Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Banana Yeast Bread

I end up buying a lot of bananas (organic and fairly traded if I could, please) this time of year, since the citrus season is waning and it’ll be quite some time before locally grown fruits will be available. With the overripe bananas, I could make banana quick bread and banana muffins to my heart’s content, and it would take quite a while to completely content my heart when it comes to these delicious things, but something a bit different is always welcome nonetheless.

Okay so a yeasted bread with bananas in it is not as different as some of the more unique culinary uses of bananas one could find out there, but I quite like this one. It’s like a sandwich bread in texture with the hint of the flavor of classic banana quick bread. I also add a generous helping of walnuts to the dough, which I think gives the otherwise soft and moist bread a bit of needed structure and crunch.

I make this bread pretty much the same way as I make any other yeast bread. I mix up a “mini starter” with the liquid ingredients, the yeast and some of the flour. I let that stand for a while, which I think serves to improve the action of the yeast as well as the flavor of the bread. I then knead in the rest of the flour using the dough hook for my Kitchen Aid mixer.

I have found that this bread rises best when the dough is moister and stickier than I usually will tolerate in a bread dough. You can knead in more flour to make a dough that is a little easier (and less messy) to handle, which is what I did this time I made it, but it takes much longer to rise to its required shape and size.

I mostly just eat this bread with a swipe of butter, or I toast it before buttering it, but I think if you like peanut butter and banana, you could use it to support a peanut butter sandwich. It’s also fabulous when used to make French toast, something I just confirmed this morning. I thought of taking a photo, but I was too busy eating and enjoying it. An occupational hazard, I guess.

Banana Walnut Yeast Bread

I recommend allowing the dough to remain a bit sticky for this bread. It may be more difficult and messier to handle, but the loaf should rise better than when the dough is stiffer.

1/3 cup milk warmed to about 100 F
3 tablespoons sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
2 medium very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
3 cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Combine warm milk, butter, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer (or another large bowl if mixing by hand. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Mix in the butter, egg and banana using the paddle attachment for the mixer (or a spoon or hand-held mixer). Mix in 2 cups of the bread flour to make a thick batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand about 30 minutes.

3. Add the salt and cinnamon to the foamy batter. Using the dough hook for the mixer gradually knead in as much of the remaining cup of bread flour as needed to make a smooth, stretchy, but still somewhat sticky dough. Knead in the walnuts.

4. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Shape the sticky dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Spray the dough ball with the cooking spray. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the dough. Cover the whole bowl with a towel. Let stand until roughly double in size, 1-1 ½ hours.

5. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray an 8 x 5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Re-shape the dough into a loaf and place it in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel and let rise until double in size, at least 1 hour, possibly longer.

6. When the loaf has completely risen, bake at 375 F for 35 minutes. The crust should be dark brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack.

Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf.

Other recipes like this one: Banana Quick Bread, Walnut Buttermilk Bread

One year ago: Green Pea Hummus

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thai Curry Peanut Noodles

I quit testing recipes for noodles with peanut sauce when I realized that none of them was going to top our favorite Peanutty Noodles. Recently, however, I came across one that had curry paste in the peanut sauce, and I guess I was really hungry for noodles, because I decided to try it right away. Well, as right away as I ever get to anything.

When I bookmarked this one in an electronic version of Eating Well magazine, I just looked at the photo and the ingredients and thought I was reading a recipe for a warm noodle dish. Actually paying attention revealed that the original recipe is for cold noodles, and I briefly considered making cold noodles, but the snow had come back by then and a cool supper was less appealing. I simply cooked the vegetables in a wok, added the noodles and the sauce and tossed it all together to heat up.

I stuck with the vegetables called for in the original recipe. The red bell pepper seemed like a no-brainer, but I thought it was kind of unusual for a Thai-style noodle recipe to call for kohlrabi. I’m in favor of kohlrabi, which is basically a mildly flavored, overachieving cabbage stem, and it’s popular around here, but I wasn’t sure I could get any. I was thrilled to find some, however, and locally grown, too! It seems a nearby farm had some awesome greenhouses and I could use super fresh kohlrabi from Minnesota in my Thai noodles!

This is a really delicious dish of hot curried noodles. It’s different enough from Peanutty Noodles to be appreciated as its own thing. It’s filling and satisfying, complex and flavorful. It’s not particularly spicy, but there’s plenty of complex warmth in the tastes and aromas of the sauce. I will say that I made it a little salty, but I think that’s because I salted the water in which I cooked the noodles, then used that water to thin the sauce. Cutting out that salt should keep things out of the too-salty range.

There are also probably dozens of variations, additions and subtractions one could apply to the basic concept of this dish. In my opinion, only the peanut butter, curry paste and noodles are absolutely essential components. Even the red curry paste I used could be replaced with green or yellow curry paste. You could add more spice. You could use cabbage in place of the kohlrabi, add other vegetables, or add some protein. I’ve thought of cooking the vegetables and making a saucier sauce and serving it all over rice instead of with noodles.

Of course, this could be turned into a cold dish, too. Although I suppose I could just go to back to the original recipe for that.

Thai Curry Peanut Noodles
Based on a recipe in Eating Well magazine (March/April 2015)

I recommend cooking the noodles without salt to keep the saltiness under control. Also, feel free to swap in whatever vegetables you like or have available, such as cabbage, snow peas, carrots, etc.

8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
½ cup frozen edamame
½ cup smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons red curry paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 medium kohlrabi, peeled and cut into thin sticks
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped peanuts

1. Cook the spaghetti in boiling water until still a little bit firm. Add the edamame to the boiling water with the spaghetti and continue cooking until the spaghetti is cooked as you like it. Reserve about 1 cup pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and edamame and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combined the peanut butter, curry paste, soy sauce and sesame oil. Whisk together. Add about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

3. Heat the canola or peanut oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently about 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Add the bell pepper and kohlrabi. Cook and stir about 5 minutes or until tender-crisp.

4. Add the noodles and edamame and stir everything together to combine. Stir in the peanut butter mixture. Add enough of the remaining pasta water to thin out the sauce such that it coats the noodles and vegetables. Stir in the cilantro and peanuts.

Makes 4 main-dish servings.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chocolate Irish Cream Cheesecake

I get excited to cook with two ingredients around St. Patrick’s Day. No, they aren’t corned beef and cabbage. Traditional those may be, and I won’t knock them here, but this girl cooks with Guinness (or other stout brands) and Irish Cream liqueur. I’m not much of a drinker, so in order to enjoy those quality beverages, I put them in recipes.

I’ve already make some of this great beef stew with Guinness this week, and I’ve paid respect to Irish Cream by stirring some into these brownies. I continued with the winning chocolate and Irish Cream combination, however, with a deliciously creamy and deliciously delicious Chocolate Irish Cream cheesecake. Perhaps not the smartest thing that someone who’s trying to lose a few pounds could do, but I need to take my holidays seriously, even if they aren’t serious holidays.

This cheesecake is not especially chocolaty or especially Irish Cream-y (or boozy), but it is a nice, rich, creamy and decadent combination of the two flavors. I love the crunchy, slightly crumbly chocolate crust with this dense but smooth cheesecake filling, and the cocoa and liqueur keep it from being overly sweet. It’s extremely satisfying, and, in my opinion, needs no topping or accompaniment, except maybe a cup of coffee with another plug of Irish cream in it.

I must have made this cheesecake sometime in the ancient past, and I must have liked it because I kept the recipe. It needed some updating, however, and a bit of a Messy Apron touch, so another test was in order. I changed the crust to be just like the one for this Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake, since I knew that one works well (and tastes good). The filling recipe is similar enough in proportions to the Cranberry one, with the addition of some sour cream (and the liqueur), that I felt I could count on it. The baking procedure for this cheesecake, whose original source has been lost (I apologize), is quite different, though, which made me a little nervous. It involves baking the cheesecake in a hot oven (450 F) for 10 minutes, then lowering the temperature for the rest of baking.

Even though it seemed unusual, I baked this cheesecake that way anyway, and the results were very good. I’m not sure what that initial hot-temperature baking did for my dessert, if anything, but I have been very happy. Have been and will continue to be happy, since there are only two people in my house and a cheesecake really shouldn’t be divided into just two servings. Luckily, cheesecakes tend to hold well in the freezer – I like to wrap up individual slices and put them in freezer bags – so even if those pounds won’t be coming off just yet, maybe more won’t be piling on. Just yet.

Chocolate Irish Cream Cheesecake
Adapted from a few sources

For the crust:
8 ounces chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco Famous brand)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 ½ ounces (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup Irish Cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. To make the crust, place the chocolate wafer cookies in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add the 3 tablespoons sugar and pulse until well-combined. Pour in the melted butter and process until all of the crumbs are well-moistened and they start to come together into a mass.

2. Pour the crust mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Press the mixture firmly and evenly on the bottom of the pan and about 2-3 inches up the sides of the pan.

3. Bake at 375 for 9-12 minutes or until the crust appears firm and dry. Set aside on a cooling rack until ready to fill.

4. Preheat the oven to 450 F. To make the filling, combine the cream cheese, 1 ¼ cups sugar and cocoa powder In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in another large bowl if you are using a hand mixer). Beat, using the paddle attachment, on medium speed until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and the paddle and beat again until smooth.

5. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sour cream and Irish Cream and beat until very smooth.

6. Pour the filling over the baked crust. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F. Continue baking for 60-70 minutes or until the top of the filling appears dry and set and just wobbles a little when gently shaken.

7. Cool on a wire rack about 5 minutes. Slide a thin, sharp knife around the outside of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cool completely. Remove the ring from the springform pan. Chill the cheesecake at least 2 hours before serving.

Makes 12 servings.

One year ago: Chocolate Pudding