Tag Archives: Recipes

Obviously You’re Not a Baker: Banana-Apple-Pear Bread

27 Sep

Sometimes you eat the bread, and...well, sometimes the bread eats you.

I may be a lot of things, but a baker has never really been one of them.  I don’t really like recipes.  Too confining.  I don’t like to measure.  I’m like your grandma – pinch of this, dash of that.  What’s in my fridge?  What’s in my cupboards?  What can I throw together?  That’s how I operate.  As such, the precise chemistry of baking – along with the fact that I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth – has meant that my oven is more often filled with meatloaves than bread loaves.

The rare exceptions have been the occasional batch of brownies, lemon curd bars and slightly more often – banana bread.  Not too sweet.  Good for breakfast or as a snack.  A good way to use up over-ripe bananas.  Utilitarian.

Never content to leave a good thing alone, you know I have to embellish and tailor everything to my tastes.  I found a pretty tasty-sounding recipe for an Banana and Apple bread on FoodandWine.com and I just so happened to have a couple mushy bananas, a Granny Smith and a pear that needed using.  So on a typical fall Sunday, in lieu of a pot of chili bubbling away on the stove, I had a loaf of delicious Banana-Apple-Pear bread rising in my oven.

Banana-Apple-Pear Bread

(adapted from Melissa Murphy’s recipe at FoodandWine.com)

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 Granny Smith apple and one pear—peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 shots of espresso (optional)
  • 1 dash of Triple Sec (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of plain or vanilla yogurt (optional)

How it’s done:

  1. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar. Add the apple, pear, espresso, and triple sec and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until tender and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla and set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-by-4 1/2 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, nutmeg and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
  3. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the remaining stick of butter with the granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix until smooth. Add the mashed bananas, orange juice, yogurt and the remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients in small increments and beat on low speed until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the apples and pears.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; cover loosely with foil if the loaf becomes too dark. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out onto a rack to cool completely.

Cooking the apple and pear in espresso and triple sec adds an extra depth of flavor to the fruit and the yogurt contributes a little tang and moistness to the bread.  See, Travis, you can bake and improvise!  Really!  The more I can tell myself that, the likelier I am to step out of my banana bread comfort zone and get more than my toes wet in the deep end of baking.  Everyone starts with water wings, right?

Curry Favor and Bury Flavor with Brine

26 Jul

I never liked pork chops much growing up. All-too-often overcooked to within an inch of their lives, I couldn’t understand why my parents loved them so much. But flash forward to present day and you’ll know that I adore all things pig, including the humble chop. Why the change of heart? What if I told you a simple bath in salty water and a gentle hand with a hot pan was all that stood between you and the juiciest pork chop you ever ate? Would that be something you might be interested in?

Brining, or the simple process of marinating a food in a salty liquid solution, is perhaps the simplest, most fool-proof means of keeping even the leanest cuts of meat flavorful and juicy, provided you don’t overcook them. The science is a little dense, but the gist is that the high salt content of the brine serves to alter the chemistry of the cells in the meat to the point where they want to hold onto as much moisture as possible. This makes for good eating.

The brine can also act, as any marinade does, to saturate the target with intense flavors impossible by simple surface seasoning. Toss in any spices you would normally use as a rub and watch those flavors penetrate every corner of your meat.

The second key to succulent swine is to take it easy with the heat.  The practice of using uncooked scrap meat as animal feed, coupled with lax meat-handling conditions from farm to table in years past lead to outbreaks of trichinosis, a pig parasite that causes intestinal maladies in most and severe reactions and even death in an unlucky few. While undercooked meat is nothing to joke around about, pork can take on a sear just like a quality steak and a little pink in the middle isn’t a bad thing. Buy fresh or keep frozen and out of the Danger Zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and most meat should be safe to sear. (Editor’s Note: Buying from a farm you trust can also help alleviate concerns.)

Brined pork chops have become one of my favorite cool-weather comfort foods, paired with braised root vegetables or earthy risottos, they make for comfort food of epic proportions.  A recent curry craving had me wondering how the bright flavors of the East might make for a more season-appropriate application of a Fall/Winter stand-by. A quick couscous salad later and I had my answer: great success!

Curry-Brined Pork Chop with Couscous Salad

Ingredient Rundown:

  • bone-in pork chops

Brine

  • water
  • ice
  • kosher salt
  • brown sugar
  • sweet curry powder
  • garam masala
  • cracked black pepper

Couscous Salad

  • Cooked couscous
  • finely chopped vegetables (I used red and green bell pepper, onion, carrot, tomato, garlic and cilantro)
  • lime juice
  • olive oil
  • white vinegar
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • powdered ginger
  • Sriracha or other hot chili sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

Add about 2 cups to a quart of water (depending on how many chops you’re brining) to small pot and heat until nearly boiling. Add a few teaspoons of salt until the water takes on a seawater-like salinity. Add sugar and remaining spices and stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Add ice until brine is cooled to room temperature.

Place pork chops in brine in a sealed storage container or zip-top bag and marinate in refrigerator for 8-24 hours. Obviously, they will take on more salt and curry flavor with longer brining. I have found that 12 hours is a safe bet for a flavorful, yet not over-salted chop.

Prepare couscous salad by cooking couscous as directed (usually by bringing twice as much water as couscous to a boil with a pinch of salt and splash of olive oil, adding couscous and removing from heat to steam for about 5 minutes, fluffing with a fork).  I added a generous dash of maharaja curry powder with the water as to permeate the couscous as it cooked.

In a mixing bowl, prepare dressing by whisking together lime juice, splash of vinegar, Sriracha, spices, salt, cilantro and olive oil. Add vegetables, stir to combine, cover, and place in refrigerator to chill. Flavor will intensify the longer it chills.

When ready to cook, remove pork chops from brine and pat off excess liquid.  Season with a rub of cracked pepper, curry and garam masala. I sprayed each side of the chops with olive oil and added them to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Depending on thickness of chops, 3-5 minutes per side should do the trick.  Don’t be afraid of a little pink in the middle.

Plate with couscous salad and serve.

Irreconcilable Differences: Huevos Divorciados

26 Jul
They remain good friends

My Summer of Spice continues with its Latin bent and a simple, savory and piquant way to start your day. Or end it (breakfast-for-dinner is always a welcome change of pace for me).

Huevos Divorciados (“divorced eggs”) is a close cousin of the familiar huevos rancheros available at most breakfast joints across North America. I stumbled upon the dish as I looked for a way to use up some of the extra salsas that take up half of my fridge at any given time. Inspired by other Mexican dishes that feature bright-colored red and green sauces, huevos divorciados pits one egg, smothered in salsa roja (Team Red) against its embattled mate, doused in salsa verde (Team Green). The tangy bite of the salsa verde serves as a nice counterpoint to the savory roja. While they might not appear to be on speaking terms, they reunite in your mouth to remake the magic that put them on the same plate in the first place.

Huevos Divorciados

Ingredient Rundown (per serving):

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium potato, thinly sliced
  • 1 half small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • chorizo, either one small link or 1/2 cup of ground and browned
  • spices (Penzey’s Northwoods Fire or other spicy blend, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper)
  • salsa roja
  • salsa verde
  • tortilla
  • olive oil/bacon drippings for frying
  • cilantro, chopped
  • guacamole (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)
  • refried beans (optional)
  • shredded cheese (optional)

How I do it:

  1. Season and fry sliced potatoes until mostly cooked, 10-15 minutes on medium.  Add chorizo, onion and red bell pepper, continue to cook for 5-10 minutes until tender.
  2. Fry 2 eggs, leaving the yolk runny. Over-easy works for me.
  3. Briefly warm tortilla in skillet until lightly crisped.
  4. Place tortilla on serving plate and top with fried potatoes, vegetables, chorizo and optional beans and cheese.  Top with fried eggs, side-by-side and garnish one egg with salsa roja (red), the other with salsa verde (green) and plenty of cilantro.  Seperate with optional guacamole and sour cream.  Buenos dias!

This is a great excuse to use up leftover salsa or a reason in itself to whip some up.  Fresh homemade salsa is one of summer’s simple pleasures and you should always have some on hand.  Say no to that jarred spaghetti sauce stuff!  This dish works great as intended — a simple, bold, and hearty breakfast — and as an admitted lover of breakfast-for-dinner, I have been known to eat this meal at all hours.  It’s never not a good time for anything with a fried egg on it.

No Heat Required: Summer Ceviche

26 Jul

Does any dish embody refreshing, tropical, and summer-friendly much more than ceviche? If you’re a follower of Bravo’s Top Chef (and what self-respecting foodie/TV-addict isn’t?), you know how trendy ceviche has become of late.  Just try and make it through a Quickfire challenge without some variation on the simple citrus-marinated raw seafood dish.

Despite its simplicity (no stove required – a knife and a pair of hands will do), I had never attempted a ceviche at home until this week.  Color me a convert after my rookie effort.  While I chose shrimp and tuna as my frutti de mare, just about anything that calls the sea home will do (calamari, octopus, clams, scallops to name a few).  Toss with any vegetation you might also put in a salsa (tomato, onion, hot peppers, cilantro, corn, jicama, tomatillo, avocado) and douse with plenty of fresh citrus juice (lemon and lime are traditional, orange and grapefruit will obviously add some nice sweetness).

That’s it.  No cooking necessary.  Thanks to the extreme acidity of the citrus, the seafood takes on a “cooked” texture and appearance as its proteins are denatured similarly to when they are cooked with heat.  Make no mistake, however – the seafood will, in fact, remain “raw”, so you want to obtain your protein fresh from a trusted source.

A recent late-night trip to the grocery netted me a wealth of summertime fruit, namely watermelon and pineapple (other tropical fruits like mango or papaya would be easy substitutions).  Both seemed like fun and utterly appropriate additions that would bring a touch of seasonal character and a welcomed sweetness to the dish.

Summer Ceviche

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • Raw shrimp, peeled
  • Raw tuna steak, cut to 1/2 inch cube
  • Roma tomato, small dice
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Poblano pepper, thinly sliced
  • Watermelon, small dice
  • Pineapple, small dice
  • Fresh squeezed lime, lemon, orange juice
  • Fresh cilantro and mint, minced
  • Shot of tequila (optional)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt to taste

How I did it:

  1. Place shrimp and tuna in a bowl and and enough of the citrus juice to cover.  Add a pinch of salt, stir, and place in fridge, covered, for 15 minutes or so.
  2. Seafood should be taking on a whitish, cooked appearance.
  3. Uncover and add tomato, onion, poblano, cilantro, mint, tequila and olive oil.  Re-cover and place back in fridge for another 15-30 minutes.
  4. To serve, place some of the diced watermelon and pineapple in the bottom of small bowls.  Top with the marinated seafood and vegetables and a few teaspoons of the marinade.
  5. Save a shot of the remaining marinade for the morning after.  Referred to as leche de tigre (‘tiger’s milk’) by Peruvians and Ecuadorians, this intensely flavorful liquid is rumored to be the best hangover cure around.  You were enjoying this ceviche with a delicious beverage or three, weren’t you?

Cocktail with a kick: Moscow Mule

16 Jun

No lattes 'til you finish your drink

Ginger beer is one of my favorite summer things.  Throw in some mint and lime juice and I can’t think of a drink I’d rather lounge with as the humidity rises.  I stumbled upon the Moscow Mule as I looked for drinks that utilized ginger beer and/or the big mint plant that’s dominating my porch.  Emerging in Los Angeles in the 1940’s, the Moscow Mule was instrumental in popularizing vodka in an otherwise gin-crazy America.  Leave it to LA to blend East (vodka) and West (ginger beer) in a beverage made for summer.

Moscow Mule

Ingredient rundown:

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • ~6 oz ginger beer (I like Barritt’s for cocktails, but was trying out Target’s Archer Farm’s brand this time.  Verdict: not bad, a little sweet and could use a little more spicy kick)
  • fresh lime juice (I used 2 small key limes per drink)
  • 4-6 mint leaves, bruised + a sprig for garnish
  • ice

How I do it

  1. Tradition calls for serving the mule in a copper mug.  Well I don’t have one of those.  What I do have is a stainless steel milk pitcher, cuz I’m a barista and all.  Seemed like an appropriate substitution.  Fill that guy with ice, the vodka, ginger beer and lime juice.
  2. Bruise the mint leaves and toss those in along with the spent lime wedges. Stir.
  3. Sit back and sip one of the more refreshing beverages I can think of on a hot summer day/eve.
  4. Try it with rum instead of vodka for a more Dark and Stormy-like beverage with a little more depth of flavor.

Gyros Welcome: Everyone’s Favorite Open-Faced Sandwich Made Easy

16 Jun

Who doesn’t love gyros?  Delicious lamb, tangy tzatziki, fresh tomatoes and onions on a chewy pita.  Few things take hold of me harder than a gyro craving.  Unfortunately, Madison’s pickings are slim (one feather in the caps of Milwaukee and Chicago is an abundance of great gyros shops).  Especially in the greater Southwest/Fitchburg area.  In lieu of a trip downtown for an overpriced, overcooked disappointment from Parthenon (though my last trip rebuilt some hope that their turning things back around) or a journey all the way across town to Poppa Coronofoulos ‘, I decided I was going to take the lamb by the ears and make gyros at home.  How hard could it be?

Obviously, I don’t have a large spit and broiler, nor the appetite to take down a hundred pound log of gyroloaf before it turns, so I would have to improvise.  Nothing new for 43N/89W.  The main tasks here are preparing the lamb (marinating) and whipping up the tzatziki (some of you might call it cucumber sauce.  I call it the highlight of the sandwich).  The rest is piling ingredients into a pita.  I’ll trust you with that bit.

Lamb Marinade

  • 1 tbsp Penzey’s Greek Seasoning (coarse salt, garlic, lemon, black pepper, Turkish oregano, marjoram)
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1tbsp water

Mix above ingredients and combine with cubed lamb meat in a zip-top bag for a couple of hours, or better, overnight.

Tzatziki

(from The Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition)

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 1 cup greek-style yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and minced or grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill (I used a few shakes of dried)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt

How it’s done:

  • Stir those things together.  Refrigerate.  That’s it.  Eat it with a spoon if you like.  I do…

Gyros

Ingredient Rundown:

  • lamb meat, cubed (I used lamb stew meat cuz it was cheap at ~$5/lb and I was going to skewer it anyway.  Knock yourself out and use nicer lamb steaks if you’d like, but you know we here at 43N/89W are scraping through the recession.)
  • tzatziki
  • sliced tomato and onion
  • pita bread, lightly oiled and grilled until soft and lightly browned on flat side
  • large romaine lettuce leaves (VERY optional and not very traditional, bu it helped hold the ingredients together in the pita and lent a nice crunch to the sandwich)

How it’s done:

  1. Marinate lamb meat for several hours or overnight.
  2. Prepare tzatziki, as above.
  3. Cook lamb meat, either sauteed in olive oil until medium or skewered, on the grill.  I tried both over the course of my two-day gryos binge and honestly preferred the pan-cooked version better as it just tasted more like the meat I’m used to in gyros and wasn’t overpowered by that grilled character).
  4. Let meat rest for a few minutes and slice thin.
  5. Lightly grill pita until pliable.  Assemble sliced lamb, tzatziki (LOTS), sliced tomato and onion and lettuce (optional) on pita.  Dig in.  It will be messy.  It’s worth it.  You will have onion breath.  It’s worth it.

Obsession: Chicken with Tomatillo-Poblano-Cilantro Sauce

1 Jun

Chicken with tomatillo-poblano-cilantro sauce

Some foods have a way of slipping under your radar, despite rocking your world every time you revisit them.  Tomatillos are firmly in that category for me.  Tart, tangy and refreshing as they are, tomatillos can be tough to wrangle up in Madison outside of their main growing season (May-October) and are often tucked away in ethnic or specialty sections of the produce department.  As such, they’re regretfully out-of-sight, out-of-mind on many of my grocery runs.  Thankfully, warm weather means my fridge has a steady supply of fresh salsa for snacking and salsa verde is one of my favorites so this illusive green-husked fruit is back in my life again.

Mexican food is so great because of the fresh, bold flavors and often simple preparations.  If you know my style in the kitchen, you know that’s precisely how I operate.  While this isn’t the quickest dish to whip up with the roasting and simmering involved, the crisp waves of flavor from the tangy tomatillos, spicy peppers and fresh cilantro make the effort well worth it.

Tomatillo-Poblano-Cilantro Sauce

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 8-12 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper
  • 1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock (or water)
  • generous pinches of dried Mexican oregano and epazote
  • juice of 1 large or several key limes
  • salt to taste.

How I do it:

  1. Place prepared tomatillos and poblano pepper on a baking sheet and roast under your broiler for 6-8 minutes or until the skin begins to blacken in spots.  Flip and repeat.
  2. Place roasted tomatillos and poblano pepper in a blender or food processor along with chipotle pepper, cilantro, garlic, stock or water, lime juice and seasoning.  Blend until well-incorporated into a smooth sauce.

Veg rainbow

Chicken and Peppers

Ingredient Rundown:

  • 3-4 chicken thighs, de-boned and rubbed with salt and Penzeys Northwoods Fire or other spicy blend
  • 1/2  each of poblano, green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil

Chicken simmering

How I do it:

  1. Add vegetable oil to cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear chicken thighs for 3-4 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Set aside.
  2. Sauté peppers and onion in reserved oil and chicken drippings for 6-8 minutes, or until softened yet still firm.
  3. Add prepared tomatillo-poblano-cilantro sauce to pan along with seared chicken thighs.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-25 minutes until sauce has thickened and chicken in tender.

Serve on a warm tortilla, preferably with some delicious accoutrement like sour cream, guacamole, and fresh salsa.  I happened to have some pineapple-roasted corn salsa and fresh guac on hand, which added cool, refreshing counterpoints to the warm, tangy sauce.  If you’re not on the tomatillo bandwagon yet, you should be.  This platypus of the tomato family has a lot going for it if you can track it down.

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