Journal entries from February 2010

Snow Days and Stew

Up here on the mountain we feel utterly alone. It's a silent white world, flakes swirling down from the sky, piling up, obliterating every edge. Snow hugs the house in a soft embrace.The cars have vanished into huge humps. The driveway is impassable; the rest of the world fallen away.

It is easy to imagine coming down, when it is all over, to discover everything changed. Ten years might have passed in the storm. Or the clock moved backward while we were sleeping. Strange how quickly we become disoriented when robbed of the familiar.

Two days ago the power failed. No internet, no oven, very little light. Too distracted to work we roamed the house, feeling fragile, worrying about frozen pipes and running out of wood. Unable to concentrate I did what I always do in a crisis: I cooked.

Nothing is so soothing as the scent of a stew in a cold house in a cold climate. I made ragu. I made toasted cheese sandwiches and enormous salads, racing to use the vegetables before they wilted in depression. I took the bones from the freezer and transformed them into stock.  But it was the boeuf bourguignon,which filled the house with the rich purple scent of wine and onions, that finally made us feel better. It was like a promise that the snow really will end. Some day.

Beef, Wine, Onion stew

Take as many onions as you feel like chopping and throw them into a casserole with a bit of butter and a couple of strips of bacon, cut into little squares. Add a couple of carrots, cut into whatever size you consider edible. Cook them together until they are fragrant and just a bit golden.  Add a few cloves of garlic, smashed, to the mix, and any herbs you happen to have on hand; thyme is nice, as is parsley, although personally I'd stay away from tarragon and rosemary. When they've all turned soft, add a squirt of tomato paste (it adds a touch of sweetness), stir for a minute or so and put the entire potful into a bowl to wait.

Melt a splash of oil and a pat of butter in the same pan. While it heats take a couple pounds of beef, cut up for stew, and pat it dry.  Salt and pepper the cubes, then toss them in a bag with a bit of flour and shake until they look like they've been dusted with snow. Cook the beef in flights - it hates being crowded in the pan - until beautifully brown, and then set aside with the onions.

When all the beef has browned, deglaze the pan with a good glug of brandy. Return the beef and vegetables to the pot, cover them with most of a bottle of decent red wine and throw in a stalk of celery and a bay leaf if you've got them. Simmer gently, partly covered, for three or four hours.  The aroma will fill your house and make you very happy.

Just before serving saute some mushrooms, quartered in a nice amount of butter for about ten minutes, adding salt and pepper at the end.  Toss them into the stew and taste it.  If it needs salt, pepper or more wine, add it.

I like this with simply boiled potatoes, but you could just serve it with a loaf of bread.  In my house this will feed about four people, but on a really hungry day I could eat it all by myself.


Genuine Spongecake

I just came upon this recipe from Mrs. Lincoln, who was the first principal of The Boston Cooking School, and author of many cookbooks. She calls this "a genuine spongecake" and I find the simplicity of the recipe completely seductive. Seems the perfect project on this snowy day. 

What is remarkable about the recipe is that it contains no fat and no leavening; it's essentially a souffle with a bit of flour whisked in. In Mrs. Lincoln's day a very strong arm was required; this is an awful lot of whisking for those lacking electricity. 

This fluff of a cake has a very airy texture.  I'd guess that you could use rice flour or some combination of other flours if you wanted to make it gluten-free. And next time I'll definitely use more lemon rind. A lot more; it's a perfectly pleasant cake, but it doesn't have much character. 

Genuine Spongecake

The weight of the eggs in sugar, and half their weight in flour.This enables you to make a cake of any size you desire. The usual proportion for one loaf, by measure, is four large or five small eggs,one cup of fine granulated sugar, and one cup of sifted pastry flour, the grated rind and juice of half a lemon. Beat yolks till thick and very creamy, add sugar, and beat till light colored; add lemon. Beat whites till stiff and nearly dry, and fold them in with care, so as not to break down the bubbles, sift in the flour lightly, and fold over (not stir) till just barely covered. Bake in a moderate oven from forty to fifty minutes. You will look far to find a better sponge cake than this when properly made and baked.


The Banana Cake I Ended Up Making

After reading dozens of banana bread and cake recipes, I decided to go back to the one I've been making since I was about twelve.  It's in my first book, Mmmmm. But inspired by all the recipes I'd read, I added a few extra ingredients. 

3/4 cup dried California apricots, cut into small pieces
enough rum to cover them.

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 very ripe bananas, mashed

3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a loaf pan.  Put the apricots and rum into a small bowl and heat in microwave 1 minute. Cool while you mix the batter.

Whisk dry ingredients together. 

Cream the butter with the sugars and add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the vanilla and then the bananas.  Add half of the flour mixture and mix just until it becomes part of the batter. Add the sour cream, mix in, and then the rest of the flour mixture. 

Pour into the loaf pan and bake 50 minutes to an hour.  Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out on a rack to cool completely.


The Banana Bread Chronicles

I've come to the conclusion that banana bread is the kitchen sink of recipes.  When I asked for favorite banana bread recipes on Twitter today, I got dozens of suggestions.  Judging from the recipes I've received, the ingredient that someone doesn't think appropriate for banana bread has not been created.  

Half of the recipes included chocolate of some sort; not my idea of a good time, so I ruled them out. I didn't want to include coconut in any form (and every possible permutation of coconut, from toasted shred to coconut milk to Coco Loco mix showed up in these recipes).

Every sort of booze gets thrown in too; Richard Bertinet wrote from Bath to say that he always adds a measure of dark rum. Chez Pim likes a glug of Jameson's. And lots of people think that bourbon makes a swell addition.  Frankly, they all sound good to me.

Fruit of every sort also gets stirred into the mix: cranberries, apples, dates, orange peel, apricots, blueberries.  Nuts too, although walnuts and pecans seem to be the favorites. One recipe even counts on poppyseeds for crunch.

As for spices, well these too run the gamut.  The most original additions were lavender flowers, coriander and cardamom, although the person who suggested candied ginger seems to have a pretty good idea. And I loved the idea of including maple sugar in the mix.

Many of my correspondents had favorite recipes from cookbooks. Lots of people suggested The Joy of Cooking (various editions). Nigella got a couple of shout-outs (Kitchen Goddess).  So did Martha Stewart, Chris Kimball, Molly Wizenberg, James Beard, Deborah Madison, the Silver Palate woman and Dorie Greenspan. Two people suggested my own first cookbook, Mmmmm, which actually has two banana bread recipes.

Many people included links to favorite recipes, and I've posted many of them below.  I skipped a couple, including one that's adapted from Bakesale Betty's in Oakland. It's a place that I love., but the recipe includes honey, and that's one ingredient I definitely don't want in my banana bread.

What did I end up baking?  After reading through these recipes I was so exhausted I just went back to my own.  It's not a world-shaker, but it's incredibly easy and it makes the house smell wonderful.

This from Smitten Kitchen blog

Elise's Friend Heidi's Friend Mrs. Hockmeyer's Banana Bread, As Jacked Up by Deb
Adapted from Simply Recipes
No need for a mixer for this recipe — need I say more?
3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted salted butter
3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (depending on the level of sweetness you prefer, I always use the smaller amount)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cup of flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spices. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.
Note: Due to my unhealthy obsession with tiny things, I split this into two mini-loaf pans. It took 45 minutes to bake two perfect halves, but of course, may run longer or shorter in your oven.

This from Design Sponge
Banana Bread recipe
1 stick + 1 tablespoon butter (125g)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
4-5 ripe bananas
1tsp vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
(Bake using a 9×5x3 or 8×4x4 loaf pan)

I can't say for sure that this is an original recipe, but it's been around for as long as I can remember. My mom got it from my Aunty Betty who lived inland from the subtropical east coast of South Africa. Aunty Betty always had a great arm of bananas ripening at the back door of her Eshowe home, and had to make ingenious solutions to cope with each season's deluge of bananas. She would even make banana jam!
When I left home, my mom wrote me a book full of her tried and tested recipes, and Aunty Betty's banana bread is one of them.
Beat butter and sugar until creamy
Add eggs
Add dry ingredients (including salt)
Add mushed up bananas and vanilla essence
Bake at 350F/180°C for 1 hour.

From Sassy Radish

Bourbon Banana Bread with Maple Sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup maple sugar
2 large eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup sour cream, or plain yogurt or well-shaken buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp bourbon
1 cup fresh cranberries


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with vegetable spray or lightly oil.

Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt together in a large bowl.

In a separate medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, bananas, sour cream, vanilla and bourbon and stir to mix well.

Add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and stir just until the flour is moist and no longer visible. Avoid over-mixing. Gently stir in cranberries to incorporate.

Scoop the batter out into the baking pan and smooth out the top. Bake around 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Let the bread cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Eat warm, or at room temperature. Personally, I think warm is the way to go, but that's just me.

Nutrition to kitchen:

Banana-Coconut Bread

serves 10-12

2 1/4 cups ultragrain all-purpose flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup whole wheat flour)

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

3/4 stick (6 Tbsp) butter, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 whole egg

2 egg whites

2 tsp vanilla extract

6-oz container plain, lowfat yogurt

1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 large)

1 cup unsweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted (I do it on a pan at medium-low heat for a few minutes until very lightly toasted)

Nonstick, fat-free cooking spray

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray a 8 1/2 - by- 4 1/2 - inch loaf pan with the nonstick cooking spray, and dust with flour, knocking out excess flour.

2.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  In another bowl, stir together the yogurt, bananas, and vanilla extract.

3.  In a large bowl, cream the butter with sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the egg and egg whites, continue to beat at medium speed.  Add the banana-yogurt mixture, beating until combined.  Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture; mix until combined.  Stir in the flaked coconut.

3.  Bake the banana bread for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

From Forty Weeks

N. Leah Lipson's Banana Bread
My Mommom was born in 1908. This recipe has been handed down though four generations. Each of us has our own unique slant. Lila, my 11 year old loves to add Hershey's milk-chocolate chips while my mother, Joanne Beck  lowers the sugar and adds walnuts. I tend to up it to 3 bananas. And really, I am just always content and pleased as can be to smell it baking away in my home!

2 Eggs

1 ½ cups Sugar

½ cup Butter

1 tsp Baking Soda

¼ cup Sour Milk or Sour Cream (I prefer the sour cream)

2 Ripe Bananas

2 cups Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Vanilla

Bake in moderate over 375 for 20-25 minutes

Dawn's Banana Nut Bread
Preheat oven to 350f.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil (melted & cooled butter may be substituted)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 medium sized eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (chopped pecans or hazelnuts may be substituted)
1. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and allspice - set aside.
2. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to blend together vegetable oil, eggs and brown sugar until the sugar is well dissolved. Then add mashed bananas and blend with mixer again. Add in the sifted flour mixture and mix until thoroughly moistened - do not overmix. Stir in the walnuts with a spoon. Pour batter into a 9x5" loaf pan sprayed thoroughly with Baker's Joy.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let it cool completely before you try to slice it.

The Cookbook Chronicles
Lorna's Banana Bread (or Banana muffins)

Makes 1 loaf of banana bread, or approximately 12 large muffins

The secret to this banana cake is sour cream, an ingredient that renders many baked goods incomparably moist, and a touch of cinnamon.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ cup vegetable or canola oil
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups over-ripe bananas, mashed (about 3 large bananas)
1 cup light sour cream, or whole milk yogurt

2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 9×5" metal loaf pan. (Or, if making banana muffins, line 12 muffin cups with liners.)

In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the oil, brown sugar, and white sugar. Mix in the vanilla extract, mashed bananas, sour cream, and eggs.

Stir in the dry ingredients until combined. Pour the batter into a pan and bake for approximately 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (If baking muffins, fill each lined muffin cup 3/4 of the way, and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes.) Let the banana bread cool for 10 minutes before carefully turning it out on a wire rack.

From Hippo Flambe

Sour Cream Banana Muffins
Adapted from Orangette and Gourmet

1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 oz's) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, not packed, after all I was making muffins and not cake
1 large egg (place the egg in a bowl of warm water until you are ready to use it)
3/4 cup overripe, very brown bananas, puréed (I puréed mine with an immersion blender)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract (I often up the vanilla extract in recipes, it makes them subtly better)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used Kosher)
3/4 cup white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

Place the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350° Fahrenheit. Line muffin tins with 12 liners and set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. The mixture should be pale and fluffy, stop and scrape down the bowl as necessary. Add the egg and mix until well combined, then add the banana purée, sour cream and vanilla extract. Mix to combine well and add the baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix before adding the flours and mixing on low speed. Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mixing one final time, although mix only until combined to prevent overmixing (if you mix to much the flour will form gluten strands and the muffins will be tough).

Divide the batter evenly between 12 muffin cups and bake in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean (It can be moist from the butter but there should be no batter). Allow to cool in muffin tins, store in an airtight container. These go especially well with a strong cup of coffee, although Julian didn't seem to mind them without coffee. Sebastian didn't like them, but he didn't like the cake from EAT either

Mekuno cooking
Faith's Ultimate Banana Bread
Original recipe based on Mark Bittman's in How To Cook Everything. Many alterations have subsequently occurred, obviously.

1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
4 cups white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 scant teaspoons salt
6 teaspoons baking powder
10 very ripe bananas
1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
1 15 oz. can cream of coconut, like Coco Lopez
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups of roughly chopped toasted nuts - I use mostly hazelnuts, with some pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease three standard 9x5 loaf pans.
2. Toast the nuts, if you haven't already.
3. Cream butter and sugars in a large bowl.
4. Mix in eggs.
5. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
6. Mash bananas thoroughly in a third bowl and stir in pineapple, cream of coconut, and vanilla.
7. Fold the contents of all three bowls together in the largest bowl you're using.
8. Fold in the nuts.
9. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
10. Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes.
11. Let the bread cool on a rack and turn out of the pans after about fifteen minutes. Let cool almost completely before slicing. The bread will be very dense and moist.

From Chocolate and Zucchini

Cranberry Banana Bread

- 1/4 C (55 g) butter, softened
- 1 C (200 g) sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 small bananas, sliced
- 1 C (110 g) cranberries
- 1/4 C water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 C (200 g) flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon

(Serves 6.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 9 by 5 inch (22 by 12 cm) loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a food processor. Add in the eggs one by one, mixing well between each addition. Add in the banana slices, the cranberries, the water and the vanilla extract. Mix again until blended, but not too much : it's nice if the banana and cranberries are not completely mushed.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients into the batter, and mix until just combined -- do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for approximately 55 min or until the top of the cake is nicely brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Let rest for ten minutes, then run a knife around to loosen the sides, and turn out on a rack to cool completely.

Original recipe : Wilson's Farm, Lexington, MA. Via Melissa.

From Dam Good Sweets
Recipe to accompany the article available at
Nana's Banana Bread
Recipe adapted #om DamGoodSweets
Makes 1 loaf

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
1¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 very ripe bananas
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
¼ cup buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 350°.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-by-3-inch loaf pan with
butter, then dust with flour.
2. In a bowl, si% together the 1¾ cups flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In another
bowl mash the bananas with the lemon juice.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the 1 stick of butter with the sugar and
vanilla. Beat in the e(s, one at a time. Add a third of the dry ingredients and half of
the buttermilk; mix. Repeat until a' of the dry ingredients and buttermilk are
incorporated, then beat in the banana mixture.
4. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 60 to 70
minutes, until the top of the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the
center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto
a rack and let it cool completely.

Married with dinner

Toni's Banana Bread
1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1-1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 medium super-ripe bananas (about 1 cup)
scant 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F, and butter an 8×4 loaf pan (or two 7×3 pans for tea-size loaves).
Whisk dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

Put the remaining ingredients (except optional nuts) in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the banana puree over the dry ingredients, and fold lightly — adding nuts, if using - with a rubber spatula, just until combined; do not overmix.

Pour batter into the buttered loaf pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, but do not overbake. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

In jennie's kitchen

Brown Butter Bourbon Pecan Banana Bread

makes one 9-inch loaf

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons butter

3 very ripe bananas

2 large eggs

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon bourbon

1/2 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup toasted, chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease the bottom only of a standard size loaf pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray.  Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat in a small heavy bottomed pot. Cook until it begins to brown, but not burn; it will smell nutty and fragrant. Remove from heat, and let cool for 10 minutes.

Peel and dice one banana. Mash the remaining bananas in a small bowl; set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of brown sugar in a small skillet over medium heat until it begins to melt and turn golden. Add diced banana pieces and saute until well coated and caramelized. Remove from pan and set aside.

Beat eggs on medium speed in your Cuisinart Stand Mixer.  Add brown sugar and beat until foamy and combined. Add mashed very ripe banana, cooled browned butter, vanilla and bourbon; beat until mixed welll. Scrape down sides of bowl again with rubber spatula.

On low speed, pour in 1/3 of the flour mixture.  Increase mixer speed to medium and mix until just blended.  Pour in 1/3 of buttermilk and beat until just blended.  Repeat this process with remaining flour and buttermilk. fold in pecans and caramelized banana pieces. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cook's Illustrated:

from Baking Illustrated
(America's Test Kitchen, 2004)
Makes one 9-inch loaf

Overripe bananas on the kitchen counter are an excellent excuse to make banana bread. However, many banana breads are flat, gritty, or heavy. Worse, some loaves taste only remotely of bananas. Good banana bread is soft and tender with plenty of banana flavor and crunchy toasted walnuts. It should be moist and light, something so delicious that you look forward to the bananas on the counter turning soft and mushy.

For best results, be sure to use a loaf pan that measures 9 inches long, 5 inches across, and 3 inches deep

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/4 cups walnuts, chopped coarse
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Baking Illustrated by Cook's Illustrated1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C) degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and walnuts together in a large bowl; set aside.

4. Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

5. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

From CatBoy
Miss Maud's Banana Bread from Sheila Lukins' All Around the World

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
6 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 9 X 5 loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually add to the wet mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl and making sure all is well combined.

Mix in the bananas and vanilla until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Makes one rich and tasty loaf.

From Orangette:

Glenn's Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Candied Ginger

Kate's friend Glenn has been experimenting with candied ginger, and he had the wisdom to fold a handful of the stuff—along with chocolate chips—into a loaf of banana bread. The result is nearly impossible to stop eating, its dense richness cut by piquant studs of translucent golden ginger. He recommends using Trader Joe's candied organic baby ginger, and he also makes a vegan version of this bread, for which the necessary substitutions appear below in parentheses.

1 cup granulated sugar (for vegan version, use raw sugar)
1 large egg (or 1 ½ tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer plus 2 Tbs warm water, says Glenn)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (or ½ c non-hydrogenated margarine), at room temperature
2 ripe medium-size bananas
3 Tbs milk (or soy milk)
2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
Small chunks of candied ginger, to taste
½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar, egg, and butter.
In a separate bowl, mash bananas; then mix with milk.
In another separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three parts, alternating with banana-milk mixture in two parts, stirring by hand until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, ginger, and optional nuts.

Turn batter into loaf pan, smoothing top with the back of a spoon, and bake for one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes; then remove bread from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Nancy Silverton's


    * 2/3 cup walnuts (2 1/2 ounces)
    * 2/3 cup pecans (2 1/2 ounces)
    * 3-4 bananas, very ripe, mashed to equal 1 1/4 cups, plus
    * 1 whole banana (to garnish)
    * 2 extra-large eggs
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    * 4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1 inch cubes
    * 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
    * 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    * 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    * 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    * 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    * 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (scant)
    * 1 tablespoon poppy seed
    * 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus
    * 1 teaspoon sugar, extra for sprinkling
    * 6 tablespoons light brown sugar, lightly packed
    * 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


      lightly coat a six cup capacity loaf pan, with melted butter.
      Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°F.
      Spread the nuts pn a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes.
      Shake the pan halfway through to ensure that the nuts toast evenly.
      Cool, chop coarsely; set aside.
      Turn the oven up to 350°F.
      In a medium bowl, whisk the banana puree, eggs, and vanilla extract to combine.
      In the bowl, of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, attachment, cream the butter, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and poppy seeds on low, 2 to 3 minutes, until softened.
      Add the sugars and turn the mixer up to medium, mixing another 3 to 4 minutes until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
      Add the flour and banana mixture alternately in three batches, beginning with the flour, mixing until just combined.
      Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the nuts.
      Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan to just below the rim.
      Cut two 1/4 inch thick strips from the remaining banana, slicing down the entire length.
      Arrange the two C-shapes on top of the loaf, staggered, with the two ends slightly interlocking with each other in the center.
      Sprinkle about one teaspoons of granulated sugar over the surface.
      Bake for 50-60 minutes until nicely browned and firm to the touch.
      Do not slice bananas for the top too thickly or they will sink.

From cup and table
apricot banana oat bread

dry ingredients

1 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

wet ingredients
1/2 cup of brown sugar (could use agave nectar here)
1 stick of butter, softened (have substituted half olive oil for this, works perfectly well but somehow i know the butter is missing)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large organic eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large or 3 small mashed overripe bananas
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots snipped into quarters or seeded chopped medjool dates or chopped apples

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon or wide whisk. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla extract and bananas together in another bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly mixed, a couple of minutes. Add dry ingredients, stir only until incorporated. Next, stir in dried apricots (dates or apples). Pour mixture into oiled loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes or so, until cake tester comes out clean.



Blintzes in Woodstock

A carton of eggs, some brown,some that lovely Araucana blue. A box of homemade chocolates. A loaf of splendidly crusty bread.  A lipstick whose proceeds go to Jane Goodall.  A cutting board. They were all gifts that people laid on the table last night after I spoke in Woodstock.  It's that kind of a town. Generous. Open-hearted.  Warm.

I was giving a new speech, and they're always a little rough the first few times. This was maybe more so than usual, because I was trying to talk about how a book changes over time, even for its author. It's a subject that fascinates me as I discover, a dozen years after writing Tender at the Bone, that I am still uncovering layers of meaning buried deep inside the book.

The audience seemed more charmed than irritated by the unpolished nature of the talk, and they asked thoughtful, interesting questions. Afterward a group of us (mostly writers from the festival), went off to a bar to continue the conversation. That's always the best part.

Woke up this morning in a wonderful old Victorian inn where Marti Ladd fed us fresh blintzes while she told hilarious stories about the Hollywood folks who've stayed with her. She says the blintzes are an old family recipe, and they're light, with an oddly seductive flavor that comes on at the end.  "Can you guess the secret ingredient?" she asked.

 "Onion?" I said, realizing that was what I'd been tasting. 

"That's it!" she cried. "You rub the pan with half an onion between each crepe."


On Cookbooks

Rereading Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece on cookbooks made me mad all over again. Because it seems to me that in all that overintellectualized hyperventilating he misses the main point. When he asks why we read cookbooks, he assumes that all cooks are like him. And that's just wrong. Before asking why we read cookbooks, we need to question why we cook in the first place.

He does it in a vain search for perfection. "We reanimate our passions by imagining the possibilities," he says, "and the act of wanting ends up mattering more than the fact of getting. It's not the false hope that it will turn out right that makes us go on with our reading but our being resigned to the knowledge that it won't ever, quite."

I have to say that this thought is completely alien to me.  What's "right"?  As far as I'm concerned, there is no such thing. For me one of the great pleasures of cooking is that nothing ever turns out the same way twice. Each time you walk into the kitchen you are setting off on an adventure. What will it be like this time?  Will it make people happy?

And that, to me at least, is the crucial question.  Gopnik seems to cook for himself; for him it is an act of wanting. I cook for other people, and to me, cooking is an act of giving. When I leaf through cookbooks or magazines I am imagining all the people who will be sitting around my table, and I am looking for food that will make them happy.

In the end it is their pleasure that will take me back to the kitchen for the next experiment. I love the physical act of cooking - the feel of the knife as it slices through the apples, the scent of the onions as they caramelize in butter, the moment when the cake comes sashaying out of the oven. But more than that, I love to watch as everybody takes the first bite, and then, hurriedly, another. And another. 

Right there at the table, as we all sit there eating, I am already imagining how I might improve upon the recipe. Better ingredients? A different technique? We are constantly learning to cook, both by reading cookbooks and by cooking. But the very first lesson for every cook is this: no recipe is ever perfect. That's the point.  It's only a meal, and there's always the next time.


Thai-like Noodles

My Americanized version of Thai noodles

1/2 pound very thin rice noodles, preferably Thai rice sticks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar (or unseasoned rice vinegar)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
4 scallions, white and tender green parts, sliced into 1/2-inch lengths
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 limes (juice only)
1/2 cup salted peanuts, finely chopped
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges, for garnish
Sriracha Chili sauce

In a large bowl, soak the noodles in hot water to cover for about 20 minutes or until soft, then drain and set aside.

Combine the sugar, fish sauce and vinegar. Set aside.

In a wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is very hot. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, just until they change color, about 1minute. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Add the garlic to the wok, and as soon as it starts to color and get fragrant, about 30 seconds, add the pork and half of the scallions.Cook just until the pork loses its redness, 2 to 3 minutes, then add drained noodles and mix quickly. Add the fish sauce mixture, reduce the heat to medium and cook 5 to 8 minutes or until the noodles have absorbed all the liquid.

Clear an area of the wok and crack 1 egg into it, breaking the yolk.Tilt the wok to get as thin a sheet of egg as possible and scramble just until set, about 1 minute. Then mix the egg into the noodles.Repeat with the remaining egg. Add the shrimp, remaining scallions and red pepper flakes and mix thoroughly. Add the lime juice and cook,stirring for 1 minute.

Transfer the noodles to a platter and top with a sprinkling of peanuts.Serve with lime wedges, the remaining peanuts and lots of Sriracha.

Makes about 3 servings, depending on how hungry people are.  I could probably eat this entire amount by myself.  And it's excellent for breakfast the next day.


Birthday in NY

Leaving Los Angeles seventeen years ago was one of those consciously life-changing events. We left, at least in part, because I had gotten the job at the New York Times, and CBS was happy to have MIchael work out of the NY bureau. But the more important reason was that we wanted to bring Nick up in New York instead of LA.

It's a decision that I have never regretted. This is a generous city, and any child who sets out to explore it can't help learning a great deal. Nick and his friends find adventures in every borough, and it's been a joy to listen to the tales that he's brought home from Brighton Beach and Gravesend.

It did not surprise me that Nick wanted to be home this weekend to celebrate his 21st birthday.  And once again, the city delivered.  On the day before his birthday he and his friends began the day in Chinatown with lunch at Xian; they all insist that the lamb face salad is one of the best dishes they've ever tried. They went on to Di Palo's, where Gemma fell in love with the man demonstrating his aceto balsamico, and then slowly wandered uptown to Lincoln Center where they managed to find $15 tickets for the ballet.

They were hungry when it was over, so they took the subway down to Momofuku Ssam Bar and found themselves seated next to the band Yeasayer.  They had pork buns and pickles, and at the stroke of midnight, the band began singing Happy Birthday to Nick, making the entire restaurant burst into song.

It wasn't planned, but it was a great way to turn 21. The joy of this city is its sheer serendipity.


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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.