Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unbelievable Banana Bread

I am not joking-you might have a banana bread you really like, but I am telling you this one is absolutely amazing!
I have always made my mom's recipe for banana bread, which I think she acquired from her mother. It is good, and more importantly, it is what I was used to, which sort of implies that it doesn't really have to be good, it is just the thing we crave because it is familiar. But, nonetheless, her banana bread is good-it is a wonderful, simple recipe that calls only for staples, and is a great way to use those leftover, over-ripe bananas.

This banana bread, on the other hand, is a work of art. It is for that time that you want something extra special. The recipe makes two loaves, and I am telling you it is an absolutely grand gift. Just the other day I made up a batch and took the second loaf to an elderly couple living in a retirement home. They shared it with some friends, who asked if they could pay me to make more!
Add a cup of dark chocolate chunks for an extra special treat!
The recipe calls for buttermilk, which gives this loaf tenderness, but that density you can expect from buttermilk, and the large amount of sugar used gives the bread a crispy, sugary top that reminds me of my favorite part of muffins.Vanilla and cinnamon give subtle flavors to this delicious bread.
I am not kidding you, when I bake this bread if I do not take the second loaf to someone it rarely makes it to the next day's breakfast. Walnuts add a delightful depth to the recipe, but if you don't like them, you can leave them out and the bread is still divine.
As bananas begin to become over-ripe at our house, I peel them and place them in a plastic freezer bag. Once I have enough for a recipe, I just set them on the counter for about an hour and they are extremely soft. They practically dissolve into the batter, leaving you without any big pieces of banana!

Unbelievable Banana Bread
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Grease two 9-by-3-inch loaf pans. Combine all ingredients, except bananas and walnuts, in a stand mixer. Once thoroughly combined, add bananas and walnuts, if using.
Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and place in oven.
Bake until bread is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Transfer pans to wire racks and let cool for five minutes before removing bread from pans.
Let cool an additional 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe from Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Make Mayonnaise

What are your feelings about mayonnaise? It seems that it is a necessity that stays in its sacred place in our fridges, to bring a bit of moisture to the occasional sandwich or bring a potato, macaroni or chicken salad together with its rich creaminess.
You might love mayo, hate it, or live somewhere in between and allow its presence on the exceptionally dry sandwich.
I am typically #3. I am not a big fan, and if a restaurant piles it on I will remove the excess, but I don't hate it, either. I think it has its place in the culinary world.
As a child, I really, really liked mayonnaise. I loaded tuna with it and put it on everything from bologna sandwiches to hot dogs and hamburgers. Maybe I overdid it. Within a few years I didn't like mayo at all. I could barely tolerate its presence-I would rather eat my sandwiches dry. I kept it in my fridge for the occasion recipe, but otherwise almost never used it.
One day, I read in a cookbook about homemade mayonnaise. The author encouraged you to try it even if you were not a big fan. A spark was ignited in me. To create this culinary wonder seemed like a task I wanted to accomplish. The ingredients were simple, the technique was a little finicky, but I was sure I could do it. The first batch I made I did completely by hand-no food processor or blender. I admit, it was a process, but so rewarding. I tried the trembling, silky stuff on a carrot. I know that sounds a little gross, but it was really good.  I couldn't believe how good. This was not your ordinary mayonnaise. First of all, it wasn't a stiff, eggshell-colored substance, it was much softer, and had more yellow in it. Secondly, it had flavor! I don't really think store-bought mayo has that much flavor. This stuff was almost buttery.
I made BLT's for me and my husband and loaded them with mayo. It was awesome! When you whip that stuff into a dip or dressing, it adds so much more depth than what you are used to. The perfect balance of flavors is so delicious.
I have not purchased mayonnaise in quite sometime. I make up a double batch and we use it up pretty quickly. You can whisk in a little lemon juice and some chopped herbs and drizzle it over chicken and pasta and you have an outstanding gourmet sauce. Many other sauces are a form of mayonnaise, which is really just an emulsion of eggs and oil. Bearnaise and hollandaise use butter instead of vegetable oil and are just so good. I do possess an incredible hollandaise recipe that I will probably divulge at some time in the future, but for now, make some mayonnaise. Oh, also, aiolis, which are just mayonnaise with garlic and a few other spices of your choice are also wonderful for everything from French Fries to drizzling over meats and vegetables.
Let you explorations of mayonnaise begin!

Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 egg yolks at room temperature
1 egg at room temperature
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
2 cups vegetable oil

I like to use a food processor. You can also use a food processor if you prefer.
Fit food processor with steel blade. Combine the egg yolks, egg, mustard, water, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, and pepper in the bowl and process until well mixed. With the motor running, add the oil through the feed tube drop b drop so the eggs and oil will combine smoothly. After emulsification has begun and mayonnaise starts to hold together, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream. When all the oil has been added, shut off the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Orange You Glad?

Do you ever find yourself buying an ingredient because it looks fun or you really want to try it? Or you use one tablespoon of an ingredient, only to be left with an entire jar of tahini paste, unsure of what to do with the leftovers? I used to do that all the time (and still do more often than I would like to admit), but recently I have been trying to find recipes that use all of the abnormal ingredient.
I like recipes that use all of the special ingredient, or perhaps some suggestions on what to do with the leftovers, so I don't have a giant bottle of fish paste in my fridge for the next three years, or until I have moved so many times I finally just decide to throw it away.
When I ran across this recipe, I fell in love instantly. To be completely honest, I saw it on the Food Network. If I am ever at a hotel or friends house I absolutely cannot tear myself away. I sit in front of the TV for hours watching reruns of Emeril's homemade sausage or Iron Chef America. I could watch food tv all day! Anyway, this dish looked absolutely amazing, so I decided to try it. The recipe originally called for pork tenderloin, but I used chicken instead, because that was what I had readily available.
The chicken is threaded onto skewers and drenched in a spicy orange marmalade sauce. It is grilled outdoors or you could use and indoor grill, or, my favorite, just broil it. More spicy-sweet sauce is lathered on, leaving you with a delicious, fire-kissed skewer with a bit of caramelized jam and burnt orange dancing on your tongue.
I made a few changes, like pumping up the jalapeño flavor a bit and I served this heavenly chicken to my in-laws. My father-in-law instantly began reminiscing about his childhood. The hot summers in southern California, eating sun-kissed oranges.
These skewers could be served as a fun appetizer, or on a bed of white rice for a main dish. Another great thing about it, it uses a whole jar of marmalade.

Chicken Skewers with Sweet and Spicy Marmalade
Makes 6 servings

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (if they are very thick cut in half like cutlets)
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter
1 jalapeño pepper and minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 (18-ounce) jar orange marmalade
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

Special equipment: 12 wooden skewers soaked in water for 20 minutes

For the chicken, Pat chicken dry and cut lengthwise into 12 pieces. Place in resealable plastic bag. Combine soy sauce, olive oil and garlic in a nonreactive bowl and pour into resealable bag. Seal and massage slightly with your fingertips. Let marinade for 20 minutes to one hour. Drain chicken and pat dry. Preheat broiler.
Thread chicken on to skewers in an S shape and season with kosher salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and position oven rack in its highest position. When preheated, place tray in oven and cook skewers for 2-3 minutes per side.

For the sweet and spicy marmalade, Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add pepper cook until soft. Add ginger, and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-low, and stir in marmalade, lime juice, salt and orange juice concentrate. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Baste chicken with sweet and spicy marmalade and serve with white rice, or as an appetizer. 

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