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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Homemade Ranch Dip (aka BEST RANCH EVER)

I've been experimenting with the perfect ranch dressing for a couple months. I can't swallow a even the tiniest bite of the bottled junk and the I pick and choose my favorite restaurants based on who has the better ranch. I love saucy things and this condiment tops my list.

I had strict requirements for how my ranch needed to be:
1) I needed to health-ify it so I would feel comfortable feeding it to myself and children in copious amounts.
2) It couldn't be mayo based or have raw eggs. That's just ew.
3) Like most other things I make, easy to throw together and must be made with simple ingredients.
4) It needed to taste as close to Red Robin restaurant ranch as possible.

Finally, I've come up with a combination that meets all those requirements, plus more that popped up along the way! This blend of measurements produces the BEST RANCH EVER. Thick, smooth, tangy, herby and down right delicious. Nothing watery and runny about this dip, I promise you.

Make sure to prepare this the day before you need to eat will taste a flavor difference! Allowing the ranch to set overnight in the fridge lets the dried herbs bloom and the flavors shine through. Most people who tried this are surprised when they find out all the herbs are dried because the flavors are vibrant and fresh.

This ranch is so good its starting to replace salad on the dinner table every night. For starters, its way easier to throw a bunch of veggies on a tray and place the dip in the middle, but the best part is that I've noticed my kids consume way more veggies when they can pick and choose the ones they like then dunk them to their heart's content in this delicious dip. Win win.

Happy dipping!

Yields 1 2/3 cups of dressing

-1/4 cup milk (1%, 2% or full fat)
-1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
-1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt (can sub sour cream)
-1/4 cup mayonnaise
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-1 teaspoon garlic powder
-1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
-1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
-1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
-1 1/2 teaspoons dried chives
-1 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)

To make
-I like to use a large measuring cup to mix this together. Mix together the milk and lemon juice and leave for 5 minutes. You are making your own buttermilk.
-After 5 minutes the milk will have slightly curdled and thickened and is now buttermilk. Using a small whisk (or spatula/fork), stir it together and add the rest of the ingredients (Greek yogurt, mayo, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, dill, parsley, chives and marjoram). Whisk the mixture together until well blended.
-Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but I have found that the flavors are the most combined by the next day.
-Serve as a salad dressing or dip for veggies!
-Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Stays fresh for 7-10 days.

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Try these other favorite dips! 

Babbaganoush: Roasted Eggplant Dip

Beet Hummus

Olive and Garlic Walnut Dip

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Classic Banana Bread

Without a doubt, banana bread is the single most frequently baked treat in my home. I look for ripe bananas at the market so we don't have to wait too long for them to be ready at home...I make a loaf weekly and it doesn't EVER see its 3rd day. At this point baking banana bread has an emotional significance to me because its become one of those unintentional kids come home on Monday to the fragrant smells of banana and vanilla and have a slice after school. After dinner, they grab another slice. The next morning on their way out to school, they grab yet another the time they get home they're lucky if there's any left...and they wait for the following Monday to get their "bb" fix again. Banana bread makes Mondays a little less bleak, and who doesn't love that?!

If you go through my blog, you'll find several versions of this yummy cake. Here's how this new and improved version is different:

1) I've gone back to the basics and removed any extra ingredients or flavors (Greek yogurt, pumpkin, pumpkin butter, oats, etc.) to celebrate banana bread in all its glory, as a simple and utterly amazing bread. This translates into quicker prep time and fewer ingredients for you.

2) The texture of  banana "bread" instead of banana "cake" has been achieved with the tweaking of measurements. I'll let you in on my hugest extra EGG was what it took to get a perfectly dense crumb on this treat (and not Greek yogurt or honey or any of the other stuff I've played with over the years).

3) Flax seeds are amazing. Adding them instead of walnuts takes care of potential nut allergies, gives a huge boost of nutrition and provides the nutty flavor that so many of us love with banana bread. If you don't like them, not a problem, just leave them out!

4) MOST IMPORTANT: Your bananas must be RIPE RIPE RIPE RIPE RIPE. And by ripe I mean too brown to enjoy on their own, but not nasty enough that you need to toss them out. When bananas get very ripe, their flavor deepens and they become sweeter, then when they're baked you will get that intense banana flavor that resembles a professional baked treat. Whatever you do, resist the urge to prepare this banana bread without ripe bananas, it will be the difference between an average bread and an AMAZING one (and you are completely capable of amazing, regardless of your experience!).

Makes 16 slices when baked in a bundt pan

-3 eggs
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1/3 cup melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
-4 OVER RIPE mashed bananas (2 cups)

-2 cups flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Optional add-ins (up to 1 cup total)
-1 tablespoon flax seeds
-chopped nuts
-chocolate chips
-chopped dried fruit or dates

To make
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan.
-Using an electric mixer or by hand, mix eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla together. Stir in melted coconut oil and mashed bananas.
-In another bowl, stir the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon) together and slowly add to the banana mixture. Stir until everything is moistened but DO NOT overmix so your banana bread stays moist. Gently add optional flax seeds or other add-ins.
-Pour mixture in greased pan and bake on the lower rack of a preheated oven for 40-50 minutes (I take mine out at 45 minutes). If you are baking in a loaf pan your bake time will be closer to 60 minutes. Your banana bread is finished when an inserted toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached.
-Remove from the oven and cool completely. Flip onto a platter and garnish with optional powdered sugar. Serve.

I'd love to connect with you! Stay updated on the latest posts through Facebook or follow savvy_chef on Instagram. Tag #savvychef with your re-creations!

Try these other treats!

Skinny Banana Oat Muffins
Vegan Orange Muffins

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Monday, February 22, 2016

Vegan Lentil Kibbeh

I felt like I hit the jackpot when this recipe worked out. It was a complete gamble to toss out the main ingredient in kibbeh and expect success, but it paid off! Kibbeh is a VERY traditional Syrian dish (other regions in the Middle East also have their versions) and there are too many variations to list. Typically the main ingredients in kibbeh are MEAT, bulgur and onion. These 3 ingredients are minced together with simple seasonings using a meat grinder to achieve a smooth dough. This outer dough is formed into a football shape, stuffed with cooked ground beef, onions and nuts then fried. If you haven't had authentic kibbeh I urge you to do so, its delicious! Personally I rarely make this version of kibbeh because its ridiculously time consuming, requires special equipment, makes a huge mess, shaping is difficult, and it must be deep fried. All of these are huge no-no's for I've simplified the process and begun making kibbeh kabobs (also known as kibbeh al-siekh), essentially the outer shell of the kibbeh without the filling and frying process. From that recipe this new vegan kibbeh has emerged.

This is a meat-less kibbeh packed with fiber, protein and flavor. There is no fat added to the mix, but you'd never guess that while eating it! I love making it because all the ingredients are pantry staples, it comes together quickly and my family loves it. My mom (who is famous for her amazing varieties of kibbeh) couldn't believe this didn't have meat it in, that's how close the flavor and texture is!

This kibbeh serves many purposes for me. I'll make a batch and serve it for dinner then freeze the rest (it reheats BEAUTIFULLY). I'll make the mix a day or two ahead and bake them up for a dinner party. I take them along to picnics because they are as good at room temperature as they are hot, and there is no worry about any of the ingredients being out for too long (a perk of a vegan recipe even for those who eat meats and dairy). This kibbeh is the perfect snack on the go because it doesn't make a mess and keeps you feeling full for a while.

Try this with a side of babbaganoush, lentil soup, cucumber yogurt sauce, and a veggie platter loaded with tomatoes, thinly sliced lemon wedges, red onion, parsley and pickles. I have another fabulous idea for you: VEGGIE BURGERS! Trust me on this one. Get mini-pitas or buns and fill them with a green, a kibbeh patty, tomato, red onion, lemon slices and cucumber yogurt sauce. Amazingness and the absolute perfect lunch.

Yields 16 kibbeh patties

-1 cup red lentils
-3/4 cup fine bulgur (#1)
-1 cup water
-1/2 cup onion (1/2 of a large onion)
-2 tablespoons red pepper paste
-1 1/2 teaspoons all spice
-2 teaspoons ground coriander
-1 teaspoon ground cumin
-1 teaspoon salt (to start, adding 1/2 teaspoon more if needed...which I usually do)
-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

optional: vegetable oil for baking

To make
-Fill a medium sized pot with water. Rinse the lentils in a strainer and place in pot of water. Bring to a boil on high heat, watching to make sure the foam of your lentils doesn't boil over in the pot.  Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Drain the extra liquid in a strainer.
-While the lentils are cooking place the bulgur with 1 cup water in a medium sized bowl and let soak.
-In a food processor, process the onion until it is finely minced. Add the drained cooked lentils, the soaked bulgur, red pepper paste, all spice, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper and process using the pulse setting until everything is blended together. Taste the mixture and adjust salt if needed.
-Place the food processor bowl in the fridge to firm the mixture up. This will help you shape them into patties, but if you are short on time it is not critical.
-Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I really recommend this so the patties don't stick) or foil and pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Lightly wet your hands to form the patties. This will prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands as you work. Take 2 tablespoons of kibbeh mixture and shape into round patties, about 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches wide. Repeat the process until mix is finished. Place kibbeh patties on baking sheet and OPTIONALLY brush each side with vegetable oil (I usually skip this but it does make the kibbeh a little more crispy.
-Bake on the middle rack of pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes, flipping halfway through until crisped to your liking.**Alternatively you can cook these on a stove top in a skillet with some oil.
-Serve with desired dipping sauce and sliced veggies.

I'd love to connect with you! Stay updated on the latest posts through Facebook or follow savvy_chef on Instagram. Tag #savvychef with your re-creations!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Chocolate Fig Truffles

If you guys follow my instagram you'll notice I have a have a major summer fling with figs. I just can't get enough of that plump fruit and literally track each individual fig as it grows on my humble tree. Unfortunately the season (and my crop) is short lived and I'm left dreaming of the fruit throughout the rest of the year. Enter dried figs. Although not as amazing, they are still REALLY good and can fill in for their superiors 11 months out of the year.

This is a ridiculously healthy "dessert". It's the perfect treat with coffee or tea and the sweetness hits all the right spots without being decadent and heavy. I make a batch of these and keep them in a cute box in the pantry and they stay fresh and delicious for a couple months. 

The combination of flavors will really have you cautious (fig, ginger, orange zest and honey?), but proceed with confidence because these flavors compliment each other fabulously. It goes without saying that chocolate makes everything better, and in this case it rounds out the other strong flavors and makes them flow. I really love these :)

Try dipping the chocolate in nuts to customize to your liking! I like to use pistachios and honey roasted almonds. I'll even add some chopped candied orange peel to the nut mixture. So delish.

Makes 16 truffles

-1/8 cup crystallized ginger (use 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger if you must substitute OR use candied orange peel)
-2 cups dried figs
-2 tablespoons honey
-1/2 teaspoon orange zest
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/2 cup chocolate chips (I use dark chocolate, pick your preference)

Optional: chopped nuts to dip truffles in

To make
-Using a food processor, pulse the crystallized ginger until it breaks down until smooth. Add the dried figs, honey, orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla then continue processing until the whole mixture is a smooth paste. You may have a few chunks of figs remaining, which is OK. Taste the filling and adjust sweetness. The other flavors will become stronger after a few hours of sitting together).
-Prepare a tray lined with parchment paper. Scoop a scant tablespoon of filling and form into a ball. Repeat the process until you have used all of your filling. If you have the time, refrigerate (or freeze briefly) until the filling is firm. This makes it easier to roll them but is not a necessary step. 
-Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in your microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring briefly until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.
-Dip each truffle into the chocolate and tap off the excess chocolate. If using chopped nuts, place them in a small bowl and dip the top of each chocolate covered truffle. Place on the parchment paper and continue the process until all the truffles are dipped. If you run out of chocolate, melt some more and continue dipping!
-Leave the truffles undisturbed until the chocolate has set.
-Store tightly covered at room temperature (or if the weather is hot, refrigerate).

*Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger on the Food Network*

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Chocolate Date Bars

Balsamic Fig and Arugula Pizza