Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ultimate Banana Bread

The title of this recipe does not disappoint. It's from Cook's Illustrated (July/August 2010), which did extensive tests to figure out how to cram 6, that's right, SIX bananas into this recipe. And it is amazing!

So, if you have a whole bunch of bananas you forgot to eat and are getting to an uncomfortable ripeness (like I had), try this. If you like bananas, you will be very happy with the results.

What you'll need:
- 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt (I used a bit more)
- 6 large ripe bananas (highly speckled), peeled
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (I did a little less and topped it off with white sugar. I don't know why)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (NOTE: I decided to get creative and substituted some macadamia nuts and shredded coconut. Guess I just needed some tropical flavor. It worked, but walnuts would have been better.)
- 2 tsp granulated sugar

What to do:
- Put your oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
- In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
- Put 5 bananas in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cut some steam vents in it and microwave for 4 or 5 minutes. The bananas should be soft and sitting in juice.
- Transfer bananas to a fine-mesh strainer and place over a bowl to collect the juice for 15 minutes.
- Transfer liquid to a small saucepan and cook to reduce to about 1/4 cup. [NOTE: I skipped this and instead just used 1/4 cup of the liquid. But you'll get a more concentrated flavor if you reduce it like the recipe says.]
- In a medium bowl, mash the bananas and add back in the juice. Stir in the butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.
- Pour banana mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add the nuts and stir in - but don't stir too much.
- Scrape into the loaf pan. Slice the remaining banana and layer on top of the batter, leaving a good strip down the middle without any slices so it'll rise properly. Then sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake until a toothpick comes out clean - about 50 minutes to an hour. Cool on wire rack in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool until you can't stand it anymore and need to eat it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valentine's Dinner 2011

Another year with my special Valentine, and another lovely dinner at home. This year we were joined by Miss Single USA - she's our best friend and single, she needed dinner!

This was a great collaborative dinner. Hubby made tri-tip steaks, Rose made an amazing kale salad, and I made some smashed potatoes and a pie. We also opened a really nice Domaine Drouhin 2006 Pinot Noir. Yum!

For the steaks:
Rub the steaks with your favorite spice mix. Sear in a hot cast iron skillet on the stove top on both sides - just until brown. Put the skillet in the oven and broil about 4 or 5 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, reduce about a 1/4 cup red wine in a saucepan with some dijon mustard and fresh rosemary.

When the steaks are done, pour off the juices into the saucepan and cook a bit longer while the meat rests. Use the sauce to dress the steaks and potatoes on your plate.

For the Chopped Kale Salad, which was in the Eugene Weekly's Winter 2011 "Chow!":
- large bunch of kale
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries (unsweetened)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 1 tsp+ honey
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan

Remove the stems from the kale and chop it up into ribbons or bite-sized pieces.
Mix the lemon juice, oil and honey in a bowl (heat the honey a little so it mixes better). Toss the mixture with the kale in a large bowl with the cranberries. Let sit for 30 minutes or more (this allows the kale to marinate and break down a bit). When ready to serve, toast the pine nuts and toss them in with the cheese, salt and pepper.

We ate ALL of this. It was SOOOO good.

For the potatoes:
These were super simple. I just cut up one yukon gold potato per person and boiled them until they were nice and tender. Then I tossed them with a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil, two cloves minced garlic, some chopped fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper. In mixing, they get kind of smashed up.

For the pie:
I've blogged about pie crust before here. I've never bought canned pie filling before, but I did this time. I found a large jar of local cherry-raspberry pie filling to use. I thawed out a cup of blueberries I had picked 2 years ago and added those too. So this was super easy - make the crust, roll it out, pour in the fruit mixture, and top with more crust. Cut some holes in the top for ventilation and decoration. I covered the edges for baking at 400 for 20 minutes, then took the foil off and cooked another 10 minutes at 350. It was delicious!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've been really into broccoli lately. I guess I need my iron and vitamins. And when am I not into cheese? So I tried some broccoli-cheese soup. It turned out ok - tasty but with some lessons learned. Here it is with my suggestions for improvement.

Recipe from the Joy of Cooking's "All About Vegetarian Cooking".

- 3 Tablespoons butter or veg oil (or more!)
- 1 cup chopped onions (or a bit more)
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 4 cups broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
- 1 potato, chopped (not in the recipe, I added)
- 1/3 cup flour
- 4 cups veggie stock
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cups grated Cheddar cheese (increased from 2 in recipe) - the sharper the better in my opinion!
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used ground mustard, but Dijon would be good)
- salt and pepper to taste
- hot pepper sauce to taste
- Worcestershire sauce to taste

- Melt the butter/heat the oil in a big pot over medium heat.
- Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, at least 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir all together another 5 minutes or so. Careful not to burn the flour.
- Gradually add the stock and milk. Cook until the veggie are tender, 5 to 10 minutes more (I didn't cook it long enough, so the veggies weren't that tender. They would be better cooked a bit longer.)
- Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. (I do this in batches and miss some chunks - but that's ok with me.)
- Return the soup to the pot and bring to a low simmer. Stir in the cheese gradually until smooth. Don't let the soup boil - the cheese will break down too much.
- Season with the rest of the spices and flavorings.
- Top with more grated cheese for serving.

As noted above, I needed to cook my veggie longer for it to be perfect. And I highly recommend sharp cheddar for the topping, even if you use something milder in the soup. Enjoy!