Pecan Plum Banana Bread

I usually make my banana bread with walnuts and dates but today I decided to try something different. The dried elephant heart plums came out jammy and just a little bit tart. The pecans on top toasted nicely while the bread baked and gave a nice crunch. It was a big hit with our neighbors at last night’s HOA social committee meeting.

Ingredients, yields 4 mini loaves

  • 2 cups mashed banana (4 medium bananas)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 oz softened butter (1.5 sticks)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup chopped dried plums (I used elephant heart plums)

Take the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan on starting to let them reach room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the 4 mini baking pans with butter.

Cream the softened butter, sugar, and lemon zest with a fork until thoroughly combined. Mix in the eggs and then the mashed banana. Add salt and baking powder. Then gradually add the flour until fully incorporated.

Fold in 1/2 cup of chopped pecans (reserving 1/4 cup to use later) and the chopped dried plums. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and top with the remaining chopped pecans.

Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, remove from the pans, and then allow to cool on a rack completely before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Pecan Pear Banana Bread cut

 

 

Apricot Pecan Rugelach

Sometimes a recipe comes along that’s so good that it really doesn’t need modification. That’s how I felt about Ina Garten’s rugelach recipe. The only changes I made were to omit the raisins and to use 8oz of chopped pecans instead of a cup of chopped walnuts. Also, unless you’re super speedy in the kitchen, factor in at least an extra hour beyond Ina’s time estimate.

These were a big hit with our neighbors and will definitely be filling our kitchen with their sweet scent again soon, maybe next time with raspberry preserves instead of apricot…

rugelach2

Sweet Potato Pie

Not only had I never baked a sweet potato pie before this one but I also had never tasted one either! I had heard from others that sweet potato can be even better than pumpkin for pie but I never believed it… until now. After getting around 3lbs of sweet potatoes from a local farm, I decided that it was finally time to experiment with sweet potato pie.

I didn’t like most of the recipes I found online, each one for a different reason. So, I combined and adapted several to come up with my own. Though they weren’t the most beautiful pies because the crusts were a little shallow and uneven, husband and neighbors loved them.

Pie Ingredients (yields two pies, cut quantities in half for a single pie)

  • pie dough (for example, the one I made here)
  • 3 cups cooked and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 6 eggs (yolks and whites separated)
  • 1.5 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Maple Whipped Cream (optional)

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1-2 tbs maple syrup

Make and chill dough for a pie crust of your liking. If you’re making two pies, use a double pie crust recipe. I was just a little bit short on dough and so my edges didn’t come out as high and wide as I would have liked. While your dough chills, start by boiling the sweet potatoes over medium heat for about an hour. After they cook, drain them, let them cool, peel them, and chop/mash before using.

crusts

I like to blind bake my pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350°F to make sure that the bottom cooks through and gets nice and flaky. It was my first time using this method with parchment paper and a pie chain. I discovered that the sides of the pie sink down a bit with this method – not ideal but still better than soggy/raw crust. Next time, I might try filling the paper with dried beans instead to see if it does a better job of providing structure for the sides.

blind bake

While the crusts cook, prepare the pie filling. Combine all of the ingredients in one bowl except for the egg whites (and also the pie dough, of course). Start by beating the yolks with the brown sugar, add in the spices, melted butter, milk, and lastly the sweet potatoes. You can use a hand mixer to get a smooth texture. Next, beat the egg whites with a clean hand mixer until peaks form but they’re still glossy and wet.

beaten egg whites

Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest of the mixture until just combined. Pour the filling into the cooled pie crusts. Bake at 350°F for approximately 50 minutes or until the filling looks set.

pie in oven

pie puffed up

You’ll notice that the pie puffs up a little bit like a soufflé while baking. When you take it out of the oven and let it cool it will deflate back down but will keep a light texture from those beaten egg whites. Let the pie cool to room temperature and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, lightly sweetened with maple syrup.

slice with fork

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Once you’ve already spent 4+ hours making amazing homemade chicken broth, making chicken noodle soup is a snap. It’s perfect for a day like today: strong winds, torrential downpours, flooding… forget your to-do list and just stay inside with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Ingredients, yields 2 meal-sized bowls of soup

  • 3 cups of homemade chicken broth
  • 1 chicken breast from the broth
  • 1-2 carrots from the broth
  • 1-2 parsnips from the broth
  • 1 piece of celery root from the broth
  • a couple handfuls of fresh egg noodles (cooked)
  • chopped fresh parsley
  • chopped fresh cilantro

Start by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh egg noodles and cook for just a minute or two. You can also use dried egg noodles (follow timing instructions from the package). After the noodles are cooked al dente, drain them and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process and rinse off the starch. Do not skip the step of cooking them first. If you think, “oh, I’ll just cook them in the boiling broth,” please reconsider. It changes the flavor of the broth and gives a starchy taste that takes away from the delicate flavor of good chicken broth.

On a plate or cutting board, dice the chicken breast and slice the broth vegetables into evenly-sized pieces. Add all of these and the chicken broth to a pot (I just give a quick rinse to the pot I used to cook the noodles). Heat the broth, meat, and broth vegetables over medium heat. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cilantro. You may also want to run your knife through the noodles a few times. Though some people consider it a sacrilege, I prefer bite sized noodles to splashes of soup all over my favorite blouse. Once the broth is simmering, take it off the heat. Add the noodles and chopped herbs. Ladle it into soup bowls and enjoy.

Roasted Delicata Squash With Pumpkin Seeds

I’m a big fan of delicata squash. The flesh is creamy and mildly sweet, it caramelizes beautifully when roasted, the skin is edible, and it’s easier to cut than most larger squash. This is a quick and easy way to make a beautiful and delicious squash side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 delicata squash, depending on side
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin (or sunflower) seeds
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper

As promised, this recipe is super easy. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After rinsing off any dirt from the field, cut each delicata squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Cut the squash into thick half-moon-shaped slices (as pictured). Put all of the pieces into a large baking dish. You’ll want to have as many of the pieces touching the glass or metal baking pan as possible because those are the spots where they’ll caramelize.

After you’ve cut them all and placed them in the baking dish, coat the pieces of squash with a generous pour of olive oil. Season with sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Toss them with your hands to coat everything evenly. Lastly sprinkle the pumpkin or sunflower seeds on top before baking in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until the pieces are completely soft and the underneath side has caramelized without burning. I like using a glass baking dish so that I can lift the baking dish and peak underneath to check when it’s ready.

I like serving delicata squash with just about everything and have been known to make a dinner out of it alone too. For a nice fall dinner, I might bake some chicken with garlic and serve it with this squash and some cabbage (braised, raw as a salad, or pickled as kraut or kimchi are all good cabbage options here). If you’re not a cabbage fan, a green salad or wilted greens pair nicely too.

Ribollita

It looks like the last few posts have all been filled with warm bowls of comforting food. It’s the time of year for hot soups and stews. So, here’s another favorite. Ribollita is a Tuscan soup made of seasonal beans and vegetables. It gets some of that delicious umami flavor from the cooked down parmigiano reggiano rinds and pancetta, not to mention the homemade chicken broth (see the post on liquid gold). Though, of course, it can also be made vegetarian or vegan by substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth and omitting the pancetta and cheese.

Ribollita ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of dried cannellini beans (if you can get fresh ones, even better!), cooked
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4oz of pancetta tesa, cut into small pieces
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 pieces of leftover rinds from parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 2-3 cups of diced tomatoes (from a jar works just as well, if tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 3-4 cups of homemade chicken broth
  • 1-2 sweet peppers (these are corno di toro), cleaned and chopped
  • a few handfuls of romano beans (you can use any type of green bean), cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 large bunch of kale, chopped
  • a few handfuls of baby chard (or a small bunch of regular chard)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • sea salt
  • cayenne pepper
  • white pepper
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (optional)
  • dry or toasted bread (optional)

You’ll want to plan ahead when making ribollita, especially if you’re using dried beans. Sort your dried beans to make sure there aren’t any rocks or unappealing beans in the bag you’re using. Rinse them thoroughly and soak them overnight or at least 8-10 hours in cold water. If you’re keeping them much longer than 12 hours before cooking, you’ll want to refrigerate them. When you return to the pot after letting them soak, you’ll notice that they will have soaked up a fair amount of water and have grown in volume.

Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with a couple inches of water cover. Bring the pot to a boil. When you notice the foamy substance rise to the surface, drain and rinse the beans and rinse the pot. Replace the beans in the pot and cover again with fresh water, a couple inches above the level of the beans. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook for at least an hour.

While the beans cook, prep your vegetables and other ingredients. Keep them separate so that you can add them in order of slowest cooking to quickest cooking. Begin by adding a little olive oil to a large soup pot and sweat the onions until just translucent. One by one, add the garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, and pancetta. After these start to cook a bit, add the peppers. Around this time, the beans should be almost ready to add to the pot too. Add them with their cooking liquid. Also add the parmigiano reggiano rinds, bay leaves, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth. Let this simmer for at least another 20 minutes before adding the kale, chard, romano (or other green) beans, and parsley. Season with sea salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper. Cook for another 20-30 minutes.

Though delicious right off the stove, the ribollita is even better the next day. The name ribollita actually means reboiled and this soup benefits from bringing it up to a boil again when you reheat it. I also suggest letting it cool so it’s just warmer than warm (not hot) when you eat it. Many people enjoy putting some pieces of day old bread or toasted bread in the soup when serving. I like it both ways (pictured without bread). If you like, also sprinkle some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano on top.

ribollita on table

Chicken Velouté – Romanian Ciulama de Pui

I had a hard time figuring out what to call this in English. Thankfully, after some Google searches, I discovered that the closest equivalent to Romanian ciulama in English is actually the French sauce called velouté. Though the name sounds fancy, this is really just simple comfort food. Plus, as our family found out this week, it’s amazing when you’re fighting a cold. Makes sense – it has lots of chicken broth, fresh garlic, and parsley.

Ingredients, serves 2

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1-1.5 cups homemade chicken broth
  • 2 servings of cooked chicken (legs, breasts, wings, back, anything goes)
  • 2-3 cloves of freshly pressed garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few sprigs of parsley for each plate

Start with two small pots. Heat the homemade chicken broth in one pot while making a simple roux in the other. You’ll want to bring the broth up to a boil and then turn off the heat. Remember to prep your ingredients before you start making the roux because you’ll want to stir constantly once that starts.

Debone and shred your pieces of chicken into bite-sized or smaller pieces. I usually use the chicken that was boiled to make the broth. Boiled chicken isn’t usually particularly flavorful and so this is a delicious way to use it. If you don’t have that on hand because you’re using frozen broth that you made earlier, you can also use roasted chicken for this recipe. Set the shredded meat aside for later.

To make the roux, melt the butter in a pan until it starts to bubble. Sprinkle the flour onto the butter and then stir the mixture over medium-to-low heat for a few minutes to cook the flour. Slowly add hot chicken broth, one ladle at a time, while stirring or whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Stop adding liquid when the mixture appears to be a little thinner than you’d like but not fully liquid either. It will thicken a little bit more as it cooks. Taste it and add salt and pepper if needed – it depends on the seasoning level of your broth.

When the sauce looks ready, add the shredded chicken and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Remove it from the heat and add the freshly pressed garlic. Feel free to scrape out the garlic fibers that remain inside the press and also add those to the pot. Stir to combine and pour into two bowls. Tear a few sprigs of fresh parsley and place them on top of the chicken velouté or, if you’re Romanian, ciulama de pui.

Dig in with a big spoon and enjoy the garlicky goodness!