Cooking, Crafting, Creating, Living

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, Sans Gluten March 27, 2011

Since we’ve gone wheat/gluten free I’ve been experimenting more with baking.  Once I realized just how many gluten free flour options there are out there I was determined to find the right combination of flours for some of my favorite recipes.  On top of the list, Banana Bread.

Now since I’ve started eating baked goods without wheat I’ve come to realize that even the taste of regular white flour is bitter and unappealing.  A simple combination of Tapioca flour, white or brown rice flour, almond flour and teff flour has more flavor and substance.

Grocery shopping has been much more interesting since going gluten free.  I’ve found things in my market that I never would have taken the time to notice before.  For example the international section where I normally would cruise through, grab my rice wine and soy sauce, I’ve discovered German feldkamp bread, available in pumpernickel, whole wheat, sunflower and more.
I’m trying new things and loving it!  However this proves painful not only to my grocery budget, but to my cupboards as well.  $229 dollars later I found myself stuffing at least 6 different flour/flour mixes into my pantry.  Not to mention the staples of gluten free cooking, xanthan gum and corn meal.  So when life lands you a flourish of gluten free flour, what do you do?  You Bake!

Yummy Chocolate Chip Maple Banana Bread – Gluten Free

3 large ripe bananas

1/2 cup olive oil

3 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light)

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 tsp bourbon vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose gluten free flour mix

1 cup white rice flour

1/2 cup teff flour

2 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup dark chocolate chips

Peel and mash bananas in a large mixing bowl.  I use a potato masher.  Cream together bananas, olive oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla and syrup until well incorporated.

Slowly sift in flour, xanthan gum and baking powder, mixing constantly.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Transfer mixture to two(2) 4″x8″ bread pans, or muffin pans.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-35 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Drizzle 1/4 cup pure maple syrup over hot bread/muffins.

Remove from pan and serve.


STEAK by popular demand February 13, 2011

The PERFECT Pan Seared Steak

I’m a snob when it comes to steak.  It has to be juicy, tender, medium rare and charred to a crisp.  If you asked me last summer how I liked my steak, I would have told you grilled, or not at all.  We’re a carnivorous family and eat steak at least once a week, and this winter has made it impossible to grill outdoors.  So I needed a solution.

We have a George Foreman Grill, that leaves the meat chewy and lacking in the flavor department.  I tried broiling, same results.   Finally I looked to the internet, desperate for something, anything, that would make my steak taste like STEAK.

What I found was a video, Good Eats: Steak Your Claim.  The host, I believe his name is Alton Brown, is like the Bill Nye of cooking.  Entertaining to watch and you can really learn something.


Finally a method of cooking steak that is SIMPLE and tastes great.

So I broke out the old cast iron frying pan, and let me just state that I have been cooking with it every day since.

I knew I wanted a nice thick cut of steak.  I think the first time I made it I had used a nice sirloin that was very lean and marbled and about 1 1/2″ thick.  I always tenderize my steak by repeatedly stabbing it with a fork on both sides.  My mom teases that what I’m doing is overkill, literally, but my steak always comes out tender and juicy.  Then, just like the video says I sprinkled sea salt on both sides and poured on some cooking oil.  I also found that cracked black pepper is a nice addition, but will make for a zesty sauce if used.

I was just experimenting, throwing things together on a whim.  I knew we were going to serve mashed potatoes and green beans, so I knew I wanted some kind of gravy/sauce and I also figured caramelized onions would be a tasty garnish.

So I started by caramelizing the onions, about two medium sweet onions, in the cast iron pan.  I then transferred them to a bowl and brought the pan up to temperature over high heat.  Then the steak went in, about 4 minutes on each side and then 4 addition minutes in the oven at 500 degrees cooked it to a perfect medium rare.

A GREAT TRICK I learned while researching pan seared steak, to tell if your steak is done, make a fist.  That’s right, take your hand, with fingers tucked into your palm, and squeeze.  The meaty part right below your thumb will be your tool, squeezing as hard as you can, press on that area with your other hand, it’s very hard with a lot of resistance.  That is what “well-done” feels like.  Then try squeezing just a little, this is “medium-rare”, firm with a little resistance.  And not squeezing at all, just holding a fist, this is “rare”, very soft, not much resistance.

When the steak was done, I melted butter over the top, and put it on a plate under aluminum foil to rest.  We have a wood stove that makes a great place to keep food warm, or you can just cover with foil and let it sit.

There was a bit of juice in the pan, and I added a little more water to bring up any flavor that was cooked on,  then I strained the liquid from the onions I caramelized into the pan and added about two cups of white cooking wine.  I had read about wine reductions and wine sauces and decided to give it a try.  Usually red wine is paired with steak, but white was what I had on hand.  I’ve since made this sauce with both red and white wine and I do prefer the flavor of the white.  The wine reduces and thickens the sauce just enough to give it substance and the onions give it such a wonderful flavor.  My husband thinks I should bottle it.

I was so pleased with the results of this method it is my new favorite way to prepare steak.  I’m torn between grilling the meat, or savoring the juices in the pan.  And still trying to come up with a way to combine the best of both for summer cooking.

So here it is.

Simply STEAK!

and…. Mandy’s SUPER DUPER SWEET AND TANGY, (not so secret anymore) STEAK SAUCE

Seasoned cast iron pan

1 1/2 lbs. Steak (I like sirloin or new york strip)

2 tbls. Olive Oil

Coarse Sea Salt

Butter for melting

2 med. Sweet Onions (sliced)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cups white cooking wine

Optional: Cracked black pepper, mushrooms*

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees









Set steak on plate or platter and coat with sea salt and olive oil.  Let rest.


Caramelize Onions over medium heat so as not to scorch.









Begin by slowly caramelizing the onions with two tbls. butter in the cast iron pan over medium heat.  Cook until softened.  Add brown sugar and cook an additional 2 minutes.   Remove from pan and set aside.


Add brown sugar for sweeter onions and more sauce.









Bring pan temperature up over high heat.  Add steak to pan and allow to cook 4 minutes per side.  Flipping only once.


Top steak with 1 tsp butter and place in preheated oven for an additional 4 minutes.  Remove from oven and test if it is done.


Remove steak from pan and place on a warmed plate.  Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest at least 5 minutes while you prepare the sauce.










Place pan back on stove top over medium high heat.  Pour 1/2 cup water into pan and allow to lift any cooked on flavor from the meat.  Strain liquid from caramelized onions into pan and add white wine.  Bring to a rolling boil.  Cook over medium high heat 10 minutes, or until liquid is reduced by half.


Remove foil from steak and pour any juices into sauce.  Cut steak into 1/2″ strips, cutting against the grain.  Pour additional escaped juice into sauce.











Cook sauce over medium heat another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, add 2 tbls. butter.  Serve.

*Mushrooms can be added to sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking if desired.


Slowly cream butter into sauce









This steak pairs great with buttermilk mashed potatoes and green beans, steak fries and spinach or a rich salad of spring greens topped with peppers, red onions, goat cheese, caramelized onions and apple spears



The Third Day of Christmas Crafts – Pine Wreath December 16, 2010

This simple Pine Wreath is made from 4 pine boughs, a metal ring, florist’s wire, pine cones, and assorted other trimmings.  I always trim the bottom branches from our Christmas tree to use for wreaths and other craft projects.

This wreath is a bit thinner than I normally like them, but I didn’t have as many boughs as I needed to make it fuller.  You can decide how full you want your wreath to be.  This one is on a 14″ ring and I used three full boughs.  Now that it is decorated I may go back and add a center ring of additional boughs, or vine.

First, choose your pine boughs and wire the largest branches together.

Start bending each bough into an arch.  You’ll want to choose to bend it in the natural direction the branch curves or it may snap.

Once you have “trained” an arch into each of the boughs, then you can decide how best to attach them together.  Always attach the fullest part of the first bough to the thinnest of the second to give you even thickness all around.

Now you can start to attach the boughs to the wire ring.  I like the wavy rings because the wire doesn’t tend to slip around as much.  I simply take the whole wire spool and wrap the wreath in a spiral of wire until it is secure.

Depending on the ring and bough size, you may have thin spots in your wreath.  Just attach a second bough, or filler branch and wrap with wire, stopping once your wreath reaches the desired fullness.

You can also decide how tight you want to wrap each bough.  Work with the natural shape of the branches.

Once your wreath has reached its desired fullness, or you run out of boughs, you can start to decorate.  I used dried pine cones, ribbon, bells, and various other branches and berries for trimmings.

Wrap the trimmings to the wreath the same way you wrapped the boughs, taking care with the pine cones not to wrap them too tight.  I coil the wire around the stem of the cone for more stability.

Finally, tie on ribbon, or attach bows.

Use an over the door wreath holder, or fashion a hook from florist wire.

Use to decorate Indoors or Outdoors.




Broccoli Rabe Casserole with Pierogies and White Wine Sauce December 15, 2010

Rapini, or Broccoli Rabe, is an Italian vegetable that closely resembles American Broccoli but has smaller crowns, edible leaves and flowers and a nutty, bitter flavor.  It is a member of the cabbage family, and is in season in the Northern Hemisphere late fall through early spring.  It pairs well with garlic.

Broccoli Rabe Casserole with Pierogies and Creamy White Wine Sauce

1 Bunch Broccoli Rabe

3 Cloves Garlic (sliced)

2 tbls Butter (unsalted)

2 Packages Frozen Pierogies

(Try Mrs. T’s Spinach and Feta Pierogies)

2 cups Dry White Wine

2 cups Half and Half or Heavy Cream

1/2 cup Crumbled Feta Cheese

1/2 tsp ground red pepper

1/2 tsp chopped fresh parsley

2 tbls Butter (unsalted)

Cut off and discard tough ends and stalks of Broccoli Rabe.  Rinse and drain well.  In a cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add sliced garlic and broccoli rabe.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a 9 x 12″ casserole dish, arrange frozen pierogies in a single layer.  Spoon half of the cooked broccoli rabe over pierogies, continue to layer until dish is filled 1/2″ from top.  Set aside.

In the same cast iron pan, over medium high heat, reduce 2 cups of white wine until almost dry.  Add cream, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium and continue to stir until smooth.  Add crumbled feta and parsley and stir until cheese is melted.  Add ground pepper and butter and swirl until incorporated.

Pour sauce over pierogies and cover with aluminum foil.  Place in preheated 350 degree oven and bake 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.


When Life Gives You Lemons….. December 13, 2010

When life gives you lemons… What do YOU do?

I make Chicken Piccata and Lemon Yogurt Cake

Both of these recipes are inspired by my new favorite cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa at Home”

Chicken Piccata


1 1/2 lbs Chicken Breast Cutlets, or 4 split, boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup all purpose flour

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups plain panko bread crumbs

1/2 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

crushed red pepper

ground black pepper

Olive Oil

1/2 cup butter, at room temp.

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons), lemon halves reserved

1/2 cup dry white wine

sliced lemon for serving

chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving

1 box spaghetti or angel hair pasta

2 cloves garlic

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

If using whole chicken breast, place each breast between parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound it out to 1/4 inch thick.

Place flour on shallow plate, beat the eggs in shallow bowl.  Place bread crumbs on third plate and mix in 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt, crushed red pepper and ground black pepper.  Dip each breast/cutlet first into the flour, shaking off any excess, and then dip in the egg and bread crumb mixtures.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large cast iron pan over medium heat.  Once oil is hot, add two chicken breast/cutlets and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned.  Place on the sheet pan while you cook the rest of the chicken.  Heat more olive oil in the pan and cook the remaining chicken.  Place on the same sheet pan and transfer to hot oven.  Allow to bake for 5-10 minutes while you make the sauce.

Meanwhile, bring pasta water to a boil.  Add a pinch of salt and 1/2 tbls olive oil.  Cook pasta al dente, drain and toss with chopped garlic and remaining butter.

For the sauce, wipe out the cast iron pan with dry paper towels.  On medium heat, melt 1 tbls butter and add lemon juice, white wine, and reserved lemon halves, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground pepper.  Boil over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.  Discard the lemon halves.  Off the heat, add the remaining 2 tbls butter and swirl to combine.

Serve one chicken breast on each plate, spoon on the sauce, and serve with sliced lemon and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.



Lemon Yogurt Cake


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (I like Stonyfield Organic Cream on Top)

1 1/3 cups sugar, divided

3 large eggs

2 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tbls lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 8 1/2 x 4 1/4 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small mixing bowl.  In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest and vanilla.  Slowly whisk dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Gently fold vegetable oil into mixture until well incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a inserted toothpick comes up clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar disolves and the mixture is clear.  Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan.  While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in.  Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice and pour over cake.


Second Day of Christmas Crafts – Pine Swag December 10, 2010

Pine Swag

Here is a quick and easy project for the holidays.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just want a natural decoration to warm your spirit through the long winter months.

Whenever we get our Christmas tree we always end up trimming the lower branches off and I save them for other crafts.  If you don’t get a live tree you can trim branches out of the back yard, or go ask a local tree farm if they have trimmings lying around.  They usually do, and don’t charge anything to take them away.  (Make sure you get more than you need for one swag so you can pick the nicest branches, and have leftovers for a wreath* or other decor.)

What you’ll need:

Pine Trimmings    (Any type will do, but choose branches no more than 1/2″     thick and about 3 feet long.)

Hand saw or lopers

Needle nosed pliers



Floral Wire


Ideas for additional decorations – pine cones, holly, bittersweet, etc.

Begin by gathering your pine boughs.  Trim the ends with hand saw or lopers, and choose the prettiest ones for your swag.

Once you’ve selected the right ones for your swag, begin by wrapping the two largest boughs together with floral wire.

Now you can start to tie everything together with yarn.  Make sure to put to largest boughs toward the back.  You don’t have to line the ends of the branches up, these will all be trimmed at the end.  Move things around until you are happy with the way it looks and then tie.

Once your swag is the size you want then you need to decide how much of the stems you are going to wrap.  Tie a piece of bright color yarn to mark where the ribbon will begin.

Now you can cut small pieces of bough to fill in around the base of the swag.  This is optional.

Now tie on any additional decorations.  I used cut and dried rhododendron branches that I sprayed with gold metallic spray paint.

Finally you can start to wrap the stems with ribbon.  Use straight pins to hold ribbon in place.

Once the stems are wrapped use straight pins to hold the end of the ribbon.   Fold cut edge over so it doesn’t fray.

At this point you can use an aerosol hair spray to better hold the ribbon in place.

That’s it.  A simple way to make a beautiful decoration.

I prefer to decorate outdoors with natural pine decorations, they last all winter outside where as inside they tend to dry out and last only a month or two.

P.S.  Make sure you have a good hand scrub, or wear gloves because the pine pitch REALLY sticks.

* A sneak peek at the next project.


First day of Christmas Crafts – Paper Chain Garland December 7, 2010

On the first day of Christmas,

my true love made for me,

A garland for the Christmas Tree.

This is a quick, simple and versatile project that can be done by “kids” of all ages.

What You’ll Need:

heavy card-stock

ruler/straight edge



I used a Christmas variety of card-stock that I purchased in the scrap booking department of my local crafts store.

Begin by selecting your paper and deciding how large you want your loops to be.  I cut my paper into 2″ wide strips that measured 12″ long simply because that was the width of the paper and I didn’t want to waste any by trimming it shorter. 

I have a rotary cutter and pad that I use for fabric, but also works great for cutting paper.  If you have one of these available I would suggest using it.  The cutting goes much faster, just make sure you use an old blade.

If you don’t have either of these, that’s ok.  Just use a scissors to make your cuts.  Draw lines on the back of the paper where you want to cut, or choose paper that has vertical lines in the pattern and cut along these.

Once you have all your paper strips cut, arrange your strips by color or pattern and choose what order you will attach them in.

Next begin making your links by taking one strip of paper and coiling it around so that the two ends overlap making a circle.  Place one or two staples to secure the loop.  Depending on your link thickness you may need more or less.

Once your first link is made, begin the chain by looping your second strip of paper through it’s center.  Bring the ends together in the same manner and staple again.

Continue this pattern until your chain reaches the desired length.

Use your chain to decorate your Christmas Tree, Across a mantle, door way, stair case, etc.

Try making garlands for other holidays/occasions as well.