24 December 2006

A New Fling: Banana Bread with Booze and Raisins

Yesterday I decided it was time to break up with my banana bread recipe from The Joy of Cooking. I’m not really sure what possessed me to make this sudden life change, as things were really going great for us. It’s just that our relationship was becoming so familiar, so comfortable, and I was itching for a something new.

It was very difficult to initiate the break-up. I had it to do it in person, of course. You can’t text message someone you love that you are going to break up with them, just like you can’t text message banana bread that you are going to be using a different recipe from now on. It’s just not the right thing to do.

As I opened up The Joy of Cooking to give it the bad news, my heart collapsed with guilt when the book opened automatically to the banana bread recipe. Was it true love, or was it because of all the crap that I have spilled on those welcoming pages throughout the years? I do hope the latter is true, otherwise I have wasted my beautiful, brown, almost-rotten bananas on a new recipe that might not work out.

The recipe was overwhelmed with despair when I informed it of my situation. As it pleaded with me and listed reason after reason why we should stay together and try to make it work, I insisted that the good times were over...that things were wonderful while they lasted, but that it was time move on. I lovingly caressed its spattered pages, wiped away its tears (or maybe those were butter stains), and I closed the book.

Call me a recipe slut if you will, but the Joy of Cooking was not closed for even three seconds before I opened up Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I don’t know...maybe I should have given my emotions some time to settle. Maybe I should have stayed single for awhile before venturing out into the sea of banana recipes. But it’s so easy to move on when the first recipe you are attracted to has booze and golden raisins in it! And we all know that if anything can tempt a girl into a rebound relationship, it’s booze and raisins.

How is the new fling going? So far, pretty good. The bread hasn’t been sliced yet, so I can’t share any intimate details, but our getting-to-know-you stage is progressing just fine. I’d have to say that for once it’s fun to get to know someone before hastily jumping in and getting romantic right away. The anticipation is half of the fun. What will the new banana bread taste like? Will it it have a moist yet fluffy texture? Will it soothe me when I am sad? Will it make me laugh? Will it rub my back after a long day at work?
I definitely have my doubts...maybe I have too many expectations for Nigella’s loaf. What if it’s flat and soggy? What if it tastes more like flour than bananas? What if it’s boring, self-absorbed, and drinks Yellowtail?

There is so much to find out about this new recipe. As I introduce it to my family during our first Christmas together, I will undoubtedly learn more about its strengths and weaknesses. More details to come.

Banana Bread with Booze and Golden Raisins
~from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking
1/2 cup golden raisins
6 tbs. bourbon or dark rum (I used brandy because that's what I had)
1 cup plus 2 tbs. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. vanilla extract
9 x 5 loaf pan, buttered and floured, or with paper insert

Put the golden raisins and rum or bourbon in a smallish saucepan and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat, cover, and leave for an hour if you can, or until the raisins have absorbed most of the liquid, then drain (or drink).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and get started on the rest. Put the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine well. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar and beat until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the mashed bananas. Then, with your wooden spoon, stir in the walnuts, drained raisins, and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, stirring well after each bit. Scrape into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours. When it’s ready, an inserted toothpick should come out cleanish. Leave in the pan on a rack to cool, and eat thickly or thinly sliced, as you prefer.
Makes 8-10 slices.

Replace 2 tbs. flour with good cocoa powder and add 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, cut up into smallish chunks (or use chocolate chips).

Beautiful, almost-rotten bananas. Perfect for baking!

13 December 2006

Almond-Orange-Poppy Seed-Chocolate-Apricot-Ricotta Torte

Oh no, too many wonderful flavors all at once, make it stop!
How can they possibly taste good when they are all thrown together like that?
Surprisingly, they do. I don’t know how it is possible for each of those ingredients to come together in one dessert without them getting in a brawl and seriously injuring themselves, but somehow they all get along and bring out the best in each other.

The almond torte is refreshing and light, yet still a substantial dessert. It is both fruity AND chocolat-ey, but not too fruity, and not too chocolat-ey. The poppy seeds lend a bit of texture, while the ricotta keeps it moist and delicate.

Your guests will enjoy themselves while trying to identify the many flavors:

“Is that orange zest I smell?”
“Do I taste poppy seeds?”

“I detect a hint of almond, I do, I do.”

“These chocolate shavings are divine!”

“I taste apricot, but I don’t see it.
Where is it? Where are you hiding, little apricot?”

“And what makes this torte so moist? Why, it must be ricotta! I knew it!”

When you confirm all of your guests’ ingredient hypotheses, they will be delighted.
But not as delighted as you when your guests leave, and you slip into the kitchen for sliver after sliver after sliver of torte, and try to figure out what it is about this torte that is so delicious and different from other tortes, and why you want it in your mouth all the time.

Almond-Orange-Poppy Seed-Chocolate-Apricot-Ricotta Torte
~adapted from Jame Oliver's Jamie's Kitchen

Ingredients (all at room temperature)
1/2 cup butter
4 1/2 ounces almonds (Jamie uses hazelnuts; I couldn't find any)
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
zest of 1 orange (oh so easy if you own a microplane grater!)
3 tablespoons flour
4 1/2 ounces ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
a pinch of salt
3 heaping tablespoons apricot jam (I used apricot and cherry)
1 3/4 ounces good quality dark chocolate, finely grates (another job for the microplane!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter or spray an 11-inch loose-bottomed tart pan and line with wax paper.
Toast almonds (or hazelnuts) on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden and aromatic.
Allow them to cool, then 'whiz' them up in a food processor until you have a fine powder. Jamie says, "Be careful not to overwhiz."

Wash and dry the bowl of the food processor, then beat the butter and sugar until pale (alternatively, use a whisk). Add the egg yolks, one by one, and the orange zest.
Stir in the flour, ricotta, almond powder, and poppy seeds.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold them into the almond mixture. Pour the mixture into the tart pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the top has some golden-brown color to it.
While the torte is cooling, cook the jam in a small saucepan with 4 tablespoons of water. Bring to boil and brush the glaze over the torte.
When the torte is cool, sprinkle the torte with the grated chocolate.
Jamie recommends serving with crème fraîche.

09 December 2006

Yay for Husbands who Bake!

Imagine my joy when I came home from work yesterday and saw a sink full of dirty dishes.
I promise you I am not being sarcastic when I say that my prevailing emotion really was joy.

What was the reason for such jubilation?

I will tell you, if you promise not to be jealous.
It was the sight of the unwashed mixing bowl, besmeared with creamy and velvety batter.
Someone has been baking?
Who could it be?
What could it be?

Then I saw it. A beautiful, golden loaf resting upon the counter.

My husband has been making pound cake again!

Who is the luckiest girl?
Me! I am! I am the luckiest girl! My husband made pound cake and I get to eat it!
Even better, I get to sleep in on a Saturday morning, stumble into the sunny kitchen where he is already busy grinding coffee beans, and sigh happily at the sight of the cake, glowing in the sunshine, only half-eaten.

Life is good.

Husband’s Pound Cake
~from Williams-Sonoma

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter,
at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract (optional)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8 1⁄2-by-4 1⁄2-inch loaf pan, preferably glass, and dust with flour.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt until blended. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extract on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until just blended. Sprinkle half of the flour mixture over the egg mixture and stir until both are just incorporated. Stir in the sour cream, then sprinkle with the remaining flour mixture and stir until evenly distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap gently on the counter to even out and settle the ingredients. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 70 minutes, or longer if using a metal pan. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan, invert the cake onto the rack and lift off the pan. Place the cake on one of its sides and continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.

pure joy

05 December 2006

Does My Blog Look Good in This?

It does, hooray!
Does My Blog Look Good in This? results for October 2006 were recently posted at Spittoon Extra, and this Fancy Toast photograph (from a previous post) tied for third place.
There were so many other beautiful pictures that were entered by the other food bloggers...I am excited to be a part of the collection, and happy to have learned of some new blogs that I will now be visiting daily.
Please stop by Andrew's site to view the winners and the rest of the entries.

03 December 2006

Sad, Sad Cranberry Relish

Sad, sad cranberry relish.
Amidst the bustle of Thanksgiving dinner, no one remembered to put it out on the table.
There it sat in the back of the fridge, just waiting for someone to notice the lack of a certain ruby hue on the dinner plates.
But no one noticed.
No one missed the celebration and merriment that he cranberry relish could have happily, scarletly, provided.
Perhaps because it was so incredibly easy to make, it escaped our consciousness as the flurry of the Thanksgiving plating ensued. Thank goodness for the apricot brandy in it, which is possibly extending its refrigerator life, allowing us to relish the relish more than a week after the holiday for which it was created.

It really is unfortunate that the relish was neglected, because it is so very delicious. Scooped up in a forkful alongside any cut of meat, nudged up on top of a piece of bread, accidentally swept up with a morsel of stuffing, it adds a cheery, citrus note to every mouthful.
Not too sweet…a chunk of orange peel thrown into the food processor lends it a tart edginess. I was overzealous in my orange-peel-adding, and as a result the relish became too bitter. But, thanks to my recent obsession with all things cherry, some cherry preserves in the fridge sweetened the relish and balanced the flavors flawlessly.

I realize it is a little late to be suggesting Thanksgiving courses. But I would say that this relish, which can be put together in three to six minutes, depending on how long it takes you to peel an orange and unscrew a bottle of booze, is a bright, fresh side that can complement many hearty meals, holiday-themed or not.

Cranberry-Orange Relish (takes four minutes, seriously)

12 oz. bag of cranberries, picked through to remove the icky ones
1 orange, peeled
1 piece of orange peel (about 2 inches by 2 inches)
1 apple, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons of apricot brandy, or any fruit-infused liquor (optional)
¼ cup of cherry preserves
¼ cup of apricot preserves
sugar, to taste (optional…if your preserves are sweet enough, you will not need sugar)

Throw above ingredients into a blender or food processor. Pulse until the cranberries have broken down and only the occasional whole cranberry remains. Do not blend into a purée.
Add more ingredients according to your taste. Too sweet? Add more orange peel. Too bitter? Add more preserves.
That’s it, you’re done!