Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cinnamon Walnut Banana Bread

I know June isn't synonymous with banana bread but, as I reached to grab some sherbet from the freezer last night, several bananas-on-ice stared back at me, asking, "When are you going to use us up?"

Well, fine: ask and ye shall receive.

I've baked this recipe before, with fantastic results, but I wanted to play around a tiny bit. Cinnamon and walnuts (toasted to enhance the flavor) are a lovely addition, but there's no reason you couldn't play more. If I'd had pecans on hand, I would have used them. What about swapping the cinnamon and walnuts out for cardamom and pistachios? Mmmm, that would be tasty.

As it is, though, I'm very happy with my Cinnamon Walnut Banana loaf. I can hear the bananas calling again: "Don't you think it's time for another slice?"

Why, yes. Yes, I do.

Cinnamon Walnut Banana Bread
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup smashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Lightly grease 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch pan and dust with flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 5 minutes. Mix in smashed bananas, milk, oil and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon over mixture and mix until just blended. Stir in nuts.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn bread out onto rack and cool.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream

A fast post here: as part of my "thank you for helping out with the website" I was asked to make "vanilla cupcakes with sort of spring-looking frosting" so I baked up Smitten Kitchen's vanilla cake recipe, topped with a lime buttercream.

The results: mmmm. The cake is moist and tender and the frosting has an addictively pleasant zing.

(Note to Jordan, another website helper: I brought your scones in today. I emailed you twice. They were here all day, but you didn't arrive. I could not keep my co-workers at bay -- sorry!)

Yellow Vanilla Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Line two muffin tins with muffin cups.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spoon batter evenly in muffin pans, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Remove cupcakes from pan and allow to cook fully on cooling rack.

Lime Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest from 2 limes (about 2 teaspoons)
Juice from 2 fresh limes (about 1/4 cup)
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Beat butter with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in lime juice and zest. Scrape down the bowl and gradually add the powdered sugar, beating just until smooth. Frost cooled cupcakes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Southern Biscuits

Life is so much busier than it used to be. I apologize if this comes across as whining -- I don't mean it to, I'm just trying to re-adjust.

My working at Geneseo as Web Communications Manager is the first time in almost a decade that I've had a 9 to 5 job (well, 8 to 4:15). It's certainly the first time since I got married that I've had a job like this -- which is a big change.

Then again, it's always about big changes, right? I went from living in NYC being single, to living in rural Upstate NY, married with two little kids -- insta-family. It was my choice, and I would do it again -- but it was a big change.

And from the moment I moved Upstate, Shane had the full-time jobs and I picked up things here and there: freelance writing, adjunct teaching, even a short stint as office support in a church, which added a bit of income to our bank account. Lots of times, I worked multiple jobs at once, but the money was never hot and the benefits were non-existant, as was the professional pride & respect. It's no fun to give your work 110% and have the powers that be shrug in response. Nor is it fun to keep asking yourself, "Why am I wasting the time and money it took to get a master's degree on this stuff?"

But it was flexible, so I could get the kids to & from school, cook, get laundry done, go to the gym, blah, blah, blah, fishcakes.

But the pay was low. But it was flexible. But there were no benefits. But it was flexible. But I wanted more.

And somehow, the stars aligned and got the job I have now: Good pay! Fantastic benefits! Growth potential! Professional pride & respect from colleagues! (Well, maybe I'm deluding myself with the respect but I'm going roll with that delusion. )

But, not as much flexibility as I used to have. More flexible, I think, than most jobs but not as much as I used to have.

The reason I write this is that I just don't have the same kind of time to do non-work stuff anymore. And we -- my husband and kids -- don't have the time together the way did before. (Shane's job had ramped up its responsibilities as well.)

This isn't a situation unique to me or us: it's a work-life balance equation, and people all over the world struggle with it. (Though it appears that some countries are more supportive of working people and working families than my country is, which is a shame.)

The point of all this is I am increasingly vigilant for opportunities to spend time with my husband, with my kids, with my husband and my kids. Fortunately, cooking is a pretty decent way to accomplish this (and teach Kian & Sadie a few things along the way).

I've put an increased emphasis on "Sunday Dinner" -- a sit-down-at-the-kitchen-table-for-a-little-fancier-than-usual-meal, dedicated to the food on our plates and to each other. (Tonight, is lasagna, some homemade brown bread I'd frozen and probably a salad. Nothing overly fancy but a step up from the weeknight stuff.)

So two Sundays ago (the kids alternate their weekends between here and their mom's house) I made .... something I don't remember, but I do know we made buttermilk biscuits from scratch to go with it.

Both Kian and Sadie love biscuits, but especially Kian, and when I know the kids are crazy about something, I usually persuade them into making it with me. ("Do you want biscuits?" "Yes!" "Do you want to help make them?" "No." "You can't eat any if you don't help make them." "OK, fine, I'll make them.")

Initial resistance always strikes me as funny because they always get *really* into it -- who gets to add what ingredient, how many turns someone has had stirring, who gets to cut the dough, etc., etc., etc. Joyful screaming usually comes into play, too.

So we made and ate biscuits at dinner. It was great.

And then we were all onto the next thing.

Southern Biscuits (recipe from Alton Brown)

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. (We used a drinking glass -- LR) Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beef & Irish Draught Stew

Alas, no picture for this as we -- and 15 other friends -- gobbled this up too quickly. Also, it's hard to photograph stew in an attractive fashion; I mean, have you tried recently? It comes out looking, literally, like a hot mess.

Looks aside, I can assure you it's a delicious stew that tastes even better the next day.

So if you can get a jump on this tonight, you'll have the perfect St. Patrick's Day dinner tomorrow. But, still: if you make and eat this tomorrow, you'll be very happy.

Serve over heaps of hot mashed potatoes and drink with a good Irish beer.

Beef & Irish Draught Stew (source)
2 pounds lean beef stew meat
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 large onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups Irish draught beer (I used Guinness because it's St. Patrick's Day - duh.)
2 cups chopped carrot
1 sprig fresh thyme

Toss the beef cubes with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. In a ziplock bag, toss together the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add the beef, seal the bag and shake until the beef is dredged in the flour mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides. Add the onions and garlic. Stir the tomato paste into a small amount of water to dilute; pour into the pan and stir to blend. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Pour 1/2 cup of the beer into the pan and scrape any bits of food from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour in the rest of the beer, and add the carrots and thyme. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Drop Cookies

Well, Happy New Year, everybody! Sure, it's only a month and a half late, and three and a half months since my last blog post, but who's counting?

Where have I been? I started a new job about six months ago (has it been that long? Holy crap.) in which I am mistress of all things web ("strategic messaging and brand conformity" to be specific). The initial focus of my job was make sure a new website was launched and ensure over 30,000 web pages were converted to the new look. If not readily apparent, this is a HUGE task but, fortunately, I am not alone - there is a special-ops CIT team bringing their time, talent and patience in dealing with me to get the mission accomplished.

I have promised two members of the team (coincidentally named "Laura" and "Laurie") that if their portion of the job is finished by April, they receive a cake of their choosing. (I think I floated the opera cake at one point, which illustrates just how desperate I was/am to finish this project.) "The Lauras," as we are sometimes collectively referred, accepted and now we are eyeing one another carefully, hungry for what the other has promised. (I'm not sure if the other members of the CIT team are aware of this deal but if they find out, I will happily enter a similar bargain with them.)

In any event, all of this web work -- staring at web pages, reorganizing architecture, planning URLs, discovering bugs, tweeting, facebooking, etc. etc. -- has driven me from updating this blog. Because at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do use a rich text editor to upload another g.d. picture to the Internet.

Cooking has fallen to the wayside too. We have eaten many quick-fix meals over the past several months, things that take 20 minutes, max, to make.

But, I love cooking. And blogging has always been pretty great, too -- particularly the interaction between readers and other bloggers.

So, I think I'm back. It won't be exactly like before: though I've always had an emphasis on simple recipes with delicious results, I'll likely be looking for recipes that are that much simpler -- but I'm not wandering into Sandra Lee territory, either.

The other shift will be a greater emphasis on vegetarian cooking. Shane has decided to become a fish-etarian, meaning he's avoiding all meat except seafood. That's been another challenge for me, as I've always viewed a good Sunday dinner being centered around a roast chicken, meat lasagna, or pork tenderloin. So, we'll see what happens there.

As always, if you have recipe ideas, suggestions or questions, send them my way via LauraRebeccasKitchen@gmail.com . And if you've read this far, you deserve a cookie; here's a recipe. :)

Chewy Chocolate Drop Cookies
(adapted from Laura's Best Recipes)

2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted, melted butter -- cooled
1 1/2 cups packed golden brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate drops (like M&Ms)

Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 325.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in the microwave, then set aside and allow to cool.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the melted (and cooled) butter and sugars together with a mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg, yolk and vanilla and beat until the blend starts to lighten in color and looks like it's beginning to whip; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Place mixer on the lowest speed and very slowly add the flour mixture a little bit at a time. Don't over mix; mix until the flour is just blended into the wet ingredients. Add the chocolate drops and stir with a spoon until well-incorporated. (Beating the chocolate into the dough with the mixer will break the chocolate drops.)

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Take approximately 2 tablespoons of dough at a time and roll the dough into well-formed balls. For flatter cookies, flatten the dough gently; for puffier cookies, leave the dough in balls. Place the dough on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies for 6 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet, and bake another 7- 10 minutes. The cookies' edges should just barely begin to brown. The center will look puffy and/or slightly set.

Remove the baking sheet and let the cookies cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to allow the cookies to completely cool. Store in an air-tight container.