May 28, 2011

Chunky Junky Monkey, What's Your Game?

From The Recipe Vault is an ongoing, completely irregular feature of CookBook Fetish. I'll pull out a recipe card, perhaps a favorite, perhaps something new, and see what happens. This particular recipe I collected on the internet some fourteen or fifteen years ago. I have no idea where it came from as the recipe card doesn't mention an origin.

This is a great use for bananas just about ready to go bad or go to the freezer (or go to the garbage disposal,) and is a little twist on typical banana bread. You know my phobia about bananas in banana form in recipes? That doesn't extend to the taste of bananas in a recipe, so I enjoy banana bread.

Like most quick bread recipes, this goes from bowl to oven to mouth in a little over an hour. Vary the ingredients to suit your tastes and cupboard supplies as needed.

Chunky Junky Banana Bread

1/3 cup butter, creamed
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
1 to 1 1/4 cup banana pulp, mashed thoroughly
1-2 t lime juice
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

I used dark chocolate chips and dried cherries instead of milk chocolate chips and apricots.

The only instructions I've written are 350, 1 hour, greased pan. After you've made a few quick breads, that's the only instruction needed. Ideally you'll cream together the liquids, then gently add in the dry ingredients. I usually throw it all together and slap it into a prepared pan, totally ignoring all that nonsense. I still haven't noticed a difference in my baking, though I suppose if I was at a fancy-schmancy professional kitchen it might make a difference. For me, nope.

This is a lovely, dense banana bread, sure to please your family and friends. Those writer friends I've mentioned before thoroughly enjoyed the bread, too.

May 21, 2011

I'm In A Casserole State of Mind

It must be the late spring we're having in the Midwest. It's the middle of May, and we've only seen a few days above 70; personally, I've only had one day where I didn't have to wear an extra shirt or sweater to take the chill away. With the lingering chill, I've been in the mood for comfort food.

Cook & TellBrowsing through Cook and Tell, the best candidate seemed to be the Scalloped Salmon. I picked up the ingredients with the rest of the groceries, came home, unpacked, and put them away. Not too long later, I looked at my recipes for the week and examined the ingredients closer.

And I should have stopped when one recipe failed that day. You remember what I said about my delightful time with liquid sherbet? One can of canned red salmon was about to go down a similar road.

I've had experience with canned salmon before, and I didn't like it because frankly, the bones remaining in the fish freak me out. Like a banana in recognizeable banana form, or like that stringy stuff on oranges or green beans. Those things don't freak you out? I go out of my way to avoid them.

I pitched the whole can after realizing the extent of the boneage. I definitely felt guilty on a starving-children-of-Africa (or Michigan) and there-goes-money-down-the-drain way, but couldn't bear to think about picking the minute bones out of the canned salmon. And eating the bones as I've heard others do? Ewwwwwwwww.

The next day I went to the store and picked up about a pound of salmon. I brought it home, cooked it up in the pan just like I learned from Tupelo Honey Cafe. It was sublime.

I ate it with some leftover Corn and Blueberry Salad, also from Cook & Tell. Do check out the recipe (and others) from the nicely portioned preview at Google Books. It's beautiful, tasty, and really easy to make. I added a few Craisins.

I mixed leftover, cooked and boneless salmon, celery, cheddar cheese, onion, and prepared stuffing mix together.

Then I added beaten eggs, milk, Dijon mustard, and chicken stock, and poured it over the solids. I stirred to combine and poured the whole thing into a prepared 2 quart pan. The recipe recommends a 9" pie pan, which I don't have, so a 2 quart pan worked really well for me.

The whole thing went into the oven for 45 minutes. While I waited, I prepared the Curried Cole Slaw with Peanuts and Bacon (also available in the Google Books preview) and the Tupelo Honey Glazed Carrots from a few weeks ago. The casserole came out of the oven and I topped it with some chopped tomato.

 In then end, I enjoyed this casserole but it didn't blow me away. It reminded me of dense Thanksgiving stuffing with salmon. It does not resemble scalloped potatoes in any way whatsoever, so I'm not sure what the whole "scalloped" thing was supposed to be about; perhaps baking this in a pie plate would have made that more apparent. It wasn't particularly cheesy either, despite having 2 cups of shredded cheddar. We had a warm surge shortly after I cooked this, so I didn't finish it completely. But if it was winter? And maybe not so bready? Yeah, that would work nicely. With leftover salmon, not canned salmon - of course.

May 18, 2011

Lemons, Not Lemonade

I love the flavor of lemon. I love the particular cheery shade of yellow that lemons are. Recently, however, I had a true lemon of an experience attempting to make the lemon sorbet from Cook and Tell by Karyl Bannister. She gets lemon-fresh cheery (teary?) describing the luscious lemon sorbet made by a "dainty and dear lady" who made prepared this recipe in "her coastal cottage in Maine for over sixty years."

Made with just lemon juice, sugar, salt, milk, and heavy cream, I figured this would be a breeze. There are no eggs involved, so no cooking or coddling involved. Just mix up the ingredients and dump them into the new-to-me Deni ice cream maker from my local Goodwill.

Now don't get all wacky on me about buying stuff from Goodwill to use in the kitchen. I've been doing it for years. In fact, I have a fanastic used Zojirushi bread maker that makes a perfect half loaf. I figured the ice cream maker would turn out lovely soft serve ice cream for me all summer, saving me the one-block walking commute to the nearby Dairy Queen for service from indifferent teenage girls. I popped the gel-filled cylinder into the freezer and let it sit there for more than twenty-four hours.

The next day, I mixed some ingredients together, starting with lemons...

I juiced the lemons by hand, and stirred everything together until the sugar had dissolved...

I also added some yellow food coloring so the sorbet would be a lovely light lemon color. I set the machine up properly, checked the user's manual twice to be sure, and turned it on.

I quickly discovered that the cylinder wouldn't rotate with the top down completely. And the top wouldn't go down completely unless the plastic paddle was fixed just so. And the plastic paddle NEVER...I'm talking NEVER EVER EVER sat correclty.

I tried holding down the clear part (there's a cylinder, a paddle, and a clear part that is like a cover - except it has a hole in the middle where you pour the liquid.) Not working. I took the clear top off and let it spin. I left the paddle in, and the paddle spun with the cylinder.

After thirty or so minutes of the grinding of the machine, and me cussing, I gave up. The liquid was still very much a liquid, and I was cussing in oh-so-many ways.

I poured it into several ice cube trays...

and I poured it into cheap plastic popsicle trays I got years ago but have never used.

I cleaned up the kitchen. I waited two hours. And had the beginnings of a delicious frozen dessert as the liquid had begun to change to a soft ice cream consistency. I tried making a different dish and also failed miserably in the first step. I nuked something for dinner instead.

I couldn't resist attempting the accompanying hot blueberry sauce, and prayed that the third attempt at cooking a recipe from Cook and Tell would work. I really didn't want another disaster on my hands. I was also questioning my cooking mojo. I took the blueberries out of the freezer and put them into a pan, then added sugar, cinnamon, lemon, nutmeg and powdered ginger (the recipe called for crystallized and I had none.)

Then I heated up the blueberries and cooked until they were liquidy.

By that time, the sorbet was frozen enough to eat. I plopped some sorbet cubes into a fancy glass, and topped with blueberry sauce.

And went to lemon-blueberry heaven. All that fuss and muss was certainly worth it. Kind of. Taste-wise it was. Mess-wise it was not. The sauce is outstanding, all berry and ginger. But now I  need a new ice cream maker - any recommendations?

May 15, 2011

Porchicken Stir-Fry

Cook & Tell
It started as a pork-stir fry, but turned into chicken. I'm exploring some of the recipes from Cook and Tell: No-Fuss Recipes and Gourmet Surprises by Karyl Bannister. For years Cook & Tell has been a popular home-cooking newsletter; now it's an internet destination and has been in business since 1982. This recipe can be found on page 142 of the cookbook.

Bannister claims this is similar to Chinese take-out and is "great left over." A read through the ingredients had me questioning that claim. The ingredients are pretty standard for a stir-fry: thinly chopped cabbage, green bell peppers (I used red,) an onion, a couple of carrots.

All Chopped Up & Ready To Go
Pork was the suggested meat, but I substituted cooked chicken. Vegetable oil, salt and pepper, soy sauce, and hot cooked rice are also in the original recipe.

Notice anything missing?

Because I have fond memories of mom's Sweet and Sour Chicken (and make the same recipe to this day,) my first thought was where's the flavor? Many stir-fry recipes have some type of a sauce, but this seemed to rely on flavor from cooking the meat, and adding some water in with the vegetables.

I looked online for a suitable sauce, and found one - then tweaked with sesame oil and sugar. I prepared most of the dish without the sauce and spooned out a bit to taste. Then I poured in the sauce and stirred to combine.

In the end, this is definitely not as good as a restaurant dish, and I completely prefer the portion with sauce. It adds a light but deep flavor, and is just right for preparation after a long day at work: it's hearty, filling, and fast.

Porchicken Stir-Fry
adapted from Cook & Tell

1 1/2 cup chicken, cooked and cubed
1 1/2 T oil - I used canola
2 cup cabbage, finely slivered
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, thinly sliced
1 T rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
garlic powder to taste
ginger powder to taste
sugar to taste
Rice, cooked and warm
Sesame seeds, toasted (optional)

Get everything chopped before you turn the heat on the stove; this cooks fast!

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic powder, ginger powder, and sugar. Set aside.

Heat the oil until sizzling and add in the carrots. Stir around a bit, then add onion and cabbage. Finally add the red bell pepper. Stir until all is wilted, or starting to brown (depends how you like your veggies; I prefer mine on the crunchy-fresh side.) Throw in the chicken, stir to warm. And finally add the sauce, stir to combine, remove from heat and serve over warm rice. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds if desired.

May 12, 2011

Hot Banana Soup - Not!

Surely you can't wait to seduce your taste buds into a hot banana soup? Wait until you've tasted the One-of-Each Soup on page 14 of Cook & Tell. You'll be adding a banana into this easy-peasy and flexible soup..and you'll love it! 

As the title of the recipe suggests, you need one of each:

Apple, Banana, Onion, Potato
The recipe also calls for a cup of cream or half & half. I'd had an adverse reaction to a creamy and delicious Wild Mushroom Soup recently, so wanted to cut back on the cream - or eliminate if possible. I remembered a trick that I learned from The New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook: use a potato for creaminess. The "Potato-Kale Soup" in that cookbook is one of my go-to, stand-by, crowd-pleasing favorites. The potato I had, however, left a lot to be desired...

but was acceptable when peeled.

I also threw in five radishes; I had them in the fridge and their leaves were starting to liquefy. Along with the vegetables and fruit, curry powder and ginger were added. Then the covered pot went onto the stove. I brought it to a boil, reduced the heat so there was a low simmer, and added a cover. It cooked for 10 minutes and looked like this...can you see all the fruits and vegetables?

Once the ingredients were sufficiently mushy, I pureed until silky smooth with my KitchenAid stick blender; couldn't live without it. Especially in an apartment with limited kitchen storage space, the stick blender works  well. I stirred in tiny bits of butter, garnished with slivers of radish and chopped chives.

Damn! Ready in less than an hour, this is one amazing soup. It's easy to adapt with what's in your fridge. The soup could also be served cool on a hot day, but I wouldn't recommend freezing. Effortlessly complex, endlessly versatile, highly forgiving. Make it tonight.

One-Of-Each Soup
adapted from Cook & Tell

1 apple, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 banana, peeled and chopped
1 celery heart, chopped - leaves included
1 t salt
2 c chicken stock
1 1/2 T butter
1 t curry powder
1/2 t ginger

Place the veggies, stock, and spices into a pot and bring to boil. Simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Puree until silky smooth. Garnish with chives, slivers of radish. Serve hot or cold; adapt ingredients based on what's in your fridge.

May 10, 2011

Passionate Palate Pizzaz

The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up a Delicious LifeThe Passionate Palate is one of those cookbooks I've had for many years, yet have never cooked from. Here's the thing: it's not just a cookbook.

Now you probably say that about many of your cookbooks, but for this one, the statement is particularly true. Coming from Llewellyn Publications, home of so many unusual titles, The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up A Delicious Life touches so many different areas of your potential delicious life that it's sprawling, and I wish it had been edited to be more consise.

That said, it's also intriguing and seductive. The opening line on the back cover says it all: "Wrap up in this warm, fluffy blanket of a book and start pampering yourself inside and out." There are more than 149 recipes and way too many alcoholic drinks. I perused the recipe index:

  • Five Minute California Cheesecake
  • White Russian Parfait Cake
  • Sangria of the Gods
  • Strawberry Daiquiri Pie
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake
  • Cajun Popcorn
  • Rose Sandwich
  • Ham in Full Dress
  • Mocha Hazelnut Scones
  • Luxuriating Stew

The other thing that is captivating about The Passionate Palate is the advice on how to live the delicious life. Check this out:

  • How to Tell If You're A Perfectionist.
  • Single or Married - Take Yourself On A Date
  • Happiness Is The Best Possible Therapy
  • Honor The Why-The-Hell-Not Spirit of Summer!
  • Eating Fruit Au Naturel
  • Have A Serene, Happy, and Joyful Christmas!
  • Ladies Don't Talk Like That
  • Let God do what she's supposed to or...We Can't Always Control.

Get the idea? Passionate Palate is chock full of recipes and tips. It's more than an ample cup of cocoa to nurture your soul - and a bevy of recipes to go along with the nurturing.

May 8, 2011

Tamale Folly

The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up a Delicious LifeNow this is a food blogger's disaster: my camera battery is dead. A recharge takes three hours. And I'm hungry. And the ground turkey is frozen. And the light is fading fast. Yep, that's how preparing this dish went. I crossed my fingers and forged on.

Desiree Witkowski, author of The Passionate Palate cookbook, calls Tamale Pie her "favorite winter casserole," and admonishes the reader to "make two and freeze one." Given than one feeds eight people, I just planned to make one. And prayed that I could eat the majority of it and not get bored.

The frozen ground turkey went into the microwave while I started the cornmeal. You remember that little adventure I had with polenta not long ago? I was hoping that the cornmeal crust for the Tamale Pie went a lot better.

I heated up water, added the cornmeal and salt, and stirred with a whisk. It appeared to thicken quickly, but --despite the book's advise-- I kept it on the burner for more than 5 minutes. Eventually it looked "done" so I flopped it out into a huge (for me) casserole dish. I more or less patted it up the sides and around the bottom of the pan to form a crust. Because it was still hot, it kept slipping and sliding down into the center of the pan. I let it sit, hoping it would firm up as I prepared the rest of the casserole.

Into a pan went some oil, a  chopped onion and some garlic. They were sauteed until opaque and then (now unfrozen) ground turkey was added.

I browned the turkey and added a whole slew of other stuff: flour, salt, chili powder, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped mushrooms, and chopped olives. The final ingredient was --get this-- raisins.

The very red conglomeration was mixed thoroughly and dumped into the now firm cornmeal crust. I kind of smoothed it out and threw the whole thing into a 325 oven for around 40 minutes. It looked...interesting. The same way exploded lasagna might be interesting.

I pulled it out of the oven and spooned some into a Fiestaware bowl. The cornmeal crust along the sides of the pan was hardened, but inside and under the filling, was more like cornmeal mush. In a good way - kind of creamy. The filling was delicious. Just enough heat (from the chili powder) and a tickle of sweetness from the unexpected addition of raisins.

It looks good the day after a night in the fridge.
This really is a good winter casserole recipe. It was pretty easy to throw together, and would feed a crowd of hungry people. Like so many casseroles, it's not particularly beautiful, but with the addition of some shredded cheese, becomes a nurturing meal. Or several meals in my case.

May 5, 2011

Minestrone In A Minute or Two

The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up a Delicious LifeI'm exploring a cookbook entitled The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up A Delicious Life by Desiree Witkowski. This is one of those cookbooks I've had forever, and love to read, but have never cooked from before. I decided to start to change that by trying the "Perfect Minestrone" on page 225. But first, a question...

Exactly how is it that frozen vegetables can sit out all day and not be unfrozen? Does my sink have some special coolometer or antigriddle that I'm not aware of?

I deliberately opened the three frozen veggie packages in the morning before I left for work so that they would be (according to the recipe) unfrozen by the time it came to adding them into the soup pot. They appeared mostly unfrozen, so I ran some cold water over them, and let them drain and sit for a bit longer as I prepared the other items.

Unfrozen Veggies?
My first consideration was flavor. There are a lot of ingredients in this recipe, but I saw nary a typical Italian flavor. No garlic, thyme, bay leaves, pancetta (which I've used before). Heck, not even any salt and pepper is called for. For me, lack of flavor indicators is a blatant invitation to mess with the recipe. And so I did.

I chopped some frozen bacon and threw it into the pot. How do you chop frozen bacon? Use a big knife and a little hammer. Works well for winter squash, too. I chopped all of the frozen bacon, and put it back into the freezer in small, labeled bags. I prayed I'd be able to locate it again.

Can you find the bacon?
I sliced up two onions and threw them in with the bacon, along with three cloves of garlic. A a can of whole tomatoes were chopped them right into the pot, though I reserved the liquid for later. I also added in a bunch of thyme,  oregano, sage, and rosemary; no idea how much - maybe a tablespoon of each?

Saute of Onions, Garlic, Tomatoes, Spices
The recipe called for 6 cups of chicken broth. I added that in and then stood back to ponder. If this is supposed to feed 10 people, that should mean 10 servings, right? 6 cups of water won't do that. I'd think it would be at least a cup of liquid per person, so added a couple additional cups of chicken stock.

The recipe then calls for you to let the liquid set for 30 minutes on low. I didn't trust that...not one bit. I brought it to a boil, and then turned it back. Meanwhile, in another pot, I brought water to boil and prepared some macaroni.

You can add any short pasta to minestrone, and I've even used broken spaghetti or linguine. This time, I decided to empty a box of macaroni. And the recipe suggested cooking it separately, particuarly if you weren't sure how many times the soup would be reheated. I had no clue, so heated separately.

I also heated up the oven so I could heat up some garlic bread to accompany. I thought about a salad...nah. I'll do that later this week.

I opened one of those tiny bottles of wine...the kind you can get in four packs? Really handy for cooking, especially when I wouldn't know what to do with a whole bottle. I couldn't possibly drink an entire bottle of wine by myself - I'd never make it to the bed, let alone to work the next morning. The little bottles are the perfect size. I added 3/4 of a bottle of Barefoot Merlot and saved just a bit to drink.

Then I thought about the vegetables. The recipe called for 3 10oz bags. I couldn't find any 10oz bags, but I could find 16oz bags and got three. And opened three. And more or less thawed three. That's a lot of extra vegetables. I delayed the addition and put the can of kidney beans in instead. The reserved tomato juice was also thrown in and I checked on the pasta. I also checked on the soup and was surprised - it tasted good! I could really taste the addition of the rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme.

I went back to the vegetables and scooped up two cups, and placed them into the soup pan. I stirred. Not quite enough. I added another two cups, perhaps three cups. Just right. The pasta was also finished so I drained it and reserved until it was time to serve.

Veggies added
Bread went into the oven, and I chopped up some scallions for the soup. I also got out the Parmesan cheese and Fiestaware bowls.

In the end, I did add too many vegetables. I had veggies leftover in my bowl, and before freezing the leftovers made sure that I removed some veggies. I can't imagine what this would have tasted like without the simply adaptation of adding freshly chopped garlic, and dried thyme, sage, oregano, and rosemary; freshly chopped basil would have been a fanastic addition at the end of preparation. The bacon didn't stand out in the end, but added a nice depth, as did the entire bottle of red wine (I ended up throwing the whole thing in.) The addition of scallions and parmesan enhanced the flavor, and I can imagine that the suggested pesto would do the same. Overall, not bad. I can't say I'll make it again - I so rarely repeat a recipe. While I can't say that the soup is "perfect," it is mighty fine, and deserves a place in my recipe collection for versatality if nothing else.

Perfect Minestrone
adapted from The Passionate Palate

1-2 slices bacon
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T each thyme, oregano, and sage
2 t rosemary
6 cups chicken broth (or more as needed)
1 14 oz can whole tomatoes, drained & chopped
4 cups mixed frozen vegetables - spinach is a must
1 15oz can kidney beans
1-2 cups good quality red wine to taste
small pasta, cooked

Cook the bacon in a good sized soup pot. Thinly slice the onions, add to the pan, and stir. Add the minced garlic, and then the thyme, sage, and rosemary. Let steep a bit, and stir occasionally. Add the tomatoes and broth, bring to a boil, and then turn down to low. Cook for 30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle. Add everything else - the vegetables, beans, wine, even the pasta if it's cooked. Turn off the heat and cover. Let stand two minutes or longer until heated through. Serve with Parmesan, chopped scallions, or pesto.

May 3, 2011

Upside Down, You're Turning Me

The Passionate Palate: Recipes for Cooking Up a Delicious LifeI'd chosen five or six dishes from The Passionate Palate to try, and then it was late Sunday afternoon. I was thinking about making the Vegetable Lasagna on page 43 and accompanying the dish with the Wild Woman Wilted Salad on page 146. Further inspection of the salad showed that it was just a gussied-up name for a spinach salad with hot bacon dressing. I also considered the Upside-Down Apple Gingerbread on page 186 - and you know what won?

The gingerbread, of course, because I only had two eggs in the house. I could have  made all three items, but it just seemed like too much work and I really didn't want to run to the grocery store. I'm not one to shirk cooking challenges often, but on this particular Sunday it was worth it. Besides, I had leftover Tamale Pie (which you'll learn about in a few days.) I really didn't need one more tomato-laden dish hanging around in my fridge to become green and moldy.

Also, this reminds me of the Pineapple Upside-Down cakes that were so popular in the 70's. This was much better and required no spiffy placement of pineapple rings or maraschino cherries.

I think this would be easily replicated without a recipe. If you've got a favorite gingerbread recipe, try to prepare it this way. The most important ingredient after the cake mixture is the apple filling. It requires enough thinly sliced apples to cover the bottom of a 9x9 well-buttered pan. I used two large Granny Smith's.

Thinly Sliced Granny Smith Apples
Sprinkle on a little over a half cup of mixed brown sugar and cinnamon...

and pour in your gingerbread recipe.

Mine went into the oven for 30 minutes. I used the toothpick trick and determined that more time was needed. So it went back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Then I let it cool while I cleaned up the kitchen and ate my dinner of Tamale Pie.

I spooned the Upside-Down Apple Gingerbread into the Fiestaware bowl and stopped. Something was missing. The recipe suggested a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar and a dollap of bourbon infused whipping cream; I had none of those in the house. I did, however, have just enough vanilla ice cream. Perfect!