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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beet Hummus (Mutabal Shawandar)

Beet Hummus is a traditional Syrian appetizer known as "mutabal shawandar," literally translating to "beet dip."  I'm classifying it as hummus because of the parallel to traditional chick pea hummus with the inclusion of tahini and lemon. As a child my mom did not make this and we would only eat it occasionally on trips to the Middle East, so I've put this together using only my sense of taste and memory and when my older family members (who are TOUGH critics when it comes to authentic cooking) tried it they gave a thumbs up...after some constructive criticism of course ;)

If you buy your beets boiled and peeled to save time (Trader Joe's and Costco both sell them in the refrigerated section of their markets) this is literally done in 3 minutes. easy and I LOVE the POP of color! This is a great side dish for game nights, bbq's or as a snack. Serve it cold or at room temperature...prepare it in advance and give it a quick stir before matter how you eat it the bright hues will cheer you up and satisfy your eyes before you even take a bite.

I'm a huge fan of using seasonal produce throughout the year and beets get major points because as a root veggie they are easy to get a hold of at any time. During the winter I love to eat this because I find it fun and refreshing, and during the summer its really satisfying because it's light and doesn't require any heated preparation. Anytime I can spend less effort for great results I'm in! Who's with me?

Funny story about the picture above. I took this plate out to photograph it and my boys came running after me wanting to get in the shots. One was dressed in an Iron Man costume and the other was mid costume switch lol.  They each grabbed a pita chip and cucumber and took a dip into the hummus. Without thinking about it Iron Man took a bite and exclaimed in surprise "Wow, I actually like it!"  When I finished my photos they eagerly polished off everything on the plate...needless to say I was thrilled because beets are SO HIGH in vitamin c and are an excellent immune booster and form of potassium and fiber! Go make this!!!

Serves 4-6

-1 pound peeled and boiled beets
-1/4 cup Greek yogurt
-2 tablespoons tahini
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
-1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

Optional garnish: chopped parsley, walnuts, olive oil or black sesame seeds

*Serve with pita chips, pita bread, crackers and a variety of veggies

To make
-Place you boiled and peeled beets (make sure they are cold and you have drained them from any liquid) into a food processor and pulse the mixture together until they are in small chunks. Do not puree to a complete paste to retain some texture in your dip.  If you do not own a food processor, you can grate the beets using a vegetable grater on the coarse side of the grater.
-Add the remaining ingredients (Greek yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and salt) and mix together. Taste and adjust salt/pomegranate molasses content until it is tangy enough for your taste. If your dip is too watery, add more tahini. If it is too thick, add a little more Greek yogurt. Do not add water!
-Transfer to a bowl and add optional garnish.
-Serve with pita chips/bread/fresh veggies and enjoy!

Try these other delicious dips!

Olive and Garlic Cheese Dip

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

No-bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bars

This is one of those awesome treats that doubles as breakfast (oats and banana) and dessert (chocolate) with a special ingredient that ties them both together (thanks peanut butter!).

Whenever I can I like to brown the butter I use in recipes to give a depth of flavor and make my kitchen smell awesome in the process. The caramel-y and nutty notes of the browned butter are absorbed nicely by the oats and these bars don't end up feeling too healthy that way.

It's always a bonus when you can skip the step of baking, and by browning the butter and using the same pot to cook the oat mixture, these only require 1 pot to prepare. Less dishes and no baking time means you can get to eating a lot faster, and I don't know anyone who minds that ;)

Some days we'll grab these on the way out the door in the morning as breakfast, some afternoons they come in handy as a snack between meals and they're an awesome ready dessert to enjoy after dinner. I've served them for brunch and included them in school lunches. They last a while in the fridge and still hold up great flavor and texture, so give these a try and let me know what you think!

Makes 16 bars

-4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
-3 cups old fashioned oats
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 medium sized RIPE bananas)
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-1/2 tablespoon cinnamon powder
*optional: add 1 tablespoon flax or chia seeds to give these a nutritional boost*

-1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
-1/2 cup peanut butter

-1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

To make
-Heat a pot and add butter. Let the butter melt and whisk over medium heat until the butter foams and turns a light brown color. You will be able to smell a toasty and caramel like flavor, that is when your butter is browned. Be careful not to burn the butter.
-Add the oats, brown sugar, salt, mashed banana, vanilla and cinnamon powder (plus optional flax or chia seeds) to the pot of browned butter and cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes, until the oats are soft and have partly broken down.
-Line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Reserve 1 cup of the oat mixture and press the rest of the oat mixture into the pan, making sure to pat it down into an even layer. I butter the back of a silicon spatula and use it to press down the oat mixture. Place the pan in the freezer to firm up the bottom layer while you prepare the chocolate.
-Using the same pot you used to cook the oat mixture (make sure its empty) add the chocolate chips and peanut butter and cook on the lowest heat until the chocolate is melted and they are mixed together. Spread the chocolate mixture over the oat layer and smooth out to even.
-Using the reserved oat mixture, dallop in pieces over the chocolate. Alternatively (this is how I make it but it is a little more difficult), butter you hands and take chunks of the reserved oat mixture and flatten with the palm of your hand. Carefully lay the flattened pieces on top of the chocolate until you have covered the entire surface. Sprinkle with optional mini chocolate chips
-Cover and refrigerate or freeze until the mixture is firm. In my freezer it takes less than an hour.
-Cut into 4 rows diagonally and horizontally and serve.
-Enjoy and tag #savvychef in your instagram pictures to share :)

Try these other popular oat bar recipes! 

Raspberry Oat Bars

Nut and Seed Granola Bars

Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chili Tater Tot Casserole

There's so much to love about this dish. Most importantly, its delicious. Second most importantly, its easy! Comfort Mexican-American food ready in about 30's become a staple dish around here, especially on nights when the fresh produce part of my fridge is running low.

The chili is made of 3 components: ground beef, spices and picante sauce. The picante sauce is incredible because the chopped onions, peppers and tomatoes already in it do all the work so your chili will have a chunky texture that you didn't have to to do anything to get! Control the spice level in your chili by taking care to purchase picante sauce that is at your preference...I've made the mistake of buying hot picante instead of mild and the kids couldn't eat it...and the adults were gulping water after every bite! Using frozen tater tots means no peeling of potatoes and I've found that people get a little excited at the idea of eating tater tots for dinner, plus the kids are more likely to give this a try that way.

Serves 6 adults

-1 pound ground beef
-2 tablespoons taco seasoning OR (1 teaspoon EACH: ground cumin/salt/paprika + 1 tablespoon ground coriander)
-1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
-2 1/2 cups mild picante sauce
-1 cup water
-20 ounces frozen tater tots
-1 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend, cheddar, monterey or pepper jack)

-1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (optional)
-sour cream, for serving (optional)

To make
-Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
-Heat a pot or skillet and add ground beef, seasonings and cumin seeds. Cook on medium heat, breaking the meat up as it browns until it has cooked through. This will take about 5-10 minutes.
-Add the picante sauce and water and bring the meat mixture to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until the picante sauce thickens and you have a chunky meat mixture. Taste the chilli and add more salt or spices to your preference.
-Place the frozen tater tots in a 9x13 inch baking dish and add the chili. Stir it around to coat all the tater tots with chili.
-Bake uncovered in a preheat oven for 25 minutes until the potatoes have cooked and the tops are toasted. Remove from the oven and add shredded cheese, then return to the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted.
-Remove from the oven and garnish with optional green onions.
-Serve with a side of sour cream.

3 ingredient chili!
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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

I consider this the dessert that changed my life. (How's that for drama?) I'll never forget the first time I tried it. A fellow baker friend brought it to a dinner party and it was the STAR of the dessert display. It was everyone's first exposure to this treat and watching the facial expressions as each person tried it was something awesome to witness!

My friend had found this recipe online and recreated it with her special flair. You'll find different versions of this floating around, and I've played with the ingredients and measurements until I've come up with what I consider the perfect ratio of everything. It's very rich and decadent, a little slice will take you far...but what a journey it will be!

Let me tell you a little something about this cake. Imagine yourself biting into a soft, crumbly, sweet, cozy bite of cookie dough with a sophisticated fresh cream....this is even better! You absolutely, positively, without a doubt, MUST refrigerate this in advance...I prefer 24 hours but overnight is acceptable. If you serve it right away you'll have 2 distinct textures in this cake. Firm cookies and cream. But...if you chill it as long as you should, the cookies will soften into the form of cookie dough and the cream will allow itself to meld into the cookies for one cohesive cake. Personally I love this cake the most on day 3 so if I'm preparing this for a party I'll get it safely layered and tucked in the fridge a couple days ahead of time. There's nothing more helpful for a hostess than pulling finished things out to serve on the day of an event!

Since I started making this, I've learned a few things (I estimate that I've made this over 100 times now). When I bake my cookies, I brown them extra...about 3-5 minutes past the point of a chewy cookie. This way they hold up better in the cake. Speaking of baking cookies, making the dough from scratch is a waste of effort on this one. I either use refrigerated cookie dough and bake it at home or I buy the cookies freshly baked from a local market. That's my preferred way for making this cake because then its just a matter of whipping the cream and layering. Less dishes and no baking! Even better, leftover cookies that have gone hard are PERFECT for this cake. Wrap them up tightly and throw them in the freezer until you're ready to make this. I'm sure that day will come sooner than you think because this is absolutely the MOST requested dessert recipe from my family and friends.  I always feel sorry for any other dessert on the table when this is part of the display because of the concentrated praise this one gets.

I've prepared this cake with every flavor cookie you can imagine. Peanut butter, white chocolate macadamia, chocolate brownie, red velvet, carrot cake, m&m....the list goes on and on. So play around and give it your special touch!

Serves 12

-2 cups heavy cream, very cold!
-1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-4 ounces mascarpone cheese
-2 pounds raw cookie dough, baked by 1 tablespoons OR about 42 pre-baked 2 inch cookies (from fresh bakery section of market, NOT packaged cookies like Chips Ahoy).
- optional: 1 cup chocolate chips (I use a variety of milk, semi sweet and white chips)

To make
-If working with raw cookie dough, bake cookies until browned, about 3-5 minutes past what you consider perfectly soft cookies. Let them cool completely.
-Using a whisk attachment on the highest setting of an electric mixer, combine CHILLED heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and whisk until the mixture is well combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes. DO NOT over-mix past the point of a fluffed whipped mixture or your heavy cream will separate and you will have to start over. Once the cream is whipped, add the mascarpone cheese and whip for 30-60 seconds more, until the mascarpone is mixed well with the whipped cream.
-In a 10.5 inch springform pan, place 10 cookies (depending on exact size) into the bottom. You will have to break up some of the cookies to fill the gaps around the edges and in the middle.
-Once you have a layer of cookies, take about 2/3 cup mascarpone cream and spread it over the cookie layer. I like to use a frosting spatula to keep this process smooth and even.
-Repeat the layers of cookies/cream/cookies/cream/cookies/cream until you have 4 layers of cookies and 4 layers of cream. Crumble the remaining 2 cookies on top of the final layer of cream and sprinkle chocolate chips.
-Cover and place in refrigerator for AT LEAST 12 hours. I never serve this before the 24 hour refrigeration mark.
-Once ready to serve, carefully run a butter knife along the edges of the cake to release cream from the sides. Release the springform latch and place the cake on a platter.
-Serve cold and enjoy!

Step 1: Layer the cookies in a flat layer, breaking them up to fill the gaps
Step 2: Spread a layer of cream, nice and smooth
Step 3: Repeat the layers until the cookies and cream are done!

Step 4: Refrigerate until ready to serve!

This cake has been to more parties than I can count!

Engagement parties!