Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meatless Monday

I realize that today isn't Monday, but recently I've embraced the concept of meatless Monday or serving one meatless meal a week. In addition to being healthy, it's also good for the environment. This week I served Spicy Red Lentils and Brown Rice garnished with cilantro and yogurt. Lentils and dried beans are high in protein and a good source of Vitamins A and B, iron and phosphorus and brown rice is a whole grain.

I purchased red lentils in bulk at a wholesale Italian market in Chicago on a recent trip. Red lentils are sometimes called Egyptian lentils and keep well for as long as a year. Easily cooked in less than 30 minutes, they form a puree.

To cook the rice I used my rice cooker. This is an appliance I haven't used much because the excess starch needs to be rinsed away. I've always felt this would also wash away the vitamins added to enrich the rice. With brown rice there is no need to rinse away excess starch because of the bran coating. My rice was perfectly steamed to be serve with the spicy lentils and I cooked enough for a second meal.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Showcase Minnesota

Today I appeared on Showcase Minnesota on KARE. Here is the link.

I was interviewed by Rob Hudson who makes it easy for me. In addition to Cranberry Walnut Tarts and Chocolate Zucchini Bread, I also baked Banana Walnut Bars. As soon as the show is finished everyone heads to the studio to try the foods. In December I'll be preparing Foods to Take to Friends.

Here's the Banana Bar recipe. The frosting tastes like Brown Sugar Fudge.

Banana Bars with Brown Sugar Frosting

My husband eats a banana every day, but sometimes we have too many ripe ones. Needless to say, I bake a lot of banana bars and banana bread! When the bananas are very ripe, I don’t bother to mash them but simply cut them into chunks, add them to the batter, and let the mixer do its job.

Makes 36 bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 medium)
1 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup whipping cream or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in middle. Grease and flour a 15 x 10 x 1-inch jellyroll pan.
Mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat butter and sugar in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer on Medium speed until creamy, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Add sour cream, vanilla, and eggs and mix well. Add bananas and beat until mashed. Add flour mixture, and beat on Low just until flour disappears. Stir in walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 22 to 26 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. The cake should spring back when touched lightly with a finger. Cool completely on wire cooling rack before frosting.

Heat brown sugar, butter, and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Continue stirring and boil 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
Spread frosting on bars immediately as frosting sets up quickly. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Cut into bars.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

There are certain times of year when Minnesota has weather very different from the rest of the country. For instance, now we have already had our first snowfall (small and melted already!) and other places people are still harvesting from their vegetable gardens. For all the others, here's a recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Bread. Of course, you don't have to grow zucchini, you can buy it too!

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Zucchini is so easy to grow that every gardener has lots more than they can use. Baking zucchini bread is a great way to use extra quantities, and adding chocolate improves the flavor for non-zucchini enthusiasts. I shred the squash in my food processor, but it can be grated by hand.

MAKES 2 LOAVES (12 to 16 slices)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated zucchini (2 medium zucchini)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in middle. Grease with shortening and flour the bottom and part-way up sides of two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.
Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in center of the flour by pushing ingredients out toward sides of bowl.
Combine sugar, oil, chocolate, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl and whisk until smooth.
Pour chocolate mixture into flour mixture, and stir only until flour is evenly moistened even though batter is not smooth. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips. Divide batter between the two prepared pans, and smooth the tops.
Bake 36 to 42 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out dry. The edges of the bread may be pulling away from pan sides.
Cool on wire cooling rack 10 minutes. Run a spatula around sides of pans to loosen bread. Place rack over the bread and invert so bread falls onto the rack. Remove pan and turn top side up. The bread must cool before it can be sliced, and it slices better the second day.

BAKER’S NOTE: When grating the zucchini by hand, absorb extra moisture by placing the shredded squash between paper towels.
SECRET TO SUCCESS: If the level of the batter isn’t the same in both pans, one of the pans will bake quicker than the other. Take a quick peek after 30 minutes to check the doneness.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Punch Pizza: Best in America?

Recently I read an article about pizza in the NWA magazine when I was flying back from upstate New York. Punch Pizza in the Twin Cities was listed as the best and Pizza Bianco in Phoenix as runner-up, neither of which we've tried. We decided to try our own experiment and Saturday night we dined at Punch Pizza.

As you enter the restaurant you are facing the 800 degrees F. wood-burning oven that cooks pizza in 90 seconds. Aside from its function, the oven is beehive shaped and covered in one inch mosaic tiles and rises from the floor to the ceiling. After you place your order, you get a number and find a table. The pizzas are cooked so fast you barely have time to sit before warm pizza is whisked to your table.

We had a basic Pizza Margarita and Pizza Siciliana and both were outstanding. My favorite part was the crust, which was thin but chewy. I don't usually like thin crust because it's too often cracker-thin. Siciliana Pizza is topped with prosciutto, artichoke, picholine olive and fresh basil.

The Mt. Vesuvio tomatoes were juicy and bursting with sweet concentrated tomato flavor. Traditionally these tomatoes are picked when they are ripe and stored until winter to deepen their flavor but Punch has developed their own process.

Next trip to Phoenix we're heading to Pizza Bianco. We tried once before but the restaurant was closed because the owner/chef was out of town. We've been told to expect to wait a while and that's OK as long as it's not 100 degrees F. out!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bon Appetit

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Washington, D.C. was a visit to Julia Child's kitchen at the Smithsonian. After a 4 star lunch at Kinkead's, my friend and I took the metro to the History Museum. With the opening of the movie "Julie and Julia" this exhibit has become extremely popular.

The Tuesday afternoon we were there it was busy, especially with visitors standing around watching tv for clips from Julia's PBS shows. I was nostalgic viewing episodes of The French Chef which is where I learned a lot of cooking. My food degree taught me a lot of the chemical processes and why certain techniques make a difference but didn't teach me a lot about getting a dinner on the table, and hot besides!

I overheard someone talking about their old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and wondering if it was a first copy (1961). When I got home I went to my tattered and spattered copy thinking it might be valuable. I got mine in 1971 and it was the 18th edition! Wow!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time for Baking and Apples

It's a cold rainy day today in Minnesota. Just the kind of day when everyone thinks about baking. I don't know the "official date " for apple season but October 1 is definitely the right time. They've also created another new breed, SweeTango that will be available nationally next year. Watch for it!

There's a lot of talk about Honeycrisp apples that were developed at the University of Minnesota. They've become my favorite apple. For eating they are crisp, sweet-tart and juicy. For baking they keep their shape and aren't too juicy. I'm baking Apple Praline Coffee Cake from Baking Basics and Beyond today and filling the house with scents of apples and autumn.

Apple Praline Coffee Cake

When you prepare this coffee cake for a special occasion, arrange small pecan halves instead of chopped pecans on top to dress it up. Apples and brown sugar keep this cake moist for several days.


1 1/2 cups chopped peeled apples (about 2 medium)
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 375°F with oven rack in middle. Spray a nonstick 10-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray or thoroughly grease and flour.
Combine apples, sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in medium bowl. Combine flour, baking powder, remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt in another medium bowl.
Beat butter in bowl of a heavy-duty mixer on Medium speed until creamy, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until light in color. Scrape down sides of bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Reduce mixer speed to Low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of milk. Scrape down bowl after each addition. Beat until smooth.
By hand, stir in the apple mixture. Spoon the batter into prepared pan, and spread evenly with a metal spatula.
Bake 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. The apples should be fork-tender. Cool on wire cooling rack 15 minutes and remove cake from pan (see Baker’s Notes below).

Heat brown sugar and 1/4 cup butter in small saucepan over medium heat, bringing mixture to a boil while stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook until butter is absorbed, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add whipping cream and powdered sugar. Beat until smooth.
Drizzle glaze over cake, allowing some to run down the sides. Sprinkle with pecans.

BAKER’S NOTES: Spray the Bundt pan generously with nonstick cooking spray or grease with shortening and coat with flour. Make sure the ridges are coated so the cake will come out completely.
Use a metal spatula to release the center and loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. With the cake side up, gently shake the pan to loosen the bottom, rotating as you shake. Carefully remove the cake from the pan by inverting it onto a cooling rack.
Because the glaze is cooked, it sets up quickly. As soon as it is smooth, drizzle it over the cake.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS: Use an electric knife or a serrated knife for easier slicing.
Place a piece of waxed paper or a cookie sheet under the cooling rack for easy clean-up after glazing.

From Baking Basics and Beyond, 2006, Surrey Books