Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'm Okay, the Cheese is Okay

Speaking of habitual if unnecessary purchases, there are certain stores (Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, the evil temptresses) that I just can't enter without buying cheese.  And cheese experimentation is very appealing when you can get small triangles for < $4 without committing to an entire pound. 

Unfortunately sometimes this leads to 10 or more varieties in the cheese drawer which can be too much for even an experienced fridge inventorier to manage alone.  As a consequence, I have become somewhat of an expert on the "can I eat this?" field of cheese study which specifically addresses the question of mold.

Now, some among us always err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety, but quite frankly first world inhabitants are getting too soft these days as a result of hyperhygienicity.  After all what's the worst that can happen?  The deaths that occur from cheese-based food poisoning seem to be caused entirely by contamination at the source (from the factory or raw milk), not due to anything acquired by lingering in the fridge.  Your gut flora will be stronger for the effort.

The table below from the Mayo Clinic, which summarizes some USDA/FDA information, is particularly helpful when encountering a can I eat this? cheese-based dilemma.  Cheese ripens from the outside in (unless engineered otherwise), so unsavory molds and harmful bacteria are more likely to hang out on the surface of the cheese which is directly exposed to air and moisture.  This means that your shredded/crumbled/soft/porous cheeses are much more susceptible to spoilage than hard cheeses which are kept in their block or wedge shapes, so don't break up the cheese until you're ready to use it.  I've maintained wedges of hard pecorino romano and asiago cheese in my fridge for close to a year with no ill effects.  Seriously.

So don't be afraid of mold!  Removing the mold from cheese is known as "facing" and can be done by slicing or scraping away the offending areas of hard cheese blocks with distinct blue/white/green discoloration.  This process returns your cheese to it's 100% edible state, ready for all kinds of inglorious consumption.

Gruyere, returned to it's original glory.

By the time freshly made cheeses in the "do not eat" column like ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and cottage cheese even get moldy, they are far beyond being edible anyway.  When in doubt, just taste it and you'll know pretty quickly whether you can eat it or not (ie anything sewagey, sour, or that otherwise makes your tongue tingle in the bad way should be a no go).

Moldy cheese? What you should do.
Type of cheese Do not eat — discard Safe to eat — after mold is removed
Any shredded, crumbled or sliced cheese
Baby Swiss
Blue cheese
Cottage cheese
Cream cheese
Monterey Jack

As an addendum, I have removed mold from both cream cheese and aged mozzarella and lived to tell the tale.  I've also never actually seen mold grow on feta, Gorgonzola, blue, Brie, or Camembert cheeses, but am not sure if this speaks more to the hardiness of these cheeses or my rate of consumption.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sick Day Smoothie

Runny nose, killer headache, phlegmy cough.  Ugh.  The worst part is that today is a scheduled day off for me and yet I'm still hibernating and not wanting to consume anything besides sweet drinks.  Not wanting to eat is the number one sign that I'm getting sick.

This is my brunch today in an effort to get some form of nutrition into my body in addition to sugar.  It's got a base of frozen banana (a freezer staple of mine), added color from blueberries, a bit of a tart kick from the orange juice, and is tied together with some flaxseed and milk.  Because all the fruit is frozen, the smoothie can be as thick and delicious as ice cream if you use the minimum amount of liquid.

Another very adaptable recipe, this smoothie is great with all other berries, frozen mango, apple juice, cinnamon, honey, and citrus zest.  I've also been told, never have experienced this myself, that these smoothies work great as a hangover remedy.

Banana Blueberry Smoothie
Serves 1
Total time: 5 minutes

  • 1 medium frozen banana, peeled and chopped coarsely
  • small handful fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) orange juice
  • 1/4-3/4 cup (60-180mL) milk
  • 2 spoonfuls of tart yogurt 

Add banana, blueberries, and flaxseed in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Add orange juice and process on high until the mixture looks smooth.  With the blade running, add milk through the feed tube until it's as thin as you like.  Serve with tart yogurt swirled on top.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Trash Salad's Unnecessarily Complex Menu Selection Methodology

The scene: you're in a restaurant you've never been to before that you don't know anything about.  You take a quick glance at the menu and pick a beer.  Several minutes later after laughing and chit-chatting with your friends, the server comes to take your order.  "Can we have a few minutes?" you ask.  Survey the table.  You have no idea.  So many things look good! "Start there and get to me last," you say.  PANIC.

This is a very common scenario if you're someone like me who likes to eat everything, yet doesn't go out to eat very often and rarely goes to the same place twice.  It was pointed out to me recently that I have a predictable and systematic approach to foreign menus, so I decided to flesh it out for myself to see if this was true.  The result is kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure approach to eating which should come in handy almost all the time and help you avoid the indecisive fluster.

The real key to forming your own game plan like this is figuring out your eating priorities.  These things most affect my judgement when forming dining decisions:

  • Level of hunger/availability of others' food.  To get own food?  Or to depend on the kindness of others?
  • Assessment of eating establishment.  Also known as the Never Order Pasta in a Bar rule.  Ask me about the time I ordered fish tacos at a chinese takeaway.  Potstickers from TGI Fridays? You live and learn.  Goat cheese, on the other hand, is generally a good bet wherever you are.
  • The alcohol factor.  Hangover food as its own special subclass.  Edible garnishes should not be overlooked.
  • General environment.  How are you feeling?  Fat? Rushed? In the mood for beef?  Important considerations.

From there it's a matter of separating your favorite main ingredients into tiers of deliciousness.  I did this primarily based on things I love but am too cheap/lazy/just generally bad at cooking a particular ingredient to make dishes at home.

Now I've realized this is limiting in the sense that if you go to a sushi restaurant, you will be steered toward sushi and that is not particularly helpful.  But try this the next time you find yourself at a Cheesecake Factory (or other restaurant with a 35 page menu) and it won't let you down. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Trader Joe's: A Top 10

There have been a few articles out lately that purport to give the big inside scoop on Trader Joe's best buys, with such fantastically specific tips like "befriend the freezer section" and "avoid produce."  Incredibly helpful, thanks.

Let's get real: everybody has different food preferences and different ideas of what a great bargain actually is.  But I think I've got a pretty keen eye for deals and a very keen taste for snacks, so here are my top 10 favorites of the moment.  The things I always buy regardless of need, financial situation, or pantry space presented in the order in which they occurred to me.

I should add that the New Jersey stores don't carry alcohol, which would otherwise influence this list tremendously.

1.  Dijon Mustard

For those who enjoy mustard with a nasty bite; I certainly do, but okay it's not for everyone.  A little goes a long way, and by that I mean it's a little wasabi-esque in its ability to make your nose run.  This has become my go-to mustard since Wegmans discontinued their dijon brand circa winter 2008 (their "traditional" brand with the French flag on it is not the same).

2.  European-Style Plain Yogurt

This yogurt has the funkiest tang to it and a creamy, not gelatinous or starch-thickened texture like, well, actual European yogurt.  It also makes a great starter culture for making yogurt at home.

3.  Light Coconut Milk

Last time I shopped at TJ's, dented 400mL cans of coconut milk were on sale for $1.29.  $1.29!  This is at least 35% cheaper than anywhere else I've ever seen, including Chinatown.  It even seems a bit creamier than the Thai Kitchen brand, which also tends to separate more.

4.  Goat Cheese

$4.99 for 10oz, $2.99 for 5oz. Can't be beat.  Individually wrapped 1oz rounds are also available for your on-the-go cheese needs, which also prevents the crustiness problem of re-wrapping a larger log.

5.  Andouille Chicken Sausages

At roughly $1 per sausage, these don't immediately seem like the best deal.  But packed full of flavor, one link can add smokiness and spice to a whole rice or soup dish without needing to waste time rendering bacon first.  They're pre-cooked sausages!  Best with the casing removed, but lacking patience you could just chop it into smaller pieces.

6.  High Fiber Cereal

Twigs!  But cheap twigs with pronounceable ingredients and 80 calories per 2/3 cup serving.  Best for mixing in with their more delicious but less nutritious granola products.

7.  Atlantic Harvest Smoked Salmon

No, probably not the best quality most sustainably harvested locally prepared stuff out there, but depending on the size you can get this nova for $10-15 a pound.  It's beyond decent on a lazy sunday eggs benedict and is about half the price at most grocery stores.

8.  Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

These are seriously addictive to snack on and make a great addition to homemade granola or trail mix.  Rather salty, but in a good way that prevents you from eating the whole bag in one hit.  Also make an excellent avant-garde ice cream topping.

9.  Gorgonzola Crackers

I will never have a box of these around the house long enough to be able to take a picture, sadly.  They're kind of like Cheez-its for adults.

10.  Vegetable Masala Burgers

By far the best frozen veggie burgers I've tried.  Potato-based with peas and curry spices, they taste like the inside of a samosa and have a great soft texture that still holds together well on a grill pan.  This photo was taken of the recycling bin; an empty box after less than a week should be a ringing endorsement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Banana Pudding Pie with Whiskey Maple Cream

I'm not sure where I got the idea to make this since I'd never had any kind of banana pudding dessert before.  But I happened to have 3 spotty bananas and a pre-made Nilla-wafer pie crust that had been sitting in the pantry for a few months; both of which were making me sad.  This pie made me very very happy.  And honestly what else can you do with a Nilla-wafer crust anyway?

Don't happen to have a pre-made pie crust on-hand?  Evidently you can make one using 35 Nilla wafers and half a stick of butter.  I wouldn't bother though, since it would be equally good using the whole cookies interspersed with the bananas or crushed graham crackers or gingersnaps.  Or you could go straight-up pudding with cream, both of which are rather amazing on their own.  You could even cut corners further and use an instant pudding if you're really really pressed for time, but those scary things in the boxes are teeth-achingly sugary and evidently high in sodium too.  This version, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, is just lightly sweet and really highlights the vanilla and bananas.  I foolishly used the entire recipe in the pie, so will do a double batch next time to avoid such regret.

The whipped cream was the shining star, as it often is.  The booze gives it a good kick and really compliments the filling nicely.  Make this today.  Your friends and belly will thank you.

Banana Pudding Pie with Whiskey Maple Cream

Makes 1 x 9" pie (serves 8)
Total time: 3 hours (Active time 20 minutes if you cut corners, 60 if you don't)

  • 9" vanilla wafer crust (pre-made or otherwise or see above for alternate suggestions)
  • 3 overripe bananas, sliced
  • 3 cups of warm vanilla pudding (pre-made or see below)
  • whiskey maple cream (see below)
  • Optional toppings:  one additional sliced banana, few tablespoons chopped pecans, few tablespoons melted butterscotch chips, dried banana chips

Arrange about 1/3 of the banana slices on the pie crust and top with 1/2 of your pudding.  Repeat the layer finishing with the last of the banana slices.  Chill for 2 hours until the pudding is set. 

Top with whiskey maple cream and other garnishes just before serving.

Vanilla Bean Pudding
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Makes 3 cups (4-6 servings or one pie)
Total time: 2 1/2 hours (Active time 30 minutes)

  • 2 3/4 cups whole or 2% milk, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, added just before chilling)
  • 1 egg

Add 2 cups of milk to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat.  While the milk is heating, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean seeds in a medium bowl and add empty vanilla bean pod to the heating milk. 

Whisk the remaining 3/4 cup of milk into the dry ingredients gradually (I did this in 1/4 cup increments, stirring vigorously to avoid lumps), then whisk in the egg.  Once the saucepan has reached a boil, remove the vanilla bean pods and slowly add the milk to the cold mixture, whisking constantly (I also did this in 1/4 cup increments to avoid a scrambled egg situation).

Pour the mixture back into the sauce pan on medium-low heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly with a spatula.  Let it simmer for about a minute once it reaches a boil (it will get extremely thick very quickly).  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract if not using vanilla beans, and either set aside for use in banana pie or pour into serving containers and chill for 2 hours to set.

Professional recommendation.

Whiskey Maple Whipped Cream

Makes enough to cover a 9" pie, plus a bit for snacking on
Total time: 5 minutes (or 20 if you do this by hand, but lord that's a lot of work)

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Whip cream, salt, and sugar in a large bown with an electric mixer or whisk until stiff and holds soft peaks.  Sprinkle whiskey and maple syrup over the top and fold in using a spatula. 

Top banana pie or enjoy on something equally delicious.  Cream will hold up in the fridge for several hours before using.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Coconut and Ginger Sweet Potato Casserole

Super Bowl Sunday for me this year doubled as a Thanksgiving Redux dinner.  I realized later that I haven't watched more than 10 minutes of a Super Bowl game since 2004, and haven't attended a Super Bowl-related party since 2002.  I'm attributing this more to my short attention span than to my disdain for football, since I also haven't sat through a non-Bruce Willis movie in about a year.  But it turns out that I wasn't missing much since NFL football is still terrifically long and slow with no real display of athleticism or sportsmanship.  Even the ads were dreadful.  Debate amongst yourselves.

Anyway, thankfully there were literally 50 different things to eat which kept me occupied until at least halftime.  My contributions were this fantastic sweet potato casserole, which I've made for a few November Thanksgivings now, and also a cauliflower sort-of souffle based on a Fine Cooking recipe which was also delicious but kind of eggy and requires more tinkering.

I first made this a few years ago using 101 Cookbooks as a guide in an effort to add some healthfulness and flavor to a family recipe, and I vastly prefer this version over the kind with butter and brown sugar.  This time around I made it a little more crowd-friendly in a 9" x 13" pan with more topping.  The basic ginger-coconut-sweet potato flavor profile is kept the same, though with some significant changes to the ingredient ratios.  For a real time-saver, roast your sweet potatoes off the night before.

The key here is tasting the potato mixture as you go and making sure everything balances out to your liking before you top it and chuck it in the oven.  Pretend you're just eating whipped sweet potatoes as a side, and then just imagine it tasting way better with a crunchy nut topping.

Coconut and Ginger Sweet Potato Casserole
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Makes one 9" x 13" dish (roughly 10-12 servings)
Total time: 1 1/2 - 2 hours (Active time 15 minutes)

  • 4-5 large sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds)
  • 1 cup lite coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup raw, unsweetened, grated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, melted (optional, adds richness but not necessary)
  • 2/3 cup chopped nuts (I like pecans)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Place sweet potatoes in a roasting pan and cover with foil.  Roast 60-90 minutes, or until a knife can easily slide through the thickest potato (it's helpful to roll them over in the pan halfway through cooking).

If finishing immediately, remove the pan from the oven and take off the foil.  Split the top peel of each potato to speed cooling.  If not using right away, the sweet potatoes will be fine left out overnight to cool.

Once sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scrape out the flesh with a fork into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer).  Mash with coconut milk, or use the flat beater attachment of a stand mixer for a few minutes on low speed until thoroughly combined.  Add ginger, maple syrup or brown sugar, and salt and stir to combine.  Taste the mixture after it's been sitting for a few minutes and reseason if necessary.

Transfer the sweet potato mixture into an oiled 9" x 13" pan using a spatula or spoon.  Sprinkle chopped nuts and coconut on top and drizzle on olive oil or melted butter, if using.  Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes until the dish is heated through and the coconut and nuts are very lightly browned (watch carefully to make sure the topping doesn't burn).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trash Pizza

Clockwise from top left: avocado-mushroom-Sriracha, spinach-artichoke, red pepper-olive, and butternut squash-sage pizza

Friday pizza nights of my Trash Salad childhood were true genius, serving the dual purposes of temporarily pacifying my sister and my cravings for terrible food which we weren't ever allowed AND could also be used as a catch-all for random leftovers remaining at the end of the week.  My mom always made pizzas from scratch using frozen bread dough and while I love this idea, I'm not really blessed with the skills/patience required to stretch the tough pre-made dough out into perfect 16" thin crust circles.  This has resulted in some creative efforts on my part, like pizzas on a base of stale naan bread, tortillas, or rice cakes (not recommended for a toaster oven, fyi).

But!  I threw together a batch of from-scratch dough in under ten minutes over the weekend (using more or less the 101 Cookbooks recipe, a simplified riff on Peter Reinhart's Breadbaker's Apprentice) and don't think I'll be returning to quesa-pizzas anytime soon. 

Obviously the Kitchenaid mixer helped immensely, but it's really not that hard to knead dough for 5-7 minutes if you are less lazy.  Divide up dough, stick it in the fridge, leave for 1-3 days.  This step is the autolyse phase, or resting the dough so the flour can thoroughly hydrate and form strong and stretchable gluten proteins.  Take out of the fridge, leave for 2 hours on the counter, and you're in business.  The dough you create is super easy to instantly stretch out for topping.  Rolling pins and swearing not required.

Now, I am a thin-crust lover by trade.  If you prefer a more Chicago style variety (ick), I would recommend dividing the dough in the recipe into maybe 4 and not 6 sections and patting it straight onto a cookie sheet or whatever you're using because the more you lift the dough and get gravity involved, the more it will stretch the heck out of it.  You'll also have to bake thicker crust a lot longer to ensure it's cooked through, which can lead to burned toppings.

Some tips for making pizza dough from scratch:
  • From troubleshooting some of my own recipes, the biggest problem with the dough is usually too much flour.  This is especially a problem if you knead the dough by hand since it should be stickier than instinct would dictate (and dough stuck under your fingernails is more attention-grabbing than dough stuck to a dough hook).  So err on the side of caution and start with 3 1/2-4 cups of flour to 1 3/4 cups water, and keep your hands just lightly floured while kneading.  It's easy to add more flour in, but adding water to correct things isn't, especially if you're kneading by hand.
    Bash n' Chop
    Image via Amazon
  • Similarly, the dough will seem very sticky after you rest it on the counter before using.  Flour the counter and your hands well, then kind of form your dough pancake into a more manageable ball for transport.
  • I recently purchased a Bash 'n Chop similar to this one from one of those school fundraiser order form things that seem to be the way of the future.  Very handy and works great as a dough cutter and maneuverer/pastry scraper/counter cleaner.  If you are guilted into spending money for someone else's kids, why not get something useful out of it instead of yet another tin of caramel corn?
  • When moving your bases from the counter to your baking surface, don't over-work the dough.  I.e. if you overstretched and ended up with holes, it's easier to patch it up than to attempt to roll out the whole thing again.
  • If your base is truly vakakta and needs reforming, let the dough rest and work on another section in the meantime.  The dough will loosen back up after 15 minutes or so and you won't have to resort to the awful rolling pin method.

And some awesome toppings of late:

  • 1/2 roasted butternut squash mashed with 1 teaspoon dried sage, sliced roasted red pepper and onion
  • 1/2 ripe avocado mashed with 1/4 cup red sauce, fresh mozzarella, sliced mushrooms and green onions, Sriracha drizzle
  • olive-oiled crust, fresh spinach, ricotta cheese, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts
  • old spaghetti sauce, fresh mozzarella, sliced green olives and roasted red pepper

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sriracha Citrus Mayo

After the epic pavlova fail, I decided to put those leftover egg yolks to good use and make something that would hopefully be a tasty hit.  I'm not really a mayonnaise fan in general on sandwiches, but I do appreciate a zippy sauce on fish or potatoes.

This is inspired by this post at the Amateur Gourmet, which was prompted by a Jean Georges scallop dish mentioned in the NY times.  Having zero intention of either trekking to the upper east side or paying $40 for a tiny plate just for its sauce, I decided to nail down a recipe for myself. 

In case you haven't used it before, Sriracha is an inexpensive, kicking Thai sauce that adds serious punch to any dish with just a few drops (I swear this guy just scooped me with his cookbook idea).  It is unsurprisingly perfect when paired with a tangy, creamy base and is great on salads, eggs, fish, french fries.. every combination I've tried really.

also great with steamed artichokes

I made this twice, the first time using my stand mixer with the whisk attachment, and the second time in the food processor.  The food processor created a much stronger emulsion since the blade is able to separate the oil into smaller droplets; it won't break in the fridge.  Be sure to add the olive oil last though as over-whipping can degrade its flavors.  The combination of lemon juice and maple syrup also added a much more intense flavor than orange and was better suited to the thick mayo, but to use this as a salad dressing it would good to thin it out using a few tablespoons of orange juice.

But for now it must remain in the back of the fridge and out of reach so I can't get at it with my spoon on the way to the lowfat yogurt.

Sriracha Citrus Mayo

Makes ~1 cup
Total time: 15 minutes (Active time 15 minutes)

  • 2 medium-sized egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce (start with a teaspoon and add to taste if you're wary)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (optional)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a food processor.  Process on high for 30 seconds or so until well mixed.

With the blade running, slowly drizzle in the canola oil followed by the olive oil (this should take several minutes).

Whisk mayo and orange juice in a separate bowl for a thinner consistency if desired.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Delicious Things to Try at Home

A few delicious things I have eaten at lately and how I want to make them at home:

Angelica Kitchen
East 12th St. between 1st/2nd Ave., NYC

The food was amazing and cheap but honestly the best part of this place was the people watching.  Every table seemed to grill the servers for ten minutes about the exact contents of dishes to ensure everything was, as claimed, without refined sugars, preservatives, dairy, eggs, or any animal products.  I had read on their website that the restaurant was BYO, but no one else at surrounding tables had brought alcohol in.  What??  After overhearing the neighboring table checking to make sure the grain coffee contained no stimulants whatsoever, another table requesting rice removed from a dish because it sometimes contains gluten you know! (it doesn't), and a conversation on the way out about a recent "cleanse," it dawned on me that people who eschew animal products, processed foods, and caffeine probably also aren't inclined to bring booze into a vegan restaurant.

Well to each his own, and leave more of the free corkage for the rest of us.

Sides:  curried cashew spread, garlic pickled shiitakes, walnut-lentil pate

I think the key to the dips might be soaking the raw nuts to give it a creamy consistency and then pureeing the life out of the mixture.  Price might be prohibitive with the shiitakes, but maybe I can try a bastardized version using dried mushrooms.

Main: I'm an Old Cowhand from the Rio Zape - menu description:
"Delectable heirloom bean-vegetable stew featuring Rio Zape & Four Corners beans, butternut squash, turnips, parsnips, carrots & celery, accented with thyme & oregano; served with a quinoa-red quinoa blend & cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto. Accompanied by broccoli & marinated red onions; garnished with chicory."

Rio Zape beans are apparently somewhat of an heirloom pinto with "traces of coffee and chocolate with a velvety texture," and Four Corners are golden beans that come with a have their own native american tale.  Great, but I'm not paying $6 a pound for beans.  This stew was delicious and definitely doable with more easily accessible (and less wanky) ingredients, and a name that I'm not embarrassed about saying no matter how much I love Bing Crosby.

Dessert: coconut cashew tart with orange-ginger custard

Less tarty, more fillingy.  Kind of like a pecan pie sort of?  Investigation required.

Summary: vegan food does not necessarily suck.

Empire Coffee
4th and Bloomfield, Hoboken

If I wasn't already running late to work every day, I would certainly go broke with morning stops at Empire.  Restricted to lazy weekend strolls.

Dirty Chai Latte.  This drink is basically a soy chai latte with a shot of espresso.  Chai is just black tea with spices right?  I can definitely make that at home, and it might help get that pesky overflowing spice cupboard under control. 

Beer, Bourbon, Barbeque Festival
11th ave and W. 28th St., NYC

I expected the BBB festival to focus on the first two B's and maybe have a few food vendors who were constantly slammed.  I even got so excited that this wasn't the case that I inhaled at least 8 pork dishes in the first 30 minutes after arriving and had take a break.

The most memorable were the pulled pork sliders.  I think I had three different kinds each with bun and sauce variations. My favorite was on a brioche style bun with sweet and crunchy coleslaw from Bubby's Brooklyn but argh they don't seem to have it on the regular menu.  So so good.  A replica must be on tap for this weekend.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mom's Banana Bread with Almond Streusel

My mom is one of the tiniest people and healthiest eaters I know, so she was never one for random mid-week baking when I was growing up.  Unless of course, there were bananas that were going off in which case we'd be treated to banana bread for breakfast, second breakfast, and lunch (as long as it would ever last).  I don't even remember eating bananas as a kid, so I suspect this is the only reason that she bought them in the first place (correct me if I'm wrong here, Mom).

Overripe bananas beget delicious baked treats.  Not groundbreaking territory here.  But in the realm of banana bread recipes, Mom's is one of the best and lowest in fat out there.  I realize using shortening is a bit of a faux pas these days, but if you read your labels it's pretty easy to find a brand that is trans-fat free.  I've experimented a lot with this and shortening really seems to give the bread better structure (or a tender crumb, as they say) than butter does while using less of it.  Even better, the recipe as written is one-bowl and one-step.


To compensate for this relative healthiness and ease, I added a good sprinkle of an almond streusel on top.  The struesel is optional, but I wouldn't skip it.  What isn't made better with a streusel topping?  Nothing.  While I love nuts on banana bread, I'm fundamentally opposed to nuts in it, but if you like a banana nut bread, feel free to add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts to the mixed dough.

Mom's Banana Bread with Almond Streusel

Makes one 9" x 5" loaf
Total time:  60-70 minutes (Active time 10-15 minutes)

  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 overripe mashed bananas
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups flour (I like 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in order listed (shortening and sugar should be well combined before adding other ingredients and do not over-mix).  Pour mixture into greased and floured loaf pan.

  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped or slivered almonds
  • whole nutmeg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine first 5 ingredients with your hands until the mixture resembles chunky sand.  Add almonds and sprinkle mixture over the top of unbaked banana bread.  Grate whole nutmeg over the top, if using.

Bake loaf at 350F for 45-60 minutes until a tester pulls out clean.  Cool for at least 15-20 minutes in the pan before cutting.