Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Sorta-Kinda-Almost Good for You Banana Bread

I've spent a lot of time with people in the food biz. Some are all about the fat and sugar - like those crazy Frenchies who developed my culinary school courseload. Others are holier-than-thou, healthy-eating zealots whose single focus hurts my head a little. I've met lots of misfits and ne'er-do-wells for whom the corporate world is just not an option. And luckily, I've met some people who walk the line straight down the middle.

I myself have wavered back and forth for years - one year buying my beloved spouse a membership to the Bacon of the Month club, and the next signing us up for gym memberships and waxing poetic about kale and cherry smoothies. I don't know quite where I am right now, which is exactly how I ended up right here, with this banana bread.

I had black bananas and no white sugar. I had brown sugar, brown rice syrup, corn syrup - just about every other kind of sugar you could imagine from my run-ins with with the healthy eating bunch, but no regular old plain white sugar. So we got to looking around on the Internet, and one of my favorite blogs - Orangette - had something I thought we could work with. Except for the white sugar bit. So I kept playing - liquid sugar here meant more dry stuff there, and we went with a vanilla bean instead of extract. No white sugar means that it's kind of healthy, right? Trace minerals found in the brown sugar and all that? Yes? No?

Whatever. At least I got to use the hammer. Every good recipe should start with a hammer.

For your information, whole nutmegs are found inside of a thin shell (mace) which is also frequently ground up and used as a spice. Here in the States you'll frequently find de-shelled nutmeg, but this fancy stuff came from my darling baby sister, a former resident of the Spice Isle - Grenada.

Banana Bread
3 large bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 vanilla bean, scraped of seeds
1 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts

Banana Bread Topping
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8"x8" square baking dish and then line with parchment. I usually make myself some handles to lift the whole loaf out with.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl), combine bananas, sugars and eggs until well mixed. Add in spices and vanilla bean seeds. I add in the entire bean as well because more seeds inevitably fall out as it gets whipped around by the mixer. Add the flour and mix just until combined. Add walnuts, remove bean and pour into prepared pan.

In a separate small bowl, combine topping ingredients. Sprinkle over the bread evenly and then put the bread in the preheated oven. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until toothpick inserted comes out (mostly) clean. Let it cool if you want. I'm not bossy. Eat it straight from the pan if you like. This is a dense, chewy bread that will last in the freezer for weeks, and toasts up nicely if it lasts that long.

Ours made it till morning - and my husband is allergic to bananas.    

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Massaged Kale Salad

Do you need a massage? I (probably) do. I used to like getting them, until an overzealous physical therapist once sat on me. With his knees.

I'm forever scarred.

So I'll do the massaging from this point forward, starting with this salad. I find that pairing sweet fruit offsets the bitterness of the kale, and makes it a little more palatable for the uninitiated. Massaging the kale helps break down some of those super-stiff fibers making it both easier to chew and digest. If you can't find lacinato kale, you could easily substitute curly green, but it doesn't chiffonade (slice into pretty strips) as easily. Depends on how important presentation is to you.

As an FYI - I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever about neglecting to mention that this salad is made with kale. At a recent gettogether, a friend's husband recently went on a long-winded diatribe about how much he hates kale. His wife reminded him that not only had he enjoyed this kale salad at our home, he'd asked for seconds. His response? "That was kale?"

Massaged Kale Salad
1 bunch of lacinato kale
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pint raspberries
1/2 pint blackberries
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Wash and dry lacinato kale. Remove leaves from the stem - I like to hold onto the base of the stem with my left hand and rip the leaf off in one motion with my right. Pile up the leaves, roll them up and slice into 1/4" - 1/2" slices. Put aside.

In a small bowl (or your serving bowl), whisk together lemon juice and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the greens to your bowl and using your hands, toss to coat. Then begin to massage the greens, gently rolling them between your fingers. Do this for 2-3 minutes, then top with berries and feta, if using. 

Make-ahead notes: The dressing can be made 2 days ahead of time, and the salad assembled1-2 hours prior to serving.   

Monday, October 03, 2011

Party Food: Gougeres

It's birthday season. More importantly - it's my birthday season.

Usually, I try to ignore my birthday. Most years, I tell everyone who asks that I want for nothing and it's just another day. Until about 48 hours before my birthday when I start to feel bad about myself and decide that I do want to have a party, or at least a get-together of some sort, and my poor husband tries to scrounge up some dinner reservations and nail down RSVPs. This year, he said he'll have none of it. I'm having a birthday party whether I want it or not.  

So, I'm having a party, and I'm going to make all the food myself - because that's not stressful at all - and along the way we're going to take some pictures and document it. Because as a birthday gift to myself, I'm going to re-launch the blog. I'd imagined 31 days worth of posts, but October 1 fell on a Saturday this year and I feel like everything brave and bold should start on a Monday. So maybe we'll get 31 posts, maybe we won't. That's not priority one right now - party food is, and in this case, the magic that is pate a choux. It's both appetizer nibble and when filled with ice cream or pastry cream, a decadent dessert.

Let's Party.

the crazy piper strikes ... why no straight lines?
Pate a Choux
Yield: 2 pounds

16 oz (2 cups) water
5.25 oz (1 stick + 1 1/2 teaspoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ½ oz. (2 scant cups) AP flour 
6 large eggs + 1 egg for wash
small bowl of water, to pat down dough.

For the gougeres (if doing half batch):
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated + more for sprinkling on top

Equipment: large pot, whisk, spatula, parchment/silpat, baking sheet
Optional Equipment: stand mixer, piping bag and tips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot, bring water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil. Once the butter is melted, sugar and salt dissolved and the water boiling, add all the bread flour at once. Turn the heat to medium-low and whisk quickly to incorporate all the flour. Once the whisk is all "gunked up" - switch to a large spatula or spoon and continue stirring to remove all of the lumps of flour. The goal in this step is to cook out the starchy flavor, and you'll know it's done when a light film covers the bottom of the pot.

Remove dough to bowl of stand mixer. Turn on low to aerate the dough and release most of the steam. Meanwhile, crack 6 eggs in a separate bowl. Once the dough has released the majority of its steam (the amount of steam will have dramatically decreased), add the eggs one at a time, waiting till the previous egg is fully incorporated before adding another. Once all eggs are incorporated, the dough is ready to use. This step can also be done by hand, or used to punish an unruly child.

For profiteroles, or cream puff shells: Take half of the dough and put it in a large piping bag fitted with a large tip. (It's best not to fill piping bags more than half-way, regardless of their size. So much easier to handle) Pipe onto a parchment-lined baking tray in 2 inch circles, lifting the piping bag straight up at the end. This will help you get really round, circular shells. Dip fingers in water and tap down any wayward edges or peaks (they'll burn). Brush with beaten egg.

For Parmesan-Thyme gougeres: Add cheese and chopped thyme to remaining dough in the mixer. Mix together on low until combined and then scoop into piping bag. Pipe onto a parchment-lined baking tray in 2 inch circles, lifting the piping bag straight up at the end. Dip fingers in water and tap down any wayward edges or peaks (they'll burn). Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with extra cheese. 

much prettier piping

At this stage, either bake at 375 dgrees untill puffed, dry on the inside (you'll have to sacrifice one) and deep golden brown - about 30 minutes. Or you can freeze for a later date. To flash-freeze the piped dough, just put the entire sheet tray in the freezer until the dough is rock hard - around 4 hours. Remove and put frozen shells in freezer bag and use within 3 months. Bake from frozen, adding another 10-15 minutes to total time.