Saturday, February 28, 2009

Banana Bread Muffins

Good news. Yes, you can make muffins using a banana bread recipe. The trick is to not over bake them.

Banana bread is a home standard. But my banana bread often is overdone near the edges and underdone in the center. Muffins appeal to me because they are single portions and potentially more evenly cooked. I like to have muffins on hand in the freezer for us, for family, for guests.

Had a bunch of over-ripened bananas that were headed for the compost pile, so what had I got to lose?

Banana Nut Bread
adapted from New Tastes of Texas by Peg Hein
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (I use light)
1/4 cup margarine (I use butter)
1/2 cup egg substitute (I use 2 eggs)
1/2 non-fat yogurt or buttermilk (definitely use the buttermilk)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 t. soda
1/4 t. baking powder
2 cups flour less 2 T. (I use 2 cups PLUS 2 T.)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I prefer pecans)

Mix the sugars, butter, eggs until creamy (and no lumps!). Add the buttermilk (be sure to shake the carton) and the mashed bananas (a potato masher works well). Mix well. Sift the dry ingredients (don't skip this step) together and add to the banana batter. Add the nuts and stir gently until mixed. Pour into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan or even portions in a muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour (22-25 minutes for muffins), or until an inserted wooden toothpick comes out clean. Let cool if you can wait! In the second batch, I used blueberries instead of pecans for those who don't like nuts.

Found this recipe in a Texas cookbook which I bought at the Houston airport a long time ago. I was there to care for my older sister's family while she recuperated from surgery---Emily was in 6th grade back then and now she is 22 --so I have been using it for a quite a while --- it's a great recipe.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Honey Chicken

This is a simple, tasty way to bake chicken which came about when we received a jar of local honey from our friend, Bud, who is an experienced beekeeper in addition to being president of our community college. We used boneless, skinless thighs but I am sure it would work with breasts,too. To start, put a spoonful of honey on each thigh, then place a sage leaf on top. (If your honey is too runny, chill it first.)

Wrap each piece with a strip of bacon.

Tuck the ends underneath. And place them on a shallow roasting pan.

Scatter some vegetables to roast along with the chicken. This time we used broccoli, but it was even better with sweet potatoes the first time I tried to do this.

Roast at 350 degrees for about 1/2 hour. The bacon turns crispy and the juices flavor the veggies. The bacon also keeps the meat moist. The sage leaf is not overpowering and looks interesting showing through the bacon.

The leftovers reheat easily for lunch or dinner the next day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Strip & Penzeys Spices Store

For the last week, I have been in the Pittsburgh area to help my Mom, who is hospitalized. On Sunday, I took a welcome break to visit the Penzeys Spices store.
You may have noticed their spices in my food prep photos. I have been ordering them for years. They are based in Wisconsin, but have a few stores in major cities.
Turns out the Pittsburgh store moved from Penn Hills to The Strip several years ago --- and now I know why.

The Strip is located just over the yellow 16th Street bridge in Pittsburgh in an old warehouse district.
Lots of interesting old buildings and food purveyors and fresh produce and kitchen suppliers.
Here's the view looking toward downtown from the outside of the Penzeys door.

Here's my destination. Across the street is a sausage place.
And next door is a Middle Eastern Foods grocery.
And there are Steelers' vendors on every corner.
I'll get back to the Penzeys store, but first I must recommend Fortunes for coffee if you visit.
They roast their own coffee on the premises.
And have chocolate covered coffee beans in the gumball machine. Old tin ceilings and an excellent barista. My cafe au lait hit the spot.So, back to the Penzeys store where the entire place is just spices and extracts.Explanations and samples are available in jars for you to smell and so you can learn about the product.These are cardamon pods.
Isabelle would have been happy to find this European chervil if she were still living in the U.S.
They are known for their varieties of peppercorns, and excellent pepper grinders. I checked them to be sure they were still metal grinders. Plastic grinders are subpar. I learned that from my Dansk days...They also carry lots of dried peppers and ground peppers, including ancho while I like to use, but this is a new one I'll have to research.
And they carry lots of mixes that I don't use, but this one caught my eye. Could be a good gift for the Sharkeys.
This section of the store is the baking area. Gotta have their Ceylon Cinnamon and Vanilla Extract.I put back the double strength and went with their single strength. They also carry Mexican Vanilla Extract.

And I bought their two new chili mixes for Tom-- 3000 and 9000 --- so he can experiment with them in his chilis.

Plus I always buy something new, that I have never used before. This time it was Zatar.

Here's what $100 worth of spices looks like. I am smiling as I drive back to the hospital.
fyi - Penzeys website is

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nostaglia & Quiche Lorraine

Don't know about you, but I don't remember the last time I made a pie crust from scratch. The ease of the pre-made ones seems worth the trade off in taste to me. But I was never a very good crust maker, so maybe that's why.

Anyway, boxed crusts come in pairs, and I usually need only one, so the extra one hangs around in my refrigerator for a long time. When I realize it has to be used or it will expire, I tend to make a quiche or a bottomless pot pie.

Today it is quiche -- and my go-to recipe is in my oldest, most favorite cookbook which Grandma Hall gave to me in 1970 when I turned 15. I was very interested in French language and culture at the time.
Just seeing the dog-eared book makes me happy. I always look inside the cover to see her handwriting in the gift inscription. I really loved Grandma Hall and thought she was my biggest supporter, even though I only got to see her once a year.

Today, preparing for this blog, I discovered a letter she enclosed! This is why I am a big fan of blogging. It takes me on adventures of many kinds. This one is an adventure of the heart. And I get to eat quiche, too.

The letter is wonderful to me because it shows just how kind she was to me. She acknowledged my lengthy 5-page letter (!!) and unusual gift. (It was the summer-- maybe I was bored? I wonder what I made.)

She didn't say much in her letters (the weather was usually the main topic) but they always meant a lot to me.

Being one of five kids, it was hard to not get lost in the shuffle. Somehow she always made me feel special, by noticing me, and I am grateful.

Quiche Lorraine
adapted from Everyday French Cooking

Plain Pastry Dough for a 9 inch crust
1 T. bacon drippings
1 cup thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 c. Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese (I use good quality grated Gruyere. It's worth it.)
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
4 large eggs, beaten slightly
1 cup each heavy cream and milk, or 2 cups light cream
1/4 t. each ground nutmeg and ground white pepper

Line a pie plate with pastry and bake 5 minutes. (I line the pastry with foil and use uncooked beans to weight it down to prevent the crust from sliding in on itself.) I first cook the bacon and drain it on a cooling rack to keep it crisp, then chop it into bite size pieces. Drain off extra grease, then saute the onions in bacon drippings until transparent, and be sure to scrap up the brown bits of flavor from the bacon. Layer the pastry with onions, then the bacon, then the shredded cheese. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the top. Don't over fill. If you have extra liquid, just make a extra mini-quiche in a ramekin. Bake in a preheated very hot oven (450 degrees) for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean--about 20-25 minutes.

For Sunday brunch today, I served the quiche with yesterday's roasted red pepper soup.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Montreal Excursion for Poutine

Poutine is Canadian comfort food, originating in Quebec. It's french fries, covered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds.

While in Montreal with girlfriends a few weekends ago, we hunted down this specialty. It sounded so over-the-top, we had to try it.

Most places were closed, and we almost gave up, but eventually we found the charming Maison Poutine, a tiny place, in a building over 200 years old.

After trudging around in the snow (Montreal in January is SO cold), we were happy to find such a welcoming place. And the food was great!

Our favorite part of the meal turned out to be the hot smoked chicken sandwich -- it was topped with caramelized pears, just enough brie cheese, and a tiny sprinkling of red onion, on crusty french bread. It came with a simple green salad on the side. And the poutine was served in a bowl.

Appropriately, we enjoyed our food while the hockey game was on in the background.