Dec 022012
 

Banana chocolate-chip bread

As I have said here before, there is something eminently comforting about a loaf of quick-bread. When one finds oneself in the throes of a Banana Corollary situation and is simultaneously in need of some comfort food, banana bread is an obvious choice. I previously only jonesed for a good loaf of quick-bread when battling a cold or some other malady, but in the final weeks of my pregnancy I could. not. get. enough of the stuff, which perhaps explains why Leah was a little yellow when she made her grand appearance.

There are two things that banana bread should be and a third thing that is awfully nice, but by no means required. They are, respectively: excessively banana-y, super-moist, and chocolatey. You’d be surprised how many recipes fall short in the required categories. So, at thirty-eight weeks along and sporting more than a few water-polo-balls’ worth of bulk in the front of my abdomen, you can imagine that I didn’t want to waste time on sub-par banana bread recipes. Another recipe I’ve tried (from Cook’s Illustrated) delivered on the banana front but was excessively fussy (don’t tell a woman who’s full to the brim with child that she has to microwave bananas and then reduce the juice on the stove-top: I can assure you that the last thing she wants to do is be on her feet longer than she has to. She just wants to eat banana bread) and it was frankly not as good as this recipe that I’m going to share with you.

So the next time you find yourself in need of a quick-bread fix, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try. I think you’ll find — like we do — that it never lasts long!

Note: February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day in the US! Mark your calendars and use up those brown bananas!

Also note: dairy-free variation at the end of the recipe!

Banana chocolate-chip bread

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Nov 012009
 

Right now I’ve got bagels for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge retarding in the fridge, but I decided that I’m kinda overdosing on all that white flour and it’s high time that I posted a whole-grain bread. This particular bread is one of my favorites for its challenges, its fun, and its textures and I can’t believe that it’s taken me more than two years to get around to sharing it.

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

First, its challenges: this bread contains a lot of chewy, delicious bulgar wheat berries. However, all those grains can really get in the way with the formation of long gluten strands. As a result, I don’t usually achieve the humongous rise that my basic whole wheat and oatmeal loaves have spoiled me with, but really, it’s ok – the flavor more than makes up fr it! Also, this dough is very soft and slippery (more on that later), which means that if you start daydreaming while you’re supposed to be focusing on push, fold, rotate, push, fold, rotate, then it could end up shooting across the room. Now, the last challenge: occasionally the dough will tear, freeing an avalanche of bulgar across the kneading board. Not to worry, you’ll learn soon enough how to poke the grains back into the dough, conceal the tear with a couple of folds, and keep kneading like a pro. Crisis managed!

Wonderfully textured and flavored bulgar wheat bread
Nikon D50

Secondly, this dough is a lot of fun. This was my first truly enriched bread and it uses a novel way to incorporate the butter into the dough: you smear it across the board and let the dough soak it up as you knead! It’s pretty ingenious, and if it wasn’t for the bulgar dotting the surface of the dough it would be the poster child for satiny and supple. It also makes the dough very soft, so if you’re looking for the culprit causing the above challenges, look no further.

Thirdly, the texture of this bread is just out of this world. In addition to the butter doing marvelous things to the taste and texture, the buttermilk acts as a dough conditioner, making it even lighter, more complex, and more delicate tasting. Throughout baking, the bulgar keeps its toothy texture and it even makes me want to nibble at the bread little by little, picking out the grains so I can eat them separately. If you can tear yourself away from eating it plain, it’s pretty devastating on a sandwich piled high with some home-roasted chicken and some fresh produce.

So if you’re in the mood for a whole-grain bread that is still wholesome and delicious but puts a new spin on the old formula, try this recipe on for size. It’s well worth the effort!

Warning: do not toast and butter - you will consume the whole loaf that way!
Nikon D50

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Oct 232009
 

I hardly ever make apologies for my cooking for any reason whatsoever. I take great pride in what comes out of my kitchen and get great joy from sharing that food with others.
With these delectable little cookies, however, apologies might be in order. Don’t get me wrong – they’re excellent, it’s just that they’re so rich that unless your ovaries have taken you hostage and are demanding nothing less than a chocolate IV now, indulging in more than, say, two, might be out of the realm of possibility. Even if you find yourself in the midst of a hostage crisis, a chaser of milk (preferably straight from the carton!) is still necessary.

Chocolate chopped up for cookie delights!
Nikon D50

Richness aside, these suckers are delicious. So sinfully delicious, it’s said, that if everyone in the world had these, conflict and war would no longer be issues. I’m inclined to agree – these cookies can cure what ails you. Well, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually at any rate, if not physically (unless butter and chocolate are agents of healing now).

Ready to go in the oven
Nikon D50

As for the world peace bit, I’m doing my part. I’ve sent these cookies throughout the world, including war zones, as gifts that are meant to bring comfort and happiness to those who needed it, whether it was because they were missing their families or because they had just had their hearts broken. They’ve also done good domestically, be it by bringing a bit of cheer to shift workers on a dreary Monday or by raising money for charities in need.

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

I should confess that I’m not totally altruistic with these cookies. Not every batch is for a good cause (see previous statement about ovaries taking a certain person hostage) – because, really, sometimes you just gotta keep some of the riches that flow from your kitchen to yourself. Even if you’re impeding world peace by doing so, I don’t think anyone will blame you!

Ready to eat!
Nikon D50

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Sep 272009
 

I have been meaning to post this for a loooooonnnggg time. In fact, if the word “long” was as long as the length of time I’ve waited to post this recipe, it would be approximately sixty-three syllables long. But I digress.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

I’ve long had a soft spot for minestrone. It’s such great comfort food, and super-healthy to boot. I suppose that soup is normally a fall or winter endeavor, but here I’m going to give a Tucson summer (the fact that it’s late September is irrelevant – it’s in the upper nineties today) the finger and make this soup anyway. That’ll show the bloody weather!

There I go with my digressions again.

I’ve been through a lot of phases with this soup. I first got hooked on it at an Italian restaurant when I was a teenager, so when I started cooking a lot of vegetable soups after I moved to Alaska I decided to try this one out. To be honest, I hated my first attempt. I hadn’t yet started making my own chicken stock, and this was when I learned the hard way that using commercial chicken broth as the base for a soup is Officially a Bad Idea because it is Utterly Repugnant. However, at the time, I didn’t know that was the cause, so I just thought the recipe was a dud.

Many months later, something strange came over me and I decided to try it again – on unsuspecting dinner guests, no less. This time I was using homemade stock, and when I put the stuff in my mouth I had a foodgasm. It was that good. But because I am crazy, I am hardly ever 100 percent satisfied with a recipe, no matter how good it is. I decided that what this soup needed was an improvement in the bean department. Since then, I’ve tried all manner of beans: pinto, cannellini, kidney, great Northern whites, and heavenly borlottis. But all of these were canned and none of them were quite right.

Enter Rancho Gordo beans! These heavenly heirloom beans are as fresh as dried beans can get, especially when compared with lowly supermarket beans that are more than likely about five years old, which explains why those inferior beans cook slowly, unevenly, and blandly. This company carries many little-known and rare varieties of beans, including – look out for the squeeing – borlottis! I tried them for the first time when I was throwing together this soup, and finally, I have found my 100 percent satisfaction. These creamy, velvety, supremely flavorful beans add an entirely new level of flavor that ties minestrone together perfectly. It is definitely worth the time to find and cook the beans. And considering that I only just discovered the key to bean bliss, it was also worth the wait in posting this recipe!

Minestrone soup

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Feb 242008
 

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

I’ve been waiting to post this recipe for quite some time.

You see, you might call this dish Highly Significant.

It’s so significant that I often find myself asking if Cory and I would have gotten married if it were not for this recipe.

It’s one of the first things we ever cooked together, and from the point that we starting smooshing up those tomatoes with our hands, it was painfully apparent that we were meant to be.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

We still cook up a batch of chicken cacciatore every time we’re together. I thought it was criminal that he didn’t have a copy of the recipe or The Joy of Cooking, so when he moved into his current apartment I bought him a copy the newly released 75th anniversary edition as a housewarming gift. Before I bought it for him I made sure that the recipe hadn’t gotten the axe and was included in that version, but when we brought it home and we inspected it more closely we found that it calls for diced canned tomatoes, not whole tomatoes that you crush with your hands. On that alone, I’ve basically panned the whole edition. It’s not worth buying! Find the 1997 edition! That older recipe helped Cory and I find love, and I who am I to deny anyone else that opportunity by recommending an inferior tome?

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

I’m going to admit upfront: my version of the classic Italian chicken is so not traditional. Every recipe I’ve ever seen and everyone else who’s ever served it to me – including places in Italy – call for chicken parts, not chicken breasts, but when I was first learning to cook I had no clue what the heck a chicken part was. Even if I had been savvy enough, I simply didn’t have the equipment to cut up a chicken and then cook it. So maybe it’s for the best that I’ve bastardized it. I still think it’s delicious, and it has the health benefits of being all-white meat.

Not everything about this recipe is 100% positive though. There is something about chicken cacciatore that makes living alone an especially bitter pill to swallow. This dish is so obviously meant to be cooked with people and then shared with people. That alone explains two of my behaviors: I always call Cory when I’m starting to crush up those tomatoes with my hands and tell him that I wish he was there with me, and whenever I’m cooking for a group people for the first time, this is the recipe I pull out. It’s just too good to not share with others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s the whole process – from the first time you throw the onions and herbs in the pan and the fragrance makes everyone exclaim with delight to the times when the pan is in a long simmer and you can just sit around and enjoy the company of your companions to the first bite of that warm, earthy, wine-herbs-and-tomato chickeny goodness. Nothing says “I care” like chicken cacciatore.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

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Nov 012007
 

Imagine 100% whole grain bread bought from the grocery store: bland, bitter, gross.
Now, I’d like you to completely forget that.

Instead, I’d like you to imagine a bread that’s fluffy, tender, mellow, rich, and complex.
That bread is also 100% whole grain. The difference? It’s been made by hand with a secret ingredient — cooked oatmeal. This bread is outstanding for all purposes but makes a singularly spectacular sandwich — especially when paired with homemade roasted chicken, red leaf lettuce, and tomatoes.

As I write this, there are a couple of loaves rising in the kitchen. I practically start to salivate when I think about the utter sensory bliss that this bread will bring about. I often wonder why I bother making any other recipes at all — this one is that good. It’s even better when you use fancy leftover oatmeal that’s been cooked with cinnamon and buttermilk – the cinnamon complements the bread in a savory way somehow and manages to not remind you at all of sweet cinnamon raisin bread, and the buttermilk conditions the dough to give it a special tenderness. It’s just utterly fabulous and unique – you won’t find anything like it in a bakery!

I first got trapped in this recipe’s tractor beam one day while flipping through my favorite baking book, Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. Here’s what the author has to say about this particular bread:

“When … made with rolled oats, the bread is light and bright; it has a rich creamy flavor — very subtle, but with great warmth… You get bread good for toast, good for any kind of sandwich. We consider this one of the best basic breads for everyday eating.”

Hear, hear! They speak the truth — this bread performs as advertised! Let me know if you need convincing… you may just end up with a loaf or two on your hands.

Take a bite out of this wonderful loaf
Nikon D50

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