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I’ve been frustrated with banana bread recipes, so I’ve tested and written my own. Most recipes don’t specify how much banana – “two bananas” or “four bananas” – how big are these bananas? We don’t know! Consider the amount of banana I’ve indicated as a starting point. If you have bigger bananas or more bananas and want to use them, feel free, though the maximum amount I would use is four. Obviously, the more banana you add, the more batter you’ll have, and, thus, the more muffins you’ll have. Plan accordingly! My other problem with banana bread recipes is they’re sold as “healthy.” Excuse my French but fuck that noise. We’re making delicious muffins here, and they contain sugar in an unapologetic amount. They are moist and flavorful – perfect for a light breakfast or snack.

Ceramic/stoneware muffin tin, date unknown. Photo from Smithsonian Institution, ID number CE.392524

You’ll need two bowls – one that’s microwave safe and large enough to hold all the wet ingredients and one large bowl that can accommodate all the ingredients. (Well, three, if you count the bowl needed to soak the raisins.)

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup Captain Morgan spiced rum
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
250 g overripe bananas (two smallish bananas)
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Several hours in advance, combine raisins and Captain Morgan (or rum or other alcohol of your choice) in a shallow bowl to soak. Warming the alcohol in the microwave (10 or 15 seconds) can help speed things up. Stir the raisins occasionally to ensure they all get equally drunk. I let my raisins soak for about 36 hours because they were really old and very dry. It took them about 24 hours to start to resemble edible raisins. Whether you use your old raisins here or in some other recipe, soaking them for a day or two can transform raisins that are old and cranky.

Spread walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the preheating 350 degree oven – about five minutes. Use a timer, and keep a close eye so they don’t get dark. Spread them on a paper towel or cutting board and let them cool before chopping.

Melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and stir well. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

Put papers into a 12-hole muffin tin* and butter/sugar two custard cups. If you don’t have papers, butter/sugar the muffin tin as well.

Forget your mixer – whether hand or stand – mix the batter by hand so you don’t overwork the flour – it’s not onerous.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. If your nuts are cool enough (they can still be slightly warm), chop them and add them to the dry ingredients. Set aside.

Now that butter/sugar is sufficiently cool, add in the eggs, and whisk it up. Then add the bananas, mashing to your desired consistency. Add the soaked raisins (minus any residual liquor), and whisk all of it until well blended.

If you haven’t previously chopped your nuts, it’s time! Add them to the dry ingredients.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring only until the flour disappears.

Spoon batter into tin/cups till they’re 3/4 full. If you like, sprinkle the top of the muffins with turbinado sugar. It’s not necessary but adds a nice sweet crunch to the muffin tops.

Bake in your 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and enjoy!

*If you prefer, you can use a loaf pan either lined with parchment or buttered and floured or sugared. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Nana’s Brownies

If you do not like walnuts in your brownies, this is not the recipe for you. I’ve tried making this recipe without walnuts (tragically, I had no nuts in the house that day), and it was a complete fail. The brownies were very thin and sad. Some people use pecans in brownies. I consider this to be a criminal misuse of pecans. Pecans have a much stronger flavor than walnuts and end up arguing with the chocolate rather than enhancing one another.  Walnuts add a grace note to brownies, allowing the rich chocolate flavor to dominate, but adding a texture that lends interest and a delicate flavor to break up the sweet.

Preheat oven to 350F

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter (1/4 lb)
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 3 cups chopped walnuts

Line 9×13 pan with waxed paper

Melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter, in the microwave or in a double-boiler – don’t scorch the chocolate!  Set aside to cool.

Chop your walnuts while your chocolate/butter is cooling.

In a large bowl, beat eggs together with the salt for several minutes, until the eggs are very pale and light.  Incorporate the sugar, then the chocolate/butter mixture and vanilla. Sir in the flour, then the chopped walnuts until everything is incorporated.

Spread the batter into your wax-paper lined 9×13 pan and bake for 30 minutes. I like to check at about 25 minutes just in case the oven is running a little hot.

Test with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, they’re done. Let the brownies cool in the pan for 20 minutes before lifting out and cutting into pieces.

They are excellent frozen. Try one or two under a scoop or two of ice cream with some chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

I saw this recipe for Italian Shrimp Pasta, and kept it floating in my tabs for quite some time before I finally decided I had to make it. Well, I didn’t have any Compari tomatoes on hand, or any fresh tomatoes at all, so I used Rasamalaysia’s recipe as a jumping off point.

Two servings, whether you share it with someone you like or prefer the gift of delicious leftovers!

3 big fat cloves of garlic, finely diced
Several tablespoons of olive oil
Approximately 1 pound of shrimp (whatever quantity you think is sufficient for two meals)
1 14.5-ounce can of tomatoes (whole, diced or sauce – your choice)
2 ounces of vodka
5 or 6 basil leaves, cut finely (approximately two tablespoons once cut)
1-1/2 to 2 cups of dry pasta
1 cup reserved pasta water (taken from the pot just before you drain the pasta)

Put your pasta water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, add a handful of kosher salt to make that water nice and salty – like the sea! As you’re making the sauce, get the pasta into the boiling salted water, so the pasta is just barely al dente by the time the shrimp are mostly but not wholly cooked.

In a saute pan large enough to hold everything (a medium size pan will do), with the burner at a medium heat, saute the garlic briefly in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the entire can of tomatoes and their juices. If using diced, you’re good to go. If using whole tomatoes, squish them with your hands to break them up into small pieces. Add a pinch of salt. Shake in some red pepper flakes to your desired degree of heat. This is “faux Fra Diavolo,” after all, so you want at least a little bit of spiciness. Pour in the two ounces of vodka. Bring to a simmer. If your sauce is reducing faster than the pasta is cooking, you can scoop out the cup of pasta water before the pasta is cooked to use to thin the sauce so it doesn’t get too thick.

When the pasta is nearly ready, toss your shrimp into the simmering tomato sauce. Watch the shrimp closely, tossing them around in the sauce, so you get them cooking evenly. If shrimp are cooked too long, they get tough, so keep a close eye on them. When the shrimp are still slightly underdone, showing just a little bit of translucence, hopefully your pasta is ready.

When the pasta is just on the underside of al dente, scoop out the cup of pasta water (if you haven’t already), then drain the pasta, tossing it into the pan with the sauce and shrimp. Toss everything together to coat the pasta and finish the cooking of the shrimp. While you’re tossing everything, add as much of the reserved pasta water that you think you need to thin the sauce to your liking. Once the shrimp are just cooked – no longer translucent – take the pan off the heat, add a swirl of olive oil (a tablespoon or two) and the finely chopped fresh basil. Give it a last good toss, then serve.

I’m a cheese fiend, so with the first serving of this I applied a generous amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, but it really doesn’t need it (and this is coming from a person who INSISTS CHEESE IS NECESSARY ON PASTA), because it is so incredibly flavorful. I had the second serving for dinner the following night. I’m lazy as can be, and not wanting to dirty yet another dish, because I had put the leftovers in a dish that couldn’t go in the microwave (plus not wanting to reheat the shrimp which would make them tough), I had the leftovers cold from the fridge. Let me tell you – IT WAS FANTASTIC! In fact, I would seriously consider making this specifically to be eaten cold the following day (or made in the morning and refrigerated till dinner time).

The flavor of the basil, which was put in at the end, after the pan was taken off the heat, was much more pronounced – that luscious flavor lightly reminiscent of licorice. The garlic (both on round 1, when eaten hot, and on round 2, when eaten cold) was perfect – not so pronounced that you would say, “Wow, garlic!” but adding a very pleasant note to the overall flavor.

I give this recipe 12 thumbs up.

Dressings/Sauces

Mayonnaise – if you haven’t made it, you haven’t enjoyed mayonnaise. It is quite a bit thinner than store-bought but James Peterson, a “sauce expert,” suggests “[adding] a small amount of bottled mayonnaise to the egg yolk at the beginning [of the recipe] to act as an emulsifier.” Sounds like something to try. But even so, there really are few things nicer than home-made mayo.

DIY MAYONNAISE

Yields a bit over a cup of mayonnaise.

1 whole egg
1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon style mustard
1 clove of garlic, chopped small (optional but ARE YOU CRAZY?)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (use white if you object to speckles of black pepper)
1 cup vegetable or olive oil

I have a one-pint jar that has a screw-on lid that makes measuring, making and storing super easy. If you don’t have such a thing, use a close approximation. You want to use a container that is narrow and deep so that there is not a lot of space around the immersion blender.

Toss everything into the jar.

Stick the immersion blender to the bottom of the jar, turn it on, and verrrrrry slowly pull it up. Voila! You have mayonnaise!

Stews

It all started with “generously buttered noodles, sprinkled with just a quarter cup of parsley for color and freshness, are the perfect blank canvas for practically any stew or braise,” and we were off to the races for the thing I can make RIGHT NOW so I can enjoy some generously buttered noodles, sprinkled with just a quarter cup of parsley for color and freshness, as the perfect blank canvas for practically any stew or braise.

So, here we go.

Mushroom Stew

Wild Mushroom and Beef Stew

The good old standby – Pot Roast

Mmmm, Chorizo and Potato Stew – noodles might be overkill but, hey, live dangerously, I say.

Candied Citrus Peel

Candied citrus peel is one of life’s small pleasures. I am especially fond of lemon. I have never candied limes, so I don’t know what the equivalent number is but I am sure you can figure it out.

4 large oranges OR 3 grapefruit OR 6 lemons
3 cups sugar, divided
Water

Basically, you want to remove peel from flesh while keeping peel free of holes. Scrape away any stringy pith, don’t worry about the rest. You can use the flesh to make grapefruit curd. I haven’t made it myself but I don’t see how it wouldn’t work. Microwave curd seems like a good thing to try.

Cut the peels into quarter-inch strips and throw them in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring it to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and return peels to pan with 4 fresh cups of water, then repeat twice more, using fresh water each time.

After the final plain water boil and dump, add 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water to the pot with the peel, bring to a boil and cook until peels are soft and translucent – about 30 to 40 minutes for oranges, 20 to 30 minutes for lemon/lime, about 40 to 50 minutes for grapefruit. Drain and transfer peels to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet to cool for about 15 minutes, until they are tacky but not wet.

Put the remaining cup of sugar in a large bowl, add the tacky peel and toss to coat, laying the sugar-coated peel in a single layer on a rack or waxed paper to dry – 4 to 12 hours, then store in an air-tight container. I have kept peel in ziplock bags in the fridge for as long as two months and it is perfectly delicious.

If you want sour candied peel, you can 2 tablespoons of citric acid to the final sugar used for coating. Personally, I am not into sour, so I haven’t done this.

UPDATE: I still have never made candied citrus slices but it’s on the agenda!

Adapted from Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer – a wonderful, basic cookbook that helped me feed myself the first few years I lived on my own. This baked rice is so easy and flavorful, pairing wonderfully with a pan-fried steak, broiled pork chop or chicken. The tabasco is key. It’s not enough to add any heat but adds depth.

2-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped onion
1 cup long grain rice
2-3 shakes of Tabasco Sauce (original red)
1-1/2 cups chicken broth, beef broth or tomato bouillon
1 bay leaf
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt
Herbs – optional to customize with whatever your main dish might be

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Melt the butter in an enameled cast iron pot, or an ovenproof saucepan with a lid. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent.

Add the rice, then cook, stirring, till the rice turns white and opaque, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, tabasco, bay leaf and salt, and bring to a boil. Give it one last stir to roust any rice sticking to the pan bottom, then cover and put it on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from the oven.

If you just set the pot aside without lifting the lid, it can sit for 10 minutes while you finish preparing the main course or your steak rests.

Toss the rice with a fork and remove the bay leaf before serving.

Voila! The best rice ever!

Pizza

Yay, Pizza! Making pizza at home is so easy, and if you live in a food desert like I do, it’s the only way to get good pizza.

This is a big baby – a full sheet pan of Sicilian Pizza just like you can get in New York City.