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!

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