Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Update & Berry Banana Bread (that's also good for you!)

So far, I've had a pretty good long weekend. 
The inlaws fed us on Friday, and we got to play with four lovable dogs (including one Miniature Italian Greyhound puppy!).
Saturday, I went to yoga (for the first time in a few weeks), and discovered that the usual instructor has quit teaching.  While I'm sad that I won't be learning from that instructor anymore, I really liked the new teacher.  She had a was really great at having poses for the beginners in the class, while offering lots of options to take poses further (or alternative poses) for more experienced students.  The day was so nice out, that when I got home, I cleaned up in the garden some, and got the yellow wax bush beans, six-week green beans, sugar daddy snap peas and chioggia beets planted!  There's still a lot to do out there, and I still need to buy a ton of potting soil, but it's a good start!

Today, being the last day of my long weekend, I'm relaxing and baking berry banana bread.  I got this recipe from my dad, and it is based on one from a cookbook called Looneyspoons.  It is a low-fat recipe, but don't let that turn you off - it's really moist and flavourful!
You'll need some standard dry ingredients:
Some wet ingredients - including berry yogurt (I'm using blueberry-blackberry today).
And of course, the star ingredient, bananas!  I'm using up the frozen bananas that were in my freezer, which also makes the process easier, in my opinion.  The only downside, really, is that frozen bananas are not very attractive to look at, are they?
Here's why I think using frozen bananas make life easier:  you just have to rip off one end once they've mostly thawed, and squeeze from the other while holding them over your wet ingredient bowl.  They just squoosh right out!
Since the bananas have already partly broken down from being frozen, you don't need to mash them separately - just mush them around in the bowl a bit with a fork or the back of a spoon when mixing all the wet stuff together.
Here's the finished batter, all ready to go.
And here's the finished berry banana bread fresh from the oven.

I promise - it's really yummy!

To make your own, here's what you'll need
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice (or nutmeg, if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites (or the equivalent of egg white substitute)
2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 to 1 cup non-fat berry yogurt (any flavour you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
about 2 cups worth of mashed banana or 3-4 frozen whole bananas
You could also throw in a cup of nuts or chocolate chips if you like

1. Preheat the oven to 325F
2. Grease your loaf pan with butter or margarine.
3. Combine your dry ingredients in one bowl (the first 8 in the list)
4. In a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients.  If you are using fresh, unfrozen bananas, stir all the other wet ingredients first, mash the bananas, and then add them to the already mixed wet ingredients.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir to combine.  It will be sticky!  If the batter seems too dry to you, add a little bit more of the yogurt.
6.  If you are adding nuts or chocolate chips or anything, now is the time!
7.  Pour the batter into your loaf pan and bake for 80 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  I usually rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time to make sure that everything bakes evenly as well.
8. When the time is up, take the bread out of the pan (should be pretty easy since we've greased the pan) and let it cool.  Or at least, let it cool enough so that you don't burn your fingers when you try to slice it!

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flexi-Bendy Weekend

I've been doing yoga (mostly Hatha) off and on for a few years now.*  The last year or so, I've found a studio I really like, with classes at prices I can afford - especially the community classes.  Community classes are great because they are generally easy-going, inexpensive, and part of the money goes to local charities.
I don't get to go as often as I'd like to, in part because I work out in the outskirts of the city and the commute back doesn't always have good timing.  So, I mostly end up doing the Saturday classes.
However, this past weekend, I went to the Yoga Conference with a good friend of mine, who goes to many more classes than I.  She managed to get some free passes into the show (hooray free!) and I had a really good time.
They had a 'yoga garden' (surrounded by planters filled with flowers and cedar trees) in the middle of the main floor where different teachers led free half-hour sessions throughout the day.  We managed to go to three of these sessions early in the day.  The first was led by Jason Crandell, the second by Todd Norian and the third by Seane Corne
Like anything, it was nice to hear from different teachers, with different styles and different perspectives on things.
The free sessions got really crowded really quickly, so we decided to check out the vendors after Seane Corne's session.  I managed to score a new mat & towel from Kulae.  Their mats are made from an environmentally friendly, biodegradable material and it is super light! My old mat was a cheapo one, and is starting to disintegrate, so I'm excited to break in the new one.
My only complaints about the vendor area would be that many of them were starting to run low on stock when it was only the second day of the event, and some of the American vendors were only taking cash or cheques.  This was a bit weird for a Canadian event, since debit/Interac is such a pervasive part of the Canadian landscape now.
All in all, I got to spend an awesome day, with an awesome friend, and learned some new things - even though I did not get to see Woody Harrelson.

*Note: I am not as flexi-bendy as the lady in the photo. Not by a long shot.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cheesy Veggie Pie

I had this great plan this morning where I was going to make homemade poptarts today.  Then I slept in until 11:30 am.  I also had a ton of other household chores to do, so the pastry plan got shelved for this weekend.
However, since I had some frozen, pre-made pie crusts in the freezer, I decided to make a vegetable pie for dinner.  Thank you Tenderflake, for making vegetable shortening pie crusts for lazy vegetarians like me.

Here's how you can make your own cheesy vegetable pie:

Preheat the oven to about 350F and take out your prepared pie crust.  Then, start laying your vegetables in the pie.  I tend to throw in whatever I have available in the house. 
Here you can see corn, carrot slices, cauliflower, wax beans, and diced red pepper.  You could also add broccoli, diced potato, green beans, leeks, etc.  If you have any fresh herbs, I would throw them in now as well.  I happened to have some basil in the house, so I threw in some of that.  Oregano, sage or thyme would also be nice.

Once your pie is mostly filled with your veg, it's time to start making your cheese sauce.  Throw a big blob of butter or margarine in a sauce pan, and then add some diced onion once the fat has melted.

Once the onions have softened, add a clove of diced garlic and cook a few moments more until the garlic has softened.  Then add a spoonful of flour and stir to combine (you want to make a roux at this point).  Once the flour & fat have combined, pour in about a cup of milk and stir.  It should look something like this:

While the milk is heating, grate a huge bunch of cheese.  I used marbled cheddar because that's what I had in the house, but you can use whatever flavour of cheese you like.  I think I ended up with about a cup of grated cheese.
Once your milk has warmed, add your cheese to the mixture, and stir until it melts and turns into  a smooth, cheesy sauce.
Once your sauce is lovely and smooth, pour it over the vegetables in your pie.  You don't want the liquid level to be too high, or it might boil over the edges.

Now it's time to make the crumb topping.  Take 2 tablespoons of cold butter or margarine and put it in a bowl.  Add about an equal amount of flour, and any herbs or spices you like (I added pepper and oregano).

Then use a fork to combine & mash it all together until you get a crumbly mixture.

Spread your crumb mixture evenly over the top of your pie, and then sprinkle a layer of grated parmesan over that.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through, and the top is browned and crisp.
Let it cool before you cut it, or the cheese sauce will ooze out of the pie and turn into a runny mess.  If you do let it cool though, you get nice neat slices of pie to enjoy.  I served my pie with a nice side salad, and it made a great dinner.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Love the Way the Apartment Smells When I Bake

Sunday is usually baking and chores day for me and today was no exception.  A ton of laundry gone completed, as well as cleaning the guinea pig cage, and then the mess they left after floor time.  In between those chores, I got my baking done. 
I started out by making an apple-blueberry pie.  I admit that I was really lazy with this and used store-bought crust that I've had in the freezer.  Unfortunately, it's not a pretty looking pie, as the top crust tried to crumble apart when I was laying it on.  Fortunately for me, it smells amazing!
While the pie was baking, I started on my bread dough.  I decided to a yeast bread instead of a quick bread and I opted to flavour it with dried oregano, rosemary, and fresh black pepper.
My main problem with yeast breads is that we live in a basement apartment, so it's a little cooler than most homes, which can affect the rise of the bread.  Here's my little trick to counteract that fact.

That's right! Stick your bowl of dough, covered with a tea towel, and a glass of freshly boiled water into the microwave.  Then shut the door and set the microwave's timer to go off when the rise should be done.  An added bonus to this method is that you still get to use the oven for other things.

Here's the bread rising away!  Rise bread, rise! You must double in size! 
When the bread was done the first rise, I gave it another little knead, put it on a cookie sheet, and left it to rise again.  When it was done that rise, it got some shallow cuts across the top, and a dusting of cornmeal, and we were finally ready to bake!
The thing I love about this recipe is that the total baking time is only 40 minutes or so.  After waiting around all afternoon for dough to rise, a quick bake is important to me!  Especially when the house smells so delicious you want to eat the air while it's baking. 

Here's the finished product!  It turned out to be a much bigger ball of bread than I expected and I can't wait to cut into it.