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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Baked Oatmeal Muffins with Banana, Chocolate Chips and Pumpkin


I’m always looking for easy and satisfying things to have on hand for breakfast.  I discovered baked oatmeal as an alternative to hot-cooked oatmeal or to my favorite, “Over-Night Oats”.  Having moved to a nearly-dairy free and low-fat, low-sugar diet, baked oatmeal has become a new favorite breakfast staple for me.  I can bake a batch of these and then freeze them, allowing me to grab a baked oatmeal muffin each morning to have as part of my morning meal.  I love the multitude of ways I can vary the flavors of this recipe and adapt it to a variety of dietary needs. 

When using oats, I opt for quick-cook or regular rolled oats, not instant oats, which tend to go gummy when liquid is added.  Look for gluten-free oats if possible, especially if you have gluten intolerance. 


The baked oatmeal can be flavored and varied according to your tastes.  Instead of nuts, use seeds like pumpkin.  You can omit the pumpkin puree (which adds a lot of moisture) and instead, increase the mashed bananas to 2 or three bananas.  Fold in frozen blueberries or other frozen fruit; or a mixture of dried fruit such as craisins, chopped apricots, and raisins.  This recipe can be made dairy-free, gluten-free, and even vegan, buy varying the ingredients.  Alternatively you can use egg substitute like Egg-Beaters or flax eggs.  Milk substitutes, like almond milk works very well.   If you like your baked oatmeal sweeter, you can increase the sugar to ½ cup or use a combination of sugar and maple syrup, or honey or agave nectar. 

Baked Oatmeal with Bananas, Chocolate Chips and Pumpkin Ingredients:
  •         2 Eggs – lightly beaten
  •     1 Cup Milk (Almond/Soy/Rice/Regular – your choice)
  •     1/3 Cup Plus 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar or ¼ Cup Packed Light Brown Sugar
  •          1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  •         1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  •         1 Tablespoon Vegetable/Canola or Melted & Cooled Coconut Oil or Melted & Cooled Unsalted Butter
  •         1 Medium-Large Banana – Mashed (about ½ Cup total)
  •         2 ½ Cups Rolled Oats
  •         ¼ Cup Flax Seeds (optional)
  •         2 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Seasoning
  •         1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  •         1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  •         ¼ Teaspoon Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
  •         ½ Cup Chopped or Sliced Nuts such as Almonds, Pecans or Walnuts
  •         ½ Cup Semi-Sweet or Bittersweet Chocolate Chips or Chopped Chocolate

Directions:
  1. Preheat Oven to 375 Degrees and set a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Grease/spray a large 12 muffin tin and set aside.  If using muffin cups, line the tin. Or, grease an 8x8 baking pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and milk and 1/3 cup of sugar (or ¼ cup of brown sugar) until pale and frothy, and then beat in the pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, and oil.  Whisk until thoroughly combined.  Lastly, fold in the mashed bananas.  Set aside.
  4. In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients – Rolled oats, flax seeds (if using), cinnamon, baking powder and baking sodas, and salt. Then stir in the sliced/chopped nuts and chocolate chips.
  5. Carefully pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and fold to combine – do not over mix.
  6. Using a spring-loaded ice-cream scooper – dollop out the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each muffin tin ¾ full – not quite to the top of the tin, to allow for rising.  Or, pour the batter into a prepared 8x8 baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over all the batter/muffins.
  7. Bake the muffins for 30 minutes, on a rack set in the middle of the oven.  Rotate the muffin pan half-way through the baking time.  After 30 minutes, test to see if they baked oatmeal is set – by inserting a skewer into the oatmeal to see if it comes out clean.  Baked oatmeal “muffins” should be golden brown and the center should spring back when touched.  If not baked enough, bake for another 5-8 minutes.
  8. If using the 8x8 baking pan, bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan once.  Oatmeal is done when the top is golden brown and the batter no longer jiggles when the pan is shaken.
  9. Turn the baked oatmeal muffins out onto a rack to cool.  Once cooled, store in a covered container and refrigerate.  Eat within 4 days.  Baked oatmeal can be wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.  If baking in an 8x8 pan, cool in the pan before serving.
  10. Serving Suggestions: Serve hot or cold, with maple syrup drizzled over or a dollop of yogurt, or with fresh fruit and berries.  These are great to eat out of hand as your breakfast-on-the-go!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

My stint as a Florida Keys Cook Off contestant or Why I'll never be a Top Chef


On Monday, March 6th, I had the opportunity to go back to my culinary alma mater, The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College.  The reason being, a cook off contest to help promote the Florida Keys and Key West.  Area Food Influences and Bartenders were invited to join in on the promotional launch of The Florida Keys and Key West.  In the local Philadelphia area, our major train station, 30th Street Station, has been transformed into a laid back, beach chair and umbrella, clear water paradise.  Ads on our local online news source have been featuring gorgeous photos of the clean beaches of the keys.  The cook-off contest was sponsored by the Florida Keys Tourism Board and promoted locally by Kory Aversa of Aversa PR and Events (he's the force of nature behind the PR of Diner en Blanc Philadelphia!)  If you saw or read the hashtag, #FLKeysCookOff, it was our personal promo "code" to use on social media. 
Smoked Salmon Cones - little tasty rich bites


Creamy Cool Soup Shots with a Cilantro Habanero Kick and Coconut Rock Shrimp


Fine Palate Restaurant's Dragon Fruit Cocktail


Grouper Tacos!


Canapes


Mini Cubano Sandwiches


Punch with Spicy Salty Rimmed Glasses and Edible Flowers
The timing  of the event worked out perfectly for me - schedules at home synced up so that I could attend the event and that Liz, free in the evening, could come to support me.  The event featured foods of Key West - think conch fritters, coconut soups, Cubano sandwiches and all thing Key Lime Pie.  The pie, actually was the hook for me - I thought the contest was all about baking a key lime pie.  Little did I realize we had to bake a Key Lime Pie AND cook a seafood dish.  For drinks, there were 4-5 bartenders, from several fine watering holes and dining establishments were invited to make a signature Key West flair cocktail.  I was pleased to see friends from Fine Palate restaurant at 15th and Locust in the contest - with their sexy spice Dragon Fruit cocktail.



I will admit, that I entered into the event just for the fun of it and to see who I could see; to mingle, network, to have a bit of a lark.  I figured that while I'm not the best baker, I'm a darn good cook, so I might as well give it my best shot and have a good time.  Operative words here, best shot and HAVE A GOOD TIME.  I need to repeat that more often to myself.  Have. A. Good. Time.  I take things too seriously.  I arrived, with my culinary kit in hand, Bicycle-Chef gear tucked into my bag, and wearing my brand new, "Official" TheBicycle-Chef.com chef's jacket.  I was the only person in the contest wearing a chef's jacket, everyone else dressed casually.  All night long, I was mistaken for someone who either worked at The Restaurant School, or who was currently attending the school.  Oh well, I guess I both stood out and blended in.  Strike 1.
A Room full of Food Influences - and competition!
The very cute and talented, Chef Robert Stoky.
Top Gear for TheBicycle-Chef
Oye Vey it was a Pie Disaster
If only I had left the bottle of Tequila on the plate...
What is this thing? Cheesecake? Cake Wreck? Pie Disaster?

Yellow Tail Snapper with Margarita Salsa 3-Ways
24 contestants, ranging from  local radio personalities, Philly Gay Calendar coordinators, my good friend, LeAnne Lindsay of TinselTine.com, local bloggers and foodies, and other food influences were treated to hors d'oeuvres and sweets.  We met with the judges and FL Keys Tourism President and big wigs.  We were treated to a quick culinary demo by Chef Robert "Bobby" Stoky, and then we were let loose into our kitchens to bake a Key Lime Pie.  All ingredients were readied for us, along with kitchen gadgets.  I didn't need to bring a blessed tool, save for my lime zester.  Strike 2.    Strikes 3, 4, 5, and 6 came next.

Baking Science is real folks.  Food chemistry matters.  I baked a trial run "Key Lime" Pie the night before, and while I did not have Key Limes or juice, the pie was good.  For the contest, we could bring a "secret" ingredient to make our pie stand out.  I debated plenty on what to bring.  If I was making my own crust, I would have done pretzels in the crust.  The crusts were pre-made.  I was prepared for everything.  Like I said before, I take things too seriously.  I should have listened to my first thought - pretzels.  So I also brought almonds and a toffee, almond, pretzel candy I made (which I nixed but shared around the office the next day).  For the filing, I debated on using a splash of fresh lemon juice to brighten the citrus tang.  I also brought Tequila, to help booze up the pie and make it more like a Margarita.  I over-thought the baking part.  During the contest, I went for the Tequila and mixed up the order of adding citrus to the sweetened condensed milk.  There is a reason for why you put ingredients together in a certain order, especially in baking.  Chemistry!

Were were given 50 minutes to bake our pies.  I was the only person who took ALL 50 Minutes!  I added way too much lime juice and Tequila to the condensed milk and I add my eggs into the mix after, not before.  A Key Lime pie is so simple to make, typically 3 ingredients - a can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 or 4 egg yolks and the juice of Key Limes, maybe the Zest too.  Pour into a graham cracker crust, bake for 20 minutes. Chill.  Done.  Bing. Bang. Boom.  I was all Boom and then BUST.  I don't think I've ever had a bigger baking disaster, not since I made some Coffee/Mocha Mousse for a Valentines's Day Dinner that turned into a sickly sweet mortar that we couldn't get out of our fancy glasses or swallow down without gagging.  But I digress.
What is this thing, called Key Lime Pie?
Because I reversed the order of eggs to condensed milk, and had too much liquid, my pie wouldn't bake, and when it did bake and started to set, it rose too high, like a soufflé.  I took it out of the oven at the 49.5 minute mark, and refrigerated it immediately.  It rose and collapsed into a crazy, craggy mess.  My finished pie had the texture of cheesecake.  Don't ask me how.  It was no silky custard that's for sure.  Strike 3.  But I wasn't out yet.

Over-all winner of the FL Key's contest went to Colleen Kennedy, blogger from Soufflé Bombay.  After the event, I realized I knew who she was, so I wrote to congratulate her. She's a wonderful blogger, with insightful posts and beautiful photographs.  Plus, she's a local gal who's really making it in the world of blogging and twitter events.

I knew for certain that any thoughts I had to win the contest and win a trip to Key West were dashed.  Oh well, there was always the cooking portion to conquer!  I figured, I still had this thing.  I got this, I thought.  I got this. HA! Strikes 4 and 5 here.


Turning Salsa into Sauce
The cooking portion was to make a Yellow Tail Snapper, either using one of the recipes provided, or to make our own, signature, Key West-inspired dish.  Always one to want to be different, I decided to do what I do best, just cook and work with the ideas that work for me.  The makings of a tropical salsa were on hand - I embellished with more Tequila, using the onions, jalapeños, peppers, tomatoes, mangoes, limes, oranges, garlic and bananas on hand.  Slamming Margarita Tropical salsa whipped together.  Cut the fish into two pieces. Filleted them open, stuffed some of the salsa into the fish. rolled them up, pinned them together with toothpicks that I brought (always prepared!), and let the fish marinate with the salsa for a bit. Then I saluted the fish roulades that I made, to brown them on the outside and finished them in the oven.  I took the rest of the salsa and divided into two portions.  One I cooked down into a sauce, the other I left as a tropical salsa fresca.

My finished fish featured Margarita Salsa 3-Ways: Cooked, Sauted and Fresh.  My fish was amazing! I got this! I got this!  Until I didn't have it.  The fish looked beautiful.  It as fresh, perfectly cooked and had true magazine photo spread appeal.  The judges seemed to like it.  The flavors were nuanced, I had that whole, layers of flavor thing going that I love to do.  I was hopeful, even a bit gleeful that I might just maybe win for best fish dish.  Doh!  Strike 6.

The very fun, engaging and charismatic fellas, Steve McCann and Chris Balbi of PhillyGayCalendar, won for best fish dish.  I think they used (and maybe bribed the judges?!!) the bottle of Kahlua they brought.  However they cooked their fish, according to Hugh E. Dillon of Philly ChitChat, their dish had a secret kick of ginger.  I'll give them props - they were a fun duo.

In the end, I had a great time, I saw a few friends, realized I knew a bunch more people, who I had wished I had the chance to talk with at the party, and I went home feeling really good about my cooking ability.  We also went home with a great swag bag filled with some fantastic goodies, in a  beautiful Lands-End Style tote bag.  It was fun.  I learned things.  It was a good night out.  It's not always about winning, it is about how you play the game, bake the pie, and cook the fish!

There's a cool video on YouTube that captured the event as it happened. I'm in it, barely, just look for the dork in the chef's jacket that's not an employee or student at The Restaurant School! Lol.  Here's the link!  https://youtu.be/xOJ3IvoriKs