November 29, 2010

Bananas Flambé

I have a confession of sorts.

I don't eat bananas.  Well, no that's not accurate, I do eat bananas.  I just don't buy them anymore. With going "locavore,"  bananas are no longer on our grocery list.  Plus, did you read that article in the New York Times?  If you did, you know which one I'm talking about.  If you didn't, here it is.  I don't know.  The article struck some liberal environmentalist chord deep down within me, and I have not purchased bananas since then.  But I do like bananas, and my locavore convictions only go so far, so I will eat them at other people's houses.  I mean I wouldn't want to offend anyone, right?  (My father-in-law planted a banana tree in his yard this last summer.  It's too young to produce fruit yet, but I am anxious to see if it does, because I think I would like to have one myself.)

This last weekend I was assigned the task of driving my 88-year-old grandmother to a post-Thanksgiving dinner with family in the Sacramento area.  The drive from Chico to Sacramento is only about 90 minutes, but that didn't dissuade my perpetually-prepared grandmother from packing a couple of bananas 'in case we got hungry.'  Not surprisingly we did not get hungry, so we arrived in Sacramento with two intact bananas.

And the family members who had been assigned the task of bringing a pie had cancelled.  So the plan was to have cranberry bread and Ginger Gems (delicious, soft, molasses-ginger cookies that my step-mom makes).  While both baked goods are really good, I just felt like a big family feast needs a special ending.  If not a pie, well, at least something semi-spectacular.  I know, "spectacular" is a big claim (which is why I humbly prefaced it with "semi"), but c'mon a dessert that gets lit on fire is pretty cool.

Though this recipe may not be fitting with our farmers market theme, it does fit the you-can-do-it-without-opening-a-cookbook theme.  Butter, brown sugar, bananas, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of vanilla and some rum and viola!  Basically it is bananas in a warm caramel sauce, but something about lighting it on fire takes it to special-occasion-dessert status.  Serve over vanilla ice cream-- an item I am increasingly convinced should be in everyone's freezer--with a soft cookie to sop up any extra sauce and melted ice cream.  Fabulous!

Bananas Flambé
Makes 8 dainty servings or 4 indulgent servings.  Increase or decrease as needed. 

1/4 cup butter (half of a stick; if using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt)
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of cinnamon
3 medium bananas, ripe, but not overripe
1 teaspoon vanilla extract*
1/4 cup (2 fl ounces) rum
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 cookie per guest

1.  In large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, heat butter and sugar, stirring occasionally.  Heat until the butter and sugar have melted and combined, less than 5 minutes.

2.  While sugar-butter mixture is heating, slice your bananas (either in quarters--horizontally in half and vertically in half--or on the diagonal into 3/4" thick coins).

3.  Sugar-butter mixture should be bubbling.  Stir in a pinch of cinnamon (and a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter).  Carefully add bananas.  You don't want to get burned by that hot sugar.  Carefully turn bananas to coat.  Let cook about 1 minute.  Add vanilla extract and rum.

4.  Now here is the fun/dangerous part.  You may want to turn off the heat under the pan while you do this:  Turn away from the stove and light a match, then carefully bring the lit match over the skillet.  The alcohol vapors should catch on fire.  Wahoo. They'll burn for a few seconds.  Hopefully your guest will catch the action and be adequately impressed.

5.  To serve:  Scoop ice cream into each bowl.  Spoon caramel sauce and bananas over ice cream.  Garnish each serving with a cookie.


* In our family, we make our own vanilla extract by steeping vanilla beans in vodka.  My brother-in-law, who spent some time bartending and knows a thing or two about cooking, recommends a middle-of-the-road vodka such as Seagram's.  Recipes for vanilla extract abound on the internet, but basically you slit the pods (about 6 or 8 of them), put them in a bottle of vodka and let it sit at least 6-8 weeks.  Leave the pods in the bottle, and as you use up the extract, add more vodka.  My dad has a couple more vanilla beans in his bottle than I do, so his extract seems stronger than mine.  If I was using my extract (6 beans that have been steeping in 750 ml of vodka for 2 months) it is still a bit lighter in color and flavor than my dad's (which smells and looks more like commercial extract), so I would double the amount of vanilla.

November 28, 2010

Spicy Cauliflower over Rice

I wonder why chipolte peppers come in cans.  Every recipe I have ever used that calls for chipotle peppers calls for "1 or 2 chipotle peppers from a can."  I open the can and freeze the rest, and if I am lucky, I label the bag that I freeze them in, so I don't get it confused with tomato sauce.  Why don't they just sell chipotle peppers in adobo frozen in the first place?

Recently I opened a can of chipotle peppers in adobe and I have been chipping away at the leftovers in the freezer ever since.  They add a nice smokey heat to things, but be careful, because they really are spicy.  A little goes a long way. 

Serve this comforting dish of soft veggies in a spicy, creamy sauce over plenty of steamed rice to counteract the heat.  For some textural contrast and a protein boost, top with toasted slivered almonds. 

Spicy Cauliflower
Inspired by the New York Times
Serve over steamed rice.  Serves 6 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish.

Chipolte peppers packed in adobo sauce offer a smoky heat. They are generally found in the Mexican section of the supermarket.  If you don't have them, substitute a dried chile of your choice.  Dried chiles can be purchased in the Mexican section of most supermarkets.  I get mine at the farmers market in the winter. In fact, Mr. Vogel had bags of them available this week.  Stored in an airtight container, they keep at least one year. 

1 lb cauliflower, cut into large florets, trim stalks and stems and cut into bite-size pieces.
2 carrots, sliced on the diagonal
1 green pepper, sliced into 1" squares
1 clove garlic, crushed

1 chipolte pepper from a can
1 dried chile of your choice, I like cayenne
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 can coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Red pepper flakes  to taste
 Cilantro and lime wedges to garnish
Optional:  toasted slivered almonds
To serve: Steamed jasmine or short-grain rice

In medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine cauliflower, carrots, green pepper, garlic, chipotle, chile and broth or water.  Bring to a simmer.  Season with salt.  Make sure that chipotle pepper is immersed in liquid.  Cover pan.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 5-7 minutes, until cauliflower is tender.  Remove lid, increase heat to medium high.  Make sure that chipolte pepper has broken up into pieces to incorporate the flavor into the whole dish.  If not, crush it with a spatula or spoon.  Add coconut  milk and sugar.  Stir to combine and let simmer another minute or two.  Remove dried chile and add red pepper flakes to taste.  Transfer to serving dish and garnish generously with chopped cilantro and almonds (if using).  Have lime wedges available.

November 26, 2010

A Couple Holiday Drinks

My father-in-law was wondering why I haven't posted much in a while.  I've actually been cooking a lot.  I even have a couple of posts written, I just haven't posted them because they are not Thanksgiving-ish.  Honestly, it is dark and cold in Upstate California, and lately in the evenings I am more in the mood to watch a re-run of 30 Rock on Netflix (or just go to bed early), than to put mental energy into anything.  Sorry.

But my little family just had a happy Thanksgiving with my in-laws, and I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving too.  In fact I thought of you, dear readers, this evening.  For those of you staying with family, when  the feast is over, things can feel a bit cramped and relationships might be starting to get strained...  No?

Well, maybe not.  But maybe all you ate today was leftovers from yesterday, and while they were really good (your mother-in-law makes the best red cabbage ever, I am sure and her turkey is never dry), maybe a simple dessert that is not leftover pumpkin pie is in order?

Either way, a nice fall cocktail might be just the thing to take the edge off this evening and restore joviality to the extended family... and keep you from downing a half a bottle of Jameson when no one's looking just to keep your sanity... Um, nevermind.  So tonight, whether you and the family are watching a movie or playing games, or just doing whatever you can to avoid another argument, add a fun and festive cocktail.  Have your hostess pull out her martini glasses, while your host pulls out Balderdash or something, while you take inventory of the liquor cabinet and the spice drawer.  Make it fun: recruit a family member to crush some graham crackers, mix the crumbs with sugar and nutmeg and rim those martini glasses while you mix the cocktail.

Hot Buttered Rum 
adapted from Drink of the Week 

I never used to be into the whole ice cream with alcohol thing.  You know, "Mudslides," and that type of thing. But earlier this week on a dark, cold night, I really wanted some kind of a hot toddy curl up with.  My experience with cocktails that are served hot has been limited to Hot Buttered Rum and Spiked Hot Chocolate (Oh Frangelico, how I miss you in my liquor cabinet!).  My dad's Hot Buttered Rum includes,  if I remember correctly, more butter per serving than I would slather on a couple pieces of toast, and therefore, quite frankly, it scares my arteries.  As I surfed around for a variation with less butter, I found quite a few recipes that included vanilla ice cream.  Most of them were portioned to serve a crowd, directing the cook to cream together butter and sugar and maybe cinnamon, then add softened vanilla ice cream and refreeze the mixture.  To serve you would place a scoop of the "batter" in a mug and top with as much rum as you like, then fill the mug with hot water and stir to melt the batter.  I was not serving a crowd, so I scaled it down and just put a teaspoon of butter, a couple tablespoons of vanilla ice cream, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon and sufficient amounts of rum and boiling water in a mug.  The ice cream melts and gives the drink a creaminess (and a nice soft vanilla flavor), so that you can use less butter.  This drink got me past my aversion to ice cream in cocktails.

Fall Holiday-tini
inspired by Angie Rayfield

For you, dear reader, I've tried this cocktail both ways, with Captain Morgan rum and with Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Honestly, I expected to like the rum better, simply because I thought the spices would meld nicely with the pumpkin-cinnamon-vanilla-orange combo, but I actually liked the Jameson better.  Of course, when its Day 3 with the extended family, use whatever you have available, so that you can Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I mean Thanksgiving. Whatever...

For each serving:

1 tablespoon pumpkin (canned or cooked)
1 scoop vanilla ice cream (about 1/2 cup)
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice OR a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1 ounce spiced rum or Irish whiskey
Enough half-n-half so that your blender will blend, which is 2 tablespoons in my beloved 35-year-old Imperial Pulse-Matic.

Garnish:  graham cracker crumbs and sugar, or freshly grated nutmeg

1.  Combine all ingredients except Garnish in blender.  Blend.

2.  You will look like less of a drunk if you've planned a nice garnish for our cocktail.  So, to create a pretty rim, wet the rims of your glasses, then dip into a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, sugar and freshly grated nutmeg.  Pour cocktail into prepared glasses and serve.  If you can't manage the rimmed glasses, at least grate some nutmeg over the finished cocktails. Enjoy your time with family!

November 20, 2010


Recently at the farmers market, our six year old picked out a gigantic head of cauliflower.  And, probably due to some confusion about whose bags were whose as we were paying for our produce, we came home with a second gigantic cauliflower.  Needless to say, we've been eating more than our fair share of cauliflower in the last week or so.  My husband says he doesn't like cauliflower, so I can't just steam it or roast it and call it good.  There has to be something interesting to it.

For the longest time I preceived cauliflower as, "like broccoli, but white."  But really, cauliflower seems milder in flavor and therefore more versatile than broccoli.  Broccoli seems to be sufficient side dish simply steamed or roasted.  Cauliflower can be steamed or roasted too, but it benefits from being dressed up a bit.  

Roasted Cauliflower with a Mustard Glaze
(I don't know where I got this recipe, but it is not a combination I came up with myself.  I think it may be a Mark Bittman creation.)

This is super easy, but it is different enough that it could easily be a side dish at a holiday meal.  Once the cauliflower is cut up into florets, 90% of the work is complete.  Simply roast it, then dress with an easy mustard vinaigrette.  Serve it hot or at room temperature. 

1 lb cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon prepared good-quality mustard
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400.  Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread on rimmed baking sheet.  Roast 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice, until slightly brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, in serving bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard and vinegar.  Drizzle in olive oil while whisking.

Add cauliflower to vinaigrette and stir with a spatula to coat.

To dress it up:  Sprinkle with toasted buttered bread crumbs and parsley.

November 13, 2010

Braised Beef with Leeks

While onions are not readily available at farmers markets in November, leeks certainly are.  By the way, if you garden, now is the tail-end of the planting season for onions.  You can buy a bunch of 25-50 onion starts for about $5 in Upstate California farmers markets in October and the beginning of November.

Last weekend I found huge leeks at one of the stalls.  So this week we used one of them in a stew-like dish:  Braised Beef with Leeks.  This is basically my own creation, inspired, I suppose, by an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain demonstrates Boeuf Bourguignon.

This is a slow-cooked beef dish in which the leeks cook down and, along with chicken broth and wine, create a sweet sauce for the beef.  We like it served over cornbread.


Our What's in Season Now Page has been updated with November's list.


Braised Beef with Leeks
Inspired by Anthony Bourdain
Serves 6.  Make ahead:  Step 1 can be completed up to 1 day ahead of time.  Or Steps 1 & 2 can be completed up to a day ahead of time.  Store tightly covered in non-reactive dish in refrigerator overnight.  Return to dutch oven and reheat over medium heat.  Garnish and serve. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs good quality beef stew meat
1 lb leeks, the white and light green parts only, cleaned and trimmed, and halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch slices.
2 tablespoons flour
2 large carrots, cut into large chunks
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup inexpensive red wine (We used $2 Buck Chuck Shiraz)
Whatever herbs you have available: 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary (or similar amounts of dried herbs)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley or 1 cup green peas

1.  Season beef generously with kosher salt and pepper.  In large dutch oven over medium high heat, brown the meat.  You may need to do this in two batches.  Don't attempt to cook it thoroughly, just get most sides brown. Remove meat to a plate.  Set aside.  Add prepared leeks (and a little more oil if the pan is dry), a dash of kosher salt, and cook over medium heat 5-10 minutes, to brown slightly.

2.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Return meat to pan. Toss leeks and beef with flour.  Cook about one minute.  Add carrots, broth and wine and herbs (but not parsley).  Bring to a boil.  Stir.  Cover with lid and cook in 300º oven 2 hours.

3.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Remove bay leaves and any herb stems.  Add peas, stir and let sit to heat through.  Or skip the peas and simply garnish with parsley. Serve over freshly baked cornbread.

November 11, 2010

On Roasting Winter Vegetables

It seems that every autumn I succumb to the temptation to buy multiple winter squashes: butternut, acorn and at least a few whose names I can never remember; you know. the beautiful ones piled in bins at the farmers markets.  And every year, regardless of whether the vendor promised that they were "super-sweet," or "buttery and rich orange on the inside,"  I end up cooking them, not liking them and throwing them away.  Frankly, the only recipe for fresh winter squash that I've ever liked enough to cook a second time (and a third and fourth time, in fact) is the Pumpkin Bread recipe from Joy of Cooking.  I substitute roasted butternut squash or Cinderella pumpkin for the pumpkin, and my husband and I agree that we actually like the squash bread better than (canned) pumpkin bread.

But as the weather in Upstate California abruptly cools off and as all my favorite cooking blogs post recipes that include these autumn beauties, I have been tempted once more.  This time, with not so much a recipe, but a method for roasting pumpkin... that and the gorgeous photos of the oh so simple finished product.  Roasted pumpkin seasoned simply with salt and pepper and 'branches of herbs,'  or cinnamon and sugar.  But I don't go that route.  I think I've tried it before, and been disappointed.  (You guessed it, I am not one of those people waits expectantly all year for pumpkin lattes to be 'in season.') 

I think I've figured out the root of my disappointment with squash :  I really do look forward to sweet potatoes and parsnips all year long.  Really.  And I love them roasted.  In fact, quite often, I'll roast extras and heat them up in the microwave and eat them as one of the most comforting afternoon snacks ever.  And it just isn't sweet potato or parsnip season yet.  So for now, roasted pumpkin or squash will have to do.

There really isn't a secret to roasting winter squashes.  I simply cut them in half, remove the seeds and roast while I'm cooking whatever else I am cooking, until they are soft.