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Friday, May 29, 2009

Banana Bread

The saying goes, " You can't judge judge a book by its cover.”

Well here’s another one for you. “You can't judge a banana by its peel.”

It’s interesting to note that when bananas look their worst they're at their best for making delicious banana bread.

I don’t even remember the origin of my banana bread recipe which means I’ve been using it for a very long time and haven’t found a better one to replace it.

However, I did make a few changes to the original recipe by increasing the quantity of mashed banana, lemon juice and eggs.

I suppose that would classify it as a new recipe, better still, my new original recipe!

Many years ago there was reason to have our house appraised for its property value.

I remember getting a quick phone call from my husband that day informing me that the representative was already on her way.

Frantically, I began making sure that everything was in its place before she arrived. Having four small kids under foot didn’t make it an easy task.

Earlier that day I had noticed a couple of very ripe, pretty sad looking bananas sitting on the counter. I decided to put them out of their misery by baking them into banana bread.

I had almost forgotten that the loaf was in the oven when I went to answer the door bell.

As the woman walked in she abruptly stopped and inhaled the amazing aroma that by now was wafting through the house.

“Does it ever smell good in here” she exclaimed and began making her way through the rooms.

I don’t think she noticed much of anything else after that but I do believe the value of our house increased somewhat that day!

In the future, when we decide to put our house up for sale, guess what I’ll be baking at open house?

Banana Bread

1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup shortening
3 eggs
1 ½ cups mashed ripe banana
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
  1. In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer beat sugar and shortening until fluffy.
  2. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Add mashed banana and lemon juice and beat just until combined.
  4. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. With a wooden spoon, stir flour mixture into banana mixture.
  6. Beat on medium speed with electric mixer for 1 minute.
  7. Pour batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for approximately 1 hour or until tooth pick inserted in the middle of loaf comes out clean.
  8. Let cool 10 minutes in the pan then remove from pan and continue cooling on wire rack.
Notes Tips and Suggestions
  • For much better flavour and texture use very ripe bananas.
  • Bake in a 3 ½ x11 inch loaf pan instead but check if done after 40 to 45 minutes. In my opinion this size pan is longer and narrower and distributes the batter much better.
  • Try baking in two 2 ½x 7 inch pans but check if done after 30 to 35 minutes.
  • After pouring batter into pan, push some of the batter towards either end of the pan making the ends higher than the middle. Doing this avoids getting a huge peak in the center which takes more time to bake than the rest of the loaf.
  • To get a more cake like texture, beat egg whites separately until soft peaks form then fold into the rest of the batter. Bake in a bundt pan at the same temperature indicated above but check if done after 35 to 40 minutes.
  • This bread freezes very well.
Dressing It Up

This loaf can be dressed up in different ways. Some ideas include adding 1 cup of either walnuts or chocolate chips to the batter.

Spreading some strawberry cream cheese or jam between two slices of the plain banana bread makes a great presentation for special occasions such as teas or showers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Homemade Chicken Soup

Over the years I have heard and even read that Chicken Soup has healing qualities.

Apparently a bowl of chicken soup cures whatever ales you, especially colds and flu.

One day I discovered it had properties that I was totally unaware of.

My grand children Ethan and Ella came to visit for the weekend. Early Saturday morning they both scurried down the stairs into the kitchen.

I asked what they would like for breakfast and in unison they both sang out “soup.”

My efforts to dissuade them did no good. I even tried to change their minds by offering homemade muffins, cinnamon rolls and even their favourite cereal.

When all efforts failed, and realizing the soup was requested for breakfast, I immediately pulled out the pressure cooker from the cupboard and got to work.

They watched intently as I prepared all the ingredients and set the cooker onto the stove.

Then they both grabbed a chair and proceeded to drag it in front of the stove and sit down.

After I moved them back a safe distance they both got comfortable in their chairs and watched the pot for 45 minutes.

Several times I heard them calling out “Is it ready yet?"

So chicken soup was served for breakfast that morning and did they ever enjoy it!

I didn’t have any soup, but enjoyed myself as much as they did… maybe more!

My recipe for chicken soup is very basic and I can’t be sure of its healing properties. But one thing is for sure, there’s nothing like a steaming bowl of it on a cold winter day.

I guess you could call that a healing quality!

Homemade Chicken Soup

1 chicken 4 to 5 pounds (either fryer or stewing.)
2 to 3 stalks celery with leaves
2 medium or 1 large onion
1 medium potato peeled
2 medium carrots
1 fresh tomato
4 to 5 peppercorns (optional)
salt to taste
  1. Wash and quarter chicken and place into a large pot.
  2. Add enough water to cover chicken completely, bring to a boil and skim off any foam that comes to the top.
  3. Wash and add vegetables and salt, cover pot and simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours
  4. Strain, and if desired remove meat from bones and add to soup along with cut up vegetables.
  5. To remove any excess fat, cool soup down then refrigerate. Any fat will rise to the top making removal easier.
Notes Tips and Suggestions
  • Using a pressure cooker decreases cooking time to 45 minutes. It’s like cooking slow food very fast.
  • Some recipes suggest adding a bay leaf to the ingredients. I personally found the taste of the bay leaf too strong and overpowering.
  • If you happen to have a chunk of cheese that has become too hard to grate add it to the pot. It adds another layer of flavour to the soup.
  • Don't remove the brown skin from the onion and your soup will take on a beautiful golden colour.
  • I once read that adding a slice of lemon along with your vegetables helps extract calcium from the chicken bones and that's a nutritional plus! Though I can't confirm this as a scientific fact the lemon does add a certain " je ne sais quois."
  • To have the ultimate chicken soup experience, serve with homemade noodles. I hope to publish a post on homemade pasta in the future.
  • After taking the picture for my blog I sat down to a totally unscheduled meal in the middle of the afternoon and must say I rather enjoyed myself.
I think the grandkids are really on to something!

Meet the Pressure Cooker Family

I owned a pressure cooker for almost five years before I got up enough nerve to use it.

How I regret not using it when I needed it the most!

It would have made those days as a working mom so much easier. So if you've never considered owning one, or have just been thinking about buying one, or if you're someone who hasn't taken the one you own out of the box yet, you don't know what you're missing!

Below is my pressure cooker family, mama, papa and baby.

If mama looks a little worn out, she is. She's been in the kitchen with "someone" for the past thirty years.

Papa joined the family a few years later and is responsible for the "big batch" cooking, baby is the newest member and just sweats the small stuff.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Minestrone… A Marvelous Medley

There was a time when a bowl of minestrone soup for dinner would strike fear in me. It was definitely not one of my favorite meals.

As a child I just couldn’t appreciate the different textures and tastes that came together in one bowl at the same time.

I think it takes time for a child to develop a palate that can truly savor all that a plate of cooked vegetables can offer.

I don’t know exactly when it all happened but a bowl of minestrone soup and a loaf of homemade bread ranks high on my scale of ultimate comfort foods.

While growing up, all but one of my kids enjoyed eating this meal. Not to mention, cauliflower was totally banned from the pot. You will note that cauliflower didn’t even make it onto the list of ingredients!

The vegetables I include in this recipe serve only as a guideline. You can add any favorite vegetable or omit any that you don’t prefer. Just remember to keep the size of the cut up vegetables as uniform as possible in order that they cook within the same time.

Minestrone… a marvelous medley. Enjoy!

Minestrone Soup

4 medium potatoes (3/4 inch dice)
2 stalks celery, diced
1 ½ cups frozen peas
1 ½ cups green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large or 2 medium cooking onions, diced
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 (19 ounce can) white kidney beans with juice
2 cups tomato puree (or process one 28 ounce can plum tomatoes in blender then pass through sieve to remove seeds)
½ cup corn oil
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Wash and prepare vegetables as indicated above.
  2. Mix them together in a large bowl or colander except for can of beans and garlic.
  3. In a large pot add corn oil and minced garlic, sauté garlic until barely golden.
  4. Add all the vegetables to the pot except for the can of beans.
  5. Stir everything together; add tomato puree and just enough water to cover vegetables.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer over low heat for approximately 45 to 55 minutes.
  7. Mix the can of beans in during the last 15 minutes of cooking time. The beans and their juice will thicken the soup. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Notes, Tips and Suggestions

  • It’s interesting that while each vegetable has its own cooking time, when combined they cook within the same time. Just make sure to keep the size of the cut vegetables as uniform as possible.
  • Close to the end of cooking time, test the green beans and carrots for doneness. If they are cooked, usually the rest of the vegetables are cooked also.
  • Fresh peas can be substituted for frozen.
  • If you cook your own beans from scratch save 1 to 1 ½ cups of beans, freeze and use in the recipe
  • Adding hot chili pepper flakes makes for a spicy treat.
  • Mixing some cooked rice into minestrone just before serving makes a new meal.
  • For those who have an affinity to cauliflower, be my guest it wasn’t me who banned it.
Now is the time to bake some bread!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Having Trouble Posting a Comment?

I've heard through the grapevine there's been some difficulty in posting comments on my blog. It seems the problem is inherent to Blogger - follow the instructions below to post a comment. I'd appreciate hearing any feedback, questions or even ideas of things you'd like to see posted from those interested in my blog. Thanks for reading!

1. Click on the "Comments" link below the post you wish to leave a comment.
2. Scroll to the bottom and type in your question or comment.
3. Choose "Name/URL" under the "Comment as:" drop down menu.
4. Fill in your name only and hit the "Post Comment" button.
5. If an error message comes up saying the post was unsuccessful, click "ok" and try to post again. It should work this time.

Enjoy my latest post below.

Old Country Basic Bread

Bread is a staple in every culture, without it a meal just doesn’t feel complete.

With the many grains and flours available on the market today we’re able to bake hundreds of varieties of this ever popular food.

There’s no sweeter or more comforting fragrance that comes from a loaf of bread baking in the oven.

In the 1950’s when floods of Italian immigrants came to Canada, one of the first things they missed from back home was their traditional hearty breads.

My mother often tells of the bitter disappointment she and other immigrants experienced when they arrived to this new land of opportunity. The only bread available in Canada at that time was loaves of soft white sliced bread.

Among the other challenges they faced, this was one of the hardest. It made them yearn for the familiar tastes of the country they left behind.

Did I say they came to a new land of opportunity?

In a short time they began baking their own bread which helped make the transition less painful.

I guess the rest is history. The number the Italian bakeries that exist in this country today confirms the fact that fresh baked bread and confections are sought not only by Italians but many other cultures as well.

My childhood memories include coming home from school and opening the door to an unforgettable aroma. This is an experience that I have shared with my own family many times. In keeping with tradition, I made this bread in one of the same shapes my mother use to make for us.

Old Country Basic Bread

4 ½ to 5 cups bread flour
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
Cornmeal (for sprinkling on baking sheet)
  1. Dissolve the sugar into the warm water, add yeast and stir. Set aside until yeast rises to the top and foams.
  2. Into a large bowl, measure 3 cups of the flour, mix in the salt then add the yeast mixture.
  3. With a wooden spoon stir until well mixed.
  4. Gradually add the rest of the flour and keep stirring until it forms a soft dough that is no longer sticky. This usually happens after the total of 4 ½ cups of flour have been added but depends on the moisture content of the flour.
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 6 to 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
  6. Form into a ball and place into a clean bowl, rub some vegetable oil over the surface of the dough and place a clean tea towel over top.
  7. In a warm place away from drafts, allow dough to rise 1 ½ to 2 hours or until doubled in volume.
  8. Turn dough out on to a floured surface and knead about 1 minute until smooth.
  9. Shape dough and place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
  10. Cover with clean tea towel and let rise again in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes or until doubled in volume.
  11. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and bake for 20 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F. and bake approximately 30 minutes more or until bread is a deep golden colour. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.
  12. To shape dough as in picture above, after the first rising, knead dough 1 minute then form into a ball.
  13. With rolling pin roll ball of dough to about 1 ½ inch thickness in an oval shape.
  14. Starting at short end, roll dough (it will not be uniform since you are rolling an oval shape.) Place roll on prepared baking sheet open end on the bottom and shape into a crescent. With scissors snip outer edge of crescent 4 to 5 times. Allow second rising and bake as above.

Notes, Tips and Suggestions
  • All purpose flour works well in this recipe but bread flour definitely yields superior results.
  • Try substituting equal amounts of whole wheat or semolina for the white flour.
  • Before placing bread into preheated oven for baking, place an empty pan on the lower rack of the oven and fill with boiling water. (use a pan that is at least 2 inches deep and fill ¾ full.) This will create moisture that allows bread to rise again before forming a crust. This also produces a thicker crust.
  • Before shaping the loaves, divide dough in half and make two smaller loaves. This way you can give one loaf away for someone else to enjoy!
  • You’ll definitely need a dish that goes well with the heartiness of this loaf. The next post may help you out.