Friday, March 19, 2010

A Bodacious Banana Bread

Evan claims I've made Banana Bread 30 times in the last year. I really hope that's not true, but I do admit I love banana bread. Some little part of me gets really happy when I discover a few brown bananas at the bottom of the fruit bowl or sitting on the counter. They may not be bright yellow but they're full of good sugars and at the peak of their nutritional value. I have a few recipes that I've used over the years and each yields a slightly different banana bread but this one is wonderful because it's so healthy. It's great to slice up and take to work, or toast and have with butter in the morning. For added yum, shave some bittersweet chocolate right into the batter and you will end up with a chocolate spotted loaf of banana delight. Oh and that's right, there is no oil in the recipe, but should you prefer a more decadent loaf, replace the applesauce with softened butter.

Recipe: Banana Bread

4 really ripe bananas (the riper the sweeter)
2/3 c brown sugar (use 3/4c if you prefer sweeter)
1/2 c applesauce (here is our recipe)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
2/3 c chopped pecans
(optional: 1/4 c semisweet chocolate shavings)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mash the bananas
with a fork or a potato masher. Add the eggs, applesauce, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Mix well.In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in thirds, gently working it in with a spatula. Stir until the mixture is uniform and no dry flour is visible but do not over-mix. The batter should be clumpy and fairly thick. Fold in the buts, and set some aside for the top(if you are adding chocolate, this is your cue).

Grease a loaf pan
and pour in your batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60minutes or until a toothpick or paring knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from pan and bake naked in the oven for another 7 minutes to get a golden loaf.

Cool on a rack, slice, and serve.

A Trifle confused

This take on trifle is an absolutely offensive dessert and is a totally confused mish-mash of all of the things in our fridge and cupboard that probably shouldn't be eaten alone [espresso, cake, whisky, overripe bananas, whip cream, solid Oaxacan chocolate, and custard) let alone in conjunction or layered in wine glasses and gobbled down after a meal. Anyway, it was killer and I'm not sure that I've ever consumed so many calories so quickly with out even really having to chew, so much as gulp down the goodness. It was either a trifle, or a tiramisu, either way it was delicious, terrible, downright voluptuousness in a cup.
Banana chocolate espresso tiramisu/trifles
[Note: recipe will make two wine goblets full, but double according to how many you need to serve]

6 lady fingers, sliced lengthwise
1/2C espresso, cooled
2 tbsp, whisky, i.e. a shot
1/2C crushed walnuts
1 ripe banana, cut into medallions
1/4 C whipped cream, to top
1/4C chocolate, shaved for garnish

Custard ingredients:
1C milk
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
a drop of vanilla
1/4 Oaxacan chocolate, ground or finely grated

Start off by getting a double boiler going for the custard. Bring the milk to the boiling point but remove before it simmers. In a seperate mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until light and aerated. Once the milk has cooled to a touchable heat, whisk it, splash by splash, into the egg and sugar mix. Now add the combined ingredients to the top of your double boiler (which should be hot but NOT boiling), whisk constantly for ten or so minutes until mixture thickens to a dolloping consistency, then whisk in the ground chocolate and remove from heat. Run the custard through a strainer to make sure there are no eggy bits and then cool, covered in the fridge.

In each of your serving dishes layer the sliced ladyfingers to cover the bottom (I actually used a leftover poundcake, but anything that will absorb moisture and is relatively unflavoured will do) then coat evenly with the combined espresso and whisky. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the moisture absorb into the cake. Now you're ready to coat with a thin layer of crushed nuts, which will separate the moist cake from the banana medallions that you spread to make the next layer. Get out your cooled custard and add an inch or so thick coating to each portion, then let sit (and any air bubbles rise) while you whip your cream. Dollop the whip cream on top of the custard, and grate on chocolate to top.

Now devour the whole thing immediately awash in gluttony. Or you can chill them for four to six hours until your ready to serve, these are actually a great dessert to make a head of time because they can wait in the fridge almost all day. Just don't keep them overnight or the whip cream will sink into the custard.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The taste of our new neighbourhood

We've recently moved to a new neighbourhood in Toronto's west end, home to a huge population of the city's diasporic North African communities. And after dipping into some of the restaurants, and finding the injera, Ethiopian flatbreads, available on all of the local grocer's shevles we decided it was about time that we tried to cook up some of the Ethiopian flavours in our own kitchen. Both of the two recipes that follow are adapted from the vegetarian platters we've tried at the restaurants that line Bloor street in our neighbourhood in conjunction with some recipes found online, and a conversation I shared with the woman who sold us some berbere, a toasted spice mix that you can easily make yourself if it's unavailable, just click the link for a how-to. Also, if you're interested, these recipes are both completely vegan.
Aleecha - Peppery Ethiopian Carrot & Cabbage

1 head of savoy cabbage, diced to one inch squares
3 carrots, chopped to quarter inch coins
1 white onion, chopped
4 potatoes, cut in one inch cubes (optional)
4 cloves garlic, pasted
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp black pepper, cracked
1 tsp salt, to taste
3 tbsp light cooking oil, (canola or sunflower)

Heat the oil on a medium high flame in a medium pot with the lid off, adding onions and garlic paste and cook, stirring often, for five minutes or until soft. (Put your exhaust fan on high) Add the ginger, tumeric and pepper and let the flavours cook into the onions and garlic, stirring vigorously for about a minute. The mixture should be very fragrant and might make you sneeze once or twice.

The last step is simple but takes a while: add the cabbage (optional potatoes, we just weren't that hungry, so I left them out and the dish was amazing) and carrots and stir for a few minutes until everything in your pot has blended together, and the vegetables are coated in the flavourful onion mixture. Now reduce the heat to low and affix a tight fitting lid and cook for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. You shouldn't have to add any liquids, the natural moisture of the vegetables should make everything cook in its own juices, but be careful not to burn in the first few minutes, when the bottom of your pot is still hot from frying the onions and garlic.

Mesir Wat - Ethiopian lentils reduced in Berbere

2C lentils, canned or rehydrated
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
1/4C berbere
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cardamom
3 tbsp light cooking oil
4C of water, or vegetable stock

First off, make a paste out of the onion, ginger and garlic, using either a food processor, mortar and pestle, or if you have the time and energy, a heavy cleaver. Heat oil to medium-high in a good sized sauce pot with the lid set aside for later. Now, fry up the berbere and and turmeric in the oil for about thirty seconds, until the spicy aroma is thoroughly infused in the oil. Next, add the onion paste and cook off the excess moisture, which should take five to ten minutes. You'll know when it's cooked by the sweet smell and the paste turns a golden colour through out.

Now, just add the lentils and stir until completely coated, then add the water. Bring everything to a simmer and let cook on the stove for 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with Aleecha on top of warm Injera (which hopefully will post a recipe for soon), alternatively serve over flatbread and rice if you can't find any Injera.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Episode of the Madeleine

It's true. Memories register with different senses, and taste is a big one. In A La Rechereche Du Temps Perdu, Proust's protagonist, Marcel, eats one of these little cakes and can't help but be transported back to his childhood. He calls it "involuntary memory". I like that. I eat these cakes and am transported too; certainly not to Marcel's Combray, but instead to my Tehran of the 1990's where corner stores sold little cakes and individual bottles of chocolate milk. It amazes me to think that my brain has packed so much in with the simple taste of a sweetly dense sponge cake, but it has, and I can't help indulging in these lovely recreations.

Recipe: Lemon Glazed Madeleines

3 large eggs (room temperature)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup pastry or all purpose flour
1 tspn baking powder
zest of one whole small lemon
9 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional melted butter for the molds

For Glaze (which is optional, but recommended)
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 tbspn freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 tbspn water

First brush the insides of the madeleine molds with melted butter, dust with flour, shake excess and put in freezer. Do not take this step lightly, because these little things will stick.

Using an electric mixer or egg beater, whip the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt for 5 minutes or until thick and frothy. Sift the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Sift/sprinkle the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, gently folding them in with a spatula. Add the lemon zest to the cooled butter, then pour the butter into the batter, a little bit at a time, while simultaneously folding to incorporate everything. Fold just until all the butter is incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Scoop a rounded tablespoon of batter into each mold, leaving the batter in a mound (it spreads itself out in the heat). Bake 10-12 minutes or until the cakes are puffy and golden brown. While the cakes are baking, mix the ingredients for the glaze and set aside. After removing from the oven, and as soon as the cakes are cool enough to handle, dip them into the glaze. They should be warm when you do this. Allow excess glaze to drip off and set them on the cooling rack and wait while they cool and the glaze sets.

Serve with coffee, tea, or milk, and see where they take you...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Playing With Fire

Your dictionary will try to convince you that crème brûlée means burnt cream, but oh it's so much more. It's a velvety, smooth, voluptuous bed of custard under an impossibly crisp sugar crust. If that hasn't won you over yet, consider this: you also get to play with a blow torch. Sold. Right? I was never crazy about making these, because of the hot water bath baking and all the fuss with the splitting creme. Then I came across Nigella's method and couldn't resist. No baking, no water bath, just a whisk and a little patience. The night we made this, our vegan friends dropped by unexpectedly and when they saw what was on the table they both sinned. Can you blame them? Here's how to make your own...

Recipe: Crème brûlée

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1 generous tablespoon granulated sugar
Approximately 3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Start by placing 4 shallow individual ramekins in the freezer. Alternatively you can use one larger dish. Chop a vanilla pod in half and scrape the lovely seeds out. Pour the creme into a saucepan with the vanilla seeds and bring to the boiling point, but do not continue to boil.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and the granulated sugar together. While whisking the egg and sugar, pour the creme into the bowl. Continue whisking to avoid scrambling your eggs. Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the custard thickens (about 10 min). Nigella says "You do want this to be a good, voluptuous crème, so don’t err on the side of runny caution."

When the custard is thick and nice, get your dish(es) out of the deep freeze and pour it in. Leave outside to cool for about 10 minutes and put in the refrigerator till truly chilled. Just before serving, generously sprinkle the tops with demerara sugar and burn using a blowtorch until bubbles form. Cool for a moment and Serve. It's best to make the sugar crust just before serving, If you sprinkle the sugar and don't burn it immediately, the sugar will absorb moisture and you will end up with a shell that is chewy instead of crisp.

Note: You can buy a small kitchen blowtorch at most kitchen stores these days. They're much smaller than the hardware store kind, but just as effective. And please, be careful.