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I can’t say I’ve been to many cookbook signings in my day. While I do own and appreciate signed cookbooks, I rarely venture out to wait in line and get that personal dedication penned on page 2. It’s simply too much work. Unless, of course, it’s Stanley Tucci.

He just so happened to be signing his new cookbook at one of my favorite kitchen stores in the city, Fishs Eddy (which just so happens to be a few blocks from my office). I popped over on my lunch break and within an hour returned with a signed copy of The Tucci Cookbook, a stunning collection of deliciously photographed Italian family recipes. I can’t wait to dig in.

Honestly, I don’t know what makes me more excited – meeting such an amazing actor or trying the drum of ziti recipe. Plus, our glasses totally match, which makes me feel extra special.

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Ain’t he cute?

So, can you blame me? It’s been awhile, I know. But I’ve been distracted by that little face and those tiny toes and the kissable little cheeks and… um, what was I saying? Oh yeah, the blog.

I’m not going to make excuses. I was, well, pregnant. Yup. Baby-ville consumed my brain, and I simply couldn’t handle much beyond my job, my posts on The Strong Buzz and the crazy commute. And once the baby arrived, the blog became a faint memory that I would fondly recall in the haze of sleeplessness, diaper changes, feedings and the like. It didn’t help that my free time quickly shrank into nothingness. Can you blame me for wanting to spend every waking moment with this little guy?

The little man is ready to eat. That’s my boy.

Totally and completely lovestruck.

The longer I waited to post, the harder it became to come back. What would I write? Who was going to read it?

But now that he’s here and life has settled back into what vaguely resembles a normal routine (if such things exist in new mommy hood), I look back and wish I hadn’t abandoned this blog completely. I wonder what ever happened to the girl who started off the year with a resolution to write a post a week. It sounded promising. But the weeks turned into months and my last post was in, ahem, June. Eeek. Yes. It’s embarrassing. Shameful, even.

It’s just that, throughout the pregnancy, my desire to cook was pushed to the darkest recesses of the back burner next to that dried up piece of forgotten spaghetti. Dinners consisted of the simplest recipes you could possibly imagine. Cravings ranged from carbs to carbs to more carbs and pretty much anything else that resembled kid food. Another grilled cheese, please, balanced out by a spinach and kale salad brimming with veggies for lunch so I wouldn’t feel too guilty. And on most nights my poor husband got stuck with both cooking and cleaning up duties (which is why he’s the best ever).

My favorite boys.

So if you’re still out there, I’d like to apologize for the silence. I know my blog has sucked for the past few months. And boy do I owe you some recipes. But for now, here’s a fun little recap of the best food I ate while pregnant:

Top 5 non-recipes I made while pregnant:

  1. 5 ingredient pasta – fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil, arugula (or basil or spinach or whatever greens you have on hand).
  2. Quesadillas – two corn tortillas filled with grilled chicken and cheese or beans
  3. Naan pizza – usually with fresh mozzarella, red peppers, and arugula piled on top
  4. Eggs – I was completely scrambie-obsessed
  5. Pasta Carbonara – our very own bare-bones recipe with bite-sized pieces of cooked ham, toasted walnuts (or pignoli) and um, well, eggs again

Top 5 most memorable restaurant meals I ate while pregnant:

  1. Porterhouse for two at Perilla – one of my fave restaurants (check out my article on The Strong Buzz here.)
  2. Tia Pol – haven’t been back since the baby. SHAME!
  3. Mac and cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese – if you haven’t been. Go. Their flagship cheese is perfection and you can watch them make it fresh right in the store.
  4. Union Square Cafe – don’t tell, but I cheated and ate Gorgonzola polenta. It’s like pregnancy food at its finest (despite that pesky can’t-eat-unpasteurized-cheese rule).
  5. Ilili’s Brussels sprouts – crispy, sweet, and you can pretend they’re healthy.

This recipe is more like an oatmeal soufflé. Or a gooey oatmeal cookie that you can legitimately eat for breakfast and not feel guilty about. While I wouldn’t give it 5 stars on the healthy scale, it’s not all that bad. Compared to your typical baked oatmeal, it does an great job of substituting the extra butter and sugar with some applesauce without sacrificing the fluffy texture. The best part is, it’s extremely easy to prepare and only takes 20 minutes in the oven. Makes for amazing leftovers too. Throw on a splash of milk, reheat, serve it over some sliced strawberries or bananas, and you’re set for the week.

The original recipe calls for raisins, so if you love oatmeal raisin cookies, that’s the way to go. Me, not so much. I just replaced the added raisins with extra walnuts and slivered almonds instead. Didn’t hurt at all. The second time I made the recipe, I even added ground flaxseed, and it was just as delicious. And, of course, in my house, you can’t make oatmeal without some cinnamon. It’s the perfect recipe for a lazy Sunday or a 90+ degree day when you’re home with a head cold (ugh). At least this oatmeal cookie breakfast soufflé is guaranteed to make you feel better. It’s also guaranteed to make my dog extremely jealous while staring at me with those I-haven’t-eaten-in-days-please-gimme-some little eyes. Enjoy.

Baked oatmeal

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine and myrecipes.com

Ingredients

2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup slivered almonds (optional)

4 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (optional)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1 1/2 cups fat-free milk

1/2 cup applesauce

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 large egg, beaten

Cooking spray

Directions: Preheat oven to 375°. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside (mine was 9×13, but it worked fine). Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl and stir together. In a separate bowl, add the milk, applesauce, butter, and egg, and stir to combine. Add the milk mixture to oat mixture and stir well. Pour into greased baking dish and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Serve warm. If desired, serve over fresh strawberries, bananas, blueberries or any fruit you choose to make it even more delicious.

So my banana cream pie set and apparently the world stopped. I stopped writing. Stopped cooking. Stopped obsessing over food. It’s almost as if that one simple accomplishment was the pinnacle of everything I could handle up until that moment. My banana cream pie set. Subsequently, my brain turned to mush.

It was simple, really. I used whole milk and heaped tablespoons of corn starch instead of level ones. So I admit. Sometimes, when baking, it’s wise to embrace fat.

Truth is, if you buy good quality organic whole milk, many actually argue that it’s better for you anyway. With whole milk, the nutrients aren’t stripped away and then added back in the form of fortified vitamins and minerals (which essentially makes it more processed, and it’s no secret that processed foods are bad). You can also argue that calories are not always as important; it’s the nutrients you get from food that really matter.

Now, I’m all for good quality ingredients, and I understand this logic, but I still can’t seem to make the switch to whole milk. I can’t help loving recipes that make small changes to up the health factor without altering the flavor, especially when it comes to baking. Whole milk to skim is usually one of those obvious changes. And if you remember the banana cream meltdown post, (written nearly ages ago) you’ll know that the skim milk did not make it any less delicious.

Bottom line: if you’re making a banana pudding not to ever be used in a pie, skim all the way (and I would still recommend getting organic, but that’s just me).

If it’s texture you’re after, then use whole milk (even though it is not specified in this recipe) and chalk those extra calories up to presentation.

I promise you this. If I can find a way to get this pie to set with skim milk and without excessive amounts of corn starch, you’ll be the first to know. Just don’t expect a new post anytime soon. I’m officially banana creamed out.

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