"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing..." -Helen Keller
 
Chocolate Chip Espresso Banana Bread. Does anything about that sound bad in the least? We sure didn't think so, so we dusted off those mini-loaf pans we'd used last winter for holiday gifts for the neighbors and decided to give this recipe a try! It was delish in every way! We've already made it a second time!

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Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup bananas
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. milk
1 egg
1 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. instant coffee powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/2 - 1/3 c. chocolate chips

Combine ingredients & distribute into mini-loaf pans. Makes 3 loaves. (The picture below is from a double recipe.)

I baked it for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
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A while back, a friend of mine made this carrot casserole. Now, I'm not normally a fan of cooked carrots, but it was really good, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. I tried to tweak the recipe for healthiness, but as you can see by my notes below, I think the original chef knew what they were doing when they added the sugar and butter that they did.

Ingredients:
3 lbs. carrots, sliced
2/3 cup sugar (I reduced it to 1/3 c. but probably should have gone with the full amount.)
1/2 cup butter (I omitted it-- of course it would probably be better with.)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp orange rind
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1. Cook sliced carrots in boiling water to cover in a saucepan 20-25 minutes or until tender; drain and let cool slightly.  Mash carrots in a bowl until smooth.
2.  Stir together mashed carrots, sugar, and remaining ingredients until blended.  Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 11x7 inch baking dish.
3.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 40 minutes.
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Summer. A time for accomplishing things, right? Well, that's usually my approach to life when I have free time. So this summer, I want to learn how to cook/prepare more dishes using fresh fruits and veggies. I tried my hand at this one from a raw food website, and loved it! This whole fruit-and-veggie cooking thing is off to a good start!
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Dressing Ingredients:
1 c. cashews, soaked at least two hours
juice from 1 1/2 lemons
1/4 c. water
2 small shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 T. honey
1/2 T. vinegar
pinch of salt

I mixed these in the blender until smooth.

Salad ingredients:
6 c. chopped broccoli
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 c. raisins
1 c. sunflower seeds
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I mixed the salad ingredients, then I added the dressing. After tossing it evenly, I allowed it to refrigerate for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. This was healthy and tasty, and most of all, incredibly simple to make.
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Mangoes. Peaches. Bliss. What better snack than a little mango-peach cobbler? Really, it was fantastic. It was also a much-needed way to use up a huge bag of mangoes we'd bought another bag of peaches we'd been given. I checked out a few recipes online to get some ideas, then I whipped this one up on my own.

Ingredients:
8 small peaches, sliced
8 small mangoes, peeled and diced
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/4 c. oat flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 c. milk

First, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees. Then I combined peaches, mangoes, 3 T. sugar, the cornstarch, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a saucepan. I heated it until it boiled and then let it simmer for a minute or so until it was thick.
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I poured it into a 10'' round baking dish while I mixed the flours, 1 T. sugar, baking powder, salt, wheat germ, and milk until it was moistened evenly.
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I poured the topping onto the peach and mango mixture and baked it for about 30 minutes until it had browned on the top. This will certainly be appearing again in my kitchen this summer!
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After reading an article about a gourmet grilled cheese making contest, I figured it was time to mix up the usual cheese sandwich with a couple of add-ins.
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First I laid out the bread and covered it corner-to-corner with cheese. Then I sliced and sauteed some mushrooms and laid them out on the bread.
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Finally I added some sliced olives, then topped each sandwich with another plain piece of bread and toasted them in our overgrown toaster oven until browned and melty. These were fantastic.
 
Pesto Gnocchi 05/15/2011
 
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For Christmas, Austin bought me a package of gnocchi, which I think just means potato dumplings. I'd never cooked them before, never mind eaten them, so they've been sitting in our little pantry for almost 5 months now. Well, last night I did it-- I cooked the gnocchi, and we loved it! I just mixed and matched ideas from a whole bunch of online recipes I browsed. Here goes...

Ingredients:
1 cup zucchini, diced
1 cup tomato, diced
3 mini-onions (maybe shallots? I don't really know.), minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 t. oregano
1/2 cup pesto sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup almonds, toasted
3/4 cup shredded duck (or chicken. I thought I was buying chicken, but there was a duck head in the bag, so I'm pretty sure I bought duck.)
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling
18 oz. gnocchi, prepared

First, I prepared the gnocchi & the pesto sauce, setting them aside in separate bowls.

Then I cooked the garlic & baby onions in just about a teaspoon of oil before adding the zucchini cubes. I added some water a few times in order to add a little steam and keep things from burning. I wanted to cook the zucchini until it was tender but still a little crisp. When it felt like it was just about ready, I threw in the tomato cubes, the duck, the oregano, some salt, and the pesto sauce and stir-fried it for another one or two minutes.

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After that, I combined it with the gnocchi, topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan, a sprinkle of black pepper, and a sprinkle of toasted almond pieces. This was delish, and all in less than 15 minutes. Fantastic.
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What's summer without popsicles? With the weather getting warmer, it was time to kick off summer snack-making with a round of 100% fruit popsicles.

These popsicle holders were one of our few posessions from America selected to come on over in our packed suitcases. They're wonderful, with the handle that catches the juice as the popsicle melts.

These turned out pretty well.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup apple juice
1/2 lemon,  juiced
1/2 small watermelon, cubed
2 bananas

I blended it, filled the popsicle holders, and popped them in the freezer. Fantastic.
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I had some leftover corn and black beans from the Quesadilla Casserole yesterday, so I Googled "corn & black beans" and found this black bean and corn salad recipe from Rachael Ray. It looked tasty, so I decided to give it a shot, adapting just the smallest bit. Yum!
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Ingredients:
2 cups black beans
2.5 cups corn kernels
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 spicy red pepper, chopped (The original recipe called for a red bell pepper; I didn't find one at the market, but I think that would be great.)
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
salt and black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 lime or lemon, juiced

*After making this, I think next time it would be really good to add cilantro and a fresh tomato chopped. Also, more black beans would be a great addition.

Combine ingredients & allow to sit for at least 15 minutes so flavors can blend.

We ate this with some baked chips for lunch.
 
Tortillas 05/12/2011
 
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I found this recipe on a "From Scratch" website. I've got to admire the people who have multiple children, AND cook from scratch AND take time to blog about it AND, in those blogs, mention that they also think it's a great idea to have their own gardens, grow their own vegetables, and raise their own livestock!

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 t. oil
3/4 c. warm milk

Combine ingredients and knead until firm and soft. This took me about 5 minutes. Then I let it rest for 20 minutes.

I formed it into 8 balls and let them rest for another 10 minutes.
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Then I rolled each ball as thin as I could (I was aiming to make 8" tortillas and usually got about 6-7") and then cooked them on a dry skillet for about 30 seconds on each side until lightly browned & usually a little bubbly. These weren't quite as flat as store-bought tortillas, but they tasted great and worked really well in a quesadilla casserole I made.
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Well, it was time for Project Casserole to continue, so I decided to try out a Quesadilla Casserole I found on Chef Jeff's website. This turned out really well. Our meal finished with an exclamation of, "Wow! We have to make this like, every week!" Oh, the appreciation adds such motivation to my culinary experiments.

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 t. chili powder
1 t. cumin
1 t. garlic, minced
1/2 t. oregano
1 1/2 c. tomato sauce
3 spicy green peppers, chopped
2 c. black beans
1 c. corn
1/2 t. red pepper
cheese (about 2 cups is what the original recipe called for; I used about 14 cheese singles b/c that's all we've got)
6- 8" tortillas

Brown the beef and onion, then add the next 8 ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about 5 minutes.
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I added a layer of the saucy-meat mixture on the bottom of my 13 x 9ish pan, then added a layer of 3 tortillas. (I made the tortillas, & you can see the recipe under the bread category on the right side.) Then I added half of the remaining meat mixture, a layer of cheese, another layer of tortillas, the rest of the sauce, and the rest of the cheese.

At this point, everything was cooked, but I covered it with tinfoil, popped it into the oven for about 20 minutes and baked it at 350 degrees. Then I removed the foil and allowed the cheese to brown a little.

This was a big hit on the home-front as well as with some Chinese friends we served it to tonight as leftovers!
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