My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Apple Crisp

"Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."
~Robert Schuller

Lately, in my excitement over a few newly acquired cookbooks, I've been trying new recipes.  But the other day I was in the mood for old fashioned apple crisp.  I have a recipe I've been using for 25 years that I LOVE.  It is kept in an old binder stuffed with recipes, that is so used it no longer has a cover, and is falling apart.  When I opened it, the page with this recipe was missing, sending me into a panic.  
What if I could never make it again?  
Before Baking
I know I could easily look up a recipe in one of my cookbooks or online.  But it wouldn't be THIS recipe, with it's perfectly composed, generous topping that's crisp without being greasy, delicately spiced and delightfully crunchy with almonds.
After Baking
Thankfully, I located the missing page along with a few others that had fallen out and were buried in the bookcase.  I was going to take a picture of a nice bowl filled with warm crisp and a scoop of ice cream melting over the top.  That was my intention, but we inhaled it before I had the chance.  Oops.

Apple Crisp

3 pounds (6-7 large) apples, peeled, cored and sliced.
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup old fashioned oats
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place sliced apples in a large bowl.  Toss with lemon juice, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  Turn into an 8-inch square buttered baking pan.  In a medium sized bowl, combine remaining ingredients; mix with your hands, using your fingers to incorporate the butter pieces until you have a crumbly mixture.  Sprinkle evenly over the apples.  Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown and apples are tender.  Cool slightly.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  I also love to eat it cold for breakfast.

You can also substitute peaches for the apples.  

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thai Spareribs

"If the moon were made of barbecue spareribs, would you eat it?  I know I would.  Heck, I'd have seconds.  And then polish it off with a tall, cool Budweiser."
~Will Ferrell

I keep trying ribs recipes.  Over the years I've made them countless ways.  On the grill, in the oven, in the crock-pot, and all with varied results.   When I saw this recipe in the Feb/2011 Bon Appetit, I had to give it a try.
It's a keeper.  As usual, I tweaked it some, and will give it to you the way I made them.  For one, the original recipe calls for lemon-grass and I couldn't find any.  It is another one of those recipes you have to think ahead a bit and start them the day before, but the payoff of that foresight is worth it!  They came out fall-off-the-bone tender, super-flavorful and with just the right amount of heat and glaze.  They were really great.  "Freaking awesome" were my husband's exact words.  I'm thinking they would be superb super bowl fare as long as you provide lots of napkins and icy cold beer.

Thai Spareribs

6 pounds spareribs, cut into 2-rib portions
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons Thai peanut sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 large garlic cloves
A 1-inch piece of fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (I substituted 1/4 cup cream of coconut and 1/4 hot water)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Arrange ribs in single layer in large roasting pan.  Add just enough boiling water to cover ribs.  Cover pan with foil.  Oven-braise ribs until almost tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, add all remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.  Cool ribs, still covered, for 30 minutes.  Transfer ribs to heavy-duty 2 gallon resealable plastic bag; discard braising liquid.  Pour marinade into bag.  Seal top and turn to coat ribs evenly.  Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using tongs, arrange ribs in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet.  Spoon marinade from bag over ribs.  Roast uncovered until ribs are very tender, basting often with marinade, about 1 1/2 hours.  [Keep an eye on them, so you don't let the marinade evaporate completely].  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

No-Knead Bread

“Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad, but bread is king.”

~Louis Bromfield, American novelist  (1896-1956)

Apparently I was in Siberia in 2006 (well, juggling 3 teenagers and a full time job...might as well have been) and missed the memo on this bread.  Here's what Amanda Hesser writes about it:

"I'm not sure this Jim Lahey recipe needs an introduction.  After it was published in Mark Bittman's column, it inspired a tsunami of internet chatter, stayed on the Times's most-emailed list for weeks, and became the foundation for Lahey's first book.  It is easily the most famous recipe ever to run in the Times
If you happened to be living in Siberia at the time [Hello!] this recipe revolutionized home bread baking, because it does not require kneading or a baking stone, and mostly because it yields a loaf that looks and tastes in every way as if it were made by an artisan baker with a wood-fired oven [true!]."

Am I the only one who missed this?
I am not at all opposed to kneading bread.  In fact, I find it therapeutic and rewarding.  I didn't choose this recipe for the ease or novelty of it....I chose it because it gave me an excuse to use the new Le Creuset pan I just scored for a fraction of retail on Ebay!  You see, this bread is baked inside a covered Dutch oven.  The pan traps the steam as it cooks, making for a very rustic and crusty loaf.  This is yet another recipe from The Essential NY Times cookbook I've been yammering about for a couple weeks.  Remarkably, it does indeed taste as if it was baked in a wood fired oven.  You just need to think ahead and stir the dough ingredients together the night before.  It was fun to make, I loved the great crunchy crust,  and it makes fabulous garlic toast.

No-Knead Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons cool water
cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.  Add the water and stir until blended; the dough will be shaggy and sticky.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap.
Warmest room in my house is the bathroom
Let the dough rest for at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.  the dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
2. Lightly flour [I had to use a lot of flour] a work surface and place the dough on it; sprinkle it with more flour, and fold it over on itself once or twice.  
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.
3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball [again, I used lots of flour and employed a pastry scraper to help pick up the dough].  Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal, put the dough seam side down the towel, and dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal.  
Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  when it is ready, the dough will be more than doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
4. At least 30 minutes before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Put a 6- to 8-quart covered heavy pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats [my pot is 9.5 quarts, but it worked].
5. when the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven.  Lift off the top towel, slide your hand under the bottom towel, and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK. 
Shake the pot once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
6. Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned [15 was enough for my loaf].  
Cool on a rack.

In case you are is my recipe for grilled garlic bread.  This garlic spread can be used on Italian bread, ciabatta rolls, basically any bread you can spread it on and grill!

1/4 cup salted butter, softened
5 garlic cloves (or more!), run through garlic press or minced
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Cut butter into pieces into a small bowl. Add garlic and pepper and mash all together with a fork.
Spread on one side of slices of bread and grill on medium heat in a skillet.  Keep an eye on it, because you don't want the garlic to burn.  When they are perfectly browned, turn pieces over and turn burner down to low to keep bread warm until your dinner is ready.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice and Mango Chutney

"I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday."
~Henry IV

This was one of the easiest dinners I've ever made.  You whisk a few things together, pour it over the chicken, bake and viola!  Wonderful, succulent chicken with lots of delicious sauce to mop up with noodles, broccoli, bread....your fingers.  The Mister said after the meal "If you told me I was going to eat all that chicken, I would have said you were crazy, but that was fantastic (and there was nothing left)."  

The recipe came from The Essential New York Times Cookbook  that I recently purchased and am enjoying.  I have a lot of cookbooks, and this is my new favorite.  If you like to cook; buy it, you won't regret it.

Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice, and Mango Chutney
Serves 2

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half (as if to butterfly)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Major Grey's mango chutney
1 teaspoon curry powder
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Lay the chicken in a medium baking dish (either Pyrex or enameled cast iron).
2. Whisk together the mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl.  Add the chutney and curry powder and whisk until smooth.  Add the lemon juice a little at a time, tasting as you go.  It should taste quite tangy.  Stop when it is to your liking.
3. Spoon the sauce evenly over the chicken.  Sprinkle with cracked pepper.  Place in the oven and roast until the sauce is bubbling and starting to brown on the chicken.  Amanda Hesser's recipe said to cook it 15 minutes.  I preferred it cooked 25 minutes so it would brown nicely.

Cook's note: Whatever you do, do not substitute low-fat or non-fat sour cream or mayo...they will not cook down properly to make the sauce.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Coconut Cake

"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.  Coincidence? 
I think not."
~Author Unknown

We are having yet another snow storm here in New England.  This could not possibly be more pleasing to my daughter, who has had an extra week off from school due to snow days.  Mid terms delayed for the second time in a week.  What's not to love?  When I'm stuck in the house, my thoughts turn to baking.  I've been looking for an excuse to make this cake.  It is Sam Champion's (of Good Morning America fame) recipe.  I've tried other recipes that were just okay, not great.  Now this cake, is great...we loved it!   
Moist and scrumptious!

The recipe called for 1 cup of coconut milk and I didn't have any, so I substituted 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup coconut rum.  I did however, have the coconut extract and that is not really makes the cake.  Without it, the cake will taste like a vanilla cake with coconut on it.  Instead of using 1 1/2  sticks of butter, I used 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup vegetable oil.  I find that lightens up the batter and adds moisture.  

Coconut Cake

For cake:
1½ stick unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar
6 egg whites
2 ¼ cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coconut flavor
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup flaked coconut

For Icing:
2 sticks butter
½ cup shortening
1 ½ pounds confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon coconut flavor
4-5 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
1 ½ cups flaked coconut
For Garnish:
2 ½ -3 cups flaked coconut (to cover cake)

To Make the Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter liberally and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
In an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. 
Slowly add the egg whites until incorporated. In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, the baking powder and the salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until incorporated but don't over mix. Add the coconut flavoring, and the coconut milk until combined . Add 1 cup of flaked coconut.
Divide the batter equally between the two prepared cake pans. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Let cool in pan on wire racks until cakes are completely cool, then carefully unmold. Using a serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally into 2 equal layers (creating a total of 4 layers).
To Make the Icing:
Cream the butter, shortening, and confectioner's sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Beat in the coconut flavoring and the coconut milk.
In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the whipped frosting and 1½ cups of flaked coconut. Set aside.
Assembling the Cake:
When ready to ice the cake, place the first cake layer on serving dish. Dollop 1/3 of the frosting with coconut flake added to it, and spread evenly with an offset metal spatula. Continue this process with each layer, smoothing over the extra frosting that may ooze out between each layer.
With the remaining frosting (that does NOT contain flaked coconut), frost the top and sides of cake. Finish by gently pressing the remaining 2 1/2 – 3 cups of flaked coconut on the frosted cake, covering it entirely.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken and Cuban Black Beans

"Instead of bland, it's spicy and fragrant with flavors of lime and citrus which are natural, healthy and add zing."
~Elizabeth Simon

My son (the picky one) brought this chicken recipe home during his December break.  It was his new favorite and he wanted me to make it.  I obliged.  It is now a favorite of the whole family.  We liked it so much that I made a couple of big batches of the spice mix to have around since we'll be eating so much of it!  A friend made it for Curtis at school, but they got it from C. Perez, as it was posted on  I made a couple of changes, such as adding honey to the sauce to balance the acidity, and slicing the chicken breast halves in half so they are not so thick, and therefore cook through easier.  I will give you the recipe as I've tweaked it.  For the record, Curtis likes it done with the thick chicken breasts, and I suggest if you choose to keep the breast intact like that, that after browning them on each side, finish them for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven, so they cook all the way through.

The Cuban Black Beans recipe hails from my friend Kris, who lives in Hawaii and generously sent me a dozen great recipes.  She received it from a Cuban friend many years ago.  Wow, this dish was really delicious, and gratifying to make.  I will be making it many times in the future, for sure!  You need just a bit of forethought, as the dry beans require soaking overnight, then they must cook for three hours before your mealtime.  I just love dishes that simmer like that, especially in the winter.  It made the house smell so good all afternoon.  I halved the recipe since there were only three of us around, and that made a good amount for 4 people.  You could serve them with rice as the main meal and not be left wanting for anything.  They were really flavorful and satisfying.

Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken
Serves 4

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, sliced in half lengthwise, so they are not so thick.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons honey

1. In a small bowl, mix together salt, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, onion powder, thyme and parsley.  Sprinkle spice mixture generously on both sides of the chicken breasts.
2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.  Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of garlic powder and lime juice.  Cook 2 minutes, add honey, cook one minute more, stirring frequently to coat even sauce.

Cuban Black Beans
serves 8

1 pound dry small black beans
1/2 gallon water
6 pieces bay leaf
1 sliced onion
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon onion salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 roasted,  peeled and chopped bell pepper (I used a red pepper)
3 slices fried, chopped Canadian bacon (I used leftover spiral ham)
1 stick butter

1. Soak beans in cold water overnight.  When ready to cook, drain and rinse.
2. Combine all ingredients in a 3-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot and simmer for 3 hours, stirring frequently. 
 I left the cover on for first half of cooking, then removed it and kept an eye on it as the liquid boiled down.
Cook's note:  To roast the pepper, set oven on broil, then place rack so pepper will be an inch from the element.  When skin turns black, turn pepper.  Remove from oven when all sides of the pepper have blackened skin.  
Place in a paper bag, close top and let it sit for half an hour.  When you remove the pepper, the skin will come right off.  Remove seed and chop.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Savory Bread Pudding with Swiss Chard, Leeks and Mushrooms

"Give me yesterday's bread, this day's flesh, and last year's cyder."
~Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
For such a humble dish, this was amazing.  I won't tell you how we gushed and went on about it because you'd think I was exaggerating, but this was a really delicious vegetarian meal that I made twice in one week, it was that good.  If you have any leftover bread, like half a baguette or sourdough loaf that is going stale,  stick it in the freezer, and then pull it out when you have the greens to make this.  I love the economy of it, as well as the taste!  
Swiss Chard 'Bright lights'
This is another recipe from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which I am currently reading.  A great cookbook that I highly recommend.  I'm giving you the recipe the way I did it...a little easier than the way it was presented in the cookbook.  If you want the original, you'll have to pick up the book!

Savory Bread Pudding

1/2 pound crusty bread (sourdough or French) cut into 1-inch cubes (favor the cubes containing crust)
1/4 pound Swiss cheese, grated (I used Gruy√®re)
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound wild mushrooms (I used button) sliced
2 cups chopped spinach
1 cup chopped Swiss chard leaves, plus 1/3 cup chopped Swiss chard stems
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced and washed well
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
2. Combine the bread, Swiss cheese, and half of the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.
2. Melt 2 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, 3-5 minutes.
3.  When water is boiling, add Swiss chard leaves and stems, spinach and leeks and blanch for one minute.  Turn into a strainer to drain.  Squeeze all the water you can out of the greens and leeks.  My method is to place 4 paper towels, one on top of the other, then turn the greens and leeks onto the paper towels, wrap up and squeeze all the water out that you can.
4. Place the greens in the pan with the mushrooms and saute for 1-2 minutes.
5. Place greens and mushrooms in the bowl with the bread and cheeses.

6. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.  Beat the egg in a medium bowl.
7. Combine the milk and cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Remove from heat.  Whisking vigorously, add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg, then return the mixture to the pan and whisk until blended.  Add to the bread mixture and stir well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  
8. Transfer the mixture to the baking pan, pressing gently on the surface.  Bake the pudding until set, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven.
9.  Heat the broiler with the rack about 6 inches from the heat.  Unmold the pudding onto a baking sheet, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese, and place under the broiler until golden brown, 1 - 3 minutes.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Almond Scones

"I think it is the fat factor that elevates a scone beyond a biscuit.  
That and the little bit of love we put into each one."
~Dan Einstein
I wasn't certain what to say about these scones, since it was the first time I tried the recipe, but then as I was heading out to run this morning I heard "Mom!" and turned to hear my son yelling out the door "Those scones are AMAZING, I'm going to eat them ALL!" I guess that about sums it up.

I have to say I prefer the blueberry scones recipe from Cook's Illustrated, but this one is much easier and quicker to whip up, a practical recipe for regular use.  It's also a good scone recipe for the winter, when the fresh berries I usually like to include in them are scarce and expensive.  I've been meaning to try it since August, when I copied it from a regional cookbook at the lake house (Marblehead Cooks).  Scones are perfect when other breakfast goodies are just too sweet for your mood.  Sweeter than a biscuit, but not as indulgent or gooey as a sticky bun.
The original recipe did not include the chocolate chips, but they were a nice addition.  You can make them any shape you like.  I prefer to turn the dough onto a liberally floured board and pat it into a 10" round and then cut it like a pie, making 8-10 pieces.  If you prefer, you can turn it out onto a floured board, sprinkle more flour on the top and gently roll it out an 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick and cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter.  Lastly, you could scoop dollops of dough (with an ice-cream scoop) onto a greased cookie sheet like drop biscuits.
Almond Scones

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons almond extract
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds (or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips)
Decorator (demurrer sugar)
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a bowl, whisk together 3 eggs, buttermilk and extract.  In another bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, baking powder and the sugar.  Cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Stir in almonds or mini chocolate chips.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir just until combined.  Do not overstir or they will become tough.

If you are going to make drop scones, use an ice-cream scoop to drop dollops of dough onto a greased cookie sheet.  For a more traditional shape, turn dough onto a liberally floured board, flour your hands and pat dough into a 10-inch round, mounded in the middle.  Cut into 8 -10 wedges with a floured knife.  Transfer scones to a greased cookie sheet.  Beat one egg with one tablespoon milk.  Brush tops of scones with this wash and sprinkle with sugar and sliced almonds.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until scone springs back when touched.  Let cool ten minutes.
If you prefer to ice them, as I have, place 2/3 cup of confectioner's sugar into a small bowl.   Add milk, one teaspoon at a time, until you have drizzling consistency.  Drizzle icing over scones while they are still warm.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sour Cream Banana Bread

"Bananas are more like can't mess around with them."
~Richard Benson
What can I say?  After all the decadence of the holidays, it was time for something simple. This was the first recipe I penned...way back in 1987.  Following the debut of the blog in July, it was also one of the first recipes requested.  The post requires a photo, so I had to whip up a loaf.  It was then that I noted a couple things awry with the recipe.  The loaves came out flat on top.  I wanted them to have a pretty mounded top. The bread was always so moist and delicious that I hadn't cared before.  All other banana breads I'd tried were either tough or dry, leading me to develop my own version.  This one proved really tender, so moist and not overly sweet.  It makes a great toast, too....crispy on the outside and all warm cake on the inside.  Spread with butter and paired with a tall glass of cold milk, and you've got something to crave.  I just needed to tweak the recipe a bit.  
Finally...a mounded loaf
During the 6 month tweaking time; a revelation....freezing the ripe bananas.  Now and then I caught a glimpse of black bananas in the freezer at a friend's house.  I was skeptical.  But what with the economy, and my layoff etc., I've become more mindful of waste, so I started freezing my uneaten bananas when they started to get ripe.  Yes, they turn black and look gross, BUT, when they thaw out, you just pop open the end and let the thawed banana (they are not black inside) fall into a bowl.  No need to mash.  Just stir and measure and they are perfect for banana bread, in fact, I think they make the bread even better!  
Sour Cream Banana Bread
(Makes two 9x5x3 inch loaves)

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (7-8 bananas) (or thawed, previously frozen bananas, stirred) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter.  While butter is melting, grease two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.  In a large bowl, mix butter and oil with sugar.  Stir in eggs, mashed bananas and vanilla, mixing well.   Stir in sour cream.   In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add to the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened.  Divide batter evenly between the two pans.  Bake for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees.  In my oven, the loaves took the full 60 minutes.  Do not remove until you test the loaves by inserting a wooden skewer into the middle of the loaf.  If it comes out clean, the bread is done.  Cool loaves on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of pan and turn out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Borscht

"Everything I do, I do on the principle of Russian borscht. You can throw everything into it; beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, everything you want. What's important is the result, the taste of the borscht."
~Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet
Okay, stop making that face! Have you ever actually HAD borscht?  I admit, I hadn't…until last night.  Eastern European cooking is not prevalent in this region.  In fact, I’ve never even seen it on a restaurant menu.  Recently, I purchased The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and have been reading it cover to cover.
I stalled at Soups when I saw Winter Borscht and Amanda Hesser declared it “One of her favorite recipes in the book.”  That was the clincher.  I had to try it.  Besides, we are in the heart of winter here in New England.  Perfect days for dishes that simmer for hours.  
My backyard 1/12/11
The house, dwarfed by the snow
View from the kitchen window as I write this post
Regular borscht is often served cold.  This version is meant to be hot, hence the name.  A pretty straight forward recipe with a couple exceptions.  The beef shins posed a problem for me.  When I asked my butcher if he had any, he laughed and then called another butcher over, who also proceeded to laugh.  
"She wants to know if we sell "shin."  "Oh yeah, be sure to invite us over for  that."
No lie.  I ended up purchasing beef shank, which is close enough and it worked great.  You cook it until it is fall-off-the-bone tender and tastes like pot roast.  A nice savory contrast to the sweet beet.  The recipe wasn’t difficult, but takes some prep work.  I had to shred the beets and cabbage on a box grater, which was messy and left my hands stained.  If you have a food processor, it would be much easier.  The finished soup, though different than anything I've made before, was delicious, with a very subtle sweet and sour undercurrent and gorgeously crimson in color.

Winter Borscht

2 pounds beef shin
6 cups water
1 small onion, cut in half
2 medium carrots, peeled.  1 quartered, 1 grated
3 medium red beets, scrubbed well
6 tablespoons tomato paste
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 pound red cabbage, shredded
2 medium tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped (I used a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 pound firm potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and cooked in boiling salted water until tender (I used unpeeled red potatoes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
Sour cream for garnish (optional)

1. Cover the beef with the water in a large saucepan.  Stir in the onion and quartered carrot and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam and fat that rises to the surface.  Lower heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours.
2. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve; there should be about 5 cups.  Reserve the meat.
3. Return the beef and liquid to the pan and bring to a boil.  Add the beets and return to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the tip of a knife easily pierces the beets.
4. Remove the beets and allow to cool slightly, then peel them and coarsely grate.  Return the grated beets to the soup.
5. Dissolve the tomato paste in 1/2 cup of the soup, and stir back into the pan.  Stir in garlic, grated carrot, cabbage, tomatoes, bay leaf, vinegar, and sugar and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours.
6. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the bones and slice (or shred) the meat then stir into the soup along with the cooked cubed potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and the dill.  Return to a boil for two minutes.
7. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Favorite Brownies

"Anything is good if it's made of chocolate"
~ Jo Brand

I hesitated to post this, despite my love of the recipe, because I know that if you google “brownies” you will probably find 100,000 recipes for them.  

I love chocolate and every couple of weeks get the urge for a good brownie.  This has been a life-long condition.  I don’t like box mix brownies, and never have, not even as a kid.  They taste artificial to me.  I guess this makes me a brownie-snob.  Yikes!  I hate to be that way, but it’s true.  On the upside, it has driven me, from my teen years, to try many, MANY, home-made brownie recipes on my quest for the perfect brownie, which to me is thick, moist, chocolately, tender and very slightly chewy.  I’ve tried recipes from almost all of my cookbook collection, including famous “gourmet” recipes from the likes of Katherine Hepburn and The Barefoot Contessa.  I’ve tried recipes from chocolate companies, friends, co-workers and internet searches. 

It was The Food Network that came through for me;  Tyler Florence, specifically;  His Amaretto Brownie recipe was the best I’d ever tried.  Then one day I went to make them and didn’t have amaretto, so I   substituted coffee.  This knocked the recipe out of the park.   Brownie perfection.  I look no further. My grandmother always frosted her brownies with a vanilla buttercream (mint is good too) and topped with a glossy coating of bittersweet chocolate.  That’s the way I prefer these, but they are great plain, too. 

My Favorite Brownies

2 sticks butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or good 85% cacao chocolate
1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons strong coffee or espresso (or Kahlua)
1 teaspoon vanilla


1/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Chocolate coating:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to  350 degrees.  Line a 9 x 9 inch pan (or 7 x10) with parchment paper (or tin foil), making sure it hangs over the edges. Grease paper with butter.  Melt butter and chocolate over a double boiler and stir gently until smooth and shiny.  Remove from heat and cool until it is almost room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and coffee until combined, stir in chocolate.    Gradually add flour mixture, stirring just until combined.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 - 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the pan.  When done, cool for 20 minutes.  Invert onto a cutting board and remove paper. Replace back into pan.

Make frosting:

While you are making frosting, melt the 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.

In a medium bowl, beat butter.  Slowly add confectioner's sugar.  Add milk by teaspoons-full, beating as you go and add just enough to make frosting spreading consistency.

Spread brownies with frosting.  When chocolate is melted, let it cool slightly, then drizzle over frosted brownies and carefully spread with a knife.