Together Again in the Kitchen: Banana Bread

10 Apr


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It felt like forever since Christina and I had cooked together, and even longer since we’ve blogged about it. Several months ago, I began a new relationship which has grown into something beautiful, but also distracted me from the quality time I miss with my best friend. Anyway, it was about damn time we got back to it.

As life takes it’s surprising turns (good or bad, usually a mix of both) there’s one thing I’d bet most of us seek: comfort food. So when my dear friend mentioned making her OMGDELICIOUS Banana bread, I jumped on it. We both needed a nice warm chunk of moist banana bread filled with crystalized ginger and gooey, melty chocolate chips.

The recipe comes from A Homemade Life. The last time I had this at Christina’s she had made it for a house show party that her husband hosts. Local musicians/friends, food, and a warm home always make for a special time. Whenever I’m in an emotional valley, eating something like this brings to mind the peaks I’ve experienced before and will again.

Whoever knew that a simple piece of bread could be so magical and medicinal.

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(here’s a throwback pic to over a year ago when we started these shenanigans!)

At Home on the Range: the party

11 Oct




What a wonderful evening! We thank our great friends some who have joined us before and those new to the table. We based the meal off At Home on the Range, a cookbook written in the 1940′s but discovered by the author’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Gilbert, recently. Her tips on casual, fun dinner parties made this perhaps our best party yet, we ate all the food, drank all the booze, and coaxed a few drops of rain and cooler temps from the Texas August Heat gods.

I love the colors of this simple salad. It’s so curious how preparing and eating colorful things stirs such a happiness in so many souls. Like the shaved celery salad, the delicate beribboned carrots made light of this slaw. The boiled dressing appears to break again, though the execution was fairly flawless. It must be the recipe and not the cook. Nevertheless, the people ate it and said, “yum.”

My family’s ice cream machine has made a couple of appearances this summer so when we saw there was a coffee ice cream recipe in the book I knew it would be the perfect antidote to the heat. I appreciated that there was not egg in this recipe and the resulting flavor was rich and full of coffee.

As mentioned above, the boiled dressing execution was top-notch! With all hands on deck, Christina read the recipe, me whisking over the double boiler. We make a good team and were especially glad to have our friend Kyla capturing the moment with her brand new birthday camera (to whom this photo is accredited).

We then fried all the chicken for the chicken cacciatore and placed it in the pan with a simple, garlicy tomato sauce to bake for almost an hour. It was deliciously succulent and well-flavored.  Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, was surprised by how delicious such a simple preparation was and we were delightfully surprised as well. We put the spaghetti in a little too late, but those who wanted to sop up the rest of the sauce added it to their plate later.

We wanted one of our vegetarian friends to join the festivities so we made a Portobello mushroom cap cacchitorie style! She liked it enough to take this picture and share!

As we let our food digest we saturated Christina’s front porch, beers in hand, and watched the summer storm roll by. A couple of people started craving our Quick Tea cookies and Coffee Ice Cream so we headed inside for dessert and drinks.

As the evening rolled on with music and chatting we ended up back at the table to chat with a new arrival, as he enjoyed the leftovers we had saved for him. We captured those who were still there with Courtney’s impromptu drawings. It was  a wonderful summer evening!

Bomboloni

22 Aug

When I lived in San Francisco last year, one of my favorite treats was a bomboloni from the cafe I worked at. What is that you might ask? Well, its a yeasted Italian donut that is a ball shape and filled with flavored cream. I found a recipe for this delicious concoction a few months ago but I was pretty nervous as it involved both yeast and frying, the former being something that I am not always good at (waiting is not my strongest suit) and the latter being unknown territory. But my craving was getting worse and then Katelyn, my fellow cooking conspirator here on this blog said she had fried before. So last Thursday became the day. I intended to get up early and begin the rising process so when she got there we could start frying. But of course it didn’t quite go as planned. So after some conversions, a lot of coffee, chilaquiles from Jacob, a couple of chapters from a terribly sad book and lots of sneak peeks at the slowly rising dough, the frying began. I did not have a cooking thermometer so Katelyn taught me her technique of putting some of the dough in the heating oil and when it began to sizzle and brown, the oil would be ready. More waiting while I admired the puffiness of the bomboloni rounds and imagined the deliciousness that was about to explode in my mouth. Katelyn instructed me on how to place, not drop!, the dough into the oil and the sizzling and puffing began, one turn and then we removed them from the oil and into a waiting bowl of finely granulated sugar. She expertly tossed the balls in the sugar and we then filled them with whipped cream and some leftover lemon curd. The excitement was thick and spurred on by an immense amount of sugar. (I’m not admitting to how many I ate but lets just say next time we are doubling the recipe!) It tasted just as I remember crisp on the outside and soft, delicate and flaky on the inside softened and sweetened just a bit by the filling. Jacob had left for work at the cafe by this time so we took what was left to share and use as bribes for coffee. It worked and my craving was once again fulfilled by an afternoon coffee and bomboloni.

The Everything Cake: a short story

19 Aug

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. A week of waiting on the gas company to turn on my stove inspired contemplation and fantasizing about the first creation this kitchen should behold.

Waiting is hard. It’s the hardest thing ever because it’s not something that we do, it’s something we get through. I like action, I like having a goal to work on even if it is short lived and the end result fades away. But not being able to DO something, a place where I am now, is frustrating. And when times are frustrating a good thing to do is bake. 

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Christina had left a welcoming gift on my front stoop on her way to work. A book and handwritten card with instructions to read the last chapter first, as it’s the best, and contains the recipe of “the chocolate cake she makes.” The chocolate cake she made for my birthday just shy of a month ago.

The cake is called The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake. It’s like a molten lava cake but better, and Molly Wizenberg says it is sure to win over hearts and minds. She made it for her now husband on countless dates during their courtship. Many of her friends have done the same. This cake has been made for friends to make them smile, for family holiday get-togethers, and probably for a few baby’s first birthdays.

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 At this very moment, the cake batter sits in a glass Pyrex bowl. In the days leading up to this moment I decided that this was the last straw. I would make this cake with everything I had, which is a lot, but maybe not the right thing. The person the cake is for doesn’t like sweets that much. He doesn’t like chocolate really, preferring plain old vanilla. But he appreciates quality and thoughtfulness.

Sixty percent Ghirardelli chocolate and the most amazing organic pasture butter I’ve ever tasted from a store melted into a cocoa madness as I soberly stirred. This is the heartbreak cake. If I hand it over with a Dear John letter, I won’t make a second, third and fourth like Molly Wizenberg. I’ll probably vow to never make it again.

The batter is still sitting in the mixing bowl, because when I turned to check the oven before pouring it in the baking pan it was stone cold. My oven isn’t working. I’m stuck. In limbo again. Not sure what to do next.

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This is the second heartbreak cake I’ve made today. After a girls night at my friends’ new home, I made us three french omelettes with leftover green chili queso and peppers from my cousin’s community garden. Brittany and I then made the chocolate cake, the first thing she has baked in their first house. The Winning Hearts and Minds heartbreak cake is a good welcome cake too, especially with hand-whipped cream.

By now a couple of phone calls with Christina resulted in a plan to bake it at her place. Colored with many girl talks and a handful of tears, her house feels more like home than my previous apartment. The kitchen table’s familiar jars, Chemex, and the nook-shelf with books like Molly Wizenberg’s waiting for the curious to peruse.

Back in the kitchen, I fill the cake pan with the yumminess, toss the chocolate covered whisk and spatula in the empty bowl and fill it with soapy water to soak. The book, in the shelf above the counter, recipe side down, with a dried Thai red pepper from my friend Tina’s mom’s garden, holding my place.

Carrying Christina’s green plate with a bird on it and my batter filled pans, I’m ready to walk the two blocks to her house to finish this cake. As I refill Fernando and Petunia’s water bowl before I leave, the soaking dishes catch my eye, and somehow the film and residual chocolate summon the warm feeling of familiarity and home. I might not have made the whole cake in my new house, but starting it here certainly counts.

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 *This entry was written and then later uploaded, resulting in the time discrepancy.*

 

On the Range… The Thoughtful Salad

30 Jul

Our recent read At Home on the Range was essentially an annotated cookbook with stories and tips. She breezes through the mother sauces and more, and highlights having a grand time with your loved ones.

As we gear up for our next dinner party (less than two weeks!) Christina and I have both been trying recipes here and there from the book that didn’t make the menu.

Something basic which I’ve been meaning to try for years is homemade coleslaw. I tried her boiled dressing recipe, and on the first attempt the whites scrambled, but this girl loves a challenge and tried again. On the second try it broke.

Sure I want to make this successfully, but for now it’s just gonna have to work. I chopped up some purple cabbage and part of an on-its-way-out onion. I had forgotten I had bright red Texas tomatoes and some cukes until I was rummaging for the dijon in the fridge earlier.

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As anyone that actually knows me, knows I love corniness and read extremely too far into things. People create attachments in funny ways- Mom goes with cantaloupe like Dad goes with grilled fish and lime. This salad goes with two of my best friends.

I couldn’t help but peel the cucumber this way because of Brittany. She says they look best this way and are fun to eat. She like many cooks and foodies, understands that eating things that look nice, cute, and make you happy is part of it. A big part.

Few meals made for Grant have been served without fresh, sliced tomatoes. I think his grandfather was a tomato farmer. These days when I eat fresh tomatoes I think of him. Maybe when he eats them he thinks of his grandpa.

Keeping things light, simple, and easy (like these veggies) with subtle or maybe even unrecognizable depth underneath (like the boiled dressing) is obviously paradox. Many philosophers and theologists would say higher power exists at the intersection of a paradox.

Maybe. At least it makes a good salad.

At Home on the Range

14 Jul

Most compelling stories have some underlying romance, as most of my blog entries do. On the way home from the store I stuck my grubby hands into the half cup of spiced olives and tore off pieces of baguette. I thought to myself, “I am in love.”

“I am in love with this olive.”

“Soooo in love with this olive right now.”

It’s true that for me and many others the enjoyment of food elevates us to feeling a similar ecstasy to love. Upon home-arrival I washed and cut into a beautiful cantaloupe, remembering that someone about this time two years ago, claimed that he loved me because I took a fish-carving knife to one in a city park and ate its entirety, calling the demolished melon: dinner. I wonder if this spell would work again. Fruit, it seems, is a woman’s friend.

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Margaret Yardley Potter authoress of At Home on the Range knows the charm too, as she suggests a particular Apple Chutney, not only to spellbind men, but also as a friendly gesture for any person you care to care for. Thus, our menu’s starter.

The Menu

P.O.M. Apple Chutney

Pate

Chicken Cacciatore

Slaw with Scratch Boiled Dressing

Stuffed Cucumbers

Coffee Ice Cream with Quick Tea Cookies

Light summer beer

With a voice transcending more than fifty years, Margaret Yardley Potter opposes fancy high-brow floral arrangements and instead suggests thrifting for old jars to fill with herbs and set the table for guests. Christina said to me, “SHE was the first hipster.” Potter proves to be relevant and revolutionary. Perhaps coming out a war-time home has something to do with her cooking philosophy, and for that easily incorporable nowdays as we try to be frugal, healthy, fulfilled.

Core to her existence was entertainment. Constantly having guests, expected and unexpected, friends and family, she reminds me of how important community is. That means, it’s time to party! I can’t wait to have friends over again and have them eat some delicious food and drink delicious drinks.

…a little more HEAT

8 Jun

As I had not participated in the pasta making for the last meal I wanted to make sure that I dove in head first this time. Katelyn demonstrated how to make a well for the eggs and we quickly got to work combining them.

I had read in Heat that to achieve the required thickness one should rest on the end of the pasta as you continued to roll it out as you see in the photo above and that you should be able to see the grain of the wood through the pasta. I preferred to hold it up to the light to see how thin it had gotten but I was atleast pretty close to that measure. After what felt like hours of rolling, first separating the ball of dough into four pieces, we kept a wet towel over the thin layers to keep them moist before slicing them into strips, placing our homemade goat cheese on one end and pressed it all together with egg yolk.

As you can see after all the hard work it looked delicious on the plate and tasted just as good if i say so myself. The flavors melded together and fueled wonderful conversation. Now if I can only figure out a way to have the sgropino, the lemon sorbet and prosecco drink/dessert every day I think I will survive the texas heat!

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