Thursday, January 26, 2012

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal

So this recipe might not seem blog worthy at first but I'm telling you- this little trick shared with me by a friend has changed my life for the better.  I can't help but think this would be a big hit with the kids too.  I've always loved oatmeal but I tend to steer clear of the sickeningly sweet stuff that comes in a little packet.  I'm a big fan of the classic Quaker Old Fashioned Oats in the cardboard container.

Bob's Red Mill has a great Gluten Free Rolled Oats variety and a Steel Cut Oat option that I really like as well.  (Likely in the health foods section of your grocery store.)  Both are going to take longer (10-15 mins) to cook however.

1)  Prepare the oats per the package instructions using water versus milk.  I don't like the gumminess that results from boiling them in milk.  Don't worry- we'll add ample "creaminess" here in a minute. 

2)  Remove the oats from the heat and add 1 tablespoon of your favorite peanut butter (almond butter is delicious as well) per serving of oats prepared.  Stir the the peanut butter into the oats as it melts, resulting in a luxuriously smooth and creamy concoction.

3)  Transfer the oatmeal to a bowl and top with your favorite combination of the following:

* Sliced fresh banana
* Clover Honey (Go Local!!)
* Dark Brown Sugar
* Cinnamon
* Toasted pecans, walnuts or almond slices
* Semi sweet chocolate chips  Toss them on while warm and they melt into the oatmeal- this tastes more like dessert than breakfast!
* A splash of milk

I'm telling you this is the true breakfast of champions.  The boost of protein from the nut butter helps keep you full longer and gives you a huge flavor boost without the need for a bunch of sugar.

I also promise you that if you use the standard old fashioned oats (cook time is 3 minutes)- the entire process, start to finish takes 5 or 6 minutes max.  I know its hard to get motivated to cook a weekday breakfast but there is something about starting the day with a warm, hearty meal  (and a great cup of coffee) to get things off on the right foot.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Provencal Vegetable Soup with Pistou

An indulgent Holiday season followed by a work trip to food mecca Charleston, SC and then a three day weekend of excess in Las Vegas means that we have officially arrived at pocket-book-and-waistline-friendly-recipe month on Accidental Syrup.  I hesitate to preface this post this way because the recipe honestly is scrumptious.  While low fat and low cal its packed with hearty beans and vegetables and the bright flavors of garlic and herbs.  I googled "hearty soups" and stumbled across a fantastic sampling from Saveur magazine.  I thought a mix of vegetables would be particularly light and healthy (and as we know I lean French these days) so I jumped on the Soupe au Pistou.  (Note: pistou is in essence the French equivalent of pesto.)

The great thing about this recipe is that you could easily use whatever mix of veggies strikes your fancy.  I took a few liberties from Saveur's original recipe.

Ingredients for the soup:

2 ounces of pancetta or bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 large stalks of celery including the tops, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, grated or minced
5 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1 zucchini, diced
1/2 a small head of green cabbage- halved again, cored and sliced into quarter inch strips (approx 4 generous cups total)
1- 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with juices (reserve one tablespoon of chunks for the pistou)
8-9 cups (or 2 cartons) chicken stock
2- 15 oz cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

**Omit the pancetta/bacon and swap out vegetable stock for the chicken stock to make this vegetarian friendly.

Heat a large heavy bottom pot with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta/bacon and cook until crispy and golden brown.  Remove the bits from the pot with a slotted spoon (drain on a papertowel to the side) and add one more tablespoon of olive oil to the pot with the renderings.  Next add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for 5-7 minutes until the onions are soft but not brown.  Stir in the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook one minute more.

Then add the cabbage, diced tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaves.  Cook everything together over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the zucchini and beans and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.  (I let mine simmer on low-low heat for a while longer until we were ready to eat.)

Meanwhile, you can make the pistou.  Measure all of the below ingredients directly into a food processor fitted with a metal blade (or a blender would work too.)

2 cups of fresh basil
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese (I used pecorino)  
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 of a roma tomato, diced or a few of the diced tomatoes reserved from the soup

Pulse or blend until almost smooth (like a pesto).  Set aside.

Garnish each bowl of soup with a scant teaspoon of the pistou on the top (and a few of the crispy pancetta bits if you want to splurge a little.)  The smell of the garlic and the fresh basil wafts up at you as the pistou melts into the soup.  It really kicks what at first seems like a basic veggie soup up to another level.

I personally appreciate soup first and foremost as the perfect excuse for bread.  I made a delicious iteration of my Brown Butter Soda Bread from last year to accompany the soup.  I substituted fresh thyme for the rosemary and 1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese for the black pepper.  I also used plain melted butter versus browned and dusted the tops of the dough with additional cheese after I brushed them with the egg wash. 

A big bowl of steamy soup and a warm slice of fresh bread is the perfect weeknight winter meal.  I froze two servings for a rainy day and we enthusiastically enjoyed left overs all week. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ile Flottante (or Floating Island)

By now you're onto my small obsession with all things French.  2011's trip to Paris might have stoked the flame but truly its been there for quite some time.  My first recollection of being smitten with la cuisine francaise was actually in middle school.  Living abroad in Saudi Arabia, our close friends were the closest thing to family therefore we spent many a holiday and holiday meal together.  Our friend Susan Elving made Coq au Vin one year for New Year's Eve and she made Ile Flottante or Floating Island the next year I believe it was for Christmas Eve.  I remember both meals very distinctly to this day and these French classic dishes remain a few of my favorites.  If you're not familiar with Floating Island, it is delicate, light as air meringue literally floating on a puddle of creme anglaise (or custard sauce) topped with caramel.  It is what I like to think of as "angel food" for a special occasion.

Susan brought the Floating Island dessert to our house. The meringue and custard were made ahead but my little sister and I got to watch her make a fantastic "web" of caramel.  Spoiler alert: I was not able to recreate the net of sugar this go round - I ended up with a soft caramel sauce instead- but I intend to attempt again pending some further research.  Susan cooked sugar down to a caramel (to thread stage I believe) that was then pulled into strands as thin as a spider's web and tangled together to form an avant garde kind of hat atop the meringues.  The sugar then hardened to crispy which added just a slight toasty crunch to the fluffy meringue and silky custard.   As you can imagine for two young, curious cooks in training, this was basically a yummy sugar laden art project and thus a big hit.

I looked at a few pictures online to give you a visual and this was similar to what I remember...

Amazing photo courtesy of

I studied a few recipes for the other components and landed on my dear friend Ina Garten's recipe.  My Mom and I made this dessert together on New Year's Eve and for the record, she is the.master of meringue.  I've been aspiring to make mile high meringue as she does on my cream pies for most of my adult hood... to no avail.  She tackled the meringues and I made the creme anglaise.  Note: The recipe serves 8-10 people.  It held up okay for left overs the next day as well.

Creme Anglaise:

4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 3/4 cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac
Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, optional

**Can be made a day or two ahead of serving
Beat the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don't cook it above 180 degrees F or the eggs will scramble!

Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla extract, Cognac, and vanilla seeds, if using, and chill until ready to serve.


8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

**You want to make these the day of, especially for company, though a few hours ahead is fine.
Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla. With dessert spoons place 8-12 mounds  (depending on how big you want the servings to be) of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

**In studying some other recipes, I learned some people actually cook the meringue in molds.  You can make individual size or a single large meringue in various shapes.  One recipe actually bakes the meringue in a pan lined with caramel sauce almost like a flan.  Here are a few other ideas to consider:

Martha Stewart uses a Tube Pan as a mold
A fellow blogger bakes the meringue in a pan and then scoops out servings into a wine glass
Pipe the meringue for a more polished presentation

For the caramel sauce... as I mentioned, I went with a smooth, soft caramel sauce as is the most common approach.  We actually struggled with Ina's recommendation.  We attempted her caramel method twice unsuccessfully.  I eventually switched gears and the below method was just right.

Caramel Sauce:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon butter

Measure the sugar into a dry sauce pan over medium heat.  Cook, swirling gently until the sugar starts to dissolve and turns golden brown.  This takes 4-5 minutes but don't leave it unattended because once it starts to turn to caramel, it goes quickly.  Remove the sugar from the heat and pour in the cream and vanilla.  (It will bubble like crazy and the sugar will seize up a bit.)  Whisk until the sugar dissolves completely.  Lastly, whisk in the butter which I think gives it a nice silkiness.  **This can also be done the day before- gently reheat when ready to serve.

To serve: place 1/3 cup or so of the creme anglaise in your dish of choice. Top with a meringue and drizzle with caramel sauce.  You can garnish with some candied almonds as Ina does though it really doesn't need anything else... 

I'm telling you the delicate meringue with the creamy custard and toasty caramel is to-die-for. Its like eating a fancy, delicious Parisian cloud.

Bon Appetit!