Friday, November 28, 2008

Banana Bread

The smell of banana bread reminds me of waking up as a kid to delicious morning smells. I love the way it fills your house. My mom, aka 'Super Mom', made us breakfast every morning (and yes, she had a full-time job too). Waffles, oatmeal, pancakes, blueberry muffins... and banana bread (not all in the same day though!).

This isn't actually my mom's recipe, as I simply haven't asked her for it yet. But it tastes just like it, so my guess is that it will be pretty close. This one came from a friend, and it's HER mother's recipe. Go moms!

Mmm, delicious.

- As you gear up for the holidays, make a double batch and freeze a couple loaves to bring with you to brunches, family gatherings or as a hostess gift. You can freeze the loaves up to 6 months.
- To freeze banana bread, wrap tightly in saran wrap and then tinfoil or a ziploc sack. To eat a frozen loaf, you can thaw/warm it in the microwave or oven.
- Bought too many bananas? You can also freeze the banana's up to 3 months! They will turn dark or black in the freezer. When you are ready to make a batch of banana bread: remove bananas from the freezer and let thaw for 5-10 minutes, then peel them with a knife. You don't want them to go too soft, or they are very hard to peel. I also find that I need an extra banana to fill the cup portions required when using frozen.

Banana Bread

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs
1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups banana, sliced into small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans), toasted or raw *optional

Preheat oven to 350. Grease one 9x13 inch pan, or two 7x3 inch loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, mix the flower and salt together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy (approximately 5 minutes). Then add the sugar and mix, eggs (one at a time) and mix, and finally the vanilla. Beat until everything is mixed well (an extra 1-2 minutes).

Then add the heavy cream and baking soda, and mix well. Next add the banana slices and mix until the banana has been mashed and fully integrated.

Add the flour/salt mixture slowly (1/2 cup at a time), while beating on medium speed. Be sure each addition is mixed in well before adding more flour. Mix a little longer past the last flour addition, and done.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Twists on tradition:
- Mocha Banana Bread, from Cooking with Amy
- Chocolate Chip and Sour Cream Banana Bread, from Closet Cooking
- Cherry Coconut Banana Bread, from Treat a Week Recipes

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Goodbye Onion Tears!

I'm taking a break today from recipe posting, as we just returned from vacation and need to prepare for Thanksgiving! Yahoo.

Speaking of which, with Thanksgiving upon us, there are a lot of onions out there, ready to be chopped. I, for one, hate the sting of onion fumes. I tear up and look like a raccoon within seconds.

I was reading a post from another food blogger (And darn it, I can't remember where/who now! If you read this post too, please let me know, as I'd like to give credit and link back) about her remedy: have a candle lit very close to your cutting board, while chopping the onion. Supposedly, it burns away the sulphuric fumes of the onion. Interesting. Has anyone ever tried this?

My mom told me that by not cutting the root end, you can prevent tears. Never worked.

I got a little curious (ok, bored), and decided to look up a few other old wives tales for onion tear prevention. Here are a few of the ideas out there:

- Have running water next to your cutting board while chopping onions
- Before cutting, apply cooking oil to your knife
- Stick a toothpick in your mouth while you cut the onion (Seriously? Someone please try this!)
- Keep your mouth shut and don't talk (Remember to breath, please)
- Place onion in the freezer for an hour before cutting
- Wear contact lenses (Apparently, this is one of the few times people with good vision get screwed)
- Peel the onion first under cool running water
- Chew gum
- Hold a piece of bread in your mouth (The image alone made me laugh)

And drum roll... my favorite recommendation:

- Hold a match or incense stick in your mouth (red tip out) while you cut the onion and your eyes won't tear up at all. (Lit or unlit? Be sure to cut quickly!)

I'll be trying the gum chewing method, and perhaps the candle. Hey, can't hurt.

Previously posted, favorite recipes:
- Fried Rice with Tofu
- Chickpea and Corn Fritters with Chipotle Salsa
- Enchiladas

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vegetable Pot Pie: Wrap up Thanksgiving with Leftovers!

First rule of any party: don't run out of food or drinks. Never seems to be a problem at Thanksgiving though. Despite the fact that people (read: me) stuff themselves silly, there is always, always a ton of food leftover. I see so many creative recipes that deal with leftover Thanksgiving food, but they are usually focused on turkey.

This Vegetable Pot Pie recipe can use whatever veggies you have. Hooray! It's not a picky recipe, and based on the reviews, I almost completely switched up the veggies. It tasted amazing! I don't even think it matters if your veggies are spiced from the Thanksgiving dinner. Just adds more flavor. Or you can adjust/lessen the recipe spices slightly.

Use leftover carrots, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, brussel sprouts, or sweet potatoes. The only thing I might be weary of, are the sweet potatoes if you typically bake them with marshmallows. I don't see marshmallows as a good addition to pot pies, but maybe that's just me. I suppose, if you were really industrious, you could rinse the marshmallow off the sweet potato slices (assuming you don't whip your sweet potatoes), then add them... Hmmm??

But don't only save this for Thanksgiving leftovers. Would be a great 'clean the fridge out' recipe, or just-because you feel like a warm delicious pot pie (because it's so darn good, I tell you!). Or, use it as your Thanksgiving dinner. It's certainly delicious and impressive enough!

p.s. While I can't categorize this recipe as 'easy', it's by NO means difficult. Everything comes together very quickly, and the two part (crust, then filling) process is nothing to be weary of. I promise! Probably one of the easiest homemade pot pie recipes out there and makes you look like Chef du Jour.

Vegetable Pot Pies
adapted from Ina Garten at the Food Network

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup sliced yellow onions (1 onion)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon white wine
Pinch saffron threads (or substitute marjoram)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 1/4 cups large-diced potatoes
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced sweet potato/yams
1 1/2 cups broccoli, quartered
1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Fresh, ground black pepper

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

After you are done with the pastry, start on the pot pie ingredients.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, white wine, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

Cook the potatoes and yams in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the brussel sprouts and carrots to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes and mixed vegetables to the sauce and mix well.

* If you are using already cooked Thanksgiving/dinner leftovers, you will want to skip some of these cooking steps for the vegetables and simply add directly to the sauce. Great time saver!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls (best to use bowls without a lip, such as a large ramekin).

Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside, top edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top (feel free to be decorative!). Sprinkle with cracked pepper.

Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar

This is a favorite of mine! While most normal portions for an adult might be 1/4 of the squash, I eat a full half. I would probably eat both halves, if I thought I could get away with it. My sisters were the same way. When my mom made this squash, there was never any leftover. Poor mom... I even think there were times she sacrificed her own squash portion to us wolves.

In any event, you now know that this recipe is good. Really good. Of course, you should like squash. Which Tim doesn't, and that secretly makes me happy, because that means there's more for me!

Baked Acorn Squash with Brown Sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium acorn squash
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
Fresh ground pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 425.

Butter a rimmed baking sheet or pie plate (depending on how many you are making). Halve 1 medium acorn squash (TIP: Use a kids pumpkin carving tool. It's much easier than a knife, which slides and is hard to slice through the squash). Scoop out the seeds/pulp.

Place the squash halves, scooped side down, on prepared sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Squash should be browned when turned over.

Remove squash from the oven, and turn over. Prick insides all over with a fork. Place 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon light-brown sugar in each half.

Continue to bake until flesh is easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Variations of Baked Acorn Squash:
- Acorn Squash with Cranberry Apple Stuffing, from Elana's Pantry
- Spicy Apple-Butter Acorn Squash Rings, from Seasonal Ontario Food
- Baked Acorn Squash with Granola and Apples, from 24 Boxes
- Acorn Squash with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette, from Smitten Kitchen

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seasonal Recipe Cooking

Currently, I am on vacation. I may be cooking, but we'll see if I have access to upload and blog while away!

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along a great website for Seasonal Cooking. In the US, we're somewhat spoiled with the availability of food. It's not so in other parts of the world.

And even if the food is available, the Slow Food movement and buying local is becoming ever more important... environmentally and economically.

You might already buy local and cook more seasonal recipes. If so, awesome! This may be another resource to add to your arsenal.

For those who want to edge their way into cooking more seasonally, Seasonal Recipes will be a handy resource for you. It's very easy to use, has reviewers ratings and feedback, and updates automatically by season.

So go check them out... you might find something to make for a fall family breakfast, or for the grand family Thanksgiving. They offer seasonal, as well as holiday, recipes.

Here are a couple recipes that looked good to me:
- Curried Squash Soup
- Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing
- Pumpkin Waffles

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

The sweet tooth strikes again! But, I consider this a somewhat timely post, as the holidays are approaching and lots of moms/dads start baking indoors with their munchkins, or like to bring treats to work for holiday parties, or maybe you'll be throwing a holiday open house. Whatever the occasion, definitely consider these little gems.

First, I love peanut butter. Remember this? Mmmm. Second, this recipe includes chocolate. Hello little darlings, where have you been all my life?!

Truly, these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies are delicious. I guarantee these cookies will make your house smell divine, be fun to make, and completely eaten within a day (maybe a day and a half, if you hide some or have unfathomable willpower).

I don't even have a finished cookie picture, I was too focused on eating them! I hope you make these, and I hope you enjoy the coming holiday season with lots of yummy sweet treats.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook by Smitten Kitchen

"They’re crisp on the outside, and almost cakey on the inside."

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature (I used chunky)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (for sprinkling) sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips (I did not use these, and still turned out great!)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (I increased the chocolate chips to 3/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Next, add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips.

Place sprinkling sugar on a plate. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls (I used my hands to make them into balls) into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a criss-cross pattern, but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Do not overbake*. Cookies WILL appear to be underdone, but they are not.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

* I overbaked the cookies because I was thinking "I like crunchy cookies". They still turned out yummy for me, but these cookies are naturally a bit crunchy - just wait for them to cool. To keep a good balance, I recommend sticking to the directions and not overbaking.

Guten appetit!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tomato Braised Beans with Polenta

I received this recipe recommendation from my friend Erica, as we were swapping high-protein recipes to make sure we were both getting enough nutrients for our growing baby bellies. It's always fun to try a friend's family favorite, so I jumped on this one right away.

I rarely cook with polenta, not sure why. It's delicious, and this recipe was fantastic! It might need to be a new years resolution to make/eat more polenta.

I will say that making the polenta was a bit tricky, or at least, I thought so. However, since making this recipe, I've read other polenta making reviews/tips, and think I'd have an easier time of it in the future. It requires constant attention and stirring, so be forewarned. But, the result is worth it.

Tomato Braised Beans with Polenta
from CookingLight

2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarse yellow dry polenta

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add parsley and garlic to pan; saute 1 minute. Add sage and tomatoes; cook 12 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates (only took me about 4 minutes).

Add black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and beans to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Polenta: (I am using alternate polenta cooking instructions, as the original recipe did not work well. But I kept to the original recipes measurements and ingredients)

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 cup polenta in a very thin stream. You should be able to see the individual grains spilling into the pot. As you are adding the polenta, stir it with a whisk, and make sure the water is always boiling.

When you have added all the polenta, begin to stir it with a wooden spoon. Stir continuously, bringing the mixture up from the bottom of the pot and loosening it from the sides. The mixture will form the correct consistency of polenta in 35-45 minutes, when it forms a mass that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the pot.

Serve polenta warm with bean mixture on top, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Yields 4 servings.

More polenta recipes:
- Zucchini Polenta Tart, from Chocolate & Zucchini
- Baked Polenta Fries, from 101 Cookbooks (I think these would be great with a smoky-tomato salsa)
- Polenta Cookies, from Serious Eats
- Olive Oil, Grape and Polenta Cake, from Baking Bites

Guten appetit!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How to cook Artichokes

We're in the midst of the holiday bonanza! With Halloween down, have you started to think of your Thanksgiving menu? For some reason, artichokes have been my new favorite go-to vegetable (I always love artichokes, but they're usually a special occasion veggie due to the cooking time required and seasonality of them). But I can absolutely imagine them in a Thanksgiving feast.

In any event, they do require a bit of prep work and also an hour to cook. I think that puts a lot of people off. But, they are worth it! Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever met someone that doesn't like artichokes. If you haven't ever made them before, or it's been a while, check your market and pick some up! I strongly urge you. Deee-licious!

Hello, my pretty... here is an artichoke fresh from the market:

Ready to get started? Here is the cooked, ready to be served, artichoke we are working towards:

What you will need:

2 large artichokes (green, with very little browning of the leaves)
1 large stock pot and steam tray
Kitchen scissors
4 tablespoons of butter
1-2 lemon wedge slices (optional)

Wash the artichokes under cold water, pulling the leaves out a big to allow the water to get in deep. Turn over onto a dry rag or shake most of the water off.

On a cutting board, slice off the stem of the artichoke, leaving 1/2 inch on the bottom. Remove, by peeling, the bottom first layer of leaves if they are overly small or brown.

Next, with a sharp knife, cut off the top of the artichoke, removing about 3/4 of an inch. Then with your kitchen scissors, cut the sharp tips (about 2-3 cm) off of the remaining leaves of the artichoke. You do not need to dig into the center of the artichoke for the inner leaves, only cut the ones you see on the outside of the artichoke.

Pour water in your large stockpot up to the steam tray level (about 2 inches), and add the lemon wedges. Insert your steam tray, and place the 2 artichokes on top, facing down (so the stem will face up). If they can't face down, it's no problem. Lay them on their side.

Bring water to a boil, cover and lower the heat to simmer. Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until you can easily pull a bottom leaf from the artichoke. Be careful to ensure your pan never goes dry!

I also test the leaf by trying to eat it (see below), to know if it's done. I get frustrated when I under cook an artichoke, but I haven't ever had a problem with overcooking. So I typically let mine cook for around 50 minutes, sometimes even a little longer, testing as I go.

When the artichokes are done, remove with tongs (they will be hot!) and place upside down on a dish towel to remove excess water.

Divide the butter between 2 ramekins and put in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to fully melt (be careful, as butter likes to pop and can make a mess if left alone in your microwave for too long!).

Serve the artichokes with butter. Will feed 2 people, as each should have their own artichoke. Otherwise, you risk a revolt at your dining room table.

Now... how do you eat an artichoke? I didn't take any pictures of that, and probably couldn't describe it nearly as well as Smitten Kitchen does, so head on over to check out her explanation. She also gives some alternate methods of cooking artichokes, and a mayo dip vs. butter. The best method I have found though, and I've tried many, is to steam in a pot on the stove. It might take an hour, but again, they are worth it.

Guten appetit!