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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Banana Cake with Nuts and Chocolate

This recipe answers the question: what do I do with all those over-ripe bananas?

Our teenaged son has a very healthy diet. He eats whole wheat pasta, nuts, grains, lean cuts of meat, fresh fruit, and a lot of bananas. There always seem to be a few that get over-ripe before he's ready to eat them.

He also likes egg white scrambles, so there are usually extra egg yolks for me to use. I hate wasting food, so the bananas and egg yolks become Banana Cake.

Banana Cake with Nuts and Chocolate Chips

Time: 90 minutes

Serves: 10-12

Indgredients

2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tablespoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cup white sugar
2 eggs + 2 yolks
5 ripe, mashed bananas
¼ teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup cream or ½ and ½
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of cayenne
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup chopped roasted almonds or walnuts
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush the inside of (2) 9”x4” baking pans. Put them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

In a mixer combine the sugar and eggs and wisk until creamy. Add the softened butter and mix well. Then the mashed bananas, baking soda, vanilla, sea salt, cayenne, and cream. Slowly add the flour and stir until well-combined. Blend in the chopped nuts and chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the baking pans, stopping 1 ½” from the top, so the cake has room to rise while it’s cooking. Bake for 60-70 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave in the pan for 10 minutes, because the cakes could fall apart if you take them out of the pan when they’re still very hot.

Carefully turn them out of the pans and let cool on a wire rack, about 30 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bread and Butter Pickles

Kosher pickles are great to eat with sandwiches. Bread and Butter Pickles are great to eat on sandwiches.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Time: 60 minutes

Serves: 10

Ingredients

3 lbs small cukes, washed, ends trimmed
3 cups white sugar
3 cups yellow (Iranian) vinegar
½ cup Kosher salt
4 cups ice cubes
½ cup thinly sliced yellow onion
3 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
¼ cup dill leaves

Method

Using a serrated knife, cut the cukes into ¼” pieces, put them in a colander over a bowl, add the salt, toss well, top with the ice cubes and allow to drain overnight. Rinse the cukes to get rid of the salt and toss together with the sliced onions.

Prepare 4 pint canning jars by boiling them in water for 30 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack.

Put the sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, and peppercorns into a sauce pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Fill the canning jars with the cukes and sliced onions up to 1” from the top of the jar, add the dill, then fill with the vinegar-sugar liquid and seal with canning lids.

Put the jars into a pot with boiling water. Make sure the jars are completely covered by water. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Besides cukes, the recipe works exactly the same for lots of other vegetables: string beans (trimmed and cut to a length so they fit in the jar); carrot rounds (peeled) with onions; or corn off the cob with a sprinkling of diced red pepper.

Put up in their canning jars, the pickles make beautiful presents.

Serves 20. Preparation Time: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 10 minutes.

Kosher Pickles

A lot of people I know have at least one relative who used to make pickles. For me, my grandmother didn't make pickles but her father did and she would take me down to Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to show me where the pickle makers had their open air stores. Her dad had a store when she was a child. He had pickle barrels out front. When she took me downtown there were still pickle makers on the Lower East Side. I loved the smell of the brine in the wooden barrels.

Kosher Pickles

I like the smaller cukes. Cut off the remains of the stems and flowers. Don’t use any cukes that are soft or discolored. Clean and dry the cukes. Put them aside while you make the brine. I use Iranian yellow vinegar, a little hard to find, but it has less of a bite.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 20 minutes to prepare; 2-5 days to brine

Ingredients
5 lbs, small cukes
8 cups of water
1/4 cup Kosher salt1 cup yellow vinegar
4 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
5 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
10 whole mustard seeds1/4 teaspoon of pepper flakes
3 sprigs of fresh dill


Method
In a pot, add together the water, vinegar, and salt. Bring the water to a simmer. Stir, to help the salt dissolve. The brine has to be hot enough to dissolve the salt, but don't let it boil. Stick a finger into the brine. Taste and adjust the flavor. Add more salt and vinegar as you like. If the brine is too salty or too vinegary, then add more water. Get the brine to taste the way you like it, because the way the brine tastes is the way the pickles will taste.


Put the spices into the bottom of a gallon glass jar. Put the cukes into the jar. Pour in the hot brine, being careful to cover the cukes. Save about a cup of brine.


Tasting the brine will give you an idea about the flavor of the pickles, but you won’t really know what the pickles taste like until you make your first batch. The next time you make your pickles you can adjust the flavor by putting in more of less of the flavorings: the salt, vinegar, garlic, and spices.


Now that you’ve put the cucumbers into the brine, you have to wait. How long you wait depends on how you like your pickle. If you like pickles that taste like cucumbers, you can eat them after as little as 2 days. If you want more “pickle” flavor, wait 3-5 days.


While the pickles are curing, keep them on the kitchen counter out of the sun, in the jar, uncovered. If you cover them, they'll go bad. Also, the cukes have to be kept submerged in the brine. If they’re exposed to the air, they will go bad.


The trick is to put a plastic cup in the top of the jar. If you fill the cup with the extra brine, then it’s weight will keep the pickles submerged. Make sure that the size of the cup is smaller than the opening of the jar, so the pickles can “breathe”.


Put brine in the cup, so as the water evaporates, you can add brine from the cup to keep the pickles covered.


Once the pickles are how you like them, put a top on the jar. At this point you'll probably want to transfer the pickles into smaller jars; make sure the pickles are covered and that each jar has an equal amount of the pickling spices.

Refrigerate the jars. The pickles will keep for several weeks, but since there aren't any preservatives, they won’t last as long as store-bought pickles.


Preparation Time: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 3 minutes. Waiting Time: 2-5 days.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mushroom Soup

My mother had a couple of specialties when we were growing up: a braised brisket of beef topped with a package of Lipton's onion soup, sour cream dip made with canned clams, and tuna casserole sauced with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.

I still remember those dishes fondly.

What I learned from my mom was to have fun cooking, to care about flavors, and to find the most efficient way possible to make a dish. Use the fewest ingredients, don't be overly complicated, and clean up as you cook. That was her mantra.

Today I made a simple soup for lunch: mushroom soup with a handful of garlic. With a small salad and some grilled lavash, we were very happy.

Garlic-Mushroom Soup

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

4 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
3 sprigs parsley, washed, finely chopped, stems and leaves
5 shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound mushrooms, shitaki or chanterelles, washed, thinly sliced, stems included
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups water or chicken stock
1/4 cup cream or half and half (optional)
1 tablespoon cooked rice per serving or cooked pasta (optional)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Over a medium flame, sauté the garlic, shallots, and parsley with the olive oil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and butter. Stir well and continue to cook for 15 minutes until lightly browned, then add the stock or water to deglaze the pan.

Simmer for 30 minutes on a low flame. Taste and adjust the flavors, adding sea salt and black pepper as needed. In the last 5 minutes, add the cream, being careful to avoid a boil.

When serving, put a tablespoon of cooked rice or cooked pasta (optional) on the bottom of the bowl, then add the soup and mushrooms.