Home Cooking can save the World

Home cooking can save the World – I heard someone say this recently,  and I started to think about … what does a statement like that really mean?  Is it true? When I get slightly sappy (not often at all) I think it might be true. But then the better part of me goes, um, no – because I don’t like to be sappy.

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My Mom’s Banana Nut Bread – A Tradition in my family.

But I do believe in home cooking and I do think it can make a difference, and I know that, as dumb as it sounds, I do think home cooking and passing on recipes, makes a difference in kind of the big scheme of things and in the kind of person you will turn out to be, and in the the way you will influence the next generation. Your kids, your nieces or nephews and if you are lucky their spouses too. I hate to say it, but I feel this is a dying art.

I know I would love to teach the Boy more than I have. But we have the Wednesday Cooking School – at least for now, until he gets busier at work, but so far it has been interesting and fun – it kind of makes me stupidly happy. I am glad he is interested in figuring out how I make the things he likes. I also know I should have asked my mom so much more. Thanksgiving reminds me of that every year – cannot get cornbread dressing correct – ugh.

I guess that I thought I would be able to ask my mom things for way longer than I was able to and that should put you all on notice, no really. Ask for those things and write them down better than I did. Although my mom’s recipe for roast beef – “it is seared when the smoke detector goes off” just makes me smile every time I think about it. It is pretty damn funny and it was also correct.

This has made me a fan of asking people I like for their family recipes. You know, old family recipes are important. They would not be around if they were not successful if they did not make people for generations happy. My friend Elaine’s carrot cake is an example. It was her grandmother’s recipe, and it seemed a bit strange to me – no butter? – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten (Sorry Mrs. Fields). Damnation – I want to make one every week – yes, every week, but that would really work against me (in the clothing department).

 

Butter Usage – by month (December 2015)

2 December – 16 Tbs Rugelach – this dough works …

8 December – 4 Tbs – Rugelach filling – but the filling does not.

11 December – 4 Tbs – Rugelach filling – again did not – annoying – total failure – should really do a better job of reading the comments.

12 December – 8 Tbs – Banana Nut Bread – competition

14 December – 8 Tbs – Brownie Cookie

17 December – 8 Tbs – Glazed Lemon Cookies

19 December – 16 Tbs – Butterscotch Blondies

20 December – 4 Tbs – Everyday Orzo – yes. Again.

20 December – 12 Tbs – Lime Sugar Cookies

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Lime Sugar Cookies – pretty damn amazing.

23 December – 2 Tbs – Cheddar-Stuffed Mushrooms

23 December  – 13.5 Tbs – Sunday Sweet Potatoes

23 December – 16 Tbs – Walnut/Pecan Tassies

25 December – 1 Tbs – Toasted Banana Nut Bread

26 December – 12 Tbs – Sweet Potato Biscuits

29 December – 8 Tbs – The Browniest Cookies See Above.

30 December – 13 Tbs – Chess Tart

Total 145.5 Tbs = 18.1875 sticks = 4.5468875 pounds

Not my best month this year, but a damn good month by any measure.

I’m a bit frightened by what the total for the year will be if this is any indication. I may not keep up with this again, or maybe I’ll add keeping up with eggs too in 2016. Again, slightly frightening. But what the hell – makes for an excellent recap in an odd sort of way.

 

 

Prep for Christmas – in all its forms.

We had a very quiet Thanksgiving which I enjoyed, but I am glad Christmas is going to be an all-out family party. I love the way my brother-in-law fries a turkey. No matter how many times I roast one (thank you AB for the best roasted turkey of all time! And I should add, the first turkey I ever made in my life), I still prefer a fried turkey, but do not have the nerve (or equipment) to do it myself. Very glad he does.

So here are my plans for the upcoming holidays:

Christmas Eve – just an aside – This is my favorite part of Christmas because growing up we had a smorgasbord (sorry lacking the umlauts and accents). Or at least my eleven year-old version of it. Why my mom let me kind of take over to a degree – although she still did most of the cooking, I have no idea. But that is what happened in my family. Christmas Eve we opened presents from each other and munched on a buffet of all kinds of things that my mom made and a few that I dreamed up. At the time, I realized I wanted to be a caterer, so it is not surprising that I went into event management – not really.

So for me Christmas Eve is meant to be relaxed. Our new tradition from a few year ago is to have Cheddar fondue night with all the things that go with it. In our case, that is apples, pears, grapes, baguette, and to gild the lily, some Boursin (for the baguette, not the fondue). Maybe some Brie or, well, who knows.  I always shop on Christmas Eve to get the freshest things I can find. It is so simple and it can be scaled for however many people you have. In our case, it is small – typically four of us, but fun nonetheless. I am just a bit too excited about this. Oh, and then there is dessert. Whatever kind of cookie I make for the next day – but we hit it anyway. Although after a bunch of fruit and cheese I do not have tons of room. Well, that is what I tell people.

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Sausage Balls – A Southern & a family tradition

Christmas Day – Morning. I am kind of going easy this year. I have my mom’s Banana Nut Bread that I will slice and broil until crunchy and smear with great salted European butter. I probably could just do with that. But I want something else, but something simple. This year, not sausage balls (which are a huge tradition in my family), or latkes which I love more than words, and yes, I might just be being a bit lazy in this department. But there may be just the two of us so I am going with sautéed hot breakfast sausage that I then add scrambled eggs. So the eggs cook in the sausage grease – it is amazing. That was the only way I ate eggs as a kid (long story – see: allergies).

Then the plan is to bake my stuffed mushrooms which you will see and reheat my Sunday Sweet Potatoes which you have seen way too many times, for Christmas with the family. I will have the third batch of Cranberry Horseradish Relish made by then and have more bags of cranberries in the freezer than make sense.  And have put up the pecan/walnut tassies as well – again things that people seem to really like.

So on the 28th, we are having another family thing on the beach – super cool! I plan to make my (yes, you’ve seen it here) sweet potato biscuits with something in them. May try to change this up this year. Probably will not, but … I might. You never know what happens.

I am dreading going to the grocery store today. I have put it off since it’s been raining for days. And the forecast does not get any better until, well maybe if we get really lucky – not likely, Friday for Christmas Day. That said, it will be in the 70’s. Not any kind of Christmas weather and certainly not any kind of candy making weather. Guess I am waiting for January for cold and dry to make Vanilla Taffy or English toffee, or Divinity or even Peanut Brittle. Nothing too unusual in the grand scheme of things. But irksome.

 

Banana Bread Challenge

So me and my friend Shelly had a banana bread challenge this weekend.  Zach was supposed to compete, but said all the bananas were too green. Seem suspicious to me since I went to one of the same stores. Ask the produce guy – they are always happy to get rid of what is perceived as “over ripe” fruit. And spotty brown bananas are required for banana bread – according to my mom and she is, without a doubt, an authority on the subject.

My mom made so many loafs of banana nut bread for Christmas it was ridiculous. I feel like I spent most of my Christmas breaks from DD_0206school chopping individual pecans into four pieces each. Yes. I did that. These days, as the baker myself, I’m more relaxed in my attitude. Rough chop – totally works.  Three bananas are needed for 1 1/2 cups of mashed bananas, and you need the full-sized loaf pan. a 1.5 pound, 10 x 5″ pan. My go-to one is a William-Sonoma Goldtouch. I’m a huge fan of the Goldtouch brand – the browning is pretty amazing –  not too much or too little. Thanks, once again, to America’s Test Kitchen.

I always say that this recipe is such a tradition that I don’t change, but that is not quite true. I add more pecans. Local pecans from Renfroe’s. 1 1/2 cups chopped, but everything else remains the same. It is so funny. I remember my mom sifting the dry ingredients together and putting them in bags for her assembly line baking between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had to (and I still have to) have this for Christmas morning. Run it under the broiler until the edges are crunchy and smear with butter. When I was a kid it margarine – better living through weird stuff – ugh. But I have done my food snob thing for years and have never used margarine. It’s salted European butter. Yes, excellent. But any salted butter will do.

One of the best things about this bread is that it keeps really well in the fridge and also in the freezer. So I usually cut the loaf in half and double wrap one half in foil and put in the freezer. It can keep there for several months. Then over a couple of weeks, I eat the half thats’s in the fridge. Works really well.

Now’s here the thing that I thought was so cool. Shelly, for our competition, made banana nut muffins. How have I never thought about it? But in discussing with another friend, she had the best idea I heard this weekend. Make little mini-muffin banana nut muffins. Holy hell! Excellent idea! I will have to work on the temperature / timing to do this, but it sounds, to use an over-used word, awesome. And I just purchased a Goldtouch mini-muffin pan. Do I sound like a commercial for William-Sonoma? I don’t mean to, but I really like this brand. It makes baking so easy.

 

Banana Nut Bread – one of my mom’s legacies

My mom always made Banana Nut Bread for Christmas – kind of an assembly-line thing because so many people expected it – no really lots of people – including me. Thankfully, I did get the recipe from her, but never made until after she died. It’s an odd kind of connection because when I smell it and taste it, it’s like nothing has changed. But I know it has.
I make it every Christmas and also anytime when I go to see my Dad because no one else makes it. I do think he enjoys it, but I wonder if it’s bittersweet for him because it’s not for me. It really makes me happy. It is one of those recipes that I thought to keep to myself, but I think sharing it is a better thing to do.

Funny thing – I don’t like or eat bananas (I so want to say this like a Minion – totally) – but I love this bread. Strange? Totally, but there it is. And here’s the big secret – what you have to do is this: bake the bread – stash half in the fridge and the other half in the freezer for later (in foil of course) and then when you’re ready for some breakfast, turn the broiler on and toast the bread till the edges are crunchy and the middle is toasted and then the best part – slather it with salted butter. Amazing. That is how my mom served it on Christmas morning. Every Christmas morning. And I still do that, but sometimes in June it is so amazing because it’s been about six months since Christmas and you have all the ingredients handy with the exception (for me) of bananas.

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Banana Nut Bread – my mom’s thing

This month, I made some for my dad since we went over last week and since I had to slice the loaf in half, I didn’t think anyone would notice if one slice went missing. Damn, it was so good.

Oh, and recipe note – the bananas need to be really ripe (read: pretty much brown all over). Easy, buy bananas and just wait. Usually it takes about 3 regular-sized bananas.

The only problem I have is the temperature and time, which I have kept futzing with but I have still not come up with one that is perfect. So, depending on your oven you may just have to mess with this part – I do. But it’s worth it – no, really, it is. Still haven’t figured it all out yet, but when I do  – I just might be a little bored. meh.

8 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed bananas

3 cups sifted all purpose flour

3 1/12 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I upped this – my mom only used 1 cup)

Grease and line a 9 x 5″ loaf pan with wax paper and spray again with baking spray.  Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and baking soda – typically, I do this on a piece of waxed paper. In the stand mixer, blend the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Add the mashed bananas and blend until combined. Mix in dry ingredients. Add pecans and mix well.

Turn into loaf pan and bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and increase temp to 350 degrees for 15 minutes.*

* totally not working for me, but I’ll add all my notes below.

* Notes: So my oven is calibrated correctly, and here’s the closest that I’ve come, but I would still advise that you check with a skewer.
300 degrees for one hour, than 340 degrees for about 25 minutes. This is the best I’ve gotten and it works pretty well.