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Jason’s work is bananas. His mornings on the run are bananas. His hours are bananas. The creative muscle of the team is bananas. Jason’s mustache is bananas! (picture of which he won’t let me post here, boo)

Last night was the first in weeks where we were able to sit down at the dining table and enjoy a meal together. There was plenty to enjoy; I made the quickest and the yummiest and the healthiest dish there is in the whole wide world – Grilled Salmon over Spinach Salad with Cranberries, Toasted Pecans, and Roasted Butternut Squash. To finish it off, I christened the plate with a beautiful green dressing – my Mustard Parsley Vinaigrette.

Since my BOO-BOO, my Honey-Poos, my Bubba has been chained to his office with thick and indestructible links of obligation and reliability (that are gazzillion times stronger than steel) for most of his waking hours a day, my motivation to cook has been rather flaccid. I made a pot of scrumptious Ribollita Soup with my homemade bread earlier this week, which lasted for FOUR DAYS (unheard of in this neck of the woods …in other circumstances). I’ve been also forced to finish off whatever leftovers were still stationed in the fridge, since me and waste don’t get along.

For three days I would also walk past a bunch of untouched bananas sitting on the kitchen counter and observing my every move in silence. I had no purpose for the guys, since Jason had been stripped of the time for his morning bowl of cereal with a sliced banana and a handful of blueberries. Each day I would notice the skin on the fruit turning one shade deeper from golden to brown, and the aroma of the bunch would chase me through the house.

BASTA!” I exclaimed on Saturday morning at last. “I’m making a banana bread.” SWOOSH, I opened my laptop, CLICK-CLICK I typed on the keyboard and, HELLO! asked the Internet for the recipe. I liked the one on www.joyofbaking.com and decided to follow the steps. Ok, I would NOT be myself if I didn’t tweak it, just a tad. Below I’m describing in detail how I went from a bunch of ripe and smelly bananas to a FRAGRANT and GOLDEN BROWN luscious BANANA BREAD that is sweet really just a tiny bit and packed with nuts of all kinds. For your reference, here’s the link to the original and my nod of thanks to the author of that recipe.

And here’s Agi’s Way:

Ingredients:

–       1.25 cups of toasted and chopped assorted nuts (walnuts, pecans, pine nuts)

–       1.25 cups of all-purpose unbleached flour

–       0.5 cup of whole wheat flour

–       0.5 dry cup of agave nectar

–       1 tsp of baking powder

–       0.5 tsp of baking soda

–       1 tsp of salt

–       1 tsp of cinnamon

–       0.5 tsp of cardamom

–       1 tsp of vanilla extract

–       2 large organic eggs

–       4 medium very ripe organic bananas

–       0.5 stick of butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°. Peel and mash your bananas in a bowl, add melted and cooled butter, agave nectar, vanilla extract, and mix it all. In a separate bowl crack open two eggs and beat them with a fork. Add the eggs to the banana mixture and set aside.

Sieve all the dry ingredients into another large bowl. Now gently fold the wet banana mixture into the dry ingredients. Don’t mix, just keep folding it in until all components are combined. You’ll see a chunky and thick batter and that’s what you’re after.

Scoop your forthcoming bread into a 9” x 4” loaf pan, previously greased with either butter or a non-stick spray, level out with your spatula, and put into the oven for about 55 minutes to an hour.

The bread will look like Jennifer Aniston’s post summer bod – golden brown and shiny. It will smell just as well. Be warned that you won’t be able to resist to not only inhale its fragrance, but also touch it tenderly all over its curves, lick it perhaps, slightly nibble on it, definitely kiss it, and inevitably TASTE it.

A slice of the BANANA BREAD toasted on a Sunday morning, then touched with organic butter and a drizzle of blueberry sauce, paired with a cup of freshly brewed coffee…. Oh, dear lord, my angel of prosperity, the spirit of my deceased grandmother who watches over me, I don’t believe I’ve been THAT good to deserve it all.

But if it’s already given… Thank you!

P.S. Mustache update: it’s been trimmed. Boo.

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Don’t be hatin’, but I’m here only for a minute. This pre-Christmas bustle is not a relaxing time, oh no. Not only is there a list of people to be gifted, and consequently a list of gifts to be found, packed, shipped, sneaked and hidden, delivered and stored under that Christmas Tree, but also there are parties to attend, parties to be thrown, delicacies to be baked, Ho Ho Ho’s to be wished, cards to be sent…. Oh, brother!

That’s the closest I’ve ever been to Santa, or His helper. Only when I squeezed myself into that naughty costume did I feel the magic! It’s a photo from a Halloween Party we held a couple of years ago that I dug out for your entertainment today.

Now back to business. In the continued series of light and balanced dinner ideas for the time between all the diet-busting holidays, I propose a fillet of GRILLED SALMON OVER A BED OF SPINACH. Not only is this obviously healthy, but also it’s highly satisfying on multiple levels. It’s a surprisingly filling dinner, that fills your mouth with bliss and – to quote Mick Jagger himself – SATISFACTION!

Grab yourself a bag of baby spinach and empty it into a bowl. Drizzle with a DRESSING of your choice, por exemplo:

– 1 part of red wine vinegar

– 3 parts of walnut oil

– 1 tsp of Dijon mustard

– 1 finely chopped shallot

– 1 tbsp of honey

– big pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Whisk it together, until the mixture is emulsified into a delicious VINAIGRETTE. Drizzle the nectar over the green, now crumble small pieces of goat cheese all over. Feel free to add dried cranberries and chopped and toasted pecans or simply diced beet (previously cooked). Mix the salad together while your fillet of salmon is grilling cheerfully on a hot grilling pan or an outdoor grill (if you’re blessed with one). Remember to season your fish evenly on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. It’s OK to sprinkle some dry herbs over the flesh, like thyme or marjoram for that extra layer of flavor.

When ready, place the salmon over the bed of spinach salad, and wait no longer for the first satisfying bite.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must retire to the kitchen to fix a treat for the  Christmas Tea Party I’m attending this afternoon. Good Day Everybody!

Nothing, and I mean nothing makes me happier than the smell of onion slivers sautéing with marjoram on a hot pan greased with olive oil and a touch of butter.

Well, maybe on days when Jason comes home at a civil hour from work, and we watch “Modern Family” and “The Daily Show” together while he rests his head on my lap, then I’m a little happier. New lingerie makes me super happy, too. Come to think of it, I get also fired up when I manage to touch my nose with the tip of my tongue, as it doesn’t always happen. I think it depends on humidity in the air or something.

And then, when Cosmo sings I experience the highest levels of delight. He’s not a very outspoken dog, if you know what I mean. Between the few barks here and there and an occasional “Hi, whassup”, hardly ever does he use his string cords. Hence, I’m particularly elated on those rare moments when he feels the blues and acts on it.

But those onions! When the slices hit a hot sautéing pan and utter that violent sizzle that they do, I get the chills. I instantly sprinkle them with a dash of salt and a generous serving of dry marjoram, previously crashed in my hands. The herb then opens up as a blooming flower and releases its aromatic oils, thus flavoring everything around it. Can you smell it yet? You should get the first whiff right as you stir them together with a wooden spoon. Just close your eyes and inhale… Oh…

The romance begins. The arches of the onion loosen up, as if they were melting in the arms of the marjoram, giving in, and letting the herb lead on the dance floor. Slow heat from the gentle flame beneath their feet is soothing and relaxing. The herb brings out what’s best in the onion – all its sweetness comes out for the world to see. Time stops for them and they think they could go on like that forever, but I know 10-15 minutes is all they have in them before they burn out.

Caramelized onions make the world a better place. They give any dull dish a Cinderella spin. Spread a spoonful of those onions on your boring chicken breast, and it turns into a Supermanchicken. Feed them to that dry sandwich with leftover pastrami, and it’s as if you splashed it with Redbull and gave it wings. You want to bring more vegetarian meals to your table, but you’re afraid it could be dreary and monotonous? Top your Quinoa & Brussels Sprouts with the onions, and you’ll never bitch about vegetables again. Is your ice-cream too vanilla? Give it a scoop of caramelized onions and forever change the meaning of dessert. Ok, maybe that’s going too far, but in most cases sautéed onions are the reason I get out of bed every morning.

This time I used them to kick life into my SALMON WITH LENTILS dish I made for dinner the other night.

Cooking lentils is pretty straightforward, just follow the instructions on its packaging. If you want to jazz it up like I do, get a carrot and two celery stalks. Wash ‘em, peel ‘em, and chop ‘em finely. Then sauté the veggies in a hot pan with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and – what the hell – a little butter, too. Season it with salt and pepper, and give it 5-6 minutes. Next, add a cup of green lentils and toast them for a minute or two along with everybody else in the pan before adding any liquid. You could simply use water and 2 bay leaves, or chicken stock, or a veggie broth, about 1.5 cups of it. Clearly, you need a pan with some depth to it to fit it all in. Add more salt and pepper, maybe a dash of cayenne, maybe a teaspoon of nutmeg and cumin, cover with a lid and let it simmer over a low heat until fully cooked. You may need to add more liquid, so keep an eye on the lentils. Minutes before the legumes are done, add a splash of red wine vinegar to give them that extra zing.

On a separate pan, grill the salmon fillets seasoned with salt and black pepper. Depending on their thickness, you may need to give them 3-4 minutes per side. You never want to keep the fish over that fire till its completely cooked, because it will get dry. Turn the heat off BEFORE the fish is done, and just let it sit for another five minutes on its own. It will get there, I promise.

No dinner is complete without a fresh salad. Whisk a quick DRESSING in a cup (extra virgin olive oil + lemon juice or vinegar at 3:1 ratio, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp of honey, salt and pepper) and pour over your greens. You may want to add chopped tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, radishes, shallots, what have you. You may also keep it clean, if that’s your preference. All’s good as long as you get your vitamins in their natural form.

Salmon with Lentils

Tah-dah! Your dinner is ready. Scoop a little bit of lentils onto your plate. Then gently lay the grilled salmon over the kernels with the green accent of your salad to its side. DO NOT FORGET THE CARAMELIZED ONIONS! Perfection.

Happy Lentils Everybody!

A splitting headache brought Jason back home today around lunchtime. He caught me by surprise as I was reclining on the floor in the living room with a coffee table tucked between my extended legs, and laptop… well, resting where it’s meant to be… on my belly.

Our coffee table is chunky and heavy as stone. It has also lived through and seen things that I refuse to talk about when children are present.

Jason walked in with the most tragic expression painted all over his face and announced: “I have a headache that makes my teeth hurt”. He plunged and sank into a couch like a 140-odd pound sack of potatoes. Cosmo reacted by hopping on top of the sack of potatoes, licking its complexion clean, all the while wiggling his tail like a cow in a meadow shooing flies from around its ass.

The view was so pathetic my heart cringed. I handed Jason a bottle of aspirin, content of which was emptied into his throat at once (all two pills that were left). Like a good hen, I marched to the kitchen, whipped out a Tuna Salad Sandwich, fed the kid, put him to bed, and kissed his chilly forehead and pink nipples goodnight. Cosmo curled up between Jason’s legs (it runs in the family) and minutes later exhaled a loud, man-like snore.

That was my cue. With both boys out and about horsing around in their dreamlands, I was finally able to sit down and shake out the dinner idea mentioned last time.

Let’s take the PESTO DRESSED SALAD from my previous post and introduce it to small PITA POCKETS WITH GRILLED SALMON. It’s as easy as it sounds, but first write down all the stuff you need to get from the grocery store to make the dish, assuming you have already made the salad (otherwise you’ll forget something):

–       1 bag of mini pitas

–       fresh salmon (I say 1-2 lbs package)

–       1 bag of mini pitas. Oh, wait, it’s on the list already!

Yes, you just need those 2 elements (salmon and mini pitas, in case you forgot), plus the salad you prepped earlier.

Roll up your sleeves, darling, and let’s get cooking. I myself have a habit of first washing all fish and meat that comes from a store, no matter how sterile the package. Somebody must have touched it at some point, and I don’t even want to open that door in my head. Otherwise, my imagination takes me places and shows me various nasty scenarios of where my food came from. The more time you spend in my head, the better you understand my love affair with organic foods, fresh produce, and also why Jason ties my toe to the bed frame at night. That’s a story for another time.

The clean fish then goes on a plate or a cutting board and gets patted dry with paper towels. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper and modestly sprinkled with olive oil to help establish the grilling marks everyone is after. Next, a pair of muscular tongs hoists the fillets onto a heated grilling pan, which reacts with violent sizzling, hissing and pissing. You’ve been warned. Be cool, and don’t let the drama queen change your mind. Let the fish sit on the hot surface and get some blush on its cheeks, and then some. Then flip it.

The cooking time on each side will depend on the thickness of your fillets. As the heat penetrates the flesh, you’ll notice a color change along the cut from pink to white-ish. It may take 3 minutes per side, if the guys are skinny. You may also need to step back for 5-6 minutes per turn, if you got yourself chubby chunks of salmon. Keep the heat on medium, don’t walk away, don’t leave your fish unattended (it’s rude), be alert. If you keep them on the pan too long they’ll get dry. Ideally, you want to turn off the heat a few minutes before your meat is done, and let it R.I.P. for 10 minutes or so. It will continue to cook inside becoming that perfect GRILLED SALMON from your misty dreams.

It took me a few packages of fish and a couple of bottles of wine to really nail the technique. Don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle.

Here comes the best part – building your PITA POCKETS. Yay! Onto a large plate scoop some of your salad, set your GRILLED SALMON nearby, and grab a MINI PITA. With a small knife cut it open along the rim, about half way through, creating a POCKET. Using a fork, pack the inside with a little bit of salad, then pieces of crushed salmon, maybe more salad on top if there’s room. Open your mouth wide – you may want to spread your legs for extra support as well – and BITE! Then take just ONE MORE BITE and kill it! Move on to the next one. Continue building and biting until you’re full and salad leaves burst out of your ears.

Pita Pocket 1

Salmon

It’s not only THAT good, but it’s also FUN to build your own food on a plate and enjoy it instantly. Ask Jason. He’s like a kid in a sand box with a plastic bucket and a rake when given a chance to assemble a meal straight from his plate. And I get to watch the spectacle. That’s what I call ENTERTAINMENT.

Good luck with your fishies…

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