Third Time’s A Charm

I’ve been pursuing the best recipe for banana and other autumn-inspired bread loaf lately, hoping to concoct the best combination of spice and fruits / veggies to create the fluffiest loaf fit for this beautiful fall weather. I’m open to any combination, as long as the loaves do not contain white flour, white sugar and butter. I would like to someday create a recipe that are completely plant-based (no eggs) and oil free (perhaps replace the oil with apple sauce) but I’ll settle for the hybrid version of the old classic for now.

Pumpkin Bread

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I have a go-to banana bread recipe that I’m very happy with. It gives me wonderful results every time, so of course my logic is that if I substitute the mashed bananas with pureed pumpkin, I’ll be able to recreate the same, amazing result, right?

That would be too easy.

The loaf came out more pumpkin pie filling than pumpkin bread, and since pumpkin puree doesn’t have the same sweetness ripe bananas naturally bring, the loaf lacked the cloying punch. Unfortunately, even the generous amount of chocolate chips weren’t enough to emulate the dessert-like sweetness. It wasn’t at all terrible and a big red “fail” stamp might be a little too harsh but this recipe definitely needs some fine-tuning.

Zucchini Walnut Bread

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I go nuts for zucchini walnut breads. I still remember the first time I bit into one from Starbucks, which went ridiculously well with my cup of café soy misto during the long commute on the 101 freeway. It was incredible, but as in all good things, I had to bid farewell to it when I discovered that the seemingly innocent-looking muffin contained 28 grams of fat and 52 grams of carbohydrate (28 of them sugar).  The muffin has been discontinued since, by the way.

Anyway, my attempt to recreate my favorite loaf, bread, muffin, or whatever, was a big fat fail as well. I played around with flour to make it denser and increased the amount of maple syrup, etc. but the result wasn’t as extraordinary as the ones I remembered from the mega coffee joint. I’m really going to need to study up on the science of baking so I’ll be able to create the fool-proof version of this yummy delight!  But I’ll get there.

Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread

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It’s true what they say – third time’s a charm!

I just made some small tweaks to an already-delicious banana bread recipe, but those little things made a huge different in the finished loaf. I might have perfected the recipe for the best banana bread!

Here’s the 2.0 version of the banana bread (See other posts on banana breads here and here).

1-3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup olive
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla

The changes I made from the original recipe are:

  • I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. I no longer keep the white flour at home.  You can definitely taste the different but not enough to turn you off.  I actually like the nuttiness of the whole-wheat more.
  • I reduced the amount of flour from 1-3/4 cups to 1-1/4 cups.
  • I changed the oil from canola to olive since that’s what I have in my pantry almost always.
  • I blended the bananas in a Magic Bullet blender instead of mushing them with a fork. I initially did this because the bananas I was using weren’t as ripe and it was hard to mush them by hand.  I think it resulted in a fluffier loaf.
  • I also put the eggs, agave nectar, oil, vanilla extract, and cinnamon together in a blender. Again, I think this helped create an airy texture. If you have a large blender, you can mix everything, including bananas, together at once.
  • I increased the amount of cinnamon from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.  I just can’t get enough of the warm spiciness!
  • I added ¼ cup each of milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and coarsely chopped walnut. It’s no longer healthy banana bread but the combination makes the loaf so desert like and satisfying!
  • I slightly under-baked the bread for a less-dense texture.

I’m loving this fall weather!

In Progress: Ridiculously Big Cowl Neck Sweater

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I seldom post pictures of my craft projects in progress because I’m always afraid that I won’t finish them. I might mess them up royally and I have to frog them (which happens often), or I might just get bored (which happens often as well) and decide to put them away in a drawer where all my previous unfinished objects come to live, or die, permanently. Then what? It’s depressing.

Well, I’m currently nursing a sore right arm, an injury I incurred during nights of non-stop knitting, so I don’t have photos of finished projects to post. All I can do to at the moment to calm my knitting urges is talk about some projects in the works and pray that I’ll soon get to finish them all.

I have three sweaters in progress, including this simple, black sweater knit top down, in the round. I wanted something simple with no designs like cable, is oversized so I can layer, and with a ridiculously big cowl neck.

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I did manage to finish the piece and knit up the ridiculously big cowl neck one night but I think that re-aggravated the injury so the sleeves would have to wait for at least a few more weeks until I’m completely healed. The bright side is that this will give me some time to decide if I want the sleeves short, ¾ lengths, or full.  Any suggestions?

Itameshi Love: Hamada-Ya Bakery

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Hamada-Ya Bakery inside Mitsuwa Marketplace in Torrance is my new favorite vender inside the Japanese food court.  Of all the trips my husband and I’ve made here over the years, I can’t believe this was actually my first time trying this Itameshi (“ita” is shortened for Italian, and “meshi” means food) place.  What a hidden gem!

This place is attached to the boulangerie inside Mistuwa (which bakes up amazing breads) and offers a colorful selection of cakes and pastries, in addition to Japanese style Italian plates.

Itameshi-style spaghetti with Bologne sauce has occupied a special place in my heart, as well as stomach, ever since I was a child.  I don’t know what’s so different about the Japanese meat sauce versus the traditional Italian kind, but the former is something I just can’t get enough of.  But I always overlooked Hamada-Ya Bakery because I always felt like I should try something I can only eat in Torrance (I can always make a meat sauce at home, whereas a bowl of ramen from, say, Santouka, is hard to come by) since we drove so far to get here.

Let’s just say I’m glad I decided to make a change on my last visit to Mistuwa.  I have to say that the food here is not extraordinary.  In fact, it’s just slightly above average, but it’s the closest thing to the plate I once enjoyed as a little girl in Japan, and that’s more than good enough for me and my hungry stomach!

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Omurice (ketchup-flavored rice covered in fluffy egg — the word omurice comes from “omu” shortened for omelette, and rice, well, that’s self explanatory) is quite delicious too.  And our daughter loves eating the spaghetti with her bare hands!

Hamada-Ya Bakery (Inside Mitsuwa Marketplace)
21515 S Western Ave, Ste 146-B
Torrance, CA 90501
★★★★☆

Happy Oatmeal Day

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Happy National Oatmeal Day, everyone!

The timing couldn’t be any better, as I’m trying to rekindle my love for these perfect little grains at the moment. I’m currently testing out the Forks Over Knives Plan, and the only requirement for the week is to replace the typical breakfast of bacon and eggs with the plant-based version.

Easy peasy? Well, not so quick.

The plan itself is very realistic and doable, but the problem here is that I don’t usually eat breakfast (I know, it’s awful) so trying to put something in my system first thing in the morning has been tougher than actually eating the non-animal options. But oatmeal is perfect. I make a bowl for my daughter for her breakfast in the morning anyway so making an extra cup is not a hassle, and it goes down easy.

My oatmeal of the day: A bowl of cooked rolled oats with sliced banana, raisins, and a teaspoon of Agave Nectar.

RECIPE: Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers

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I got the recipe for the homemade version of Cheez-It-like crackers from the Mommy and Me class my daughter and I attend weekly.  It was originally from Creative and Healthy Fun Food that has many wonderful kid-friendly recipes.

Many people may not know this, but I’m a crazy Cheez-It head.  I love these little crackers so much that I can eat an entire box at one sitting.  I don’t keep a box in the house because I know I’ll lose all self control when it comes to these heavenly little savories, but I figured a homemade version is less evil than the processed kind.

These crackers are delicious, but very, very dangerous at the same time.  I left a bowl on a kitchen counter to cool, and ate almost an entire bowl without realizing it!  The good thing is that my 19-month-old daughter loved them too (although probably not as much as I did)!

I used Herb de Provence but I might try something different next time, as they got a little too “herb-y” if that makes sense.  Maybe even a sprinkle of garlic powder might work well here.  Also, as I noted below, these little things bake really quickly.  The recipe says to bake for 15-17 minutes which, I think, are way too long.  I burned my first batch, and even after reducing the time down to about 10 minutes, that even feels a bit long.  Keep checking the oven frequently.  I also noticed that I liked a slightly thicker crackers, instead of paper-thin ones. They’re cheesier that way!

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Homemade Cheddar Cheese Crackers
(Adapted from Creative and Healthy Fun Food)

Ingredients:

2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon spike salt-free seasoning, or any salt free/herb seasoning will work (I used Herbs de Provence)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 F. (I felt that this temperature is too high.  I baked mine with 375 F.)

Place the first 3 ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse and until a ball forms.

Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick on a floured or parchment-covered surface. Slice into crackers or cut out shapes with a cookie cutter.

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(I used my trusted Omnigrip ruler and a pizza cutter to get the 1″ x 1″ squares. And just for fun, I poked a little hole on each cracker to imitate Cheez-It.)

Bake for 15-17 minutes (I think this is way too long, especially if your crackers are very thin. I baked mine for about 8 minutes and they came out great). Serve.

More Seed Stitch Cowls

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These are the Blue Sky Worsted Cotton yarns I purchased, with an intention to knit a baby blanket for a friend. The combination looked so lovely at first but it didn’t work for me when I actually knit them together. I think it’s because some of the colors are so similar (too similar, in fact) and the dark green skein stood out like a sore thumb. Whatever the reason, this combination just wasn’t meant to be.

Individually, however, they are stunning! It’s worsted cotton so it’s nice and slippery which makes knitting – especially with Turbo Addi needles – such ease. I’m so glad I decided to turn some of them into simple seed stitch cowl (others were knit into a pair of fingerless gloves). Of the three I knit so far (here’s the first one I knit and the pattern), the lavender one is probably my favorite.

I purchased a few more skeins of the same Blue Sky Worsted Cotton yarn to turn them into more cowls.  There goes my plan to reduce the yarn stash but it’s just too much fun to knit with them!  Maybe I’ll sell a few to justify the impulse purchase!

Let the holiday knitting commence!

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Blue Sky Worsted Cotton in Lavender (644)

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Blue Sky Worsted Cotton in Azul (628)

Aarti Paarti Cookbook Signing

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I met my girl crush Aarti Sequerira over the weekend at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena while she was promoting her new cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul!

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She was even lovelier in person, if that were possible! I intend to write my thoughts on the cookbook (which is seriously awesome, full of delicious recipes and stories) and will definitely cook from it, but I’m still star struck and at a complete loss for words! If you can imagine a teenage girl squealing in delight at a boy band’s concert — that’s was me at the book signing, and even now, two days later.

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In the meantime, go get the book and start cooking! :)