Monday, April 25, 2011

Banana Bread

Three rapidly ripening bananas.  One rapidly frantic wannabe cook, who hasn't posted a recipe in a while because she hasn't had time to find something new to cook.

Thankfully the bananas forced themselves into the spotlight and I had to make something quick.  Enter banana bread!

Generally, my go to recipe for banana bread is from America's Test Kitchen's Family Baking Book.  Unfortunately, I did not have plain yogurt on hand, so I had to frantically google for a new recipe and came across this one from Simply Recipes via Smitten Kitchen.

While I love the ATK Banana Bread, this one was also delish because it isn't as sweet.  Cutting back on the sweetness made the banana bread so yummerific, especially since the bananas were already so dark they had to be overflowing with sugars.  It'll be hard to choose a winner, but if you have plain yogurt on hand, make the ATK version; if not, go with this one.  It's a winner either way.

I might suggest, however, baking for 50 minutes instead of 1 hour - I checked my bread at 55 minutes and it seemed a bit overdone around the edges.

Mmmmmmmm.  See those brown edges?  That's where it is overdone - definitely reduce the baking time.

Banana Bread from Elise at Simply Recipes

  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter (this is about 5 1/3 tablespoons, I just used six tablespoons.)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used about 80% of one cup of sugar)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
I just had to show off these two ingredients - three rapidly browning bananas, and one brand spanking new bottle of vanilla extract.  It smelled heavenly.  I'd highly recommend Trader Joe's vanilla extract (also available in alcohol free) - it's sooo much cheaper than McCormick's.

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2.  In a large bowl, smash your bananas - not necessarily into a fine paste, but into much smaller pieces.  I enjoy having the small chunks in my batter to keep the bread moist.

3.  Add melted butter into bananas.  Mix in sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Sprinkle the baking soda and salt.  Slowly combine.

4.  Add in the flour, stir slowly to combine.  Try not to overmix.  When the flour is combined, you are done!

5.  Grease a loaf pan.  Pour batter into pan and smooth the top.  Knock it against the counter a few times to make sure there are no air bubbles in the batter.

6.  Bake for 50 minutes - use a toothpick tester to check doneness starting at 40-45 minutes, depending on how hot your oven gets.

7.  Remove from oven, cool on a rack for five minutes.  

As you can see, I use Baker's Secret loaf pans.

8.  Remove from pan, continue cooling until ready to slice and serve.

All sliced up and ready to eat!  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sauteed Mushrooms over Pasta

Once again, this is another dish inspired by the sales at the grocery store.

My local grocery store, Safeway, has a club card where you can load deals to your card.  One of my deals was an 8 ounce package of mushrooms for 1.59.  

Last week, the same package of mushrooms was on sale for Buy One, Get One Free - meaning I purchased two 8 ounce containers of mushrooms for only 1.59, or 0.80 each.  HOT deal.

I love mushrooms, and when I saw the recipe for sauteed mushrooms pop up on Lucinda Scala Quinn's blog, I promptly saved it to make over pasta, as I waited for a mushroom sale.

I always buy the whole mushrooms - the pre-sliced mushrooms are too thick for my liking, and I'm such a control freak in the kitchen, I'd rather slice my own mushrooms.  The mushrooms were pre-washed, but you certainly can wash them again.  I'm not a fan of washing mushrooms, as I rinse and then wipe the dirt off each mushroom - it took FOREVER with a container of crimini mushrooms and I'm not eager to repeat the experience. 

My small changes:
1.  I used half and half instead of heavy cream.  Fat free, too.  Calories, people.
2.  I usually do not have wine on hand.  Instead, I squeezed an entire lemon into the mushrooms I sliced.
3.  I halved the recipe.  So yes, I used 1 whole lemon instead of only 1/4th of a lemon for juice.  But I actually liked the intense lemon flavor, and the lemon didn't seem extremely juicy in the first place.

If you make this dish on it's own, slice the mushrooms slightly thicker than I did.

I need to use smaller dishes in my photos.

Sauteed Mushrooms over Pasta, by Lucinda Scala Quinn.  Serves 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Splash white wine (or extra lemon, like I did)
  • 1/4 cup cream (or half and half)
  • 3 tablespoons grated cheese (I used Parmesan)
1.  Submerge mushrooms in cold water, swish around to wash thoroughly, and drain.  Trim the ends, slice and place in a large bowl.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon (this is where I used the whole) over the mushrooms and toss.

2.  Heat olive oil in a large pan, and cook garlic until lightly brown, about 30 seconds, over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, stir, and cover.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for four minutes.

3.  Remove the lid, add salt and pepper, and cook, stirring until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms brown, about five minutes.  

4.  If continuing on to make it as a sauce, do not cook off all the liquid if you are not adding a splash of wine.  Leave a small amount in the pan, add the cream, and the cheese.  Stir to combine until it thickens.

5.  Stir in parsley (I used dried parsley, don't hurt me.)  Stir in cooked pasta and serve.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More Biscuits!

MORE biscuits you say?

After making the pasta primavera, I still had over a cup of half and half left in the fridge.  I try not to waste anything, so I decided to use the half and half to make biscuits.

As I stated before, I'm not the best biscuit maker, but I'm willing to try again and again until I get something that resembles a nice, fluffy, buttery biscuit.  I decided to use the biscuit topping recipe from a cherry cobbler I made last summer, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

My main note about the topping (and recipe in general) - it makes a LOT of biscuit topping.  I made only a half recipe, and came out with 12 biscuits.  Adjust accordingly for your desired quantity.

Is that enough biscuit for ya?

I always loved this topping as a stand-alone biscuit.  It's slightly sweet and very light.  It still tastes great with butter or my preference... peanut butter.  I appreciate the non-bricklike taste of the biscuit, as did Mr. UoC.

But when summer arrives.. it's even better on top of cobbler.  MMMM.

Biscuit Topping only, Cherry Cobbler from Martha Stewart/Everyday Food

  • 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) very cold butter (stick it in the freezer)
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing (I used half and half)
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Combine and set aside.

2.  Using large holes on a box grater, grate butter into flour mixture.  If you don't want to use a grater, cut into very small pieces.

3.  With a fork, mix in cream until dough just comes together.  (I use my hands.  It's easier.)  

4.  On a floured work surface, roll out dough to a 3/4 inch thickness with a floured rolling pin.  (I used my hands to shape a rectangle.  No style points today.)  

5.  With a knife or biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits.  Arrange on a baking sheet, and brush tops of remaining cream.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until tops are browned.

Serve with butter, jam, jelly, peanut butter, or enjoy plain, although they aren't as buttery as my previous biscuit escapade.

Getting up close and personal.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pasta Primavera

It's SPRING!  The sun is shining (here at least), we had temps in the upper 70's and 80's last week, and the first trickle of vegetables on sale at the grocery store has finally begun.

This week I noticed:
Asparagus - $0.97/pound
Green beans - $0.99/pound
Zucchini - $1.00/pound

I even lucked out with the peas - I was scouring the frozen food aisle, and I was about to reach for the Green Giant peas for $2.00 a box, when I noticed the Safeway brand organic peas were also $2.00.  I have noticed I will go for the organic anything now when it's a good deal, so, for me, this was a great find!

These three, beautiful green vegetables are big parts of a pasta dish I found from Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recently - pasta primavera!  (If you do not subscribe to ATK's Notes from the Test Kitchen, I highly recommend it!)

I didn't have any problems making this recipe - I just found it takes a lot of time.  I tried to do a lot of things at once - boiling water, prepping vegetables, boiling pasta, but I couldn't time everything together well.  I only made two major changes - I halved the recipe, and instead of heavy cream, I used half and half.  The flavor mavens may be angry at me, but it was what I had in the fridge, and I wanted to lighten the recipe a smidge.

The taste?  Loved it.  I love all the vegetables used in this dish (except maybe the peas, I bet I could have cut the amount of peas in half again) and I managed to season it perfectly during the salt additions.  Mr. Unoriginal Chef saw me plating the dish to photograph and he demanded it for his dinner.

Of course, he only ate it after I picked out all the icky green stuff he didn't like - meaning the peas, the green beans, and the asparagus.  Men.  I deliberately left some peas and green beans in there to make him eat something healthy.

Make this once you start getting your CSA boxes this summer!  Or when you find a great sale at the grocery store like me!

Pasta Primavera from Cook's Illustrated, August 2004

  • 6 ounces green beans, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 12 medium asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off (just bend the asparagus, it will break where it needs to be broken), halved lengthwise and cut diagonally into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 4 large plum tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, cored and chopped medium
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional) (I did not add this)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound dried egg fettucine (I used whole wheat linguini)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves (whoops, I forgot this)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I used a whole lemon and squeezed until the proper taste)
  • Grated parmesan cheese, for serving
1.  Boil water for pasta in large pot.  In a second pot, bring water to boil for green vegetables; add 1 tablespoon salt.  

2.  Fill a large bowl with ice water, set aside.

3.  Add green beans to boiling water in smaller pot, cook for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add asparagus, cook for 30 seconds.  Add zucchini, cook for 30 seconds.  Add peas, cook for 30 seconds.  Drain vegetables and dunk into ice water.  Let sit until chilled, about 3 minutes, and drain.  Set aside.

4.  Heat 3 tablespoons butter over medium high heat until foamy in the same pot you used to boil the vegetables.  Add mushrooms, and saute until brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes, if using.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about 7 minutes. Add cream and stir until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.  Cover to keep warm and set aside.

5.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the pasta water and cook pasta until al dente.

6.  While the pasta is cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan or skillet.  Heat until foamy.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly colored, about 1 minute.  Add blanched vegetables and cook until heated through and infused with garlic flavor, about 2 minutes.  Season with salt to taste, set aside.

7.  Bring mushroom/tomato sauce back to medium heat.

8.  Drain pasta and return to large pot.  (I didn't do this, since I had cooked my pasta way in advance.  I actually put the pasta into the large skillet with my vegetables.  It worked, just a lot of stirring.)  Add mushroom/tomato sauce, and stir to combine over low heat.  Squeeze lemon juice over pasta, and season with salt to taste.

Serve immediately with grated cheese on top.

Up close and personal with the vegetables!  Eat your veggies!  It should be easy with this dish!