Monday, June 27, 2011

Banana Upside Down Cake

 What do you do when you have several bananas that are perfectly ripe and on the verge becoming too brown? Obviously, you bake something!!!
  Yes, of course, you can bake banana bread (which I absolutely LOVE). But how about something slightly different? Everyone loves a delicious pineapple upside down cake, so why not do it with bananas instead? It's so simple to do and I PROMISE you that the banana lovers in your life will love you for it. If Cathy's family hadn't rescued me, I probably would have eaten the entire thing. It's so yummy and moist and sticky and gooey! Oh, and it's also perfect if you don't need to feed a huge mob. It makes a little one layer cake that is perfect for a small group. Hmm...I wonder if you can double it and bake it in a 9x13 pan....who knows???  Maybe I'll try that soon. In the meantime, give it a try. If you like banana bread, you'll LOVE it!

1 cup brown sugar
6 tbs butter
1 tbs dark corn syrup

tiny pinch salt
3-4 large bananas

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp brandy or rum extract (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan and wrap the outside bottom of the pan well with foil (this will prevent caramel from leaking later).
In a small sauce pot or microwave-safe bowl, melt together 6 tbs butter and corn syrup. Stir in brown sugar. Whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
Slice peeled bananas on the diagonal, making each slice approx. 1/4-inch thick. Arrange in a single layer in the brown sugar mixture on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and cinnamon. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the flour mixture in two or three additions, alternating with additions of milk.
Pour batter into pan and spread evenly, ensuring that all banana slices are covered.
Bake for 80-90 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed.
Once the cake is out of the oven, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen and turn cake out onto a serving platter while still hot. Cool to warm or room temperature before serving. Store any leftovers covered in plastic wrap.

If you don't have a springform pan, you can easily use a regular 9" layer pan. Just grease it well with baking spray or butter and flour. Then, just to be sure your bananas and caramel don't stick, line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper which has been cut to fit the pan. Then grease the parchment. I PROMISE you it will come right out of the pan.

The best time to enjoy bananas is when the peel is yellow with tiny brown specks. If the peel is still a little green, it's not quite ripe yet. If the peel has huge brown spots all over it, it's goin' downhill fast. You can still bake with the bananas that are over ripe, but it's probably best to choose a recipe that calls for mashed bananas instead of a recipe where you want the bananas to hold their shape.

Btw, When I made it, I only had two bananas, so I wasn't really able to completely cover the bottom of the pan. The next time I make it, though, I'll absolutely use 3-4 bananas. More is More!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Apple Braised Turkey Thighs

This is one of the easiest recipes I've ever tried and is now one of my all time favorites! I was watching Everyday Food, and as is often the case, I wanted to run right out to the store to get the ingredients. (Actually, I already had most of the ingredients in my pantry!) If you know me, you know that I never met an apple dish that I didn't like and that turkey dinner is my all time favorite in the whole wide world. So this clearly falls into the "how can this not be good?" category.
 One of the best things about this recipe is that it doesn't take long to do the prep work, and then you don't need to babysit it once it's in the oven. You just leave it in the oven and let it do its thing. It's perfect for the novice cook. Basically, if you can peel an apple and cut an onion, you can make this dish. And just wait 'til you taste it! The meat becomes fall-apart tender and the apples cook down into the most fabulous sweet and sour apple sauce you've ever tasted. So simple, but SO brilliant! Serve it with a green veggie and some roasted potatoes and you have the perfect weekend supper!
Try it!

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 turkey thighs (about 2 pounds total)
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 Cortland or Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
2 cups apple cider
14.5 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Season turkey on both sides with salt and pepper and add to pot, skin side down. Cook until skin is golden and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer turkey to a plate and add shallots to pot. Cook until shallots soften, about 5 minutes. Add apples and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
Return turkey, skin side up, to pot; add cider and broth. Bring to a boil, cover, then place pot in oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Uncover; cook 30 minutes more.
Remove pot from oven and transfer turkey to a plate. Skim fat from cooking liquid and stir in vinegar. Slice meat off bones and serve turkey with apples and pan sauce.

If you don't have shallots, you can certainly use thinly sliced onions. Just let them cook slowly over a medium heat until they get nice and soft and sweet and mellow.
Be sure to add the cider vinegar at the end. It's seriously a key ingredient that gives the apple sauce that little sour zing that totally makes the entire dish.
 If you don't have a cast iron dutch oven, just use any oven proof heavy pot. It's absolutely worth the investment, though. Make sure you put it on your wish list!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Punjabi Quesadillas

 I often receive emails from people asking for recipes. For desserts, the most frequent request is for "anything lemon". For entrees, the most frequent request, believe it or not, is for Indian recipes. I'll be the first to tell you I have limited experience with Indian Cuisine, so I needed to enlist the help of someone who knows what she's doing, my high school classmate, Kathleen. She once told me she loves Indian Cuisine so much that she feels like she must have been an Indian woman in a previous life! She suggested watching Bal Arneson on Spice Goddess. OMG Her recipes look AMAZING!!  Thanx Kath!
 So this recipe is the first one I decided to try. It's quick, easy, and delicious!! It's really quite wonderful. On one hand, you have spices that are warm and aromatic, and on the other hand you have the cool creaminess of the yogurt. It's perfectly balanced!
 When I first made it, I stored the leftover chicken mixture in the fridge for a day or two. Then I had it for dinner again, and it was SO MUCH BETTER the second time around! The flavors got a chance to really marry together and the spices became sort of mellow and smooth. SO good. I HIGHLY recommend making it the night before you plan on serving it. You could even make it ahead and serve it at your next party!
Give it a try!

2 tbs oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tbs grated fresh garlic
1 tbs grated fresh ginger
1 tbs coriander seeds
1 tbs garam masala
1 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch salt
2 tbs tomato paste
1 lb chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt
6 flour tortillas
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Saute until the onion is soft and golden, about 4 minutes. Add the coriander seeds, garam masala, paprika, turmeric, and salt and toast for 15 seconds and then add the tomato paste, stirring well to incorporate it. Add the chicken pieces and stir well to coat them the spice mixture and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the yogurt and continue to cook until the chicken is done, about 2 minutes.
 Place a tortilla on a baking sheet and then cover the surface with some filling. Sprinkle on a third of the cheese and then place another tortilla on top and press it down gently. Brush the top with a bit of oil and then repeat with the remaining tortillas, until 3 quesadillas are assembled. You may need multiple baking sheets. Bake the quesadillas in the preheated oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is slightly golden. Cut the quesadilla into wedges and serve.

As pictured, I like to serve them with a huge dollop of sour cream. YUM!
If it's too hot out to turn on the oven, or if you just prefer cooking outdoors, take a tip from our good friend and culinary master, Joe LaGrossa... just cook it on the grill! You can assemble the quesadillas as you normally would, and then slide them onto the grill, (preferably not on the hottest portion). Close the lid for just a few minutes until the cheese is melted, then serve as usual! Thanx Joe!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon

If you haven't seen Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in Julie & Julia, you simply MUST watch it. Meryl Streep is absolutely FLAWLESS as Julia Child. Her brilliance astounds me. If you are fortunate enough to have seen it, then you know how the story often refers to Julia's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon, which is beef stew in red wine with bacon, onions, and mushrooms. As soon as I finished watching it, I wanted to immediately go and buy the ingredients so I could try the recipe. Well, considering that it was late at night, I opted to postpone my cooking project until I found myself with a lazy Sunday afternoon. I also got to thinking, "Why don't I have any of Julia Child's recipes in my archive?" Clearly, this needed to be remedied, and clearly THIS was the first recipe I needed to try.
So here we are. It's listed below, almost exactly as written in Julia's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set), and then I described a few things that I did differently. Before you make it, take a few minutes and read through it, and definitely read through my tips at the end. It may seem a little daunting upon first glance, just because there are lots of ingredients and steps, but it's really not difficult. It just takes a little while. Like my Mom always said, just follow the recipe. Choose a day when you know you'll have some free time, and give it a try! You can do this!! This is the perfect Sunday thing to do while you're preparing for the coming week. Most of it is oven time anyway, so you can take care of other things while it's in the oven. You could even have a "dinner and a movie" party! Invite some friends over, watch the movie, and serve this for dinner! It's really worth the time, and you'll impress the hell out of everyone. Just saying that you're making Boeuf Bourguignon will make everyone think you're an accomplished chef! And as Julia would say:
"Bon Appetit!"

1 6 ounce piece chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stew beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full bodied
3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled
20 small white onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered

Preheat oven to 450F.
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.
Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to side dish with a slotted spoon.
Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust). Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325F. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushroom.*
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for 1-2 minutes, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

To peel pearl onions:
Drop the onions into rapidly boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and then plunge them into ice cold water. Cut off the root end of each one. The peel should slip right off. Easy!

-Instead of using the piece of slab bacon and simmering it in water, etc, I just bought a package of super thick cut bacon and rendered the fat from it.
-While I was cooking to beef, the bottom of the pan started to get too dark. So I deglazed the pan with a little water, scraped up the browned bits, then added it to the bowl with the bacon/beef. Then I started over with a little more olive oil.  I was gonna just throw out the deglazing liquid, but I couldn't bring myself to throw away all that flavor. That's like flavor GOLD!
-I didn't do the herb bouquet with the cheesecloth. I just threw the herbs in.
 -I also used more than one carrot and then just left them in at the end (instead of straining them out) because I like carrots! I'm sure Julia probably strained all the aromatics out of the sauce so it would be smooth and glossy and very French, but I saw no reason to discard them. YUM. I also kept the onions and mushrooms separate from the stew because I think it makes a lovely presentation. (this also makes it easier for any of your guests who are not fans of mushrooms or pearl onions).
-Btw, the pearl onions were AMAZING just by themselves. Perfect side dish for a steak or roast beast.
-I served the stew over regular egg noodles, simply tossed with melted butter and chopped fresh parsley.