Monday, June 27, 2011

We Need to do Something about these Bananas

While in Minneapolis (land of many, many good book stores) I couldn’t help but pick up a book that I had heard about on Design Sponge while browsing at Magers and Quinn. I am currently reading it, A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, and to be honest, at first I really didn’t like it. The structure of the book is a memoir that ends every chapter with a relevant recipe or two, sort of like how most food blogs work (and that’s how the author got her start). I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t like the book, after all I love stories and food, and this book combines both with humor and emotion.

After some thought I realized I didn’t like the book because I was jealous, and that’s a tough thing to admit. The author isn’t that much older than me and she’s much more accomplished and well versed in cooking. Did I mention that she spent considerable amounts of time in Paris and speaks French? And, oh isn’t Paris just wonderful? But really what it comes down to is that I would loved to have spent considerable amounts of time in Paris and speak French. Though I did learn to cook for myself in Dublin (and I can count to ten in Gaelic), much of my short time abroad was spent studying (shock!), adventuring, and focusing on the liquid culinary offerings of Ireland. If I really thought harder about it too, if I went to Paris now and spent most of my time eating at wonderful French bistros, cafes, and bouchons, I would probably fawn over the food too, and perhaps even don a scarf. With my jealousy aside I was able to read with an open mind and appreciate the meld of food and stories.

One vignette in particular that I enjoyed was about how the author struggled with improvising and straying from a recipe. For a time I was like that and I reveled in my carefully controlled little food world. Then Andy walked into my life and scoffed at my dedication to a recipe and can whip up a delicious dinner completely off the cuff. It takes practice to be able to improvise well, which sound a bit contradictory but it’s true. Figuring out what flavors go well together means cooking more and if something doesn’t work out, generally it’s still edible.

The following recipe is one that I improvised a bit (not much actually) and is taken from A Homemade Life. This is the first time I’ve made a recipe from a book that I was currently reading. Which goes to show you how wonderfully this banana bread was described. I improvised this recipe on purpose and on accident. I didn’t have candied ginger at the time, though I did have piece of ginger root. Initially I was going to candy my own ginger but that took more time than I wanted to devote to cooking. My second, accidental improvisation came when I realized there wasn’t enough liquid. Adding some more yogurt solved the dry problem. I thought everything was going well until I was sliding the loaf pan into the oven and discovered I hadn’t added the melted butter. There sat my melted butter on the stove, explaining without words why the loaf was a tad dry. In the interest of not wasting good melted butter I fashioned up a new bread recipe using the formula from the book. An accident of de-panning caused the bread to end up more like cobbler than bread, so a second attempt will be made before sharing that recipe with the world.

Here is the delicious Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger recipe from A Homemade Life.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (I didn’t have much ginger, so I made up for it with 1 cup of chocolate chips)
⅓ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (Here is where I used about 2 inches of fresh ginger root, minced)
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups mashed banana (about 3 large bananas)
¼ cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The How To:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (9 x 5)ish. In a small bowl melt your butter (we don’t have a microwave so I do it on the stove. Don’t forget about it!) Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized (or regular) ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl (let’s hope you have a set), lightly beat the eggs. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla; stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently, scraping the sides. Do not over mix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy, but there should be no unincorporated flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If it’s browning too quickly, make a tent over the top with tin foil. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes (10 might even be better). Let it cool completely before slicing (I did not wait and therefore my slices were smeared with melted chocolate. Yum!)

There are so many delicious recipes from this book that I’m just giddy with waiting to make them. Next up, this weekend I’ll be baking the Winning Hearts and Minds cake in honor of Independence Day and our Minnesota visitors! It sound decadent and I can’t wait.

Here's a taste of the apple bread to come!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Grinding Meat

Recently I’ve come down from a steak craving high and once again I can enjoy other forms of meat. I didn’t always like meat very much, which is why my steak cravings were so surprising. As a child I was an animal lover, so much so that at one point I wrote in my elementary school diary entry to “wear more animal shirts.” Since wearing images of animals on your clothing is the best way to support the cause of animals world wide. A little while later I decided to up my animal commitment from shirt wearing to vegetarianism. That lasted until my dad made hot dogs for dinner that night.

For many years I didn’t think much about the meat that I ate. Humans are omnivores and therefore there’s nothing wrong with eating meat, that’s how we evolved and survived. Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about our meaty food system, from a health and food safety point of view. I don’t want to gross anyone out by getting into too many icky details. Though, sometimes difficult to take knowledge helps to make decisions. So I only have 2 bits of info and then we’ll get on with the meat of this post (sorry for the pun!).

Awhile back I read an article from the New York Times that really got me thinking about beef. The gist of the article is that a woman ate a hamburger that was contaminated with E. coli and became paralyzed. Paralyzed! Now if that doesn’t make you think about your food more seriously, I don’t know what will. It’s food! Food is supposed to nourish us, not hurt us. One of the main issues in this woman’s case was that meat from hundreds of cows can go into making a burger, so it becomes difficult to determine where the contamination came from. Jamie Oliver had a piece on his show Food Revolution about ground beef and the addition of something un-tasty called “pink slime.” I’ll let you watch the video if you’re curious about learning more.

So what’s the solution to ground beef that could make you sick? Some think you ought to take ridiculous care with ground beef and not let it touch your hands or anything else in your kitchen. But that doesn’t solve the problem of what’s in the meat itself. Jamie’s solution to guarantee that you know what’s in your ground beef is to go to a butcher and have him grind it right in front of you. Andy and I haven’t found a decent butcher in Nashville, so our solution is to do the meat grinding ourselves!

Who doesn’t like taking a hunk of raw meat and churning it through some contraption to get ground meat? Today’s Antique Modernism takes us more into the “antique” realm of things, but for modern reasons. Meat grinders come in many forms. We have one that attaches to our kitchen aid mixer and a hand crank one that was once owned by my Grandma Summerville. We’ve been using the hand crank one because the one that attaches to our mixer is also a food mill, it seems safer to have one that is dedicated to meat only.

Grinding meat is quite simple and gives you full control of what goes into your food, it can also be cheaper! First you need meat to grind, what kinds is best? We’ve gotten a few kinds of meat and chuck or sirloin seem to be the best. Don’t get taken in by the low cost of a rump roast or something you would cook in a slow-cooker. That kind of meat doesn’t do well in your ground beef as it probably won’t be braised and therefore turns into a gristly burger (trust me, I know from experience).

Ghost hand not necessary for meat chopping.

Once at home make sure your meat grinding area and equipment is clean and sanitary. Also, there is a bit of splatter, so I recommend keeping that in mind when choosing a grinding location, put on an apron for good measure. Next, chop the meat into chunks small enough to fit into your grinder. You can add raw, chopped bacon for tenderness if that’s what you like in a burger (or casserole or pasta sauce). If you want leaner beef, then added bacon probably isn’t for you. Now you grind! Usually we do a bunch at once so we weigh out 1 pound portions and put it zipper bags for freezing.

If you made it this far in the post raw meat probably doesn’t make you too queasy and hopefully you’re interested in grinding your own. I highly recommend it for many reasons. First and foremost is taste! There’s nothing like having control over the leanness or juiciness of your food. Pre-ground beef just doesn’t compare in flavor with what you can do yourself (barring meat ground in front of you at the butcher). Second is food safety, as I’ve already talk about above. You can know what’s in your food and you know the meat in your burger comes from only one cow. Third is cost, the more processed your food is, the more expensive it will be. A large chuck roast will cost less than ground beef and you’ll get more meat from it. It’s especially rewarding if you get it on sale!

Ultimately I don’t think vegetarianism is for me and as much as I like grass-fed meat, it’s not usually in the budget. Grinding meat ourselves is a great way to bridge the gap between these two worlds and stay true to our omnivore roots.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer Drinks: Sun Tea

The bottle with the white cap is green mint and the black cap is rhubarb oolong.

There are a variety of blogs that I read and Design Sponge is one of my favorites. It’s all about various takes on design from refurbishing old furniture, to home design to (my favorite) food and drinks. After all, good food is designed well.

One of segments that I enjoy is called Small Measures with Ashley. A few weeks ago Ashley posted about Herbal Sun Teas and Simple Syrups. I hadn’t heard of sun tea prior to an unfortunate episode of 30 Rock, thankfully real sun tea is quite delicious. In addition to the herbal sun teas that are described in Design Sponge the more traditional way is to use actual tea. Poking around at the farmer’s market today I coudn’t find any fresh herbs for sale, so I went with actual tea because the sun was shining, and herbs or not, I wanted to try out sun tea.

We couldn't resist trying some of the mint tea before taking pictures.

Andy wanted some mint tea and our mint plant hasn’t quite recovered from the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps. So we got Northwest Minty Green tea from Whole Foods, it has peppermint and spearmint in addition to the green tea. In addition to that, I had purchased some Rhubarb Oolong from Franklin Tea last night and thought it’d be great as a sun tea.

The concept of sun tea is that you use the warmth of the sun to steep the tea or herbs instead of using boiling water. Since temperatures brushed up to 100 today not spending time in the kitchen with a hot oven sounded like a good idea. Ideally, you want the tea to steep for 5-8 hours in a bright sunny spot, for some reason it decided to rain today so my tea only steeped for 2 hours. I used ½ gallon jugs and about 4 tea bags (or teaspoons) per jug. Since my Rhubarb Oolong tea is loose leaf I fashioned tea bags from coffee filters and string. I was quite proud that my make-shift tea bags leaked fewer leaves than the commercial made bags.

Despite the lack of steeping time my sun teas turned out delicious! I can only imagine what kinds of flavor would come out with more time in the sun. This is a great summertime drink because it’s cool, refreshing and doesn’t take much effort. Let me know if you make sun tea, I’m curious to hear about what other teas and herbs you use. Enjoy!