Archive for August, 2011

Banana Bread

When I was a kid I wouldn’t eat nuts. I liked the taste, especially if they were salted and roasted, but little bits of them would stick under my braces and I’d have to spend what I thought was hours manipulating floss and a water pick to get those awful gritty bits out of my teeth. So I stopped eating nuts. My grandmother’s trick to put those nuts into her best-ever banana bread without me picking it apart and making faces was rather ingenious. She ground them up, using enough to impart a subtle nutty flavor to the bread but not so much that we could ever prove they were there.

This is, as well as I can remember, my grandmother’s recipe. She used to turn walnuts into crumbs with a pastry cutter. I use my food processor because frankly I could never chop walnuts as finely as she could by hand.  

Banana bread is probably my all-time favorite food. I almost never make it though, because it requires me to keep bananas in the apartment until they are spotty and delicious and somehow not eat them. I love bananas too much not to eat them. Especially when they start to get spotty and brown. That’s just nature’s way of telling me that they are perfect for devouring, right? Nevertheless, on rare occasion I remember that I want to make banana bread, buy three million bananas so that there will be three left by the time they are spotty, and wait patiently for the bananas to turn from bright green to tasty brown-and-yellow.

This recipe is a little more involved than most banana bread recipes, but I maintain that it’s the best banana bread recipe ever and therefore worth it. Obviously normal people don’t grate their own spices, so feel free to use pre-ground ones in this. I like to do it by hand because the flavor is a bit stronger and I feel like I should do a little extra for my favorite thing.

Ingredients (makes 1 9×5 inch loaf)

2 cups flour

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1/2 cup to 1 cup walnuts

1 stick (8 T) butter

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

3 bananas

1 T vanilla

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t nutmeg

1/2 t anise (or allspice)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan, line it with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Cut up the bananas into a bowl.

Mash the bananas with a fork and set them aside.

Pour the walnuts into the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse until they are very finely ground. Set them aside, too.

Put the sour cream and butter in a large bowl.

Mix them very well.

Add the sugars and mix them in, too.

Add the eggs and vanilla. Smiley face optional (and unintentional, but cute.)

Mix again.

Sift in the flour, ground walnuts, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Now it’s spice time. If you’re using pre-ground bottled spices (like a sane person), just sift them in with the flour mixture. If not, grate some nutmeg over the pile of dry ingredients.

Then grate some cinnamon.

Don’t forget the anise; in small amounts that flavor is really amazing, not like licorice at all.

Now you have a pile of spices over the dry ingredients.

Mix the dry ingredients and spices into the batter.

Add the bananas! My mom forgot the bananas one time, just left the bowl on the counter and baked the bread without. I have to admit it wasn’t bad, but I’m still never going to let her live it down. Sorry, mom!

Mix the bananas in, too.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle the top with a bit of sugar in the raw.

Bake the banana bread for an hour and 15 minutes.

Let the banana bread cool completely before serving. One of the best things about quick breads with sour cream in them is that they get better after sitting on the counter for a few days as the flavor ripens and becomes more complex. A slice of this is very rich and dense, so I tend to have a slab for breakfast and it’ll tide me over until lunch time. The flavor of the nuts is very subtle but all those background flavors are what really make this recipe shine.

 

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Mango Salsa

We’re back from Atlanta, and I have to say I missed it the instant I stepped off the plane here in Dallas. Where it was over 100°F. At almost ten o’clock at night. There is something wrong with this town.

Everything about Atlanta makes me want to move there. We went hiking a twenty minute drive from downtown.

We saw pandas. Including an adorable baby.

We went to the coolest aquarium ever. Seriously. Whale sharks and mantas and that’s not even close to all. (Also, I am unbelievably jealous of Mr. Making Bubbles In My Shot here. How fantastic would it be to dive in over 6 million gallons of water with manta rays and whale sharks?)

There were about 40 lionfish in this guy’s tank, but only he wanted his picture taken.

And then there was the food. Every restaurant we went to was simply and completely delightful. I can’t wait to try to recreate some of the things we had.

Before going on vacation, we tried to use up everything perishable in the apartment. We did a little too well, and ended up with very little fresh food the night before we left. Combine that with a garden dead from heat and we had to use packaged herbs and garlic as well. So this is probably the most bottles and cans you’ll ever see in one place on this site. For all that, this salsa was delicious. Mr. B thought it needed more chilies, and you could definitely add more if you like, but I found it perfect as it was. Too much chile would completely drown out the mango and black beans.

Ingredients (serves 2)

3 dried New Mexican chilies

1/2  of a 15-0z can of black beans, drained

4-5 large slices of mango (yes, fresh would be better.)

about 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T cilantro, chopped (MUCH better fresh. Ours is dead.)

Directions

Cut the stems off of the chilies and shake out most of the seeds. Put the chilies in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, grill the mango slices.

Chop the mangoes into 1/2 inch dice.

Chop the chilies, too. Combine chilies, mangoes, and black beans in a bowl.

Add the garlic and cilantro.

Stir it all together.

To turn this into tasty, tasty tacos, take some pulled chicken.

Then fry some taco shells.

Fill the shells with chicken and salsa, and top with sour cream and some extra cilantro.

This salsa is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. It would be very good on fish tacos or over rice, as well.

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Monkey Bread

Monkey bread is evil. It’s sticky and gooey and smells like nothing but butter and cinnamon and I cannot stop eating it once I pull it out of the oven.

Some recipes are only safe to make when you know there are going to be many other people helping you eat it. This is one of them. Even so, despite your best intentions, you may end up fending off co-workers or loved ones with a fork as you devour this pile of sweet, sweet biscuits.

This recipe, like so many of my favorites, is adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This one I alter less than most, but I never will learn to leave well enough alone, so of course I had to double the vanilla and use an ungodly amount of cinnamon.

Ingredients (makes 1 10-inch bundt pan)

For the biscuits:

1 1/4 cups milk

1 packet (2 1/4 t) instant yeast

4 cups flour

6 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 t salt

1 egg

5 T butter, melted

For the coating:

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/4 cup cinnamon (No joke. You’ll thank me.)

6 T butter, melted

Directions

Mix the milk and vanilla in a small saucepan and heat it gently over medium heat.

Add the yeast to the warm milk mixture and set aside.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse to mix the dry ingredients.

Add an egg.

With the food processor running, pour the yeasted milk into the dough.

Keep mixing until it comes together. The dough will be quite sticky, but recognizably a ball.

Put the dough ball in a large, greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave it alone an hour.

After an hour, it’ll be a great big puffed up ball of lovely dough.

Punch it out into a disc on a floured counter top.

Cut the disc into quarters, then cut those quarters into quarters.

You now have 64 little balls of dough.

Melt the butter in one bowl, and mix the cinnamon and sugar in another.

You need to dip each dough ball in butter, then coat it thoroughly with cinnamon-sugar, then toss it into a buttered bundt pan. I could not take pictures of this process, as I was too sticky. When you’re done, it looks like this.

Then you have to wait an hour again. I know, I know, but it’s worth the wait. Promise.

Lovely. Look at all that crackly sugar coating.

You can bake it now, or toss it in the fridge and bake it first thing in the morning. I did the latter, to have piping hot monkey bread for everyone at work.  Bake it at 350°F for 30-35 minutes. Serve very hot with coffee or hot cocoa. This is a reasonable serving size.

This is the serving size you will consume without aid or intervention.

The individual biscuits pull apart easily. They’re sweet as can be with a huge cinnamon kick.  This dish is seriously enough to make a person swear off those awful workplace donuts. You don’t need them anymore. You have monkey bread.

 

Oh, Mr. B and I are heading to Atlanta tomorrow morning. We’re not bringing our computers. I have some healthy stuff to post here when we get back, though.

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Peanut Butter Caramel Bread Pudding

When I was a kid I didn’t like bread pudding. My Mom would make it for dessert sometimes, and it was always my sister’s favorite thing ever. If I had a choice about dessert, I’d probably have opted for popcorn. I’m that kind of salt fiend.

I’ve learned to enjoy the sweet stuff more over time. Although even here, I’m using a hefty dose of semi-savory peanut butter to make this my favorite bread pudding. It’s a little more solid than I remember Mom’s being, too,  which helps me deal with my particular neurosis about liquid food. It turns out my mother had a lot to deal with in terms of food neuroses when we were kids. Sorry about that, Mom.

 

You may notice that I failed to include chocolate in this particular peanut butter recipe. There are two reasons for that. First of all, I really wanted it to be all about the peanut butter, including a healthy dose of peanut butter chips. If we’d had any in the apartment, I would have tossed in a handful of roasted salted peanuts as well. We didn’t have any, because they don’t last long with salt fiends in the apartment. The second reason is that if it’s not ungodly hot out, you should eat these with the best hot chocolate in the world. When it is this hot out, a nice cold glass of milk (or chocolate milk!) is preferable.

Ingredients (makes 4 “individual” servings, which in reality serve two each, or one big bread puddin’ to serve 4-8. Depends heavily on appetite and sweet tooth.)

4 thick slices of day-old challah, or other bread of your choice.

about 1/4 cup peanut butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 T vanilla

2 eggs

1/2 cup to 1 cup peanut butter chips, optional

1/2 cup to 1 cup roasted peanuts, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread a generous amount of peanut butter over each slice of challah.

Cut the challah into cubes and arrange them either in four small ramekins or tartlet pans, or in one larger oven-safe dish.

Pour the sugar into a rather deep pot over a burner on high heat.

Try not to get impatient and over-stir the caramel as it melts. It’ll get all clumpy.

Melt all the sugar and let it caramelize to a deep dark brown. If you like it a little lighter, go with that.

Remove from heat and immediately pour the cream/milk/vanilla mixture into it. Stand back a second–it’s gonna bubble and sputter like mad. Once the hissing and spewing subsides, whisk it a bit to cool it down.

Whisk in the eggs.

Pour the egg-caramel sauce over the bread cubes and top with peanut butter chips and peanuts, if using.

Bake at 350°F  for about 20 minutes.

We shared one of these for breakfast with a big glass of milk. The next night for dessert we reheated one in the oven, slapped a great big scoop of vanilla ice cream over it, and had that with espresso. It’s not too sweet, so it’s still appropriate for breakfast, but has a powerful peanutty flavor that makes it quite memorable.

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Colcannon

Irish food should not be saved for St. Patrick’s day. There are more than a few delightful Irish recipes that are far more suited to Fall and Winter than to spring. Colcannon is one of them, which did not stop me making it during a 40+ day streak of temperatures over 100°F.

Colcannon is pretty much just mashed potatoes with greens. Cabbage is most traditional, or kale, but in the summertime mustard greens or collard greens are much easier to find. The only real trick to this recipe is to work quickly once the potatoes are boiled. I don’t like using a whole second pot to cook the greens first, so I mix them into the mashed potatoes while they’re still steaming. The heat from the potatoes just cooks the greens. It’s delightful.

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

2 large russet potatoes

2-3 T heavy cream

6-8 T butter (room temperature)

1/2 pound kale, cabbage, or other greens. I used collard greens.

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel and cube the potatoes and boil until they are tender enough to fall apart when stabbed with a fork.

While the potatoes are boiling, remove the central rib from the greens and chop the leaves well. Turns out my greens were more wilted than they appeared in the grocery store, so I didn’t get as much out of them as I’d hoped. Le sigh.

Rice or smash the potatoes quickly, then add 2 tablespoons of cream and 6 tablespoons of butter. Stir briefly.

Add in the greens. Let the colcannon sit 2-3 minutes to heat the greens thoroughly.

Stir the greens in well. Give it a taste, and add salt and pepper, plus more cream and butter if needed.

Serve with Guinness marinated Cornish hen and some fresh steamed apsaragus.

I make this dish much richer and thicker than most mashed potatoes, because I think the texture needs to fully support the greens and the added fat (from using a ton of butter and cream instead of milk) adds a lot more flavor than you might expect. It’s very enjoyable, and the only thing I’d change about it next time is to use more greens.

 

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Guiness Marinated Cornish Hen

This may be the best way to cook a chicken that I have ever encountered. I tend to say that about every type of Cornish hen I make, but this time I mean it. It’s tender. It’s dark. It’s smoky. All the bitterness of Guinness and mustard and molasses come together to turn the meat into something more decadent than I could possibly have guessed. And you won’t believe how easy it was to make.

One of the more delightful things about Cornish hens is the fact that they’re small. This means they don’t take as long to cook. This means you have to almost try to overcook the little things to end up with tough breast meat. So while this recipe would surely work for a nice big butterflied fryer if you cooked it longer, I urge you to stick with wee little hens. You’ll thank me when you pick up a drumstick and the meat slides right off of it onto your plate.

Ingredients (serves 1 per half-hen)

One and a half Cornish hens, bisected (or one hen to serve two, or two hens to serve four.)

1 bottle Guinness extra stout, or your favorite stout. Don’t use Guinness draught. I’ll know, and I won’t be pleased.

3 T mustard powder

3 T olive oil

1 T salt

2 T molasses

3 cloves garlic

Directions

Pour the beer in a bag. I like to prop a gallon zip-top bag up inside of my 2-quart soufflé dish so that it can’t fall over and cover the counter, the floor, and the corvid with marinade.

Scoop in the mustard powder.

Lots and lots of mustard powder.

Then the olive oil.

Then molasses. No, I didn’t actually measure the molasses. It’s too sticky.

Now we need some salt. I didn’t measure that, either, because there’s no such thing as too much salt.

Then garlic. I always seem to be out of fresh garlic, and the ones we planted were uprooted and carried off by a maniacal squirrel, so we’re using dried today. Fresh is better.

That’s your finished marinade. Seal it up and shake/squish it until everything is fully mixed.

Put the hens inside and pop the whole bag in the fridge for a few hours or (better) overnight. Flip the bag over a few times to keep the marinade even.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 425°F. Arrange the hens skin side up in a cast iron pan big enough to fit them without crowding. Pour the marinade over them and sprinkle the skin with a bit of salt.

Bake 30-35 minutes at 425°F.

Serve with colcannon and asparagus.

Sorry about that last picture. My camera battery died before I could take more than one. The chicken is delightful. I agree with our lovely dinner guest that the only necessary improvement would be a chicken made only of the crispy skin (so good!), but this was delightful. I mean absolutely and purely fantastic. Make this soon, you won’t regret it.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies

Who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter? We all have those days when you run out of Reese’s cups and find yourself smearing peanut butter over a Hershey’s bar, right?

I mean, if that weren’t normal behavior I certainly wouldn’t be admitting to it.

But low-quality chocolate candy and overly sweetened peanut butter aren’t always going to cut it. Sometimes you’ve got to have cookies, homemade and piping hot. Thank goodness for this recipe from Picky Palate.

I took one look at the peanut butter-chocolate ratio and decided it was all wrong. Chocolate is great, sure, but I’d rather have just enough to add bitterness and complexity to the peanut butter, rather than drown out all that nutty goodness with a wave of cocoa. Even with the changes I made, I think next time I’ll amp up the peanut butter even more, but these cookies are delightful. They’re gooey and sweet and oh so chocolaty. Serve them hot with ice cream and you’ll swear you never need another dessert again. Until you start looking at recipes 20 minutes later, anyway.

Ingredients (makes about 3 dozen. Recipe adapted from Picky Palate.)

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

2 sticks/16 T butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups brown sugar, divided use*

2 eggs

1 T vanilla

1 3/4 cups flour

1 t baking soda

1 t salt

1 cup cocoa powder

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup peanut butter chips

4 Reese’s peanut butter cups (the original sized ones. One king-size pack, in other words.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter with 1/2 cup of brown sugar and put it in the freezer. Cream the butter and remaining sugar (3/4 cup granulated, 1 cup brown) together in a large bowl.

Mix in the eggs and vanilla.

Pour the flour, salt, leavening, and cocoa powder into a fine mesh sieve.

Sift all the dry ingredients into the dough.

Mix the dough well. It’s very chocolaty.

Chop the Reese’s cups into approximate 16ths.

Add the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and chopped Reese’s cups to the dough. Mix well.

Add the frozen peanut butter and brown sugar mixture in dollops.

Don’t use the mixer this time, just fold the peanut butter gently a few times with a spatula.

Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Place dollops (about 2 T each) of dough on the lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart from each other. They’ll be sticky and misshapen. It’s okay. Lumpy cookies still taste nice.

Bake 15 minutes at 350°F, rotating the cookie sheets and switching their positions in the oven halfway through baking.

Let the cookies sit a few minutes before serving, or they will break in half and you will be obligated to eat the broken ones before anyone sees them. It’s in the rules. They are delightful on their own, with a few extra peanut butter chips for the peanut butter fiends in us all. . .

But they truly shine with a big scoop of ice cream. Even though I just used vanilla ice cream, it really brought out the peanut butter flavor and mellowed out the chocolate significantly. Plus, hot cookie+frozen ice cream=melted, gooey, tasty mess. One should eat all cookies this way.

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