Category Archives: starch

Bacon Cheddar Scones

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Bacon. Cheddar. Scones. Those three little words tell you all you really need to know about this savory breakfast pastry.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

During my many years as a vegetarian, I heard many many meat-eaters wax on about the wonders of bacon and claim that they could never endure life without it. To be honest, it was one of those refrains that was so common it became tedious.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But, there’s a reason that sentiment is so oft repeated. Bacon is delicious. I could endure (and indeed have endured) plenty of years without it, but now that it’s back in my life I realize it brings just the right hit of salt, smoke, fat, and umami to certain dishes that nothing else can quite replace.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

In these scones, bacon, along with cheddar cheese and chives, get added to a rich buttery batter that’s tenderized with buttermilk.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

They get patted into a square, wrapped up tightly, and go into the refrigerator for a rest for a couple of hours. Then they get cut into rectangles, placed on a Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet, rewrapped, and go into the freezer for an overnight slumber.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

These resting periods allow the flour to hydrate and the flavors to develop. They also make the scones much easier to shape. If you’ve ever fought with a soft sticky scone batter and ended up with more of it on your hands than in the pan (ahem) the chilling and freezing technique is revelatory. Yes, it takes some planning ahead, but it’s not actually extra work and it saves plenty of frustration.

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

They come from Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook, which is a book that often reads more like a pastry instruction manual than a book for home bakers, which is probably a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. It has precise, detailed instructions along with tips for professionals sprinkled throughout. It’s a great book for home bakers looking to further develop their technique, but may not be the best book for someone who’s just starting out.

I’d had my eye on these for a few months, but I didn’t want to make them because I suspected that having a dozen of them around would be dangerous (I was right). So I brought them with me to a brunch at my friend Kelly’s place where I got to hang out with her adorable still-very-new son, Stuart, and a bunch of fun ladies.

I recommend making these when you can share them, unless you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like bacon… or cheese… or fun…

Bacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netBacon Cheddar Scones! From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Bacon Cheddar Scones

Adapted from Thomas Keller and Sebastian Rouxel’s Bouchon Bakery

These scones make a great savory addition to the breakfast or brunch table. They’d be great along side (or sandwiched around) some eggs. Keller and Rouxel say this is the most popular scone at Bouchon, and I’m not surprised. I like to use Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon, which I’ve found at Urban Orchard and Gene’s Sausage Shop in Chicago, but I’m pretty sure any bacon you like will be just fine. These do need to be started a day ahead of time, but the great thing is that in the morning the only work you need to do is pull these out of the freezer and put them into the oven, which makes them perfect for brunch with company.

300 g (2 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
27 g (2 tablespoons pluse 3/4 teaspoon) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
132 g (4.7 ounces, about 1 stick plus a generous tablespoon) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch cubes
71 g (1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) heavy cream, plus extra for brushing the tops
89 g (1/3 cup) buttermilk
340 g (12 ounces) applewood-smoked bacon, cooked, drained and cut into 1/8-1/4 inch pieces (the weight is for the bacon before it’s cooked)
180 g (2 1/2 cups) grated white cheddar cheese, divided
10 g (1/4 cup) chives, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

The day before you want to have the scones, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on very low speed until combined, about 30 seconds (if your mixer doesn’t handle low speeds well and tends to send dry flour flying, you can whisk these together by hand, then add to the mixer). Add the butter and mix on the lowest speed to begin incorporating the butter into the flour mixture, about 30 seconds. Bump the speed up to low and mix for about 3 minutes, or until the butter is in large-crumb to small-pea sized bits and is just incorporated into the flour mixture.

With the mixer running on low speed, pour in the cream and buttermilk, and mix until the dry ingredients look moistened and the mixture starts to form a ball. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the bacon, 144 grams (2 cups) of the grated cheddar, and the chives and mix on low speed until well distributed, about 1 minute.

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper and place the dough in the center. Cover it with plastic wrap and, using your hands or a dough scraper, press it into a 7 x 9 inch square.  Wrap the baking sheet in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator, unwrap the pan, and peel the dough away from the Silpat or parchment and place on a cutting board (return the Silpat/parchment to the baking sheet). Cut the block of dough in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into 6 rectangles. Place each rectangle on the baking sheet, leaving about an inch between them. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the scones from the freezer and remove the plastic wrap. Brush the tops of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle on the remaining 36 grams (1/2 cup) of cheese. Crack some black pepper over the tops. Bake until the scones are golden and the cheese on top is melted and browned, about 35 minutes.

They’re best the day they are made.

Yield: 12 scones

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

When I see baskets of squash blossoms at the farmers market I am instantly entranced. They are so lovely and delicate. I want to make a bouquet of them and use it as a centerpiece for some elegant but relaxed outdoor summer dinner party.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Except I’ve never actually hosted a dinner party like that. And I don’t have much need for vegetables that are strictly decorative.

And when I think about what to actually cook with squash blossoms I tend to run out of ideas quickly. Most preparations I’ve seen involve stuffing them and dipping them in batter and deep frying them.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

And as much as I love taking on insane cooking projects, I have my limits. I’m just not going to deep fry anything for a weeknight meal.

Usually when I bring home a basket of squash blossoms, I have good intentions about figuring out some other way of using them, and a week later, I find them shriveled and sad and toss them out.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

But this time I had a plan. I had seen these quesadillas from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food featured on Leite’s Culinaria and I had a squash blossom epiphany.

Here was a way to get a squash blossom with all the wonderful melty gooey cheese wrapped in a crisp outer layer without needing a vat of hot oil or hours of assembly.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Half of a petite corn tortilla gets sprinkled with some shredded cheese and bits of jalapeño and a pair of squash blossoms are placed on top. Then the whole thing goes into a hot skillet with a little oil, the unadorned half of tortilla gets folded over and pressed against the melty cheese while the tortilla gets wonderfully crisp and browned in spots. Topped with a bit of salsa and avocado, these are an incredibly easy little dish with a great balance of textures and flavors, and some pretty squash blossoms peaking out of the top.

I’m pretty sure squash blossoms were born to be in quesadillas. Or at least that’s what’s happening with them in my kitchen.

Squash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.netSquash Blossom Quesadillas. Looking for something to do with squash blossoms? No stuffing or frying necessary. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net

Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food (via Leite’s Culinaria)

For anyone asking for an easy way to use squash blossoms, here’s your answer. I usually make quesadillas with flour tortillas, but the small corn tortillas are just great here. The corn flavor pairs well with the delicate squash blossoms and the diameter is perfect for encasing the blossoms without swallowing them whole. I wouldn’t make these with large tortillas. Hasselbrink uses pepper jack cheese in these, but I used a blend of pre-shredded jack, cheddar, queso quesadilla and queso asadero because I had a bag of that on hand and added my own jalapeño pepper for little pops of heat. You can use any mild melting cheese you like and as much jalapeño as you like. I think these need salsa for some acid and I like them with avocado or guacamole, but I’d view that as an optional topping.

12 squash blossoms
6 small corn tortillas (6-inch is ideal)
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese (or your preferred Mexican melting cheese)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced

For topping: salsa
avocado or guacamole (optional)

Carefully examine your squash blossoms and brush away any dirt or insects, but don’t rinse them (they’re delicate!).

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Warm the tortillas in the dry skillet for about 30 seconds or until they are a bit pliable. Remove from skillet.

Sprinkle half of each tortilla with a few tablespoons of shredded cheese and divide the jalapeño pepper between the tortillas and sprinkle it over the cheese. Arrange two squash blossoms over the cheese so that the edge of the flower is peaking out over the edge of the tortilla.

Add about a tablespoon of neutral oil to the skillet. Carefully transfer one of the prepared tortillas to the skillet, fold the tortilla in half and press with a spatula so that the cheese can hold the whole thing together. Cook for about a minute on each side, until crisp. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Top with salsa and avocado (if using). Eat while warm.

Yield: 6 quesadillas, which serve 2-3 depending on what else you’re having.

Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

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The Green City Market is finally back outside, which means my Wednesday mornings are occupied with shopping for local produce. It’s been a late spring rendering the early markets a little more sparse than usual. The first week there were almost more storage apples and overwintered potatoes and frozen berries and pickles and preserves than new crops on offer.

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It’s that time at the market where it seems that the only vegetable that is currently being harvested in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin is asparagus. And so in the last couple of weeks, I’ve probably eaten asparagus about half a dozen times.

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Lucky for me, I love the bold grassy, vegetal flavor of asparagus. When I had my first bite of it this year, I was reminded of just how much more fresh and vibrant it tastes when it has just come out of the ground than when it’s spent days on a truck. It reminded me why I go to the trouble of visiting the farmers markets in the first place. Of course I like the idea of supporting sustainable agriculture and small farmers in the region, but I’m not just doing it out of a sense of obligation. The fruits and vegetables there really do taste better than what I can usually find at the grocery store.

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Asparagus is great paired with rich and salty flavors like eggs and prosciutto or roasted and topped with shavings of parmigiano reggiano. But I especially love the way asparagus plays with lemon and bright herbs. The combination accentuates rather than blunts asparagus’s inherent grassiness.

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Here, I’ve sautéed it with the sweet and mild spring onion and spring garlic that I also found at the market and tossed it with farro, which is probably my favorite whole grain. I then topped it all with a preserved lemon vinaigrette and some flat-leaf parsley and chives.

Because I didn’t plan this out weeks or months in advance, I didn’t have time to make traditional preserved lemons, so I used a quick version that only takes a few minutes of work and a few hours of sitting that I learned from Mark Bittman. It’s easy enough that I could imagine throwing it together before work if you wanted to have it ready for dinner, and it keeps for at least a week, so you could really make it whenever you find ten minutes to spare and have it ready when you are. You just dice a lemon, rind and all, remove the seeds, toss it with some kosher salt and granulated sugar and let it sit in a jar for three hours (or longer).

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Then you whisk some of the preserved lemon bits with some lemon juice, champagne vinegar, honey, and olive oil to make the vinaigrette.

This lemony, herby, asparagus farro dish tastes like spring. I can’t get enough of it.

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Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad with Quick Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Quick preserved lemons adapted from Mark Bittman, vinaigrette inspired by Paul Virant’s excellent The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux (which is also a great source if you’d like to make preserved lemons the traditional way or if you’d like to explore the savory side of canning and preserving).

I love the combination of asparagus with lemon and herbs, especially when combined with the nubbly texture of farro. The quick preserved lemons are easy to make, but they do need to sit for at least 3 hours before they’re ready to use (traditional preserved lemons take weeks to be ready). They can be made up to a week in advance. In a pinch, you could substitute grated lemon zest. You can also substitute scallions or leeks and mature garlic if you have trouble finding spring onions and spring garlic. This is great warm or at room temperature. It’s also good cold from the refrigerator the next day.

Quick Preserved Lemons

1 lemon (preferably unwaxed organic)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon preserved lemons, finely diced
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Asparagus and Spring Onion Farro Salad

1 cup farro
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)
5-6 spring onions (you could substitute scallions or leeks if you can’t find them)
4-5 stalks of spring garlic (also known as green garlic, you could substitute a couple of cloves of mature garlic if you can’t find spring garlic)
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
a small bunch of chives
salt, pepper, and olive oil for seasoning and sautéing

At least 3 hours in advance, make the quick preserved lemon. If you have a conventional waxed lemon, scrub it under hot water to remove the wax. Dice the lemon, rind and pith and all. Remove the seeds. Scrape the diced lemon along with its juice into a bowl and stir in the kosher salt and sugar. Transfer to a jar, cover, and let stand for at least three hours at room temperature. (It will be fine at room temperature much longer than that if you want to let it sit out overnight or while you’re at work.) Stir. Refrigerate if not using right away.

Fill a medium saucepan about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Add the farro and a generous pinch of salt, lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the farro is al dente, about 22-25 minutes. Drain through a fine mesh strainer.

While the farro is cooking, trim the woody bottom few inches from the asparagus and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Trim the roots from the spring onions and spring garlic, and slice finely, both green and white (or purplish) parts.

Heat a large skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and spring onions and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the onions and garlic have softened, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the farro and the asparagus mixture to a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the preserved lemons, lemon juice, champagne vinegar and honey. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Pour over the farro and vegetables and toss to coat.

Chop the parsley and chives and sprinkle over the salad. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: Serves 4

 

Almond Shortbread Brownies

shortbreadbrownies

These brownies, oh, these brownies. These brownies are something special. They might be the dessert I’ve made the most frequently in the last ten years.

They are rich fudgy brownies baked on a buttery shortbread crust. Before the first time I made them, it never occurred to me that brownies would benefit from a crust, but ever since, it has seemed as natural as adding chocolate chips to a cookie.

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They are adapted from chocolate genius Alice Medrich’s book Bittersweet (recently re-released as Seriously Bitter Sweet). Her books are the first ones I turn to when I’m looking for anything chocolate, from truffles to tarts to mousses to cakes to brownies. She’s never steered me wrong.

These shortbread brownies are a study in the pleasure of contrasts. The brownie part seems smoother and more chocolatey against the crisp almond shortbread background. They are almost like handheld chocolate tarts.

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Even better, they are incredibly easy to make. The shortbread crust is a simple pour-melted-butter-over-flour-almond-meal-and-sugar, stir, and pat-in-the-pan job. It gets baked until golden while you put together the brownie batter.

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You melt the chocolate and butter and sugar together over a pan of barely simmering water, and then stir in the eggs, vanilla, and flour. Since they have so little flour, these brownies do need some serious stirring, but it still only takes a couple of minutes. Then you pour the batter over the shortbread crust and bake until the edges are puffed and the middle is set.

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I’ve made many variations on these over the years. I’ve omitted the nuts for friends with allergies, I’ve swapped in ground hazelnuts for the almonds, I’ve added a caramel layer to the top of the brownies, I’ve sprinkled them with sea salt, I’ve dusted the top with the faintest hint of freshly grated nutmeg. I’ve yet to find a version of these I don’t like.

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These brownies are, pretty much, unanimously loved when I bring them anywhere. People sometimes ask me what they are and look at me with incredulity when I say they’re brownies. As though something this good can’t just be as simple as a brownie. Rest assured, my friends, it can.

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Almond Shortbread Brownies

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet (revised and reprinted as Seriously Bitter Sweet)

These brownies are one of my favorite easy-to-make desserts. They manage to combine the decadent pleasure of a fudgy brownie with the crisp, buttery, nutty texture of almond shortbread. You can pulse almonds in a food processor to make almond meal if you don’t want to buy it separately. Or you can omit the almond meal completely if you want to avoid nuts. These are quite rich, so cut them small. You can always have a second one.

For the almond shortbread crust:

6 tablespoons (3 oz, 85 g) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (1 oz, 24 g) sugar
3/4 cup (3 1/3 oz, 95 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 oz, 50 g) almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the brownie batter:

6 1/2 oz, 185 g bittersweet chocolate (66-72% cacao), chopped
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 oz, 98 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup (7 oz, 200 g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (2 oz, 50 g) all-purpose flour

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil with enough overhang on two sides to be able to lift it out after everything is baked.

Combine the flour, almond meal, and salt in a small bowl. Add the vanilla extract to the melted butter and pour over the flour mixture. Stir until it comes together. Press the dough into the bottom of the lined pan in an even layer all the way to the edges.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.

Set aside to cool while you make the brownie batter.

Add some water to a wide skillet and bring it to a low simmer. Place the chocolate, butter, and sugar in a medium heat-proof (stainless steel is a good choice) bowl and set the bowl in the skillet. Stir until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and the mixture feels hot to the touch.

Remove the bowl from the skillet (wipe the bottom with a towel to prevent any drips) and turn off the heat. Add the vanilla extract and salt and stir. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Add the flour and stir until the batter is smooth and glossy and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If you’re not sure, keep stirring. This should take about two minutes. Pour the batter over the shortbread crust and bake until the edges look puffed and the surface in the middle looks dry, about 20-25 minutes.

Allow the brownies to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. At least an hour.

Lift the brownies out of the pan by holding onto the overhanging edges of parchment paper or foil. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut into 25-30 squares. These are rich, don’t be tempted to cut them larger.

They keep well in an airtight container for about 4-5 days.

Yield: 25-30 small, rich brownies

 

Brown Sugar Oat Flour Banana Walnut Bread

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Another banana bread? Yeah, I know. I just wrote about the double chocolate one last week. But this one is different.

It’s more of a breakfast bread. It eschews chocolate in favor of whole grain oat flour and toasted walnuts and a more restrained use of butter and sugar. It fits a classic banana nut bread flavor profile, but the oat flour and brown sugar and the crunchy dusting of turbinado sugar give it a little extra depth.

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I love oat flour. So many whole grain flours have a heaviness to them, but oat flour feels so light. And it’s a natural flavor partner for brown sugar and bananas and walnuts. It’s also something that you can make yourself from rolled or quick oats–all you need to do is pulse them in a food processor and you have oat flour. Or you can go with the pre-milled versions from Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur Flour or any other producer you like.

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I went through a phase with my cooking where I was always adding something more–another spice, another flavoring–to make my recipes more interesting. Lately, I’ve been drawn to the idea of simplifying, stripping things down to the bare essentials so that each flavor can stand on its own. This banana bread is better for its simplicity. It’s simple banana bread, but it’s really good simple banana bread.

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You could add cinnamon or chocolate chips or any number of extras and it would still be tasty, but this banana bread just doesn’t need any of those things.

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It makes me appreciate just how pleasurable the flavors of banana and oats and brown sugar and toasted walnuts are together and reminds me that they don’t need to hide behind anything else. They’re perfectly wonderful stars themselves.

The only extra on this bread is the sprinkle of turbinado (or raw sugar), which adds a little textural contrast and serves to enhance the brown sugar flavor rather than competing with it. It also gives this homey banana bread a glint of sparkle when it catches the light.

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This made a lovely breakfast for most of last week. When it was gone, Dan and I were wishing we had more.

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Brown Sugar Oat Flour Banana Walnut Bread

This is a lovely banana bread with a classic flavor profile. You can make your own oat flour by pulsing rolled or quick oats (but not steel cut) in a food processor or you can use a commercial oat flour. You could substitute all-purpose or whole wheat flour for the oat flour and it would still work, but I really like the homey oat flavor here. This is one of my favorite kinds of banana bread to have for breakfast. It feels wholesome enough that I don’t mistake it for dessert. You can freeze overripe bananas if you want to keep them around for whenever the urge for banana bread strikes. [Update: I just tested this using all oat flour, and it was great. It would be a great gluten free option for banana bread. Oats don't contain gluten, but they're often contaminated with wheat in processing, so be sure to make sure you're using certified gluten free oat products if you're making this for someone with gluten sensitivities.]

1 cup (3 1/4 oz, 95 g) oat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 oz, 125 g) all-purpose flour (or use all oat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medium overripe bananas
1/2 cup (4 oz, 110 g) light brown sugar (dark would work too)
6 tablespoons (3 oz, 90 g) unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (3 oz, 85 g) walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz, 12 g) turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 5 inch  loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the brown sugar, butter, eggs, and vanilla extract and stir until well combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oat and all-purpose flours, baking soda, and salt. Add to the banana mixture and stir until no dry bits of flour remain. Stir in the walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with top with an even layer of turbinado sugar, and bake for about 60-65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Keeps, well wrapped at room temperature, for about 5 days.

Yield: 1 9 x 5-inch loaf

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

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It was 70° on Saturday. Then on Sunday it turned cold and misty. And today it was colder still with a forecast for snow. It’s springtime in Chicago. A season that always seems intent on doubling back on itself a few times before it settles in for good.

It’s a good day for simple comforting baked goods. Like this double chocolate banana bread.

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This comes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen, so I’m pretty sure the whole internet already knows about it. But if somehow you missed it, I’m here to testify to its greatness.

Chocolate and banana are a classic pairing–from frozen chocolate covered bananas to banana and nutella filled crepes. I’ve made plenty of banana breads with chocolate chips, but this was the first time I made one where the cake (er, bread) itself was laden with cocoa powder.

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It’s a simple one-bowl job, as easy as any other basic banana bread. And it might be even easier to love. It’s rich and chocolatey but the banana flavor really shines through.

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It’s sweet enough for dessert, but there’s fruit in it (three whole bananas!) so you can justify having it for breakfast as well. I made it in three mini loaf pans and put two of the resulting loaves in the mail to be a birthday treat for my sister-in-law in Kansas.

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That left one little loaf for me, which wasn’t nearly enough.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

Adapted from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

This chocolate banana bread is a snap to make. You’ll want to use cocoa powder that is labeled Dutch-process (sometimes called alkalized) rather than natural cocoa powder here, the latter is acidic and can change the chemical reaction. I doubt that most people have mini loaf pans (I got mine from King Arthur Flour and I can no longer find them on the site, but they’re similar to these), so I’m providing instructions for one standard (9″ x 5″) loaf pan. If you choose to make the mini loaves, they take 30-40 minutes in the oven.


3 overripe bananas (the darker the better)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 115 g) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (5 oz, 145 g) brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 cup (4 1/2 oz, 125 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup (6 oz, 170 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the brown sugar, melted butter, egg, and vanilla extract and stir until combined. Place the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large fine mesh strainer and sift over the wet ingredients (cocoa powder has a tendency to be lumpy, so resist the temptation to skip the sifting) and stir until combined. Stir in the espresso powder (if using) and the chocolate chips or chocolate pieces.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a toothpick placed into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before inverting it onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Keeps, well-wrapped at room temperature, for up to 5 days.

Yield: One 9 x 5 loaf or 3 mini loaves

Baked Sweet Potato with Marinated Feta, Olives, and Red Peppers

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This dish is perfectly balanced between hot and cold, sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy, bright and mellow.

It’s a spin on a stuffed baked potato, but this time it’s a sweet potato and the filling takes a turn for the Mediterranean with salty olives and tangy feta and crunchy sweet bell peppers and red onion all drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with mint.

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It’s a dish I used to make all the time, but had somehow sort of forgotten about as I took on new cooking projects. I was reminded of it when I was leafing through some of the older residents of my cookbook shelves, looking for inspiration and little gems on their pages I might previously have overlooked. When I saw this recipe when I was flipping through Diana Henry’s wonderfully titled cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, I remembered just how much I loved it and knew I had to make it right away.

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It’s a dish that feels perfect for the cusp of spring. It relies on produce that is easily findable in winter, but manages to combine them in surprising ways that wake up the palate and feel fresh and new. And it uses so many colors that it’s a feast for the eyes as well.

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And it could barely be easier. You throw the sweet potatoes in the oven to bake for about an hour, and while they’re roasting, you chop some olives, some red pepper, some red onion, some mint. You squeeze some lemon, crumble some feta, toast some spices, toss it all together in a bowl and drizzle in some olive oil and let everything marinate while the sweet potatoes finish baking.

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Then, when the sweet potatoes come out of the oven, you split them open and pile in the minty marinated feta-olive-red-pepper mixture and viola, you’ve got a meal. Or I suppose it could also make a pretty spectacular side dish, if you’re the organized, fancy sort of person whose meals tend to include main dishes and side dishes.

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Baked Sweet Potatoes with Marinated Feta, Olives, and Red Peppers

Liberally adapted from Diana Henry’s Crazy Water Pickled Lemons

I love this dish so much. It combines familiar flavors in an unexpected way and the combination just works. If you’re an olive hater, you can leave them out and still have a great dish. The amounts here are pretty flexible given the variable sizes of sweet potatoes. I try to look for ones that are on the medium-small side rather than the huge ones that so often populate the grocery store islands. If all you can find are huge ones, you can certainly cut them in half after roasting and pile the feta-olive-red pepper mixture on top. 

2 medium sweet potatoes
4 ounces (113 g, about half a block) feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, thinly sliced and chopped into 1 inch segments
1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced and chopped into 1 inch segments
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
small bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub the sweet potatoes under cold water to remove any stray dirt, place them on the foil lined baking sheet (no need to x or prick the skin) and bake for 45-60 minutes (depending on size) until they feel tender to the touch.

While the potatoes are baking, add the chopped red onion to a medium bowl and pour the lemon juice over it and let it sit for a few minutes. This will help to take the bite out of the raw onion. Toast the fennel and coriander seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle and add them to the bowl. Add the olives, bell pepper, mint and olive oil to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until the sweet potatoes are finished baking.

When the sweet potatoes come out of the oven, put them on plates, slice them open lengthwise, and divide the feta-olive-red pepper mixture between them. Eat.

Yield: Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side (easily scaled up or down)

Triple Cream, Cheddar, and Sage Butter Grilled Cheese

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What could be better than grilled cheese? It is one of the simplest most comforting meals I know.  I subsisted on grilled cheese for most of my freshman year of college (let’s not talk about how much weight I gained that year….). It’s become more of a treat food than an everyday food now that I’m in my thirties and a smidge more health conscious than I was in those halcyon days.

A few weeks ago, I caught an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they made a fancy grilled cheese that looked good, but it was one of those cases where they took a recipe and made it too complicated for it’s own good. It involved putting brie and cheddar and shallots in a food processor and making a paste.  I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I’m getting out a food processor, let alone cleaning one, just for grilled cheese.

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Still, they were onto something with the brie. Adding a triple cream cheese to an aged cheddar makes for a gooey, unctuous filling for a sandwich. But it turns out there’s an easier way to get it there. Triple creams are by nature soft cheeses, and if you let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes, they become spreadable.

I had a nub of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam, a buttery, decadent triple cream on hand. I removed the rind and spread the soft cheese on my sandwich bread, then layered it with slices of sharp aged white cheddar.

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I could have stopped there, and proceeded as usual, and it would have been a dynamite sandwich, but I turned again to a trick I learned years ago from Judy Rodgers’s fantastic Zuni Cafe Cookbook. After spreading the outside of the bread with butter, I crumbled up some dried sage leaves and added a few cracks of black pepper. If you’ve ever had pasta in a sage butter sauce, you know how those two ingredients harmonize.

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It’s a simple thing to do, but it gives a grilled cheese an herbaceous complexity that I find utterly beguiling.

This is still simple comfort food. But it’s elegant comfort food. Perfect for a rainy day lunch when you want to treat yourself without going to too much trouble.

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Triple Cream, Cheddar, and Sage Butter Grilled Cheese 

This is grilled cheese. Odds are, you know more or less how to make it. It’s a recipe where precise measurements are unnecessary. This version is crisp and delicately herby on the outside and rich and gooey with sharp cheese flavor on the inside. You can use any triple cream you like. I used Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, which is a triple cream I love, but anything from a basic buttery brie to St. Andre to Delice de Bourgogne would be fantastic on this sandwich. As for cheddar, I went with a basic Cabot cheddar (what can I say, I married a Vermonter). Don’t use anything aged more than a couple of years or it will be too dry and crumbly and won’t melt well. There’s no need to break the bank on cheese for this, though it’s a great way to use up any odd bits you have lying around.

2 slices of sandwich bread
about a tablespoon of triple cream cheese (such as Mt Tam, brie, or St. Andre), rinds removed
about 2 ounces of aged white cheddar (enough to cover the bread), thinly sliced
butter, softened to room temperature
a few dried sage leaves
black pepper

 Let the triple cream sit out at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to allow it to soften. Spread the cheese in a thin layer on one slice of bread. Cover with a layer of cheddar cheese, and top with the other slice of bread. Spread butter over the top of the bread and sprinkle with crumbled sage leaves and a few cracks of black pepper.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Put the sandwich butter side down into the skillet. Butter the bread that’s now on top. Sprinkle with sage and black pepper. Cover and cook on medium low until the bread is toasty and the cheese is beginning to melt. Flip and cook on the other side until both sides of the bread are deeply browned and toasty and the cheese is thoroughly melted.

Remove the sandwich to a plate or cutting board and let sit for a few minutes to allow the cheese to firm up just a bit. Slice and serve.

Yield: One sandwich

 

Simple, sturdy: eggplant pasta

There’s something about this meal that is just so honest.

It isn’t flashy. Or even particularly pretty. It is eggplant, slumped and simmered. Simple.

Weeknights beg for meals like this. For things you can set on the stove while you relax and open a bottle of not-too-expensive red wine while you pad around the apartment in bare feet. A meal that relaxes into itself, like a comfy old t-shirt. It isn’t the sort of thing you put on for company, but it is the sort of thing you keep around for when you are tired and don’t want to think about it anymore.

Eggplant isn’t always easy. It can be bitter and seedy and stringy. I get why people don’t like it. It isn’t always my favorite either. But this is a sauce that plays to the strengths of the unassuming aubergine. Chunks of eggplant melt down in the pan absorbing the flavors of garlic and red pepper flakes and thyme. Bits of sun dried tomato punctuate the mellow sauce with intense pops of flavor, and a chiffonade of fresh basil enlivens the gray with dots of bright green.

Tossed with whole wheat linguine, the sauce feels sturdy and nourishing, comfortable and relaxed. Complete unto itself, it doesn’t even need a grating of parmigiano. It holds up well for a few days in the refrigerator, and makes a respectable work lunch to boot.

For the record, I should add that Dan wasn’t crazy about this. He said it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t really his thing either, so perhaps this won’t win over every eggplant skeptic. Oh well, more for me I guess.

Simple Eggplant Linguine

Source: Adapted from Francis Lam on Gourmet.com

The best eggplants tend to be the freshest eggplants, so if you can get them at the farmers market or a store with high turnover you can improve your odds of avoiding bitter ones. I tend to have better luck with smaller eggplants than larger ones. If you do end up with bitter eggplants, you can toss in a little sugar or honey or an extra glug of olive oil to round out the flavor. This dish takes about thirty minutes from start to finish, which makes it a great weeknight meal.

1 pound eggplant cut into half-inch chunks
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4-6 sun dried tomatoes (not the oil packed variety)
small handful fresh basil
1 cup water
salt
8 ounces whole wheat linguine (any other long pasta is fine)

Soak your sun dried tomatoes in a cup of water for about 10 minutes or until soft and pliable. Drain the tomatoes over a small bowl to reserve the liquid. Dice the tomatoes and set aside. Salt your eggplant and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put a large saute pan on the stove over medium-low heat and add the olive oil, garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes.

When the garlic is fragrant and starting to show a hint of color, add the eggplant and turn up the heat to medium. After a few minutes, when the eggplant begins to turn translucent, add the reserved water from the sun dried tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so the water is simmering, and cover, but leave an opening for steam to escape. Let the eggplant cook for about 20 minutes, until soft, stirring occasionally.

Put a big pot of water onto boil for pasta.

When most of the water is absorbed and the eggplant is soft, mash it together with a fork or a wooden spoon until no big chunks remain. Add the sun dried tomates and stir.

Cook and drain your pasta, and add it to the sauce. Chiffonade the basil and add it to the pasta.

Serve immediately.

Yield: About 4 servings.

A better way to frozen pizza

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Some days I don’t want to make the effort. I really don’t.

I love good food, but I’m tired, I’m hungry and I just want to order a pizza. Or stop by the freezer case in the grocery store and pick up something I can have done in fifteen minutes. Or maybe just have some baby carrots and a spoon of peanut butter and those Girl Scout cookies that I think I still have tucked away somewhere. I can’t exactly say I feel sated and refreshed after a dinner like that, appealing as it may have seemed at the time.

But I have good trick for those days. If I can think ahead a little.

It’s about a million times better than most commercially made frozen pizza. And I can even pronounce all of the ingredients.

It’s my homemade frozen pizza crust.

This is more of a method than a recipe. I have a favorite recipe, slightly modified from Peter Reinhart’s Neapolitan pizza crust in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You can find a trimmed down version of the recipe here. But you could just as easily use your favorite pizza dough recipe.

This is the sort of thing that I hear people recommend and I think, pshaww, I will never make and freeze a huge thing of whatever and eat it for months. That sounds onerous.

But it turns out that it doesn’t feel so terribly onerous, at least not on a lazy Saturday when I have a few hours of afternoon to fill.

And it feels absolutely terrific to open the freezer a week later and remember that I can have homemade pizza for dinner in less than an hour.

Homemade Frozen Pizza Crust

I have often come across recipes that recommend freezing balls of dough before the first rise. That turns out beautiful pizzas, but it requires thawing in the refrigerator overnight and a few hours of rising out of the refrigerator after that. When I get home from work and I’m hungry, that frozen ball of dough doesn’t do me much good (and even the one in the refrigerator means I’ll be eating late). This method gets the pizza from the freezer to the table in about 40 minutes, only about 5 of which requires any active work. I can handle that on a week night.

A batch or two of your favorite pizza dough (such as this one), mixed. If yours uses 2 cups of flour or less, I’d think about doubling it
olive oil
parchment paper
plastic wrap
gallon-size zip top freezer bags
a couple of baking sheets (or any sturdy, freezer-safe flat surface)

Lay some parchment paper out on the counter and cover it with a thin film of olive oil.  Spray oil works, so does spreading a few drops with your fingers. Take your dough and divide it into six-ounce balls, about the size of a small fist. This doesn’t have to be precise, but something close to this size fits nicely in a gallon-size freezer bag. (My recipe makes 6 of these.) Set them on the oiled parchment, spaced at least a couple of inches apart. Lightly oil the tops of the dough, and cover with plastic wrap. Let them rise until doubled in size, about an hour or two.

Cut one piece of parchment paper a little larger than your freezer bag for each ball of dough. Gently pull the dough into a circle roughly 9 inches in diameter, place on the parchment paper, place that on a baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and put the whole thing in the freezer. Repeat with the other dough balls.  I usually manage to find space to freeze about four of these, stacked on top of each other, at once. Keep any dough that you have yet to shape and freeze tightly covered to prevent it from drying out.

Freeze the dough for about 45 minutes, or until it feels reasonably solid. Remove the dough from the baking sheet, but keep it on the parchment. Double wrap it in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag, and return it to the freezer.

On the day you want to make the pizza, pull the dough out of the freezer about 40 minutes before you want to eat (keep it covered with plastic wrap). Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. After a the dough has been sitting at room temperature for half an hour, top it with your preferred toppings, and bake on a pizza stone or baking sheet for about 8-10 minutes.

These keep for about two weeks in the freezer.