Archive for November, 2009

Banana Quick Bread

Time seems to fly when you buy a bunch of bananas.  It only seems like a couple of days ago that I brought home these ever-so-slightly green bananas.  Look at them now!  Perfect for banana bread!

I don’t know how many times I have made banana bread over the years, but for some reason, the ingredients and their proportions just never seem to stick in my head.  Thank goodness for having my cookbook handy!  I gathered everything up, then got to work.  First there were the dry ingredients into the first bowl — flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.

On to the bananas!  I was pleased to see that they looked much better on the inside than the outside.  Nary even a bruise!  Well, for the time being anyway.  They soon met with the flat side of a wooden spoon and became banana mush.

To the banana mush, I added some sugar, cooking oil, and an egg.  That got mixed together until well incorporated, and then in went the dry ingredients.

Now, the recipe says that you should add the wet to the dry, but for some reason, I always put the dry ingredients in a smaller bowl than the wet, which makes me think I would overflow the smaller bowl trying to put it all in there.  So, the dry goes into the wet.  Whatever.  So long as you get the wet and the dry mixed together, it’s all good in the end.  Just don’t over mix it or your banana bread will get tough.

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan, dropped the baby ever-s0-gently a couple of times to make sure all the air bubbles were out of it, and popped it into the oven for 53 minutes.  (The recipe says 50-55 minutes, so I went for the middle of the road.)  When a toothpick comes out clean, it’s time to take it out of the oven!

I turned the bread out of the pan after a couple of minutes and let it cool on a wire rack.  I couldn’t wait for it to cool entirely before cutting into it and giving it a nice pat of butter.  I swear that my family can smell the aromas from my kitchen from clear across the valley.  My parents just so happened to call and stop by tonight and, of course, took home some banana bread.  I was smart enough to at least keep some of the fruits of my labor this time!

Banana Quick Bread

(Taken from Better Homes & Gardens Limited Edition 2000 New Cook Book)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I use more like 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mashed bananas (3 medium, but I usually add one extra, so I used 4)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel (optional, I omitted)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I omitted these too)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of an 8x4x2-inch loaf pan; set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Make a well in the center of dry mixture; set aside.
  3. In another bowl, combine the egg, bananas, sugar, cooking oil, and, if desired, lemon peel.  Add egg mixture all at once to dry mixture.  Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy.)  Fold in nuts.
  4. Spoon batter into the prepared pan.  Bake in a 350F oven 50-55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove loaf from pan; cool on rack.  Wrap and store overnight before slicing (if you can.)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Cakes?

I was craving chocolate chip cookies last night. I had everything I needed in the pantry for a change, including a yellow bag of chocolate chips with my favorite Tollhouse cookie recipe on the back. The last time I made cookies, I made a full batch, and had more cookies than I knew what to do with, so I opted to go with a half batch this time.

As I have surely mentioned before, I am not a baker by any stretch of the imagination. I follow the recipe and say a prayer. Last night, I paid special attention to the quantities, making sure not to add the full batch quantities of flour or sugar or salt. I did a great job, until I got to the eggs. I was only supposed to add one by halving the recipe, but somehow after being so diligent about the dry ingredients and the butter, I completely spaced out on the egg and added two.

I figured something was amiss when I opened the oven door and my cookies were super puffy, and suspicions were confirmed after they sat on the counter to cool and hadn’t deflated much, if at all. If there was still any doubt at that point, the taste test would have clinched it — these were not the cookies my taste buds were anticipating.

The cookie bit, obviously, was lacking in flavor or any kind of real sweetness, having essentially doubled its intended volume. It took me until this morning to figure out what exactly it was that I did. Can you believe that?

I should know better than to think I could focus (not to mention perform any sort of mathematical functions) after about 8pm! But at least I erred in a way that was different from any screw up I’d managed before, and still managed to be edible! So, if you like really cake-y, fluffy cookies… add another egg! Pfft.

Potato Leek Soup

Soups are one of my favorite things to cook up, particularly on chilly days like today.  A thick and creamy potato soup with the leeks I picked up from yesterday’s farmer’s market sounded like it would hit the spot!

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I was really excited to come home from the farmer’s market with these gorgeous leeks yesterday.  I nearly skipped my way into the kitchen with them.  “Hey Bikenut!  How would you like some potato leek soup?” I asked.  “Eh.  I don’t really like it.  I’m picky about my soups.”  *sigh*  That bubble was burst rather quickly.

Dejected, I sat in front of my computer, scouring the internet for a decent recipe for these leeks that didn’t involve putting them into soup with potatoes, because apparently Bikenut was burned out on potatoes too.  I found an awesome looking potato and leek gratin recipe, but again, potatoes.  I opted not to do anything with them last night, since I felt suddenly uninspired.

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What's not to like? Sheesh.

This morning when I got up, I saw those leeks sitting there, longing to be joined with potatoes in a comforting soupy concoction.  I turned to Bikenut and said, “I’m going to make potato leek soup, even though you don’t like it.  I’ll eat it every day this week for lunch if I have to, but I’m making it!”  He didn’t mind, so long as I wasn’t making HIM eat it, I suppose.

I went to work cleaning and slicing the leeks.  The dark green tops are very tough, so I only use the white and light green parts of the leeks, making sure to clean them well.  I usually split them in half lengthwise and fan the layers of the leek under running water to get all the silt and such out of them.  I cut them into roughly 1/2″ pieces, and tossed them into my pre-heated, enameled cast iron pot with a little olive oil and butter.

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I seasoned the leeks with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, a tiny dash of nutmeg (since it does great things for cream dishes), a little onion and garlic powder, and a few shakes of dried thyme.  When the leeks started to soften, I added the peeled and cut potatoes.

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I stirred the leeks and potatoes together, added a little more of each seasoning, and let the mixture cook a bit longer before adding the chicken broth.  Once the broth went in, I turned up the heat to bring it to a boil, then covered the pot, turned the heat down to a simmer and let it sit until the potatoes were nice and tender.

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After about 25 minutes or so, my potatoes were cooked through.  I wanted to preserve a little bit of the chunky potato and bits of leek in the final product, which meant that I really didn’t want to break out the stick blender and zap away all of the texture.  Instead, I took my trusty potato masher and went to smashing the potato bits into the soup.  This didn’t result in a texture that I was all that pleased with, so I ended up using the stick blender anyway, but made sure not to completely blend away every bit of potato and leek.

Now I was ready to add the cream.  I actually used half-and-half, but you could use whatever you have on hand — milk, heavy cream, half-and-half.  Heck one of my friends is lactose intolerant and uses a non-dairy creamer when a recipe calls for milk or cream.  I haven’t tried that one myself, but anything she ever brought to share was always good, so I’ll trust her on that one.  Anyway, in went the half-and-half.  I brought the soup up to a quick boil then shut it off.

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I dished myself a nice bowlful of soup, and topped it with some cheddar cheese, and a nice crispy bit of bacon.  Mmmm, so good!  I think I could handle eating this all week!

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Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4 leeks, white and light green parts only
  • 3 large russet potatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder (or substitute fresh)
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 cup half-and-half (can substitute milk or all cream)

Directions:

  1. Trim, wash, and cut leeks into 1/2″ pieces.
  2. Peel and cut potatoes into 1″ cubes.
  3. In a large stock pot, add oil and melt butter over medium high heat.
  4. Add sliced leeks, salt and pepper.  Stir occassionally.
  5. When leeks begin to soften, add potatoes and all other spices.  Stir to coat.
  6. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  7. When pot comes to a boil, cover and turn heat down to a simmer.
  8. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.
  9. Using a blender (countertop or stick blender), blend soup until almost smooth.
  10. Add 1 cup of cream (or more for desired consistency) and return to boil.
  11. As soon as soup begins to boil, stir and remove from heat.
  12. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and crispy bacon bits.

Battle: Baked Goods – Test Run: Apple-Pear Turnovers

Another possibility for Battle: Baked Goods on Saturday… Apple-Pear Turnovers!

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These little pastries seemed to be easier to make on paper than they were.  That was disappointing.  At least the ingredients list was relatively simple!  Apples, pears, frozen puff pastry, a dab of butter, and some sugar and spice — how could I go wrong?

I have never been much of a baker, have I mentioned that?  Yet, here I am attempting things that I have never before attempted, in hopes that I’ll get the hang of it.  What I really did not want to have to tackle was trying to make my own dough, especially a puff pastry dough!  (Is it even possible to make that at home???)  Thankfully, they make frozen dough, so that was the route I took.  I left that on the counter for about 45 minutes to an hour to thaw while I caught up on my work email, and went to work on the apples and pears.

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Gala apples and Bartlett pears

I started out by peeling, quartering, and coring 2 Gala apples and 2 Bartlett pears,  and dropping them into a bowl of water and lemon juice to prevent any browning while I worked.  I cut the quarters in half lengthwise, then sliced them into fairly even-sized pieces.  The pears were really juicy, so it was hard to actually get them into the bowl without wanting to pop every piece I cut into my mouth!  Most of the pears made it into the turnovers…

From there, I went and unfolded the puff pastry dough.  It started out as roughly a 9″x9″ square, which I rolled out to about 12″x12″.  In hindsight, I might have opted to not roll it out and just made smaller turnovers.  I’m not sure if the rolling had anything to do with the final outcome, or if that’s just the way the puff pastry, well, puffs.

I tried my best to fill and seal each little packet, even resorting to using the suggested water trick to get it to stick, but that just did not seem to work on this unruly dough!  So, I pinched and folded and pinched some more, realizing that I was probably ruining the puff to come.

I didn’t get any photos of the actual process of filling and folding the turnovers because my hands were dirty and I was too involved to even remember that I was going to document the process.   The idea clicked right after I dropped them into the oven that I should probably take a picture, so here you go.

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Into the oven!

Thirty minutes later, I pulled four golden brown, acceptably puffy turnovers from the oven in a lake of apple-pear-sugar-juice leakage that covered the tray I had baked them on.  Thank goodness for the foresight of lining that tray — What a mess!  I let them cool slightly before airlifting them from the gooey flooded tray to cool on a wire rack.

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They don't look half bad...

Aside from the obvious issue with the turnovers leaking at the seams, they seemed to turn out alright.  I was disappointed in the puff of the puff pastry, as it wasn’t as flaky and puffy as I had hoped it would be, particularly in the pastry covering the fruit filling.  The corners were flaky as advertised, and I’m really not sure why the rest of the turnover didn’t turn out as well.  My suspicion would be that the rolling adversely affected the dough, but that seems somewhat unlikely, since dough was born to be rolled!  (Edit:  With some confirmation to this suspicion, I have eliminated the rolling of the dough from the instructions below.  This supports the idea that these test runs are a good idea!)

Whatever the case, the overall taste of the turnovers (or the one I tried at least!) was pretty good!  The spices seemed right on, and the fruit retained a good bite to it.  Now, I just have to figure out which will be entered into the Aluminum Chef competition this Saturday.  Decisions, decisions.

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Apple-Pear Turnovers

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed per package directions
  • 2 medium baking apples (I used Galas)
  • 2 medium pears (I used Bartletts)
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 egg

Makes 4 servings.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Peel & core apples and pears, then cut into small, even-sized pieces.
  3. Mix apples and pears in a large bowl.
  4. Mix sugar and spices in a small bowl, then add to the apples and pears.  Stir to coat.
  5. Unfold puff pastry dough, and cut large square into 4 smaller squares.
  6. Put 1/4 of apple & pear mixture into the center of each square, and place 1/2 teaspoon of butter on top of mixture.
  7. Fold the dough over the filling to create a triangle and pinch edges closed.
    • Tip: If dough is not sticking together, try wetting your fingers and pinching it together.
  8. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  9. Beat egg in small bowl.
  10. Place turnovers on baking sheet, and brush beaten egg over each.
  11. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Battle: Baked Goods – Test Run: Mini Pumpkin Pies

November’s Aluminum Chef is slated for this coming Saturday, and I am still having trouble deciding what to make.  My initial thought was to bake up some apple turnovers, but the idea to do something with pumpkin really took over.

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After looking through a bunch of recipes online, I opted for something simple — pumpkin pie.  It just seemed like a bad idea to make a big ol’ pie when everyone else is going to be bringing a big ol’ [insert baked good here], so when I ran across Bakerella’s Pumpkin Pie Bites, I knew I was on to something!

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The ingredients: pre-made pie crusts, cream cheese, eggs, canned pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice.

Because this was the test run, and I didn’t want to have to eat 24 little pumpkin pies between now and Saturday, I cut the original recipe in half, mostly.  I always use heaps more vanilla than the original recipes ever call for, so that was a variation from the original.  Also, because it was the test run and I just didn’t have the ambition, I left off the cute little pumpkin stems.  (Honestly, it’s cute but they’re not going to taste any better for being cute.)

To get started, I had to roll out the ready-to-use pie crust a bit in order to get twelve little circles out of one crust.   It was about this time that I was kicking myself for not buying that Sil-Pin rolling pin at Sur La Table yesterday, because I don’t have a rolling pin!  What I found out is that a nice, evenly cylindrical olive oil bottle works just as well (after washing and flouring of course.)

Using a 3″ round cookie cutter, I was able to get my twelve little pie crusts cut out and pressed each one into a cup in my new 24 cup mini muffin tin.  (It’s made by ChicagoMetallic and, having now used it, I have to say that I would seriously consider buying any non-stick bakeware needed from them.  Wow!)

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Mini pie crusts awaiting their filling.

I put all the remaining ingredients into a bowl and mixed it all together.  I have to say that I was slightly concerned about the filling.  While I was mixing, I noticed that the cream cheese was not blending in smoothly.  The best I could figure was that it hadn’t completely come to room temperature.  So, I took a silicone spatula to the mix and tried to cream the lumps into the filling as best I could, but in the end, there were little tiny pearls of cream cheese in the mixture.  I used a heaping tablespoon of the mixture to fill each of those little pie shells up to the brim with pumpkin goodness and popped them in the oven.

The original recipe said that they would be done in 12-15 minutes, but that was not my experience.  I left them in for about 20-22 minutes, when the pie filling had puffed way up and the crusts actually browned a bit.

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Little pies deflating after coming out of the oven.

I removed the little guys from the tin and placed them on a wire rack to cool.  I was amazed at how easily they popped right out of those little cups!  Needless to say, it didn’t take long for them to cool down, small as they are.  Then it was time to snap a pretty picture and get to sampling!

When all was said and done, the one thing that was definitely off in my opinion was the amount of spice in the filling.  It needed a lot more of the pumpkin pie spice.  It was nowhere near as bland as the year my aunt made a pumpkin pie with NO spices in it at all, but this little pie was not the savory bite of pumpkin pie that I was anticipating.   As such, I’ve modified the original recipe to a) reduce it by half, b) add more vanilla, and c) add more spice!

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Mini Pumpkin Pies

Inspired by Bakerella’s Pumpkin Pie Bites

pumpkin_mini_pie04Ingredients:

1 – refrigerated pre-made pie crust
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Makes 12 mini pies.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Use 3″ cookie cutter to cut 12 rounds from the pie crust.  (You may need to roll the dough out a bit.)
  3. Press the dough rounds into alternating cups of a 24-cup mini muffin tray.  (This is to prevent the pies from touching each other, but if you’re not adding decorative edging, you could double the recipe and make all 24 in one tray.)
  4. In a medium bowl, beat one egg and brush top edges of pie crusts with egg mixture.  Reserve remaining egg.
  5. Add cream cheese, sugar, canned pumpkin, vanilla and pumpkin pie mix to bowl with egg mixture.  Mix thoroughly.
  6. Spoon mixture into each pie crust.
  7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling has risen and crust is golden brown.
  8. Remove pies from baking tray and place on a wire rack to cool.
  9. After cooling, keep refrigerated until ready to enjoy.