Friday, September 25, 2009

Banana meet Rosemary

My genius friend Heather had another of her genius ideas (or maybe she stole it from elsewhere, but who cares?!)...the random ingredient-inspired food club.

The idea is this: randomly pick out of a hat one fruit or vegetable and one spice or herb. Then, all invitees must make a dish with at least one of the selected ingredients (in my book, you get serious kudos if you manage to work in both).

Naturally, my first inclination was banana cream pie. I had all of these fanciful ideas of fresh bananas, shortbread crust and a subtle, but invigorating rosemary whipped cream. But then I thought, everyone is going to make dessert given how sweet bananas are, I should go for the extra challenge of making something savory out of bananas!

So, Chicken in Banana Curry here I came. I found the preliminary recipe on Food & Wine's website and then seriously doctored it up, adding coconut milk and some extra veggies for color and crunch (see recipe below).

The result was surprisingly tasty and unique. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it was my favorite curry, but it was good. I don't know that I would have liked the recipe as it read out of the magazine however, as I think the coconut milk was key for creaminess.

If you're looking for something exotic, with Caribbean flavors and you want to make your guests say "banana, really?!?!" then this is certainly a recipe you should try.


Caribbean-style Banana Curry

2-3 medium-ripe bananas, cut into pieces
1 can coconut milk
1.5 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp ground coriander
zest of 2 limes
2 Tbsp lime juice
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 chicken breasts cut into bit-sized pieces (can use whole breasts if desired)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Place bananas, half the can coconut milk, curry powder, coriander, lime zest, lime juice, salt & pepper into a blender (or food processor) and blend until pureed. Place the chicken into a roasting pan with onion, green beans and bell pepper. Cover with the curry sauce. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Stir the remaining half of the can of coconut milk into the sauce (remove the chicken from the pan if using whole breasts). Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

Enjoy! And stay tuned for next month's challenge - Sweet Potato and Cumin

Friday, September 11, 2009

Culinary Canoeing

Every couple of years we do an amazing canoe trip on the Trinity river at the very upper most edge of California. It is a week of sublime wilderness, adventurous rapids and frolicking with such wildlife as black bears, steelhead trout and crayfish the size of my fist. Pure bliss.

In the past food was rustic at mac (mac n cheese with hot dogs), pasta with pre-made sauce, etc. But this year, to my delight, we brought along a group of real foodies and together we made this the most gourmet trip down the Trinity in recorded history.

Though it is possible to pull out and hike to nearby towns to replenish supplies, our first-time canoeing companions took no risk of not finding what they'd like to eat. Large coolers were stuffed to the gills with tri-tip, butcher-made italian sausages, eggs, hash browns, gourmet espresso, and this list goes on and on. Oh, but I can't forget about the SIX pounds of bacon (meaning there was a pound per person to consume on the trip)!!!


Breakfasts consisted of standard eggs, bacon, and so on, which kept us well fueled for the day's rapids. It was dinners, however, that were the real masterpiece, making dishes so good it was hard to believe we were on a river, in the middle of nowhere.

Breakfast of Champions (champion canoers that is)

The first night we cooked up the tri-tip and made the requisite garlic bread and baked beans to accompany it. I had also brought along some of my freshly made oven-dried tomatoes and homemade pesto, so we whipped together a nice pasta salad. Basically, you get the gist - we ate like kings and queens.

The second night we grilled and shredded some chicken breasts and mixed them in with refried beans and pepper jack cheese. We also made some fresh guacamole with the avocados that Kevin and Amy had just picked at home. Wrap all this up in a corn tortilla and it was so good, my mouth is watering now.

Though I could keep describing meals from this trip in great detail, there are two dishes that hold a special place in my heart. One was the birthday brownies we made for Thomas' birthday using my awesome Outback Oven (yes, an oven that you can use on your camp stove and can bake scone, breads, pizza, etc - sooooo great). They were perfectly done and gooey - not burnt on the bottom at all like I feared they might be.

The second is a nice little hors d'oeuvre we made from the fresh trout that Coop caught. It was amazing. We had a little assembly line going where the fish came out of the water, got cleaned, thrown on the pan and fried and finally composed into a very tasty morsel consisting of a wheat thin, a dollop of homemade pesto and a nice little chunk of freshly caught and fried trout.

This is a bite that I would definitely replicate in my own kitchen!

The beautiful (and tasty) bounty!


Easy-Peasy Pesto

3 cups basil
1/2 cup parmasan
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the basil, parmasan and pine nuts in the food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running. Add salt and pepper to taste - and you're done! I like to put individual servings of pesto into little sandwich bags and freeze them.

My favorite thing about it is that you can get creative and switch out ingredients to make more imaginative and adventurous flavors. You can replace the basil with arugula, spinach or cilantro and you can replace the pine nuts with pecans or walnuts.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Great Wedding Cake Experiment - The Final Hour

After three trial runs and several changes made it was time to pack up my 4 jars of Trader Joe's Cherry Preserves and large baking pans and hit the road...or the air and fly to the East Coast.

I can only imagine what the the TSA officials thought when they scanned my bag but I'm imagining it went something a little like this: "She's either a terrorist or has some REALLY strange fetishes." Nonetheless, we made it to the cabin in Lake Chateauguay (what, you've never heard of it?!?! I would have thought for sure you would know one of the 50 people who live there!). The only casualty was one of the jars of preserves had unleashed its wrath in my suitcase.

Luckily, nearby town of Plattburg has a Sam's Club (very similar to a Costco) and I was able to purchase many of the necessities in bulk. Given that I was going to be making 8 batches of cake batter and about 10 pounds of cream cheese frosting - almost everything needed to be bought in these quantities.

The bride had graceously set aside a specific cabin for baking purposes and I set up shop the day before the wedding to get all of the cake layers done. She also shleped up her aunt's kitchenaid mixer (THANK YOU!) so I didn't have to hand mix everything, let me tell you now that this was a blessing.

Because I only had one cake pan for each layer size, this was going to be a slow process. I started out with the 15" layers, which take up a whole oven anyway. When the first layer came out it was plainly evident that the house was not level and, hence, neither was the oven. Each layer came out slightly thicker on one side. Luckily, because there were three layers, I was confident that we could arrange them to be level.

7 hours and 6 layers baked later the bottom fell out. I had been doubling the batter recipe for efficiency and took stock of my ingredients as I was about to begin the 9" layer. I asked myself "hmmm why do I have so much butter leftover?" and then I realize, I hadn't doubled the butter. OH MY GOD!!!!!!

Luckily, one of the 12" layers was a little taller than the rest, so I shaved off a bit and tasted it. It was surprisingly fluffy and not too dry. It seemed that using less butter actually solved the desity problem that made the cake resemble pound cake. yay!

The cake was a tad bit dry for my liking so the next morning I pricked each layer full of holes and made a butter and cherry syrup to brush over each layer, this seemed to moisten it nicely.

Next came the frosting. If you've ever been to Costco, you may be familiar with the 3 pound bricks of cream cheese they sell there. Well, I used three of these in the frosting! I love the addition of a touch of almond extract to this, it complimented the tanginess of the cream cheese nicely.

Putting the layers together...

Putting the layers together was another challenge. After spreading the marzipan and cherry preserves on top of each layer, it was time to stack. We stacked the 15" layers and then frosted it thoroughly. Next came the 12" layer and we tried to get it as centered as possible, then it got frosted. By the time we came to the 9" layer, the gravitational forces of the house were at work again - not only was the oven slanted, but so was the table: the 15" layer began collapsing on the slanted side due to the weight of the other layers. AAAAHHHH!

Luckily we were able to right it and all was well and we also had 4 custom cut dowels waiting to secure the layers together once they were all in place. The funny thing about the dowels that I definitely had not thought about beforehand was that the bottom layers were so weighed down by the layers they were supporting that little dowel nubbins stuck out. No problem though! I happened to have a mess of fresh cherries for just such an occasion that we made a nice little pile of right on top of the peaking dowel heads.

Next we dropped rose petals over the whole thing and used locally picked ferns (picked by thomas) to decorate the bottom. It turned out lovely and the petals even matched the reception napkins!

Thankfully, my friends kicked me off the cake transporatation committee, alleviating me of the stress that would involve. It took 4 people to move it (it was heavy!), but one it sat on the actually looked like a wedding cake and tasted even better!

The finished product!


Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar plus more if needed
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

In a standing mixer* with the paddle attachment on, beat together all of the ingredients until thoroughly mixed and of a whipped consistency. If frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar.

*If you don't have a standing mixer, you can use a hand mixer

Mission accomplished - what's the next challenge?!?!