Saturday, September 18, 2010

Banana and Chocolate Bread

Banana bread was one of my first attempts at the baking world. A freshman in college, my friends and I were left with about 4 or 5 of them after an over-indulgent trip to a farmer's market. My friend Jen had memorized the recipe by this point, having had to deal with surplus banana stocks on previous occasions. Being the college students we were, we lacked any of the other ingredients needed for the bread, but a quick trip to the supermarket (which, in retrospect, defeated the entire point of the "quick banana bread fix") solved the problem and we were soon eating slices of the warm loaf as we studied during those cold long San Diego nights.

Even though I am not a huge banana fan in general, banana bread (perhaps because of the above memory) has a warm place in my heart. When I saw Delicious Magazine's recipe for a loaf that included chocolate as well, I believe I had found the promised land.

This recipe was an absolute win. Moist, soft, easy to make. Just enough chocolate and walnuts to give you a surprise sweetness and nuttiness every few bites, but not enough to overwhelm the sweet taste of the banana. Maybe now I'll have an excuse to buy those bananas every week...

Serves 6 (or so...)

Takes 15 minutes to make, 1 hour to cook, plus cooling


150g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
185g light muscovado sugar
2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml milk
3 medium, ripe bananas, mashed
50g sweet dark chocolate, such as Bournville, roughly chopped
50g walnuts, chopped


    1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Lightly butter and flour a 1.2-litre loaf tin. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating all the time. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt. Beat well, then gradually add the milk.

    2. Fold the bananas into the mixture with the chopped chocolate and walnuts. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and level the top.

    3. Bake for about 1 hour until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean and not sticky. Cover the top with foil if it starts to brown too quickly. Allow to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before turning out.

        Thursday, September 16, 2010

        Paprika and Chili Sweet Potato Chips

        There is a burger joint in my hometown that serves sweet potato fries instead of your bog standard. Although I'm not a massive burger fan, once these fries appeared on the table (in their own tiny shopping cart no less!), I was hooked. With just enough salt and a pinch of chili, there is nothing better in life. I slightly adapted this recipe for them online via Delicious Magazine and while this version is more to the tune of "home fries" than the narrow slivers of sweet potato-y goodness at Delux, believe me, I had no problems whatsoever finishing these off.

        I also threw a hearty pinch of rosemary on the potatoes while they were roasting in the oven. Because there has been no time in my life when rosemary and sweet potatoes was a bad decision. And this experience was no different. 

        Although these "fries" are baked, if you want a crispier texture, throw them under the broiler/grill for the last few minutes. It should firm up their skins and give an overall more satisfying crunch.


        4 (about 800g) large sweet potatoes

        2 red onions, cut into wedges
        2 tbsp olive oil

        Large pinch of chilli flakes

        1 tsp sweet paprika

        ½ tsp sea salt

        2 (or more!) tbsp of rosemary


        Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6. Cut the potatoes into thick wedges and transfer to a large, shallow roasting tin along with the red onion. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the chilli, paprika and salt.

        Toss together to coat, and spread out in a single layer so they cook evenly.

        Bake the sweet potato and onion for 30-35 minutes until golden and cooked through.

        Tuesday, September 14, 2010

        Chocolate Peanut Crumble Cookies

        It wasn't until my move to England that I started to appreciate the art of the crumble. Apple, blackberry, apricot, you name the fruit, as long as it had that delicious sugary crunchy topping on top, I was happy as a clam when dessert rolled around. Yet this new dessert addiction had a downside- it happened to exist predominantly in a country without two other loves of mine: namely, the art of the cookie (NOT biscuit) and peanut butter. You will hear many an American ex-pat bemoan the lack of Skippy or Jiffy or whatever kind of sugared peanut-y substance they grew up with as a kid. And I was most definitely one of them. The cookie/biscuit debate was equally vexing.

        Are biscuits really cookies in disguise? I have my doubts. Something about the term "digestive" just seems wrong when applied to the concept of dessert.

        Anyway, I digress. These cookies, adapted from a recipe in the August edition of Delicious, made life in the UK so much sweeter. Someone from the UK, bless them, had realized the genius in combining three of my great loves in one delicious bite. Granted, there was far too little peanut butter in the original recipe, but hey, at least the Brits are trying. Add as much as your USA ex-pat heart dares. I used at least 3 tbsp. I may add more next time, just watch me.
        I also skipped the finesse of the white chocolate drizzle. I was serving these at a dinner party and the last step to add artful flair seemed a bit much. Instead, I pressed a white chocolate chip into each one, and believe me, no one noticed the difference.

        9 tbsp of butter, softened
        115g of caster sugar (1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp)
        1 heaped tbsp of creamy peanut butter (and you are heartily recommend to add more)
        1/2 tsp vanilla
        1 large free range egg, beaten
        150g plain flour (1 slightly heaped cup)
        30g of cocoa powder (8 tbsp)
        1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
        100g of semi sweet chocolate chips (1 cup)

        For the crumble topping:
        30g salted butter (2 1/2 tbsp)
        40g plain flour (1/4 cup heaped)
        30g of caster sugar (1/4 cup)
        60g of unsalted peanuts (1/2 cup),
        half of them coarsely chopped and half of them left whole

        For the drizzle:
        50g of white chocolate, chopped (1/2 cup)


        Preheat the oven to 190*C/375*F/gas mark 5. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

        Make the crumble topping by whisking together the flour and sugar. Rub in the butter until crumbly and then stir in the nuts. Set aside.

        Cream together the butter and sugar for the cookies, along with the peanut butter, until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Stir this into the creamed mixture, mixing it in completely. Stir in the chocolate chips.

        Shape into 15 gold ball sized balls. Place well apart on the baking sheets. Press down lightly with a spoon, making a slight indentation in the middles. Sprinkle heaped TBS of the topping in the middles. (This will be messy, and some will fall off, but do the best you can do. You will not need all of the crumble topping, but it freezes well for another time and trust me, when you taste these little gems, there will be another time). Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are well set and the topping is golden. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before scooping off to finish cooling on a wire rack.

        Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for about 60 seconds. Stir until smooth. Drizzle decoratively over the tops of the cookies, across the streusel. Allow to set before storing in an airtight container.

        Wednesday, September 8, 2010

        Braised Leeks

        The wonders of this recipe came to me completely by accident, I have to admit. A dinner party was planned and a chicken dish was requested. I had planned on serving a fabulous dish by the New York Times featuring roast chicken and fennel, when low and behold, no fennel was to be found. Literally. In the entirety of Oxford, fennel was persona non grata. In a panic and with less than 3 hours to dinner time, I suddenly remembered the recipe for Deviled Chicken on the Smitten Kitchen blog.

        While I didn't have the time to marinate and serve the chicken as prepared, the side dish of leeks seemed a perfect complement for the amended recipe. And, oh my, was this delicious. It's a multi-step dish, I grant you, but it is worth it. Roasting the leeks in the chicken broth for that long brings out just enough of the sweetness, and the pre-grilling adds just the right amount of smokiness and crunch. Honestly, forget the chicken. Just serve this. Seriously.


        6 large leeks

        About 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

        1 cup sliced shallots

        1 tablespoon thyme leaves

        1/2 cup dry white wine

        1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

        kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


        Preheat the oven to 400°F.

        Remove any bruised outer layers from the leeks. Trim off to the roots, leaving the root end intact. Trim the tops of the leeks on the diagonal, leaving 2 inches of the green part attached. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and submerge in a large bowl of cold water to clean them. Shake the leeks well to dislodge the dirt stuck inside. Let them sit a few minutes, to allow any grit inside the layers to fall to the bottom of the bowl. Repeat the process until the water is clean. Place the leeks, cut side down, on a towel and pat dry completely.

        Turn the leeks over so their cut sides are facing up, and season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.

        Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil, and wait 1 minute. Place the leeks in the pan, cut side down, being careful not to crowd them. (you will probably need to saute them in batches or in two pans. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed, for each batch.) Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until they are golden brown. Season the backs of the leeks with salt and pepper, and turn them over to cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them to a large gratin dish, lining them up, cut sides facing up. (Choose a baking dish or gratin dish that can go from oven to table and that will accommodate all the leeks and chick thighs, or use two smaller dishes.)

        Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until the shallots are just beginning to color. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add 1 1/2 cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.

        Pour the liquid over the leeks. The stock should not quite cover them; add more stock if necessary.
        Braise in the oven 30 minutes, until the leeks are tender when pierced.

        If serving with chicken, simply place the meat on top of the leeks and let the juices meld with the chicken. You won't overcook the leeks and you'll get all those great flavors to combine with the meat. For the win.

        Thursday, September 2, 2010

        Charlbury Ramble

        I'm sorry, did someone mention a late summer walk?

        Now would said walk happen to include 1/2 of a 3 course meal at a phenomenal gastro-pub, The White Horse in Stonesfield?

        Oh yes, yes it does.

        Menu: White Onion and Rosemary Soup (some sort of strained buttery soupy glory, complete with fresh bread)
                       Steak and Kidney Pie (come on England!)

                       Baileys & Chocolate Cheesecake

        Throw in a couple Crabbies (alcoholic ginger, yes please!), and a cider and you have the makings...of a very difficult next couple of miles of walking.

        This particular walk might also feature a quirky fun bookstore (complete with cat), preserved Roman villa (mosaics included!!), the sheer childish delight of freaking out the local poultry (grouse beware), and a phenomenal local pub (the Rose and Crown in Charlbury) at the end of it featuring not one, not two, not three...but six local ales of all kinds of varieties. Friendly local dog also a bonus. They also allowed us to eat our own food (we knew this their copy of"Best Pubs in Britain" guide, in which they were featured, told us so) which was an absolute win.

        Ah late summer. Is there anything better?

        View Charlbury Ramble in a larger map

        Shell Bean Succotash

        In my opinion, this is among the most American of dishes. Simply because it has the best name *ever*. Although my mother never made it herself, I will always associate this with childhood and Loony Toons, thanks to Sylvester the Cat's famous catchphrase ("Sufferin' Succotash!)". I had no idea what he was talking about at age 8 and only now, a few decades later, have I realized that the dish that inspired the alliterative phrase was also a delicious veggie filled concoction. While this version is adapted from the New York Times Recipes for Health section, as you'll quickly see, it's an almost fool-proof way of cooking veg. It's also an absolutely gorgeous dish, full of colors.

        Who knew that good old Sylvester was advocating your 5 a day?

        Serves about 4-6.


        1 pound shell beans (about 1 3/4 cups)

        1 onion, halved

        7 cups water

        3 large garlic cloves, crushed

        A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, a sprig of sage and a bay leaf

        Salt to taste

        2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

        1 small red onion, finely chopped

        1/2 pound summer squash, cut in small dice

        2 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

        Kernels from 4 ears of corn

        2 or 3 sage leaves, minced

        Freshly ground pepper


        1. Combine the beans, onion, water, garlic, bouquet garni and salt in a heavy saucepan or soup pot, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Taste and adjust salt. Remove and discard the onion, the bouquet garni and the garlic cloves. Drain though a strainer or colander set over a bowl.

        2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the red onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, for about three minutes. Add the squash, and salt to taste. Cook, stirring, until the squash begins to soften and look translucent, three to four minutes. Add the garlic and corn. Cook for about four minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Add the beans and sage, and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute or two. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you want this to be more moist, stir in some of the bean broth.

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