This Bread Has Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S

This post is dedicated to Gwen Stefani, whose “Hollaback Girl” did for bananas what “MacArthur Park” did for cake.

According to Gwen, “this shit is bananas,” and I couldn’t agree more. This is a fancy banana bread from a recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook available here at Epicurious.

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The bread contains three very ripe bananas, toasted coconut, lemon zest and sour cream. It’s also supposed to contain macadamia nuts but I forgot to buy them. Are all these flourishes worth the effort or does this banana bread lack the simplicity of a more basic banana bread? And more importantly: am I your Hollaback Girl?

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A Muffin with a Cupcake Complex: Pumpkin Muffins with Molasses-Ginger Glaze

I scan recipes in magazines the same way I scan menus at restaurants: I’m looking for something bizarre, something new, something I’ve never before experienced. Sometimes the results are icky (see squash-sausage soup below), and sometimes they’re delightful. Case in point: pumpkin molasses ginger muffins.

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What might pumpkin, crystallized ginger and molasses taste like in a muffin? That’s the question that sends me out to the grocery store late at night, on a quest for ingredients; it’s what causes me to spend the time it takes to prep the muffin tins, to prepare the ingredients, to mix it all together and to clean it when it’s over. I am a man on a mission: a mission for unexpected flavors combos; the genesis of something new on the tongue. I am also on a mission to make you click to read more. You know you love it!

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Fall into Fall with an inFALLible Recipe: Pumpkin Apple Bread

The very first thing I can remember making on a regular basis–when I was right on the precipice of becoming an amateur gourmet—was pumpkin bread. It’s a great recipe to start with if you’re scared of the kitchen, if you don’t have fancy equipment, if you want all the pleasures of baking without the hassle. It requires two bowls and a whisk. And loaf pans. That’s all. And your apartment will smell like heaven.

I was looking for that recipe the other day, but then I opened my Gourmet cookbook and found this recipe for Pumpkin Apple Bread. If fall were bundled up and baked in a loaf, it would look (taste, and smell) like this:

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I just tried to find the recipe on Epicurious because it’s in the Gourmet cookbook, but it’s not there. So I will do as I’ve been doing, lately, and type it out for your cooking pleasure. I am too good to you people.

I love all the spices in here though some people don’t. Like my mom, for example. She once tasted my chai tea and said: “Blech! There’s cloves in there! I hate cloves!”

So if you are anti-Autumnal, like my mom, you may want to stay away—but you fall lovers, step up. This is the bread for you.

For topping:

1 Tbs all-purpose flour

5 Tbs sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

For bread:

3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

2 tsps baking soda

1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1 (15-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin

3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 1/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 Granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups)

MAKE THE TOPPING: Blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a small bowl with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

MAKE THE BREAD: Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 9 X 5 inch loaf pans.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice into a medium bowl.

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Whisk together pumpkin…

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[Note on my pumpkin! This was the only pumpkin I could find in either Whole Foods or Gristede’s. I’m not convinced it’s solid packed. But the end result was still ok. END NOTE.]

…oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, stirring until well combined. Fold in apples

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Divide batter between buttered loaf pans. Sprinkle half of topping evenly over each loaf.

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Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.

Cool loves in pans on a rack for 45 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, about 1 hour.

I stupidly made this very late at night (as I am wont to do) and couldn’t resist a piece at 2 am, when it cooled. This was a bad idea. There is so much sugar in here, I was up for hours.

But my my my, did my apartment smell great. And did this taste great. As a testament to how great it tastes, I dropped half the bread on the floor just now and I’m still going to eat it. Ya, you can judge me, but whatever. I like this bread. Deal with it.

Healthy Healthy Healthy (Did I Mention Healthy?) Sweet Potato Bread

I’m still on my health kick. Day 3. I spent 45 minutes on the eliptical this morning, burning 460 calories. “The View” was on with no sound and subtitles and my favorite part is when Merideth Veira and some new blonde host interviewed Baby Spice who has a new album coming out. The best bit of dialogue was this:

Merideth: I hear your new album is really personal.

Baby: It is really personal, Merideth. A lot of songs are taken directly from my journal.

Blonde: Wow.

Baby: Yes, it’s like I took the words straight from my journal and literally set them to music.

Then she sang a song that, as I watched the words scroll by, makes it seem like Baby’s journal was written by a 4th grader. “I love you / ya ya ya / You are like candy / ya ya ya / I want to love you.” (Something like that. Ok, I’m making those lyrics up. I just went to her actual website (her name is Emma Bunton) and the real lyrics are: (assuming this is the song she sang): “Now free me/ let me loose to love you / yeah, I long to seduce you / oh free me.”) Anyway, it really made me laugh. Thought I’d share.

This post is about sweet potato bread. I can’t give you the recipe because it comes from Chef Kathleen’s cookbook and I’ve already sort-of given you a recipe from her cookbook. I don’t want her to sue me.

This recipe was time consuming. I baked sweet potatoes in the early afternoon and then let them cool and came back to puree them. Of course, Kathleen gives you the option of using canned pumpkin but I had to make things difficult. Here’s the sweet potatoes in the food processor:

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Actually, these were yams. Kathleen doesn’t say to use yams, she says to use sweet potatoes. So I suppose you’ll remind me now that there’s a world of difference between a yam and a sweet potato and that anyone who doesn’t know that should set their extra personal journal entries to music and sing them on The View. As it happens, if using yams instead of sweet potatoes means they don’t really puree very well and stay a little bit hard then I learnt my lesson. I don’t think it affected the end result, though.

Basically, the wet mixture is: 1 egg, 2 egg whites, light brown sugar, the sweet potato, 1/4 cup vegetable oil and vanilla.

The dry mixture is: flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

After whisking together the wet mixture, you add the dry mixture and stir 5 times. Then you add cranberries and dried cranberries. I bought these cranberries from Whole Foods called “Just Cranberries” and they’re SO WEIRD because they look like normal cranberries but when you eat them they tasted hollowed out and dry like styrofoam cranberries only they’re not dried cranberries they’re “JUST CRANBERRIES.” On the tub it says to use them in baked goods, sauces, etc etc. So maybe the idea is they’re dried out but when you put them in things they reconstitute. After I ate this bread, the cranberries tasted cranberryish to me so perhaps it works. Here’s what the batter looks like in the pan: (you also add pecans):

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It bakes for 50 minutes and fills the apartment (or house, depending on where you live–where DO you live? I never see you anymore) with a wonderful aroma. I needed that aroma to kill the smell of fish from yesterday.

Then it comes out and you cool it and it looks like this:

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Then you slice it and it looks like this:

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Which begs the question: how did it taste?

Well, since I’ve been depriving myself and this was a risque 11 o’clock cheating snack it tasted heavenly. But had I made it before I became a different person with my new fad diet and my swimsuit aspirations I would have thought, “this could use some butter.” However, the cranberries and pecans do a wonderful job of masking the lack of fat in the batter. I think this is a perfect bread for those who love to bake who want to lose weight and have cans of pumpkin in their pantry. If only I could give you the recipe, you’d be losing weight in no time. Now you’ll be fat forever while I get skinny skinny and beautiful. YOU’LL NEVER BE AS PRETTY AS ME, NEVER!

Wow, I better go write that in my journal…

Pizza My Heart [by Katy]

[For three weeks, Josh & Katy blogsit]

Do you get it? The title of the post, I mean? It’s “Pizza My Heart.” Like that Janis Joplin song? That’s funny, isn’t it? I made that up.

No. I didn’t make it up. It is the name of some Northern Californian pizza chain. I find it clever in the way that I find punny coffee shop names clever. You know, like Uncommon Grounds. Or Brewed Awakenings. Or Sentient Bean. (What a fun game. Who can think of more?)

I pretended to make up the title of this post for two reasons. First, I am a shameless liar, despite studying a subject in graduate school that would imply I don’t approve of lying. Second, I am a little worried that you all will realize soon I’m not as funny as the Amateur Gourmet. This isn’t my fault. This is because I’m a girl. Girls aren’t as funny.

But girls may well be better in the kitchen. So let’s go into the kitchen, shall we? My kitchen, circa last night…

Last night was Pizza Night at our house. We conduct Pizza Night once a week, as no doubt many of you out there do. However, while living in San Francisco during the Great Dot-Com Bust, we got in the habit of making our own pizza rather than ordering out. It is cheaper, and it makes us feel superior to those who order from big pizza chains.

Perhaps you would like to feel superior, too? My pizza crust is lovely! It is also easy to make. This is what you will need: a pizza stone, several hours before you need to eat, yeast, flour, salt, olive oil, brown sugar, rosemary.

First, you should mix up a little packet of yeast with one cup of warm tap water. I sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to get it started. Here’s me doing that.

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Then in a separate bowl, you mix up 3 1/2 cups flour. I prefer a whole wheat crust. All that fiber, you know. It’s good for the bowels, as the Amateur Gourmet would say. If you prefer that, too, you should mix part whole wheat flour and part white — I usually do 2 cups whole wheat, 1 1/2 cups white.

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Don’t forget that 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt. You know, it does make a difference. Even in chocolate chip cookies. But in pizza dough, too.

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And I throw in some handfuls of brown sugar. What can I say? I like things a touch sweet. I have never found that anyone has complained about a sweet wheat pizza crust.

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I chop up a little fresh rosemary and toss it in. This rosemary came from our herb garden. No. It came from Whole Foods. But we do have an herb garden, and it does have rosemary. We haven’t harvested any yet, though.

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Pour the yeast into the flour mixture — and make sure you get all that foamy stuff. That’s where the yeasty action is.

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Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then, if you have a KitchenAid mixer — and for your own sakes, I hope you do — combine it using the bread hook. If you don’t have one, you’re going to have to get kneading.

(But seriously, why don’t you have one? Are you seeing anybody right now? The reason I ask is that getting married or having a formal commitment ceremony is a very good path to acquiring a KitchenAid mixer. Consider taking it to the next level. For the sake of your kitchen.)

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Then it’s all nicely combined into a big lump of dough. You might have to add some water to make it less dry. My philosophy: do not be afraid of adding water. Why not have a sticky dough, since you don’t have to actually knead it if you have a KitchenAid mixer?

Grease a bowl, stick the lump of pizza dough in there, lay a wet paper towel over it and let it sit for, oh, 2 hours or so. Until it’s doubled in size.

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Then you just roll that baby out on a cornmeal-covered pizza paddle…

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Top it with your favorite toppings. In this case, carmelized onions, garlic, mushrooms, basil, mozzerella.

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And slide it into the oven onto your preheated (450 degrees) pizza stone …

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Now watch out for these pizza stones, dear readers. Our friend Kari was innocently making spanikopita one day when her pizza stone dramatically and explosively shattered. She avoided injury, but the spanikopita was not so lucky. The cause of the explosion was never determined, although it was thought to possibly have something to do with a cold pizza stone being put into an already hot oven. Moral of the story, maybe: let your pizza stone gradually heat up with your oven. Or stick with foods people can pronounce.

Ta-da, the finished product! After 12-15 minutes in the oven, Katy’s Whole Wheat Rosemary pizza.

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Now who can come up with the most clever pizza pun? Go. –katy

Impulsive Late Night Biscuit Ecstasy

Say what you will about me—call me bitter, call me mean, call me sometime, won’t you?—there’s one thing you can’t say: that I’m not impulsive.

Take these biscuits for example.

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I had absolutely no reason to make them. I have bran muffins from the other night, remember? And I’m studying for the bar, remember? But I got bit by the biscuit bug and after reading a simple-enough sounding recipe in Cook’s Illustrated I vowed to whip up a batch at 11 and have them ready by 12.

Well my expectations were wildly surpassed: the biscuits were done at 11:40 and, more importantly, they were the best I’ve ever had. BETTER than the Silver Skillet’s which refused to share their recipe. Now I don’t need it.

Very quickly then I will share the recipe with you since I think you should make them too. The only strange ingredient you’ll need is buttermilk. I say strange because you’re not likely to have it in your fridge, but not strange in that you can’t run out and get it anywhere. And it adds a lot to the finished product.

Here is our ingredients list:

Dough:

2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbs double-acting baking powder

1 Tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1.5 cups cold buttermilk, preferably low fat

To form and finish biscuits:

1 cup (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, distributed in rimmed baking sheet

2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Now for the recipe. I’ll interspirce the steps with pictures from the process:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Spray 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Generously spray inside and outside of 1/4 cup dry measure with nonstick cooking spray.

2. FOR THE DOUGH: In food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine, about six 1-second pulses. Scatter butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients;

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pulse until mixture resembles pebbly, coarse cornmeal, eight to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add buttermilk to dry ingredients

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and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated (dough will be very wet and slightly lumpy).

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3. TO FORM AND BAKE BISCUITS: Using 1/4 cup dry measure and working quickly, scoop level amount of dough; drop dough from measuring cup into flour on baking sheet (if dough sticks to cup, use small spoon to pull it free). Repeat with remaining dough, forming 12 evenly sized mounds.

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Dust tops of each piece of dough with flour from baking sheet. With floured hands, gently pick up piece of dough and coat with flour; gently shape dough into rough ball, shake off excess flour, and place in prepared cake pan. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 9 rounds around perimeter of cake pan and 3 in center. Brush rounds with hot melted butter, taking care not to flatten them.

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Bake 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees; continue to bake until biscuits are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

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Cool in pan 2 minutes, then invert biscuits from pan onto clean kitchen towl;

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Turn biscuits right side up and break apart. Cool 5 minutes longer and serve.

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It’s times like these where those who insist on using prepared dough from a tube baffle me. This took me NO TIME and the results were, to quote Will Farrell as James Lipton: “Strumtrulescent.”

Seriously, these biscuits were light as a feather and tasty and buttery and perfect. As a bonus, I opened up my Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger jam and dammmmmmn girlfriend it tasted great. What a great combo. All on a whim. And what a whim it was.

Nancy Silverton’s Banana Bread: The Superlative Killer

I am currently reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (a nice light read while studying for the New York bar) and I’m actually really enjoying it. One of my favorite characters is Lawrence Boythorn, a boisterous giant of a fellow who is described by one character as: “Always in extremes; perpetually in the superlative degree.” He sits at the table with a canary on his head and according to the novel’s heroine, Esther: “To hear Mr. Boythorn presently expressing the most implacable and passionate sentiments, with this fragile mite of a creature quietly perched on his forehead, was to have a good illustration of his character, I thought.”

This, I think, perfectly describes my writing on this site. I can, at times, be very extreme in my condemnations (“Per Se,” for example) or disturbingly enthusiastic in my exhaultations (I should be ticketed, now, for every superflous “delicious”) but all the while–despite the heavy thunder–there is a canary perched on my forehead. One must take all my superlatives with a grain of tweet tweet tweet.

Tonight, then, as I began Nancy Silverton’s banana bread recipe, I rubbed my hands together anticipating the superlatives I would use.

“Delightfully unexpected!”

“Unusually sublime!”

“Most likely to succeed!”

The recipe, it seemed to me, was the strangest I had ever read for banana bread. It started, naturally, enough, with bananas:

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These had been ripening for a week, and the time had come to put them to work.

Now I peeled them and mashed them and–would you believe it?–they measured out exactly 1.25 cups, the precise amount Nancy calls for:

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Whisk that together with two eggs and vanilla:

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Set that aside.

Now for the strange stuff. I told you this recipe was strange, right?

Here are all the weird elements lined up:

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Most conspicuous of them all, in my opinion, are the poppy seeds. Who puts poppy seeds in banana bread? Nancy Silverton, that’s who.

The vanilla bean is my own addition. It’s been sitting there since Condoleezza’s rice pudding and I figured I would put it to use in a stroke of banana bread genius.

As for the other bottles: there’s nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves. Sure, normal for PUMPKIN bread, but banana bread? Do you see how exciting this all is?

So I put it in the mixer with the paddle attachment attached:

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If you look carefully you can see my vanilla bean scrapings resting on the butter in the upper right.

This beats for 2 minutes on a low speed until softened. Then you add the sugar:

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Not just white sugar, no. White sugar’s not good enough for Nancy. Nancy wants brown sugar too. How intricate is this recipe!?

[Tweet tweet tweet.]

So you mix it all together and then you add 1.5 cups of flour and the banana/egg mixture, alternating back and forth until you get this:

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I took a taste and let me tell you it tasted absolutely–(superflous superlative warning)–delicious. A really wonderful complex cluster of flavors. Bravo, Nancy.

And then for the final touch. Are you ready for this? You slice a new banana all the way down lengthwise and create two wedges that you lay on top of the bread like so:

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This was painfully difficult. I destroyed two of Lauren’s newly purchased bananas in the process. She doesn’t know I did this. Let’s not tell her, ok?

But it does look pretty. And then you bake it for 50 minutes.

Here’s where we encountered some problems. Nancy says to bake until the bread is browned and firm to the touch. I took it out of the oven. The bread was brown. It was not firm to the touch. I put it back in. I waited some more. I took it out. The outsides were really brown. The inside was still not firm. I stuck a tester in, it came out wet. I put it back in. I took it out. The outsides were on the verge of being way too cooked so I blew the whistle and turned the oven off. Here’s our finished product:

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Looks great, huh? The center is mushy, yes, but the outsides are perfect. And the banana slices really do make an impression. Get it? Make an impression?

I quickly and eagerly cut myself a slice:

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After all this hard work, after all this fussiness how great would this bread taste? How glorious the flavor?

Eh.

It tasted fine. The flavors were all present but somewhere in the background and you could hardly taste the bananas. It’s almost as if all the elements cancelled each other out. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it tasted interesting–I’m really glad I made it–but was it worth all that work? Probably not. Superlatives be damned, this bread was just o.k.

Back in Business and Ain’t It Grand: Makin’ Olive Bread

With Passover over, and the shadow of death passed over our apartment (the lamb’s blood properly sloshed), the time has come to revive my starter. Last we checked, the starter was sulking and shivering in the fridge; but now it’s had three days of feeding and looks beautiful and bubbly:

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Today we’re making Olive Bread.

It begins with a mistake: I purchased kalamata olives (correct) and green olives in oil (incorrect). The instruction was: “Oil Cured olives” and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized that Oil Cured Olives are the wrinkly gross ones. Nancy Silverton wants the olives to fall apart in the bread and color the dough; but alas, that couldn’t happen now. So I doubled the kalamata and I’m a better man for it.

Anyway, I woke up at the crack of dawn (10:30 am) and began the arduous process.

I halved the recipe to produce only one loaf and to save my electric mixer from death (as almost happened last time with the extra tough, double dough portion).

So here we are adding some starter to some water:

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Then some wheat germ to the flour:

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Mixed it up with the dough hook:

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Added some salt, then the olives:

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Plus some Thyme:

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Mixed it all up:

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Kneaded by hand:

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Put it in an oiled bowl:

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Covered in plastic and went to school for four hours. When I returned:

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You can really see how it doubled in size.

Then we plop it out on the counter, and shape it into a boule. Place in a proofing basket:

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Let it rise for two hours and then cover in plastic and put in the fridge.

That’s where it is now. It will refrigerate until tomorrow when I will slide it into the oven. This process is known as retardation. I prefer to call it mentally challengedardation because I’m not evil. Stay tuned for the finished product.

[To see how the olive bread came out, read this very sane post.]