bleu cheese dressing

I may have mentioned this before {does anyone remember my lightened-up buffalo chicken dip?} but as a child, I had a severe aversion with anything and everything bleu cheese. As in, my dad would enjoy it on his salad every night, but you couldn’t pay me to get near that bowl with a 10-ft. pole. That’s a bold statement, considering at that point I was just a kid with an allowance.

However- times change, and so do taste buds. And thank goodness for continual growth and change! I’ve been a huge fan of bleu cheese for at least the past several years, most notably starting in my post-college days. Too many slices of pizza and wings dipped in basic Ranch dressing led me and my palette to seek something new and bold, full of flavor and “adult”. I chuckle when I say this.

Hands down, this is easily one of my favorite condiments nowadays. And because you all know me so well at this point, making this dressing my own was bound to happen. Obviously. But I have to credit my mom for this one, as she was the one who introduced me to making homemade bleu cheese dressing awhile back. Her mixture of full-fat sour cream and local buttermilk, flecked with salt and pepper, was absolute perfection. So naturally, I’ve done little to change her structure. By subbing in low-fat sour cream and low-fat buttermilk {I find it slightly tangier and thus, more flavorful for cooking), you will certainly not be lacking any flavor whatsoever! I can also advocate a few dashes of Worcestershire in here, or perhaps if you’re feeling adventurous…some hot sauce!

If anything, you can enjoy twice the amount you’d typically have….at least, that’s how I look at it.

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Bleu Cheese Dressing {makes about 1.5 cups}

A perfect salad topper, veggie dipper, or just eaten by the spoonful. I won’t judge or tell, I promise.

Ingredients:

1 wedge of good Bleu Cheese {about 5-6 ounces}

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream

salt and pepper, to taste *I went a little heavy with both, because they accent so nicely the flavor of the cheese
To Prepare:
Crumble the cheese, leaving some pieces larger than others. Add into the bottom of a small mixing bowl.
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Measure out the wet ingredients, and add into the cheese crumbles. I incorporated the buttermilk first, then gently folded in the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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Dressing will stay well in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to one week.
Let’s Discuss: did you have any dressing aversions when you were younger? Do you still? 

peanut butter & chocolate banana bread

Let me introduce my new best {bread} friend.

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Nothing is more beautiful, or heartwarming, on a dreary morning than a slice of warm banana bread. To me, at least, that is the ideal. Curled up on my couch under a cozy blanket, cup of coffee in one hand and book in the other. That is just perfection.

This bread ranks high atop my list for breakfast comfort foods. As mentioned, I’ve always had a love of banana bread…for as far back as I can remember, my sisters and I would get so excited when our mom would pull out the tattered blue cookbook from our private school to make the always sought after banana bread. As amazing as it was on its own, it would be sent over the top {for me, at least} when she would add in a handful or two of walnuts or pecans, and maybe…just maybe…we’d totally win and get the chocolate chips in there too.

This is somewhat of a more “adult” twist on the classic banana bread. I stumbled across this recipe a few weeks back, making sure to bookmark it because it {obviously} looked delicious and I needed an excuse to make banana bread. We loaded up on bananas during our weekly grocery trip and I let them sit out nice and long to ensure that I got the most flavor out of them; we all know that the more spotty and brown the banana is, the better the final loaf of bread, no?

One of the reasons that I enjoy this bread so much is because the flavors all balance each other out so well. This is definitely less sweet than the banana bread of years past – hence why I lean towards calling it more of an “adult” version. We let the natural sweetness of the overly ripe bananas take center stage, and only add in a scant amount of brown sugar, leaving out white sugar completely.

Rich cocoa powder adds a complex, warm note to the bread. It also lets it take on a gorgeous, espresso color – you won’t see this with your regular banana bread! I also think that on the next go around I may add in a dash or two of espresso powder, just to take the flavor overboard. That is a winning combination in my book; coffee + chocolate = LOVE. And because I’m crazy, I swapped out the chocolate chips in the original recipe for peanut butter. Because….come on…you know that peanut butter, banana, and chocolate is a match made in heaven.

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Peanut Butter & Chocolate Banana Bread

{recipe, adapted slightly, from Smitten Kitchen}

Ingredients:

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas

1/2 C unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup  brown sugar {light or dark brown will work just fine!}

1 large egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp table salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon {optional; I skip it}

1 C  all-purpose flour

1/2 C Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2 to 1 C. natural, smooth or chunky, peanut butter – adjust to how “peanut buttery” you want your bread to taste {I find it helpful to have it warmed slightly, just so it’s easier to work with}

To Make:

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients {I couldn’t find my sifter, so I just made sure to incorporate very well}. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Fold in the quantity and type of peanut butter you’d like to use.

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Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free.

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Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. I keep mine wrapped in foil. If it lasts longer than that, which is highly doubtful, transfer to the refrigerator.

autumn granola

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Yes. I realize that we’re in the middle of winter.

…but let me just start with one thing. I am a lover of fall flavors. From pumpkin to cinnamon, allspice to squash, I have always been enamored. This recipe is my ode to autumn, and my love of granola.

I am a firm believer that you don’t need to add tons of extra sugar, chocolate, etc. to granola to make it taste good. Quite the opposite, in fact – we have so many great flavors to naturally enhance it, why not take advantage of them? By adding so many unnatural (and unnecessary, in my opinion) ingredients, you’re taking away from the natural goodness of what granola is supposed to be!

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In this particular recipe, nature’s ingredients shine. We’re making a base with pumpkin puree, pure maple syrup, and my “semi-secret” ingredient of apple cider. Raise your hand if you love cider – I know I do!

This is an excellent breakfast, stirred into warmed milk, or layered with Greek yogurt and fruit, parfait style. It also makes a great afternoon snack. The hubs and I like to take this on hikes for a power snack (so many good things going on in this mix!).

By no means is there a steadfast, set in stone way to make granola…most often, I use what I have on hand. A little bit of this, a dash of that, toss in a wing and a prayer, and hope it turns out well. Trust me on this, my dears, you will not be disappointed with this one. And if you decide to tweak it (which I always suggest!) leave me your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear your spin on it!

Autumn Granola {original recipe}

.servings vary.

4 C old fashioned oats

1 C nuts, assorted (for this particular batch, I used a mix of walnuts and peanuts)

1 C raisins

1 t cinnamon

2 t salt

3 T pure maple syrup

1.25 C pumpkin puree

2 -4 T pure, organic honey (amount depends on how sweet you like it, I tend to opt for less)

1 t pure vanilla extract

1/2 C organic cider

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Mix well so that they are all incorporated, and set aside.

In a smaller bowl (I used a Pyrex with a pouring spout), mix together the remaining five ingredients.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients, and toss to coat, making sure the wet mixture is evenly distributed. If it looks a little dry, add in a bit more cider.

Spread into a half baking sheet, which has been generously greased (I use a non-stick baking spray).  Place in the center rack. Granola will bake for a total of 45-55 minutes; be sure to take out every 15 minutes to give a stir.

Cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Granola will keep for several days; or for extended life, store in the freezer.