Sunday, March 24, 2013

Baking Nigel Slater's Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake with My Boys

About three weeks before Otis was born, I made a list of all the things I thought I would accomplish once I became a full-time mother and left the workforce. I was leaving a job with incredibly demanding hours (a position which typically required 55-60 hours per week and where I was called "part-timer" when I left at 9 p.m.), so I though I would have (oh) so much time on my hands. I mean other than changing dirty diapers, singing ABC and 123 songs, going to early morning reading classes, putting the baby to sleep as many times as he needed, I'd have plenty of time left to spend ruminating on philosophy, reading Ulysses, Anna Karenina and War and Peace, teaching myself how to knit, actually completing the NYT crossword puzzle, and mastering Arabic...right?
Wrong. Though the first few months were relatively smooth (this early period of infancy is like a "fourth trimester" since the baby usually "wakes up" around month 4), I kind of overlooked the fact that I wouldn't really be sleeping at all during this early stage. Nope, not at all.   
I looked back at my "Things I Will Do Once the Baby is Born" list and realized that I was totally delusional and unprepared. It turns out that when you are a first-time mother, time really isn't on your side.
But after I got into the swing of motherhood (that took about a year), and I got a handle on our new sleeping routine(s), I was able to carve out a little bit of time to learn about food, how to prepare it and document my forays in the kitchen and our transition to life in Colorado in the form of this blog. 
I still find that one of the most challenging parts of motherhood is that you don't really have your own time, and when your interests/needs compete with that of your child(ren), well, that's when the problems start.
I save all my pinning, Facebooking, and blogging for the kids' nap time (or for when they are otherwise entertaining themselves). But when I want to bake and cook, well, I just have them do it with me. This is a case of "everyone wins." I get to try different recipes, photograph food and eat new things; they get to have fun making a mess, writing their names in flour, and eating food that they helped make. Yes, if you want to cook and bake with your kids there are some frustrations, more to clean up, and sometimes a broken dish or two. But you're building memories,  spending quality time and baking together. 
Since you can never have too many banana bread/cake recipes, here's a new one I tried last week. It's made with muscovado sugar (also called "Barbados sugar"), and like other dark brown sugars, it's basically white sugar with molasses added back in...but this one is darker and stickier than most brown sugars. Muscovado sugar is commonly used in baking recipes and making rum, so I took that as my cue to add a little splash of rum in the batter. If you aren't keen on rum, just omit it. 
I saw this great photo on The Kitchn which illustrates how much darker the muscavado sugar is from the commonly used "light" and "dark" sugars. (Image credit: Dana Velden)
Hope you enjoy this banana cake as much as we did. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start working on my crossword puzzle, while I enjoy a slice of cake and some hot tea (you guessed it, the kids are napping)...
Happy weekend, 

Chocolate Muscovado Banana Cake (Adapted slightly from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II and converted, to the best of my ability, from The Wednesday Chef)
Makes 1 loaf cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (Denverites and other high-altitude bakers, I adjusted the recipe to 1 3/4 teaspoons)
9 tablespoons softened unsalted butter (1 stick, plus 1 tablespoon)
1 1/3 cup, plus 1-2 tablespoons, of muscovado or dark brown sugar
3 to 4 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3.5 ounces of (100 grams) dark chocolate
Optional: Since muscovado sugar pairs really well with rum, I added a splash. Chopped walnuts would work too. 

1. Heat the oven to 350F. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until fully incorporated.
3. Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork in a small bowl. When you are done, the bananas should still be slightly lumpy and not entirely puréed. Stir the vanilla extract into the bananas.
4. Chop the chocolate finely and and fold it, along with the bananas, into the butter and sugar mixture. Gently mix the flour and baking powder into the banana batter.
5. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake in the oven for 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake is browned and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Remove the cake from the oven and let sit on a rack for 15 minutes. Then, using the parchment paper as a sling, remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on the rack. When the cake has fully cooled, peel off the paper and use a serrated knife to slice.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yvette van Boven's Baked Risotto with Cauliflower, Gruyere and Crisp Bread Crumbs

It's been almost a month since I've posted and lots of things have happened during my little hiatus: one pope resigned and a new pope was appointed (black smoke, white smoke...), Hugo Chavez departed planet Earth, we continue to live in the fastest warming period since the dawn of civilization, and then there's that pesky sequestration. On a personal note, I met Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame who spoke at the Tattered Cover bookstore here in Denver. And in celebration news, Omar, our beloved Rottweiler, turned 15 years old (which is about 105 in human years, though I've been reassured by Dr. Feldman our veterinarian, that Omar's got the inner workings of a 10 year old canine, so that's good news). Otis began to write words other than his name and little Theo greatly improved his vocabulary, which is now somewhere around (an impressive) 100 words. 
Then there was that horrendous stomach virus that came just in time for our closing and subsequent move. But we made it and we're settling in to our first (and likely only) home. My OCD has returned with a vengeance (my new label maker- for all those clear storage bins- is en route) and I'm trying to be hyper-organized in our new space. Oh, and we also entertained our very first house guests. Whew, I'm exhausted just typing this up.   
A few days after moving into our new home we got a little snow storm. But in typical Colorado fashion, about 48 hours later, the temperatures climbed above 70 degrees. I quickly realized that spring is fast approaching and winter is almost a distant memory, so I decided to publish this recipe post-haste. It comes from Home Made Winter, a fantastic cookbook that I wish I'd discovered a wee bit earlier in the season. The cookbook is written by Yvette van Boven, the author behind the wildly popular Home Made. In addition to fantastic recipes, Yvette also has awesome illustrations and collages. It's a very appealing cookbook. 
I've been cooking my way through Yvette's vegetarian recipes and kicked things off with this baked risotto. I had a few already-open bags of Arborio rice -- which I now feel perfectly comfortable cooking with after a long string of mushy mishaps. I wanted to use some pantry items (i.e. rice) and I'm always in the mood for cauliflower, especially when it's combined with cheese and the decision was an easy one.   
I loved the simplicity of the dish and the stick-to-your-bones feeling from the risotto. And I got to use my cast iron skillet which has been sitting in a cupboard collecting dust (until now). 
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Just be sure to add a few hefty pinches of salt and pepper. 
This is the perfect way to say goodbye to winter!

Baked Risotto with Cauliflower, Gruyere & Crisp Bread Crumbs
(Printed with Yvette's permission, from Home Made Winter)
Hardly any work and done in a snap. 
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
7 ounces Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
2 1/4 cups vegetable broth
7 ounces Gruyere, grated
2 or 3 slices dry white bread (I left mine in a paper bag for two days to dry it out.)
I added a few hefty pinches of salt and pepper. Then I tasted it to see if I thought it was enough.
Boil cauliflower in water for 10 minutes, until al dente. Drain.
Heat the oven to 350F. 
Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the rice. Sauté all of this for another 2 minutes or so. Add the wine and then pour in the broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in the cauliflower and cheese. Put a lid on the skillet.
Put the skillet in the oven and bake the risotto for 25 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
Grind the dry bread in a food processor or mince with a knife.
Uncover the skillet about 5 minutes before the risotto is done (Watch out, hot!) and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.
Bake, uncovered, until browned, then serve.
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