January 21, 2011

Gratuitous Banana Bread

Another banana bread recipe.  You need it like you need another hole in the head.

I've got nothing fancy to add to this world of bread, no reason it stands out from the crowd of other recipes that are out there other than nostalgia.  Go ahead and do a quick Google search for banana bread.  See you when you're done sifting through the eleventy zillion options that are out there for you.  Really, I can wait.

But for this I am not apologizing.  There's something so comforting about a simple loaf of banana and nut goodness.  No fancy-schmancy gimmicks or innovative ideas.  Just the other morning I baked some up simply because I had nothing in the house for breakfast - the stash of biscotti that I'd made my morning routine since Christmas had run out and the Cheerios box lay empty in a pile to be recycled.  There are always overripe and abandoned bananas in the freezer and a stash of various nuts in the pantry completing the makings of morning time, or snack time, contentment.

This recipe is well loved, as is the cookbook it comes from.  The banana nut bread recipe that is within is one you don't even have to search for, the book just seems to open knowingly to the page you're seeking.  Currently that book lies on my mother's shelf, in two pieces with no cover or back, the pages yellowed and stained with use.  There are several pages that have fallen out and been tucked back in, a few might even be missing.  These are signs of love.  My copy of the recipe though, is scribbled in a yellow spiral bound notebook that is a compilation of food I grew up loving.  Mostly simple recipes that would help guide me in the kitchen on my first foray out into the wide world of living as adult, away from my parents.  This was before I discovered foodblogs and the even wider world of the food related internet resources.

This bread is like home to me.  The other versions, the dressed up ones, indeed have their place, but they are no stand-in for my no frills, one bowl and mix it up, make it in my sleep, plain banana nut bread.

Banana Nut Bread
Adapted from Betty Crocker 

Trust me, I love me some dressed up banana bread as much as anyone - lightly spiced and studded with crystallized ginger, swirled with a chocolaty counterpart, or simply with a bit of chocolate chips thrown in - but this plain Jane version always has me coming back.  I'm going to go ahead and say that the extra step of toasting the nuts is key, do not skip it.  I find whirling them around for a few seconds in a food processor is a quick way to get them chopped to the right consistency.  This is a one bowl operation, why not dirty one more dish? Besides, I really need to get out of the habit of eating dessert-like food for breakfast. 

1 loaf

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup milk
2 -3 ripe bananas, mashed [I use 3 to keep things moist]
1 egg
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/2  teaspoons cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
dash of ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.

Measure all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon until fully mixed and the batter is completely moistened.  Pour into baking pan and bake 55 to 60 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean and the top is deep golden in color.

Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a plate and back onto the rack to finish cooling.

January 20, 2011

J'aime le Pizza

In high school I had this French teacher who taught next to nothing of the language.   It was pretty much like hanging out at your Grandma's house, if she were French and lived in a classroom in the middle of campus.  We made crepes, watched dubbed Disney movies; she'd even bring in Petit Ecolier cookies as treats. Perhaps she thought all this would romance us into learning a thing or two, that one day something would click and we'd all flit around the classroom with a flurry of française issuing from our mouths.  Too bad we were all ungrateful teenagers who'd rather exploit our teacher's weaknesses than attempt at appeasing her.

Occasionally she'd put her stern face on and insist that we speak the language in class, this being our second year and all, and we'd respond with the one stock phrase we'd managed to retain - "J'aime le pizza."  It didn't matter the context or the question we were asked the answer was always "I like pizza".  We were a pretty hopeless bunch.  Truly, if there was any point in the next year of my foreign language career where I could communicate in full sentences, I most certainly have forgotten it all now.  3 years and nothing to show, besides a pre-programmed response declaring my feelings on pizza.

So here I stand, 10 or so years later, reciting this silly phrase to myself as I pull this pizza out of the oven.  The Thai peanut sauce smelling sweet and savory under the chunks of chicken and bubbling cheese.  Everything getting covered with a pile of shredded carrots, sprouts and green onions.  It's a pizza!  Covered in salad!  Pure genius I tell you.  But of course there was a salad on the side as well, lest we forget how January is all about being healthy and reforming our diets.

Chicken Satay Pizza 

If you've got a favorite pizza dough recipe, use it here, or if you have a favorite store bought dough, by all means.  I'm partial to this one from Peter Reinhart (although this recipe will make enough for 2-3 pizzas).  With some rotisserie chicken from the store and pre-made dough this is a cinch to whip up any night of the week, and a million times better than any of those frozen things. 

1 - 12" pizza

pizza dough

3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
a few dashes of fish sauce (optional)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 large clove of garlic, grated

1 cup shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1 cup, packed, shredded mozzarella cheese
small handful cilantro, roughly chopped

1 small carrot, julliened
1/4 cup sprouts (spicy, alfalfa, mung bean)
2 green onions

With a pizza stone on the lowest shelf, preheat oven to 500F for about 30 minutes.  You'll want a super hot oven and an equally hot pizza stone to bake upon.

In a bowl mix together the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger and garlic.  Stir until the sauce is smooth and a spreadable consistency.  Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of the sauce with the shredded chicken and set aside.

On a piece of parchment paper - this will make it easy to transfer to the oven - roll the pizza dough out to a 12-inch circle.  Spread over the top the remaining sauce almost to the edges, leaving about 1 inch exposed.  Scatter chicken pieces, then cheese then cilantro over the sauce.  Transfer, using the parchment paper to assist you, to pizza stone and bake 15 minutes or until the crust is a puffed and golden and the cheese starts to bubble and brown.

Meanwhile, toss together the cut carrots, green onions and sprouts.  When the pizza comes out of the oven, top with vegetable mixture, slice and serve.

January 7, 2011

I {heart} YO

I don't talk a lot about nutrition on here. Funny, because aside from (or rather, in addition to) cooking, it's my thing.  I'm all about health and wellness and nourishing our bodies - I care about what I put into mine, and I care what others put into theirs.  What I'm not into, is lecturing.  Finger-wagging and long drawn out tirades rarely have gotten people to change their eating habits or stop and think about making some serious changes to their diet.

Eating should be a thoughtful process.  Think about your meal.  Where did it come from?  How has it been transformed?  How is it transforming you?  Enjoy each bite and be able to feel good about it.  The more you know about the food on your plate the better.  Don't continuously deny yourself or eliminate broad sections of food, they each play such an important role.  Eat colorfully, be adventurous. 

This, I think, I why I'm so utterly in love with Yotam Ottolenghi's regular column for The Guardian, The New Vegetarian.  Though the recipes obviously lack meat, they're not trying to compensate for that absence.  The food is playful, vibrant and really a celebration of each ingredient that it uses.  Why shouldn't we enjoy our veggies just as much as our animal protein?  Here, with his cauliflower cake, he takes this much maligned vegetable, envelops it in an eggy, custardy cake spiked with fresh herbs and sharp cheese that really turns the idea of cauliflower being a soggy blah side dish to a real star.  Cauliflower cynics, you've met your match.

It's hard for me to say for certain since I'm not a meat and potatoes kind of a girl, but I think Mr. Ottolenghi has the power to sway that crowd, make them branch out while never letting them get bored in the process.  Now is a good a time as ever to at least try, right?

Cauliflower Cake
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

If the man wants to call it a cake, I'll take it, even if it is more like a bulked up crustless quiche.  I cut out some olive oil not seeing the need for nearly 1/2 cup and replaced the Parmesan with stronger, saltier Romano and reduced the measure to 1 cup from 2, because, let's face it, I'm not made of money and good cheese is expensive.  Also as a heads up those red onions you decorated the top with will turn an odd shade of blue/green in the morning if you have any leftovers and so will any pieces that come in contact with the springform.  Not that it affects the taste, though your brain will be firing off weirded out signals about the color, I'm sure.

8 servings

1 medium cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 large red onion, peeled

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
8 large eggs
Handful (3/4 ounce) fresh basil, chopped

Scant 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup of grated Romano cheese

Salt and black pepper

Butter, for greasing pan

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Break cauliflower into medium florets, really just use your hands and snap off pieces. Place florets in a pot fitted with a steamer basket and steam, covered for 15 to 20 minutes, until quite soft. Remove steamer basket from pot and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the batter. Halve your red onion and cut a few thin rings off the end of one side; set them aside. Coarsely chop the remainder of your onion. Heat all of your olive oil in a saucepan and saute the chopped red onion and rosemary together until soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Whisk eggs and olive oil and onion mixture together. Stir in basil. Whisk flour, baking powder, turmeric, cheese, 1 teaspoon salt and many, many grinds of black pepper together in a separate bowl and add to egg mixture, whisking to remove lumps. Stir in cauliflower gently, so as not to break up too many pieces.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the sides generously. Put the sesame seeds in the pan and toss them around so that they stick to the sides. Pour in the cauliflower batter, arrange the reserved onion rings on top and bake cake in the center of the oven for 45-55 minutes, until golden brown and set (This took closer to an hour for me, so go by consistency and look rather than time, no one wants a jiggly uncooked egg center.)

Serve warm or at room temperature.

January 3, 2011

The Old is New

I haven't cooked in weeks.  Aside from the appetizer or snack to bring along to a party/get together or the roughly 15 dozen cookies I baked up in one night, I haven't made any real sort of food in far too many days.  My apartment has been host to out of town friends who required refueling on California burritos, carne asada fries and In-N-Out burgers and my fridge has been stocked with leftovers galore.  Which is to say, this is a perfect time to play catch-up on the backlog of entries in my queue.

I couldn't tell you when I made this pasta, and even if I could, I wouldn't because it was an embarrassing amount of time ago.  Like, there aren't enough fingers and toes on maybe 2 people to count how many days ago, maybe more.  I do, however, remember this pasta quite fondly.   A delicate sweet tomato sauce bubbling away on the stove, creamy chickpeas folded into the mix along with some fragrant basil.  Notwithstanding that this recipe was published as a "carbo-load" in the New York Magazine just prior to the New York Marathon, it's quite healthy so long as you don't follow the part where 1 pound of pasta is the serving size for 2-3 marathoners.  I don't know about you, but I'd be hard pressed to finish a half pound of pasta on my own.  In one sitting.  Heck, if I cooked a pound of pasta D and I would be eating it for the better part of a week and by the end someone - okay, you don't need to twist my arm, it'd be me - would be moaning and groaning about having to even look at the stuff one more time.

So here it is, revamped and revised in a more practical form, at least for us.  The amount of pasta cut in half but with the original measures for the sauce and still serving 4 newly resolved and health conscious people.  (See?  Look at me, looking out for your resolutions!)

Chickpea and Tomato Pasta
Adapted from New York Magazine 

A few notes.  After reading several reviews on the recipe it was widely agreed upon that either the sauce needed to be doubled or the pasta halved; I opted for using half the pasta because around here 1/2 a pound of the stuff easily feeds 4.  I made the boo-boo of using angelhair instead of spaghetti which I would recommend against you making the same mistake, especially if there will be leftovers.   The thin pasta gets soggy and breaks apart, highly undesirable.  Bacon instead of pancetta?  Surely.  Short on chicken broth?  You can use a dry white wine or else a mixture of water and dry vermouth in its place like I did.  It was still delicious.

 4 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced bacon (just under 2 ounces)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
15 ounces canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained or about 2 cups, freshly cooked chickpeas
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
Pinch chile flakes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
10 to 15 basil leaves, each torn in 2 or 3 pieces
Salt to taste
1/2 pound dry spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the diced bacon and cook until it begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the onions and sauté until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté for 1 minute more.

Set aside 1/3 cup of the chickpeas, and place the rest of the chickpeas in a food processor with the water and dry vermouth. Pulse until the mixture reaches a chunky-smooth consistency, like chunky peanut butter.  Add the mixture, tomatoes, and basil to the skillet. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions. When the pasta is almost done, reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid, and then drain. Add the pasta to the sauce along with the remaining chickpeas. Toss, adding the pasta liquid if necessary. Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan cheese.