Peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins (gluten free)

Peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (and again, and again), baking and I do not get along. We are like that annoying couple who hate each other, but keep trying to work it out as if things are going to change. Every time I get it in my head that baking is a good idea, I immediately regret it when I’m choking on flour as if I’m in a dust storm at Coachella.

Pretty sure the only time I’ve ever been really proud of my baking was when I was going to college in Minneapolis, I made this amazing loaf of banana bread. It had that perfectly moist texture where the top was almost sticky. I was so pumped to have my roommates try it to prove that I could actually bake, but before anyone got home my roommate’s dog jumped on the counter and ate the whole thing. All of it. Gone. You better have enjoyed that, Trooper!

Anyway, I’m not going to give up on baking. I mean, did Shaq give up basketball just because he couldn’t make a single free throw? No.

A while back I decided to try my hand at making banana muffins. I looked up a few recipes and landed on one that used ground up rolled oats instead of flour. The recipe said to grind the oats in a food processor to form a flour-like powder. Easy, right? Well, not if you don’t have a food processor. I thought, no problem, I’ll use my extremely cheap blender instead. Long story short, I’m an idiot. It is possible to use a blender for this process, but it took a long time and I ended up having to mix the rest of the batter by hand while my blender laughed at me for relying on it to do anything productive. Moral of the story, invest in a food processor.

I wanted to change up the recipe a bit to make it my own, so I threw in some peanut butter, not really knowing what would happen to the composition of the muffin–I have about zero scientific knowledge about what makes baked goods do their thing. To my surprise, they turned out quite well, fluffy with a nice, subtle peanut butter flavor. I would’ve liked them to be a touch more moist, so if anybody has any suggestions on that, I’d be happy to hear them! I only put peanut butter in half the mixture to see which ones tasted better, and hands down PB won. But feel free to omit it, if you are boring.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2-3 large spoonfuls peanut butter

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 liners.

In a food processor (or a blender, if you must) pulse oats til they form a powder. Add all remaining ingredients to food processor and blend til a smooth batter forms. If you do not have a food processor, add ground oats and all remaining ingredients to a large bowl and whisk (and whisk, and whisk) until you get the batter as smooth as possible.

Divide batter evenly between the muffin tins. Bake 15-20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it in the middle of a muffin.

Confessions of a tomato snob

Tomato snob

When is it okay to act like a snob?

  1. Is it okay to hate on someone who hasn’t waxed their eyebrows in two months (or ever)? No.
  2. Is it okay to seat yourself at a restaurant because you have the patience of a 5-year-old and can’t wait 13 seconds for the host to direct you to a table? No.
  3. And, is it okay to say that something is perplexing instead of confusing. Hell no.

There’s only one instance when it’s okay to act like a snob, and that’s when it comes to food. I’m not talking about judging people who hit up Taco Bell and BK in the same trip, or the all-stars who eat squeeze cheese right out of the can. I’m talking about refusing to buy produce that tastes like the plastic fruit your mom used to keep on the dining room table. For some food snobs this may be buying dark greens over iceburg lettuce or portobello mushrooms over white button, but for me it’s all about tomatoes.

My name is Lauren and this is my story.

I am a tomato snob, and I am proud to say it runs in the family. When my dad was a kid growing up in Illinois, his uncles had a huge tomato farm right down the block from his house. He’d find himself posted up in his Radio Flyer wagon, salt shaker in hand, enjoying the fruits of their labor. In the 70s, when him and my mom were in college, they created their own tomato heaven on a farm outside of Ladysmith, WI, where they’d harvest at least 100 tomato plants each year. They didn’t really have a choice as all their college buddies relied on them to provide the tomato juice for bottomless bloodies on football Sunday. Hello, Wisconsin!

Even after they moved off the farm and started a family, they kept the tradition alive. Growing up, summers in my household meant digging holes in the soil and endlessly filling up watering cans from the hose. But all that hard work paid off in the fall when you’d pick a tomato straight from the vine and bite into its warm, juicy, tomato-y deliciousness. You automatically thought, now this is what a tomato should taste like.

Until I moved to college and started buying my own food, I didn’t realize that tomatoes from my dad’s garden tasted different than tomatoes from Aisle 12. I remembered the word “heirloom” spewing out of my dad’s mouth when he’d draw up blue prints for his garden each year, so whenever I saw those at the store, I’d ditch the 99 cent Romas and splurge on the heirlooms. Other than that, I didn’t really know why I was a tomato snob, I just knew that I was one.

Seven years later, I finally decided to pick my dad’s brain to see why I am so prejudice against Roma tomatoes.

Side note: If you buy Roma tomatoes, we can’t be friends. It’s like trying to pass off the $16 boyfriend watch you bought at Target as Marc Jacobs. Stop it.

This is what I learned.

Heirloom vs Hybrid 

So, the reason my dad’s tomatoes taste so good is because they are of the “heirloom” variety (or “old world” as my dad says). This means that they have never been crossbred, which results in a bolder, more natural flavor. Contrarily, the reason that most of the tomatoes at the grocery store taste so bad is because they are of the “hybrid” variety. This means that they have been crossbred to have specific characteristics, such as resistance to pests and disease and a perfect uniform shape. Although hybrids may look pretty, they lack the flavor that heirloom tomatoes provide. On the other hand, heirlooms may be misshapen and more susceptible to disease, but they produce a richer flavor.

Norm’s fav heirloom varieties

I asked my dad to share some of his favorite breeds and their characteristics from his own garden, and this is what he came up with.

  • Brandywine – BIG. Yellow and red in color. Juicy.
  • Pineapple – BIG. Orange and yellow stripes. Juicy.
  • Prudence purple – Purple, green, and red in color.
  • Old German – Orange/red in color.
  • Green zebra – Green stripes.
  • Black Russian cherry – Green and purple in color. Sweet. Larger than average cherry tomato.
  • San Marzano – A juicier, way better version of the Roma tomato. (exact definition)
  • Amish paste – A larger, juicier, way better version on the Roma tomato. (exact definition)

3 best ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes

Tomatoes can be tossed in anything from salads to sauces, but here are a few of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy freshly picked tomatoes.

1. Plain Jane—Cut tomato into thick slices and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Old school sandy—Spread butter on a piece of white bread. Layer with thick slices of tomato, sprinkle with salt. Top off sandwich with another piece of white bread.
3. Caprese crostini—Layer sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil on a large platter. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lightly toast crostini and rub with raw garlic clove. Assemble tomato, basil, and mozzarella on top of crostini.

Paprika chicken in a white wine butter thyme sauce

Paprika chicken

I’m sure ya’ll hate the saying “winner winner, chicken dinner” as much as I do (except you, Guy Fieri), but this dish is seriously a winner chicken dinner. It’s elegant, rich, and savory. Not to mention, beautiful. When I made this, I felt like I was on a date with myself. So, for any of you who actually have dates, please make this for them. If they don’t love you already, they will. Maybe. Don’t hold me to that, actually.

Paprika chicken with brown rice copy
I paired mine with brown rice, which soaked up all the rich, buttery sauce, hiding any evidence of its health benefits. But you could skip the rice and just drink the sauce after you’re done with the chicken if you want. In which case, we should get married because I love you.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • paprika
  • cayenne
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Rub chicken breasts with paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Finely chop the garlic and remove the thyme from the stems.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat and melt 3 tbsp of butter. Add the chicken and cook til a golden brown crust forms. Flip the chicken and continue cooking for a few minutes. Add the remainder of the butter, garlic, and thyme and stir until softened.

Add the wine and reduce heat to med-low. Cook until the wine has reduced to a sauce and the chicken is cooked through. You may need to flip the chicken a few times throughout. Serve over any grain of your choice and garnish with a little fresh thyme.

*This recipe makes about 2 servings.

Zucchini cake Florentine with coconut oil hollandaise

Zucchini cake Florentine

There are two types of people when it comes to using up leftovers. The people that suck and let them sit in the fridge for 3 months til they turn to moss, and the people that are awesome who use them to create something innovative and delicious. I’m probably a bit of both, but for cool factor purposes I’m going to consider myself more of the ladder for this entry.

Last time, I presented you with the zucchini cake. This time, I have repurposed the cake and transformed it into a unique take on a brunch time favorite—eggs Florentine. For those of you unfamiliar with Florentine, it’s essentially eggs Benedict (if you don’t know what this is Google it, you should be ashamed of yourself) with the addition of spinach.

When I am cooking for myself, I like to see how I can lighten up dishes that are usually considered heavy/rich/sinful/decadent without sacrificing flavor.  And this, my friends, is a winner. I healthified (it’s a word) the hollandaise sauce by swapping out butter for coconut oil, and you can’t. even. tell. You can even ask my brother, who I assure you does NOT prefer to healthify his food.

Happy eating, everybody. And don’t waste your leftovers!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • Zucchini cakes
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley (for garnish)

For the hollandaise 

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • lemon juice
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reheat leftover zucchini cakes for about 20 minutes, or until crispy and warmed through.

Fill a blender with boiling water, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. This will keep the sauce warm after you make it.

Pour the hot water out of the blender and dry it thoroughly. Add the yolks and lemon juice (as much or as little as you’d like, you can always add more) and pulse. Quickly heat the coconut oil on the stove. When oil is hot, set blender to low and slowly pour the oil into the mixture. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and pulse to blend.

Heat olive oil over med-low heat and saute spinach until wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Cook eggs any style you like. Traditionally, poached is the way to go, but I did sunny side up because I’m lazy. Layer the spinach and the egg on top of a zucchini cake and drizzle with hollandaise. Garnish with fresh parsley.

*This recipe only makes enough hollandaise for 1-2 cakes (depending on your preferences, of course). I would double or triple the recipe if making for a group. 

Zucchini cakes with lemon mint aioli

Zucchini cakes

First of all, my apologies for being MIA for the last month or so. In my defense, Carissa (my BFF who I’ve mentioned in multiple entries) moved back to Boston and my heart needed to cry and be pathetic for a while. But, I’m back now and gifting you with my most delicious recipe yet! So, let’s all move on and eat some zucchini cakes.

This is a great vegetarian alternative to crab or salmon cakes for all of you living by Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo’s mantra, “Fish are friends, not food.” They’re super tasty though, so you’re still going to love them if you’re an omnivore, carnivore, or even a cannibal. That was gross, I’m sorry.

If you can get them to be crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, you’re going to be a happy camper. The key is to make sure you really squeeze all the water out of the vegetables before forming the patties. Otherwise you’re going to end up with a soggy patty and a frown.

The lemon aioli lends a great tanginess to cut through the richness of the cake, and the potato make this a surprisingly filling dish. You can have them as an appetizer or serve em up between two buns as a burger. I actually used the leftovers for breakfast the next day to make zucchini cake Florentine. So bomb. I’ll put that recipe up soon.

Ok, my mouth is watering. I need to finish this and put some food in my belly.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the cakes

  • 2 large zucchini
  • 1 russet potato
  • 1/2 onion
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup oat flour (or whatever flour you want)
  • 1/2 cup Italian panko bread crumbs + extra to coat cakes
  • 2 eggs
  • coconut oil for frying

For the lemon mint aioli 

  • mayo
  • greek yogurt
  • lemon zest
  • lemon juice
  • fresh mint, chopped
  • garlic powder
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

First, make the aioli by combining all ingredients to taste. I used a 1 to 1 ratio of the mayo to greek yogurt. Store in the fridge.

Trim the ends of the Zucchini and grate it. I used a cheese grater to do this, but it would be immensely easier with a food processor. Transfer the grated zucchini to a large mixing bowl. Peel and grate the potato and add to the bowl. Finely dice the onion and add to the bowl. Stir veggies well with your hands and transfer to a runway of paper towels and squeeze as much liquid out as possible. This step is SUPER IMPORTANT, so don’t be lazy about it.

Once dry, transfer the vegetable mixture back into the mixing bowl. Beat eggs in a separate bowl and add to mixture. Add all remaining ingredients (besides the oil) and mix with hands until the texture holds its shape when you form patties. Add more bread crumbs, if necessary.

Place the mixture in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it easier to form the patties. I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup to shape the patties, but you can use your hands, as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat coconut oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the patties in the pan and cook until a golden brown crust forms. Flip and do the same on the other side.

Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and transfer the cakes onto it. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.

Asian chicken tacos with kale and broccoli slaw

Chicken tacos

Happy Taco Tuesday!

I absolutely love tacos–ALL tacos. I don’t care if it’s from Taco Bell or an authentic Mexican taco truck, I have no prejudices. Luckily, living in LA grants me infinite taco possibilities and plenty of $1 taco days. When I lived on the Westside, this bar near my place called Busby’s served up $1 tacos every Tuesday. My favorite was their Yukon potato taco with sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and salsa. So weird, but so delicious.

That’s the best part about tacos–they can be so versatile. They don’t have to stick to any standard or have any boundaries. I will say, however, that my favorite tacos contain some sort of citrusy slaw and spicy crema sauce. So, when I was craving tacos the other day, that’s exactly what I went for. I didn’t have any cabbage in the fridge for the slaw, so I improvised with kale and shredded broccoli. I tossed it with soy and rice vinegar to give it an Asian flavor. I also used Sriracha and plain Greek yogurt for the crema (traditionally, a Mexican style sour cream) to keep that same flavor profile throughout. I love the fusion of Asian flavors in what is normally thought of as a Mexican dish.

I encourage you all to get a little more creative on your next taco endeavor! And to all my LA friends, check out LA Magazine’s Tacopedia: A Complete Taco Encyclopedia of LA, to learn about the best tacos Los Angeles has to offer.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • mini corn tortillas

For the slaw

  • shredded broccoli slaw (or cabbage)
  • kale (finely chopped)
  • cilantro
  • olive oil
  • soy sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • lime juice

For the chicken

  • boneless skinless chicken breast
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • soy sauce
  • olive oil

For the crema

  • Sriracha
  • plain Greek yogurt (I used non-fat)

Instructions

First, make the slaw by combining all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss well and season to taste. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to build your tacos.

Next, cut the chicken breast into tiny cubes and season with garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Heat a pan over medium heat and lightly coat with olive oil. Because the chicken is so small it will cook fast, so keep an eye out. When the chicken is done, take off the heat and splash some soy sauce in the pan. Toss to coat.

While the chicken is cooking, make the crema by mixing the Sriracha with the yogurt. Adjust the amount of Sriracha you use, depending on how spicy you want it. Transfer the sauce to a Ziplock bag, squeeze it all to the corner and cut the tip off.

Heat a skillet over medium heat to warm the tortillas. When the tortillas are ready, build your tacos by layering the slaw and then the chicken. Drizzle the crema over the top and squeeze with fresh lime juice.

Baked sweet potato fries with spicy aioli

Baked sweet potato fries
I have a love-hate relationship with sweet potato fries. I enjoy them when they’re done right–crispy on the outside, soft inside, and seasoned well. But I seriously despise them when they’re done poorly–soggy, bland, and chewy.

Sweet potato fries are hard to nail and I will be the first to admit that I land amongst the poor SPF executers. Until this batch, that is. The key for me was using a cooling rack on top of the baking sheet. Elevating the fries allows them to cook evenly from all angles, rather than having to flip them halfway through, crossing your fingers you’ll get the same crispiness on each side (which never happens, btw). I don’t think I’ve fully reached the pro SPF executers club, but I am much, much closer.

If you don’t have a cooling rack, talk about desperately wanting one in front of your best friend, family members, or significant other until someone finally buys you one to make you shut up. Not saying I did that, but it’ll probably work.

Okay, I did that. Thanks again, Carissa!

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the fries

  • sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • cayenne pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper

For the aioli 

  • mayo
  • garlic powder
  • hot sauce (I used Cholula–duh)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut up potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. You can choose to leave the skin on or peel the potatoes before cutting them up. Generally, I like to keep the skin on, but I peeled them here. Toss the sliced potatoes and seasonings in a bowl with olive oil to coat. Be liberal with your seasonings as sweet potatoes have a very strong flavor that can be over powering if not seasoned well. Arrange the potatoes on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

Pop in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the outside is crispy and the inside is soft and fluffy. I turned the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through to ensure an even cook.

While the fries are cooking, make the aioli by combining all ingredients to taste. You can use any hot sauce you want. I used Cholula here, but Sriracha, Tapatio, and Crystal are some of my other favorites. When the fries are done, sprinkle with sea salt and serve with the aioli.

Smoked salmon and asparagus scramble

Salmon and asparagus scramble

Being a twenty-something and living on my own, I really feel like I have my life together when I manage to make it to the grocery store. For the last three weeks I have ordered delivery about every two to three days, on average–not kidding. Luckily, living in Los Angeles means I have more options than just pizza and MSG ridden, Chinese food. Not saying I completely avoided those (3 a.m. pizza is the best pizza), but LA has plenty of healthier choices for those unwilling to pick up a bag of spinach at the store for three weeks. So basically I didn’t commit gluttony with my delivery binge, I was just being slothful. I really blame Billy Joel for teaching me that the sinners have much more fun.

Anyway, last week I decided it was time to get back into adulthood, so I dragged my ass to the store and checked “productivity” off my to-do list for the week. I can’t explain the joy I felt having a refrigerator full of fresh produce, meats, etc rather than half-eaten take out boxes. Cue praying hands emoji.

The first dish I made is what I am sharing with you, today. I rarely buy smoked salmon from the store, but I needed to yolo after my comestible dry spell. It pairs really nicely with eggs as their richness complements the saltiness of the salmon. And asparagus is a classic accompaniment to salmon, so it seemed fitting, here. My taste buds were super pleased with this dish, and happy to have something homemade again.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • eggs
  • smoked salmon (I used Private Selections wild caught)
  • asparagus
  • red onion
  • olive oil
  • pepper (I didn’t use salt as the salmon is super salty)
  • avocado (for garnish)

Insructions

First you’ll want to prep your mise en place (which will forever be engrained in my head thanks to miss Anne Burrell). Mise en place is just a fancy French word that means to prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking. So in this case you should dice the red onion, cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, and pull apart the salmon into bite-size pieces.

Next, heat some olive oil in a pan over med-low heat. Add the red onions and let them soften. Next add the asparagus to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, until slightly soft and bright green in color. While the vegetables are cooking, crack your eggs in a bowl and scramble with a whisk or fork. I actually didn’t add any milk or water to my egg mixture, but feel free to do so if that’s how you usually prepare scrambled eggs. Crack some fresh black pepper and salt (if you you want–I found it to be salty enough with just the salmon) into the eggs.

Add the smoked salmon and egg mixture to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. You don’t want the heat to be too high because the protein in the eggs with cause them to become tough. Cook through to your desired doneness and garnish with avocado.

*Not pictured: gallon of Cholula. Highly recommended. 

Tuna melt

Tuna melt

I feel like tuna salad was a staple in everyone’s diet as a child. Canned tuna mixed with mayo and some sort of crunch (pickles or celery) thrown together with cold macaroni or in between two slices of bread. Whichever poison you chose, the stinky, yet delicious classic reigned strong in our youth. I, personally, was more a fan of the macaroni tuna salad than the sandwich. My mom makes a mean tuna salad.

Speaking of which, can you make it next time I’m home, Mom? Thanks!

That being said, I actually didn’t have many tuna melts growing up, but as I got older they looked more and more appealing. Melty cheese and tuna salad amongst toasty bread? I’ll take it. But, being the “recipe ditcher” that I am (yeah, I hate myself, too), I needed to switch things up a bit. To make it slightly healthier I swapped olive oil for the mayo, added some fresh veggies, and used whole wheat toast. Traditionally, I think people use cheddar or American cheese, but I used swiss–mostly because it’s what I had in the fridge, but party because I like its nutty flavor.

Let this sandwich rekindle the flavors of your childhood, with just a kiss of adultery.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

For the tuna salad

  • canned tuna (in water, not oil)
  • olive oil
  • Dijon mustard
  • onion
  • celery
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

For the sandwich

  • Swiss cheese slices
  • tomato
  • spinach
  • whole wheat toast

Instructions

Start by making the tuna salad. Finely dice the onion and celery. Drain tuna and combine with olive oil, mustard, celery, and onion. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Next toast the bread (I did this in a toaster) and turn on your broiler. Layer the toast with the tuna salad, spinach, sliced tomato, and cheese. Place under the broiler until cheese is completely melted. Done.

Balsamic sprouts with goat cheese

Balsamic sprouts

I feel like Brussels sprouts used to be this cringe worthy vegetable that we were force fed as children. Just these green, brain-like balls of mush that we’d try to feed to the dog when Mom wasn’t watching. But today, it’s a whole new story. Brussels sprouts have blown up over the last few years, especially in the restaurant world. Almost every restaurant I’ve been to in LA serves the cruciferous veg as an app or side dish–including the place I work, which is where I drew inspiration for this dish.

At The Overland (where I work) they flash fry the sprouts, but I sautéed them instead to lighten it up a bit. I also added red pepper flakes to give it a nice kick. In my opinion, everything is better with a little heat, but you can omit them if you’re a wuss. Kidding. The creamy goat cheese really brings this dish together, balancing out the acidity of the balsamic vinegar and the bitterness of the sprouts. If this doesn’t turn you into a Brussels sprouts lover, nothing will.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • Brussels sprouts
  • balsamic vinegar
  • goat cheese
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

Trim the sprouts by cutting off the bottoms and slicing them in half, lengthwise. You can quarter them if they’re really big.

Coat a frying pan with olive oil and warm over med-low heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cover. This will help soften them. After about 5 minutes or so, season the sprouts with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and remove the lid. Turn up the heat to med-high. This will create a nice char and crisp up the edges.Test a couple sprouts to determine their doneness–they should be tender overall, with crispy edges.

Once they are finished cooking, remove the pan from the heat and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. If you don’t remove them from the heat the vinegar with burn and turn bitter. Garnish with goat cheese crumbles and more red pepper flakes (optional) and serve immediately.