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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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