Orange Banana Nut Bread

Crappy quality, but this little guy was so tasty!
Crappy quality, but this little guy was so tasty!

Who doesn’t love a nice, moist banana bread in the morning? Or even with a cup of tea at night? Just thinking about it makes me want to bake more. It’s been a few days since I’ve posted due to the holidays, but I wanted to share a little recipe I whipped up last week. I ended up making a little orange-infused banana nut bread before my lovely Thanksgiving trip visiting Taylor’s family (who are excellent cooks, by the way!)

This is partially totally inspired by my abundance of extremely overly ripe bananas and oranges just sitting around at my house. Oh, and because we’re approaching baking season (Hallelujah!!).

I hope you’ll enjoy and try out this take on the traditional banana-nut bread. It sure is a winner with my dad already. The cardamon is a really interesting flavor, but surprisingly works well with the cinnamon and orange. I hope you enjoy!

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Ingredients for the bread:

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed well
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 1 cup crushed walnuts
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tbsp orange zest

For the glaze topping:

  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: The mashed bananas, eggs, butter, orange juice, and zest.
  3. In a larger bowl, sift together the dry ingredients: Flour, sugar, salt, cardamon, and baking soda.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well with a hand-mixer, about 5 minutes, until everything is smooth.
  5. Fold in the chopped walnuts and then pour into a greased 8 1/2 X 4/12 pan. (This recipe will make one, exactly).
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-50 minutes** or until a toothpick is removed clean.

For the glaze:

  1. Melt butter and whisk together with orange juice. Add in sugar.
  2. Next, whisk in the spices and cornstarch until mixture thickens, about a minute. Then you’re done!!

** Now, I was at my parents’ house with their ancient 1980’s oven, so it did not bake very quickly. I would test your oven and judge accordingly. I was anticipating 35-40 minutes, but I had to go longer than that.

I apologize for the low quality photos. It’s hard to achieve natural light, especially since it’s getting so dark out lately. I usually plan my food adventures on days where I know I’ll be getting a fair amount of time and natural light and this was just not one of those cases. Womp, womp.

In other news, I’m so excited to announce that one of my recipes, Merry Moscow Mules, was published in a Buzzed article recently! You can check it out here!

Lighten Up! Easy Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Ritz Velveeta Casserole & Quinoa Harvest Salad: That’s right…two recipes. Bam.  

Two lighter side dishes to add to your Thanksgiving feast that won’t make you feel like you are going to explode and are healthy additions!

Quinoa Harvest Salad
Quinoa Harvest Salad
Ritz-Velveeta Casserole
Ritz-Velveeta Casserole

My family LOVES side dishes. My dad is Polish and Czech and my mom is Syrian and Lebanese, so I suppose you could say it’s really in my blood to enjoy some really tasty side dishes (tabouleh or haluski, anyone?). I’ll definitely be posting some family and heritage-inspired dishes shortly after the holidays. Because, believe it or not, I’ve actually got quite a lot of new recipes and holiday treats that I am dying to try out and share with you all! I’m not gonna lie, I have recipes planned out from right around now until the New Year. Yikes!

Anyyywho, my family typically goes to my aunt Kathy’s home for Thanksgiving and holidays in general. Kathy and her husband Mark always make a delicious turkey and have fantastic staples: Dinner rolls, tabouleh, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc. It’s usually a potluck of sorts, but Kathy and Mark always make the main dishes. One of the new additions that my aunt Frieda started bringing is a Ritz-Velveeta vegetable casserole. This quickly became one of my favorites. It’s ridiculously easy to make and super flavorful. It also adds a nice texture to steamed or boiled veggies. Now, this recipe is actually available online, and you can find it here. (One thing that you will notice if you’re a new follower, or simply didn’t know, was that I like to create all my recipes on my own. Sure, I get inspiration for flavor combinations, but the exact measurements and creations are all my own. That said, I most certainly will ALWAYS give credit where credit is due for recipes that are not my own.)

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Now, with that Ritz recipe in mind, I of course like to tweak it a little bit. I prefer to use fresh vegetables and boil them beforehand. I also add dried herbs to the Ritz-butter crumble to add more of a rich flavor, and then I like to crumble dried Ritz just for added texture at the end.

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Here is my take on the Ritz-Velveeta Casserole:

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Ingredients:

  • 2 sleeves of Ritz crackers, original
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 10-ounce bag of broccoli
  • 1 10-ounce bag of cauliflower
  • 3-4 large carrots, diced into cubes
  • 1 block (32 ounces)  Velvet cheese, cubed
  • 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning: Thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley & oregano
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil all vegetables in a large saucepan over high heat until cooked, about 15 minutes.
  3. Strain vegetables and then shock in a large bowl filled with ice. (Essentially blanching & shocking). Next, lay veggies on a paper towel to dry.
  4. Melt the butter and mix in the Italian seasoning and crush 1 sleeve of the Ritz crackers in the mixture to form a crumble/paste.
  5. In a baking dish, first layer the vegetables, then the cheese, and the crumble on top.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes and finish by crumbling the 2nd sleeve of Ritz on top for added texture.

This recipe serves 6-8 people

 

So delicious!
So delicious!

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This is such a simple and delicious side dish for Thanksgiving, especially if you’ve got picky eaters or kids. It’s a great way to get them to eat some veggies, and nothing is fried!

The next side dish, which is a Rachael original (see what I did there?) , is inspired by the mediterranean tabouleh salad. I love the fresh vegetables and spices all mixed together with the citrus tang. I thought to myself, hmm, I’m going to add a sweet and festive take on something similar!

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So that’s how I came up with the Quinoa Harvest Salad: Quinoa, cranberries, kale, pomegranate, cucumber, feta cheese, and finished off with a lemon-orange vinaigrette. I really like the nuttiness of the quinoa when toasted beforehand and I really cannot get enough of the cranberry-orange combo. This is a perfect way to utilize some of the fall flavors in a healthy side dish that your family and friends will love for Thanksgiving! And it’s pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. So here it is:

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Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups kale
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 large cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup Feta cheese
  • Walnuts, to garnish

For the Lemon-Orange Vinaigrette: 

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • Zest of one lemon and half and orange
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Salad (Serves 4-6 people) 

  1. Cook quinoa according to package (usually 2 parts water to the amount of quinoa, it will definitely expand). Boil for roughly 15 minutes. ** (I prefer to toast the quinoa in the saucepan before adding water to get a nice brown color and get the nutty flavor really prevalent).
  2. When quinoa is done, layer on a dry baking sheet to cool.
  3. Trim kale and boil until cooked, about 10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, mix in cooled quinoa, kale, chopped cucumber, cranberries, pomegranates, feta, and walnuts. Toss with the lemon-orange vinaigrette and voila! There you go.

Vinaigrette (Yields 3/4 cup dressing) 

  1. In a small bowl, mix the red wine vinegar with the EVOO. Zest in the lemon and orange.
  2. Stir in lemon juice and orange juice.
  3. Add in sugar, salt & pepper to taste and whisk everything thoroughly.

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I really wanted to emphasize that these are both dishes that will make your tummy happy but not make you explode! Both have lots of flavor and will really add a nice touch to your holiday dishes. And they’re not loaded with carbs or fried! Bonus. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you enjoy the day with your friends and family and have lots to be thankful for. 🙂

Pittsburgh Harvest Tasting

Yesterday, Taylor and I had gone to Pittsburgh’s 4th annual Harvest Tasting. What is the Harvest Tasting, you may ask? Well, let me tell you!

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The Harvest Tasting is an event planned by Pittsburgh’s organization, Farm to Table. This even showcases the region’s farmers, artisans, and local wine, beer, and food vendors. You can check out their blog/website here for more info on the organization

The only warmth for these kind and wonderful vendors!
The only warmth for these kind and wonderful vendors!

The event was held at the Waterfront, a popular shopping and dining area for Pittsburghers and was held in a large tent that featured over nearly 50(!) vendors. I thought this was such a cool idea, not only for local foodies and artisans, but for families in the area and just people looking to get involved with healthy, fresh, farm to table eating. I just wanted to post and let others know for next year about this cool event and checking out the organization.

Goot Essa Cheese Vendor
Goot Essa Cheese Vendor

Taylor and I particularly enjoyed some of the craft beer samples, locally sourced honey, and my favorite, the cheese and olive oil samples. If you’re interested in checking out a list of this year’s vendors, you can view the link here. My favorites were definitely the cherry ale I tried, the cheese and jam combo from Goot Essa, the lovely wine sample from Enginehouse 25, and the basil olive oil from the Olive Tap. Every vendor deserves a warm thank you, however. I am not trying to undermine the effort that these artisans make and all of their treats were honestly delicious, and trust me: If I had the money, I certainly would have bought something from each vendor, either for myself or as a nice gift.

Although the event is over, I would highly recommend checking out some of the vendors’ websites or stores. Artisan foods and treats not only make the best holiday gifts, but it’s also warming to know that you are supporting local businesses. 🙂

 

-R

Pumpkin Scones with a Chipotle Chocolate Glaze

 

horizontalscones (1 of 1)Everyone has their own opinion about pumpkin. I personally love it, but only for a short while every year. Usually, particularly lately, I’ve been pumpkin-ed out before Thanksgiving. It’s just been an overload everywhere, plus, I think I tend to get really excited early Fall to start cooking and baking with pumpkin again. I think that the American culture has recently become OBSESSED with it ever since the whole pumpkin spice latte became a major hit a few years ago. And I mean OBSESSED. I seriously cannot remember there ever being pumpkin flavored crackers, cereal, yogurt, granola, or even chips (what?) before in the stores until maybe two or three years ago. Alas, I wanted to have one final pumpkin ‘hoorah!’ before the season was over.

All of the ingredients you will need!
All of the ingredients you will need!

I was inspired at work…of course…because all I do is think about food. I’m only half-serious. But anyways, yes, I was inspired to combine the rich flavor of pumpkin with the warming and spicy flavor of a Mexican chocolate. I’ve been watching a lot of Bobby Flay and Food Network Challenges lately, which always seem to speak to me because there’s always an episode about flavor combinations (YES, Puuuuhleassse!) and Bobby definitely tends to cook on the spicier side. That’s where my idea for the chipotle came into account. I wanted the flavor of the chocolate and chipotle to really compliment and infuse with the the pumpkin and all it’s cinnamon-y goodness.

Two separate bowls for the west and dry ingredients.
Two separate bowls for the west and dry ingredients.

Ingredients for the scones:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/3-1/2 cup brown sugar*
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tbsp very cold butter, cubed
  • 1 egg

* If you are making these without the chocolate glaze, I would recommend using 1/2 cup brown sugar for full sweetness. I prefer a little less sweet when using the glaze.

Ingredients for the Chipotle Chocolate Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp corn syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2-1 tsp chipotle chili powder*

* For more heat, use a full teaspoon. I like mine a bit more subtle with the 1/3 tsp.

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Cutting the dough into 8 different pieces per half.
Cutting the dough into 8 different pieces per half.

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Directions:

For the Pumpkin Scones:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and spray two medium nonstick cookie sheets with nonstick spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients: Flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and stir until well-mixed.
  3. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except butter!): Canned pumpkin, heavy cream, the egg, and vanilla.
  4. Cut in the butter to the dry mixture with a pastry blender.
  5. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and fold until dough forms.
  6. Knead dough on a floured surface and cut into two halves.
  7. One half at a time, press dough into a small saucepan to form a circle, then cut into 8 slices.
  8. Place scones on the baking sheets and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 10-12 minutes.

This recipe yields approx. 16 scones. 

For the Chipotle Chocolate Glaze: 

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk together over medium heat.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil for 5 minutes and continue to whisk until the chocolate is smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and continue to whisk, then immediately pour over scones.

Enjoy!

 

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Merry Moscow Mules

Delicious and festive take on Moscow Mules!
Delicious and festive take on Moscow Mules!

Moscow mules are definitely making a comeback. And, I mean, why not?! They’re delicious! The subtle lime with the ginger and minty flavors is really refreshing, and I think ginger is seriously underrated. Just a little bit, and BAM. It makes for a really nice addition to simple flavors to add a ‘wow’ factor.

I wanted to try my hand at making my own, and when I was researching the traditional mule, I was surprised that there was no gin. Only vodka for these guys. Which again, I think says a lot for the ginger beer on its own. That said, I wanted to a get a little creative and put my own festive spin on it. The combination of cranberry and orange this time of year is absolutely perfect. You get a bright, citrus, tangy, and sweet combination and what better time to concoct this cranberry-orange ‘mule than right before Thanksgiving celebrations and parties? I mean, hello, it’s going to be wonderful. So here ya have it, folks.

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Ingredients (for 2 Merry Moscow Mules)

  • 3 ounces Vodka
  • 8 ounces ginger beer
  • 2 ounces simple syrup
  • 3 ounces cranberry juice
  • 3 ounces freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Splash of lime juice
  • Orange slices, cranberries, & mint to garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients, shake gently, and pour over crushed ice into Moscow Mule mugs. Enjoy!

Mmm, mmm good.
Mmm, mmm good.

Lemon Spinach & Artichoke Dip

SpinachArtichokehalf

Spinach and artichoke dip is one of my newfound favorite pub/bar/restaurant snacks to order as an appetizer. I never really had a taste for the flavors together before, but as they say, your tastebuds change every so many years. I knew I wanted to make my own recipe for this dip, as usually when I follow recipes I’ve found online, the texture is usually too thick and creamy or too watery. I also was partially inspired by an appetizer I had gotten at an Irish pub in Myrtle Beach. Their spinach & artichoke dip had a hint of lemon which really added a nice pop. That’s how I came to create my own dip!

The diced & drained artichokes.
The diced & drained artichokes.
Everything was smelling SO good at this point.
Everything was smelling SO good at this point.

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-ounce can of quartered artichokes, drained and chopped
  • 1 16-ounce bag of spinach
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened and cubed
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup mixed Italian shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • Salt & pepper, to taste.
  1. Drain the artichokes and chop to get smaller, bite-sized chunks.
  2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the artichokes, garlic, and butter and sauté.
  3. Add in the cream cheese, one cube at a time.
  4. Add the mayonnaise, shredded cheese, and lemon juice and mix thoroughly for about 5-10 minutes.
  5. Fold in spinach, one handful at a time and mix together with the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Keep stirring mixture until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and serve immediately in a medium-sized bowl.
  7. Optional: You can also preheat the oven to 350 degrees, put the dip in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle a layer of cheese on top and bake until cheese forms a nice brown layer, about 10-15 minutes.

Recipe serves 8-10 people. 

Voila!
Voila!

This dip is so lemony and good. It really packs a punch and gives the dip an added element, and I hope you’ll think so too!

Hartzell House & Ohiopyle

So this past weekend, my boyfriend Taylor and I had left Pittsburgh on an outing to a Bed & Breakfast in Ohiopyle for his belated birthday celebration! I knew I wanted to surprise him this year (which I sort of accomplished. Sort of) and we both love weekend getaways. It’s just so nice to get away from the city and spend some time outdoors. He loves everything outdoorsy and I knew he had been to Ohiopyle once, but only briefly as he cycled by. I have only been there once myself when I was very young. I also thought that I wanted to do something a little bit different. Last Christmas, he surprised me with a weekend cabin stay in North Carolina was absolutely perfect, and we had stayed in a hotel and condo over the summer for other trips we have taken together. That left me with the thought of a Bed & Breakfast! I knew neither of us have ever been to a B&B before, but figured we’d enjoy it. I did some research online for good reviews, with a Victorian theme (our favorite!) for over a handful of activities in the beautiful Laurel Highlands, in a nice central location for lots of activities.

Hartzell House B&B
Hartzell House B&B 🙂

That said, this is how I stumbled upon the gorgeous Hartzell House in Addison, PA! I want to preface the remainder of this post with the fact that I am not getting endorsed nor influenced to write a review about Hartzell House by any means. What I am sharing with you is how Taylor and I truly felt upon our stay and 100% real feeling. Hartzell House was absolutely incredible. This experience set the bar extremely high if we ever stay at another B&B when we travel. Kitty and David, the owners, have an extremely well-maintained Victorian B&B and they cook some of the BEST breakfast I’ve ever had. The cleanliness of the space was outstanding and the bed was very comfortable. But, my goodness; the breakfast was incredible. It was such a wonderful experience. And experience is the exact word for the breakfast!

This photo doesn't even do the French Toast justice!
This photo doesn’t even do the French Toast justice!

When we arrived Friday, David greeted us and, gave us a lovely tour, and took our breakfast orders. When we were given the options, we were astonished at how incredible all of the options sounded: A mushroom and shallot quiche, pumpkin polenta with cranberries, and a spiced waffle with ginger syrup (UMM YUM!). Saturday morning, we met a few other couples downstairs and were greeted by Kitty and then received the first course (yes, really!) for our breakfast, which was a ginger-spiced yogurt with fresh fruit, which was a fantastic combination of flavors, and a spiced apple scone. Then Taylor and I received our pumpkin polenta and spiced waffle. I couldn’t believe how amazing and hospitable these people were. Not only were they wonderful hosts, but also superb chefs. I wish I would have taken my camera downstairs to photograph the breakfast, but hopefully next time I’ll get a chance. This morning’s breakfast was just as amazing with a fruit-stuffed french toast, which I actually have photo documentation of because it was just that beautiful!

I know I may be rambling or ranting, but I seriously highly encourage you to check out Hartzell House if you’re in the area (or even if you’re not, you really must go). It truly was incredible and I can’t wait to go back for another stay! I have included a link to the Hartzell House website and their Facebook page at the bottom of this post.

The other portion of our trip included cycling the Greater Allegheny Passage (GAP) from Ohiopyle, checking out the waterfalls and trails, a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and a taste of the Mountain State Brewing Company. Taylor is an avid cycler and I definitely wanted to make sure we were able to get some bike time in this trip, and we were certainly in luck with the weather. Overall, we had a fantastic weekend full of good food, nice weather, and wonderful company. 🙂

Fallingwater from the viewing spot where the Kaufmann's originally throughout their house would be built.
Fallingwater from the viewing spot where the Kaufmann’s originally throughout their house would be built.
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Beautiful weather for Ohiopyle!
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I couldn’t get over how pretty this trail was.
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One more, just for safe keeping.

–R

 

As promised, links to the Hartzell House website: http://www.hartzellhouse.com and Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/hartzellhouse/?fref=ts