Banana Muffins

Banana muffins! I haven’t made banana muffins in years. I like bananas on the greenish side so I bought a bunch of bananas last week that were green – still deep, hard, kermit the frog, green. I was hoping they would ripen in time for breakfasts during the week but they didn’t get to be edible until Thursday – which meant I was stuck with them over the weekend and I never eat bananas on the weekend. Not sure why, it’s just a weekday breakfast thing. Froze them and voila! Today I had the chance to do something with them. Delicious muffins.

3-4 mushy bananas
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup melted butter
Mash and mix.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

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Real tomato sauce

What sorcery is this!? I’m sure trained chefs must know this secret because it makes lame tomato sauce taste like restaurant tomato sauce, and sometimes even better. With a dash of red wine, this would be just plain marvelous. I guess I’ll settle for deep-fried tomato paste.

Yes, you read that correctly. But not in the crispy-battered sense, more in the saturated-in-olive-oil-and-cooked-until-all-sweet-and-rich-and-delicious sense.

1 can of tomato paste
1/2 same amount of olive oil
(or 2:1 put plainly.)
Put in a sauce pan on medium heat and simmer until it caramelizes and begins to brown.

Add it to prepared tomato sauce (or make your own) to make the flavours really deep and delicious, or use it alone. I won’t judge.
Add a few heaping teaspoons of oregano, marjoram, a little salt and pepper, to taste, and a few spoonfuls of this magical paste.

It also makes the sauce cling to the pasta so you get a nice balanced mouthful instead of eating wet, naked pasta and chasing spoonfuls of runny sauce around your plate (although, it helps if you drain your pasta properly and only cook until al dente too).

I have to thank Bon Appetit (Oct 2012) for this one again. The magazine that keeps on giving…

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Nutty Crunch Bread

This recipe has always been a favourite in our family. My mom would make it every now and then but consistently enough that it feels like home. Recently, she decided that she had made it often enough and didn’t really need the dirty old newspaper clipping from the 1974 Ottawa Citizen and was probably best to be rid of it! Alas, we thought it was gone for good.
About three weeks ago, I decided to clean up my own mess of recipe clippings at home and as it turns out, I wrote it down some time ago 🙂 So here it is, nearly 40 years later, still as tasty as ever.

2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup oats
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 pkgs yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp equals one package)
1/2 cup honey or molasses
1/2 cup oil (I like grapeseed)
3/4 cup sesame seeds
4 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Heat milk, stir in wheat germ and oats. In a second bowl, add warm water, brown sugar, and yeast. Let soak ten minutes. To cereal mixture, add honey, oil, seeds, salt, and yeast liquid. Mix well and stir in whole wheat flour. Add 4 cups all purpose flour to form dough. Flour kneading surface and turn out dough. Knead in remaining flour. Cut dough into four pieces and shape into loaves. Place into four well-greased loaf pans and let rise about 2 hours in a warm place (until just above the rim of the pan). Bake at 350F about 30 minutes.

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Vanilla syrup and extract

Since I had an excuse to buy vanilla beans to make vanilla creme anglais, I have developed a bit of an infatuation with vanilla. I’m more of a savoury person than sweet, so I’ll hold off changing my blog to ‘vanilla fields’ for now, but it’s close… And believe it or not, the cheapest place I’ve found to get whole vanilla beans is at our homebrew shop. So the experimenting begins…

I started last night with vanilla syrup – you know that stuff you buy at Starbucks for $10! Yeah, it’s sugar and water with a bit of flavour. Most recipes called for vanilla extract rather than whole beans but I thought I’d try using beans for the visual effect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay emulsified but you do get pretty black specks in your latte. My french cooking teacher would probably be appalled and you could opt to strain them out, if you really so desired, but I like them.

Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and the seeds scraped

Place all three ingredients into a small saucepan and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. You can bottle it right away or let it sit overnight. If you do strain out the seeds though, give it at least a day or longer to let them infuse. It wasn’t very vanilla-y last night but today it’s much better already.

Now, what to do with those leftover, beautiful, flavourful beans!? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Another trick from my french cooking instructor is 40 used vanilla beans to 1 litre of vodka makes the purest vanilla extract. I don’t know how many of you would actually go through 40 beans or need a whole litre of extract but it’s something you just add pods to each time you use them. I am starting with only 375ml and will aim for about 15 pods.

A tea latte, for anyone who still hasn’t had one – half steeped tea (usually earl grey), half steamed milk, 1 oz. vanilla syrup.

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Pretty, pretty cheese

These are my first camemberts! I took the cheese course at the UBC Farm in November and have finally had a few moments to start making cheese. Actually, I tried once before but mistakenly understood 90F as 90C, and you can imagine, it didn’t go well. I killed my kefir grain, my rennet, my starter culture and my milk. So, this time, apparently things went better because I was lucky enough to get real curds and real cheese! I think my curds were a bit too big, as these are quite soft, but I’m hoping it just gives me a nice soft cheese. I should be able to eat them in six to eight weeks, after they age in my cheese cave, and get all ripe and mouldy. Yum.

For all of the details and how to make them, check out David’s blog: http://thewayofcheese.wordpress.com/

For all the work and cost of milk that is high enough quality to make cheese, I can’t say it’s really cost effective, but it is super satisfying to discover how it’s done and to be able to do it yourself. Kind of like beer making, except that is amazingly cheap to make. The instructor recommended using raw milk, as it has the healthiest bacteria culture but the next best and accessible is pasteurized but unhomogenized. I used Avalon’s Old Fashioned Standard. My next step… get me a goat!

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Mushroom Pizza

Fall is mushroom season! Fresh, local chantrelles and lobsters and lion’s mane, oh my! Yes, I found lion’s mane at the Vancouver Christmas Market, of all places!

I found this harvest of plenty at the Granville Island market. Huge bag of slightly less-than-crispy shitakes, portobellos and chantrelles for a buck! Truth, they were a little soggy – definitely the use-in-the-same-day kind of mushrooms but so tasty, nonetheless.

I started with a pesto base and a bit of Dubliner cheddar, a few slivers of red onion and tons of mushrooms. Simple but delicious and effective. Earthy and sweet. Super yummy.

My tip is to use way more mushrooms than you think you need. Second, in preparing portobellos, remove the black gills, otherwise, they’re just mucky and will turn everything black.

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Pumpkin Soup

So seasonal and so simple, I love pumpkin soup! I was lucky enough to be volunteering at the UBC Farm one Saturday morning in October when Jane Cornborough from L’Abbatoir did a lovely demonstration, and the blue jamboree squash were so pretty, I had to make some 🙂

This baby was probably nearly 10-15 lbs.
Roast pieces first with salt and pepper and a knob of butter in each piece, 60-90 minutes at 350F. I think I ended up baking mine for about two hours, it was so thick in places.
Scoop out the flesh into a bowl.

Start with butter, two cloves of garlic, 2 shallots in a stock pot and sweat at medium heat.
Add pumpkin and enough water to cover. Simmer about 45 minutes until softened. Puree.

Don’t forget to roast your seeds for a beautiful garnish – toss with olive oil and salt and bake at 350F for about 20-30 minutes.

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Apple Croustades with Vanilla Creme Anglais

This dessert looks fancy but is actually super simple to put together. You just have to be really careful with your phyllo. It was the first time I had handled phyllo and it is so thin and delicate, it is also so quick to dry out and become brittle. If it breaks or tears, don’t panic. This dessert is also very forgiving.

Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 lb apples, peeled, cubed
1 1/2 tsp brandy
1 tbsp lemon juice
Stir sugar and 2 tbsp water on med-high heat until dissolved. Here, the recipe says to swirl pan frequently until it turns golden brown (about 4 minutes), remove from heat and immediately whisk in butter. [I didn’t do this and couldn’t make it work when I tried so if you’re like me, just add all of your ingredients to the pan until apples soften.] Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and stir well. Add apples and stir to coat. Cook apples until soft – resist stirring often so they don’t get mushy. Remove from heat and add brandy and lemon juice. Let cool or make ahead.

Pastry
1/3 cup butter
9 sheets phyllo
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven 375F. Butter muffin cups and dust with flour, tapping out excess.
Unroll phyllo, cover with plastic wrap and damp cloth. [I didn’t do this so had trouble with it crumbling a bit.] Starting with one sheet, brush thin layer of butter and sprinkle generous 1 tsp sugar. Repeat until you have three layers. Cut into four and set aside. Repeat twice more until you have 12 rectangles.
Working with one rectangle at a time, arrange phyllo in muffin cup, gently pressing on bottom and sides. Fill each with apple filling. Gather edges of phyllo together at the top. Bake about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool a bit before unmoulding.

I might actually cover them with a bit of tinfoil to start, so they don’t get too brown. They were still quite soft underneath and most of them fell apart except this one! Top with Vanilla Creme Anglais.

Source: Bon Appetit, October 2012

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Vanilla Creme Anglais

This recipe is great for a few things – it can be a simple dessert sauce used as is, or put it in your ice cream maker for vanilla ice cream. Never find yourself without vanilla for your fruit cobbler again!

3 egg yolks
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/3 vanilla bean
Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into milk. Bring to a boil on high heat.
In large bowl, whisk together yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour boiling cream very, very, very slowly on top of yolks, whisking until blended. Be careful not to cook your eggs!
Pour into a clean saucepan and cook stirring continuously over low-medium heat until thickened. Do not boil!
If making ice cream, place in an ice bath to cool.

The eggs cook in a millisecond either when whisking or in the saucepan, so be very careful and go slowly. Stirring motion should be “vanner” or figure-eights to ensure a consistent motion and all parts are incorporated.

Source: Chef Eric Arrouze

Warm Cheesy Flatbread

Highly recommended! This pizza makes a great appetizer for a group, or a light second course. I made pumpkin soup to start and served this as my entree. I would just recommend to prepare the cheese sauce ahead. I did everything nearly last minute and while it was warm and delicious, it left everyone waiting between courses. The recipe also called for grilling the toppings and the pizza dough base, which would be delicious, I have no doubt, and would also make it a great summer meal but roasting in the oven is just easier, let’s face it.

Makes two pizzas.
Start with pizza dough base. Roll out onto pans and brush with olive oil. Bake at 350F for about 10-15 minutes, until starting to brown.

Toppings
6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
1/2 red onion, cut in wedges
2 large apples, peeled and cut in wedges
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
Toss onion and apple with a bit of olive oil and roast at 350F for about 15 minutes. Be careful that the apple stays firm enough to handle. Toss in a bowl with bacon and fresh herbs (could also add thyme or sage), and salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup grated cheese
cayenne, nutmeg, salt to taste
Make roux, whisk in milk until it thickens. Add cheese, spices and finish with 1 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream. Use any kind of cheese you like – I’m hooked on Dubliner cheddar at the moment so that’s what I used. You might not need any additional salt if you use a salty hard cheese.

Source: Modified from Bon Appetit, October 2012

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