Best Bean Dip

Christmas 2017 is over, and while I’m usually feeling blue about this fact, this year I’m staying positive. My kids have been delightful, and I’m savoring every holiday moment with them. They helped decorate the tree, decorate cookies, helped shop for family members, helped wrap gifts, helped clean, and generally helped by being loving and in the holiday spirit. So, now that we are all sugared out, I had to break out something else for bowl game season. Go Hawks! Bean dip has always been one of my favorite snacks, and it’s no secret that I can finish off an entire bag of tortilla chips on my own, so this was a no-brainer.

My cooking has never been very precise, instead it’s based on what I have, what sounds good, and what people in my house will eat. With that in mind, I have images with ingredients and the steps. Swap out whatever sounds good and change proportions/sizes as needed!

In a bowl, mix together 1 can refried black beans, 1 can whole black beans (rinsed), and 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes. Spread smoothly into pan. Sprinkle Mexican seasoning on top, to taste. By the way, I just found three of these cheery Dansk baking pans, in yellow, at a thrift shop today for under $20!

Spread corn and choppedblackolives on top, next. I used about ¾ of each can.

Next, chop 2 avocados and sprinkle with lime juice. Layer on top.

Smooth sourcream over the top and sprinkle with shreddedcheddar cheese. I used most of a 1 lb. container of sour cream and an entire bag of shredded cheese.

Then, I sliced 4 small jalapeños and spread them out festively. These are the not-too-hot variety. I brought in my jalapeño and habanero plants before the first frost and they are thriving in the southern sunshine of my art room/office.

Best Bean Dip

1. In a bowl, mix together 1 can refried black beans, 1 can whole black beans (rinsed), and 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes. Spread smoothly into pan. Sprinkle Mexicanseasoning on top, to taste.

2. Spread corn and choppedblackolives on top.

3. Chop 2 avocados and sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons lime juice.

4. Smooth about 1 lb. container of sourcream over the top and sprinkle with 1 bag of shreddedcheddar cheese.

5. Optional, thinly slice 4 small jalapeños and spread over the top.

Banana Berry Breakfast Smoothie

I made one of these bad boys on Saturday morning – it was the perfect addition to my usual toast and peanut butter for breakfast.  The berry and banana flavors mixed with oats made it taste like a blueberry muffin in a cup.  

I’ve been using the single serving cups that came with our Ninja – they are too easy.  You just throw your ingredients into the cup, attach the blade, stick on the blender, blend for a perfect single serving, then remove and add the drinking lid.  When done, throw it in the dishwasher!
The three of us headed over to the Des Moines Art Center on Saturday morning for a 2-4 year olds art class.  It was snowing and we needed to get out of the house.  Greta loved the different methods of painting – brushes attached to long sticks, cars rolled in paint, tempera sticks, and stamping methods.  Of course, mommy was collecting ideas for her classroom as well.  

After the art center, we made a quick stop at La Mie Bakery for pastries, bread, and coffee.  Eric let me run in and pick out pastries…can you tell?  So much for the healthy smoothie and toast I had for breakfast earlier in the day.  

Banana Berry Breakfast Smoothie – makes 1 serving 
1. In a blender combine: 1 banana, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup frozen blueberries, 2-3 ice cubes, and 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk.  
2.  Blend until smooth.  Serve immediately.  

{Healthier} Orange Cranberry Bread

This recipe comes to you as a refreshing way to bake with the delicious tastes of winter, but without over doing it on fat, calories, and sugar.  The reduced sugar, tart cranberries, and swap of bananas for oil makes this bread all the more satisfying.    

I just love the cranberry orange combination.  I find myself mixing the two juices for breakfast for a tart jolt in the mornings.

This zester is rubbish, just for the record!  I recently bought it to replace my beloved trusty zester of many years.  I miss my old Microplane one so badly – it disappeared along with a shoebox full of other kitchen essentials after we moved.  I swear that there is an evil moving troll who steals things during moves.

This is the old one.  

Two things I also love about this recipe – banana swapped for cooking oil and fat-free Greek yogurt for moist texture.

Fold the fresh cranberries in gently.  If you are using frozen berries, make sure they are thawed first.  Dried cranberries could be used in a pinch, but often then are sweetened and will not be quite the same as fresh cranberries.  

Hazelnuts are another one of my favorite flavors.  I’ll be honest, it was Nutella that first got me hooked on hazelnuts.  Get them from the bulk aisle to save money, and start with just a few at a time if you haven’t used them before – they are pricey!  I buy fresh ones, none roasted, that is.

Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.  If you are impatient, you will just end up with hack job slices of bread, no big deal.  This can also easily be made into muffins, read the recipe for that.

Healthier Orange Cranberry Bread – adapted from Conscious Cuisine, Neff, 2002.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 12 standard muffin cups or 1 loaf pan.

2. In a mixing bowl combine: 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl combine just till moistened: 1 egg, 1 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice, grated zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon), 1 cup coconut sugar, 2 tablespoons pureed banana, and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Fold in 1 cup of fresh cranberries and 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts.

4. Pour batter into loaf pan.  Or, if making muffins, pour 1/3 cup batter into each prepared muffin cup.  Sprinkle top of batter with chopped hazelnuts, if desired.  Bake for 50 – 60 minutes for loaf or 30 to 35  minutes for muffins, or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  If the loaf of bread darkens too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil during the last 20 minutes of baking.

5.  Allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and allow to cool completely before slicing bread.  

Baked Apple Peels

I have been using up the apples I have left with various recipes – pie and apple sauce as of lately.  Rather than tossing all the yummy peels, I put them all into a large bowl, toss with spices and bake to make a crunchy tasty snack.

I have an apple pie and 3 jars of applesauce from the apples that belong to these peels.  Obviously, I was working with a large quantity of apples.  It is easy to adapt and change this recipe in accordance to the number of apples and your own taste buds.  I had to pay attention as I made the apple peels today, as I usually do not measure anything when making this snack.

Baked Apple Peels with Almonds 

1. Place 3 cups apple peels into a large bowl.  Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cardamon, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 oz of sliced almonds.  Toss to coat evenly.

2.  Lined a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spread apple peels evenly in pan.  Baked in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until slightly browned.  Stir half way through baking.

3.  Remove from oven, allow to cool before serving. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or freeze to save even longer.

Zucchini Cakes + Iowa City

Ok, so not cakes that are sweet, but nice little baked goods that are somewhere between a frittata and tater tot and oh so good.
These babies were so good I made them two nights in a row at our house!  I still have loads of zucchini to use up – so of course the zucchini recipes are still coming!  I have quite a bit of zucchini in the freezer right now, just taunting me.  

The first part takes planning and is crucial – allowing the zucchini shreds to dry out between layers of paper towels in the fridge, at least overnight.  This way your finished zucchini cake isn’t a soggy mess.

Mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  I used cheddar chunks one time and cheddar shreds the second, both were equally tasty.

 Fill 12 sprayed muffin cups.

Bake until golden – 15 – 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  You should end up with a dozen ½ full muffins or cakes.

Part of our Labor Day weekend was spent in Iowa City – both Eric and I are Hawkeyes, so it was fun to get back to that town for a day.

We met my parents there and started off with a hearty and delicious breakfast at the Hamburg Inn No. 2.    It is a well known spot for college students, locals, and travelers alike – also a common presidential stop.  Their pie milkshakes are world-famous.

Greta loved the bridge over the river to the art building.  So many treks were made across there in all kinds of weather.

We made a stop in the Macbride Hall Museum of Natural History.  This museum is free and rivals the best museums in the biggest cities.  The dioramas are superb, the giant sloth is frighteningly large, the mammal hall impressive, and the bird hall chock full of a dizzying array of all things feathered.

We made a trip to the Macbride Raptor Project, which is about 25 minutes outside of Iowa City near the reservoir and Sugar Bottom.  Again, free, and completely worth the trip – the birds housed here are either unable to live in the wild due to injuries or human imprinting.  

We ended the holiday weekend by drying more tomatoes.  Greta is my helper with removing stems and washing.  

 An afternoon fishing trip at my parents’ pond was the best end to a near-perfect weekend.

This photo sums up my love of a perfect summer, almost fall day.  Does it get any more gorgeous than this?

Zucchini Cakes – makes 1 dozen

1. Shred 2 cups of zucchini.  Spread in a plate, between layers of paper towels and refrigerate overnight.

2. In a mixing bowl, mix together 2 cups zucchini, 1 cup panko, ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 2 cloves minced garlic, ground pepper, and 2 eggs.

3. Grease 12 standard muffin cups.  Fill 12 cups with zucchini mixture – should be about ½ full. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15- 20 minutes or until golden on top.  

Rebecca’s Zucchini Bread

It is still zucchini season!  Here is one of my all-time favorite zucchini recipes for you – named after the friend of my mom’s that the recipe comes from.  It’s moist and dense with a sprinkling of crunchy sesame seeds on top.

I made a double batch the other day and gave some away.  However, I committed a cardinal sin in baking and did not taste it before giving it away.  I thought it was a tad on the dry side – I am still trying to figure out my new oven.  Sorry if yours were at all dry like mine were!

The liquids will foam like this.  I substitute half the sugar for coconut sugar in this recipe.

The final loaves will have a nice dark crust on them.  Give them time to cool at least a little – it’s easier to slice them then.

In other news, we have been to the Iowa State Fair twice in the last two days.  This year’s theme is Happiness is….The Iowa State Fair.  It nice living here and not trying to cram it all in to a few days as we did last year.

We went to an Iowa State Fair Party on Friday night and these were the cute table centerpieces.  

 Greta was eager to pet the dairy cows outside the Dairy Barn, which have the best milkshakes!

 It’s  been ages since I was last at the fair after dark.  This Iowa Craft Beer tent has been a fun addition to the more recent fairs.

 The Midway was lit up with lights and over primped teenagers.

 The Tilt-A-Whirl, is it bad that I cannot remember if I even like that ride?  It makes me feel old to wonder that…

We went a second time this morning and hit up more of the buildings.  The 4H building is always one of my favorites.  If you know my sister and my maiden names look for a brick with our names on it on the ground outside this building.  We both put in 9 rewarding years of 4H.

 Greta, as always enjoyed the tractors.  She was nearing nap melt-down here though, and screaming, “Mommy, no cheese!’ at me.  As in, no, I will NOT smile for you.

We found Madagascar hissing cockroaches at the DNR building.  Greta let me hold them but refused to touch them herself.  She did pet the tarantula though and was very proud of that moment.

Hope you can make it to the Iowa State Fair, but if not, check back for more fun 2013 Iowa State Fair moments in the days to come.

Rebecca’s Best Zucchini Bread – 2 loaves

1. Mix 1 cup oil, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 eggs3 teaspoons maple flavoring or maple syrup together in a bowl until mixture is thick and foamy.

2. Shred 2 cups of zucchini and add to sugar mixture.  Stir well.

3.  Mix together 2 ½ cup flour, ½ cup wheat germ, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon baking powder.

4.  Make a well in dry ingredients, add wet ingredients and stir until blended.  Grease and flour 2 loaf pans.  Pour batter into pans.  Sprinkle tops of loaves with ⅓ cup sesame seeds.

5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Cool 10 minutes in pans and then remove.  Slice when cool. 

Oven Baked Zucchini Chips + RAGBRAI

Summer in Iowa means a lot of things – one thing is RAGBRAI – Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa.  

We decided to ride the leg from Perry to Des Moines last Tuesday.  This is a beautiful way to see rural Iowa.  This was a peach pocket pie stop in the midst of a soybean field.

 Some of towns we rode through were so congested with riders, we actually got off and walked.  RAGBRAI is no race, it is a circus on wheels with free watermelon stands, turkey legs, pancakes & pies, and beers and drinks.

Van Meter proved to be one of the more lively stops with their Raccoon Juice – a vodka infused lemonade drink.  We were encouraged to try this invention by a local police officer who said it was the winner of a city-wide contest.

 Waiting in lines is an unfortunate part of RAGBRAI, but true to all Iowa events, the people were polite, friendly, and interesting to converse with.

The leg for Tuesday,  ended at Valley Junction – a quaint little strip in West Des Moines full of antique shops, cafes, and art galleries.

After 50 some miles, pies, muffins, beer, Raccoon Juice, bananas, energy bars, espresso shots, hills, fields, sweat, and fun we were still all smiles.  We spent the rest of the afternoon recovering and then hosting a RAGBRAI team for the night, before they continued on to finish the rest of the ride.  
Maybe in the near future we will have our own team and team bus.  

It’s also zucchini time!  My mother’s garden is exploding with these huge bad boys and so of course she is (unloading is more like it, via one of the best comics ever) giving them away to us.  As is always the case, this is only a fraction of the haul.

Rather than turn to the tried and true zucchini bread, we decided to try a few new things this year.  First up, oven baked zucchini chips.  These are super easy, especially if you use your handy dandy mandoline.

Slice them thin, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with seasonings and then bake on parchment lined baking sheets at 325 til dried and crispy – it’s that easy!  We tried garlic salt.

This pan was over-loaded and needed to be only one layer thick for optimal crispy chips.  Bake until crispy and golden.  I personally love the darker, slightly burned chips, but watch the oven closely to prevent over cooking.  

Oven-Baked Zucchini Chips

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Slice 3 medium zucchini into 1/8″ slices.

2. Toss slices in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and desired seasonings.

3. Lay slices on parchment lined baking sheets in a single layer.  Bake 30 minutes, flip to other side, bake 30 more minutes.  Add or remove time as needed, depending on thickness of slices.  Watch for over browning.  Serve immediately.  

Jicama w/ Lime & Chili Dip

Meet jicama.

I have been loving this snack combination all week.  A crisp snacking tuber is paired with a creamy, tart, and peppery dip – it’s the perfect party duo, after school snack, or mid-morning work munchie.

This tasty tuber is also known as a Mexican potato.  Jicama has an interesting texture – crisp like an apple without the juice, however it is not sweet.  It is a hard flavor to describe – almost cool and cucumber-like with more of a potato taste.  The flavor is by no means strong and it makes a great snacking food.  Greta used to love jicama – I am not sure what changed her mind, but now she spits it out.

To peel, cut the top and bottom off, use a serrated steak knife to scrape edges of peel away from flesh of jicama, and then peel away with hands.  The peel should come off quite cleanly, if not, use knife to scrape away flesh.

 Slice jicama into wedges.

To make dip, combine: 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1 tablespoon chili powder.  Mix well and dip away!  To store sliced jicama, be sure to put in covered, airtight container to prevent drying out.

Jicama is actually the tuberous root of a legume plant and grows on a vine.  When looking for jicama at the store – look for medium-sized tubers that are dry and firm.  Wet spots will indicate rot or mold and larger jicamas may lack flavor.  Jicama can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. To read more about jicama, check out this article from Wise Geek.

Lime & Chili Dip

1. In a small bowl or jar, combine 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon lime juice, and 1 tablespoon chili powder.  Mix well.

Cherry Hazelnut Muffins

These muffins are so tasty and low in sugar!  I have been on this baking with Stevia kick and am really liking the results.  The combination of hazelnut and cherries comes about as a search for a spring break muffin – in other words “What do I have that I can use up and it will still taste good?”

I decided to try out the Truvia Baking product.  This is a Stevia sugar mix – if you need 1 cup of sugar, you use ½ cup of this product.  My recipe needed ⅓ cup sugar, so I ended up using 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of the Truvia.  This does not make these muffins sugar-free, but very low in sugar, and yet they still have a sweet taste.

The dried cherries I had have sugar in them – drat!  It is amazing how many food items actually contain sugar once you start reading labels carefully.

Hazelnuts always remind me of chick peas.

Chop up the cherries and hazelnuts and add to the dry mixture.

I decided to try another new baking product – If You Care Unbleached Large Baking Cups.  They are unbleached and chlorine-free.  Normally, I just skip the baking cups altogether, but they are nice to have on hand, especially if you are planning on taking your muffins or cupcakes to a party or gathering.

Fill the cups ¾ full and bake at lower temperatures for larger muffins.

Eat warm – try not to eat the entire batch in one sitting.  I noticed that 1 hour after I made these babies FIVE were already gone!

Cherry Hazelnut Muffins – makes 12 muffins, adapted from Joy of Cooking

1.  Combine in a medium bowl: 1 ¾ flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Stevia, and ⅓ cup toasted wheat bran.

2. Whisk together in a small mixing bowl: 2 eggs, ¼ cup oil, ¾ cup almond milk.

3. Combine with the flour mixture: ¾ cup chopped dried cherries and ¼ cup chopped hazelnuts. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add egg mixture and combine with a few swift strokes.

4. Fill prepared muffin cups ¾ full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.


Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Banana Sugar Free Cupcakes

I tried a variation on my original sugar-free banana peanut butter muffins – adding cocoa!  This addition and a one other, makes these dense, rich treats more cupcake-like than before.  I highly recommend you try this and some other swaps – you could switch the peanut butter for any nut butter.  You could switch the banana for applesauce or another pureed fruit.  Let your imagination run wild with this recipe.

I added ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder to the flour mix.  Be sure to check your peanut butter and almond milk if you want to truly keep this recipe sugar-free.  Those are two areas that sugar lurks – read your labels!

I added 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed – use a coffee grinder blender, or baby food processor to grind these.
I found a tip on Pinterest about cupcakes and decided to try it with this recipe.  It does not work as well as I think it would with other recipes, as this recipe lacks refined sugar.  Sugar is not just used for flavor – it also adds volume, tenderness, texture, color, and acts a preservative.  See information on sugar at the Joy of Cooking site here.  Knowing your ingredients and their job/role in each recipe is one of the most important aspects to cooking and baking effectively.  Knowing the function of a particular ingredient will also help you to make substitutions that work.  (Insert PSA about science in the classrooms and how every student should take science in every school, in every state, across the country here).

So, this time I filled the cups ¾ full, baked them at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

Yum!  Two big ones for the adults in the house and 1 small one for the toddler.

Greta inhaled her muff-cake (that is what I called cupcakes the first time I tried them as a toddler).
We are off to the Banff Film Festival this evening, hosted by Greensboro REI.  I am looking forward to an evening full of short films about the the outdoors.  If you are able to catch this series, I highly recommend it.
One of my favorites from the 2010 year, is called Take a Seat, where Dominic Gill from the United Kingdom rides 32, 000 kilometers from the northern most tip of Alaska to the southern most tip of South America on a tandem bicycle.  The catch is, he must pick people up along the way to help him pedal.  The journey takes him two years to complete and is an amazing tale.
One of these years Eric and I talk about being in Banff for the actual film festival itself.  It would be a great way to celebrate an anniversary – since we went to Banff for our honeymoon.
Sugar-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins/Cupcakes – makes 16 -18 2 cakes, adapted from The Joy of Cooking, 1974.
Have all ingredients at about 70 degrees.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease or line 16 -18 muffin tins, set aside.
1. Beat until soft: ⅓ cup margarine.  Add gradually: 1 cup mashed bananas (about 1 ½ bananas).  When these ingredients are light and fluffy, beat and blend in well: ½ cup peanut butter.  Combine and beat until  light: 2 eggs, ½ cup stevia, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed.
2.  In a separate bowl, stir together: 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons baking powder.  
3.  Beat the egg mixture into the margarine mixture.  Add the flour mixture to the batter in three parts with ¾ cup almond milk.
4. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.  Fill about ¾ of the way full.  Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes.  Allow to cool in pan about 5 minutes, then remove to cool on wire baking racks.
All muffin pans should come with lids.  Seriously.