Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Banana Zucchini Muffins




I love freckles on kids, but not so much on bananas ...unless I'm in the mood for banana bread. For eating out of hand ...or sliced on yogurt or cereal ...or cut up in a fruit salad, I absolutely require frecklefree bananas that are still firm and faintly green. Picky, picky, I know. Soft bananas with brown spots are peeled and dispatched to the freezer, waiting to join the party in a blender for a morning smoothie, or maybe turn into The Best? Banana Bread from a recipe found online at epicurious

Our recent spurt of hot weather hurried three small bananas along on a rapid ripening journey from almost-ready to oops! soft-and-spotted status. Three small bananas aren't sufficient for a full loaf of banana bread and the freezer already held an ample supply of frozen over-ripe fruit, so today I opted to make muffins, adapting the Zucchini Banana Bread recipe found at Two Peas and Their Pod. The basic recipe is quite tasty, but why stop there? You can produce amazingly different muffins, depending on which optional add-ins or flavorings you select.  

Go for it! Have fun and play around with the recipe. Sometimes those full-flavored, soft and spotted bananas are a good thing.





Banana Zucchini Muffins
adapted from a recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod
yield: 12 muffins

Dry Ingredients
1 1/2 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Wet Ingredients
3 small, very ripe bananas (2 mashed smooth, 1 in small chunks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup loosely-packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup shredded zucchini, squeezed dry in paper towel or tea towel

Optional Add-ins & Flavorings
Finely chopped nuts
Dried fruit (currants, sultanas)
Coconut shreds or flakes
Orange or lime zest
Powdered or freshly grated ginger

Muffin liners
Muffin pan

Directions

  1. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin pan with liners or grease each cup. 
  2. Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to a large bowl; stir to combine, being careful to keep the banana chunks intact.
  4. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture; fold gently with a rubber spatula until flour is incorporated. Add any optional items if using.
  5. Use a scoop or ladle to fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Place in oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. 
  6. Cool on a wire baking rack.

  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Balsamic Glaze with Maple and Lemon

 ...an amazing topping for salmon, chicken, roasted vegetables, fresh strawberries and more!



Balsamic vinegar is a ubiquitous kitchen staple, especially the affordable, supermarket condimento grade. But why settle for using it straight from the bottle? This recipe for a balsamic glaze adds a touch of maple and citrus, concentrating the flavors of an already complex, sweet/sour treat. While definitely not the authentic Modena or Reggio Emilia balsamic reduction, not barrel-aged for 12 to 25 years, the glaze does rate high marks for versatile deliciousness. And as a bonus, it only takes minutes to prepare. 

Recently the glaze was popular brushed on salmon fillets and drizzled atop grilled nectarine halves. Quick, easy and incredibly flavorful, this Balsamic Glaze with Maple and Lemon is a winner!  




Photo: Iron Skillet Salmon

Photo: Butter-basted Salmon Brushed with Balsamic Glaze


Maple, Balsamic and Lemon Glaze

1/4 cup lemon juice (or other citrus juice)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil


  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients (lemon juice through garlic) in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do NOT let it foam up and boil over.
  2. Lower the heat enough to maintain a bubbling simmer and cook to reduce for roughly 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. As it cools the liquid will thicken; thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Not thick enough? give it a few more minutes on the heat.
  3. Stir in the olive oil and you're ready to go.

Notes: 

  • Grill or broil a salmon fillet or steak, brushing occasionally with the glaze as you cook. Avoid flareups! OR use as a finishing glaze immediately after you pull the fish from the grill or skillet.
  • This should hold for several weeks in the fridge, but it never lasts that long in my galley. 
  • See also the recipe and steps for my Balsamic Reduction.

Friday, June 30, 2017

White Bean Chicken Chili - a quick version




This recipe is a speedier chicken version of Chile Verde, a boat or shoreside favorite when I have time to cook from scratch. However roasting chiles and tomatillos, slowly simmering chicken pieces, soaking and cooking dried beans and grilling fresh corn doesn't work when you want dinner soon... like right now... "is dinner ready yet?" soon. This week I pulled a container of White Bean Chicken Chili out of the freezer and looked like a hero when a quick meal was in order. 

I've found that the flavors mellow and deepen when the chili is cooled and reheated, a tasty bonus when making a double batch to freeze. You might want to add additional chicken broth or maybe some green taco or enchilada sauce if the chili thickens too much after a day or two in the fridge, or decide to use the thicker chili as a terrific taco and enchilada filling. Fill some crispy, store-bought tortilla chip scoops with thick chili for an easy appetizer, or griddle some cheese and chili-filled quesadillas for lunch. Yummy! 


Photo: White Bean Chicken Chili topped with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of green enchilada sauce.
What's your favorite chili recipe? I have too many favorites to pick just one, but this recipe certainly rates two thumbs up for Quick and Tasty.



White Bean Chicken Chili
based on a recipe at epicurious (link)

4 servings, but you will want to double the recipe for tasty leftovers, or to have some to freeze.

Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon chili powder (Penzey's Chili 3000 preferred)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 Poblano chiles, roasted, deseeded & chopped (or canned chiles)
6 chicken thighs, cooked & shredded (or use rotisserie chicken) 
1 cup frozen corn kernels
3 cans (15-oz) cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
2+ cups low-salt chicken broth
salt and white pepper, to taste (optional)
1/4 cup Mexican crema (optional)

Topping suggestions:
fresh salsa:tomato/cilantro/green onion/lime
fresh cilantro
grated pepper jack or cheddar cheese
avocado chunks
sour cream
lime wedges
hot sauce (green Tabasco preferred) 
corn tortilla strips 

Directions:

  1. Use a medium pot and heat the olive oil. Cook the onion until softened. 
  2. Add the next 6 ingredients, garlic through smoked paprika, and heat until fragrant. 
  3. Toss in the chopped chiles and shredded chicken, turning to coat all with the spice mixture. Cook for a few minutes, adding more olive oil if the pot begin to dry out.
  4. Add the corn, beans, and 2 cups of chicken broth to the pot; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste, adding salt and white pepper if desired.
  5. Mash some of the beans to thicken the chili somewhat. Stir in the crema, if using, and add more chicken broth if you want a soupier chili.
  6. Let the chili sit to blend the flavors, reheating gently to serve with a variety of toppings.
Notes: 
  • Like so many other soups and chilis, this chili will thicken and develop a deeper, more mellow flavor after an overnight rest in the fridge.
  • Adding a few Tablespoons of lime juice or green enchilada sauce to the pot offers a popular flavor adjustment.
  • Add more broth for a looser mix to create a delicious southwestern soup.
  • Serve the chili over cooked rice or potatoes for a heartier dish. 


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poppyseed Dressing



Today marks the official start to Summer 2017 and there's cause to celebrate; strawberries abound at our local farmers' markets and TV weathercasts predict warm, sunny days for the rest of this week. Weather forecasts aside, freshly picked berries can brighten any day with their distinctive floral aroma, and sweet/tangy bursts of flavor. No doubt about it, in-season strawberries sing "Summer!" and will brighten a variety of dishes. 


Strawberry/spinach salads rank high on my list of favorite June lunches. A recent salad bowl featured my version of Poppyseed Dressing, a trial-and-error experiment that I'll definitely make again. 


The same Poppyseed Dressing was delicious with a mixed bowl of fruit featuring strawberries (of course), plums, cantaloupe and grapes. The dressing highlighted the individual flavors of the fruits without masking or overpowering the various tastes.


More of the same sauced fruit won raves as a perfect waffle topper, along with a portion of cottage cheese. Forget the maple syrup and butter and pile your waffles with Poppyseed Dressing and fruit... really!


This dressing might not win any awards for appearance, but it does merit high marks for taste and versatility.




Poppyseed Salad Dressing

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Coleman's)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Best Foods)
1/2 cup canola oil (divided)
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons poppyseeds

Blend together (with blender or a whisk and small bowl) the honey, vinegar, dry mustard, and mayonnaise. Add half of the oil in a very thin stream while blending or whisking. Check the consistency; add the remaining oil as desired to thicken slightly. Note: this will be a very loose dressing.

Stir in the mint and poppyseeds. Taste; add salt if desired (I don't). 


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sweet Potato - Fully Loaded



Inspired by a photo in Diana Henry's cookbook Simple, one lone sweet potato hanging out in the crisper became 'Breakfast for Dinner'. Containers of caramelized mushrooms and braised kale already lurked in the fridge along with several links of chorizo sausage, making this a quick cook. The recipe called for an accompaniment of baby spinach leaves, but the earthy bite of braised kale better balanced the potato's sweetness and the mushrooms' savory umami. Topped with a soft-yolk cooked egg, each bite was an ooey-gooey, savory-sweet delight.

This deceptively simple, boldly flavored dish was nearly effortless to construct, reflective of Henry's desire to offer a book of low-effort food ideas.
"What we mostly lack are ideas. That's what I tried to give... here. You don't have to be a chef. I'm not. You just need some inspiration to help you turn the ordinary--the building blocks of meals--into something special."
Simple inspiration comes through text and photos, most of Henry's recipes offering suggestions of alternate ingredients, plating notions or food pairings. So far I have played with recipes in chapters on Toast, Pasta & Grains, and Vegetables, adapting each to suit our palate and available ingredients. 

Loaded potatoes are nothing new, but this loaded sweet potato was indeed 'something special', perfect for any time of the day, even Breakfast for Dinner.

Cooking notes (suggestions rather than a recipe)

Bake or microwave a sweet potato in your regular manner. Split lengthwise and squish slightly to open up the inside (I sliced lengthwise into halves for 2 portions). Place on serving dish.



While the sweet potato is cooking, or ahead of time:

 - Heat butter and/or olive oil in a saute pan; add mushrooms (cut into thin wedges or slices) and cook until they give up their juices; continue cooking until liquid evaporates.   

 - Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat; add 3 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup diced onion and cook until soft. Add 1/2 bunch of destemmed lacinato kale, coarsely chopped and 1/2 cup stock or water. Toss to coat greens, then cover and cook until softened and wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and cook until liquid evaporates. Toss with a heavy splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. 

Top the cooked sweet potato with a generous amount of the mushrooms and kale.



Add cooked coins of chorizo, or your favorite spicy sausage. 



Top with an egg or two, cooked with the yolk left soft and runny. This egg was fried...


...and this egg was poached. Mmmmm, good either way.




Monday, June 5, 2017

In My Kitchen - June 2017



It's that time again! time to see what's new with kitchens and cooks all 'round the globe via the links found at Sherry's Pickings. Currently hosted by Sherry, an active food blogger in Brisbane, Australia, this monthly IMK event is not to be missed whether you link your own post or just enjoy reading the notes from other cooks.

In my kitchen...

...Spring blooms transform the view from the kitchen windows, something to appreciate when gray days linger on, so I'm reluctant to cut too many for indoor display. Instead, you'll find odd containers repurposed as vases to hold herbs and miscellaneous greenery. Rosemary roots readily, and often moves outdoors to fill empty spots in the southside flowerbeds, so I don't mind cutting it. Now I'd better get busy planting some colorful annuals along with a few veggies; with any luck the local ducks and geese will eat the slugs and not the tender plants.




...friend Charlene sent me this bragging apron, just because. BFF Char is my oldest friend, not in age but in length of friendship, and we have had decades of cooking adventures together. Some of the more memorable events may have included a lot of wine (for the cooks if not for the recipes). Swipes of flour and dough down the sides of my jeans remind me that aprons are useful, functional items only when worn. Sigh.



In my kitchen...

...I have been a lazy cook while RL traveled, existing on fresh fruit, light snacks, and an occasional lunch out. Then foodblogs and cookbooks nudged me back into action. Several IMK cooks have recommended recipes from Diana Henry, a British cookbook author previously unknown to me. The local library had her A Bird in the Hand available for checkout; I skimmed it but meh! wasn't thrilled. A newer Henry cookbook, Simple, sounded more promising, so I became number 57 on the reserve list. It was worth the long wait. I began by exploring some of Henry's meals for one - Toast Toppers. Success, and a lot of fun creating my own variations. Now I'm eager to try some of the many other Simple recipes I've marked with PostIt notes.



Recent adventures with savory asparagus hand pies spurred renewed interest in this rediscovered little cookbook, a resource for inspiration if not actual recipes. Pie crust skills still terrify elude me, but frozen premade dough removes the intimidation factor. It's strange that breadlike pizza, calzone and stromboli seem effortless, but rolled pastry anything is daunting. Hmmmm I might be missing the pastry gene.




Tanya shared some enormous lemons from her yard in Yuma, Arizona. They are super juicy with incredibly aromatic zest; special treats from a special friend. Lemon Poppyseed Cookies disappeared rapidly when I shared several dozen with a group of medical professionals. I'll credit the lemons, and the appetites at UWMC for this success.

RL returned from the boat with an empty food jar, requesting a homemade version of his newly discovered favorite food. Ja, right. I'm on batch #3 and haven't quite matched the flavor yet, but each attempt has been... well, interesting. Think Goldilocks progress: #1 was too sour,  #2 was too sweet, so it follows that #3 should be "just right". Right? Na. If only my Austrian Mom and Grandma had recorded their red cabbage recipes. 



Now that official summer is mere weeks away, it's time to seek out some fresh local rhubarb, sweet strawberries and more asparagus and get cooking. Maybe it's time to whip up that batch of Moscow Mules that didn't work out earlier.(link) What's happening in your kitchen?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies with a Lemon Glaze



When life gives you lemons... bake cookies! Once again girlfriend Tanya gifted me with a bagful of gigantic lemons from her tree in Yuma. Besides smelling divine, these juicy monsters yield oodles of zest - perfume with a purpose.  



Ooooh, the possibilities; lemon cookies, lemon cakes, lemon sauces, Hollandaise of course, fresh lemon zest in everything... No contest! Let's celebrate Spring-almost-Summer with a batch of lemon cookies. 

RL was out of town and I never rarely bake cookies just for myself, so this first, experimental batch was purposed as a thank you treat for a medical office crew I've visited lately. An upbeat, supportive group of professionals, I expect them to sample with enthusiasm and provide honest feedback on taste and texture.

Lemon sugar cookies, dropped not rolled, sounded sunny and flavorful but I turned to some online resources to fine tune the recipe.  A Cooking: NYTimes post for Basic Sugar Cookies did cover the basics, but I wanted more flavor "pop" to highlight the essential lemonyness.

Lemon Sunshine Cookies at Serious Eats made claims to "melting away on your tongue into a burst of lemon". Yeah, that's more like it, and a dip in a lemon glaze upped the sweetness factor. This recipe had possibilities, but I kept searching.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies at Two Peas & Their Pod added poppy seeds, just because, and that sold me. Who doesn't love Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins?! (My Costco Copycat version is a winner around here.) link

One of Tanya's Arizona lemons, plus a couple of tablespoons of poppy seeds, transformed ordinary sugar cookies into soft, sweet, lemony bites of sunshine. Thanks to Maria and Josh for posting the recipe. Now I can't wait for the taste test feedback. I will update soon.

6/5/2017 update: the cookies were a major hit with the clinic staff (plus a few incidental other folks who heard there was food in the break room). Two dozen Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies and three dozen Cruising Cookies tied for "favorite cookie" honors. I consider that a baking success.



Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
from a recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod
yield: 24-30 cookies
  • COOKIES:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

GLAZE:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4-5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat to line 2 insulated cookie sheets. Set aside.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.

In another small bowl, blend together the sugar and lemon zest.

Use an electric mixer, stand mixer or handheld, and beat the softened butter and lemon zest/sugar mixture together at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and lemon extract; mix until smooth.

Add the dry ingredient mixture; use low speed and beat until just combined. Stir in the poppy seeds by hand. Drop walnut-sized blobs of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, placing them roughly 2-inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are just set and the edges are golden brown; approx. 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool cookies on baking sheet for 2 minutes. Then remove to baking racks to cool completely. (Don't glaze until the cookies have cooled!)

For the glaze: whisk powdered sugar and 2/3 of the lemon juice together in a medium bowl. Whisk together to remove lumps, adding remaining lemon juice as necessary to achieve desired glaze consistency. Dip each cookie top into the glaze; return to baking rack, glaze side up, and let rest until the glaze sets up. (You will have extra glaze - get creative with the leftovers.)





Monday, May 29, 2017

Root Beer Floats... surprise!



"Why the surprise notation in the title?" you ask. Ah, there's a long history behind this all-American classic, and a short tale behind my root beer float today. 

Some sources claim that root beer was first manufactured, bottled and sold in 1880 and the first root beer float followed some thirteen years later. Frank Wisner of Cripple Creek, Colorado noticed that the snowy peaks on Cow Mountain looked like ice cream floating in soda. The following day he floated a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the top of his glass of root beer and invented the "black cow."

OR, on a particularly hot day in Philadelphia in 1874, Robert McCay Green ran out of ice as he served soda to his customers. He substituted ice cream instead to chill the drinks. However, many others claim to have made this creation, including one of Green's employees. No matter who first served this fizzy, foamy concoction, it has been a favorite treat for many generations. 


Today it was an unplanned surprise in my kitchen. I frequently order groceries online, specify a convenient delivery time, and free up my schedule to do other things. Today's delivery should have included a 6-pack of Bundaberg ginger beer, a necessary ingredient for a batch of Moscow Mules. Instead the grocery mistakenly substituted a 6-pack of Bundaberg root beer, an entirely different flavor of soda, more sweet and less spicy, and definitely not what I had in mind for Moscow Mules.


  
Okay, switch over to a taste-test of dueling root beers, not a bad plan for lazing about on the deck in 80-degree weather. It only took a few sips of each to reaffirm my preference for Henry Weinhard's root beer. Bundaberg tasted sweeter, maybe too sweet, and a bit thin in flavor. Henry's, pleasantly smooth and creamy, had a somewhat stronger flavor (honey, vanilla and maybe some licorice or wintergreen) with a hint of a bite . Both root beers fizzed nicely when combined with ice cream. So, sip, taste, switch samples. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Yes, a valid taste test requires much sampling.

The crystalized ice cream foam remained the star of the show, frothy bubbles of carbon dioxide released when carbonated root beer and ice cream meet. The fat and foaming agents in the ice cream coat the CO2 bubbles, increasing surface tension, which allows the the bubbles to expand and produce a longer-lasting, foamy head. Technique gurus dispute the order in which ingredients should be added to a chilled glass. 

  • Begin with root beer, filling the glass 3/4 full, and carefully add ice cream to allow foam without overflowing. 
  • OR add scoop(s) of ice cream to the glass, then tilt the glass and gently pour the root beer down the side. This prevents a wasteful splash when you drop the ice cream in. Detractors say it results in a murky-looking liquid from the ice cream melting more quickly as the soda is poured over it.

Pick your method, or experiment with both. Enjoy the original, a two-ingredient classic float of root beer with vanilla ice cream, or get creative and try a few flavor additions. Maybe a splash of bourbon and a dollop of whipped cream, or kahlua with coconut ice cream, or just skim Pinterest for a gazillion more tempting combinations. Myself, I'm happy enough with the classic... with Henry Weinhard's root beer, of course.

   

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fresh Apple Upside-Down Cake





Apple Cake. Made with fresh apples, not dried. Bursting with appleness. Hinting at apple pie flavors, but truly a cake. How difficult can that be? Damned difficult, it seems. My search for a satisfying apple cake began with Dorie Greenspan's Fresh Apple Custard Cake which won honors for aroma but seriously underperformed in flavor. I thought my Swedish Apple Custard Cake was an improved appley version of the same, but it was still somewhat between a cake and a custard. My hunt continued.

The latest cake came from a Martha Stewart recipe for an apple upside-down cake. Pineapple upside-down cakes are certainly a classic American dessert, one made popular in the 1920s soon after James Dole introduced pineapples precut into rings. Martha's fresh apple version sounded tempting.      

My first attempt yielded a dry interior and over-caramelized bottom (flipped to become the top). Adjust the baking time/temperature and try again. The second cake was an improvement, adequately moist but still not appley enough. Add a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream and no one would turn down a slice or two. I might make this recipe again, though a box cake version would tempt me, but THE apple cake recipe remains one of my dreams.

  


Fresh Apple Upside Down Cake

based on a Martha Stewart recipe

Makes one 8-inch cake

½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted
¼ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup walnut bits, chopped 

1 large tart apple, peeled, cored & sliced thin
1 TBS lemon juice

2 large eggs
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla

½ cup AP flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom

sweetened, flavored  whipped cream or vanilla ice cream as an optional topping or accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Pour the melted butter into an 8-inch round cake pan, tilting to cover the entire bottom, and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Scatter the nuts over the top.

Core, peel and cut the apple into thin slices; place in a small bowl and toss with lemon juice to retard browning. Arrange in overlapping circles over the surface.

 In a medium bowl use an electric mixer to mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Blend for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture pales, thickens and forms a ribbon when lifted.

Place a mesh strainer over the bowl; add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamon to the strainer and sift into the egg mixture, folding gently but thoroughly until incorporated.


Pour the batter evenly over the apple slices; bake in the middle of a preheated 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, run a butter knife around the side of the pan, and invert onto a serving dish. Best served warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar or accompanied by a bowl of whipped cream or ice cream balls.


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