Banana Bread

Tomorrow ends my stint in jury duty. It was a short week but strangely enough we members of the jury have bonded in our time together, despite the fact that nobody seems to know anybody else's name. The best way I can describe it is to say that its like an extended field trip in high school.

So I'm taking advantage of one of the permissions we're allowed as jurors and I'm bringing in baked goods to share with the group. Originally I had planned to make an amazing zucchini muffin recipe Lauren and I discovered last summer, but Meijer didn't have any zucchinis. So instead I made a couple loaves of banana bread.
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp molasses (rum also works, as does 1 tsp vanilla)
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (3-4 bananas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one 9x5 inch pan.

Cream margarine and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, molasses/rum/vanilla, then bananas. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to the wet, stirring just until combined. Pour into prepared pan, top with chopped walnuts and bake at 350 for about 1 hour (or till toothpick comes out clean). Remove from pan and let cool, store in refrigerator or freeze.

I'll let you know tomorrow or perhaps over the weekend how the bread turned out. I'll also give some more details about jury duty, assuming I'm finished and am at liberty to speak about it.

Right now the banana bread smells and looks amazing.

p.s. - I violated the "wet on top of dry (to avoid flour coughing all over the counter)" rule of ingredient mixing because I used the KitchenAid to cream the sugar and butter. It wasn't worth it to me to change out mixing bowls or mix by hand. I just ran the mixer on slow.

Tikki Masala Pork

This was a play off a dinner we made a few months ago with red curry and pork chops. For that meal we used an Archer Farms meal in a box kit that didn't have near enough rice. For this one we just stuck to the basics:

Preheat the oven to 350. 

Sprinkle salt and pepper (to taste) on your pork chops. Saute the pork chops in 1 tbsp olive oil or butter, high heat for 4 mins per side. Take the almost done pork chops and finish them in the oven for 8-10 mins.

Heat your Tasty Bites sauce packet per the instructions on the back. The grocery store had the option of  Tikki Masala, Good Korma and Rogan Josh flavors. The Rogan Josh appeared to be very spicy and the Good Korma had a very vague description of its flavors, so I chose the safest (read: tomato based) option.

Cut you pork chops into chunks, simmer briefly in your hot sauce and pour over the rice.

You could probably skip finishing the pork chops in the oven and simmer them to completion in the simmer sauce,  but we elected to err on the side of caution with our cooked meat (we usually do).

It was pretty good. I think with the five chops that we used I'd use two sauce packets. They have a deceptively small amount in them. As it was, we had enough sauce for dinner but after the leftovers go refrigerate and then go through the microwave, those plates might be a little dry.

Stir Fry Success (Finally!) & More

First off, a quick note: I have jury duty this week, which despite what you might hear from other people, is fascinating stuff. So thats 5-8 hours every day, plus I need to at least tread water at my regular job, which doesn't leave me a whole lot of time to cook or write about cooking. So there is a pretty good chance I'll be making pasta and sandwich staples that you can find on this blog throughout the rest of the week and weekend. Thats too bad.

Late last week I did have the opportunity to try out a new stir-fry recipe from Rachel. It was the perfect stir-fry glaze viscocity that Lauren and I have been searching for. Here is the recipe:

2 cups chicken (diced)
1/2 cup chopped broccoli
1/4 cup chopped peas
1 medium onion (chopped) 
Additional stir-fry vegetables
1-2 cups cooked white rice
2 tbsp Cashews

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp white vinegar
1-2 Tbsp white wine or dry sherry

Cook diced chicken in saute pan for 5-7 mins, until white all the way through.
Saute vegetables in separate pan until tender and set aside.
Cook rice, set aside
Mix sauce ingredients, stir, set aside
Add chicken to wok (or saute pan) with a little oil
Add chicken and sauce to clean pan, heat thoroughly. Sauce will thicken.
Add vegetables & stir until sauce is thicker veggies are warmed through
Pour over hot rice & serve immediately

Awesome and easy. Makes great leftovers too. I don't know what kind of soy sauce we used, but the next time I'll probably make sure to find a low sodium version if we used this sauce again. I also bought cashews and then completely forgot to put them in, so I feel like I really missed on one of the major ingredients. I can't wait to try adding cornstarch and sugar to my favorite citrus stir-fry sauce to see if if thickens the same way. Eventually I plan to take on the challenge of breading frying and glazing my own version of sesame chicken.

Baked Potato Salad

Later today, Lauren is going to be participating in an informal potato salad throwdown as part of a potluck lunch at work. The gauntlet was thrown Monday afternoon. I have no idea how, I just got an email saying 

"you'd better be ready to make the best potato salad of your life on Wednesday night, because Jaymie said his potato salad was better than ours".

 Apparently he makes a sweet potato salad that he is quite proud of. If he actually makes it and I can get the recipe, I'll post that too. But that is all up to Lauren since this is taking place at her work and I will be relying on her to relay feedback and results of the competition.

So we took our favorite potato salad recipe, and amped it up a little bit. The base recipe:
  • 3 pounds red potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
The additions:
  • Roasted potatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1 cup raw corn (about 1 ear of corn)
  • Herbs de Provence/Parisien Bonnes Herbes
So what we did was cut out potatoes into eighths, tossed them lightly in olive oil and mixed in the potato seasoning. You don't really need Herbs de Provence or Parisien Bonnes Herbs. Those two just happen to be blends of tasy potato-friendly herbs like rosemary and thyme. 

We laid the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet and roasted them at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. When they were done we let them cool, scooped them into a bowl, and made potato salad.

Wash one ear of corn, then cut the kernels off with a large knife.

Add the potatoes, corn, celery and green onion to a large mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, dill, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour dressing over the potato mixture. Toss well, cover, and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Very simple and very delicious. We considered adding cheese but the salt in the cheese unbalanced the flavors just a bit too much. 

Its called baked potato salad because its potato salad mixed in with all the toppings you find on top of or along side of a baked potato. You could take it one step further and use half sour cream and half mayonnaise, but I think you risk weakening the flavor.

The last, most obvious addition is bacon. But Lauren crosses paths with far too many vegetarians for us to actually do it. I'm okay with that. I would feel pretty bad if everyone were talking about the potato salad and the vegetarians couldn't eat it because I tried to turn an A into an A+ with bacon.

Blueberry Space Ship Muffins

Yesterday I made muffins for Tuesday morning breakfast and a Monday night snack. I used the sour cream muffin recipe, added a tablespoon of lemon juice and a small package of blueberries.

Dry Ingredients
2 cups flour 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Wet Ingredients
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 stick butter (melted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tbsp lemon juice
Blueberries to taste

Whisk together dry ingredients, then wisk together wet ingredients. Combine wet and dry with a few quick strokes until the batter is just formed. Bake at 350 or 375 for 10-12 minutes, or until you can stick a fork in the middle and have it come out clean.

The one mistake I made was that I misread the recipe from the cookbook. It actually calls for one half stick of butter in two separate paragraphs. But last night I missed the second half stick and shorted the recipe. So the muffins came out more like blueberry biscuits. They were still very good.

This is supposed to make just 12 muffins, but we had extra. So we had to resort using Lauren and Lisa's backup muffin pan.

I don't know why they have a NASA space shuttle muffin pan, or where they got it from, but it leads to all sorts of inappropriate jokes. Anytime it makes an appearance I feel like I'm watching a live taping of The View. It is a nightmare. 

Why do women have to be so immature?

Tempeh Burgers

Last night Lauren decided she wanted to try something completely different. I can't really explain why because I don't know. She bought some tempeh over the weekend as had convinced herself it was going to taste really good. Lately she has been giving me a hard time about how our meals are always based around meat. Again, why? I don't know. I happen to be good at cooking and eating meat.

So I deferred to her on this meal and last night we had tempeh burgers with corn on the cob and asparagus.

Tempeh, or tempe in Javanese, is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. It is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber and vitamins compared to tofu, as well as firmer texture and stronger flavor. Tofu, by contrast, is said to be more versatile in dishes. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue.

Thats a whole bunch of vegan propaganda right there. It is not a meat analogue, though if you were a vegan and deprived yourself of all the meaty goodness of cows, pigs and chickens I could see how you would talk yourself into believing that. From a distance it kind of looks like a burger. That photo isn't ours. I got it from another blog, but we also topped our burgers with caramelized onions and mushrooms.

The best thing about the tempeh burgers is that they were hot. I was actually quite surprised at how well they heated through and how long the heat held. The worst thing about the burgers was the texture, but I'll readily admit that I have food texture issues. I like banana flavored foods (breads, muffins, etc), but I won't eat bananas because of the texture. I'll get about two bites down and my brain will shout 

"you feel that? how it mushes like that in your teeth. thats what rotten fruit does. You're eating rotten fruit. Freak out... now!".

The texture was like undercooked beans I guess. Bean like, but really firm. Like a super dry hamburger made of wet packing peanuts. So for 75% of my tempeh burger I ate like a dog. Huge bites, two, maybe three quick chews and a swallow. I washed those bites down with some roasted asparagus. When I ran out of asparagus I stopped eating my burger and ate my piece of corn.

I'm not entirely opposed to eating vegetarian, but I have a principle opposition to the practice of making food to look like something its not and giving the impostor food a name that furthers the deception.  And yes, those principles extend beyond the realm of vegan cuisine. I had the same ethical objection to the 9,000 calorie "salads" they advertise on TV. But that is neither here nor there.

In the future, if we're going to eat vegetarian for a night I rather skip the soy bean gymnastics and just stick to combinations of vegetables that I'd be willing to eat a la carte. On the plus side I didn't get any crazy indigestion, so it appears my issues were mostly mental.

Lauren, if you read this I apologize. Tempeh just isn't for me.

Lemon Basil Chicken Salad

Last night we decided to take something old and make it new. I like to use Mondays and Tuesdays to survey the available refrigerator space and grocery situation and then make a meal plan so that I can have dinner + leftovers for lunch throughout the week, and I like to do it so that I'm not racing to eat the same thing twice a day before it spoils. 

So the meal plan for this week is hopefully going to be as follows: Lemon Basil Chicken Salad (done), Stromboli and Burgers. Each should make a solid dinner with leftovers for lunch without occupying a huge amount of space in the refrigerator like a casserole. Not only that but all three are meals that I can easily grab in the morning and make at work.

As I mentioned before, last night Lauren and I made the Lemon Basil Chicken Salad another Paula Deen creation. The recipe is as follows:
  • 4 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 rib minced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, combine chicken, celery, basil and almonds. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add to chicken mixture, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill.

We used dried basil rather than fresh. The recipe calls for 1/4 cup and the fresh basil packages at the grocery store were $2 each and didn't seem like they'd produce that much. So rather than spend $6 on fresh basil I just took the dried basil I already had and used about 2-3 tbsp. Other than that I stuck to the recipe. 

We grilled and diced 2 lbs of chicken breast to get our 4 cups, and as a result the chicken salad was a bit warm when we ate it last night. I'll be curious to see if the overnight refrigeration married the flavors a little more and alters the taste.  This recipe will probably stick around as our change of pace chicken salad recipe.

Along with our chicken salad we also tried out a new recipe for corn. When summer rolls around the only vegetables I have interest in are the ones that get cheaper and veggies I can roast. So at least twice a week we end up eating sweet corn or asparagus. Last night was a corn night:

  • 6 ears corn, shucked
  • Cilantro Lime Butter, recipe follows
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coat each ear of corn in 2 tablespoons of the cilantro lime butter and wrap individually in foil. Roast until hot and steaming, about 25 minutes. Serve with extra butter on the side.

Cilantro Lime Butter:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Put the butter in a mixing bowl and, using a rubber spatula, mix in the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, salt and cayenne. Use immediately or refrigerate.

Once again Food Network went a little overboard with their condiments. Two sticks of butter is ridiculous. Thats like 1/3 stick per ear of corn. I don't know if you've ever tried to put 1/3 of stick of butter on one ear of corn, but it just isn't possible. Not even by accident.

To make just two ears of corn last night, I used about 3 tbsp of butter total. I divided everything else by 3 and mixed it together. Rather than roast the corn for 25 minutes I first boiled the corn for 3-4 minutes, then slathered it with the cilantro lime butter, wrapped it in foil and finished it on the grill next to my chicken for another 5-10 minutes.

It was very good. I realize there are only so many ways to prepare corn and this isn't all that exotic, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

Neither of these pictures are mine. They are both from Food Network. I didn't have my camera out last night. My chicken salad didn't look quite so stupid. The corn is a pretty accurate representation though.

Mexican Lasagna

Hooray, time for another "what am I looking at? I guess I'll have to take his word for it" casserole pictures. 

I really wanted to call this Taco Pie, but we used an 8 x 8 square baking dish so it came out more like lasagna. If you wanted you could easily use a pie dish and a larger tortilla to make it a pie. Here is what you need:

1 medium onion
1 lb. ground beef
3 tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 C. water
8 - oz. can refried beans
Taco veggies (corn, diced tomatoes, peppers, green onions, whatever you like, NOT lettuce)
2 - 7 1/2-oz. jars of salsa (divided)
3 - 8 inch (burrito size) flour tortillas
1 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese
Peel and chop onion and saute with in a skillet (2-3 mins). Add ground beef and brown over medium heat; drain. Add chili powder, salt, cumin, pepper and water. Cook, stiring occassionally for 5-10 minutes, or until water has evaporated.  Stir in the refried beans.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Spread half a jar of salsa in a 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch baking dish.  Place one tortilla on top of the sauce.  Spread the meat on top of the tortillas; evenly spread sour cream on top. Pour the other half of the jar of salsa over the top of the meat and sour cream.  Place a second tortilla on top.  Spoon on another half jar of salsa on top of the tortilla. Add the taco vegetables/topping you've chosen.  Sprinkle half the cheese and on the taco veggies and place a tortilla on top.  Pour remaining salsa and sprinkle rest of cheese on top. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Top with shredded lettuce if you want.
Yield: 6 servings

Very simple, not too expensive and totally delicious. I'd recommend letting it rest for 5 minutes when it comes out of the oven. I am not really sure what makes this any different from a wet burrito or an enchilada, because it seems like every Mexican dish I try ends up basically the same. For the time being, I'm chalking it up to my love for cheesy beef and sour cream soft tacos. Anyhow, chicken would be a good substitute for beef, and I am almost certain that at some point I'll be finding out how this tastes as a vegetarian dish.

Sofia's Dr. Seuss Cake

This weekend, Lauren and I spent some time constructing our greatest cake yet. The inspiration was Sofia's 4th birthday and her love of Dr. Seuss. Sofia is the daughter of our friends Peter and Rachel. About a year ago Lauren and I made a two-tiered fondant covered birthday cake for Lauren's friend Julie. In the 12 months since that cake we've been seeing all sorts of competive cake building competitions on Food Network Challenge. So back in March I emailed Rachel about doing a Dr. Seuss cake for Sofia's birthday. This weekend Lauren and I created and delivered it.

Now before I go any further I want to explain how our cake building partnership works. Lauren is undoubtedly the designer/architect and builder. At any point in this entry if you see the word "I" or "we", it almost definitely means "she". My role in this is basically engineer/bus boy. Like an engineer I occassionally provide some good advice on the cost, feasability and materials for the project and in exchange for that I don't always correct people when they assume the project was a 50/50 effort between myself and the designer/builder. 

Also, I wash dishes and mixing pieces/bowls, clear space on the counter and in the refrigerator and perform accessory preparation (i.e. knead fondant, mixing more icing, etc.) as needed so that we're never forced to bring the project to a screeching halt. 
After making the fondant and Rice Krispy treats Friday night, Lauren began the baking on Saturday. She first made a three-tiered funfetti cake using 9-inch round cake pans. Normally the directions would tell you that one box makes two 9-inch cakes, but knowing that she'd be cutting off the dome of the cake to make it flat and stackable, Lauren used one whole box per pan.

She then laid icing between each layer and stacked them up. Once that was stacked, we covered that in icing and covered the icing with yellow fondant.

In order to make the hat, we made 4 separate pieces of Rice Krisy treat, iced them, wrapped them in red and white fondant and then restacked them.

Lauren did an amazing job of shaping the Rice Krispy treat into the wobbly hat. The picture above is a very early, almost uncut version of the hat.

This is the near-finished version.
Next it was time to make our book. Rather than make a ridiculous amount of cake, we decided to make the book base out of fondant-covered styrofoam. The styrofoam also provided some extra support for everything above it. Though it is inedible, that didn't really make the styrofoam any easier to work with.

At this point Lauren started decorating and icing the cake. We obviously chose The Cat In The Hat for the book, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish for the cake.

Lastly, Lauren made the blue fish for the fish bowl. He was constructed out of the remaining blue fondant and some wooden toothpicks.

I feel like I don't yet have the words to describe everything that was done to make this cake. I may do a follow up as we get further removed from it because I feel like the words in this blog entry aren't doing it justice. Perhaps I'll reorganize my thoughts and type the descriptions in the style of a Dr. Seuss book.

If I can convey just one thing with this post, it is that this wasn't as easy it might look.

Marshmallow Fondant

I wanted to knock out this entry real quick before I get to the main event, so that I can discuss these components more in depth as recipes and leave the cake thread to discussion of the construction.

If you or your children ate any of the cake this weekend, you may want to grab the phone and put your dentist's number on speed dial. Sorry, but there just isn't any other to make these things.

Alright, marshmallow fondant is kind of fun to work with. The thing is I hate buying it (even though we've only used it once before this, and I don't think I paid for it) because it costs about $22 for 5 lbs. The store-bought fondant is also pretty hard and mostly flavorless. So we remedied all of those issues on Friday night by making our own. 

Marshmallow Fondant (to make 3 lbs)
  • 1 - 16oz pkg mini-marshmallows
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 6-8 cups powdered sugar
  • Vegetable shortening
First thing you need to do is rub a large bowl with shortening, and then figure out how you're going to melt the marshmallows. Some people do it in 10 second bursts in the microwave, but I felt more comfortable with all the marshmallows being in the same bowl so I chose to use the double boiler method. Put an inch or two of water in the bottom of a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Then cover it with your greased stainless steel mixing bowl. Let the steam provide the heat to melt your marshmallows and water. Stir regularly with a greased spatula until it you see no lumps. If you know what color you need this fondant to be, add the food coloring/coloring concentrate now. Keep in mind that you're going to add a bunch of white (in the form of powdered sugar) to this mixture, so if the color seems a little dark or "off" don't fret. It will change in a few moments. Just keep in mind that you can always knead in more color later, so its better to err on the short side when adding your color. 

At this point, you should have your tag team partner dump 6 cups of powdered sugar in the (greased) mixing bowl for your KitchenAid stand mixer. Using the (greased) dough hook attachment, pour your liquid marshmallow into the mixing bowl, add the vanilla and turn the mixer on low (2 or stir). Once the powdered sugar has stopped coughing out the sides, turn the speed to 2 or 4 and let the dough form.

When the dough has formed turn it out on a surface sprinkled with powdered sugar and knead it by hand, checking for desired elasticity. You can add up to 2 more cups of powdered sugar at this point, but we found that anything beyond 6.5 - 7 cups makes the fondant very brittle and frustrating to work with.

When you're satisfied with the consistency, rub the ball of fondant with shortening and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest overnight. Refrigerated, this fondant will keep for a couple of weeks. If you're going to use it the next day, I'd recommend you refrigerate it for an hour, maybe two hours tops and then let it sit out overnight. Fondant hardens significantly in the refrigerator and takes several hours to soften at room temperature. We made that mistake, and paid for it with our palms and forearms.

Repeat as necessary.

One last thing, no matter what you do, I don't think you'll get it to be as workable as Play-Doh. You could, by adding less powdered sugar, but you'd probably end up with fondant that is too delicate for covering cakes.

The second part of what we we needed for the this endeavor were Rice Krispy treats. In case you've been living under a rock for 15 years, here is a recipe for those:

Rice Krispy Treats
  • 3 tbps butter
  • 1 - 10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows
  • vegetable shortening
Heat on low until melted, then turn off heat and add 6 cups of Rice Krispies cereal. Stir thoroughly (with a greased spatula) and turn out into greased baking dish of your choice. Let cool, cut and serve.

For the purposes of making the Dr. Seuss hat we pressed the hot Rice Krispy treats into a high-sided 4-6 quart sauce pan. I think we made 4 batches like this, then Lauren cut them down to and fro until we had a wobbly looking Dr. Seuss hat.

Lastly, we needed buttercream icing. Sugar, sugar and more sugar. I don't know how much this recipe makes. I think its 3 cups, but we made so much of it that it has all blurred together.

Buttercream Icing
  • 1/2 cup (1/2 stick) of vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
Put the butter and shortening in your stand mixer bowl, and beat on low speed until combined. Add vanilla, continue to beat on low speed and then slowly add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Once all the sugar is in you should have a very dry paste. Add the milk and beat on low speed until the milk has been worked in.

In the picture above you can see our Rice Krispy hat and 2 quarts(!!) of buttercream icing. 

Another Down Week, But With Good Reason

Sorry, I didn't do much of anything this week in the kitchen. I ate of course, but it was pretty simple stuff like chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, pizza and leftover pizza, chicken salad and Caesar salad.

Check back either late tomorrow night or Sunday and I am certain you will find your effort to be worthwhile. The entry will be either wildly impressive, or wildly amusing and worthy of a post on CakeWrecks.

That picture is a hint, and I don't know those kids.