Sunday, October 31, 2010

Banana Bread

Could anything be lovelier than the comforting scent of warm, soft banana bread wafting through the house on a crisp fall morning?  My love affair with banana bread is a recent one, as my mother, not being much of a breakfast pastry eater, rarely made it.  It fell into a broad category of her dislikes that I was deprived of during childhood, along with coconut, bread pudding, and nuts or dried fruit invading a baked good in any form.  "Why would you ever put in nuts when you could put in chocolate chips?" she would ask, without a hint of irony in her voice.  As I discovered when I was turned loose in my own kitchen, I am quite, even especially, fond of all these things and I have done my best to make up for lost time.

After trying several recipes for banana bread, I found that my own version is in fact my favorite.  It uses four bananas rather than the standard three, which keeps it wonderfully moist and sweet enough with less sugar.  You may use any milk alternative you like, but I think coconut makes the most natural partner for bananas.  And trust my mother on this one: gooey chocolate chips make a much more beguiling accent than walnuts.  Your morning coffee just found a new best friend.

*Ingredient note: You may have noticed that most of my baking recipes call for white whole wheat flour.  It is made from a lighter variety of wheat, so while its nutritional profile is the same as traditional whole wheat, its color and flavor are milder.  I can't resist adding it to recipes like this because it adds some nutrition without sacrificing flavor.  If unavailable, you can substitute regular whole wheat flour or all purpose flour.

Dairy-Free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 very ripe, darkly speckled bananas
1/4 cup regular coconut milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350* F.  Grease and flour a 9x5-inch loaf pan; set aside.  Combine coconut milk and lemon juice in glass measuring cup and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine flour, white whole wheat flour, cinnamon, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  In another bowl, mash the bananas well with a wooden spoon, then stir in the coconut milk mixture, eggs, vegetable oil, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined (there should still be some small banana chunks).  Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until most of the flour is incorporated, then gently fold in the chocolate chips.  Do not over mix.

Pour into prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center of loaf comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fan Fare

As Isaac has been completely swept up into the excitement of October baseball,  it seems all I hear is "Buster Posey!" in his excited, three-year-old baseball fan voice.  I, on the other hand, am using the playoffs as an excuse to make one of my favorite vices: garlic fries.  Once we get out the deep fryer (yes, I registered for one when we got married) we do a lot of frying so as not to waste the oil.  Which means I made these three times in the course of a week, and the requests are still coming in for more.  They taste just like the ones they sell at the Giants' games.  And let's be honest: half the reason we all go to Giants games is for the garlic fries.  So make a batch and pretend you're at the game, with no BART ride, no overpriced concessions, and no fear of hidden allergens.  Our team flew home last night; perhaps the familiar smell of garlic in the air will help push them towards a victory over the Phillies tomorrow.  Go Giants!

There are a few important steps to success for this recipe.  First, don't skip the soaking time.  It rinses away excess starch and greatly improves the texture of the fries.  Second, make sure your oil is at the right temperature before you begin.  Too hot and they will burn; too cool and they will be greasy.  And finally, the two-step frying process is essential.  The first step cooks the potatoes thoroughly, while the second gives a crispy, golden exterior.

Ballpark Garlic Fries

6 large russet potatoes
10 cloves garlic, peeled & crushed with garlic press
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
Oil for frying (canola, soybean, or peanut all work fine)

Scrub and peel your potatoes.  Using a very sharp knife, slice them about 3/16" thick.  Then stack the slices and cut them into plank style fries, not quite 1/2" wide.  They will shrink somewhat when you cook them, so don't worry if they look a little thick.  Place the fries in a large bowl and cover them with water; set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

Fill your deep fryer with oil to according to manufacturer's instructions (or a Dutch oven on the stove top with a deep fry thermometer attached - oil should be a few inches deep).  Heat to 320* F.  While oil is heating, put 2 Tbsp olive oil in a small saucepan.  Add garlic and cook over low heat until fragrant and just beginning to sizzle (do NOT brown garlic).  Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic to a small bowl and toss with the parsley.  Set aside.

Set out 2 large rimmed baking sheets and line them with paper towels.  Drain potatoes and spread out on one sheet, and pat dry thoroughly with more paper towels.  Place 1/3 of the fries in your fryer basket and lower them gently into the hot oil.  Cook about 5 minutes.  Fries should be flexible and the outsides will blister a bit, but they won't start browning yet.  Drain and pour cooked fries onto clean paper towels on second sheet.  Repeat with remaining potatoes in 2 more batches.  Throw away the wet paper towels and replace with a new layer.

Increase the fryer temperature to 375* F.  Place 1/3 of the cooked potatoes in the fryer basket and lower into the oil.  Cook about 5 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Drain and pour out onto the clean paper towels; repeat with remaining fries in 2 more batches.  Place fries in a large, wide bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Spoon garlic mixture over and toss to combine.  Serve immediately.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ginger Molasses Sugar Cookies

You know those women you meet that inspire you just because of who they are?  My husband's grandmother, Nina, is one of those women.  She hasn't had it easy, and if you asked her she probably wouldn't take credit for the incredible things she has done in her life.  She moved from Texas to California with her husband to start farming toward the end of the Dust Bowl years, and ever since she has patiently cared for her family like nobody else I know.  When you arrive at her house for a holiday, she manages to have the house spotless and dinner ready, yet she is calm and ready to focus on her guests - not an easy task!  Her famous goodies are myriad: sour cream sugar cookies, Southern cornbread dressing, Texas sheet cake, and addictive buttery dinner rolls to name just a few.  You can just feel the warmth of God's love radiating from within, and to top it all off, she is always wearing beautiful shoes.  If I am half the woman she is when my children are grown with families of their own, I will have done well.

Here is one of my husband's favorite Grandma recipes from childhood.  I recently made these for some friends and now the recipe is spreading like wildfire.  Generously spiced, with a perfect balance between crispy and chewy, these sparkling, crackled cookies are simply irresistible.  Serve some with fresh apple cider after you get home from the pumpkin patch, and you will have yourself a perfect autumn afternoon.

Ginger Molasses Sugar Cookies

3/4 c vegetable oil
1 c sugar
1/4 c full-flavor molasses
1 egg
2 tsp baking soda
2 c flour
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
About 1/2 cup sugar for coating

Mix oil, sugar, molasses and egg and beat well.  Sift together flour, soda, and spices; add to first mixture.  Mix well.  Cover dough and chill.

Preheat oven to 375.  Line cookie sheet with silicone baking mat or parchment paper.  Scoop tablespoonfuls of dough and roll into balls.  Roll in granulated sugar and place 2" apart on baking sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes, until edges are beginning to brown and tops are crackled.  Be careful not to overbake.  Cool on sheet 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake

First of all, I need to give a big shout out to the Giants for winning the NL West last night!  Can major league baseball inspire breakfast pastry, you ask?  Why yes it can, if that pastry is a coffee cake modeled after the cinnamon-roasted almonds sold at the ballpark.  If you have ever walked past the Emerlad Nut stand at AT&T Park then you know exactly the irresistible scent that I am talking about.  Once I bought a little bag of the nuts at a game and was disappointed to find that the flavor wasn't quite as beguiling as the aroma.  Not so for this moist, delicious coffee cake.  Picture to come when I get home tonight.  GO GIANTS! 

Cake Batter:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup plain almond or rice milk

Crumb Topping:
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup dairy-free, soy-free margarine (such as Earth Balance Soy Free), softened

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour an 8" square baking pan. 

For crumb topping, place almonds in food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt and pulse to combine.  Pour into bowl and cut in margarine with a fork until evenly mixed.  Set topping aside while you prepare the cake batter.

In medium bowl, combine all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, almond meal, baking soda and salt; stir well.  In bowl of standing mixer, whisk together the sugar, egg, oil, vanilla, and almond extract until well combined.  With mixer running at medium-low speed, add 1/3 of rice or almond milk.  When almost combined, add half of flour mixture and mix until most of flour is incorporated.  Repeat, ending with the final 1/3 of milk and stirring just until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle crumb topping evenly over the batter.  Bake at 350 until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 - 50 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into squares.  You can make this the night before; let cool, cover, and wait until morning to cut into squares.  Makes 9 servings.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Endless Summer

When the cool weather started toward the end of September, I was giddy with excitement.  Memories of vibrant fall colors in upstate New York flood over me this time of year, and I dream of crisp afternoons, leaves piled high, and comforting hours spent in the kitchen with dear friends.  After months of outdoor cooking, fun as it was, I simply couldn't wait to turn my oven on and fill the house with aromas of cinnamon-laced breads and simmering stews.  My October issue of Bon Appétit arrived, and I read it cover to cover while sipping hot cider.  I rushed off to the store and bought a pie pumpkin, set it on my counter, and started plotting a recipe for pumpkin bagels.

And then the heat wave came.  Sweltering in my kitchen in the hundred-degree heat, I knew my pumpkin bagels would have to wait.  So rather than depress myself by blogging an autumn recipe in defiance of the weather, here is one of my summer favorites.

Piña Coladas are one of the best dairy-craving cures I know of.  Lusciously creamy and not too sweet, this recipe is simple and delicious.  And because it uses natural ingredients instead of a flavored mix, it won't leave you with that I-just-drank-sunscreen feeling.  While you take a sip and feel those tropical breezes blow, it may be the perfect time to daydream along with me about cooler days to come.

Ingredient notes:  Fresh pineapple will give a brighter flavor, but the texture will be smoother with canned pineapple.  I make them both ways depending on what I have on hand.  Cream of coconut comes in a can and may be found at Latin markets or the beverage aisle at the supermarket (much cheaper at the former).  Do not confuse with coconut cram, which is unsweetened.  Be sure to stir well before using.

Piña Coladas
makes 2

1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple or canned crushed pineapple
1/3 cup cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez
1/4 cup light rum (sub lemonade for non-alcoholic)
1 cup ice
Dark rum for garnish
Lime wedges

Combine pineapple, cream of coconut, light rum, and ice in blender.  Blend until very smooth.  Pour into two glasses.  Top each with a small splash of dark rum and a lime wedge.