waffle maker for the first time to make a big batch of waffles. But the second is the one I'm going to share with you because it's the one I'm most excited about and proud of!

A few weeks ago I used our saved veggie scraps to make about 2 gallons of home made stock! Earlier this week I used that stock for the very first time in chicken and orzo soup!

To participate in Friday Firsts create a blog post featuring a "first" of yours. It could be the first time you've used your new cookbook or the first time eating a dish at a restaurant! Any culinary first will do! Next, link that blog post below using Mr. Linky and tell us about it!

Don't have a blog post to link to? Just link to your blog's homepage! Then make sure to tell us about your first in the comments! The same goes for those visitors without blogs - leave a comment with your first! Any and all participation is welcome! Remember, this is a place to share the enthusiasm, adventures, and creativity that bonds us all through cooking and eating!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge on your sidebar or blog post, you can copy and paste the following code.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big Batch Waffles to Freeze & Award

About a month ago Alisa from One Frugal Foodie posted an oat waffle recipe. It wasn't so much the recipe that caught my eye, but her tip to cool the waffles and freeze them for breakfasts on the go. Uh.. duh! Another one of those simply genius ideas we seem to overlook until somebody else points them out for you.

My mom used to make a bunch of waffles or pancakes on the weekend and we stored leftovers in the fridge and heated up quickly in the microwave or toaster for school morning breakfasts. We never froze them since they were eaten up so quickly. Since the idea never occurred to me, for some dumbass reason I've been wasting my money buying frozen waffles at the store when I have a waffle maker sitting in my pantry!

I didn't use a waffle recipe, just Bisquick (which is dairy free in case you didn't know!). I made four batches of batter according to the instructions on the side of the box. Each batch was dressed up in its own unique way.

This was the first time I'd ever used my waffle maker to make waffles! The plates come out and are double-sided. One side is to make waffles and one is flat. You can use it like a panini press, but it also unhinges and opens flat like a griddle, which is the only way I'd used it before.

The first waffles of batch one were unfortunately sacrificed to the waffle maker. I didn't let it heat up properly. See? This little light was put there for a reason, not just decoration!

What a mess! I had to chisel some parts out of the grooves! But after I let it heat properly, it started working like a champ and I was able to turn out batch after batch, perfectly!

After spraying both waffle plates, scoop the batter into the center. Close the lid and leave it alone for about 5 minutes, or until steam stops billowing from the sides. Carefully raise the top, remove the waffles with tongs, and start over!

Batch 1, banana:
Bisquick batter
1 tsp vanilla
1 overly ripe banana, mushed

Batch 2, chocolate chip:
Bisquick batter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Batch 3, blueberry:
Bisquick batter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup blueberries (mine happened to be frozen)

Batch 4, apple cinnamon:
Bisquick batter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup apple, diced finely
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Let the waffles cool on a wire rack and then separate and put in labeled freezer bags. When ready to eat, simply pop them in the toaster just the same as you would an Eggo!

All four of these batches yielded me almost 40 waffles. I used less than one box of Bisquick, a little over a quart of milk, 1/2 cup of oil, and 4 eggs, which is a steal when you do the math! You can also control the ingredients and nutrition based on your allergies, tastes, and dietary needs with no funky preservatives or mystery ingredients.

I also received another award! Gina at Simply Life gave me the Sunshine Award! Thanks, Gina!

I'm going to pass it onto two of my favorite bloggers, who are also really great friends.

Laura of Hey, What's for Dinner, Mom? who was instrumental in my developement of Friday Firsts. She was the first person I told about it way back in December and gave me the guts to go forward with the project! Incidentally, she's going to be starting "Just another meatless Monday" every Monday for you to link up your vegetarian or vegan dishes to share!

Sophia of Burp & Slurp who really jumped on board and helped with the launch of Friday Firsts by posting about it and linking up immediately, with no hesitation! That's support!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chicken and Orzo Soup

I make home made chicken soup pretty often. Johnny and I both love it, and it makes a lot so we can have leftovers and lunches. It also freezes well, so you can make 1 big pot and have half for dinner now and half for dinner in the future!

I always use:
~12 cups stock/bouillon of choice
1 deli chicken *see note
1 onion
4 or 5 carrots
4 or 5 celery stalks
2 bay leaves

Depending on mood/what's on hand, the starch will be either:
2 potatoes
1 cup orzo pasta

Begin with your big ass pot and chop and drop the onion, carrots, celery, and potato, if using. Fill with about 12 cups of stock, or water and bouillon. Throw in the bay leaves and bring up to a simmer, letting it hang out about 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, remove all the skin and bones from the deli chicken and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. (Note: I always purchase the low-sodium option. Also look to see if your store sells them after a certain hour for a discount. My store puts them in the refrigerated area so they're not shriveling under the heat lamps and marks them down half-price after a few hours. I usually get them for $3.99, which is a better deal than buying a raw one and more convenient!)

If using orzo add once the vegetables become tender along with the chicken. Put the lid on and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the orzo has softened and the chicken has come up to temperature.

This latest batch of chicken and orzo soup was actually really exciting for me! It was the first time I cooked anything using my home made vegetable stock! Because I had kept it bland I did end up adding 1 tsp. of Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper and it was perfect!

Both Johnny and I were really impressed with the flavor. It had tons of depth and character - tasting like it'd been simmering away for hours, instead of a quick weeknight meal!

Orzo on FoodistaOrzo

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to Cut a Fresh Pineapple & Award

Ok, laugh all you want, but this time last year I had never cut a fresh pineapple before and didn't know how! In fact, I didn't think I was a pineapple fan. I remember the bits in fruit cocktail when I was little "hurt my tongue" so I always avoided it. If I needed it in a recipe I'd use canned.

Well, no more! Every month or two (more often in the summer when we're craving fresh fruit) I grab a pineapple when they're on sale ($2.99 in my store). It tastes a lot better and you get more bang for your buck!

My tip for fresh fruits and vegetables is to "process" them as soon as you get home from the grocery store, after you've put away the other items. Wash them, and if necessary, cut and peel them. This makes you more likely to grab and eat fruits and veggies because it's convenient and quick! Plus you get it all out of the way once and only one cutting board and knife wash!

First, grab the leafy top of the pineapple securely and twist, just like you're opening a stubborn jar. It should pop cleanly off! (Apparently you can save the top and sprout it to grow, but I'm not a gardener so have never attempted.)

Next I slice the pineapple into quarters for easier handling.

Lob off the leafy ends of each quarter. This is important because you are creating a flat surface to cut on.

Stand each quarter up on it's now flat base and cut the point off where the tough core is.

Now turn the quarter and slice off the exterior skin of the pineapple. I can usually do this in two knife movements, but sometimes go back to clean up areas that were missed.

You should have a cored and skinned quarter of a pineapple now. Lay it flat on your cutting board and cut into 1/2" slices, or your preference of thickness (TWSS). *giggle*

As you're done cutting each quarter deposit these slices into an airtight container for easy storage.

Voila! You've cut a fresh pineapple in just a few minutes. Depending on size, I'm usually awarded with about 4 cups of fruit.

Johnny and I enjoy munching on the slices as a side to breakfast or lunch, a light snack, or dessert after dinner. Since the fruit has already been processed and is in an easily accessible container it's a cinch to grab when the mood strikes!

Miss Spiceaholic at Spice's Bites has awarded me with the Beautiful Blogger award! Thank you!

I have to list 7 facts about myself and then tag 7 other bloggers.

1) I'm currently enrolled in school again, going for my Bachelor's in Hospitality and Tourism. My plan is to open an Inn with a small restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. I want some hens and pigs and a large garden. The garden and hen's eggs will supply the restaurant and any scraps accumulated will become pig slop or compost for fertilizer!

2) You already know I don't like mushrooms or raw tomatoes, but another disliked food is raw oysters. Ugh, their texture is like swallowing a big loogie!

3) I haven't had my hair cut by a professional since 2001 or 2002. My mom, aunt, or Johnny trim it for me every once in awhile and I'll thin it with thinning shears. Twice I've gotten bored and cut it myself - last time was 2006 and I donated 14" to Wigs for Kids! I just don't trust salons anymore because they don't listen and never know how to treat my curly hair.

4) I don't have a birthmark.

5) I've never gotten an F, I'd probably have a nervous breakdown if I did.

6) I've never been to a tanning bed and the thought freaks me out. I think of them as being enclosed in a glowing coffin.

7) I don't know how to drive stick, but fantasize learning (among other things) so I can be prepared for The Amazing Race.

Instead of tagging 7 bloggers I'm going to tag each of you to leave one fact about yourselves in the comments!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Firsts - Frontera Grill

Friday Firsts

Happy Friday, everybody! Today is an especially exciting one for me because it's the first Friday Firsts! (Click the image above or the one on my sidebar for more details!)

I had a few firsts this week trying new recipes and eating a new (to me) fruit, but the "first" I'm going to share with you is an exciting first time restaurant visit!

Johnny and I have been looking forward to trying one of Rick Bayless's restaurants forever! This Tuesday we finally had a chance and at ate Frontera Grill for dinner!

You can read all about our exciting first visit and look at the pictures here!

To participate in Friday Firsts just choose a "first" of your own from this week. It could be the first time you've tried a new recipe, the first time you've used a new kitchen gadget, the first time you've tried a new ingredient, the first time you tried a restaurant, or any other exciting food or kitchen firsts!

This is a place to come together as a community and share the enthusiasm, creativity, and excitement we all experience from our food and kitchen adventures! Post yours below and check out some fellow bloggers firsts, too!

If you would like to display the Friday Firsts button as a badge on your sidebar or blog post, you can copy and paste the following code.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Frontera Grill

Johnny and I aren't much for celebrating Valentine's Day. There's a sudden frenzy at restaurants which means inflated prices, long reservation waits, and over-crowded dining rooms. What we've decided to do is instead have Valentine's quietly at home and make a point the week before or after to spend a nice day together. This year we "celebrated" on Tuesday, the 16th.

We drove into the city and visited Lincoln Park Zoo! This was the first time either of us had been there and I really loved it. It was smaller than other zoos I've visited, which made it easier to get from habitat to habitat. The animals were also closer to you for viewing than other zoos, which was exciting! We saw a lot of animals I had never seen before like vultures, a sloth, a hedgehog, and many others! I fell in love with and made best friends with an adorable gibbon who sucked his thumb (I did too when I was little!). He stayed glued to the glass right in front of me, stroking with his little hand and squeaking at me. It broke my heart to leave him and I've been missing him the past two days!

After the zoo was something we'd been looking forward to for weeks! *drumroll please* Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill!! I've mentioned before that both Johnny and I are huge Rick fans, watching him on Top Chef, owning his Mexico: One Plate at a Time DVDs, and even have a signed cookbook!

The menus change every few weeks to feature local produce, meats, and sustainable seafood. Tuesday just so happened to be the first night of this new menu! (I apologize in advance for the dark, fuzzy pictures - it wasn't ideal lighting for pictures!)

Beverage-wise Johnny ordered a Topolo Margarita - tequila, orange liqueur, and homemade limonada shaken at the table and I ordered a limonada "soft drink" homemade limonada with sparkling water.

Johnny's choice for appetizers was Sopes Rancheros - crispy corn masa boats with savory shredded beef, roasted tomatoes, avacado, and homemade fresh cheese and they were to-die-for!

After seeing Rick make so many ceviches on One Plate at a Time I ordered the trio, trio, trio as an appetizer - a collection of three ceviches. One was a lime-marinated Hawaiian sunfish, the second was ahi tuna, and the third was shrimp and calamari in orange and habanero. To be completely honest I did not like the tuna one at all (way too sweet), but Johnny loved it. The sunfish one had cilantro, which tastes sort of soapy to me, but the shrimp and calamari one (pictured above) was delicious and I ate the whole thing myself!

Johnny's entree was Carne Asada - natural black Angus rib steak marinated in spicy red chiles and wood grilled. Sides were black beans, sweet plaintains with homemade sour cream, and guacamole. (Overlook his redness, he gets that way if he drinks!)

My entree was Fiada Asada Brava - grass fed flank steak with a handcrushed fire-grilled tomato salsa. The sides are what convinced me - grilled knob onions and sweet corn tamales topped with homemade sour cream and homemade fresh cheese. The tamale was amazing, like a sweet corn bread, probably my favorite item of the night!

For dessert we split a duo flan plate. One was original vanilla, the second was a lime flan with star fruit and tangerine salsa on top. Johnny preferred the vanilla and I preferred the fruit one, so we each had a try of the other, but mainly ate our favorite.

We also both shared a mug of delicious frothy Mexican hot chocolate! This was dark-roasted chocolate brewed and frothed with steamed milk. Really rich and creamy, with a bold flavor almost like coffee - the perfect end to the meal!

Red Gold Winner and New Feature!

First things first, the winner of the wonderful Red Gold Tomatoes prize pack is

Which just so happened to be Julie of Finn & Tanner!

Congratulations, Julie! Please e-mail your address to christina at dinneratchristinas dot com and I will pass it along to Sarah so she can get your prize pack out to you! Good luck making your new pasta sauce recipe!

One last thank you to Red Gold Tomatoes for this opportunity!

Friday Firsts

Now, onto a new feature here at Dinner at Christina's! Starting this Friday, the 19th I'm going to be hosting a weekly meme, Friday Firsts! This will be a place to share all of your culinary adventures and enthusiasm for new things! First time trying a recipe? Stop by and let us know! First time using your new mixer!? Tell us about it! First time eating okra? We'd love to hear!

Every Friday there will be a blog post here with the Friday Firsts graphic for easy recognition. I will share a "first" of mine and below will be a Mister Linky. Type in your blog and URL, hit enter and you will become part of the lists of "firsts" for that week! I love the enthusiasm and adventurism of the food blog community, so won't you join me in sharing and seeing each other's excitements each week!?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake

The first time Johnny and I both had Bananas Foster was at my brother's Culinary Institute of America graduation, in August of 2008. Family and friends went to dinner the night of his ceremony at one of CIA's restaurants, where the students work both front and back of the house for experience.

This was actually one of my brother's former classmates who prepared the dish for us, tableside. It was pretty exciting to watch with the rum flaming! It was served with home made vanilla ice cream and we instantly fell in love with the flavors!

Fast forward to last month, when I saw this recipe in my Cooking Club magazine! It's been bookmarked since!

I wasn't 100% pleased with their directions, so I will list mine below.

1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup softened butter, separated
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp dark rum *see note below
2 large ripe, but firm bananas
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream (I used fat free Breakstone's)

Slice the bananas diagonally in 1/4 inch slices. Heat the brown sugar, 1/4 cup of the butter, and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth, stirring frequently.

*Important* Remove from the heat first and then add the rum, stirring to combine. Please be very careful, the alcohol content can cause it to flame if done over a heat source! (If you prefer to not use rum substitute 1/2 tsp rum extract mixed with 2 Tbsp water.) Pour this mixture into a greased 8" round cake pan and arrange the banana slices around the pan.

Heat the oven to 350°. Cream remaining 1/2 cup butter and sugar in large mixing bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat. Combine the remaining dry ingredients and add slowly to the bowl, alternating with the sour cream until batter is smooth.

At this point the caramel mixture in the pan will have hardened to the touch, allowing you to spread the cake batter mixture over top. Bake for 45-55 minutes with a pan placed on the rack below to catch any bubbling drips!

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge and turn out onto plate or serving platter. Best served warm or slightly reheated.

Their instructions neglected to have you grease the pan, so unfortunately my bananas stuck and didn't come out with the cake! That's ok, I scooped them out with a spatula and placed them on top!

Plus, when you zoom in for a close-up you can't even tell!

This is a deliciously sweet, sticky dessert! The topping and bananas ooze over everything and the cake itself is very moist and fluffy. I don't know what it is about adding sour cream to baked goods, but it never disappoints!

You have until midnight tonight to enter the Red Gold tomatoes giveaway! I will announce the winner tomorrow!