Cream cheese strawberry banana bread

Strawberry banana bread

I don’t consider myself much of a baker, but as soon as someone finds out I like to cook, they assume I can whip up a batch of chocolate soufflés like I’m the spawn of Julia Child. Because of this preconceived notion, I’ve been working on my baking skills, and I must say, I’m getting pretty damn good.

The other day, I ran across a bushel of neglected bananas at my boyfriend’s and went into a banana bread-making frenzy. I tested a variety of recipes, and this was hands down the best. It tastes as if a pound cake, a loaf of banana bread, and a strawberry shortcake had a ménage à trois and gave birth to the most sinfully sweet dessert/bread you’ve ever laid eyes on. 

The cream cheese is definitely a game changer. It gives the bread a dense, moist texture while adding a creamy richness to it. The tart strawberries balance out the richness and give the bread a bright pop of color. Sexy and sweet. 

I let the bread rest overnight before cutting into it, which really helped keep it moist and soft. I cut out half a cup of flour from the original recipe (originally 3 cups) because the dough seemed a little too dry. I was surprised it turned out so well because I always try to manipulate dessert recipes thinking I know what I’m doing and it usually ends up being a fiasco. But, hey—look at me now! Ms. Betty Crocker. 

Shout out to my boyfriend for the beautiful photography, and for patiently waiting until after the photoshoot to try the bread—can’t say the same for myself!

Enjoy. 

Ingredients

  • 2 large bananas, mashed 
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped 
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans with non-stick baking spray. 

Mash bananas with a fork and set aside. Roughly chop strawberries and set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and cream cheese together in a large bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix. Add mashed bananas and mix again. 

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. Gradually add dry mixture to wet mixture while mixing on medium speed until completely incorporated. 

Gently fold strawberries into batter with a spatula. 

Divide batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 45-60 mins or until toothpick comes out clean from the center. 

Lest rest 30 mins to overnight before slicing. 

Homemade meatballs

Meatballs

By now you should know I’m a pretty big fan of Italian(s)—food, people, culture—so it should come as no surprise that the guy I’m dating is Italian. When we first met I asked what his last meal on Earth would be, and he immediately responded with his dad’s meatballs. So (obviously) I got my hands on the recipe and here we are. You can thank Steven Constantino if you fall in love with these meatballs—and trust me, you will.

This was my second time making them, and I don’t know how they compare to Matt’s father’s, but I thought they were damn delicious. Matt kindly informed me they were a bit onion heavy, and to make sure to chop the onions into oblivion. The recipe calls for one small onion or half a large one, and I think I chose too big of a large one. The first time I made them, I remember him deliberately instructing me to chop all the ingredients into smithereens, so just make sure you finely, finely, finely dice everything to avoid one ingredient from masking the others.

For this batch of meatballs, I made the homemade marinara sauce recipe I stole from Carissa’s family (you see now why I keep Italians close—they always have the best family recipes). But the first time I made the meatballs, I used a jarred sauce called Rao’s that Matt swears by. It’s a little more expensive than the popular brands like Prego or Ragu, but it tastes homemade, so it’s definitely worth it.

We’ve used the meatballs to make subs, put them over pasta, and just eaten them by themselves in the sauce, with a little parmesan on top. I think Matt’s dad even uses them in his lasagna, which I’d love the recipe for—hint, hint! 

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs ground chuck
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • 2–4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small  or half a large yellow onion, minced (very finely)
  • 1/2 cup fresh, flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • sauce (3–4 24-oz jars or homemade marinara)
  • fresh basil, to garnish

Instructions

Make sauce if using homemade.

Finely mince the garlic, onion, and parsley. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients (except sauce) and mix well with hands.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Shape mixture into medium-sized balls and place on a lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake in the oven for 3o minutes.

Warm the sauce and drop in balls to continue cooking until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh basil.

*Recipe makes 20-30 meatballs. Store leftovers in a Ziplock bag in the freezer.
**Ask your butcher to grind chuck for you if you can’t find it already ground.

Green tea “ice cream”

Green tea ice creamThe first time I tried green tea ice cream was at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet in Small Town, Wisconsin. I remember choosing it from the ice cream cooler because of its bright green color—I was a child, ok? When I took my first bite, I was surprised at the flavor—I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t know if I liked it either. I took a few more bites, and a couple more, and then one or five more and realized I was crazy about it.

The earthy, almost savory yet slightly sweet notes from the green tea are a match made it heaven with the rich, creaminess of the ice cream. I was never a fan of super sweet treats, so this was right up my alley.

Since I was in college, I’ve been making 2-ingredient “ice cream,” which is just frozen bananas blended in a food processor with a little milk. It’s actually amazing how similar the texture is to actual ice cream. You can doctor it up with anything you like—chocolate, peanut butter, preserves, and even matcha! As I mentioned in my post Matcha green tea chia pudding, I have recently been experimenting with matcha powder, so I decided this was the perfect time to recreate the green tea ice cream I had in my youth.

It’s quick, simple, and deceivingly sinful. So dig in, guilt free!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe bananas
  • coconut milk (or whole, rice, almond, sweetened condensed, etc.)
  • honey or agave
  • 2 tsp matcha powder

Instructions

Cut bananas into small pieces and freeze for three hours to overnight. Put frozen bananas in a food processor and pulse until smoothish (there will still be small chunks). You may have to use a spatula to scrape down the sides during this process.

Add matcha and a drizzle of honey and blend. Add in milk little by little until you get the consistency of soft serve.

Eat immediately or place in the freezer for an hour for a harder consistency.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta

If you’ve read my post My adventures with Neapolitan pizza pie, you know I’m a huge fan of Italian cuisine. I love the rustic, simplicity of it, as well as the sense of family it embraces. It’s all about quality ingredients and unbuttoning your pants to make room for more because Nonni’s plating up your fourth serving of lasagna.

Bruschetta is an appetizer you’ll find at a lot of Italian restaurants. It has different variations, but traditionally it’s toasted bread that’s been rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and commonly topped with a medley of tomatoes and basil. Although I do not come from an Italian family, caprese and bruschetta have always been staples on our app menu—especially late summer when my dad’s tomato garden is in full swing.

I’ve tried many a bruschetta, and I will say I think mine is the best I’ve had (thus far). I like to combine elements of caprese with bruschetta to get the ultimate Italian app. The key to getting depth of flavor is rubbing the crostinis (or “little toasts”) with a clove of garlic after they’ve been grilled. It gives the toast a nice garlic aroma to perfume the rest of the toppings. I also like to add balsamic vinegar to the tomato mixture for a tangy kick.The soft, fresh mozzarella counterbalances the crusty bread and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar.

Honestly, my mouth is watering right now thinking about it—I’ve got to finish this post so I can make some.

Buon appetito!

Ingredients

  • tomatoes (I like using heirlooms because I’m a tomato snob)
  • basil
  • garlic
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • fresh mozzarella
  • ciabatta (or any rustic bread)
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Dice tomatoes and put them in a large mixing bowl. Julienne the basil and throw in the bowl. Mince garlic (approx. 1 clove per 4 medium tomatoes) or use a press, add it to tomato mixture, and toss. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to coat—tasting to test for balanced acidity levels. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Rest for at least 30 mins to let flavors meld.

Cut bread into slices and drizzle with olive oil. Toast under the broiler or on a grill, making sure not to let it burn. Once toasted, cut the end off a garlic clove and rub each toast with it (both sides if you’re trying to keep vampires away). Top crostinis with fresh mozzarella and a spoonful of bruschetta.

For best flavor, serve at room temp. 

Matcha green tea chia pudding

Matcha green tea pudding2My parents came to LA in March to visit me and my brother, and they really wanted to explore a variety of ethnic markets while they were here. My dad has a vast range of knowledge about global cuisine and cooking, but doesn’t always have the means of getting specialty ingredients because of where he lives (rural Wisconsin). We took them to Galleria in Koreatown and they had a field day—we were there for hours. H O U R S.

I had a lot of fun too, exploring the isles and trying samples of food I couldn’t pronounce. And while I didn’t take home any of the dried fish parts I tried (just no), I did find a few ingredients that struck my fancy. One of them was matcha—a powder derived from green tea leaves. I’ve always been interested in matcha, having seen it used in different recipes on Pinterest, but had no idea where to get it.

Turns out you can buy it online, but just be wary of the quality. Sometimes places will sell a matcha powder mix containing ingredients such as sugar and powdered milk, similar to hot chocolate. Look for culinary grade matcha. It’s pretty expensive, but that’s usually a sign it’s good quality—so don’t go for the cheap stuff!

Let’s talk health. Matcha has a ton of health benefits! Because it’s derived from whole  tea leaves, it’s a more potent source of nutrients (and caffeine!), than steeped green tea. It has a lot of heart disease and cancer fighting antioxidants that also help with blood pressure reduction, anti-aging, and boosting your metabolism. Did I mention the caffeine?? A teaspoon of match mixed with hot water can have up to 3x the caffeine as a cup of steeped green tea.

But the best part about matcha is how versatile it is. It has a grass-like flavor, which bodes well for savory dishes, but you can sweeten it up with sugar, agave, honey, or different extracts like I did with this pudding.

I absolutely love chia pudding. I think it’s because I was obsessed with tapioca Snack Packs when I was little, and it has a similar texture. It’s a great on-the-go breakfast because it’s super easy to make—just toss your ingredients in a mason jar, shake it up, and leave it overnight in the fridge. I love to top it with fresh berries and nuts, but you could top it with anything from coconut flakes to chocolate chips.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk (or milk of choice)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp matcha powder
  • drizzle of honey (to taste)

Toppings

  • mixed berries
  • pistachios

Instructions

Put all ingredients in a mason jar and put the lid on. Shake well until everything is combined. Store in the fridge for 3 hours to overnight.

Top with fruit and nuts or any other toppings you like!

* Recipe makes 1–2 servings. 

Shakshouka

Shakshouka1

S H A K S H O U K A. My new, absolute favorite breakfast dish. I tried it for the first time last weekend at an awesome French restaurant near my place, called Republique. I’ve been wanting to go there since I moved into the area because the line is down the block every weekend. My pal Urmila—gastronomic guru, host of YouTube channel Mila Makes, and co-founder of Carry On Magazine—was in town last weekend, so we met at Republique to brunch it up. I highly recommend eating there if you’re in the LA area—cool vibes, awesome pastries, and really good food. Like, really good.

So what is Shakshouka, anyway (besides really fun to say)? The dish originated in North Africa, and is essentially eggs in a spicy stew of tomatoes and peppers, but has many variations. I based my recipe off some good, authentic ones Urmila recommended, combined with Republique’s version, and my own little twists.

Republique managed to get a great depth of flavor that was really cumin-forward, so I tried to accomplish the same with mine. I also liked the cool contrast the mint leaves gave to the spiciness and warmth of the dish. They laced it with yogurt (which I forgot to do) that really balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes. I threw in some kale to give it a bit more substance and nutrients, and added basil because the more herbs the better in my book!

Shakshouka2Oh, and did I mention the bread!? The bread might be the best part of the whole dish. It’s served with a side of crusty bread you can use to sop up all the delicious, tomatoey sauce and gooey yolk. Mmmmmm. I actually just used the bread as a spoon throughout the whole meal. I mean, what’s better than a spoon you can eat??

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 eggs
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (minced or pressed)
  • 4 cups (28 oz can) diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • chili powder
  • cumin
  • paprika
  • cayenne
  • coriander
  • pinch of sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • parsley
  • basil
  • mint
  • 1-2 cups kale, chopped
  • feta cheese (optional)
  • Greek yogurt (optional)
  • Rustic, crusty bread of choice (I used garlic ciabatta)

Instructions

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Cut onion and pepper into thin(ish) slices. Add a generous amount of olive oil to the hot pan, along with the peppers and onions. Saute veggies until soft, about 15 minutes. Add garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and seasonings (chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne, coriander, salt and pepper) to taste. You can adjust later, so just start small. Add a pinch of sugar and stir well. Simmer on med-low heat for about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Roughly chop herbs (parsley, basil, mint) and add to the sauce.

If sauce is looking thick, take a potato masher and crush the tomatoes to create a juicier sauce. Add the chopped kale to the pan, stir, and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings one more time, if needed.

Crack eggs into the sauce, one at a time. I created little divots with the back of a ladle to make a nest for each egg. Let the eggs cook in the sauce until the whites are set and yolks are runny. You can cover with a lid to speed up the process.

While eggs are cooking cut bread into thick slices and grill or toast under the broiler. When eggs are done garnish with more fresh herbs, feta cheese, and yogurt.

Mixed berry peach breakfast toast

Coconut almond butter fruit toast

I go through a lot of “breakfast go-to” phases. Most of the time it’s savory, but every once in a while I get a major sweet tooth in la mañana. Lately, it’s been toast with coconut almond butter (my new fav nut butter) and a medley of fresh fruit. It’s like a grown up PB&J that’s good for you!

Lots of fruit is in season with summer just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to take advantage of local farmers markets. I’m trying to make it a point this summer to get more of my produce from the farmers market instead of the grocery store. It’s a great way to support local businesses and the community. Yay local!

OK—back to the toast.

I know that breakfast is often skipped because people are in a rush and don’t have time to eat in the morning. If you are one of these people, this toast is for you.  It’s super quick and surprisingly filling. The sweet fruit complements the nutty almond butter, and the toast gives it some substance to fill you up. Plus, you can use whatever fruit/nut butter/bread you have on hand. The possibilities are endless, and I can guarantee any combination is going to taste great. It only takes a few minutes, so no excuses! Eat some damn breakfast.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • Sliced bread—wheat, sourdough, rye, ezekiel, Wonder, pumpernickel, etc.
  • Fruit—blueberries, strawberries, peaches OR any fruit you like/have
  • Coconut almond butter OR any nut butter you like/have

Instructions

Toast bread. Slather on your nut butter of choice. Top with fruit. Chow.

Crock pot Korean beef with broccoli

Slow cooker Korean beef with broccoli

When my best friend moved back to Boston last year, she was nice enough to give me her crock pot. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself I was going to make something in it, but never did. So last week I decided enough was enough—I was going to make something, dammit. I browsed Pinterest for the perfect recipe to pop my crock pot cherry (sorry, that sounds terrible) and came across a recipe for Korean beef. Yes please!

The great thing about crock pot recipes is—of course—the ability to set it and forget it. I started this dish when I woke up and it was ready by lunchtime (or dinner if you were to do the low heat setting). I actually suggest using the low and slow method because it will make the meat more tender. Because the chuck roast comes from a heavily exercised part of the cow (the shoulder), it can be very tough. However, cooking it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time allows the connective tissues (the part that makes them tough) to dissolve. SCIENCE!

Anyway, I had to go to work in the evening the day I made this, so I needed to speed things up. I will say that although the flavors were phenomenal, the meat was a bit tough. You live and you learn.

Another great thing about this dish is that it’s a lot healthier than your average takeout meal. Although it’s getting better, a lot of takeout dishes are loaded with sodium, MSG, and other unnatural preservatives. Making it at home allows you to control the amount of salt and the quality of ingredients you use. Aaaand I say this between bites of leftover Chinese takeout.

Do as I say, not as I do! 

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs boneless beef chuck roast (or rump roast)
  • 2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (reduced sodium)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sriracha
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground grated ginger
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/2 tsp granulated onion
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch + extra, if needed
  • sesame seeds (for garnish)
  • green onions (for garnish)

Instructions

Cut your roast into 1-inch cubes and place in the crock pot.

In a large bowl, whisk together beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, ginger, garlic, granulated onion, and white pepper. Add to crock pot and mix with beef until well combined.

Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high for 2.5-3 hours (again, I suggest the slower method for ultimate tenderness).

For the last half hour of cook time, cut broccoli into florets and put into crock pot. Whisk cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and mix into crock pot with beef and broccoli. Turn heat to high and continue to cook for half an hour or until sauce thickens. You can add more corn starch gradually if sauce is too thin.

Serve over rice, in tacos, or by itself and garnish with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

Light ranch veggie dip

Ranch veggie dip

Let’s be real, most people in America are full-blown ranchaholics. They‘ll eat it on pizza, fries, wings, shoes, sandwiches, burgers—oh yeah, and sometimes even vegetables. You kind of know how gluttonous you look completely submerging your chicken fingers in a pool of ranch, but you don’t care because your taste buds are happy, and happiness is all that matters, right!? You are right, my friend. But let’s lighten it up a bit, shall we?

I originally got this recipe from my high school BFF when we lived together in college. She still serves it up as a snack with baby carrots every time I see her (love you, Kailee!). Over the years, I have changed up the recipe to make it a little healthier—swapping Greek yogurt for sour cream and using half the mayo.  I also ditched the pre-made ranch packet, but that was mostly because I never have them on hand, and partly because they are high in sodium and I prefer the brightness of the fresh dill over the dried stuff. But if pre-made seasonings are your jam, feel free to use one!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup low fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup light mayo (I use Hellmann’s)
  • fresh dill (chopped)
  • garlic powder
  • granulated onion
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Combine yogurt, cottage cheese, and mayo in a bowl and mix well. Add fresh chopped dill and seasonings to taste. That’s it!

Serve it up with your favorite veggies and store in the fridge for up to a week.

*As the dip sits in the fridge it tends to get “soupy.” You can add more cottage cheese to thicken it up. 

Chili lime shrimp and veggie kebabs

Chili lime shrimp and veggie kebabs

The air is getting warmer, the sun is shining brighter, and the shorts are getting shorter—this can only mean one thing—summer is right around the corner! When I think about summer cuisine I think bright, fresh, and light. Herbs, citrus, and seafood are among my favorite summertime foods, and they pair so well together to create light, refreshing meals.

One of my best friends from high school, who’s now living in Vancouver (miss you!!), posted a photo of some grilled skewers she and her fiancé made last week, and it inspired me to make my own. I prefer using an outdoor grill for this to get a nice smoky flavor, but if you are like me and don’t have access to one, don’t fret—you can achieve the same effect using an indoor grill pan.

Chili and lime is a famous flavor combo, especially near the border. It pairs well with proteins such as chicken, seafood, and even nuts. I’ve been craving shrimp lately, so I opted for the seafood route with these kebabs. Another good alternative would be chicken or a nice, meaty fish such as halibut or tuna. I like to cook the meat on separate skewers than the vegetables to ensure a more even cook throughout. I also baked the veggies, rather than grilling them so I could cook them at the same time as the shrimp.

This meal is super light and healthy (and pretty!) making it perfect for summer. For a little more substance, serve kebabs with a side of rice perfumed with herbs like cilantro or parsley. MMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm, I should’ve done that! Next time.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb shrimp (peeled and deveined)
  • cherry tomatoes
  • bell peppers (any color)
  • red onion
  • zucchini (yellow/green)
  • cilantro (chopped)
  • chili powder
  • granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
  • Sriracha
  • Lime juice (2-3 limes + extra for garnish)
  • avocado oil (or canola, olive oil, etc)
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel shrimp if not already peeled and place in a large bowl. Combine juice of 2 small limes, oil, granulated garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper, cilantro, and Sriracha to coat shrimp. Let marinate in the fridge for half an hour.

Chop veggies (as many as you’d like) into bite-size chunks (keep cherry tomatoes whole) and toss in a bowl with juice of a lime, oil, chili powder, granulated garlic, Sriracha , and salt and pepper to taste.

Skewer the veggies onto a metal skewer (if using wood, make sure to soak in water beforehand) in any order you like. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet lined in foil for easier clean up. Place the skewers on the rack and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Preheat your grill pan to med-high heat and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Skewer the shrimp. During the last 5-10 minutes of bake time for the vegetables, start grilling the shrimp. They only take a couple minutes on each side, so the shrimp and vegetables should get done at the same time.

Grill shrimp on one side for about 2 minutes, flip, and grill for another 1-2 minutes until shrimp are completely opaque. Make sure not to overcook the shrimp as they will get tough and rubbery.

Serve with lime wedges and chopped cilantro to garnish.

*This amount of shrimp makes approximately 3 skewers.