Saturday, August 19, 2017

Favorite Banana Bread

 Our Favorite Banana Bread

I tried a fair number of banana bread recipes over the years.  Some were good, others not quite so much.  Too crumbly, not enough banana flavor, added ingredients.  I forget where I discovered this recipe but it's the one I've settled on for our tastes.  It's straightforward, no added spices or fruits, just a nice moist, buttery banana-y banana bread that goes down a treat any time of the day.

Now here's a hint I saw on Facebook the other day and it's so brilliant I had to share it with you.  I'm chagrined to think I've gone all these years without knowing and doing this.  You know how quick breads seem to take forever to cook in the middle?  The outside gets all dark and dry and the center is gooey and raw?  Well, looky look.  Take a piece of aluminum foil and cut out an opening the size of the center of your uncooked loaf.  Put it back in the oven and let it go another three or four minutes or however long it needs.  The edges are protected and the center is cooked.  This worked a charm!

Favorite Banana Bread

1/3 cup melted butter
3 or 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease and flour a 9" x 5" pan and set aside.

In a large bowl mix the butter into the mashed bananas.  Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla and mix.

Sprinkle the baking soda and salt** over the mixture and mix.

Add the flour and mix to combine.  This is a quick bread so just mix it until all moistened; you don't have to beat it.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let rest in pan for about ten minutes before running a thin knife around the edges of the loaf and tipping out on a rack to finish cooling.

**Recipe calls for a pinch of salt which is about an 1/8th of a teaspoon.  I use salted butter so I omit the salt entirely. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Monsoon season in Arizona means sideways, blinding rain and loud cracks of thunder fill the sky.  The days can look a little gray, threatening but not always following through.  When the torrents do come, they don't last for long, but our three cats vanish under the bed or in a closet, and those few brief hours can turn even a human heart to look for a spot of comfort.  This tortellini and spinach soup is just such a soup—warm and filling and satisfying.  It was so good and easy and was even better the second day.

Simple, simple, simple.  For us the only "exotic" ingredient was the tortellini, easily found at our local market with the other fresh pastas and cheeses, or can be found in the frozen food section.  We chose the fresh tortellini filled with chicken and cheese, and it worked deliciously here.

Now first a caveat.  I used the entire bag of fresh tortellini (I don't recall how many ounces it had now), which was too much for the amount of liquid.  By end of day two, there really wasn't much liquid left.  It was still tasty, of course, but I would have preferred more broth.  Next time I'll buy frozen tortellini, and reduce the amount I use, and save the remainder for soup for another day.  Bonus!  Secondly, this made a lot of soup.  It filled the slow cooker up to the brim (probably due in part to the generous amount of tortellinis, grins). I reheated it at work for lunch and was happy, happy.  Anyway, I think for the most part, this soup is quite forgiving and there is no real right or wrong, just whatever pleases your palate.  That's how good soups are made.

Tortellini and Spinach Soup
1 bag of frozen tortellini
1 small bag of frozen spinach
2 cans of Italian style diced tomatoes (I didn't drain the cans)
1 eight-ounce block of cream cheese, cut into chunks
4 cups of either chicken or vegetable stock

Put all ingredients together in a slow cooker.  Cook for 5 or 6 hours.  

I'd check this at 4 hours to see how this is going and check maybe every 30 minutes or so thereafter. Give it a nice stir to make sure that the cream cheese is melding with the broth.  I think 6 hours of time for pasta would turn this into mush, but then again I started with fresh tortellini.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Frosted Tea Cakes

Frosted Tea Cakes

There's a childlike glee in me when I see cookies; my eyes widen  and my mouth becomes an O, and all my senses rush to tell me, these are going to be so good! 

And these are very good, far better than a look-alike, store-bought version, in my opinion.  Tender, thick, oh-so-buttery, moreishly good.  Plus, they're pretty. Pink frosting and sprinkles brings out my inner child.  Can you say tea party?

The first day the cookie part seemed a tad dry and crumbly and I was disappointed, but on the second and subsequent days, these become what they are meant to be, soft and sweet and delectable.  The recipe made 18 good-sized cookies for us, and lasted an entire week in a tightly covered container.  Grins, we are adults here after all and had to show restraint.  

Frosted Tea Cakes

For the cookie: 
1 cup sugar 
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temp 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup sour cream 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
3 cups all purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt (reduce to 1/4 tsp if using salted butter)

For the frosting
 2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 tablespoons milk or more for desired spreading consistency**
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
Tiny drops of food coloring if you wanted tinted frosting
Sugar sprinkles
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large mixing bowl and using your hand mixer or the bowl of your standup mixer, cream together 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 cup sugar and mix for a couple of minutes until smooth.  Add in sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and mix well. 

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (I used a 4-cup measuring cup and sifted directly into the measuring cup using a fine strainer.)  Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well. Measure rounded tablespoonfuls of dough for each cookie and roll into a smooth ball.  You should have something about the size of a walnut.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets (I lined with parchment paper), making sure to leave a good 1 inch between each cookie as these will rise and spread. Lightly flatten the dough a bit and gently reshape into a circle if needed.

Bake for 11-12 minutes, then immediately remove from the oven. The cookies will appear underbaked a bit but this is what you want. Carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and repeat the process until all of the dough is gone.  

To make the frosting, beat butter with a mixer for about 30 seconds, then add in powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Add in vanilla and 1-2 tablespoons of milk and mix until light and fluffy.  Add food coloring (if using) in sparing drops, mixing well after each couple of drops to attain the color that you want.  Use a knife to slather each cookie with frosting.

If you're going to use sprinkles, I find the best way is to put the sprinkles in a small plate and gently press each cookie as it's frosted into the sprinkles.  The frost tends to dry and the sprinkles will not adhere easily if you wait to the end and just try to pour them on.

Cook's Notes:

I measured my dry ingredients into a 4-cup measuring cup, with a fine mesh sieve.  

Try to resist the impulse of flattening these cookies too much.  They are intended to be a little thick and not a wafer cookie.

Believe it or not, no milk in the house, and I substituted milk in the frosting for half and half.  In the past I've used light cream and even whipping cream. The substitution makes for a richer tasting frosting; yes, it probably adds calories but in for a dime, in it for a dollar, I say.  No regrets.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Charros Frijoles and a Little Food Lore

Charros Frijoles
Did you know that beans were one of the Three Sisters—the sisters being corn (maize), beans, and squash?  Squash shaded the roots of the corn, cornstalks provided support for the climbing beans.  All rather endearing I think.  Together they provided a nutritional foundation.  I ran into that little kernel of knowledge while reading a romance novel of all things some while back and it stuck with me.  Apparently, Native Americans combined the three to provide a complete nutritional foundation. 

Since moving across country from our beloved little New England Victorian home to our now beloved desert home in Arizona, we've learned about new foods and flavors, and among those are pinto beans.  It's taken a while to develop a taste for caliente and piquante foods, but we've now started to appreciate and crave the flavors of heat and spice.  By some measure I'm sure we're still on the mild side in comparison to true natives, but hot sauce is a stable in our pantry along with some chilies, grins.  It's all good.

So, let me share a nice hearty pinto bean soup.  It's spicy good, though you can make it more or less spicy depending on your taste, it's inexpensive, and pretty much hands off once you get it in the slow cooker.  These are not refried beans, though similar in make up, as they have the addition of tomatoes and meat.  Also charros frijoles is soupier, served with a spoon.  Nice thick squares of cornbread is a tasty side to this.  Mmm mmm!  This reheats like a dream and freezes very well.  And if possible, it's even better on the following day when the flavors have had a chance to get acquainted with each other and develop a companionable flavorship.  It makes a potful, so unless you're feeding a small community or have a crowd of hungry eaters, you're probably going to have leftovers.

I put together several recipes, choosing those ingredients that were the most appealing to me, so the soup is quite versatile and forgiving.  This is how I made mine.

Charros Frijoles (a/k/a Cowboy Beans, and who doesn't love cowboys?)
1 one-pound package of dried pinto beans, picked, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 1/2 ounces bacon, chopped, cooked and crumbled (I used the bacon grease to cook the onions in—only until translucent)
1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained
2-4 cups of chicken broth or make broth using chicken bouillon
Enough water to bring liquid a coupe of inches over the beans
1 teaspoon (or more) cumin
1 teaspoon (or more) chili powder
3 1/2 ounces cooked ham, chopped (or chorizo)
salt and pepper to taste (be careful of the salt if you're using bouillon)
a little chopped jalapeno is nice, added at the end
1 cup of cilantro chopped (added at the end, maybe 30 minutes before)

Cook the bacon, crumble, toss in the slow cooker.  Use the grease to cook the onions until translucent.  Toss everything in the slow cooker except the cilantro and the jalapeno, reserving those to add towards the end of cooking.  Set the slow cooker on low, and let it cook for about 6 hours.  I start testing the beans at 4 hours to see if they are soft enough to eat.  Keep an eye on the liquid level, adding water as needed to keep the beans covered by an inch or so.  Depending on the freshness of your beans it may take shorter or longer to cook them. Taste the broth for seasoning, adding whatever you think will make it perfect for you.  At the end I take a potato masher and give 'em a couple of good mashes to thicken the soup up a little. 

Cook's Note:  This can get too salty very easily, considering the bacon, chicken broth and/or bouillon.  I use low sodium bacon and don't add additional salt until I taste for seasoning.  When I've tasted it and the broth was too salty, I added additional water.  The other choice is to add a potato, cut in half, to absorb some of the salt. Just remove the potato before serving.