A Bright Recipe for a Dreary Month: Banana Bread with Olive Oil and Lemon

As I already told you all in my granola post last week, this year marks my second attempt at trying to cook my way through my favorite cookbook. Last year I made it through almost all ten “February” recipes, and I’m not sure how I didn’t make this banana bread recipe as soon as possible, because I love banana bread. And zucchini bread, and coconut bread, and really any loaf-type bread that I can kind of pretend is healthy but that’s really an afternoon (or breakfast!) treat. I’ve been really into this recipe lately, and getting really confident (aggressive) with swapping oat flour, brown rice flour, almond meal, wheat germ, flax seed meal, etc. for the white flour – it’s kind of amazing because no matter how much scarily-healthy stuff I dump in, it still turns out delicious every time. I also love this one from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook (since I really can’t get enough coconut). This one is next on my list – lemon or grapefruit, I can’t decide. It’s clearly a cake, though, so I probably can’t rationalize making both.

Melissa’s recipe is definitely on the sweeter side, but since it’s made with olive oil, brown sugar and whole wheat flour, we still get to pretend it’s quasi-healthy. Minus the chocolate chips and frosting, which you could easily omit (and/or use nuts instead of chocolate, if you’d prefer). The lemon is pretty subtle (especially without the glaze), but it still lends a fresh and slightly tart flavor to the bread. For purposes of this blog post, I followed her recipe exactly, but I’m pretty sure you could easily use whole wheat flour/oat flour/rice flour/almond meal/etc. in place of some or all of the white flour – it just might make for a denser cake bread.

If you’re not worried about white flour, or butter, or sugar, etc., there are a million recipes out there that can meet your needs – I’ve been dying to try this one (which, interestingly enough, has lemon in it too!). But if you want to dip your toe into the waters of baking with white flour substitutes and olive oil, this recipe is a good way to do so. I promise you’ll never miss the butter!

If anyone has a favorite banana bread recipe, I would love to hear it! Or any tips for using my new obsession, almond meal ($3.99 for a huge bag of it at Trader Joe’s – if you take anything away from reading this, let it be that) . Now that bathing suit season is approaching, I’ve got to start using it to bread chicken instead of in cakes and cookies, I’m afraid, but it’s so delicious I almost don’t mind.

Melissa Clark’s Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (I used chips)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3-4 bananas)
1/4 cup sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the chocolate pieces and combine well.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until dark golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to one hour (note: mine took probably an extra 10-15 minutes).

4. Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

5. While the cake is almost cool, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, spreading with a spatula to cover.

6. Tell yourself this is totally appropriate to eat for breakfast. It is banana bread, after all!

Advertisements

Friday Faves

Ughhhhhhhh

Ughhhhhhhh

Somehow it feels like it’s been the longest week ever, even though Monday was a holiday (I worked, but I went into the office in a sweatshirt and yoga pants, so it still felt kind of like a holiday). The past few days of rain and 37 degree temperatures have me SO excited for my trip to Scottsdale tomorrow – despite the fact that I have to leave for the airport at 5 am. I can’t wait to park myself in a chaise lounge and soak up some much needed Vitamin D. But in the meantime, some highlights from the week:

We all know the right jewelry can add interest or personality to an outfit, especially when your wardrobe mainly consists of black, like mine does. I’ve never been much of an accessorizer, but lately I’ve been trying to be better about it. As a general rule, I don’t like to pay full price at J. Crew, but three of these bracelets were on final sale (40% off the already-reduced sale price), and the fourth was on “promotion” – somehow different than “sale,” a J. Crew “promotion” means an item is 25% off, yet still returnable. Woop! I wore these to work the day after I bought them and, even though I had to take them off in order to actually do any work (who can wear a bracelet and type?), I like to think that for the 10 minutes they were actually on my wrist, I looked like a whole new person.

Flywheel is a hip new(ish) spin/barre studio in Seattle, and on top of the great classes and free towels/lockers/hair powder, one of the things I love about it is that so many of my friends work out there. As much as I don’t love getting out of bed early on the weekends, it’s much easier to do so when you’ve made plans to meet your girlfriends for a class and then get breakfast afterwards. I had a fun barre-and-croissant date with my friends Lindsay and Meredith this past Saturday, and Meredith made Lindsay and me homemade hairbands and headbands for the occasion. You know the super cute colorful elastics that don’t tear your hair? I’ve been paying $5 for a pack of three – Mer is so crafty and economical, she orders the elastic online and makes her own (check out her blog here and you’ll see she’s a serious DIY-er). And if you ever want to get really crafty, I stumbled upon this blog when I was google-searching how to buy the elastic to do it myself – if only I owned a “silhouette machine” I would totally do this.

A month or so ago an old trainer of mine posted a blog link on facebook, with the caption that the blog listed a few “small changes” people could make to improve their overall health and fitness. Always looking for self improvement tips, I clicked onto the link and discovered Sarah Adler’s blog Simply Real Health, which I would encourage anyone to read if they’re interested (healthy recipes, etc). The “small” changes, however, seemed pretty big to me – but one was “drink more green tea than coffee.” Seeing as how two of my goals were already “drink green tea” and “spend less money at Starbucks,” I’ve been attempting to do this over the past few weeks. While it hasn’t been easy – old habits die hard, especially when you have a boring job and there’s a Starbucks in your building – this TAZO tea is really helping me stay on track. I think the orange-y flavor (remember the original Starbucks flavor “wild sweet orange” that they don’t have any more?) makes it taste less “green” and bitter. And it has jasmine in it too, yum. Just one cup of this in the morning and I feel like I’m totally sticking to my New Years Resolutions, even if I did eat an entire basket of chips and have two cocktails at Cactus last night.

My friend Courteney is in town from Boston this week, and she brought her adorable two month old baby Charlie with her. Her sister (and also my friend) Kyle is hosting all of Court’s Seattle girlfriends at her house tonight so that we can all see Court and meet Charlie. Kyle pretty much has the whole entertaining thing down these days so she doesn’t need my help at all, but obviously I can’t show up empty handed. As these girls both have better taste in wine than I do, I thought it would be fun to bring a sweet treat instead. I saw these on one of my favorite blogs earlier in the week and decided this would be the perfect excuse to try them. I couldn’t find black sprinkles, so Court is such a colorful person that I decided to use multicolored sprinkles instead. Good friends, a sweet new baby to cuddle, wine, and a sweet and salty treat – perfect Friday night!

I really love both the Sprouted Kitchen blog and cookbook – it’s so much more fun to cook and eat healthy with fun new recipes, rather than just eating green salads with grilled chicken ad nauseam. The following kale “chopped” salad is from the cookbook, and it’s my new go-to for packing lunches on the weekdays. Kale (especially Tuscan kale) is perfect for packing lunches because you can toss the leaves with the dressing, and they don’t wilt – and for anyone who isn’t sold on raw kale yet, the dressing almost serves as a marinade to soften it up and take some of the bitterness away. On weeks when I really have my act together, I’ll buy a couple bunches of kale on Sunday, and then prep it (wash, cut out center rib, chop into bite sized pieces) when I get home. Then each morning before work (or night before, even) I’ll do one tupperware with kale and dressing, and another with the remainder of the salad ingredients (I don’t like them to get soggy in the dressing) and I have a delicious lunch to bring into work. Also worth noting: I am typically a salad-dressing-hater, but this vinaigrette recipe is delicious – I suspect it has something to do with the cheese.

Tuscan Kale Chopped Salad (from the Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook, by Sara Forte)

Serves 4

Parmesan Vinaigrette
1 small shallot, chopped (I roast mine first)
Juice of 1 meyer lemon (or regular lemon if you can’t find meyer)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Salad
2 slices rustic whole-grain bread, torn into bite size pieces (I usually omit this)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
1 bunch lacinato (Tuscan) kale
1 apple, such as Braeburn, Gala, or Pink Lady (I’ve been using Honeycrisp, yummm)
1 cup cooked chickpeas, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped

To make the vinaigrette, combine the shallot, lemon juice, parmesan, and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth, then add a pinch of salt and pepper and give one last pulse. Set aside.

Toss the bread with the olive oil and salt. Toast in a toaster oven or in a sauté pan over medium heat until the exterior of the bread is crispy, about 10 minutes.

To assemble the salad, cut the tough stems out of the kale and finally chop the leaves. Put the chopped kale in a large bowl. Core and dice the apple and add to the kale along with the chickpeas, pecans and cherries. Add half of the dressing and toss to combine. Taste and add more dressing if you like. Divide among four salad plates and garnish each serving with crispy croutons immediately before serving.

Happy Friday, everyone! Did I mention I’m off to Scottsdale tomorrow? The forecast isn’t quite what I’d hoped for (high 70s), but at least it’s going to be sunny. Hopefully I’ll have some fun pics and stories to share when I get back! XOXO

Double Coconut Granola (and a Cookbook Recommendation)

IMG_6042

IMG_6036

For anyone out there who has a hard time coming up with what to make for dinner each night, I would suggest you order Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now immediately. It’s only $12 on Amazon, and it’s completely changed the way I think about cooking. The cookbook is divided up into 12 chapters – one chapter for each month of the year, and each chapter containing 10 recipes that should be made in that month. Maybe it’s because I love to follow rules, but this structure really speaks to me. I’m sure I used to at least subconsciously think about cooking/eating seasonally – and I’ll make any recipe I can find with the word “pumpkin” in its title during October and November – but I never used to think of April as the month for asparagus and rhubarb, or August as the month for eggplant. Ever since my friend Lindsay introduced me to Cook This Now, however, it’s been a fun new challenge to shop not just for seasonal produce but even meat and fish. Linds sent me the book at the end of 2011, so I set out to cook my way through it in 2012, Julie and Julia style. 10 recipes per month seems totally doable, right? Of course I didn’t make it, but in Month One I was still going strong. “Double Coconut Granola” was the last remaining recipe I had to try at the end of January last year, and I was (co)hosting my book club girlfriends for a getaway at Hood Canal the last weekend of the month, so I thought it would make a perfect “favor.”

IMG_6037

IMG_6038

It turned out so delicious that I made a second batch as soon as I got home from Hood Canal – and in order to not eat the entire thing myself (turns out granola is really just deconstructed oatmeal cookies), I packaged it up and brought it to my aunt Molly’s birthday dinner that night. She loved it so much that I had to make it for her again this year (and this time, give her the cookbook to go with it). Molly is one of the most generous people I’ve ever known – she is always thinking of others, doing for others, worrying about others – so of course I was thrilled to be able to give her something she was excited about. She never shows up to a meal without a delicious treat or the perfect bottle of wine, she never lets a birthday go by without an over the top gift, and when I offhandedly mentioned to her last year that a girlfriend was house hunting in her neighborhood, she found my friend (also named Molly) the perfect house, two houses down from her adorable bungalow in Northeast Portland. Now the two Mollys are neighbors, and theirs is a street I love to visit, granola in hand.

IMG_6039

I should probably tell you at some point that I really, really love coconut, possibly more than the average person. Granola, cupcakes, curries, pina coladas, you name it. If you don’t love it as much as I do, or if you don’t have coconut oil on hand, this recipe would work just fine with olive oil instead. And if you’re really coconut-adverse, you can leave out the flakes too – the beauty of homemade granola, I’ve found, is that you can tweak any of the ingredients to your liking.

IMG_6040

It seems wrong to be talking about a “monthly” cookbook, and then posting a recipe from the wrong month, but this granola is too good not to share, and I promise you it’s as delicious in February as it is in January. As I still have a lot of recipes to catch up on from last year, I’ll try to share them during the appropriate months going forward. And I can’t wait for next fall when I can write about my other favorite granola recipe, pumpkin pecan (see above re: making anything involving pumpkin). Who knew granola could be so seasonal?

IMG_6041

Double Coconut Granola, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw pecans
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup coconut chips
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients but the cherries (I usually combine all the dry ingredients, then stir the maple syrup and coconut oil together and pour them over the oat/nut mixture and combine until the oats are coated).

3. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake until golden all over, about 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

4. Transfer granola to a large bowl and add the cherries, tossing to combine.

For another fabulous blog post on granola (because who doesn’t want to read more than one), please visit my friend Yoona’s blog. Yoona is my blogging inspiration, and as I was writing this I started to remember (panic) that she had already written about granola, and that I was accidentally copying her. Turns out she not only writes about it, but gives you her own recipe, and tells you how to package it much cuter than I do. I mean, even her ribbon looks better than mine. Dang it! Oh well, what are friends for if not to inspire us, right? Next time I’m doing a gift tag too.

Friday Favorites

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

When I started this blog last week, one of the questions a lot of people asked me was how often I planned to post. Apparently there’s a fine line between posting frequently enough that people stay interested and so frequently that people get sick of you. I’m hoping two days per week (+/-) is a happy medium, and on the off chance I can’t come up with two blog-worth recipes each week, I thought it would be fun to do a weekly “Friday Favorites” post where I can share any fun photos, ideas, or highlights from the week. Since a lot of what I’ve been doing the past few days involves my favorite holiday, however, I thought I should probably post this before we’re all over Valentines Day and moving on to shamrock cookies and green beer – or maybe just the upcoming three-day weekend. So, this week Friday is coming early here at Blueberries & Basil! If only that meant we got to sleep in tomorrow, too.

I’ve had these red and white Hershey’s kisses in my freezer since early December, when I used the first half of the bag to make these for a cookie exchange some girlfriends host each Christmas. Rather than tossing (or eating!) the leftovers, I thought they would make cute Valentines cookies, using pink sanding sugar in lieu of red and green. I think they turned out so cute, next Christmas I’m going to stock up on the kisses so that I have leftovers for the Fourth of July too – how patriotic would the red and white stripes be with blue sprinkles?

This past weekend I was visiting with my friend Heather while her two year old daughter Eleanor and my 3-1/2-year-old cousin Merrin played in Merrin’s play kitchen nearby. My sister stopped by to say hello and, having not seen Eleanor in awhile, said to Heather “she has the MOST AMAZING EYELASHES.” Merrin, not to be outdone, marched over to my sister, stuck her little face right in my sister’s face (Abby was sitting in a chair so they were eye to eye) and pointed directly to her own eyelashes with a look that said “excuse me?” Once Abby assured Merrin that her eyelashes were also very beautiful, Merr went back to her kitchen and happily poured us all some pretend tea. Point being, I guess we all want amazing eyelashes even from a young age. Tragically, I was not blessed with Eleanor’s lashes. A girlfriend at work recently got eyelash extensions, and even though I’ve had them before and they were torture on my sensitive eyes, hers now make me want them again. It’s hard enough for me to keep up with my nails, though, so I’m not sure how I would find the time (or $$$) for the constant fills lash extensions require. While in Portland this weekend I stopped by my favorite “beauty bar” in hopes of finding a new mascara so amazing I would no longer covet extensions. Blush has about 50 mascara choices, so I chatted with the salesgirl and she recommended the Lorac Pro. It lengthens, thickens, volumizes, etc. The brush has a little pointy tip so you can really get into the corners of your eyes and draw out those lashes. I still don’t have Eleanor’s lashes, or even lashes anyone is going to mistake for extensions, but for $23 I’m pretty happy with it. If anyone has any mascara (or lash extension) recommendations for me, I would love to hear them in the comments!

BFF, Baby, Joy - thanks Kyle and Alyson!

BFF, Baby, Joy – thanks Kyle and Alyson!

Anyone who lives in Seattle knows (or at least should know) about Glassybaby. These little hand-blown votives truly are one of my favorite things – I have way too many but can’t seem to get enough. I love switching out colors for the season or holiday. They make the perfect gift for birthdays, holidays, hostess gifts, or just because. My aunt Laurie gave me my very first Glassybaby (a set of three – so generous!) for my birthday in 2006, and now my collection has grown to…..let’s just say, a number too embarrassing to admit. Many I’ve received as gifts, or purchased as part of a fundraiser – Glassybaby is a wonderful company to support, so I don’t feel that bad. To date, Glassybaby has donated over $1.25 million to cancer research and other charities dedicated to healing – which means I should probably go buy a couple more this weekend!

"Lauren" polish (and my chevron phone case from J. Crew)

“Lauren” polish (and my chevron phone case from J. Crew)

I might have a manicure problem. Much like with sugar cookies, I can’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate a holiday without a thematic nail polish color. Today’s was “Lauren” from Julep, my favorite “green” mani/pedi salon in downtown Seattle. Julep is owned by a former Starbucks exec who wanted her salons to be another “third place” – did everyone already know this was the Starbucks concept? Because I only learned that when reading about Jane Park, Julep’s founder. We have home, we have work, and then we have somewhere to meet our girlfriends after work or at lunch, where they bring us tea and warm neck pillows, paint our nails, and let us watch reruns of Sex and The City. A fun fact about Jane Park – she has her law degree from Yale. Anyone who can take their JD and use it for something other than practicing law is obviously a guru of mine.

My very dear friend Lindsay celebrated her birthday this past Tuesday. Linds and I have been friends since college (which sadly means we’ve been friends for a long time now!) and one of my favorite memories of senior year is when she and I would walk to class together every morning, stopping at Starbucks on “The Ave” to get our identical double tall nonfat toffee nut lattes. We took turns paying for the drinks, and took our alternating payment schedule VERY seriously. These days, we fight over who “gets” to pay, instead – I guess that really means we’ve grown up. Linds and I live in different cities now, but on Tuesday afternoon I sat at Starbucks (really sat! with a “for here” mug!) and enjoyed a delicious toffee nut latte in her honor. Icing on the cake: Starbucks was sampling not one but TWO yummy samples. Happy Birthday Linds!

*A quick sidenote to our toffee nut latte tradition: it began because we had a class together called “Marx and Lenin” – not sure WHAT ever possessed me to sign up for that class. It might actually have been Linds. But needless to say, it was WAY over this business major’s head, and I didn’t last long before dropping out. I think that was the only class I ever dropped in all of undergrad or grad school, although I couldn’t swear to it. Linds stuck with Karl and Vladamir, though, and I’m pretty sure she ended up with the highest grade in the class. Meanwhile, I would be hard pressed to tell you one thing about Marx or Lenin – I had to google “Marx and Lenin” just to make sure it wasn’t spelled like John Lennon, and that is the only reason I knew his first name. Thank goodness I have Linds in case I’m ever in a position where I really need to know about the history of Communism in Russia and don’t have access to Wikipedia.

I hope everyone has fun plans tonight, hot date or otherwise, and that you all have a wonderful Presidents Day Weekend! Happy “Friday”!! XOXO

Lazy Sunday Soup

photo 1-43

I love lazy Sundays. Any weekend day is generally better than a work day, but sometimes I need a day before I’m fully decompressed from the work week. Plus, there are usually a lot of things to do on Saturdays – things that require showering, having to be somewhere, knowing what time it is, etc. My friend Kelly coined the phrase “no-shower Sundays,” and I try to participate whenever I can. If ever we have plans on a Sunday, we’ll usually text each other beforehand to decide whether or not we need to shower, and if the answer is yes, whether the activity is actually worth doing. Lately I’ve been taking a spin class on Sunday mornings, which I love, but also which makes me feel like I’m cheating myself out of a truly lazy Sunday. I mean, you definitely have to shower after spin class.

photo 2-38

Even after spinning and showering, however, there are still a lot of hours to fill with lazy Sunday activities before I have to concentrate on prioritizing my Sunday night TV watching/DVR-ing. Making soup is one of my very favorite ways to spend some of those hours – it’s especially great in the fall and into January, when you can watch football while in the kitchen, but even now that the season is over it still seems to me like the perfect way to feel productive while actually just hanging out at home in your sweats.

photo 3-21

photo 1-44

My quest for the perfect white bean soup started at Specialty’s, a bakery/lunch place with three locations within walking distance from my office. Specialty’s is probably most famous for their cookies, but they also offer decent salads, delicious sandwiches, and four different soups each day. I was addicted to their caprese sandwich for a time, but once they put the nutrition information on their website I had to switch to soup (sad day). The soups are posted online daily, so I’ll often check the location next to my office, as well as another one a few blocks north and a third a few blocks south – each store’s daily offerings are different, and the lentil dahl is completely worth the walk. One day, with lentil not appearing on any of the three menus, I decided to stay close to home and try the “Tuscan white bean” at the store closest to me. The soup was smooth and creamy and tomato-y and delicious – and vegan, so I knew the creaminess wasn’t coming from anything bad for me like cream or butter, but from the beans themselves (and, it turns out, from dehydrated potato flakes, which is another lesson in why its better to make everything yourself). I decided I needed to learn how to make something similar, and while a google search provided a plethora of recipes, none seemed to be exactly what I wanted. Most did not purée the soup, but I wanted mine to be thick and creamy – although I do love white beans in their unpuréed form. A lot of the recipes I found involved sausage – I don’t eat meat, although I’ve made “my” soup now with sausage for other people and they tell me it’s delicious. Many vegetarian recipes suggested adding a parmesan rind to the broth as it simmers, in order to impart a richer flavor that the meat would otherwise add. Almost all of the recipes included kale. So, I compiled everything I liked about all of the recipes I read and when Sunday rolled around I started to experiment – the resulting recipe is below. I promise I created it myself but there are probably lots of identical recipes out there – and if there aren’t, there should be, because its easy and delicious. If you’re interested in a more gourmet recipe, I also really love this one – and it gives you an excuse to open a bottle of wine, which can be another excellent Sunday activity.

photo 5-9

If anyone else has any lazy Sunday traditions and/or soup recipes, I would love to hear them! Or, we could just talk about the Grammys – what is going on with Rihanna and Chris Brown? How am I so old/unhip that I’ve never heard of Wiz Khalifa? Will I have time this week to catch up on all the other shows I missed last night? These are the issues currently weighing heavily upon my mind. Luckily, soup making is a destresser, so it was perfect for Grammy night.

White Bean Soup with Kale
Serves 6-8

Olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (more to taste)
1 32-ounce box low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed (low sodium if you can find them)
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, more or less to taste
Oregano and/or other Italian seasoning blend, to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale or lacinato kale), washed, center ribs removed and chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces
Parmesan rind, optional
Italian sausage, optional
Toppings: grated parmesan, croutons, basil chiffonade

Start with a healthy drizzle of olive oil in a soup pot or dutch oven. Sautée onion over medium heat for 5-8 minutes or until translucent. Add carrots and celery and sautée until veggies are soft, 5-8 more minutes. Add garlic and cook a couple minutes longer, then add stock, tomatoes (with juices), one can white beans, basil and herbs, and Parmesan rind if using. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover pot. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes, then remove from heat, remove parmesan rind, and purée with an immersion blender until smooth (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you can purée in a stand blender – just do so in smaller batches and with the steam vent in the lid open or a dish towel in lieu of a lid, otherwise you may end up with soup all over your kitchen and yourself). Add the kale and remaining can of white beans and return to heat until kale is slightly wilted and the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve soup topped with parmesan, croutons, and/or basil.

Sausage option: brown sausage links in a small amount of olive oil in pot before starting soup. When sausage is cooked through, remove from pot and slice into rounds and set aside. Make soup as above – no need to wipe out pot, just add more olive oil with the onions if necessary – and then add sausage back with the kale and beans at the end.

Note: I list out chopped onion, carrots and celery – on a truly lazy Sunday, I enjoy buying fresh veggies and peeling and chopping them myself (except for onions, which are torture on my poor eyes), but if you want to save yourself the effort, the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped Mirepoix is an awesome alternative. Just dump the whole thing in and sautee it all together for 10-12 minutes, then add the garlic and continue as above.

photo 4-14

Valentine’s Brownies, Two Ways

How many heart-shaped cookie cutters is too many?

How many heart-shaped cookie cutters is too many?

One of the saddest days I can remember as a little girl is the day my mom gave me one of her many pieces of unsolicited fashion advice: honey, pink and red don’t go together. I don’t remember what I was wearing – although it would have been the mid-to-late 80s so I’m sure it was atrocious – but I do remember being devastated. So even though I really should hate Valentine’s Day (all those Kay Jewelers commercials are enough to make even the most romantic of us want to vomit), I can’t help but celebrate the one day of the year when that little girl in me gets to mix and match her favorite colors to her heart’s content (heart, ha!). And if it’s also an excuse to make not just brownies, but two different types of brownies – cut into tiny hearts and with salted caramel and cheesecake, no less – all the better.

Brownie #1: Salted Caramel. Smitten Kitchen is one of my all time favorite blogs, food or otherwise. I’m not proud to admit that up until recently, I didn’t really know that brownies could be made from scratch. I honestly thought the Ghirardelli box mix was as gourmet as one could get. But when SK posted these brownies last August, I became obsessed. I’ve probably made them 20 times since then – for summer BBQs, friends with new babies, tailgates, my brother’s engagement party dinner, pretty much any excuse I can find. You can doctor them up with anything from nuts or chocolate chips to toasted coconut or crushed candy canes (which I obviously did at Christmas), but the salted caramel option Deb posted yesterday looked extra delicious so I thought I’d give it a try. The bad news is, I might now be equally as obsessed with making caramel – YUM. The brownies really are so easy, and the caramel is a not-too-difficult extra step. Deb mentions that once you add the butter/cream/salt to the sugar it might not incorporate beautifully – mine didn’t incorporate at all. But if that should happen to you, never fear, once you get the pan back on the heat the sugar melts down again and you have delicious, gooey caramel in no time!

Homemade caramel, yum yum

Homemade caramel, yum yum

Brownie #2: Marbled Red Velvet Cheesecake. I’m not typically a huge red velvet person, nor a cheesecake person – but I saw these in the Seattle paper yesterday and they were so darn cute and Pinterest-y I had to make them. I would say these are substantially more work than the first recipe, but still not hard, so if you are a red velvet or a cheesecake person they would definitely be worth the effort. The recipe makes a TON – I wanted to halve it but couldn’t figure out how to divide three eggs by two, and unfortunately I don’t own a mini jelly roll pan. Luckily my coworkers gobbled up the dozens of darling little red, pink and white swirled hearts I brought into the office this morning, but if you aren’t looking to feed an army, I suspect you could cut the recipe in half and just whisk two eggs together and only use about 3/4 of the mixture, and then bake the brownies in a 9 x 13 pan. Martha Stewart always says baking is an exact science, but I think in this case it would be ok. One minor FYI: the recipe mentions your red velvet batter will be thick – this is an understatement. It seemed more like cookie dough than brownie batter to me, but just press it into your jelly roll pan and it will work out fine. The recipe also suggests using the leftover cut out scraps for a red velvet milkshake…..not sure how I feel about that, but as I was dumping all of mine down my disposal last night to keep myself from snacking on them, I couldn’t help but think they would be perfect for cake pops! Maybe next year!

I hope these recipes inspire you guys to do some Valentine’s baking this weekend, or at least to wear your red and pink with pride. Although, sorry Mom, I think J. Crew has been telling us that’s ok now for years. Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Inaugural Post

Hello and welcome to Blueberries & Basil! After playing around with the idea of starting a blog for the past year or so, I put it on my list of 2013 resolutions; only six weeks into the new year, here it is. Some of the many reasons I procrastinated doing this earlier: I needed a better camera, I needed a better kitchen for my “mise en place” cooking photos, I needed more material to write about. However, while watching Nashville last night (guilty pleasure), I heard the road-hardened guitar player give Hayden Panettiere’s character the sage advice “sometimes you have to stop talking about doing something, and actually do it.” If that could motivate Juliette Barnes to defy her record label and start singing the songs she really wanted to sing, maybe it could motivate me too.

So for the time being it might be just me and my iPhone camera, in my tiny kitchen with no marble countertops or natural light, but this morning a name popped into my head (two of my favorite things, and when I ran it by my professional-blog-reader cousin she told me it sounded like a Jo Malone perfume) and here we are. I think the blog will mainly have to do with cooking and baking – and entertaining, to the extent I entertain – but my hope is that it can be a forum for me to share lots of other fun things with you too (teaser for my next post: Valentine’s Brownies, two ways). So thanks so much for stopping by, and I can’t wait to get started!