October 2008


Ah, Banana Bread.  Is there any other baked good that you have to plan a week in advance to make.  You might get your craving for Banana Bread on a Monday, but by the time you buy the under-ripe super market bananas and wait impatiently for them to ripen it might be Sunday, and by then you might have a whole new craving.  That’s why when I was presented with three perfectly ripe bananas by my visiting in-laws, I knew I had to seize the moment.  Banana bread must be made.

Actually, in truth the bananas could have used a day or two more.  Then they would have been overripe – totally black and ugly – absolutely perfect for banana bread.  But these three normally ripe bananas would have to do.  When peeled and mashed they gave me almost a cup and half of banana mush – the amount needed to make my mom’s famous banana bread.

Now my mom makes this bread for everything.  When I was growing up it was her go-to homemade Christmas gift,  her go-to breakfast item, heck, there were times it was her go-to dessert.  Because this bread is dense and moist it can serve all of these purposes and more.  Plus it freezes beautifully.  Many people have received previously frozen banana bread as gifts from my mom and were never the wiser.

The only thing I’ve ever changed about my mom’s recipe is the spices.  Since I’m addicted to nutmeg I always tend to add bit of freshly ground nutmeg.  This time I also added in a pinch of cinnamon.  Personally, I think they give the bread a nice warm spiciness, but to honest, Mom’s original recipe works just fine.  You really can’t go wrong – either eat it yourself or give it away.  Or just hoard it in your freezer, since you never know when that banana bread craving will attack, and there’s no better way to be prepared.

Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup mashed bananas

2 eggs beaten

1 t. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 cup milk

pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degree.  Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar together.  Add in the mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla.  Add in the flour mixture.  Add in the milk as well as the nutmeg, cinnamon and nuts it needed.

Pour mixture into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Remove from oven and let rest in the pan for 15 minutes.  Then remove from pan and let fully cool on a rack.

To freeze – double wrap the loaf in aluminum foil and place in a zip lock plastic bag.

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For a long time C had a habit of bringing me back a cookbook whenever he had a conference in what might conceivably be called a ‘food’ city.   Usually he would have a fabulous meal at a local restaurant and then, if the restaurant had a cookbook, he would kindly bring one back for me.  Once he returned home, he would inevitably recount his wonderful meal and I would attempt to control my food jealously.  I suppose he thought that giving me cookbooks from these restaurants would alleviate some of this jealously, but in truth it only made it worse.  And when he came home from New Orleans a few years back with a cookbook from Commander’s Palace, I knew I would just have to tag along at his next trip to the city, because it was clear that this restaurant was not to be missed.

Long story short – I did accompany C on his next trip to New Orleans and we had a fabulous meal at Commander’s Palace – it was how we celebrated our move to Nashville.  And once I had experienced that wonderful restaurant – and all the wonderful foods they prepare there – I realized I was ready to fully explore my Commander’s Palace cookbook.   Before I explored too long though, I found a recipe that would go on to become one of my favorite comfort foods – Cauliflower and Brie Soup.

I’ve never been a big cauliflower fan – I always found it sort of bland.  But in this soup,  when it’s combined with onions, celery and garlic, it has a wonderful savory sweetness.  And the addition of brie – well that is pure genius.  Some of the brie melts seamlessly into the soup, some stays in a semi-solid state and then proceeds to melt in your mouth.  The brie is a perfect addition to a soup that is mainly vegetables.

Once you add some heavy cream – or half and half if you’re watching calories – the finished soup is creamy beyond belief.  The fact that it’s also savory and has a hint of sweetness is all part of why this is one of my favorite soups.  There really is nothing better on a cold, rainy autumn day.  And every time I eat it I think of New Orleans and Commander’s Palace  – and mentally plan my next trip.

Cauliflower and Brie Soup

From Commander’s Kitchen by Ti Adelaide Martin and James Shannon

Ingredients:

2 heads of cauliflower cleaned and trimmed

10 T. butter

2 medium onions, peeled and diced

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

1 medium bunch of celery, diced

Kosher salt and pepper

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock

2 T.  AP flour

8 ounces Brie Cheese, cut into a medium dice

1/4 c. heavy cream

Directions:

Clean the cauliflower by removing the leaves, coring, and cutting into large florets.

Melt 8 T. of butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onion, garlic and celery, cover and cook over medium heat to “sweat”, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in cauliflower, cover and cook for 5 -7 minutes.

Combine the cauliflower and stock and puree with a hand mixer, a blender or food processor.  Melt the remaining 2 T. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat stirring constantly and add the flour.  Cook until the roux smells nutty and is the consistency of wet sand.  Do not brown it.  Whisk into the soup and bring to a simmer.

Add the brie, a few pieces at a time, and blend until the cheese has melted into the soup.  Add the cream and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Sigh

I rarely meet a cornbread I don’t like, but I definitely have a favorite. Some cornbreads are more like cake — sweet, fluffy, and very mild. Those are good, but real cornbread, at least to this Southerner, is not sweet at all but rather is nuanced with the savory flavor of bacon and it’s texture is granular — not at all cake-like. My favorite is my mom’s. It ranks among my favorite comfort foods. It is a reminder of home and family.

Just like Mom's

There are a couple of things about this cornbread that are important to know. 1. It’s good no matter what but it’s brilliant if you use the recommended bacon grease. Bacon grease? Disgusting! Not at all, my friends. Trust me on this one. The next time you make bacon, don’t throw that liquid gold away-save it and use it. You’ll be blown away by how it transforms soup, stews, potatoes, and cornbread.

Cornbread

2. You can fry this cornbread like pancakes, or you can bake it in a cast iron pan. I love my cornbread-shaped cast iron pan. I got it from my grandmother, and it’s black and well-seasoned from years of use. The cornbread comes out looking like little cornsticks that make the perfect accompaniment to any fall soup or stew.

Cast Iron Pan

Mom’s Cornbread
2 cups self-rising cornmeal (I always use Martha White)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Bacon Grease

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place about one tablespoon of bacon grease into each mold in the cast iron pan (if you aren’t using a cast iron pan like the one shown above, you can use a regular muffin pan. Put approximately 1 tablespoon of grease into each muffin cup). Place the cast iron pan in the preheated oven to allow the grease to heat. Leave the pan in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a large bowl combine cornmeal, sugar, egg, flour, and milk. Mix thoroughly. Allow batter to sit while the cast iron pan heats in the oven. Once the pan is heated, remove it from the oven and pour batter into each mold filling to nearly the top.

Bake until golden brown (about 10 to 15 minutes). Serve immediately.

So we here at Kitchen Confit realize that we haven’t posted in a while.   A combination of vacation, school, family and life in general caught up with all of us. When that happens it is hard enough to remember to cook, let alone post.  But now we’re back and we’ll do better!  Besides it’s fall – that means there are wonderful new foods to cook.  As I’ve mentioned before, fall to me is apples.  Usually the first apple recipe I make in the fall is homemade applesauce – and this year was no exception.

When I was growing up, I don’t think I tasted store-bought applesauce until I went to school.  My mother made homemade applesauce all through the fall and froze it so that it lasted well into the winter.  The homemade stuff was rosy pink, tangy and sweet without being sugary.   Compared to Mom’s applesauce, the store-bought kind  is pasty and pale and way too sweet.  I find it amazing that so many people actually eat the store-bought kind – I always figure that when they realize how easy and good homemade applesauce is, they’ll never buy Motts again.

The only special equipment you need is a food mill.  I’ve made applesauce before with a potato ricer, and if you peel the apples you could even use a food processor to mash them up.  But really, you don’t want to peel the apples – it is too much work and the peels give the finished product this wonderful pink tint.  Just buy a food mill – they’re relatively cheap and it makes the whole applesauce thing as easy as turning a crank.

So you’ve got your food mill.  The rest of the recipe is simple.  Get a stock pot (I used an 8 quart aluminum one).  Get some apples (for this batch, I used a combination of three kinds – Cortlands, Romas, and Johnsons – but feel free to mix it up with different apple varieties appropriate for applesauce).  Cut the apples into quarters and core them.  Throw the apples into the pot; add a bit of water, cider, or liquid of your choice; cover and set over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Stir a few times, so that apples at the top go the bottom, but generally just let the apples become mushy.  After 30 minutes remove the pot from the heat and run the mushy apples through the food mill.  Voila – you have warm, yummy applesauce.

At this point, you could freeze some of the sauce; to defrost, just let it sit in the fridge over night.  I’m actually not sure how long it lasts in the fridge – we always eat it up long before it could go bad.  As for how to serve it,  well, my mom always served it straight up, but I like a little nutmeg and cinnamon.  If you like your applesauce on the sweet side you could also add a tablespoon or so of sugar.  Just be sure to do it while warm – that way the sugar will dissolve seamlessly into the sauce.  But really, as long as the apples are ripe and in season, you won’t need sugar.  And the end product is just so much better than anything you could ever buy, I can guarantee you’ll be making this every weekend come the fall.  Just like mom.

Mom’s Applesauce

Ingredients:

10-12 pounds of apples – or enough to fill up a large stock pot when quartered and cored.

1/2 c. to 1 c. of water

Directions:

Fill up a large stock pot with quartered and cored apples.  If the apples are firm and crisp you might want to cut them into smaller pieces.  Depending on how juicy the apples are add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water to the pot.  Cover and cook over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes.   Stir several times so the apples evenly cook.  After the apples are mushy remove from the heat.  Run the mushy apple mixture through a food mill.  Store the finished applesauce in a covered container in the refrigerator.