Sunday, January 27, 2013

NEXT UP: My Latest Reads

I've read a few books lately that haven't made it onto the blog, so I am doing a quick round-up of reviews. Ch-ch-check it out.

The Creepy, Suspenseful Adventure: The Keeper of Lost Causes

I love getting books as gifts. This one was given to me as a birthday gift, otherwise I may never have picked it up myself. Although I buy a bestselling suspense series now and then (ie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The DaVinci Code), I usually steer away from such reads. I'm glad this book came into my possession; it was a mesmerizing thriller. Set in Copenhagen, the plot follows Carl Mørck, an old cop who is given the task of re-opening old, cold homicide cases. Although the job is originally created to keep him occupied as he recovers from a recent traumatizing incident, he ends up immersed in investigating the case of a popular, pretty politician who disappeared five years ago. I'm not one for scary movies, and some parts of this book had me cringing and keeping the light on at night (yea so what?), but I really did enjoy racing through the pages to reach the explosive conclusion. Definitely recommended for those who like a good detective novel.

The Humorous, British Book: High Fidelity

I Kindled this book (can Kindled be a new verb, please?) because I'm a fan of Nick Hornby. Some of his books, including this one, have been turned into movies: About a Boy and Fever Pitch. As his first novel, I thought High Fidelity would be a great read. However, I was pretty disappointed. It took me months to get through this book since it didn't have an edge that kept me reading into the night. London record store owner Rob Fleming is dealing with a break-up. He recounts all of his past romantic trysts and their endings, analyzing relationships, men, and women along the way. It was humorous and had a few thoughtful moments, but it just didn't grab me. I wouldn't really recommend this one, although it has received rave reviews from others. Meh. Maybe I'll check out the film adaptation to see if John Cusack can salvage the plot for me. 

The Off-Beat, Quick Read: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

From a book that took me a few months, to a book that took me a few hours...that apparently I've read before! When I was lying in bed not feeling well the other evening, I downloaded this book to help pass the time and occupy my thoughts. Well, it definitely worked. I read the whole thing in one sitting (one lying?). As I breezed through it, I had the strongest sense of déjà vu. Now I'm 99% sure I've read this book at some point, but I'm not sure when! So strange. Anyways, this "coming-of-age story" is written from the viewpoint of 15-year-old Charlie. As he begins high school, two seniors take him under their wing and facilitate his experiences with schoolmates, relationships, fights, etc. The prose expertly conveys the voice of this innocent, introverted kid whose layers are slowly peeled back to uncover a somber past. If I had to recommend a book to read twice (whether on purpose or by accident!), I would surely offer up this one.

And that's all for now, folks!

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

NEXT UP: Butter-Free Banana Bread

Something really amazing happened this week. 

I'm not talking about the arctic weather that has descended upon Manhattan this week. Ew. No. This nose-biting, ear-burning, can't-see-because-I-purposely-covered-my-eyes-with-my-wool-hat weather is not cool, Mama Nature. 

Something else happened. Something dee-licious. My bananas? Yea, they went bad.

Real bad.

Any one who knows me knows that I always have at least one banana at all times in my kitchen. I'll probably get sick of them one day, but for now they're one of my favorite foods. A morning is not complete without oatmeal and sliced banana and almond butter.

Usually I use them before they have time to over-ripen, but an excess banana supply this week meant I finally had the perfect ingredients to whip up a banana bread.

I was eyeing some "healthy" banana bread recipes that called for unsweetened applesauce. I didn't have any on hand, and remember that arctic weather rant? Yea, I wasn't leaving my apartment just for some apple mush.

I found a recipe that called for no white sugar or butter. So maybe it's not healthy banana bread...but perhaps healthier?

Remember, this bread takes about an hour to bake, so think twice before popping it into the oven after 11pm. *Guilty eyes*

This was a superb bread that filled my apartment with an amazing scent while baking, and tasted perfect fresh out of the oven, as well as the next day after a quick pop in the microwave, and the next next day with a thin layer of almond butter.

Guess this means I should always buy too many bananas, huh?

Butter-Free Banana Bread

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, mix together mushed bananas, brown sugar, canola oil, eggs, and vanilla until well-blended. Don't worry about small bits of banana left over; they actually make for a tastier bread.

4. Mix the dry ingredients into the banana mixture until just combined.

5. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.

6. Bake in oven for 55-60 minutes until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean, even if the top looks done.

7. Let bread cool before slicing. Store in an airtight wrapping/container on the counter or in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NEXT UP: Almond Encrusted Tilapia

New year, new recipes! I've decided to cut back on my meals out to save on money (and calories), so weekend nights mean a perfect chance to try out a new recipe.

I bookmarked this almond encrusted tilapia recipe a while back. When my mom mentioned that she saw this recipe online and prepared it herself with great success, I realized it was time to give it a try.

I'm definitely more of a salmon girl when it comes to fish, but the tilapia was $2 less per pound - score!

I made this for myself and a self-professed almond lover, who I had to physically expel from the kitchen to keep him from eating all the raw almond slices. The crunchy crust and extra nutty slices on top of the fish are really what made this dish.

And tada - a picture of my perfect looking almond encrusted tilapia below!

(Okay, that's the picture my mom sent me of her rendition. Like mother, like daughter, like fish. Or something like that.)

Almond Encrusted Tilapia
Slightly adapted from Fannetastic Food's recipe
(Serves 2...well serves 1 hungry girlfriend and 1 extra hungry maybe more like 4?)

1.25 pounds of tilapia filets
Salt as needed
1/4 Cup flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1.5 cup sliced almonds
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1. Finely chop 3/4 cup of sliced almonds. I did it by hand, but you could use a food processor.
2. Combine chopped almonds with 1/4 cup of flour in a shallow bowl.
3. Sprinkle tilapia with salt on both sides.
4. Dredge the tilapia in the almond/flour mixture.
5. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.
6. Add fish and cook 4-5 minutes each side or until golden brown. Do not overcook. Remove fish.
7. Add remaining 3/4 cup of sliced almonds to skillet and cook by stirring constantly. Be careful not to burn them! (Mine were a little toasty...)
8. Sprinkle toasted almonds over tilapia. Sprinkle lemon juice as well.

Goes great with a side of steamed veggies. Enjoy!
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

NEXT UP: Pumpkin Cake Balls

After a rocky start to October, I am finally ready to enjoy the Halloween season! I hit up a party store to get a few seasonal decorations. It took a lot of restraint not to buy all of the light-up jack-o-lanterns, but I caved when I saw some cute mini paper cupcake holders. 

It didn't take me long to figure out what to use them for. There have been a lack of pumpkin treats in my apartment lately, so my first thought was mini pumpkin muffins. Then I realized...why not be adventurous and try something totally new...cake balls.

I assume you've all heard of the cake pops phenomenon. They're everywhere nowadays--on baking blogs, in Starbucks pastry cases, at weddings, and all over Pinterest. Instead of making pops, I decided to use my new cupcake holders to contain cake balls (think pops-sans-lollipop-stick).

My main inspiration was Love From the Oven's Candy Corn Cake Pops, which used orange and yellow dyed vanilla cake topped with a candy corn. I decided to alter the recipe to become more seasonal by using a pumpkin spice cake as the base.

Was this a difficult process? Not really. Was it quick? Not really. It was fun and fairly simple, but there several steps. Overall it took a few hours to complete these treats. My roommate and I tried different methods for dipping the cake balls into the chocolate coating, but it ended up being less neat then I had hoped. Next time I will try getting actual candy coating chocolate, or perhaps thinning the baking chocolate with a touch of corn oil.

I also think using toothpicks over forks would be helpful. There are lots of videos and posts about how to perfectly dip cake balls and pops online, it's just a matter of perfecting a method yourself.

Overall, I was left with very festive Halloween desserts that everyone loved! And why wouldn't they? Pumpkin cake plus chocolate plus candy corn, what's not to like? I'm already excited to try more cake ball/pop recipes for other holidays. I may have been bitten by the cake ball bug...

Pumpkin Cake Balls
Inspired by numerous blogs! And of course the Cake Pop Queen herself.

1 box of spice cake mix
1 can of pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1/2 - 2/3 cup of cream cheese icing
Bag of Candy Corn
Baker's White Chocolate (or candy coating if you can find it)

1. Mix the cake mix and can of pumpkin. Do not follow the ingredient directions on the box. The pumpkin will replace the water, egg, oil, etc.
2. Spread the cake batter into a 15x9" pan and bake for about 20 min or until a poked fork comes out clean.
3. Cool the cake. You can place it in the fridge to speed the cooling.
4. Crumble the cooled cake into a large mixing bowl. The crumbs should be quite fine. Use a fork and/or your hands. Be sure to break up any clumps or discard any hard edge pieces.
5. Mix in 1/2 cup of cream cheese icing with your hands. The mixture should be moist enough to mold into balls. Add in a little more icing if needed.
6. Form the cake and icing mixture into ping pong-sized balls and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
7. Place cake balls into the freezer for about 30 minutes or until they are chilled (but not frozen!).
8. Prepare the coating by melting the white chocolate in a small microwaveable bowl until it is a smooth liquid.
9. Take the cake balls out of the freezer a few at a time (so they don't get too warm and crumbly while you're working). Use a couple forks to roll the cake ball in the coating until evening coated. (Next time, I will probably try using a toothpick). Lift with forks so excess coating drips off, then place on a parchment covered cookie sheet.
10. Place a candy corn on top before the coating dries.
11. Repeat steps 9-11 with all of the cake balls.
12. Store in an air tight container. Feel free to place in cute mini cupcake holders.

Makes about 30 pumpkin cake balls.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

NEXT UP: August & September in Photos

And once again, another month comes to a close. While September had its moments--a pleasant day spent exploring the upper west side, a free Yom Kippur service in the city, painting on the roof deck--it was definitely a tiring month. A heavy workload and moody weather dragged me down a bit. Luckily, my favorite month is about to be upon us! October: birthday, halloween, a concert, pumpkin...what's not to love?

But before we move on, here's the last month recapped in photos! Well, the last two months. Of course I fell behind :-P I didn't take too many photos recently, but here's what I do have. Until next month!



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