Saturday, April 30, 2011

Banana Bread

We are going to a work event for my husband tonight. He works for a really amazing company that treats those who work for them as true friends and family. Therefore, we are invited to an evening of appetizers and drinks at a home, followed by the Arcade Fire concert!  Not too bad for a Saturday night with work!

I always like to take a little something to a home when someone is hosting an event, as a thank you for hosting and please invite us back offering. Wine is always a great and easy choice. But I also wanted to bring something extra tonight. However, it is sometimes hard on the host if you bring an unanticipated dish for the party, as they then have to find a serving piece and a place to put your kind but often superfluous dish. Therefore, I often like to bring something for their breakfast the next morning. That way, they can put their feet up and enjoy a treat as they relax the morning after an evening of hosting.

I chose Banana Bread, not only because it is delicious and usually a crowd pleaser, but also because I had some bananas on hand, ripened past the point of edibility according to me (I only like fresh bright yellow bananas). I found this recipe on Food Network (click for the original recipe) and I have integrated some of the reviews written by fellow home cooks. It is usually worth the 10 minutes of perusing the reviews, I always find a great variation or tip along the way!

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1 Cup of Granulated Sugar
1 Stick of Butter (the recipe calls for unsalted, but I used the traditional salted type as that is what was in my
   fridge and I always crave a bit more salt in sweeter recipes)
2 Large Eggs
2 Ripe Bananas (the original recipe calls for 3, but I only had two, therefore my bread will be a bit less
   banana flavored)
1 Tablespoon of Milk (I used Skim)
1 Heaping Teaspoon of Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon of Ginger (I added this to the recipe, you can add your favorite spices too)
2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon of Salt
2 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar (optional topping)

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter (or use Pam) to grease a bread pan.
3. Cream together the stick of butter and the cup of sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy with a soft creamy white yellow color.

4. Beat in the two eggs to the creamed butter and sugar. It will be moist and more brightly yellow.

5. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until they are rather smooth in texture. Be sure to remove any stings or pieces that will not mash and integrate into the rest of the mixture.

6. Add into the mashed bananas the tablespoon of milk and the teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger (or your own chosen spices). Mix by hand until integrated.
7. Add the banana mixture to the creamed sugar and butter mixture and stir until combined.

8. In a separate bowl combine the 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of salt.
9. Add the flour mixture to the creamed/banana mixture and stir until just combined.

10. Pour the batter into your prepared bread pan and bake for about 35 minutes.

11. If you want, at 35 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle brown sugar on top and then return the pan to the over for another 10 minutes. Otherwise, leave the loaf in the oven for the full 45 minutes without removing it and do not add the brown sugar topping.

12. Remove the pan from the oven after 45 to 50 total minutes and let cool. You know the loaf is done when you insert a knife to the middle of the bread and the knife comes back out clean. Do not over bake, or you will have dry banana bread.

13. Remove the loaf from the pan and enjoy if this treat is for yourself!
14. If the bread is for someone else (as ours is), let the loaf cool a bit more after you remove it from the pan and then cover in plastic wrap and tie it up with a sweet ribbon!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Orange Cranberry Chicken Salad

My husband is obsessed with chicken salad. Pretty much any given day of the week if you ask Robert what he wants for lunch his response will be, "Chicken salad sandwich." Our favorite place to purchase chicken salad sandwiches uses dried cranberries and almonds in the salad and an orange cranberry bread. I'm a big fan of orange and cranberries together, so I decided to make my own chicken salad recipe that would incorporate both.

The result was delicious. As this was my first attempt at this recipe, I certainly have in mind some changes I would make for next time. Mainly, instead of shredding the chicken by hand I would instead place the chicken in a food processor to finely shred the chicken. This would allow the salad to stick together better rather than being a loose mixture.

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Orange Cranberry Chicken Salad
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons freshly sqeezed orange juice
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
zest of a medium orange
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup toasted slivered almonds

Begin by toasting the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant, set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and orange juice.
Whisk to combine, set aside.
In a larger bowl, combine the chicken, orange zest, shallots, celery and almonds.
Pour in the dressing.
Stir until thoroughly combined. Serve on bread as a sandwich or with crackers, fruit and cheese.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vanilla Almond Granola

As I mentioned during the post on homemade yogurt, Robert and I have begun eating fruit and yogurt parfaits on a daily basis for both breakfast and dessert. One key component to these parfaits is the granola sprinkled on top to add crunch and flavor. Up until recently I would use store bought granola for our parfaits and it worked just fine. That was until I made homemade vanilla almond granola and we realized that the granola sold in the store isn't near as good.

In trying my hand at making my own granola I discovered that it's not as difficult as I had previously thought. Additionally, the benefits gained in both taste and control over the ingredients is such that I cannot think of any reason why I would ever switch back to purchasing granola ever again. I highly encourage you to give this recipe a try. You'll be glad that you did.

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Vanilla Almond Granola

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons coconut oil (or other flavorless oil such as canola)
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. In a large bowl, pour in the 2 cups of oats.
Add the 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
 Add the 3/4 cup of slivered almonds to the salt and oats, stir and set aside.
Pour the 1/4 cup of maple syrup into a small saucepan.

Add the 3 tablespoons of coconut oil.
And the tablespoon of water.
And the teaspoon of vanilla.
Stir and bring to a low boil over medium heat.
Pour the maple syrup mixture into the oat mixture.
Stir until thoroughly combined and the oats mixture begins to clump.
Begin to gather the oats in your hand forming clusters and placing them on a greased baking sheet.
Once all the oats are clustered and placed on the pan, sprinkle the dark brown sugar on top.
Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool. Serve on top of a yogurt parfait or with milk and eat as you would cereal.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls

I was really craving something delicious, warm, gooey, sugary and comforting. What could possibly live up to that craving? Cinnamon rolls! My husband had an early flight to catch this morning, and he will not return home until Thursday night. What better way to send him off on his trip (and to satisfy my craving) than making cinnamon rolls? I prepared these rolls last night (while we watch the movie The Art of the Steal, fantastic by the way, a must see) and let them rise overnight so that I could bake them fresh in the Morning. It was nice to start the week off with a sweet treat usually reserved for lazy Saturday brunches. You can find the original recipe at:

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1 cup of Milk, plus 2 tablespoons (I used Skim Milk as that is what we had in the house)
2 envelopes of Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup, plus a pinch of Granulated Sugar
2 sticks of Butter, softened (just leave these out on the counter for 2 hours or so to soften)
1 teaspoon of Salt
2 large Eggs
4 1/2 cups of All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup of packed Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon, plus 1/8 of a teaspoon of Cinnamon
1 cup of Confectioners' Sugar

1. Warm one cup of the milk in the microwave for about 30 to 45 seconds. You want the milk to be warm but not hot.
2. Add the 2 envelopes of yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar to the warm milk and stir to combine.

3. Wait about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy.

4. Attach the paddle to your standing mixer and beat one stick of butter with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and a teaspoon of salt.

5. Beat at medium speed until the butter, sugar and salt mixture is fluffy.

6. Beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, until just blended together. You will have a beautiful soft yellow color.

7. At low speed, incorporate 2 cups of flour into the mixture.

8. Still at low speed, add the warm milk mixture to the flour mixture.

9. Take off the paddle and attach the dough hook to your standing mixer. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour.

10. Mix at a medium speed until and soft and very slightly sticky dough forms. It will not be as solid as a normal bread dough, but also should not be goopy or very sticky. This will take about 5 minutes to achieve.

11. Scrape the dough out and place it in an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free spot for about and hour.

12. Prepare 4 pieces of wax paper, each about 15 inches in length.
13. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.

14. Roll each of the four pieces out into a rectangular shape, about 1/4 inch in thickness, on each piece of wax paper.

15. Place the rolled out dough in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
16. While the dough chills, make the cinnamon butter by mixing together one stick of butter, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and a dash of salt. I used a fork to combine everything but you can also use your standing mixer and paddle attachment.

17. Remove the dough from the freezer.
18. Spread 1/4 of the cinnamon butter on each of the rolled out pieces of dough, leaving a small margin towards all of the edges.

19. Roll up the dough by taking one of the long edges and tightly roll the dough so that the cinnamon butter is on the inside.

20. Wrap each rolled piece of dough in the wax paper that it was on and return the dough to the freezer for about 20 minutes. Once the dough is chilled, it will be easier to cut into small rolls without smashing the dough.

21. Remove the dough from the freezer and remove the was paper from the rolls of dough. With a sharp knife, slice the dough rolls in 1 to 2 inch intervals to create the cinnamon rolls.

22. Arrange the cut rolls into a large spring form pan that has been oiled.

23. If you want to bake the rolls right away, cover them and let them rise in a warm place for an hour. Then bake them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.
24. If you want to bake the rolls the next morning, cover them and put them in your refrigerator overnight. Then in the morning allow them to come to room temperature before you place them in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.
25. While the rolls are baking, make the icing by mixing together 1 cup of confectioner's sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk and 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon.

26. After removing the rolls from the oven, let them sit for about 5 minutes (if you can!). Remove the ring from the spring form pan and place the rolls on a serving piece.

27. Drizzle the rolls with the icing and enjoy the warm, gooey comfort of freshly baked cinnamon rolls! These roses are from our new venture of rose gardening! All Texas Pioneer Roses.

The pups wanted to say they are in their sweet beds and out of the rain during this Texas sized storm!