Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Lately, at my office, we are awash in overripe bananas. The company provides fresh fruit for us throughout the week, but I think someone has been buying too many bananas, because every Friday, there are dozens of speckled brown ones left over, and everyone starts trying to persuade everyone else to take some home, make banana bread over the weekend, and bring it in on Monday morning (there aren’t too many cooks in my department, but a lot of enthusiastic eaters). I’ve never been a huge fan of bananas or banana bread, but I also can’t resist the siren song of free, perfectly good fruit in danger of going to waste. If my freezer wasn’t already insanely full, I’d take every last one of those poor orphaned bananas and save them for a rainy day. As it is, when last Friday rolled around and no one seemed to be stepping up to the banana-bread-making plate, I figured I’d better take a shot at it.
I got it into my head that what I really wanted was coconut banana bread, and I found this recipe at Baking Bites that seemed to fit the bill. Actually, I wanted coconut banana muffins, because I like muffins so much better than loaves of bread—they’re cute, they’re perfectly portioned and portable, and they stay fresh longer. Usually I try to follow a recipe exactly on the first try, particularly when I’m planning to feed it to other people, but I knew that quick-bread recipes usually translate pretty well to making muffins, as long as you decrease the baking time. I took an even bigger risk by deciding I didn’t want to fool with buying a can of coconut milk and then only using a little bit of it. The original blog post mentioned you could use plain milk, but the flavor would be less coconutty. Then I had a brainwave—I have coconut extract in the cupboard, so why not add a little of that to amp the flavor back up?
I’m relieved to say that my experimentation worked perfectly and the muffins were awesome. I made some plain ones, too, from the Baking Bites basic banana bread recipe, because I know there are weirdos who don’t like coconut, and they were certainly good, but the coconut ones were the clear favorite—the container I’d brought was cleaned out by the end of the day. (Luckily, I’d hoarded a few at home in the freezer for A and me.) The flavors were perfect together, and the coconut ensured an extra- tender texture. I will admit the muffins were on the verge of being too sweet for me—if I were to make these regularly (and I’ll hazard a guess that they will indeed replace the tasty-enough-but-slightly-fussy banana-nut muffins as my go-to banana-bread recipe), I would experiment with either reducing the sugar slightly or using unsweetened coconut (although the unsweetened coconut I’ve seen is always dry—would that detract from the moistness of the muffins?). Still, that’s a mild complaint; in all other respects, these are a slam dunk.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana (2 medium-large bananas)
½ cup coconut milk (or ½ cup milk and ¼ teaspoon coconut extract)
¼ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two muffin tins or line them with cupcake wrappers.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until well combined, then whisk in the mashed banana, coconut milk (or plain milk and coconut extract), butter, and vanilla.
4. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure no streaks of flour remain. Stir in shredded coconut.
5. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (or with only a few moist crumbs attached). Remove muffins from tins and cool on wire racks.
Yield: About 16
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: High. Stored in the freezer, these will keep for weeks.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Courtesy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, this simple but clever technique combines the tenderness of baked potatoes and the brownness of roasted potatoes with the crispness of fried potatoes. Perhaps because I didn’t have PW’s awesome potato masher (I used a meat tenderizing mallet), perhaps because I didn’t boil my potatoes quite long enough, perhaps because they were too big, or most likely because I wasn’t gentle enough (Hulk smash!), I botched the crashing part of the recipe, shattering my potatoes into a crumbled mess instead of PW’s neat-looking patties, but they still tasted great. I served them with meatloaf and slow-cooked carrots (which always go together on my menus), and it was a perfect new-wave meat-and-potatoes meal. I sense this will become my go-to side-dish potato recipe...once I hone my potato-squishing skillz, anyway.
8-12 smallish red potatoes
Fresh rosemary (or other fresh herb, such as chives, parsley, thyme, or oregano), chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the potatoes until fork-tender.
3. Generously drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet. Place the cooked potatoes on the baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them. Using a potato masher, gently press down on each potato until it slightly mashes, then rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the top of each crushed potato generously with olive oil. Sprinkle potatoes with salt, pepper, and chopped herbs.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Neutral. I wouldn't make these with the specific intention of having leftovers, but I certainly wouldn't throw the remnants away, either. I had some the next day and while they weren’t icky, the delightful crispiness was gone, leaving them basically tasting like baked potatoes. Which is fine, but far less exciting than CRASH HOT!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I’m trying not to post any more recipes without photos, but I dropped the ball on this one. Initially, I was too disappointed with the way the cookies turned out to take loving macro-lens pictures of them; the photo on the Martha Stewart site had led me to expect big, fat, cakey cookies, whereas mine spread thin and browned a lot. Then I tasted one, and from that point on I was too busy eating them to take pictures; between hormonal me, banana-loving A, and a few of our grateful friends, we made short work of them in a matter of days. Despite the less-than-perfect appearance of my cookies (which, until I’ve tried this recipe a few more times, I’ll chalk up to my own inept execution), this is a fabulous recipe that you need to know about immediately, photo or no photo. Postscript, August 2010: I've made this recipe many more times and the result remains rather homely, but reliably delicious; I'm finally adding a photo.
There are so many genius things about this recipe: it combines the flavor and moistness of banana bread with the awesomeness that is the classic chocolate chip cookie, and of course banana and chocolate pair naturally together. The flavor of the banana isn’t pronounced, but the tenderness it adds to the cookie is unmistakable. These aren’t too sweet, and the oatmeal (which I am such a sucker for in baked goods), nuts, wheat flour, and banana lend a wholesome aspect. The coarse salt (don’t substitute table salt!) adds little zings of savoriness. While you can use chocolate chips instead of chopping up a block of chocolate, the irregularly sized chocolate chunks add interest and incorporate the chocolate more fully through the dough.
I’m not even a banana fan and I loved these cookies. (To demonstrate how rarely I buy bananas: the one I used for this recipe was rescued from the depths of my freezer, and when I thought about it, I realized it was left over from when I made banana cake for A’s birthday in April!) A, who adores the banana/chocolate combo, was wild for them and would like to insist that I make them again, right now, please.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into ¼-inch chunks
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Whisk together flours, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. Place butter and sugars into a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in banana, then gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts by hand.
4. Using a 1½-inch ice cream scoop (or a heaping tablespoon), drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12 to 13 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.
Yield: About 3 dozen
Time: Anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how many cookie sheets you can fit into your oven at once
Leftover potential: High—duh, they’re cookies. Martha notes that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for up to 2 days; I will add that they will keep for weeks in the freezer and taste just as great straight from the freezer as they do defrosted. At room temperature you get the nice, soft texture, but I found the banana flavor to be more prevalent in the frozen cookie.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
First the purple potatoes, then these green beans (which I haven’t posted about yet, but they’re quite good), and now yellow squash—I’m starting to think any vegetable can be elevated to world-rocking deliciousness with just a little shallot and lemon.
On Saturday night, the stars aligned: I had a spare, purposeless yellow squash getting old in my fridge; an elderly shallot in the cupboard; some leftover thyme; this Everyday Food recipe languishing on my Delicious list; and a rainy evening alone—A was at play rehearsal, so there was no one except me to be disappointed if this recipe failed. Reader, it did not fail.
This recipe is one of those gems that manages to be both ridiculously simple and still far more than the sum of its parts. I’m not usually a fan of uncooked squash, but after a few minutes marinating in the acidic dressing, the thin slices of squash were intriguingly transformed, losing their hard rawness while still remaining refreshingly crisp. I had been suspicious the salad would be bland, but the seasonings were perfect, the flavors bright and clean. I soon became extra-glad A wasn’t there, because I had made a half-recipe and I devoured the entire thing myself—ostensibly two servings’ worth. And I wish I had some more right now.
As an added bonus, this might be one of the easiest, quickest recipes I have. No cooking, only one bowl, just a tiny bit of whisking and slicing, five minutes to marinate—you can literally be done in 15 minutes. Magical.
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium yellow squashes (8 ounces each), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons
1 shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Add squash, shallot, and thyme. Toss to combine. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.
Serves: 4 as a side dish
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown!
Monday, October 06, 2008
I mentioned trying this recipe a while ago, when I was desperate for something warm and savory (and leftover-hotdog-complementary) during the Broken Oven Ordeal. I’ve never before been a big fan of baked beans, but then I’ve spent most of my life not being a fan of beans in general. I’m slowly coming around to this cheap, comforting, protein- and fiber-rich staple—in fact, I just noticed this is the second bean recipe I’ve posted in a row. Whatever prompted my sudden desire for baked beans, I’m happy that I found this recipe at Simply Recipes. It's easy to throw together and tastes, to my constant amazement, just like “real” baked beans (er, that’s the Heinz canned ones I grew up with, I’m afraid), but a hundred times better, with a beautiful sweet-sour-spicy balance. In my mind, this is a DIY triumph on par with taco seasoning, ranch dressing, and pickles.
Unusually for me, I’ve made a number of adjustments to the original recipe—some on purpose, but others by accident. The first time I made this, I absentmindedly confused the directions for using dry beans with the ones for using canned beans, leading me to slow-cook my canned beans with onion and garlic—a step not actually called for in the recipe, as it turned out, but one that yielded such delicious results that I wouldn’t dream of skipping it. If you want a quicker method using the canned beans, or if you’d like to use dry beans instead (I’ll try this sometime—this winter I’m itching to get my hands on a Dutch oven and an assortment of Rancho Gordo beans; if you’re reading this, Mom, there’s a Christmas gift idea!), consult the Simply Recipes version, but here’s the way I do it, where the beans get nicely broken down (I still hate the firm, mealy texture of whole beans), almost soupy, and deeply seasoned. I’ve been craving it repeatedly over the last few months, and although I officially categorize it as a side dish, I’ll admit that our favorite way to eat this is as an entrée, in big bowls with slices of grilled hot dog (Trader Joe’s makes a good, uncured, all-beef frank) stirred in (and, don’t worry, a green salad on the side). Oh, yum.
3 (15-ounce) cans small white beans, such as cannellini or navy, undrained
1 onion, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1–2 slices raw thick-cut bacon, chopped
1. Place beans with their can juices in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and bay leaf, plus water as needed to cover the contents of the pot. Heat to a simmer and let cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and some of the liquid has cooked away. Remove the bay leaf and add 1 teaspoon salt.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard powder, Tabasco sauce, and pepper. Add mixture to beans, along with bacon, and stir to combine. Bring the beans to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes until thick.
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: High; as with soup, the flavor seems to improve over the next couple of days.