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Archive for April, 2010

Banana Bread, revisited

Does anyone else out there have a notebook filled with handwritten recipes collected from old friends and family?  Stuffed with loose recipes cut from newspapers, or scrawled on cards?  Well, I do. And it was to that book that I turned the other day when I found that the bananas I had planned to eat for lunch last week were really past their eating prime.

After a little searching I found the notebook and the banana bread recipe I remembered.

I hadn’t used this recipe in a few years and I decided it was time to make a few changes — I wanted to make it healthier overall as well as lactose free for my brother who would be in town to try it.

A few quick substitutions (olive oil for the melted butter, all whole wheat flour instead of a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat, ginger instead of cinnamon, and brown sugar instead of white) and I was ready to go.

The batter mixed up nicely and fit perfectly into the lovely ceramic loaf pan my sister made for me.  After an hour in the oven the bread was ready to eat!

And it was delicious (if you believe my almost-13-year-old niece, who told me it was the best she had ever had).

Here’s the new, healthier recipe.  Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Banana Bread
(makes 1 medium sized loaf)

3-4 very ripe bananas
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon powdered ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup toasted sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mash bananas.  Add all other ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon.  Pour batter into an oiled and lightly floured loaf pan.  Bake 1 hour.

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Finally, after what feels like weeks (months?) of rain, spring seems to be making a slow return.  Yesterday was a lovely day, a few clouds, an amazing downpour complete with thunder in the afternoon, but mostly a day sunny enough, and warm enough, for a trip to see what is blooming at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden on the SE side of Portland.

Before getting far enough to see more than a hint of the profusion of color to come, we were greeted by a pair of mallards, resting close to the path and completely unafraid (probably because of the many children who feed them cracked corn, sold at the entrance).

There were a lot of other birds (I recognized a cormorant and many red winged blackbirds) but I’ll have to visit with S to get a more complete list.

The first flowers we really noticed were not rhododendrons, but instead subtle and intriguing hellebores.

Then, around another corner, it was clear that the rhododendrons really were “the thing,” and they were truly amazing.

Varied in color (we stopped once in front of a wall of blooms in at least 4 distinct shades of lavender), shape and size, the blooms, on bushes and even full-sized trees, were truly glorious.

Striking,

subtle,

complex,

and just plain lovely, they were everywhere we looked.

Some of the flowers aren’t blooming yet,

and there are clearly many  irises still to come

so a trip to the Rhododendron Garden is definitely something to try to fit into your busy schedule over the next few weeks.

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Ahh, spring.  A season filled with color, warmth and promise.  And, happily, fresh produce, bright flowers, and yes, wild halibut!

And all of that delicious halibut came in handy last weekend when S was trying to decide what to make for dinner (I think he was trying to get in as much cooking as he could before going out of town for the week).  After the usual review of our cookbook collection,  he settled on a recipe from a lovely book called Stir:  Mixing it up in the Italian Tradition, by Barbara Lynch.  The original recipe called for cod, but when we hit the grocery store the freshest fish there was halibut.  No problem — halibut is a great substitute, and the wild caught halibut we have been getting here lately is a delicious, tender fish.

Unleashing the magic of both the new stove-top and the new broiler, S produced a fantastic dish of halibut with clam and chorizo ragout.  The recipe looks a little complicated, but (according to S) if you take it one step at a time it’s not hard at all.  And it is surely worth the effort.

Pan-Fried Halibut with Chorizo and Clam Ragout
(Adapted from Stir:  Mixing it up in the Italian Tradition, by Barbara Lynch)
Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 fresh thyme sprigs
¼ cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pounds Manila (or other small) clams (well scrubbed)
¼ pound chicken chorizo
2 large roasted red peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
2/3 cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 skinless halibut fillets, each abut 6 ounces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a deep heavy skillet heat about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not colored, about 1 minute.  Add the wine, thyme, half of the parsley, the red pepper flakes, and the clams.  Stir to combine.  Increase the heat to medium high, cover the pan and let the clams steam open, 5 to 7 minutes.  With a large slotted spoon transfer the open clams to a bowl.  Discard any unopened clams.  Pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl.

Wipe the pan and return it to medium heat.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the chorizo until it browns and begins to render its fat.  Add roasted red peppers and continue to sauté for about five minutes.  Pour reserved clam juice over the sausage and peppers leaving any sediment behind.  Cook until most of the juice has evaporated.  Keep the ragout warm as you prepare the fish.

Spread the flour on a flat plate.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Season the halibut fillets with salt and pepper, lightly dredge them in flour and gently shake off any excess.  Add the fillets to the heated pan and cook, without moving them, until they are deeply golden on one side, about 4 minutes.  Flip the fish over and cook the other side until golden brown, another 4 minutes.

Pour ragout into the pan with the fish.  Add remaining parsley.  Heat gently to warm.  Serve on deep plates, placing one fillet and a generous serving of ragout on each plate.

Enjoy!

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I may have mentioned this once before (or maybe not) but in our house, S is the official breakfast chef.  On the weekends he is usually up before I am, rifling the pages of his many breakfast cookbooks and searching the pantry and fridge for breakfast supplies.  Before he starts cooking he puts Steal Away by Charlie Haden on the stereo (I know I have told you that before) and the mellow tunes and fragrant smells usually draw me out of bed, ready to eat.

Lately, he’s been even more enthusiastic than usual, excited to put our new stove top and oven through their paces.

This morning he settled on a recipe from one of his favorite breakfast books, The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the Day, for a Dutch Baby pancake.

That’s one of those airy, puffy baked pancakes that you make in the oven and serve topped with fruit (or whatever else sounds good at the time).

Dutch Baby (German Pancake)
(from The Big Book of Breakfast by Maryana Vollstedt)
Serves 2

3 large eggs
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk eggs.  Add flour slowly and whisk until blended.  Whisk in milk and salt.

In a large oven proof skillet (a black cast iron skillet works well; today S used a big, deep Dutch oven) over medium heat, melt butter.  Pour batter into skillet and place the skillet in the oven.

Bake until the pancake is lightly browned and puffed, about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven.  Loosen edges with a knife and turn out onto a plate.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with powdered sugar, topped with fruit and drizzled with maple syrup.  Or whatever other toppings you like!

Even if you’re not a practiced breakfast maker, I recommend this recipe.  It’s easy, tasty and looks lovely on the plate, too!

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As you may remember, I spent last week in St. Louis visiting the midwestern branch of my family.  It was the kids’ spring break and all of their friends had high-tailed it for Florida or other points south, so I was hoping to be able to provide some in-house entertainment.

The first part of the week passed swimmingly, but inevitably, there came an afternoon when vacation had obviously gone on long enough and I found myself in the living room trying to pry the children from the doldrums.  After my first ideas were rejected, my niece A suggested we “make something.”

My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook with a huge cookbook collection, so a short while later we were searching through baking books and websites seeking cupcake recipes.  In the end, I turned to my old standby, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, and her Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes.

The flavor of these cupcakes is a very grown up deep and rich bittersweet chocolate.  Luckily my niece and nephew are young chocolate connoisseurs.  To make them a bit more kid-friendly I sprinkled theirs with pink-coated mini-chocolate chips.  The few I reserved for adults I topped with my favorite chocolate flavor-enhancer: fleur de sel.

The recipe isn’t complicated, and like all of those in this collection, if you follow it carefully you’ll get perfect results.  I love a well-tested recipe!

Chocolate-chocolate cupcakes
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the cupcakes
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For the glaze
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Center the rack in the over and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  fill each cup in a 12-cup, regular-size muffin tin with paper muffin cups.

Make the cupcakes
Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until it is soft and creamy.

Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter.

Add the egg, then the yolk, beating for about 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear.

Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.

Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 26 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes are dry and springy to the touch and a knife inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them.  Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

Make the Glaze
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for 5 minutes.

Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of butter.  If the glaze is too thin, stir it over ice water for a few seconds – less than a minute.

Dip the cooled cupcakes into the glaze, giving them a little twirl as you pull them out for nice squiggle of glaze in the center.

Top with sprinkles, or, if you are feeling very grown up, fleur de sel.

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