Friday, November 30, 2007

How to Peel a Banana

Here's one reason to read David Leibovitz. He's so darned funny ...
*To Peel the Banana: Hold the banana in one hand near the base. With your other hand, grab the top stem, and pull it firmly downward. If it gives you trouble, rock it back-and-forth, trying to break the area between the stem and the skin just beneath. If that doesn’t work, take a sharp paring knife, being careful not to cut yourself, hold the blade facing away from you and make a small incision on the side of the skin near the tip. Set the knife aside the tear the skin of the banana using your hands, which should make the skin peel away nicely.

Pull each side of skin down from the banana, exposing the fleshy fruit beneath. Once the banana is almost completely visible, firmly yank the skin down as far as possible and extract the banana from the skin. Discard the skin (it can be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to six month and saved for another use, if desired.) The banana should be used immediately. If not, it can be pureed then stored in a container with a sheet of plastic film pressed against the top, and refrigerated for up to 48 hours.

(Disclosure: The International Association of Banana Peelers, Slicers and Blenders, nor any liquor companies, are sponsors of the site. The instructions for peeling bananas and the recipe are a direct result of my trial-and-error methods, which I developed exclusively for readers.)
The other reason to read him? Because this footnote accompanies a recipe called The Easiest Chocolate Ice Ream Recipe ... Ever which doesn't require an ice cream machine and evidently keeps a perfect consistency in the freezer for months! Wow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Fruitcake for the Holidays?

Did you know that fruitcake is considered a holiday dessert to this day because of a law that was passed in England in the 18th century? The law restricted fruitcake consumption to the holiday season because it was considered far too rich for regular eating. These days, whether people think of fruitcake kindly or with deep suspicion, it is something to make, consume and share around the holidays.
Slashfood has the scoop. I don't make fruitcake but I love it ... and who wouldn't when it is from the Collin Street Bakery? Mmmmm ...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanksgiving ... Already?

Finally, this weekend I could no longer ignore the fact that Thanksgiving is this week. Luckily, our menu, like most, is set except for a few things which are my Thanksgiving "funny bone" and that I get quirky with every year. Variations are allowed by my family in the cranberry relish and sweet potatoes ... and that is only because I am the only one who eats them. Our day-after-Thanksgiving meal also is mandated by tradition. Chef salad featuring turkey (of course), blue cheese dressing and crumbled bacon (the real thing please!) on top. Mmmmmm, crumbled bacon ...

Here are a few links to recipes I've posted that we'll have at the feast.

Holiday Central
Ok, not my recipes but O Chef must answer just about every question you could think of there ... including any that my "short-hand" recipes may leave you with!

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing
This is the best stuffing ever and cooks in a slow cooker. I have made this four times now and never been disappointed. It really frees up the oven for other things and, if you happen to have a problem with sticking your hand up a turkey (no problemo here) then you're set free from that as well.

Skillet Cornbread
If you happen to like cornbread stuffing (which I do not), you may want to make this for your base. I've never found a better recipe.

Pecan Topped Sweet Potato Casserole
This was new for Thanksgiving last year and it was delicious. However, this year, I'm going to try Sweet Potatoes Baked in Cane Syrup from The Texas Cowboy Cookbook (scroll to the bottom of the post). Why? Just because it sounds interesting.

Mashed Potato Dinner Rolls
These are a favorite any time but especially at Thanksgiving ... all-American dinner rolls.

Cranberry Ginger Relish
I made this last year. Then I made another recipe when that ran out ... and then another. Well, you get the idea.

Perfect Piecrust
This is not a misnomer. Very easy and very delicious. It is long but that is to give detailed directions. You can't go wrong with this.

Pecan Pie
This is non-negotiable. Gotta have it.

Pumpkin Pie

Are you allowed to have Thanksgiving without this? Or watch the Cowboys play without having some? Nope.

We'll also be having some Greek Green Beans (a pound of green beans, juice of a lemon, a can of diced tomatoes, a chopped onion, some olive oil ... all simmered slowly for about an hour ... mmmm) and ... something else green ... maybe spinach? Not that we need any more food, mind you, but my mind quails at the sheer heaviness of it all without some veg to balance it.

These are not usually a problem around our place but The Common Room has some interesting looking recipes, especially that casserole. Check it out.

Mashed Potato Dinner Rolls

This weekend I made a batch of these to have on hand for Thanksgiving. This recipe is from The Grass Roots Cookbook by Jean Anderson. I don't think it is in print any more so if you see a copy for sale, snap it up. It was the result of a "best cooks" series run by Family Circle, for which Anderson traveled thousands of miles and profiled many home cooks around the country known locally for their excellent cooking. This is one of the best cookbooks I know for representing regional cooking in the last days when such a thing was widespread and cooks vied to be the best. Every recipe I have tried from it has always been wonderful.

These rolls are no exception and my family loves them. They are the epitome of those soft, slightly sweet, buttery American rolls that are so difficult to find these days. Bakeries carry ciabiotta, authentic baguettes, fresh flour tortillas ... but a good American roll is hard to find.

I make these using leftover mashed potatoes. The fact that they are seasoned doesn't really make any difference to the rolls. Also, I have found it is good to leave the dough slightly sticky. Otherwise the rolls will be dry. I also tend to add 1-1/2 teaspoons malt powder (from King Arthur Flour) when I have it around.

If I am making them to serve to a large group, then I will bake them as described in the recipe. The result is very pretty, as our Japanese exchange student from long ago said, "Like a flower!" Otherwise, in a more utilitarian fashion, I make 48 balls of dough and put them 6-rolls x 8-rolls into a half-sheet jelly roll pan. (This is a large size pan that you can get from a restaurant supply company. I find them invaluable for cookie baking and much more.) I then freeze them in 6-roll squares to pull out for dinner.

Here is the recipe, straight from the book.

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup hot, unseasoned mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast (That would be 2-1/2 teaspoons for those using bulk yeast ... also available from King Arthur flour. I double this amount if I am in a hurry.)
2 cups warm milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
9-10 cups all-purpose flour (enough to make a soft but manageable dough)

  1. Combine butter, mashed potatoes, sugar and salt and stir until butter melts (if using leftover mashed potatoes, melt the butter and add it ... that warms up the potatoes). Cool mixture to 105 to 115 (or lukewarm).
  2. Sprinkle yeast over warm milk in a large mixing bowl (milk should feel comfortably warm when dropped on wrist). Stir until yeast dissolves.
  3. Add mashed-potato mixture to yeast; beat in eggs. Add the flour about 2 cups at a time, beating well to blend. Add only enough flour to give you a soft but workable dough -- it should not be so sticky that you cannot knead it.
  4. Turn dough onto a floured board and, with well-floured hands, knead about 5 minutes or until soft and springy (I do the mixing in my Kitchen Aid with the beater until it is "shaggy" and switch to a kneading hook for the kneading ... but for many years I made these by hand).
  5. Turn dough into a buttered bowl and brush the surface with melted butter. Cover with a clean dry cloth and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk -- about 2 hours. (This dough takes somewhat longer than usual to rise because it contains only 1 package of yeast.)
  6. Punch dough down and let rest about 10 minutes. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly again -- about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Pinch off bits of dough and roll into balls about the size of golf balls. Arrange one layer deep, in concentric rings, in three well-greased 9-inch layer-cake pans (I also have used pie pans for this), spacing the rolls so that they do not quite touch one another (they will after they have risen). Cover pans with clean dry cloth, set in a warm, draft-free spot and again let rise until double in bulk -- about 1 hour or slightly longer.
  8. Bake the rolls in a very hot oven (450) for 10 minutes or until rolls are nicely browned and sound hollow when thumped with your fingers. Serve hot with plenty of butter.
  9. Note: Any rolls not eaten right away can be cooled to room temperature, then wrapped in foil (do not separate rolls) and frozen to enjoy later.