Chocolate Babka

Babka showed up at my grandmother’s house at various times throughout the year, although once a year I could always count on a great big slice – that was after fasting for the day on Yom Kippur.  She also had chocolate cake, but I usually turned that down for the babka.  She wasn’t much of a baker (she spent most of her time cooking at the stove), but there was a really great kosher grocery store down the street where she got all of her baked goods.

When I was older, I remember watching Seinfield one night – and there was a big debate on the show about which was the better babka – the chocolate or the cinnamon.  They determined on the show that the chocolate was superior.  I actually never knew there were two kinds – and I also thought, why wouldn’t you just put cinnamon in with the chocolate?  Since then I have seen babka at the store, and there are definitely two kinds – and I also prefer the chocolate.  It just has a richer flavor – and often I do taste a hint of cinnamon.

I saw this recipe in Cooking Light this month – and of course had to give it a try.  I had never made babka before, so this was definitely going to be a challenge.  I ended up doubling the cinnamon in what was printed, and made a couple other changes as well – but this recipe was fabulous.  When I sliced it open, my husband and I stared in amazement.  I had done it.  I even had my neighbors come over so they could stare at it as well.  The bonus – it tasted even better than it looked.  It was a good day.

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1  teaspoon  granulated sugar
  • 1  package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3/4  cup  warm 1% low-fat milk (105° to 110°)
  • 6  tablespoons  granulated sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  vanilla extract
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 7.5  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 2/3 cups), divided
  • 5.85  ounces  bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 5  tablespoons  butter, cut into pieces and softened
  • Cooking spray

Filling:

  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 3  tablespoons  unsweetened cocoa
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 4  ounces  semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Streusel:

  • 2  tablespoons  powdered sugar
  • 1  tablespoon  all-purpose flour
  • 1  tablespoon  butter, chilled, chopped into pieces

Preparation

Dissolve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and egg yolk. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour and bread flour to milk mixture; beat with dough hook attachment at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add 5 tablespoons butter, beating until well blended. Scrape dough out onto a floured surface (dough will be very sticky). Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add 1.5 ounces (about 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will be very soft).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let dough rest 5 minutes.

Line the bottom of a 9 x 5–inch loaf pan with parchment paper; coat sides of pan with cooking spray.

 To prepare filling, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and chocolate in a medium bowl; set aside.

Place dough on a generously floured surface; roll dough out into a 16-inch square. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam and ends to seal. Holding dough by ends, twist dough 4 times as if wringing out a towel. Fit dough into prepared pan. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare streusel, combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, and 1 tablespoon  butter, mixing with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal; sprinkle streusel evenly over dough. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until loaf is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool bread completely on wire rack before slicing.

 For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Chocolate Babka

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Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

The other morning I was about to leave for work and noticed that I had a very ripe avocado on the counter, which was sitting next to a grapefruit.  I thought about our plans that evening, and decided that the only way I was going to eat the avocado before it passed its prime was to bring it to work.  I chucked them both into my bag, and off I went. 

When it was lunch time, I decided I would just make an avocado and grapefruit salad – those two flavors pair beautifully together – the tartness of the grapefruit with the creamy mild avocado is wonderful combination.  When I tried it though, it was missing something.  It needed a dressing – not a heavy one, but it needed something else.  I decided to venture to the cafeteria to see what I could find.  Now, I work at a big company – and there are a lot of foodies around that make sure the cafeteria is somewhat decent.  We have famous chefs like Thomas Keller and Mario Batali that show up every once in a while to sign books – I was sure I could find something that I could make work.

I went to the salad station, and none of the dressings sounded good – so I decided to make my own.  I took some olive oil and balsamic, and put them in a to go container.  As I was making my way past the condiments – it hit me – it needed a french vinaigrette – so I put in a dab of Dijon mustard – mixed it all together and that was it.  It was beautiful.  Thanks cafeteria for helping with my creation.

Ingredients

  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbl. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbl. olive oil

Preparation

Supreme the grapefruit by cutting about 1/4″ off of both ends so the pink flesh shows through.  Take a knife and carefully cut off the skin around the fruit so that all the white is removed.  Cut down along fruit section to the center, then turn knife to loosen section and lift out. Repeat for other sections.  Place the grapefruit in a bowl.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and score the avocado in a cross-hatch pattern, being careful not to break the skin.  Scoop out the avocado with a spoon and separate the chunks of fruit adding it to the grapefruit.

Mix the rest of the ingredients in a small container with a lid – and shake until everything comes together.  Drizzle dressing over the grapefruit and avocado one tablespoon at a time, tasting after each tablespoon so as not to add too much dressing.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

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Chocolate-Cherry Heart Smart Cookies

It drives my husband nuts that I don’t just stick to chocolate chip cookies – I always have to try new recipes.  Very few cookies stack up to the good old-fashioned favorite – but I know they are out there, and I have to find them.  Chocolate and cherries is a winning combination – the tartness of the cherry with the bittersweet chocolate is a match made in heaven.  I actually had some good chocolate in the house left over from the holidays that I chopped up for these cookies, and I thought they were fabulous.  My daughter was licking the bowl clean – yes, they were exceptional before baking.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light – and at less than 100 calories per cookie, they were calling out for me to bake them.  I made them slightly bigger than a tablespoon, so maybe mine were a little more than 100 calories, but still.  I adjusted the baking time below, because they were browning pretty quickly, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbl. unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • cooking spray

Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Combine flours and next 3 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Remove from heat; add brown sugar, stirring until smooth.  Add sugar mixture to flour mixture; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended.  Add cherries, vanilla, and egg; beat until combined.  Fold in chocolate.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-11 minutes.  Cool on pans 3 minutes or until almost firm.  Remove cookies from pans; cool on wire racks.  Makes about 30 cookies depending on the size.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Chocolate Cherry Cookies

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Mexican Casserole

Casseroles are just so much fun in my opinion.  You throw a bunch of stuff together, and as long as you put ingredients in that go well together, you have a wonderful one dish meal.  I used to try and make up a different casserole every week.  Then, I got tired of casseroles – they started all tasting the same, even though I used different ingredients.  Now I try and make a casserole about once a month, maybe twice, but not more than that.  I have to say though, when I make one, usually I have plenty of time to do other things…and I am not trying to coordinate multiple dishes being done at the same time.  I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, and immediately starting thinking about how I could change it to be more to my liking.  I decided instead of beans, to substitute cilantro lime rice.  Instead of meatless crumbles, I would use extra lean ground beef.  I also thought that adding some peppers would be good – and intead of plum tomatoes, how about diced tomatoes with green chiles.  The outcome, a casserole that was not only easy – but actually tasted great!  Now I am starting to think I should make casseroles more often…

Ingredients

  • 4  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
  • 1  cup  chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped red/green bell pepper
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1  teaspoon  chili powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cumin
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  lb. leanest ground beef
  • 48  baked tortilla chips
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • 1  tablespoon  fresh lime juice
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained
  • 2  tablespoons  minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2  tablespoons  fat-free sour cream
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped green onions
  • 1/4  cup  sliced ripe olives
  • salsa

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell peppers to pan; cook 4 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and jalapeño (if you want more heat); cook 1 minute. Add ground beef and break up into crumbs – until nicely browned.  Stir in chili powder, cumin, black pepper; cook 3 minutes. Arrange half of tortilla chips in an 9 x 9 –inch (or 11 X 7 inch) baking dish coated with cooking spray; top evenly with ground beef mixture.

Mix rice with cilantro, lime juice and salt.

Layer rice mixture on top of the beef mixture, then top with the tomatoes and chiles. Top with remaining tortilla chips, pressing to slightly crush. Sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake at 375° for 13 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Cut casserole into 6 equal pieces; top each serving with 1 teaspoon sour cream, 1 teaspoon onions, and 2 teaspoons olives.  Serve with salsa.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Mexican Casserole

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Carrot Cake Pancakes

I love to go out for breakfast – and even though I am pretty much an egg person, I enjoy looking at the menu to see what types of pancakes the chef has come up with.  It seems like every restaurant has their *special* version of pancakes.  Most of the time it is not too unusual:  pumpkin pancakes in the fall, apple pancakes, gingerbread pancakes around the holidays, but every once in a while I am amazed at the creations.  I was reading my Cooking Light this month and noticed a section on Denver, CO (where I lived for a few years) – there was a breakfast place that they noted had lines snaked out the door and around the block.  That is my kind of place.  They printed their version of Carrot Cake Pancakes, and I just had to give them a try.  Now, as I have mentioned before, my kids love their pancakes for breakfast  – but they are not into vegetables – so I knew this would be a challenge – but one that I was up for.  I grated the carrots as finely as I could (as the recipe stated) – and that was the key.  The carrots were able to cook so they were nice and soft, and both girls ate them – ok, one liked them more than the other – but they were a hit.  With the honey butter on top, it was a perfect breakfast treat.  The recipe comes from Snooze in Denver, and was printed in this month’s Cooking Light.

Ingredients

  • 5.6  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/4  cup  chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2  teaspoons  baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground nutmeg
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • Dash of ground ginger
  • 1/4  cup  brown sugar
  • 3/4  cup  low-fat buttermilk
  • 1  tablespoon  canola oil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 2  large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2  cups  finely grated carrot (about 1 pound)
  • Cooking spray
  • 3  tablespoons  butter, softened
  • 2  tablespoons  honey

Preparation

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs); add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in 2 cups carrot.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spoon 4 (1/4 cup) batter mounds onto pan, spreading with a spatula. Cook for 2 minutes or until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned. Repeat procedure twice with remaining batter. Combine butter and honey in a small bowl; serve with pancakes.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2 pancakes and about 2 teaspoons honey butter)

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Carrot Cake Pancakes

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Lentil Soup with Italian Chicken Sausage

When winter comes, I stock up on lentils.  I like to have all varieties available; french lentils, turkish lentils, beluga lentils – pretty much any kind I can find in the market.  Lentils are so versatile, I can pretty much make any flavor profile, and they work.  Most of the time I make lentils without meat – they are definitely filling enough, and if I use chicken or beef stock, I get enough flavor – but I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, and I had to give it a try.  The recipe called for spicy italian sausage, but I prefer chicken sausage, so I went with that.  I thought it was delicious – nice and comforting, rich in flavor, but not too heavy.  I served it with a big green salad, and it was very satisfying.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound italian chicken sausage
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled, chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
  • 2 large celery stalks, chopped about 1 cup
  • 21/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 pound brown lentils (about 2 1/3 cups)
  • 3 quarts (or more) low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 5-ounce package baby spinach leaves

Preparation

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage (without the casings) and cook until nice and crumbled and browned, breaking up the sausage with the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to bowl. Add onion, carrots, parsnips, celery, and Italian seasoning blend to drippings in pot; cook until onion is translucent and vegetables begin to soften, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes. Add lentils; stir to coat. Add 3 quarts broth. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if soup is too thick, 20 minutes.

Add sausage to soup and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors blend, 10 to 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Lentil Soup with Italian Chicken Sausage

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Mongolian Beef

I love stir fry.  I love that you can throw whatever you want into a pan, mix up some soy sauce and rice vinegar, and like magic, you have a delicious dinner.  I am not an expert on Asian cooking – so I am not sure why this dish is called Mongolian Beef – because to me it looks pretty much like all the other stir fries I make, but I will go with it.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light and adapted it slightly below to what I had in the house.  The sauce was flavorful, the beef was tender, and it took less than 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish.  For a week-night dinner after working all day, it can’t be beat.  I know it would taste excellent with either chicken or pork as well.

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1  teaspoon  cornstarch
  • 2  teaspoons  dry sherry
  • 2  teaspoons  hoisin sauce
  • 1  teaspoon  rice vinegar
  • 1  teaspoon  chile paste with garlic
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  teaspoons  peanut oil
  • 1  tablespoon  minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1  tablespoon  minced fresh garlic
  • 1  pound  sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain
  • 16  medium green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

Preparation

Combine first 8 ingredients, stirring until smooth.

Heat peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, minced garlic, and beef; sauté for 2 minutes or until beef is browned. Add green onion pieces; sauté 30 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture; cook 1 minute or until thickened, stirring constantly.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here:  Mongolian Beef

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