Friday, September 30, 2011

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce Over Banana "Nice" Cream: Simple Vegan Yum for Food 'n Flix: Just Desserts

Well this is a little embarrassing... I actually tried to be timely for once for a blog event. In this case it was girlichef's Food 'n Flix, hosted this round by Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor. Tina picked the romantic foodie comedy Just Desserts as the September selection. I deliberately ordered my movie from Netflix at the beginning of the month, watched it, and had a game plan of what I was going to make. (Sounds good so far right?) The problem is, I watched THE WRONG MOVIE!!! I don't know why, but I had it in my head that we were watching Simply Irresistible. Two word title? Female main characters? Fluffy foodie romance without a lot of chemistry between the leads? For whatever reason I mixed them up.

When I discovered my error last week, it was too late to get a copy of Just Desserts and I did see it many years ago and don't remember being enamored enough by it to go to great lengths to watch it again. The basic story is that a baker enters a contest in order to earn enough money to save his family's failing bakery and needs the help of a restaurant pastry chef to help him win. Of course that's where the romance comes in as the baker and pastry chef get over their initial dislike and start to fall for each other.

Despite my error, I still wanted to join in the Food 'n Flix fun. A logical choice would be to bake something decadent, but instead I went for simpler fare. I have been wanting to try the Choco PB Syrup recipe from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman, a great little book I picked up a while back. The 5-ingredient recipe uses cocoa powder, natural peanut butter, Sucanat (evaporated cane juice), water and vanilla.

Needing something to serve it on, I whipped up one of my favorite treats, Banana "Nice" Cream. You have probably seen it before on different blogs--chopped and frozen bananas (and I like to add a little vanilla) are whipped into a creamy soft-serve style ice cream in the food processor. It's the recipe I get the most repeat requests for at the cooking demos I do--no one can believe that the creamy ice cream-like treat is just frozen bananas.

So chocolate, peanut butter, bananas... whole, natural ingredients and a little bit of perfection in my book.

The Banana "Nice" Cream without the sauce--see how creamy!

The authors say, "This syrup just begs to be poured over nondairy ice cream or added to milk alternatives or whatever strikes your fancy. Another win for Sucanat! Another loss for tooth decay and weight management..."

Choco PB Syrup
From "The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions"
(Yields about 2 1/4 Cups)

1/2 cup (40 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup (64 g) creamy all natural salted peanut butter
2 cups (384 g) Sucanat
1 cup (235 ml) water
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Using a blender, combine all ingredients (except vanilla) until perfectly smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan, bring to a boil. Lower to medium heat and cook for about 3 minutes. Watch carefully and whisk occasionally, as mixture tends to rise! Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla.

Let cool completely. The syrup will thicken a little as it cools. Transfer to an airtight glass bottle and store in fridge. Will keep for a couple of weeks.

Note: Fancy a hot fudge sauce-like consistency? Add an extra 2 tablespoons (10 g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons (32 g) of the all-natural salted peanut butter.

(Just in case you need it...)

Banana “Nice" Cream
(Makes about 2 servings)

2-3 frozen ripe bananas (peel bananas, cut into small chunks and freeze in Ziploc bag)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Place banana chunks (and vanilla if using), in a food processor and process for about 3-5 minutes, stopping the processor occasionally and scraping down the sides. The bananas will eventually begin to get lighter and smoother and will take on the texture of ice cream. Scoop into a bowl and enjoy.

Notes/Results: I wanted for the fudge sauce-like consistency mentioned in the recipe note and so I added the extra cocoa powder and peanut butter. This is one thick, rich, delicious fudge sauce (it gets considerably thicker after time spent in the fridge). The chocolate definitely comes through as the star player, with the peanut butter being more subtle. It was fabulous on the banana "nice" cream, and also delicious blended up with some almond milk and a little coffee in the blender and served over ice for a coffee shop-style treat. Sure it's still sugar and has calories, but compare the ingredient list to bottled fudge sauce and this is a great alternative. I imagine that if you can't find Sucanat (look in the natural food store sweetener section), any minimally processed sugar will work. I will make this again.

Check out the Food 'n Flix round up at Tina's soon to see what other recipes Just Desserts inspired. The October movie pick is Ratatouille hosted at The Seventh Level of Boredom, and guess what? November's pick is Simply Irresistible. ;-) I'll be very early for that one!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Healthy 4 (or 8)-Ingredient Banana Oat Bars Recipe and a Book Review of StandOut by Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham believes that by honing in on your natural abilities and strengths, you can take your performance to the next level and be happier and more productive at work and in life. StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strength's Revolution is his latest book and I recently had a chance to review it.

I have been reading Buckingham's work since his first books, First Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths came out. As a manager, I bought copies of his strengths books for my team and had them take the strengths assessments and I was consistently impressed with how accurate the assessments were so I was curious to read this latest book and experience "the next generation strengths assessment." The book includes an access code to use to take the online assessment (It costs $15.00 to take the assessment and receive the detailed report without the book's access code), a series of work-related questions that measure how well you match the 9 roles. After answering the questions your lead and secondary roles are revealed and you receive a detailed report. All 9 roles are ranked on the report, but the top two scores are the areas where your biggest strengths come into play and where you have "competitive advantage" in the workplace. Out of the 9 roles: Advisor, Connector, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Pioneer, Provider, Stimulator and Teacher, I ended up with Connector as my primary role and Creator as my secondary.

According to the book and report:

Connectors are: Individuals who see the world as a web of relationships and connect with people constantly. These individuals realize that people with different strengths can bond together to accomplish great things. In order to be successful as a connector, you need to learn as much as you can about the people around you and find opportunities to collaborate."

Creators: Before asking for help, you come up with ideas. You enjoy alone time to think and be clear on what you need to do. You take pride in your ideas, don’t like surprises, and you are relentless in your actions.

I was not surprised to see connector as my top strength here because in previous strengths assessments, connectedness or connector always came out at or near the top. Creator seemed to fit too and was similar to my previous results, although it's not an exact match because there used to be over 30 strengths rather than the 9 roles in this updated version. (Yes, I am geeky enough about self-assessments to keep them all in a file) ;-) Once you know your key strengths, the book provides a details and support for each of the 9 roles including You at Your Most Powerful, How to Take Your Performance to the Next Level, What to Watch For, How to Win as a Leader, a Manager, in Sales and in Client Services. It's basically your self-development plan in a compact 200ish pages.

StandOut is a quick and easy read, with good ideas and it's fun to take the assessment and see where you come out. I can't say I liked it quite as much as the other strengths books as I prefer their detail and I liked the larger number of strengths they had because it seemed somewhat more specific and accurate than the new broader categories. Still, I think there is great value in the book for both career and life and I made quite a few highlights to go back and review. I think StandOut is a good update for those familiar with the strengths movement as well as a good introduction to those who aren't.

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through PTA Reader Rewards but as always, my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

It is my practice to make a dish inspired by the books I read, as at its heart this is a food blog. I won't lie and tell you that this recipe is particularly related to StandOut, it's just a recipe I have been wanting to try for a healthy snack bar. It comes from a favorite spot, The Kitchn and arrived with my update email. I suppose you could say it connects me to other blogs and creates a healthy snack idea. ;-)

These 4-Ingredient Banana Oat Bars (actually 8-Ingredients if you add the few optional add-ins like vanilla, salt, cinnamon and flax seed) are originally from a blog called Friesen Cold. They are super healthy, using ripe bananas as the replacement for the eggs and oil or fat, as well as the sugar (along with the dates) in a normal snack bar. I am all for a healthy treat that tastes good, sneaks me in some fiber and omega-3's, and leaves out processed sugar. As long as your oats are gluten-free, they are perfect for any gluten-intolerant individuals out there--another plus.

4 (or 8)-Ingredient Banana Oat Bars (With Options!)
Adapted from The Kitchn by way of Ginger at Friesen Cold
(Makes a 9x9" pan--which I cut into 12 pieces)

2 large, very ripe bananas (I used an equal quantity of local apple bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional) (I added it)
2 cups rolled oats (I used 1 3/4 cup oats and 1/4 cup ground flax seed)
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) (used it)
1/4 cup pitted, chopped dried dates
1/4 cup chopped nuts — such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans (I used a combo of walnuts and almonds)
Grated nutmeg or cinnamon (optional) (I used cinnamon)

Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x9-inch square baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Peel the bananas and mash their flesh in a medium mixing bowl. Mash very thoroughly until no large chunks remain; the bananas should be essentially liquid. (You will have between 1 cup and 1 1/4 cup.) Stir in the vanilla, if using. Add the oats and stir them in. Stir in the salt, dates, and nuts.

Pat the thick mixture evenly into the baking pan. If desired, sprinkle the top lightly with nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to crisp up.

Place the baking pan on a rack to cool. When the pan is mostly cool, cut into bars and enjoy with a glass of milk or tea.

Simple and really good--like a little piece of "oatty" banana bread, I really like these bars. They are very easy to make--1 bowl/ 1 pan and hold together surprisingly well. I did slightly under-bake mine (23 minutes instead of 30) because I prefer soft to crispy/crunchy, but go wild if you want. The original bars were apparently just banana, oats, nuts and dates, but I think the vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of salt really do add a lot so I highly recommend it. The flax seed is optional too--I just like to work it in where I can for the nutritional benefit. They are good cold, but even better served a little warm, great for snacks or breakfast on the go. I will make them again and will also play around with the base recipe using different fruit and nuts.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Portuguese Purslane Soup: Unique and Delicious by Tessa Kiros for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

We are cooking with a new chef (Tessa Kiros) over at I Heart Cooking Clubs starting this week. If you aren't familiar with Tessa, pick up one of her six cookbooks and prepare to fall in love. Born in London, with a Finnish mother and a father of Greek-Cypriot origin, Tessa was raised in South Africa and then traveled the world learning about the food culture and traditions of each country she visited, before marrying and settling down in Tuscany. Her beautiful cookbooks span the globe and even before she was voted on as our chef for the next six months, I was busy collecting them. Although I have cooked a few dishes from some of the books, mostly I have been reading them and enjoying the gorgeous photography and I look forward to actually using them every week.

It was difficult choosing a recipe to make to "Welcome Tessa" to IHCC, but I knew I wanted to make a comforting, welcoming bowl of soup. I have had the Purslane Soup from her Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found cookbook tagged to make since I found the book online at a used bookstore a few weeks ago. I can get purslane at the farmers markets here and even Whole Foods carries it in their local produce section. Sometimes considered a weed, purslane has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy been vegetable. It also packs in the plenty of vitamins and minerals and its leaves have a light lemony taste. I was struck by the unique combination ingredients in this soup--along with the purslane, there is chourico (chorizo), lemon, cinnamon, mint with potatoes and rice to make it creamy.

I couldn't make this soup completely local but the purslane, onion, carrots, mint, lemon juice, butter and macadamia nut oil give it a good lean in that direction. To add to the rice and potatoes in the soup and make it a complete starch-fest, ;-) I served it with some locally produced olive bread and sweet local butter. A satisfying and welcoming dinner.

Kiros says, "My friend Peta remembers this from her summers in Portugal. The big part of mixed soup would be on the stove and, while it was boiling, Margarita would come in with bunches of wild leaves collected from the river bank. I loved the shape of the leaves drifting in this soup, and I liked the unfamiliar taste. For a deeper flavor here, use home-made chicken stock instead of water (like this, we have mixed two Portuguese soups into one, taking the mint and lemon that is usually in chicken canja)."

Purslane Soup
From Piri Piri Starfish by Tessa Kiros
(Makes about 1.75 litres / 61 fl oz / 7 cups)

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
40g (1 1/2 oz) chourico or spicy sausage, cut into 2-3 slices
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp white wine
600g (1 lb 5 oz) potatoes, peeled and halved
2-3 tsps coarse salt
85g (3oz / heaped 1/3 cup) parboiled variety of rice
125g (4 1/2 oz) purslane (or watercress) leaves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
juice of half a lemon
10 fresh mint leaves, to serve

Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot and sauté the onion until softened and golden. Add the carrot and chourico and sauté for a while longer until it smells good, then add the garlic and cook until you can smell it.

Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated. Add the potato, salt and a couple of twists of pepper, turning it through with a wooden spoon and sautéing for a couple of minutes more. Add 1.5 litres (52 fl oz / 6 cups) of hot water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat slightly, cover the pot and cook at a high simmer for 20 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the potatoes into a bowl. Take out the chourico slices (you can eat them while you work.) Purée the rest of the pot, which won't seem much but will, funnily enough, take a while to purée until smooth. Mash the potatoes roughly in the bowl and leave on one side for now.

Add the rice to the pot and bring back to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure it doesn't stick. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the purslane or watercress and mashed potatoes, bring back to the boil, then simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes or so until the rice is just cooked. (Not too soft as it will carry on cooking in the pot until you serve.) Stir the thickened pup every now and then to make sure it is not sticking. Stir in the cinnamon, to taste, and the lemon juice. Serve hot, with mint leaves on top.

Notes/Results: A really good bowl of soup. The flavors really come alive. The slight lemony taste of the purslane is enhanced by the lemon juice and the cinnamon adds a complexity to the flavor--you don't taste the cinnamon, just its warm essence. The purslane in the soup is a bit like baby spinach and the rice and mashed up potatoes make it thick and creamy. I used a good garlic-veggie stock as my base and I kept in the chourico/chorizo because I had some to use up. If you want to make this a vegan soup, you cam omit the butter and replace the sausage with a little smoky paprika and a pinch of cayenne. Like the cinnamon, the sausage adds to the overall flavor so using the spices instead should give a similar effect. (Although I do love how she tells you to take out the chourico and eat it while you work as a little cook's treat) ;-) (One note on the sunny yellow color--I used some local baby carrots to equal one regular carrot and most of them were yellow rather than orange.) A bowl of this soup is warming and comforting, and much like Kiros' cookbooks, it transports me to another place--in this case the serene countryside of Potrugal. I would definitely make this again.

I am a day early with my "Welcome Tessa!" post this week but you can learn more about Tessa Kiros, see what my fellow IHCCers make for their welcome dishes, and maybe even join in the cooking club fun by going to the IHCC site and following the links.

It's a small but delicious set of dishes in the IHCC kitchen this week--let's take a look.

My friend Debbie from Hawaii Locavore and her husband have been successfully doing a month-long Eat Local challenge, the same challenge I am attempting to follow as much as possible this week. I admire their commitment and this amazing-looking Charred Eggplant Soup. Debbie says, "...this recipe was entirely local (except for spices), all the way down to Maui Pineapple wine and homemade Greek yogurt from local milk. We absolutely loved this soup. It was time-consuming because of all the grilling, but well worth it. Typical of eggplant it has a very meaty but creamy texture, but no bitterness at all. This is definitely a recipe we will be making again."

A new face to welcome this week. Say hello to Genevieve, a grad student and recent vegetarian who blogs out of Canada at Vanilla and Spice. Genevieve made this lovely Parsnip and Pear Soup and says, "I've officially made my first soup of the Fall season! When the weather starts getting cooler, I love to bring home root vegetables from the market, roast them in the oven, then purée them into a delicious and comforting soup. This soup was different than any I've ever made in the past. It combines parsnips with pears, resulting in a unique, slightly sweet taste with a hint of spice. Parsnips are a pretty neutral-tasting vegetable on their own (similar to carrots), but in this recipe they are roasted first, which brings out a deeper, sweeter flavour that paired nicely with the pear." Welcome to Souper Sundays Genevieve!"

Janet from The Taste Space has two salads to share this week. First up this Sea Weeds and Greens Salad (aka Kelp Noodles with Wakame and Radish Sprouts). Janet says, "This salad had me giggling all night with its sheer deliciousness. It was light and bright from the lime, sweet but now overpoweringly so, sea-like with saltiness from the wakame, yet with an undertone of spiciness from the chili flakes and radish shoots. The cucumber and kohlrabi meld well with the slightly crunchy kelp noodles to highlight the sauce. Sometimes I wonder if my palate is changing, definitely less mainstream meat and potatoes, but this recipe from Ottolenghi is a keeper. Soba noodles would be wonderful here as well, as he originally suggested."

Janet's second salad is this colorful Warm Carrot and Flageolet Bean Salad with Dill. She says, "It is simple to make but the flavours work really well together. This is definitely where food synergy is at play. I added my own spins to the dish, adding more carrots, using less oil and no sugar. Instead, I opted to caramelize the shallots and carrots to capitalize on their natural sweetness. Slivered almonds confer a satisfying crunch. This salad tastes great fresh from the stovetop but also works wonderfully after a few days when the flavours have melded together even longer."

A short but sweet round up this week with some very creative and fun recipes--thanks to everyone who joined in. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the side bar for all of the details.

Have a healthy, happy week!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jamie Oliver's "Pukkolla" (Muesli): A Cool & Creamy Breakfast Treat + A Round Up of My Favorite Jamie Recipes

I have never been a big lover of oatmeal. It goes back to those long-standing texture issues I bring up all the time have mentioned. Lately I have been developing more of an appreciation for it. As long as the oatmeal in question isn't too wet and mushy, has a little chew-factor going for it, and has LOTS of add-ins for flavor. Also, because I live in year-round warm climate, I find I much prefer a cold, raw bowl of oats like muesli. While paging through a library copy of The Naked Chef Takes Off, I found Jamie's version of muesli which he calls Pukkolla, and thought I would give in a try.

Jamie says, "Pukkolla is my name for this outrageously scrumptious concoction. It's one of the best things you can have for breakfast as it's got everything you need to kickstart your day. Basically it's a bastardized, personally composed muesli. The great thing about it is that you can adjust it to your own preference. It's very handy to have a large plastic airtight container to store your composed pukkolla in, so try and get hold of one."

Note: I made a few changes, noted in red below, mainly changing up the fruit to dried papaya and dried pineapple, adding ground flax and cinnamon, swapping the dairy milk for unsweetened almond milk, and omitting the optional yogurt dollop and using frozen blueberries.

Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off, Jamie Oliver
(Makes a Bunch or as Jamie says, "Serves Many Mornings")

Composing and Preserving:
8 large handfuls of organic rolled oats
2 large handfuls of ground bran
1 handful of chopped dried apricots (I used dried, unsulphured papaya)
1 handful of chopped dried dates (I used dried, unsulphured pineapple)
1 handful of crumbled walnuts
1 handful of smashed or chopped almonds, hazelnuts or Brazil nuts (I used sliced almonds)
(I added 3 Tablespoons ground flax seed)
(I added 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp ground cardamom)

Add your oats and bran to your plastic container with the apricots and dates. Add the walnuts and your other chosen nuts. I usually bash them At this point feel free to improvise, adding any other preferred dried fruits like rains, sultanas or figs--but personally I think my combination works pretty well. This will keep for a good couple of months very happily in your airtight container, but you'll have eaten it by then, I guarantee.

Making and Knocking Together:
milk to cover (I used almond milk)
1/2 crunchy apple per person, washed and unpeeled

I would definitely try to make this the night or day before you want to eat it, although it can be made at any time (but you won't get the smooth silky scrumptious texture that the milk gives it overnight). I normally place double the amount of composed pukkolla cereal I need (i.e. four portions for two people) into a bowl. Doubling up like this gives you enough to eat for the next couple of days. Cover with milk, grate in around 1/2 an apple per person and stir immediately to keep the apple from discolouring. Place in the fridge.

Tucking In and Eating:
1/2 banana per person, peeled and sliced or mashed
honey to taste
(I added frozen blueberries)

Remove the bowl from the fridge. You will find that it has softened and thickened, so loosen with a little milk. Add your banana, sliced or mashed. You will find that a lot of natural sweetness has come out of the dried fruit, so add honey to taste. Serve in a bowl with a dollop of yogurt and some mixed fresh berries.

Notes/Results: Cool, sweet, creamy and slightly chewy, these oats make a tasty and quite filling breakfast. When I make muesli or overnight oats as they are sometimes called, I never think to add grated apple, but it adds a nice crisp brightness to the oats. It makes a good quick breakfast as the oats soften all night then you just add a little more milk/almond milk in the morning and top with fruit and the small drizzle of honey or maple syrup. With the banana and blueberries on top and almost in every bite, this is an oatmeal I can enjoy. I will make this again.

Sadly, this is our final week of cooking with Jamie Oliver at IHCC. Next week we start cooking with Tessa Kiros and her beautiful cookbooks. Much as I am excited to cook with a new chef, I will miss my weekly Jamie time--we cooked well together. I thought I would follow the lead of some of my IHCC friends and share some of my very favorite Jamie dishes from the past six months. (Feel free to hum Memory from Cats or Barbara Streisand's The Way We Were as you look at them!) ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Molly Wizenberg's Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar for Cook The Books: A Homemade Life

There is a cupcake place on the main road going home that I have to pass several times a week. Most of the time I can happily ignore it. Sometimes, I whimper quietly to myself as I drive by, longing for a sweet treat. During the really tough times I give up and go in and order a couple of my favorite flavor. (You can't really order just one since it makes the bag unbalanced. I promise. I have tried.) Driving by gives me the urge to go home and bake something sweet and comforting, like these Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon by Molly Wizenberg. Sure, they don't have a pile of fluffy frosting on top like a cupcake does, but the banana-chocolate-cinnamon combination is delicious and they are like a little hug in a muffin liner. Molly's recipe is for a loaf of banana bread, but cupcakes are great portion control for me and although they do have plenty of sugar and chocolate, the recipe contains no butter or oil. So with that and the half wheat flour I swap in, I can feel better about my choice but still feel like I indulged.

Many moons ago, in my P.B. Days (that's Pre-Blogging), I typed banana bread in Google search one day looking for a good recipe and I stumbled across Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette where I found this recipe, made a loaf and promptly formed a bit of a blogger-crush on Molly. The bread was a big part of it, but her conversational writing style and simple but gorgeous pictures drew me in and sealed the deal. When her book; A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen came out a couple of years ago, I promptly bought a copy and then for some reason, I let it languish on my "to read" pile. A shame because it is a delightful book. It took a few rounds of hosting Cook the Books, the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club that I co-host along with Rachel and Johanna for me to put it in the mix as my pick for our August / September book selection.

A Homemade Life is a mix of Molly's memories and experiences, includes a plethora of delicious-sounding recipes, and is written in that same warm, lets-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-chat conversational style as her blog. Although food had always played a part in her life, Molly didn't initially head for it as a career path. It wasn't until her father passed away from cancer that she packed up and retreated to Paris ostensibly to research her dissertation, that she found herself drawn to the kitchen. Her writing evolved into her blog which quickly gained a large following, including one "fan" whom she later fell in love with and married. In the book, Molly shares in loving detail memories of food shared with family, especially her father, and then describes her time in Paris and her courtship with Brandon. The recipes are mostly simple comfort food and are woven into the narrative with care and skill. A Homemade Life is an enjoyable read, perfect for curling up in a chair and tucking into along with a cup of tea and maybe a banana muffin or two.

Molly has a few different banana bread recipes--including one with ginger and chocolate in her book. Since this recipe was my first introduction to her, it seemed fitting that I make it as my Cook the Books entry dish, inspired by the book. You can find the recipe on Orangette here. I mostly stuck to the recipe as written, just using half-whole wheat pastry flour, making my chips mini--because I like how well they sprinkle into every bite, and of course turning the loaf into muffins.

Banana Bread (Muffins) with Chocolate and Cinnamon Sugar
From Orangette, Molly Wizenberg
(Makes 1 large loaf or 12 muffins)

Molly says, "This lovely stuff comes together in less than an hour, including baking time. And unlike more conventional quick breads, which are best when allowed to cool fully before slicing, this one doesn’t suffer when it’s eaten warm. That makes it, in my book, a perfect last-minute dessert or afternoon treat. It’s a good one to have in the old repertoire.

Oh, and while we’re here, let’s talk about frozen bananas. I always keep a stash of them in the freezer, and I highly recommend it. I chuck them in there, peel and all, and when I want to use a few, I just pull them out, sit them in a bowl, and let them defrost at room temperature for a few hours. It doesn’t take long. You can then use them in place of fresh ripe bananas in any baked good, and they’re easier to mash, to boot. The only bad thing is that they look pretty nasty. Think wet, slippery, and slug-like, and don’t say I didn’t warn you

3 very ripe bananas (the size doesn’t much matter; medium to large works)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

For topping:
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter or spray an 8-inch square pan. (Or a muffin tin with liners)

In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs, and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla, and stir to mix. Add ¾ cup of the chocolate chips, and stir briefly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the batter in the pan, and top with the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. (I baked mine in a 350 degree oven for about 21 minutes.)

Note: This bread, like many banana sweets, freezes beautifully. Sometimes I even like to eat frozen, cut into thick, cold, chewy slices. It’s the perfect snack for a hot summer afternoon.

OK, nothing to do with the book or the muffins, but isn't my little turquoise/white cup and tea pot set pretty darn adorable? It gets even better when you find out I stumbled across it in a church thrift store and paid $1.50 for both pieces. ;-)

Sweet enough to feel like a treat but with enough good qualities that baking them makes me feel healthier and slightly superior to my cupcake-buying persona. The cinnamon adds warm notes, the bananas make the muffins moist and tender, and the cinnamon-sugar topping gives a nice little crunch when you bite into them. These muffins are perfect with a cup of tea, and as Molly mentioned, they freeze really well too--if you can make them last that long. Banana muffins make things right in the world, so I will definitely make these again.

As mentioned, these muffins are my entry for Cook the Books. If you love to read and cook, join us. The deadline for this selection is this Monday, September 26 and Molly Wizenberg is taking the time out of her busy schedule writing a new book (yay!) to pick her favorite interpretation. Our Oct/Nov selection will be Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, hosted by Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food.

Happy Reading and Cooking,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Summer Squash Pickles Recipe & a Review of The Homesick Texan Cookbook for Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off

How could you not fall in love (or at least very serious like) with The Homesick Texan Cookbook? It's big, appealingly glossy and colorful, and packed with recipe after delicious recipe (about 125 of them in total) and mouthwatering color photos. The fact that it is written by a food blogger, Lisa Fain, who started her Homesick Texan blog in 2006, gives it a special place in my heart as it is always great to see fellow bloggers do well. I was worried at first that it would be too "meat-centric" for my current plant-strong lifestyle (it is Texas after all!), but I was pleased to find many recipes that either were written meat-free or could easily be adapted that way. The writing is descriptive and pulled me into the book, giving me an enjoyable education on Texas food and a new appreciation for it--I can see why Lisa Fain was so homesick for the amazing food she was missing when she moved from Texas to New York.

The real test of a cookbook however is the recipes. How clearly are they written, how easy would they be for the average home cook to follow, and most importantly, how do they taste? The Homesick Texan wins that ultimate test--it isn't just a pretty book, it has serious good-cooking "chops." I tried 4 recipes from the book for the Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off event, and all of them came together easily and were tasty enough that I would happily make them again.

The (Not) Pork Tacos, Gas Station Style, served with Austin-Style Black Beans,

and Green Chile Chowder were all excellent (although the Poblano Macaroni and Cheese ranks as my very favorite). ;-)

Based on how great these recipes were and how wonderful the recipes my fellow Cookbook Spotlight bloggers made looked and sounded, I know this is a book that I will continue to pull off the shelf and cook from. In fact, since I had a yellow squash and a couple of little zucchinis from the farmers market sitting in my fridge (and I have a penchant for pickles), I decided to sneak one more recipe in this week and made the Summer Squash Pickles to munch on.

Lisa Fain says, "Many of us reach that point in midsummer when we have so much summer squash, we have no idea how we'll ever be able to eat it all. Why not do what my family's been doing for years--make squash pickles. If you have never had pickles made from squash, I think you'll be surprised at how they taste. Said one friend who ordinarily doesn't enjoy squash: "They taste like pickled cucumbers. What a surprise!" They make a fine starter on a pickle plate, add bright crunch to hamburgers, and give flair to green salad. But even if you can't bear the thought of eating any more summer squash, the best thing about preserving them is that you can save them until the winter when you just might be ready to eat them again."

Summer Squash Pickles
"The Homesick Texan Cookbook" by Lisa Fain
(1 Quart)

1 lb yellow squash and 1 lb zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 tsp dill seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
2 tsp black pepper corns
2 cups white vinegar
2 Tbsp kosher salt

Special Equipment:
2 pint-size jars or 1 quart-size jar with lids and bands.

Sterilize the jars and lids in either a large pot of boiling water or dishwasher. Remove jars and lids with tongs and place on a clean surface.

Divide the sliced squash, zucchini, and garlic cloves and pack into the jars. Add to the jars the dill seeds, cumin seeds, celery seeds, and peppercorns, placing 1 teaspoon in each pint jar.

Bring to a boil the vinegar, salt, and 1/2 cup of water. Pour the boiling vinegar mixture into the jars, leaving a bit of head-space. Cover with lids and fasten with rings. Allow to cool and then refrigerate. They will be ready after 4 hours and will last for 1 month in the refrigerator.

Notes/Results: Pickly-goodness! This recipe was very quick and easy to make and the resulting slices of zucchini and yellow squash were full of flavor. They were good after the four hours, and even better a day or two later. I have not yet tried them on a veggie burger but I think they will be marvelous on it. A definite make again recipe, I also think it would be fun to do a spicier version with some chili in the mix. I will make these again.

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of The Homesick Texan Cookbook to review and participate in a Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off (thanks girlichef and Hyperion!), but this is a book worth buying if you love Texas-style food, or want to learn more about it, or if you
just like truly delicious food that will make your tastebuds happy. It is a great addition to any cookbook shelf.

*This post is part of The Homesick Texan Cookbook Spotlight and Cook-Off sponsored by Hyperion and hosted at girlichef*

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kimchi Stew and a Book Review of "Four Kitchens" for Souper (Soup, Salad and Sammie) Sundays

Some soups that I make turn out to look as good as they taste and are highly photogenic. Others taste great but don't photograph so well. This Kimchi Stew falls into that second category--appearance-wise it is a bit of a hot mess and it smells a bit pungent. But... it is full of unique spicy flavor in the good kind of clear-out-your-sinuses way.

This soup tribute to the Korean staple kimchi comes from "Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris" by Lauren Shockey. Recently graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York (where she mostly learned to salt food properly, cook over high heat, and knock back beers like a pro), Shockey decided to build her culinary skills by apprenticing in four very different restaurant kitchens in four different locations. Doing a stage (a French term pronounced "stazj" in English), makes one a stagiare (pronounced "STAH-zjee-air") basically a usually un-paid intern learning the chef's trade by assisting in a restaurant kitchen and gaining practical skills. Shockey set out to complete four stages--learning molecular gastronomy at Wylie Dufresne's wd-50 in New York City, discovering the complexities of Vietnamese cooking from a French chef at La Verticale in Hanoi, cooking non-kosher Israeli food at Carmella Bistro in Tel Aviv and grasping the technicalities of French food at Senderens in Paris.

The behind-the-scenes view of the four different kitchens, combined with the glimpses Shockey gives into living in the different cultures and being female in a "boys club" world, make the author's experiences come alive and makes Four Kitchens an absorbing read. Shockey shares the many tips, techniques and recipes she picks up from each kitchen throughout the book, making it a great read for a foodie or home cook who dreams of cooking in a restaurant kitchen. At the end of the day, Shockey's journeys through professional kitchens made her appreciate how much she enjoys the pleasures of home cooking and the satisfaction of cooking something for the enjoyment of friends and family and enjoying it with them, and perhaps that is the greatest knowledge of all.

Shockey says, "Kimchi stew was a popular dish on the days when Wylie wasn't in the kitchen, because it is spicy and often studded with tomatoes. Kimchi, a pungent combo of cabbage and chilies, can be found at most Asian grocery stores. if the kimchi is made of very large leaves, you'll want to cut them into smaller pieces. This recipe is pretty basic; to jazz it up, feel free to add cubes of tofu after you uncover the pot or add bite-sized pieces of raw chicken breast when you add the garlic, ginger and onion and then continue with the recipe as directed."

Kimchi Stew
from "Four Kitchens" by Lauren Shockey
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 medium onion, halved, and then cut into thin slices
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp cornstarch
3 Roma tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 lb kimchi (about 2 cups worth)
1 cup water
kosher salt as desired (about 1/2 to 1/4 tsp)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and onion, and sauté until the onion has softened somewhat, about 3 minutes. Combine the tomato paste and cornstarch until smooth. Add to the pot, along with the tomatoes and scallions, and sauté until combined. Add the kimchi and water, and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, then cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes, then season with the salt. The stew should be thick but with some liquid remaining. Serve in bowls or accompanied by white rice.

Notes/Results: Homey and full of spicy kimchi flavor, this soup really hit the spot. If you don't like spice (like Wylie Dufresne), pungent food and adventurous flavors, it won't be the soup for you, but if you are the opposite it is fun to try. You can control the spiciness somewhat by the type of kimchi you buy--medium spiced or extra hot. I liked the addition of the tofu that Shockey suggest as it gives the soup more heft. The fact that it goes together so quickly and easily with a jar of kimchi is a bonus too. I was able to make this mostly local with locally produced kimchi and tofu, plus local tomatoes, scallions and ginger. I will definitely make this soup again--especially when I have a cold or allergies as it does clear the system. ;-)

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher through PTA Reader Rewards but as always, my thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

We have some great dishes and fun new faces in the Souper Sunday kitchen--let's check it out.

Tigerfish from Teczcape-An Escape to Food has a nutritious Winter Melon Barley Soup to share this week and says, "Straight after I tried a winter melon soup in a Chinese (Cantonese) restaurant at the South Bay recently, I had the immediate urge to cook something similar at home. It was a clear soup, light yet super flavorful, filled with natural sweetness and delicious savoriness, quite different from the usual winter melon soup I cook at home. I did not have the exact recipe and while I sipped it, had to look hard at each scoopful of soup (till the bottom of the soup pot) for ingredients that have gone into the soup.

Joanne of Eats Well With Others has turned a classic upside down with her pairing of Warm and Spicy Cashew Tomato Soup and a Honey Curry Bread Sandwich. She says, "This is not your average elementary school Wonder bread/American cheese sandwich with a can of Campbell's, however. No sire. This is grilled cheese and tomato soup for those of us who have extra time now that we have calculators to do all the dirty work for us and don't have to worry about carrying numbers or where the decimal point goes. The bread is sweet with a hint of spice from the curry powder - the perfect compliment to a super sharp cheddar. And the soup? A revelation. Also filled with curry-esque spices it is so richly flavorful that you'll really have to stop yourself from drinking it out of the pot. But really, it's so good for you - why bother?"

I love having fellow Hawaii blogger Claudia of Honey From Rock in the Souper Sunday kitchen and she is here with a fall-ready Butternut Soup with Pears, Cider and Vanilla. Claudia says, "This slightly unusual soup was thanks to Molly Wizenberg's delightful book, A Homemade Life, which we are currently reading for Cook the Books Club. I have been trying various of her recipes, this soup being the latest. What a fantastic concoction of flavors - golden butternut with pears, cream and vanilla, a hint of apple cider and my duck stock backing everything nicely."

Speaking of Hawaii bloggers, I am proud to introduce a new Oahu blogger and friend, Debbie from Hawaii Locavore. We have chatted via email and then met for coffee a while back and Debbie told me about her new blog featuring local foods, sources and recipes too. She has a wonderful Local Sprouted Chili (a happy sprouting accident), to share and says, "The result was some really great chili that cooks so much faster than with normal soaked beans. This is definitely a keeper. The only change I will make in the future is to deviate from the all-local theme and use tomato paste. It just needed the flavor and thickness from actual tomato paste instead of tomatoes." Welcome Debbie!

Another new face to welcome from a bit further away is Shaheen, blogging all the way from West Scotland at Allotment 2 Kitchen, and here with a Smoky Yellow Split Pea Soup. Shaheen says, "Although this soup has similar ingredients to the Yellow Split Pea and Sage soup, let me assure you the flavours in this creamy golden soup flecked with many colours is very different. It has smoky undertones from the chipotle chilli and a sweet-caramel soft garlic hit from the oven roasted garlic bulb. The sage is subtle in the soup, that's why I decided to fry some for the top as crispy crouton bits. I have to say, its perhaps one of the best flavoured soups I've made in a long time." Welcome Shaheen!

Out third newbie this week is Natalie of Once Upon a Cutting Board, a graduate student blogging from Canada. Natalie made a healthied-up Reduced Fat Broccoli Cheese Soup adapted from Cooking Light and says, "This soup was so cheesy, thick and comforting, and was also really easy to make. I was so amazed that a soup that is typically cream-based could still taste just as good when made with skim milk – I couldn’t even tell that it was low fat! I will definitely be making this often during the upcoming months – it’s the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold day!" Welcome to Souper Sundays Natalie!

Janet of The Taste Space has a soup and a salad to share this week. Her soup entry is this creamy Thai Coconut Corn Stew, about which she says, "In addition to the coconut milk as the backdrop for the chowder, red bell pepper is added for sweetness. The soup is flavoured with lemongrass, lime, ginger, cilantro and a hint of spice from chili flakes, creating a very complex soup without too much fuss. It is nice and creamy from the coconut milk and pureed corn, but also surprisingly light at the same time. Seriously yummy, this recipe is a keeper!

Janet also tried this healthy Lime-Cilantro Quinoa Corn Salad and says, "While I don’t usually add corn to salads, the sweet corn was the perfect accent to this salad. It melds well with the the quinoa, that is speckled with a red pepper that I had grilled on the barbecue with some oil and garlic. Green onions add a nice sharpness and the chili flakes give this a bit of a zip. Cilantro is the herb of choice that pairs well with the fresh lime juice. I love the acid, but if you don’t, feel free to tame it by adding some oil. I also found that I really liked adding whole golden flax seeds to the salad. They were camouflaged amongst the quinoa, so you can’t really taste them, but they add extra nutrition – healthy omega fats and fiber."

Graziana from Erbe in Cucina has a colorful Rice Salad with Fried Vegetables this week and says, "I must admit that I do not dislike summer quick rice salads made with pickles and other quick ingredients, but my partner hates them. To find a compromise I create recipes that will appeal to both, like this vegetarian salad with cooked and raw vegetables... and fried ones, maybe not among the healthiest ingredients, but definitely tasty."

girlichef made her version of Salad Nicoise from her library tome of The Silver Palate Cookbook. She says, "So, I did what I normally do and started paging through, leaving little strips of paper poking out here and there. Okay, so...another cookbook to for ever-growing, never-ending "want" list. It is packed with cooking tips, kitchen info, menus, quotes, and lots and lots of good-looking food." You can also make this salad into a sandwich, "To make a Pan Bagnat (the official beach sandwich of Nice), prepare salad in advance and layer it into a hollowed-out baguette. The longer the salad rests on the bread, the more the two become one."

Wow! Such wonderful entries this week. Sorry for the slight posting delay, but these creations are worth waiting for. ;-) Thanks to all my friends old and new who joined in. If you have a soup, salad, or sandwich that you would like to share, just click on the Souper Sunday logo on the side bar for all of the details.