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One of the things I do to get inspired to post on my own blog is read other blogs, especially food and knitting related blogs.  I have a few favorites (some of them are listed in the right-hand column — take a look) that I check regularly.

The other day during a brief break at work (it’s been really busy there lately so there haven’t been many breaks), I checked out Heidi Swanson’s blog 101 Cookbooks.  I love her site because it is so beautiful and because the food is always good.

The recipe she posted last week caught my eye right away.  The photo of the finished loaf cake was striking, the recipe looked like something I could make with ingredients I had at home, and I haven’t baked in a while.

Of course, I did have most of the ingredients, but I also had some bananas that needed to be used and I didn’t have any garam masala in my spice drawer.  Heidi suggested that bananas could be substituted for the roasted winter squash in her recipe, and encouraged bakers to use other spices if they had no garam masala.

I mashed one very ripe banana (happily that gave me exactly the 1/2 cup I needed), and decided to use Chinese 5 spice to replace the garam masala.

The cake turned out really well (though it needed a bit less time in my oven than the original recipe called for — my loaf was fully baked in about 45 minutes).

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Happy New Year!

We didn’t celebrate late into the night (still recovering from a long flight and a very late arrival home the night before), but before we went to bed we did manage to pull together the batter for a wonderful New Year’s tradition (well, it should be a tradition, anyway), what the Joy of Cooking calls Raised Buckwheat Blini.

Blini are little pancakes, traditionally associated with Lent in Russia and the Ukraine, served with caviar or, in my house, smoked salmon, and creme fraiche.  Raised refers to the fact that they are made with yeast and need to rise for at least an hour before making (I refrigerated the batter overnight after it’s initial rise).  The yeast makes them light and airy, the buckwheat gives them a nutty flavor and a lovely brown color.

They can be made on an ordinary griddle, like any other pancakes, but they are even better when made on a “platar” or “plett” pan.

Here’s the recipe, straight from the pages of the Joy of Cooking (1997 edition).

Raised buckwheat blini

1 ½ cups milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup buckwheat flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat and let cook until it is between 105 and 115 degrees F.  Sprinkle with the yeast and let stand until the yeast is dissolved (about 5 minutes).

Whisk together flours, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and pour the wet ingredients over them, whisking until just combined.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the batter has doubled in volume, about one hour.

Once the batter has risen you can make the pancakes right away, or refrigerate the covered bowl for up to 24 hours; let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before proceeding.

Stir to deflate the batter and whisk in the lightly beaten eggs.

Prepare and preheat your platar or griddle.  For the platar, spoon or pour about 2 tablespoons batter into each depression.  Cook until the top of each blini is speckled with bubbles and some of the bubbles have popped, then turn and cook until the underside is lightly browned.  (The easiest way to turn blini is to spear them with a thin skewer, nail or knitting needle; you can also slip a narrow icing spatula under the cakes.)  If you are using a griddle, spoon a scant ¼ cup of batter for each pancake, leaving space between cakes for some expansion.  Serve immediately or keep warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish cooking the rest.

They are also good with a little jam on top (Marionberry in this case).

Fresh grapefruit as a side,

and everyone is sure to clean their plate.


Negroni time

Something about the holiday season puts me in the mood for a festive drink before dinner. Lately, S seems to be in the same mood, and his current favorite cocktail is a Negroni — the classic drink made with gin, campari and sweet vermouth.

When I first started making this cocktail I stayed true to the traditional 1:1:1 ratio and used the same amount of each ingredient in my drinks.  Over time, though, I have come to prefer my Negronis a little less sweet, a little more bitter and a little heavy on the gin.  And since I make them, S likes them that way too!

The recipe is still very easy.

For one drink, I pour 2 ounces of good gin (I like Plymouth), 1 1/2 ounces Campari, and 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth into a shaker filled with ice.  I shake gently, just enough to thoroughly chill the mixture, and pour it into a glass over an orange peel or a slice of orange for garnish.

Not only does it taste great, but it looks just right for the holiday season.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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