Sunday, December 7, 2014

Browned Butter Banana Bread

If you're like me, you never manage to use up all your bananas before they turn brown and mushy. I think it's just a rule for life: no matter how few bananas one purchases, at least one of them will be destined for banana bread (or for the freezer for banana bread later). And you know what? I'm okay with it . . . because who doesn't love a good loaf of banana bread?

This recipe is particularly lovable. The browned butter adds a warm, cozy depth of flavor. It tastes sufficiently banana-y, and has just the right amount of sweetness for my tastes. The topping adds a nice crunch and lets you alternate sweeter bites (with topping) with less sweet bites (without topping).

This banana bread uses only one banana, and thus less of the rest of the ingredients. So it yields a slightly shorter loaf than most quick breads, which also means it's easier to cook it all the way through without the outside being overly cooked and dry.

Also, happy Christmas!

Browned Butter Banana Bread
Adapted from The Faux Martha
Yield: 1 loaf

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup milk**
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ripe banana

1 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2-4 Tbsp. chopped pecans and/or walnuts

Brown the butter: Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook until it's golden brown and smells like heaven, swirling the pan periodically.*** Allow to cook completely.

While the butter cools, make the crumb topping: In a small bowl (I used a cereal bowl), combine 1 Tbsp. softened butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Use a fork or knives to combine the ingredients until they're crumbly. Add the chopped pecans and walnuts and stir to combine well.. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 300. Spray a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the bread: flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: cooled browned butter, milk, egg, and vanilla until well combined. Add banana, mash, and whisk well. At this point, my butter decided to solidify again, but my bread still turned out just fine. Just whisk it well so you have small clumps of butter instead of giant globs.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Don't work it too much. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack, and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan. Then loosen the loaf from the pan, and turn out onto a cutting board to cut and serve.

*The original recipe called for 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 white whole wheat. Use whatever combination strikes your fancy and fits with what you have on hand.

**Original recipe called for 1/3 cup liquid comprised of 1 part milk and 1 part plain yogurt. I didn't have yogurt on hand so went with all milk, and it was fine. If I'd added a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, I may have gotten a slightly fluffier loaf, but I'm completely happy with how mine turned out.

***If you're tight on time, you can simply melt the butter in the microwave. But do try it at least once with the browned butter--it tastes wonderful! Also, it'll splatter quite a bit. I recommend using a pan that's bigger than what you need, so the taller sides will help contain the splatter. Or use a splatter screen if you have one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness

Thanksgiving week is upon us and ample hours for hanging out at home or with friends is just around the corner, so it's time for this year's edition of a tradition I like to call Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness (see similar posts from 2013 and 2012).

This year's Thanksgiving tastiness was actually inaugurated with my house church's Thanksgiving feast on Friday, and I'm including my contributions to that with the rest of the recipes below.

This year, it looks like my brother will be here for at least part of this week, which means I theoretically can make even more food since there will be two of us to eat it. :) Without further ado, here's what I've got on my list to make this week:

Mains and Sides:
Desserts and Drinks:
What are you eating this week?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Introducing the recipe index page

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to introduce you to my fresh and shiny recipe index page! You can easily access it via the Recipe Index tab at the top of the page, right below the header image. It categorizes all 79 (and counting) recipes currently on the blog, and I'll keep updating it as I add more recipes.

I kept it text-based rather than adding pictures for every recipe, because text-based recipe indexes are generally my preference on other food blogs I read. I find it easier to glance through all the recipes, search by key word, etc. And text-based is better for people (like me!) who live in the country and are limited to slower internet connections with stingy data allowances.

At some point I ought to add sub-categories within the Main Dishes category, but I'm still figuring out which sub-categories make the most sense. Let me know if you think of more enhancements or other changes that would be helpful!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pumpquinoa, Version 2.0

For this year's pumpkin party, I wanted to carry on the Pumpquinoa tradition, but also wanted to change it up a bit. After reading through many stuffed pumpkin recipes, I settled on adding chopped apples, celery, and cranberries in place of the carrots. For the cheeses, I used Gruyere and Parmesan instead of monterey jack and pepper jack--and since Gruyere and Parmesan have a stronger flavor than the jack cheeses, I ended up using less cheese in order to let all the ingredients shine. Havarti would also be good, and I wonder how Brie would have tasted.

This year I also really wanted to use a Cinderella pumpkin, since I'd heard that they have much better flavor than the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins I've used before. Miss Cinderella definitely did have a fuller flavor than old Jack, and she was quite lovely! On the other hand, she was a little more expensive, and my guests have always seemed perfectly happy with Jack in the past. So use whichever type of pumpkin strikes your fancy.

Overall, I really liked this fruited version of the filling, though I think I like the original a tiny bit better. While the cranberries and apples added a pleasant sweetness, I missed the carrots and the slight kick from the pepper jack cheese.

One final note. I'm not usually a big fan of kitchen gadgets that do only one thing. However, late last fall I spotted this pumpkin scraper/scooper in the store and bought it. Lemme tell ya' . . . it came in really handy while scooping all the seeds and stringiness out of this big pumpkin! The toothed edge scraped and scooped much more efficiently than the basic small soup spoons I normally use. The scoop is large enough that it probably won't fit inside a smaller pumpkin or other winter squash, but several weeks ago I used it on an acorn squash that I'd quartered, and it worked nicely.

Stuffed Pumpkin with Quinoa, Sausage, and Apples
Adapted from my pumpquinoa recipe and many other stuffed pumpkin recipes
Yield: 12+ servings

1 Cinderella pumpkin
2-2/3 cups quinoa (uncooked)
1 lb. ground pork sausage
1 lb. ground turkey sausage
2 cups finely chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped Granny Smith apples
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup white wine
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
5 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided

Cut the lid off the pumpkin, being sure to cut at an angle so that, when the pumpkin shrinks while it bakes, the lid will still stay on. Clean out the seeds and stringy parts and set the pumpkin aside. (Keep the seeds and roast them!)

Cook the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa well unless it's pre-rinsed. In a saucepan, bring quinoa, 4 cups water, and a small pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until quinoa is tender but still chewy. For this recipe, I think it's best to slightly undercook the quinoa since it will cook for quite a bit longer inside the pumpkin.

In a large skillet, brown the turkey sausage; drain and set the sausage aside. Return the skillet to the stove, and cook the onion. When it's starting to get tender, add the garlic, apples, celery, and white wine. Increase heat so the wine will evaporate more quickly; cook until the wine is mostly evaporated and the apples and celery are starting to get tender. Remove from heat.

Adjust your oven racks to accommodate a large pumpkin. Preheat oven to 350.

Add the following to a large bowl: cooked quinoa, dried cranberries, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Add the cooked sausage and the onion mixture, then stir well to combine. Reserve a couple handfuls of Parmesan (for topping) then stir in the Gruyere and most of the Parmesan.

Taste; add more seasonings and cheese if desired.

Place your pumpkin on a good-sized baking sheet or pan (it will almost certainly leak some moisture while it cooks, and there's a chance it will collapse and spill its filling while cooking). Scoop the quinoa filling into the cavity of the pumpkin. Top with reserved Parmesan. Place the pumpkin lid on top.

Bake for 1-2 hours, until the pumpkin flesh is soft enough to scoop out and serve, but not so soft that the pumpkin collapses. My Cinderella pumpkin was well done in an hour; previous years' jack-o-lantern pumpkins have taken up to 2 hours. So check it at least after an hour, by poking it with a fork. If desired, remove the pumpkin lid for the last 15-30 minutes of baking time to let the cheese toast a little bit.

Carefully remove from the oven (this may be a two-person job). Transfer to a serving platter if desired (and if the pumpkin flesh is solid enough to be transferred). Serve directly from the pumpkin, scraping out some of the pumpkin flesh to go with each serving.

Note: A lot of the prep can be done ahead of time so that assembly the day of is less of a marathon. I usually brown the meat, cook the quinoa, and chop the onions and celery/carrots the night before. Just warm the meat and quinoa a bit before mixing up all the filling components, and you'll be good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vacation Day 2: Three churches and a village

Day 2 (Monday, October 13)

Before coming on this trip, I looked up things to do in and around Annapolis, and what appealed to me more than the city life were the claims of beautiful countryside south of the city, along the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, this countryside played host to an "annual, international, noncompetitive October birding event hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest" called the Big Sit. I ask you, how on earth would bird watching not be noncompetitive? Maybe it's like BINGO--each person gets a card full of bird varieties, and the first person to get five in a row wins. Or maybe it's a competition to see who can see each bird first (or for the longest duration). "I saw it first!" "No, I did!" "Who cares about first. I've been watching it longer than either of you."

Regardless, I did not work the Big Sit into my itinerary, but I did visit one of the three maritime villages advertised on the Visit Annapolis website. I went to Galesville, established in the 1650s, current population around 600. It was a cute little town nestled on the Chesapeake. I parked and wandered around taking pictures of the bay, sailboats, cat crossing signs, and the like. 

Around lunchtime, it started to rain, and fortuitously I was right next to a restaurant (called Thursday's) when that happened. So in I went, and I ordered a crab cake with onion rings and a baked sweet potato. Sadly, the crab cake was disappointing. It boasted no fillers, but it was mealy with only okay flavor. But the sweet potato and onion rings were great! 

From there I headed back toward D.C. The woman I met Sunday at Delia's had recommended a couple churches to visit. And although Wiki Travel had warned me to never even think about driving in D.C. or I would surely get in a wreck, she said I'd be fine, particularly in the part of town where these churches were. So off I went!

The first stop was Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America: An Oasis of Peace, and it was probably my favorite of the three churches I visited Monday. Bordering a section of their grounds were some outdoor corridors (would they be called porticos?) lined with arches. Along the walkways, there were plaques with Ave Maria and the Lord's Prayer in many languages, as well as mosaics of various biblical scenes/stories. Inside the area surrounded by the corridors was a massive rose garden as well as a driveway. Beyond the corridors was a large garden . . . or grounds . . . lots of area to walk and think and pray. They had replicas of various shrines from the Holy Land, statues, ponds, trees, flowers, and generally beautiful things. There weren't a lot of people there besides me, so it was really serene and wonderful.

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America: An Oasis of Peace

From there I decided to skip the second church my Delia's friend had told me about, in the interest of getting to the Washington National Cathedral (and figuring out parking) in time for the Evensong service. But as I was driving along, I looked over to my right, and there was a massive cathedral that was just too pretty not to explore! Fortuitously, I was in the correct lane to pull right into their parking lot--and lo and behond!--it was the second church my Delia's friend had told me about, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. What's with these long names, Christians of D.C.? 

This was a quicker stop, partly because of the time constraint due to Evensong, and partly because the Basilica didn't have massive, inviting grounds for wandering around. But it was lovely. Coming from a church tradition that doesn't put a lot of focus into creating elaborate sacred spaces, it's always a little awe-inspiring to step into a place that is elaborately ornate and very "other." The ceilings were covered in mosaics, with many of the tiles being gold (or gold-colored), so the ceilings literally sparkled. Fun fact: this basilica is the largest Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest in the world. 

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Then I really did go to the National Cathedral, and it, too, was gorgeous! Sadly, though, they weren't having Evensong that night. The choristers each night come from the neighboring Catholic school, and it was Columbus Day and thus a school holiday. But the helpful woman at the information desk promised that they would have Evensong the following evening.

Washington National Cathedral
So I set out in search of 2 Amys, a Neapolitan pizzeria that had come highly recommended by a friend. A perk of traveling alone: even at the most bustling restaurants, you get seated rather quickly and easily when you're a party of one. Since they boast authentic Neapolitan pizza (apparently there are strict guidelines, detailed in their menu and on their website), I decided to go with the simple classic margherita pizza and let these fresh basic ingredients shine. And shone, they did! The pizza they brought me was probably enough for two people, but I definitely at the whole thing. And got a bowl of delicious poached pear sorbet for dessert.

As I was leaving the restaurant, I got a call from a friend, which lasted longer than the two-block walk back to the cathedral parking garage. So I took a seat on one of the benches in the lawn/park surrounding the cathedral while we kept chatting. It had been overcast all day, and the night was foggy and chilly. The cathedral was all lit up, and the tops of the towers were only barely visible through the mist. It looked like something out of a dream.

While wrapping up this post, I'd like to take this moment to say that I successfully drove in D.C. And I did not get in a wreck like Wiki Travel guaranteed I would. Granted, I didn't go all the way to the White House or the mall area, and I did my best to avoid highways during rush hour. But the places I drove weren't nearly as congested as the parts of Atlanta I drive in once a year, and it wasn't as fast-paced as many places in Dallas or any other big city. What was nerve-wracking was that so many of the streets are super narrow, with street parking making them feel narrower. Even with a small rental car, I frequently felt like I was going to sideswipe the parked cars or oncoming traffic. Also there are a lot of pedestrians. So I wouldn't recommend driving in D.C. without Siri or a skilled navigator guiding the way. Between watching for pedestrians, trying not to scrape against parked cars, and trying to go faster than 20 mph so the people behind me wouldn't hate me, I didn't have much focus available to do things like read street signs. I just turned when Siri said to turn, and I was okay. Take that, Wiki Travel!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vacation Begins

Aside from Christmas travels, it's been a little over two years since I actually went on vacation. So when my job took me to Fairfax, Virginia, for the weekend, I decided to take a few extra days for myself. 

This morning I slept in, had a leisurely morning at the hotel, sleeping in and lounging around with the Food Network and a cup of hotel coffee. Then I hopped in my rental car and headed toward Maryland! Because when you live in Texas and are 6 or more hours from any other state border, it's exceedingly exciting to drive for just under an hour and be in another state! 

It was around noon when I checked out of the hotel, so I looked for good restaurants along the route from Fairfax to Annapolis. Urbanspoon recommended Delia's Pizzeria and Grille, which serves Italian, Greek, and Peruvian food. Wait . . . Peruvian? Yep. Why not throw some South American cuisine in with the Mediterranean? I was intrigued, so to Delia's I went! 

It. Was. Delightful. 

I was greeted by Nick/Niko, the uber-friendly restaurant host with a heavy Greek accent, who showed me to a table and checked on me frequently throughout my time there. Since it was my first time at Delia's, Niko also brought me a complimentary appetizer of tzatziki and fresh pita. So nice, and so tasty! One of my dining strategies while traveling is to order things that are most unlike what I could get from the restaurants at home . . . so I went straight to the Peruvian section of the menu and ordered chicharron con yucca, which the menu described as "marinated pieces of fried pork, served with yucca, onions, and green garnish." And just for kicks, I also got a Peruvian drink called chica morada, which is made from purple corn and pineapple, with some cinnamon and cloves thrown in for good measure. 

Everything was so good! The yucca (which I'd never had before) was cubed and fried. It tasted kind of like a cross between a white potato and a plantain--very starchy, with a hint of sweetness. The spices on the pork were just wonderful. The small bowls of green and creamy yellow stuff were sauces for the meat and yucca--a jalapeno/lime/cilantro sauce and a honey-mustard mayo sauce. The chica morada was sweet, yummy, and unlike anything I've ever had before. Corn and pineapple sounds strange, but if you think about it, corn is kinda sweet and creamy, which complements the sweet tanginess of pineapple. The corn-pineapple combo reminded me a bit of eating a corn and pineapple salsa/relish, and the pineapple-cinnamon-clove combo was reminiscent of wassail. 

While I was attempting to eat the vast amount of food before me, a woman sat at the table next to me, and we struck up a conversation and chatted throughout the rest of my meal and all of her meal. She's from the area and suggested some places to visit while I'm in the area--including some restaurants, a basilica, and a monastery. She also told me the story of why there's Peruvian food on Delia's menu. Delia's used to just be Italian and Greek, and there was a Peruvian restaurant next door. Well, I guess the Peruvian restaurant had to close, and Delia's acquired that space and expanded their own restaurant into the former Peruvian restaurant. But they hired several of the Peruvian cooks and added a handful of their dishes to their own menu!

Between the amazing food, the delightful conversation with my dining companion, and the friendly banter with the waitresses and Niko, it was unquestionably my favorite dining experience in a long time.

With a very full belly, I continued on my merry way. The highways there (at least the ones I drove on) were lined with trees that were starting to change colors for fall. So pretty! After getting checked into my hotel in Annapolis, I headed downtown and just walked around, took pictures, and in general looked like an oblivious tourist. The best word I can think of to describe downtown Annapolis is charming. It's preserved a lot of its historic character, many of the buildings are red brick and look so classy, and a number of the streets are cobbled rather than paved. There's apparently a sailboat show going on this weekend, so downtown was bustling. 

I had already picked out a place to eat dinner, but was still really full from lunch. But dinner was really my best bet for going there, and I didn't want to wander around downtown after dark (that whole being alone thing), so I decided to head toward the restaurant and order something small and light. 

On the way, I drove over this wonderfully scenic bridge. While driving over, I thought, "I need to find a place to park so I can come back up onto this bridge and take pictures!" I went back and forth across the bridge a couple times looking for parking on either side, and landed in a great little park right at the base of the bridge. The bridge was breezy and beautiful, stretching over the Severn River which branches off the Chesapeake Bay. The park was serene, with lots of folks out fishing or just sitting quietly.

From there I went to Cantler's Riverside Inn, about which I was excited for two reasons: 1) they're right on the Chesapeake Bay and serve very fresh seafood, and 2) Wiki Travel described them as a family style restaurant "where you sit at park benches and eat shoulder to shoulder with everyone." Now, on my Santa Fe vacation two years ago, my friend L and I ate at a restaurant with a communal table, and it was so much fun--we met people from Austin, Portland, and New Zealand, had a grand old time, and one woman and I were even sampling bites off each other's plates. 

So that was my expectation for Cantler's, but sadly that was not how it went at Cantler's--or at least with my tablemates at Cantler's. My table consisted of a girl attending the Naval Academy, her parents who were visiting her for the weekend, and me. After an awkward interchange where I eagerly sat down with them, then learned very quickly that they had no desire to chat it up with a random stranger during their special night out and their limited time together as a family, I scooted down to the far end of the table and pulled out my iPad to do a little reading. 

I ordered a crab caprese salad because it sounded light and had crab meat in it. But the balsamic dressing really overwhelmed the crab and mozzarella, and the greens and tomatoes were unimpressive. Upon the waitress' recommendation, I tried a bowl of soup--actually a mixture of a tomato-based Maryland crab soup and a cream of crab soup. It was far tastier than the caprese, and much more appropriate fare for sitting outside on the patio in the 63-degree night air.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies! They combine all my favorite cookie element into one amazing cookie. They're pretty filling thanks to the oats and peanut butter. And they're less unhealthy than a lot of cookies out there--sweetened with maple syrup instead of refined sugar, full of oaty goodness, gluten-free if you care about that, and using dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet.

I may or may not eat these for breakfast sometimes. Because oatmeal and maple syrup are breakfast food, right? Please don't judge me.

And please make these cookies.

That is all.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 28 cookies (more or less depending on the size of your cookies)

2/3 cup natural peanut butter
2/3 cup real maple syrup
4 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil, melted
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2-3/4 cup rolled oats, divided (or use 1-1/4 cups oat flour plus 1-1/2 cups rolled oats)
1 to 1-1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
2-4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour or oat flour (optional)

To a medium-large bowl, add the peanut butter, maple syrup, butter/coconut oil, vanilla extract, and egg. Using a mixer, blend until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the salt, baking soda, and baking powder; mix again until well blended.

Measure 1-1/4 cups oats into a small food processor. Blend until the oats resemble a coarse flour. Add ground oats and remaining 1-1/2 cup rolled oats to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, stir the dough until it's mostly combined; add the dark chocolate chips; stir until well combined. If the dough seems too wet, add 2-4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour, as needed.

Move oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop cookie dough into balls/heaps (they don't have to be tidy) and arrange on baking sheets. I used a cookie scoop that's about 1-1/2 Tbsp. For a flatter cookie, smoosh each mound/ball down a bit; for taller cookies, don't smoosh them.

Bake for 12-15 minutes total, switching the upper and lower pans with each other about halfway through the baking time. They're done when they starting to brown around the edges and on the bottom, but are still pretty soft to the touch. When they're done, remove both pans from the oven and allow the cookies to cool fully on the baking sheets (they'll keep cooking while they cool, which is why it's important to pull them out of the oven while they're still pretty soft).

These cookies taste great right away while they're still warm and gooey. They also store well in Tupperware for a few days. Whatever you can't eat or share within a few days, put in a Ziploc bag and toss into the freezer; retrieve 1 or 2 whenever you need a quick cookie fix!