Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hankering for Hummingbird



Growing up I can always remember lazy summer days, sitting in the kitchen and looking out the window at all of the birds coming to the feeder. As far back as I can remember, hummingbirds were my favorite. I was intrigued by how fast their wings moved and how swiftly they could come and go. Now that I am in an apartment, I don’t get to enjoy watching the hummingbirds, but I know it’s something to look forward to when I visit home along with many other things of course!

But obviously this isn’t a blog about birds, but instead a blog about food, so how does that tie together with hummingbirds you ask? With the one-of-a-kind hummingbird cake of course! :-)

Even I questioned how a cake and a hummingbird have a similarity, but supposedly this confection descended from Jamaican roots and the hummingbird is one of the national symbols. Regardless  of where it came from or how it got its name, there’s no arguing that this fruit-filled sweet is definitely something you want to try if you haven’t already!


Hummingbird Cake

*Recipe adapted by me*


  • 3  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  cups  sugar or Splenda
  • 1  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 3  large eggs one large egg + 2 egg white, beaten
  • 1  cup  vegetable oil 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1  (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
  • 1/2 c  chopped pecans
  • 2  cups  chopped bananas
  • Cream cheese frosting:

  • 1  (8-ounce) package  fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2  cup  butter or margarine, softened
  • 1  (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1  teaspoon  vanilla extract


    Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and applesauce, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1/4 cup pecans, and bananas.

    Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

    Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/4 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

    *I sprinkled these on top instead of pecans*

    -Sweet plantain chips-


    As you may have noticed, I tried to lighten this up a bit by using applesauce in place of the oil, and a few other substitutes. Here are some secrets of eggs concerning baking lighter:

    • Packaged cake mixes usually contain ingredients that help with texture, tenderness, etc. so using only egg white often works fine.
    • One large whole egg has 70 calories, 5 grams fat, and 213 mg cholesterol. 2 egg whites have 30 calories and no cholesterol.
    • When reducing eggs in a from-scratch recipe, substitute 2 egg whites or 1/4 c egg substitute. It’s best to leave at least 1 whole egg.

    Have you tried hummingbird cake?

    p.s. Get your hands on this cookie if you can!

    Nana’s Peanut Butter Cookies

    (Disclaimer:free product)

    *It’s sweetened with fruit juice sweetener, but you’d never be able to tell if I didn’t tell you! ;-)

    *Fresh-baked and super cake-like.

    *Great peanut butter flavor.




    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Globe Trotting

    “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

    Although I’ve had great opportunities in life thus far to see many states in the US, I have yet to make it out of the US. I would have to say Italy is on the top of my list as must-sees, just because I come from an Italian family. But there is so much more I would like to see too, so I hope to maybe knock some countries off my list during my 20’s.

    Studying abroad through my current university is still up for debate for Spring 2011, but in the meantime my job for the Concordia Language Villages has brought me to all corners of the world even though I am really just cooking in the kitchen! Food is such a universal subject that can bond us with anyone, whether they speak our language or not. It’s a survival staple, and every country has added their own touch to the culinary world. Just when you think you know a lot about the realms of cooking, step into a kitchen with someone who has been doing it for 30+ years, and then you’ll learn that you won’t ever stop learning new recipes, new foods, new tips, and new tastes.

    Just in the past week, check out the places I’ve “traveled”…

    The Caribbean


    black bean soup

    Greece and France




    italian night

    Pizza night





    So despite my busy schedule at work, I still try to find time to cook in my kitchen believe it or not. Everyone claimed once I got this job, I’d get sick of cooking and baking--never! So I decided to take a trip to Spain..I’ve always been obsessed with empanadas.


    a turnover or mold of pastry filled with chopped or ground meat, vegetables, fruit, etc., and usually baked or fried.

    There’s so many empanada recipes online, it can get overwhelming, but I knew my sweet tooth would never be silent if I passed up this recipe!


    Chocolate-Banana Empanadas


  • 4 large ripe bananas
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 ready to use refrigerated pie crusts
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken in chunks
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  • Directions:

    • Mash the bananas, sugar, and cinnamon together in a mixing bowl until creamy, but not completely smooth – you should still have pieces of banana chunks.


    • Using a 4-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 10 circles of dough; repeat with the other 1/2.


    • Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of filling into the center of each pastry circle, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Brush the edges with the egg wash and then fold the dough over in 1/2 to enclose the filling and form a semi-circle. Tightly seal the edges by crimping with the tines of a fork. Chill at least 30 minutes before baking.



    • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the empanadas on a buttered baking sheet and brush the tops with additional egg wash. Using a fork, prick a few holes in the top of the empanadas for steam to escape. Bake for 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
    • Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve hot.


    What is your country cuisine of choice?

    Mine is definitely Italy, not surprising since I am a full-blooded Italian :-)

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Mid-Week Mishmash

    Lately, my days have been running into one another, and things are all over the place. Whoever said summers in the “real world” are relaxing, obviously has not worked a full-time job. Speaking of jobs though, here’s some of the meals we’ve been serving lately…




    Loved the mango relish—so many compliments on it. The recipe simply contained equal amount of cubed cucumbers, cubed mangoes, and cubed pineapple—olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Glorious!


    Meat loaf, summer squash salad, tossed green salads, and white rice.

    honey cake

    Honey olive oil cakes with honey-drenched berries.


    Chicken and rice soup, rye sourdough bread, crackers, and very veggie salads.

    black bean soup

    Spicy black bean soup (recipe here), sour cream cornbread with honey butter, and tossed salads with poppy seed dressing. You must make this dressing—it’s fabulous and it was very easy for me to make in large amounts. (recipe here)


    So needless to say, I’ve been keeping myself quite busy which means I've been eating out a bit more than I usually do just because it’s more convenient to grab-and-go. My current new favorite place is the Pita Pit.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve driven past this gem in the three years I’ve been living here, but I am overly happy that I finally decided to stop! I scanned the menu, finally deciding that their “breakfast served all day” caught my attention. So I decided to order the Chicken Classic.

    “Scrambled eggs, chicken breast, hash- browns, grilled green peppers, mushrooms & onions and your choice of cheese and sauces.”

    I got it without cheese, salsa as the sauce---this was one of those meals that I am going to be craving all the time now. Too bad they are like $6 something a pop. I will have to start making my own!


    I really like how the Pita Pit website allows you to “Build-Your-Own-Pita” and get nutritional info on it before you go. Try it out here!


    How is the weather in your neck of the woods? It has been one of the hottest Minnesota summers that I can remember. I am not complaining one bit, mostly because I’ve had the chance to try some great cool-me-down treats!

    ice cream

    Great Value Double Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Parfait

    At just 160 calories for the whole cup, it’s a great way to fit in a cold and creamy craving! It has a generous layer of strawberries on top, and I like to add some blueberries too!

    So Delicious Vanilla Coconut Milk



  • Dairy Free / Lactose Free
  • Soy Free
  • Gluten Free
  • Rich in Medium Chain Fatty Acids
  • Excellent Source of Vitamin B12 (vegetarian friendly)
  • Formulated for Maximum Calcium Absorption
  • Cholesterol Free
  • No Trans Fats
  • Certified Vegan
  • I would still label myself as a soymilk girl. The coconut milk was definitely different than anything I’ve tried before, and I don’t think I could drink it straight on a daily basis. However, in smoothies it was a hit!

    Northern Lite Vanilla Blended Coffee from Caribou Coffee


    These are SO great, but I almost wish I wouldn’t have liked it due to the fact that they are five dollars. Yes, five dollars. That’s one expensive habit…so I am trying to formulate something similar in my own kitchen.

    What’s your favorite keep-you-cool treat in the summer??

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Meet My New Man, George

    I don’t often invite men into my kitchen much..number one, it’s my space, number two, they always seem to want eat everything before it’s actually ready, and number three, they are times when it’s just better off for them to be on the couch or manning the grill! But I had to make an exception with George, because not only did he help me out, but he became the new star of my kitchen. Confused? Let me explain…

    This is George.


    This is what George delivered.


    This” as in the Lean Mean Spin Frying Machine (aka Deep Fryer).

    Take a short minute to watch the commercial on this gem..

    Pretty cool, huh? So you better believe I’ve been rounding up some great deep-fried recipe to try. It took me awhile to actually decide to buy this due to some of the bad reviews I read online, but I like to give everything at least one chance. Some of the biggest complaints were:

    • Too many parts to clean, I found that, yes, it does take more time to clean. but not anything outrageously difficult.
    • The spin cycle warps your food, I found that spinning for 2 minutes on low doesn’t cause any damage to the shape of your food.
    • The magnetic plug can be bumped easily and unplug mid-frying, I put the fryer up on my counter and kept the cord out of the way. It’s basically common sense not to put it where you’ll hit it.

    So overall, I would give my new kitchen appliance 9 out of 10.

    • It still gives you the great flavor and texture of deep fried foods.
    • No more greasy fingers or draining on paper towels…by the way, I put some fried foods on the paper towel, and just like the commercial shows, there isn’t a trace of leftover grease.
    • It does a good job of keeping the “fried” smell from overpowering your house with the vent and cover.




    So George and I would like to present to you….


    Mini Donuts


    1 cup milk, I used buttermilk
    ¼ cup water (110F/45C)
    3.5g / ½ package dried yeast
    ½ cup sugar     2 tsp cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon salt
    2 eggs, lightly beaten
    4½ to 5 cups of plain, all purpose flour
    ¼ cup / ½ stick of butter, melted
    1 egg, lightly beaten


    • Warm the milk in a saucepan until bubbles appear around the edge.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool to 110F/45C.
    • In the meantime, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.   Stir in the milk, sugar, salt, beaten eggs, and 1 cup of the flour.  Beat the mixture until smooth.  Add 2 more cups of flour and continue to beat.  Continue until the dough is glossy.
    • Add the melted butter and stir well.  Add a further 1 ½ cups of flour and continue to beat well.  Stir in the remaining ½ cup of flour bit by bit until the dough is stiff – you may not need to add it all. 
    • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.  Then knead the dough lightly until it is smooth and glossy.  Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, lightly spraying the top of the dough with oil to prevent drying.  Allow to double in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.
    • Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled, about 1 hour.
    • 1/2 batch of above dough recipe will yield approximately 25 doughnut holes.

    • After the second rise, divide the dough into 25 equal portions.

    • Allow-to proof for 20 minutes.
    • Heat up a small saucepan of neutral flavored oil (vegetable, canola) to 370F / 190C.  Or preheat a deep fryer to 375 F. I used canola oil as well.
    • Cook 4-6 doughnut holes at a time for 1-2 minutes, turning as you cook to ensure they are evenly browned.

    • Allow to drain on absorbent paper.  Once slightly cooled, toss in cinnamon sugar.


    *Tasted just like the ones you would get at the fair!! And when using the Lean Frying Machine…so much healthier!**


    Do you deep fry foods often? If, so what?

    Have you heard of the George Foreman Deep Fryer?

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    Holiday Weekend Wrap Up

    Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend, and maybe it’s still the weekend if you have Monday off!

    I ended up getting the 4th of July off—my boss had a minor discrepancy as to when the new group of students would be arriving—so that was a good surprise! The weather held out pretty much all weekend as well, which is usually unheard of in MN.


    I started of  the holiday weekend by spending Thursday getting a new tattoo! (Side note: Foot tattoos are the most painful thing ever!)





    Friday it was nice to spend it with my grandparents. They came down to enjoy the lakefront carnival that our town has every year. We played bingo (grandpa won), and just enjoyed the day.



    It’s been one of the hottest weekends so far this summer, so needless to say, I didn’t feel like eating greasy carnival food in the blazing sun. We decided to go cool off at Applebee’s instead. It was actually my choice to go there because I’ve been dying to try their new Sizzling Entrees. I ordered the Sizzling Steak and Cheese, minus the cheese. And instead of mashed potatoes, I got my standard baked potato.

    “ Applebee's classic 9 oz. sirloin with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and red & green peppers, topped with rich Italian cheeses. Served with garlic mashed potatoes.”


    Looooved it! When they brought it out, you could hear it sizzling, which definitely means your meal is hot, hot, hot! The steak was pure goodness, and I got the biggest potato I’ve seen yet. It runs at $13.99 a meal, but I actually got two meals out of it, so not too shabby!


    Saturday, mom and dad came down to celebrate with me! We headed back down to the carnival and watched the water ski shows, played more bingo, and just took in all the fun stuff going on.


    Mom and I.


    Dad and I.


    Our town is actually the “birth place” of Paul Bunyan and Babe—this statue of them is a historic landmark, and everyone always has to get a picture by it ha ha!

    And I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to try the new restaurant that just opened this past week. It’s called the Blue Ox Bar & Grill and it’s kind of cool because it’s in the old train depot, so it’s definitely not your typical dining atmosphere, which makes it fun!



    I ordered a sirloin steak again (hey, girl needs her iron!) with sweet potatoes fries and a house salad.


    Normally I don’t order fries at restaurants because the grease doesn’t agree with me, but I am really glad I ordered them here, not a tinge of grease any where. The steak was cooked to perfection & I am in love with their house dressing. The amount of food was outrageous, and the price was super low—needless to say, it’s our new go-to spot.

    And of course, it’s always necessary to cool off on a hot summer night with some soft-serve vanilla ice creamyes please!


    This week is supposed to be gorgeous—high 80’s and sunny skies. Maybe between work and life in general I will get a chance to hit up the beach—if not I always have these Beach Bash cookies I created to tide me over!


    Beach Bash Cookies



    • 1/2 c butter
    • 1/2 c peanut butter, I used PB & co White Chocolate Wonderful
    • 1/4 c + 2 Tbsp sugar
    • 1/4 c + 2 Tbsp brown sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 tsp vanilla
    • 1 c Bisquick baking mix
    • 1/2 c +1/4 c tropical granola, I used Enjoy Life Beach Bash granola
    • 1/2 c white chocolate chips
    • 1/2 c peanuts


    • Preheat oven to 350 F.
    • Cream butter, sugars, peanut butter, egg, and vanilla.
    • Stir in remaining ingredients.
    • Place in 1 Tbsp portions on cookie sheet.
    • Bake 9-11 minutes or until edges start to brown.

    What’s your favorite summertime sweets?!