June 28, 2017

Spicy black beans for taco nights

How is your summer going so far?  It's busy around here but at the same time, things have certainly quieted down a bit.  The days are longer and we can go about it at a more leisurely pace without the usual school-year obligations.  We've been taking advantage of the good weather (before the mosquitos come out in force) to grill and eat outdoors, and to take day trips (we recently took a drive out to Brooklyn just for ice cream sundaes).  Everything takes on a more energetic vibe in the summer. 
While my son's at camp in the mornings, I have time to tinker in the kitchen - making muffins, churning ice cream, baking cookies, and prepping easy dinners.  On the weekends, we're still enjoying things like cinnamon rolls and Dutch baby pancakes for breakfast.  It's a time for easy favorites and I find myself a little less focused on experiments when it comes to baking during the summer.  But it's always lovely to pop in here and I thought I'd say hello and drop off this little recipe for spicy black beans for the next time you're having taco night.

A few years ago, we started having occasional taco nights (it's never on a Tuesday though) and they are always fun!  It must be the combination of hands-on eating, the colorful food, and the variety or customization, that make it a great family meal. There may be a bit of prep to get all the fixings on the table but I like to take advantage of some store-bought ingredients like rotisserie chicken and pre-shredded cabbage to make an easier time of it.  We vary the main protein - in the instance pictured here, we were having chicken and I also seared some fish (because fish tacos may be the favorite for my husband and me) - and we usually have the basic lineup of toppings like avocado, salsa, and cheese.  Incidentally, I love hummus as a base for soft tacos.
I often just pop open a can of black beans for taco night but sometimes I take an extra step and make this easy dish of spicy black beans.  Onions, garlic, jalapeƱo pepper, and some spices are cooked down with canned black beans and a little water. It only takes about 15-20 minutes to make and you have a great dish of spicy black beans for your next taco night or the next time you're having Mexican food at home. I like how the beans soften after cooking and you have all the added flavor with a little spice.  It's something I also like to eat all on its own or to dish into my grain bowls for weeknight meals.
This post reminds me it's time for a taco night soon.  It's a great casual and fun meal for the summer when you're not out there grilling and chilling.  

June 22, 2017

Berry crisp for one...and other happenings

I'd intended to call this post weekend recap but time flies and here we are nearing the start of a new weekend.  It's been a busy and exciting week or so here and being the introvert that I am, I needed to take a few days to recuperate.  
Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting I recently auditioned made their birthday reappearance
To recap just a little bit...last weekend was a big one - first, we celebrated the little guy's 12th birthday!  A birthday is always special but this year, the excitement was heightened by the fact that I had planned a little surprise birthday party for him!  It's nerve-wracking trying to pull off a surprise party even on a small scale - in this case, a small group of kids gathered at the house to spring the surprise, digging into some pizza and cake, followed by a trip to the bowling alley for a couple of games.  
I was a nervous wreck by Saturday morning, as we tried to figure out all the last minute details from the weather to timing, to all the little things in between - all the while hoping our secret was still safe!  Happily, the planning and effort was worth it because wonder of wonders...we actually pulled off the surprise!!  The birthday boy was shocked!  It helps that my son is pretty laid back and undemanding.  It's hard to believe but he literally did not ask about birthday plans and made little mention of his birthday beforehand.  That made it easier to pull off the little surprise.  All in all, I'm glad we did it and I hope he'll think back on it with a smile as he gets older... 

On the heels of the birthday festivities, we celebrated Father's Day.  These two events always converge and make for a busy weekend (not to mention plenty of prepping beforehand).  Here's a little snapshot of our Sunday.
It involved strolling around a car show in our town early in the morning.  Then, we came home for brunch.  I made one of my husband's favorites, a Dutch baby pancake.  Even though we have it very often, he always requests it!  For dinner, I made crab cakes, served over some cappellini with lemon and caper sauce.

In between meals, I whipped up a little sweet treat for my husband (who has a major sweet tooth to match his personality), a simple berry crisp for one.  It was thoroughly appreciated.  I'm very lucky that my husband is a great person to cook and bake for!
June is full of celebrations.  It's both exhilarating and a little exhausting at the same time!  My son just wrapped up 6th grade - another milestone we happily toasted.  And by "toasted", I mean we had more cake!
A 6-inch version of our favorite chocolate cake
Now, things are quieting down and I'm ready to savor the slow days of summer!

June 14, 2017

Berry compote with Belgian waffles

On my last brunch post, I talked about inspiration from eating out.  I love it when we enjoy something at a restaurant that I can easily recreate at home.  This time, it's a simple berry compote, served warm with Belgian waffles, inspired by a menu item from the restaurant, Balthazar, in NYC.
Ever since I got my waffle maker, we have waffles pretty often for weekend breakfast. I mix it up between several recipes and these Belgian waffles, adapted from The Pioneer Woman, is one of those on our rotation.  Folding whipped egg whites into the batter helps make the waffles crisp and we really like their simple sweet, vanilla flavor. Usually, we reach for maple syrup but I thought I'd change it up and make a berry compote, much like what we had at Balthazar a few months ago.  
It's often the little things, small touches, that make something special and so, sometimes it's nice to take an extra step like making a berry compote to go with your waffles.  While fresh berries are a great option right now, I used frozen mixed berries so that I could have a mix of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, as well as blackberries in this little compote.  It's so convenient and literally takes just minutes to make.  
Into a pot, I simply added frozen mixed berries that I thawed the night before (you can use fresh berries, of course), along with some orange zest, sugar, and if you like, a splash of Grand Marnier.  I love the hint of orange flavor in the background.  It just takes a few minutes to heat up the mixture and melt the sugar.  In the last minute of cooking, stir in a little cornstarch slurry to thicken the liquid...and your berry compote is ready for breakfast!

It's easy to scale how much compote you want to make and aside from serving it with waffles, you could certainly use it to go alongside pancakes or French toast.  You could layer it with yogurt to make a parfait, or serve it as an accompaniment to a slice of pound cake or something similar. 
We enjoyed it with the waffles and I made it particularly with my husband in mind. His sweet tooth starts early in the day with a preference for sweet breakfasts. Frankly, he also prefers his fruit with extra sugar.  This is right up his alley and a nice treat to enjoy on an occasional weekend morning.  

June 7, 2017

Chocolate cake for the weekend

I'm calling this a "chocolate cake for the weekend" because that's just what it was.  I made it last Friday going into the weekend.  It's always nice to kick off the weekend with a cake!  On a practical level, it was partly an effort to clean out the fridge and use up some extra ingredients.  On another level, it was just part of the ongoing effort to satisfy my insatiable chocolate cravings.
After making a few loaves of banana bread and churning a batch of ice cream, I had extra whole milk yogurt and heavy cream on hand so I decided to use those things to make this cake.  I'm actually revisiting a recipe I've made before, in a different form. In fact, my very first post featured this in cupcake form.  I've also made it as a single-layer cake years ago.  This time, it comes in the form of a double-layer 6-inch cake.
When we had afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason in London back in April, I tasted a delicious slice of chocolate ganache cake...maybe that put the idea in my head.  But to be honest, I think about chocolate and things like chocolate cake and ganache all the time.  It's amazing how much I love chocolate, and it's a love that goes way back for as long as I can remember.
But back to this little cake...make it for the chocolate lover in your life because it is all about the deep flavor of chocolate (a recurring theme here).  Thanks to yogurt and oil rather than butter in the batter, the cake is wonderfully moist and tender.  It gets a deep chocolate flavor from not only cocoa and chocolate but also freshly brewed coffee.  The chocolate ganache frosting and filling is rich and creamy, basically a chocolate-lover's delight.  This cake made this chocoholic very happy and I can say that I definitely put my leftover yogurt and heavy cream to very good use!
It's strawberry season and I've been diligently stocking up on strawberries and raspberries as much as possible.  While my fridge is overflowing with it and I'm perfectly happy snacking on it and having it with some yogurt for breakfast, I'm always still craving a little chocolate!  And in my humble opinion, the best way to eat berries just might be...with a slice of chocolate cake!  Who's with me?

June 1, 2017

Sweet potato pancakes

Is it too late to talk about this past Memorial Day weekend?  Where does the time go! It's shaping up to be a busy week of catch-up following the nice, leisurely 3 days of family time. Three-day weekends are so right - you get so much done and that constant sense of rushing, of not having enough time, fades away.  It made me really appreciate how lucky we are, and thankful to all the service personnel who protect our precious freedoms so we can enjoy such great lives.  
Weather-wise, the Memorial weekend was a mixed bag but we did manage to fire up the grill on Sunday for the first time this year, which was great fun.  I churned my first batch of ice cream of the season, a mint Oreo flavor requested by the little man; it was a big hit and vanished quickly as ice cream usually does.  I also went to the farmer's market again on Sunday and scored some sashimi-grade tuna to make my first poke bowl!

In between that, we savored 3 consecutive leisurely weekend breakfasts and I got to try a new pancake recipe during one of those.  These are sweet potato pancakes, a recipe I spotted in a new cookbook, American Girl in London.  It caught my eye given my love of sweet potatoes and my constant interest in finding new breakfast foods to put on the table.
I'm constantly roasting sweet potatoes for lunch or dinner so it was no sweat to set one aside to mash up for these pancakes.  They're also made with some whole milk yogurt, which I also happened to have on hand after baking a couple batches of banana bread.  

At their core, these sweet potato pancakes turned out fluffy (I used the trick I learned recently of stirring the egg white into the batter at the end of mixing) and super moist, almost custardy, in texture.  The original recipe does not call for any additional sugar, relying on just the natural sweetness from the sweet potatoes.  I tried it that way but in retrospect, I would add a tablespoon or so of sugar to the batter to better offset the tang from the yogurt.  That said, a generous douse of maple syrup does the trick of adding sweetness.
Do you like sweet potato or pumpkin pie?  Or those warm Thanksgiving flavors and spices? This will likely remind you of that because of a touch of both cinnamon and nutmeg in the pancakes.  Some, like my son, may not be a big fan so it's good to know what to expect going in.  For my husband and I, these soft pancakes were a fun thing to try and we had no problems cleaning our plates.  I particularly liked taking a bite with some toasted walnut because they add so much welcome flavor and a crunch.
It's always good to try new things, even if they're not home runs for everyone at the table each time.  Hopefully, we learn it's important to simply welcome different things and to widen our palate a little bit.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...