Maui Girl Cooks

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” Luciano Pavarotti


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“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.”  Clifton Fadiman

Before we get to tonight’s dinner, these quesadillas, I have some lovely flower pictures from today’s walk to share with you.


And now for the quesadillas!

quesadilla on plate

There are quesadillas, and then there are quesadillas worth eating.  If you would like a quesadilla that is more than a white flour tortilla filled with melted cheese, then keep reading.

Our quesadillas are filled with cooked spinach or Swiss chard {a lot of it}, roasted peppers & cheese.

We love quesadillas and have been tweaking our current recipe for over 5 years, and think they are now just about perfect.  There have been several versions of this recipe, each change making an improvement on an already good thing.  It is our favorite meal to cook, and one we make weekly.  This is truly a “team meal” for us.  I prep everything and my husband does the cooking.  While he is cooking, I clean everything up so that we only have 2 plates to wash when we’re finished eating.  We are a well-oiled machine when it comes to making quesadillas!

Before I get into the details of how to make these scrumptious quesadillas, I should tell you about the tortillas we use.  We eat food that is good for us {at least 95% of the time}, so it was important to find tortillas that are healthy and taste good.  Often times, breads that are healthy taste like cardboard, or if you’re lucky, hay.

Perhaps you have had the unfortunate experience of buying tortillas for a recipe, and then having them go moldy in the refrigerator.  These are the tortillas that we like & here is how we take care of them so they are ready when we want a quesadilla or a wrap.

Fresh Tortillas in Bag  These are tasty tortillas that we can feel good about eating!

blog freezing tortillas  Stagger your tortillas on a cookie sheet & freeze.  They will curl a little, but you can easily put them bag into the bag you bought them in.  They won’t stick together like they would if you just put the whole bag in the freezer.  I used to separate them with a piece of wax paper; totally unnecessary!  When you are ready to use them, put them on a plate, and flip them a few times while they thaw, so that they aren’t as curled.

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Quesadillas with Spinach {or Swiss chard} & Roasted Peppers

This is more of a guideline than a specific recipe, as far as amounts are concerned.  Feel free to adjust quantities & ingredients to your liking!

2 large whole grain tortillas

2 quarts raw spinach or Swiss chard, washed carefully and thoroughly dried, then cut into strips {I mince the stems & sauté them with onions, jalapenos & garlic}

Peppers, cut so that they are in relatively flat pieces {bell peppers, poblanos or Anaheims are all great here}; we use 1 bell pepper, or about 3 smaller size peppers

1/2 small onion, finely diced

1 jalapeno, finely diced {add more or less depending on how much heat you like}; or you can use dried red pepper flakes, Serrano peppers, etc.

3 cloves garlic, minced & allowed to sit for 10 minutes {to achieve the health benefits}

Approximately 4 ounces of cheese, thinly sliced {we like Gruyere because it is a delicious low fat cheese that melts well}

The most time consuming part of this recipe is the prep; once everything is sliced and diced you are ready to put your quesadillas together.

Spray a large pan with pan spray, and then add a film of olive oil.  Sauté the peppers over medium heat, until they have a bit of color and are beginning to get tender.  They do not have to be completely tender.  Remove peppers to a plate lined with a paper towel, and blot to absorb any extra oil.

In the same pan, sauté the onion, jalapeno, garlic and stems over medium heat until almost tender. Add the leaves and toss everything together for about a minute, or until leaves are just wilted.  Remove from the heat.  The leaves should be glossy, dark green and gorgeous.

You are now ready to put your quesadillas together!

Place tortilla on a dinner plate.  On half the tortilla, place the cheese, top with peppers and then the greens. Spray a skillet {we use cast iron} with pan spray and then film with olive oil.  Fold the tortilla in half and put in the skillet preheated to medium to medium-low.  The objective is to crisp the tortilla, heat everything through, melding the cheese with the greens and peppers, without burning the tortilla.  Flip the quesadillas several times;  if you flip one, flip the other.  My husband, the quesadilla cook, said he flips them at least 3 or 4 times.  Adjust the heat so that they do not brown too quickly on one side.  Serve them with the cheese on top, so gravity can draw it down through the greens and peppers.

Cut into thirds or fourths & eat immediately.  I cut the quesadillas with my kitchen shears, cutting through the top tortilla first, and then cut the bottom tortilla with the filling; this ensures the filling not squishing out when you cut them.  We eat ours with Tapatio Hot Sauce {a lot of it!}, and sometimes with a little sour cream or plain yogurt {ok, I sometimes put plain yogurt on mine}.

Notes:
My husband says that a nice glass of red wine is really nice while you are cooking these, and I concur!
* We tried soft goat cheese in these, but weren’t crazy with the results.  We love goat cheese, but not here.
* Go easy on the oil-you don’t want your quesadillas to be greasy.
* Be sure your greens are thoroughly dry, so that they aren’t too wet {soggy quesadillas not great}
* Use a sturdy tortilla.  We tried brown rice tortillas, and while they were super tasty, they cracked right down the middle when we folded them.
* The first time you make these, you may want to make a thinner quesadilla, for ease in turning.  They can be a bit tricky to turn over.
* Jarred roasted peppers are fine!  Before we moved to Maui, we used the jarred piquillo peppers from Trader Joe’s.
* I LOVE a good mouth burn, and usually get one with these quesadillas.  But if you don’t, leave out the hot peppers, simple as that.
* If your quesadilla is a little spicier than you like, sour cream or plain yogurt cools it off very nicely.

Bon appetit!


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Salad with Purslane & Ribbons of Parmesan

“When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it.  If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”  Author Unknown

I do not know if purslane comes out of the ground easily or not, but I have seen it defined both as a weed and a valuable plant.  Purslane is purported to be a healthy plant that we should be enjoying.  It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Check out the articles at the end of this post if you would like to read more about purslane’s health benefits.  My husband bought our first bunch of purslane 2 weeks ago, at the Upcountry Farmers Market.  It’s great!  What I like most about purslane is its chew, due to the fact that it is a succulent.  I think it has a subtle flavor, not at all assertive, but just tasty. . .green.  Apparently it grows everywhere, but I can’t say I’ve encountered any on my walks around Pukalani, where we live.  You will most likely not find purslane at your local grocery store, but look for it at your farmers market.  Or grow it yourself; from what I’ve read, it is easy to grow.

When I cleaned the first bunch of purslane, I meticulously removed the leaves from the stems.  I discovered on the second bunch that “de-leafing” {is that a word??} the stems is not necessary, and that the stems also add a bit of chew to a salad.  The leaves are in clusters on the stems, so that makes them pretty in a salad.

Salad with Purslane & Ribbons of Parmesan

This is not a tossed salad, but more of a composed salad, which I think is prettiest served on a plate. The ingredients are few and the salad is delicious.  When you start with excellent ingredients, you do not need much to create great food.

Place a layer of tender lettuce on a plate.  Some good choices are Bibb, Manoa or red leaf.  A crunchy lettuce like romaine doesn’t work in this salad.  Texture is important in this recipe; there is a pleasant “chew” but it isn’t a crunchy salad.

Top the lettuce with some onion that you have sliced paper thin.  Use whatever type of onion you prefer, although I wouldn’t choose green onions for this.  Slicing the onion super thin makes it seem less pungent, making it easier to eat for the “non-onion types.”

Now add a scattering of paper thin purple cabbage.

Top with purslane, preferably in clusters of leaves, as opposed to individual leaves; this adds to the salad’s texture.

Sprinkle the salad with some pumpkin seeds that you have pan roasted, preferably in coconut oil.

Season the salad with freshly ground salt and pepper, then sprinkle with fresh lemon juice {about 1/4 of a juicy lemon per salad} and a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.  Use a light hand with the dressing, as you don’t want your salad to be swimming in dressing.

Finally, take a vegetable peeler and shave some nice ribbons of fresh parmesan cheese over the salad.

Salad with Purslane and Ribbons of Parmesan

Related articles

Bon appetit!

Nut Lovers Bars with Dark Chocolate & Coconut

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“There’s a rule in baking.  When you smell it, it’s done.  I don’t know about the science here.  But it’s a good indicator.  If you’re in the other room enjoying the nice smells of your cookies, you better get up and take them out!  ”   Frank Mentesana {Once Upon a Tart}

Nut Lovers Bars with Dark Chocolate & Coconut

My Nut Lovers Bars with Dark Chocolate and Coconut are great because. . .

  • they all bake at the same time.   No rotating of cookie sheets or baking multiple batches.
  • they are a layered cookie, and go together quickly.
  • several of the ingredients are heart healthy and/or what some consider superfoods {walnuts, almonds, pecans, dark chocolate and coconut.
  • they are deliciously crunchy, chewy & tasty at the same time.
  • they are visually beautiful!  The nuts sport a lacquered look when they come out of the oven.  Add a little pearl dust and they are even prettier!
  • people like it when you bring them to potlucks.

Seriously, if you like nuts and chocolate, you should bake these cookies.  They are gorgeous, scrumptious & easy to make.  What more could one want in a cookie?  The ingredients play nicely together so that even those who do not like coconut enjoy them.

Nut Lovers Bars with Dark Chocolate & Coconut

½ cup butter
1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs {about 8 whole sheets}
2 cups chocolate chips {I use Ghirardelli 60% Bittersweet}
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut {flaked or shredded}
About 3 cups nuts {I use walnuts, pecans & almonds.  I break the walnuts & pecans, and cut the almonds into thirds.}
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Put the butter in a 13”x9” pan and let it melt while the oven is preheating.  Mix graham cracker crumbs with the butter and press evenly in the pan.  It looks like you don’t have enough to go around the whole pan, but you do.  It isn’t a thick layer.

Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips, coconut & nuts.  Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over everything.  I drizzle it going one direction and then drizzle it going the other direction until it’s all out of the can and onto the cookies.

Bake cookies for about 30” or until nuts are golden brown.  You want the cookies to have some golden color before you take them out; the toasty nuts is part of what makes them so delicious.  I like to brush them with edible pearl dust, but if you don’t have any handy, they will be just as good.

Closeup of Nut Lovers Bars with Dark Chocolate & Coconut

Around the Web. . .

This is totally cute!  Check out this video of Seattle chef Jesse Smith making naan bread with his adorable little girl Avalon.

Spilled Milk {a podcast about food-recipes, info with some humor thrown in}

Bon appetit!


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In honor of Julia Child, who would be 101 years of age on 15 August 2013. . .
. . .”This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”  Julia Child My Life in France 

There was some beautiful produce plus one unusual {at least for us} item at the farmers market today.

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After work last Tuesday, we received an invitation to Kamaole 3 Beach Park for a sunset BBQ on Wednesday.  “Yes! Yes! Yes!” was the reply to the invite.  We jump at any opportunity to have a sunset beach BBQ; good friends, good food & gorgeous scenery is only a 40 minute drive away.  I made this chocolate cake to share.  The cake is delicious & quick & easy to make.  It’s not a fancy cake, but then I’m not a fancy baker.  Decorated cakes are lovely, but I am not big on decorating my cakes.

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Chocolate Sheet Cake adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen: the Definitive Baker’s Companion

Cake:
3 c flour {I use whole wheat pastry flour}
1 3/4 c sugar
1/2 c natural unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Ghiradelli or Hershey’s
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
12 T vegetable oil
2 T white vinegar
2 t vanilla
2 c cool water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda & salt to an ungreased 9”x11” baking dish.  Stir well to mix.  With the back of a spoon, make three indentations or wells in the dry mixture: one large, one medium & one small.  Into the large well, pour the vegetable oil.  Into the medium well, pour the vinegar.  Into the small well, pour the vanilla.  Pour the water over everything.  With a fork, stir the mixture until the ingredients are well-blended, making sure you reach the corners & sides to catch any dry pockets.  Do not beat this batter, but mix just until most of the lumps are smoothed out, & there are no little patches of overly thick or runny batter.  A few lumps won’t hurt, & it’s important not to overbeat at this point.

Bake for 35-40” {I always start checking at 28” so as not to overbake} or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs & the top feels springy when lightly touched.  Cool completely on a wire rack before turning out, frosting or cutting.

Frosting:
1/2 c cocoa powder
2 2/3 c powdered sugar
6T butter
4-5 T milk or water {I always use milk, or cream if I happen to have some}
1 t vanilla
Pinch of salt {brings out the chocolate flavor}

Whisk cocoa, powdered sugar & salt together. Cream butter & add powdered sugar alternately with milk.  I don’t necessarily follow the recipe exactly as far as the milk goes, but just add enough milk to get the consistency I want {I like it soft-not runny & certainly not stiff}.  Spread on cooled cake.

Pita Breads

We went to another sunset BBQ last night, but we were in someone’s condo, not at the beach.  Two of the ladies who were at the first BBQ are visiting from the Mainland, and invited us over for dinner.  I decided to make hummus {post to follow on another day} to be eaten with homemade pita bread.  I’ve made pita bread a few times and it was always tasty, but the pockets didn’t always form.  I tried a new recipe, and it worked great!  I will definitely use it again.  I used half whole wheat flour and half bread flour.  It is from The Fresh Loaf website, where there are many recipes that I will be trying.

Borscht

We love eating soup & I enjoy making soups; most of the soups I make are vegetarian.  Today I made borscht.  I’ve made it before and have wanted to make it again; I finally got to it today.  It was great for lunch.

Russian Cabbage Borscht adapted from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.

1 ½ cups thinly sliced potato
1 cup thinly sliced beets
4 cups water or stock

Put potatoes, beets and water in a medium saucepan and cook until everything is tender {save the water}.

2 tbsp butter
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 scant tsp caraway seeds
1 ½ tsp salt
1 large sliced carrot
1 stalk chopped celery
3 cups chopped green cabbage
Optional: 1 tbsp raisins
Black pepper, preferably freshly ground
¼ tsp dried dill weed
1 tbsp + 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp honey
1 cup tomato puree {I pulsed a 14 1/2 oz. can of tomatoes in my food processor}

Melt the butter in a large soup pot and add the onions, caraway seeds and salt.  Cook until onion is translucent, and then add carrots, celery and cabbage.  Add the cooking water from the beets & potatoes, and cook, covered, until all the vegetables are tender.  Add potatoes, beets and all remaining ingredients.

Cover and simmer slowly for at least 30 minutes.  Taste and correct seasonings.

Serve topped with sour cream or plain yogurt, extra dill weed and chopped fresh tomatoes.

Note: The next time I make this soup, I am going to chop the beets and potatoes instead of slicing them.

Take some time to prepare & enjoy delicious food.

Bon appetit!


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“Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first.”  Ernestine Ulmer

I saw some beautiful flowers on my walk today, & couldn’t resist photographing & sharing them with you.  My walk was enjoyable as always, and warm, because I didn’t leave until a little after 7:00 am.  The sun doesn’t take long to “warm up” in Hawaii; it pretty much makes its appearance & is hot right off the bat.  If you want a cool walk, you need to leave before the sun peeks over Haleakala, or after it dips behind the West Maui Mountains.

Sunset from Bedroom Window

If you have visited Maui, or live here, you know that there are chickens all over the place.  I have seen some beautiful chickens here, but the family I saw on today’s walk are about the homeliest bunch I’ve encountered.

Fowl

Truth be told, I am more excited about what I made after I returned from my walk.

I made this. . .

This is a fantastic way to end a walk on a hot day!

This is a fantastic way to end a walk on a hot day!

Oops…I was so anxious to eat my dessert that I forgot to snap a photo until these two bites were left!  Side-by-side with ice cream, I could certainly tell the difference.  All by itself, I don’t need ice cream.  We always have a stash of frozen bananas, so this is a breeze to make {& eat}.

Banana Mocha Peanut Butter Soft Serve

2 frozen bananas, sliced
1 tbsp. crunchy peanut butter
1/2 tsp instant coffee {I use Starbucks Via}
1 tsp cocoa {I use Dagoba unsweetened with bits of unsweetened chocolate}
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of kosher salt
1/8 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
20 dark chocolate chips {or your favorite}
Splash of milk, dairy or otherwise, if you need it for blending

I used my Cuisinart Mini-Prep food processor for this recipe.  Put the bananas, peanut butter, coffee, cocoa, vanilla & salt into the processor.  Process until the mixture starts to become creamy; you may need a little liquid to get it going.  I used a little of my homemade almond milk.  Add in the peanuts & chocolate chips & blend until they are somewhat chopped up, but not totally.  Eat right away, or freeze.  I prefer eating it right away, or freezing for just an hour or 2.

Serves 2 {or 1 if she doesn’t feel like sharing}

Bon Appetit!


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Amazingly Delicious Banana Nut Muffins

Banana Muffins final

If you are a banana nut bread lover, you must try these muffins.  They are dense, moist, banana-y, and just plain delicious.  I have put my own spin on them to make them healthier and even tastier than the original recipe.  The list of ingredients is perhaps a little longer than most muffin recipes, but they go together quickly, and are definitely worth your time.

As far as I’m concerned, any banana bread or muffin must contain walnuts & be eaten with butter;  preferably the bread is cool enough so that the butter just sits on top so you can really taste it.  There is something special about the flavor combination of sweet banana bread, crunchy walnuts & creamy butter.  Another “must ingredient” for me in these muffins is cacao nibs.  Cacao nibs are one of my favorite ingredients.  As you can see from the package, they are a Mayan Superfood, with antioxidants, iron & magnesium! Don’t expect to snack on them from the package, because they have no sweetening, so aren’t like popping chocolate chips.   I buy these from Amazon:

Cacao nibs are a nice addition to banana breads because they add a little punch of chocolate flavor in every bite.  What's not to like about that?

Cacao nibs are a nice addition to banana breads because they add a little punch of chocolate flavor in every bite. What’s not to like about that?

The original recipe calls for strong coffee & suggests water if you don’t have coffee.  I highly recommend using coffee, even if you are not a coffee drinker, because it adds a layer of flavor that you can’t detect as coffee; it’s just good.  I buy the Starbucks Via packages from Costco when they go on special.

Starbucks Via fina;

Banana Nut Muffins
Adapted from http://busterbucks.hubpages.com/hub/Worlds-Best-and-easiest-Banana-Nut-Muffins

Wet Ingredients:
2 ripe bananas
1 large egg
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp. strong coffee {you can use water, but I highly recommend the coffee}
Milk, buttermilk or coconut milk-enough to make 2 cups TOTAL wet ingredients {if you use 3 bananas you may only need a few tablespoons; if you use one banana, you may need to add 2/3 cup or more}

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp. ground flax seed {preferably grind your own from whole flax seeds}
2 tbsp. hemp seeds
2 tbsp. raw cacao nibs
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg {I use whole nutmeg, freshly grated on a rasp.  Definitely worth it!}
1 cup broken walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Be sure to put the muffins in a fully preheated oven.

In a small bowl, put all of your wet ingredients-make sure you mash the bananas thoroughly with a fork.  Stir in the egg with the fork, and then add the remaining wet ingredients.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix your dry ingredients.  I always put the measured baking soda & baking powder in my hand & smash any lumps; it’s not pleasant to bite into a lump of baking soda in your muffin.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir gently {12-14 quick strokes}.  Do not over mix-this will result in tough muffins.  Who wants tough muffins?  There may be a few streaks of flour but that is ok.

Spray your muffin tins with coconut oil spray {or Pam}, or grease them with butter.   Lightly spoon in your batter {don’t pack it in}.  You can fill the tins up to the top.

Put the muffin tin into the preheated oven & bake for 20 minutes {I always start checking at 18 minutes}.  They are done when a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Leave the muffins in the tins for 5-10 minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack.  Enjoy with butter!

Here are a few other ingredients I like to use.

Penzeys Nutmeg2

Hemp Seeds

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Penzeys Cinnamon final


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Butter & Buttercups

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”      James Beard (1903-1985)

My family is from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where I lived for just a few years as a child, because my dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around every four years or so.  The saying in my family was that if you held a buttercup flower under your chin, it meant you liked butter.  Of course, I tried it, and my chin glowed buttercup yellow.  Whose wouldn’t?  But it’s a nice thought.

Buttercups

There are those, like my husband, who like the butter to melt into the toast.  I prefer thin, cold slices of butter sitting on my toast, so I know that the butter is really there; I can see it.  I’m like my dad that way.  Of course, I would prefer thick slices of butter, thick enough for my teeth to sink into it, but all things in moderation, at least most of the time.  I generally use unsalted butter for baking.  But for buttering bread, frying eggs or buttering potatoes I’ll take delicious organic pasture butter.  What is pasture butter?  Pasture butter is made from organically raised cows who nosh on what cows are supposed to eat, grass.  It is a starred food from The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: the Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why {Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.} which I talk about on my Useful Resources page.  Imagine my delight when I saw butter as a starred food; pure joy! Bowden recommends butter from pasture-fed, organically raised cows as a “good fat, alongside nuts, eggs, fish, coconut, avocados and certain oils.”  Mary Enig, Ph.D., one of the country’s most respected lipid biochemists, points out that “butter has been used for centuries and that 30% of the fat from butter is from monounsaturated fat {the same kind that’s in olive oil}.”  Enig states that it is a good source of CLAs {conjugated linoleic acid}, which have anticarcinogenic properties and glycolipids, which have anti-infective properties.  I’m not advocating eating huge amounts of butter, but a little here and there adds enjoyment to one’s dining pleasure, and eating should be a pleasurable experience.

A simple & delicious way to use butter: Mash a clove of garlic into a paste & add it to softened butter.  Mix in salt to taste & whatever finely minced fresh herbs strike your fancy.  Lemon/lime juice or zest to taste is nice.  Add some freshly ground pepper too, if you are so inclined.  Delicious on bread, potatoes, popcorn, fish, etc.  I just made the herb butter below with garlic, chives, marjoram, lime juice, freshly ground pepper & flaky sea salt to taste {I used Maldon, my favorite flaky sea salt!}.

Herb Butter

Information from:  The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: the Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why by Jonny Bowden