I am often asked why do I write about cooking. Why is it important to me that “you” cook? It’s often a hard question to answer. Maybe, because it feels existential to me; I cook therefore I am. Recently, I had a small epiphany to this question. I woke up early one morning, I went down stairs and noticed the pungent aroma of too ripe bananas. I immediately got to work on banana bread. My movements around the kitchen, to grab my ingredients were easy and lazy on a warm Saturday morning: three ripe bananas, an egg, some flour and sugar are the basics and then I can get fancy. As I worked it dawned on me, this is why I want YOU to bake. I want you to stumble into your morning kitchen and think “banana bread” or cinnamon rolls or whatever you are craving and not be intimidated, afraid or ill prepared to bake. It is gratifying to bake/cook for your family and friends. It is also extremely gratifying to be the teacher. I want your emails saying you succeeded or even failed with one of my recipes. Let’s walk through it and try again. I love running into you in the store and answering your questions about ingredients or techniques. Send me the pictures! I want to see.
So in turn this answers another question that I have been asked. What’s your voice? Who’s your audience? My voice is just me. And you are my audience. In any article you read whether it is here on my blog or a book or a magazine; I want you to feel like we are sitting at the island in my kitchen, sipping a cup of … and just talking. You can ask me anything and tell me everything. See you soon.
In a small bowl stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
In an electric mixer bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, white sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth and well blended.
Mash the bananas and then fold them into the wet mixture.
Ad the flour mixture and beat on medium low until just just combine. Some lumps are ok.
Pour batter into a greased 9X5X3 loaf pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes.
I know that sounds vague but every oven varies and you don't want your bread to be over or under baked. A tooth pick should come out clean but just clean.
Run knife around edges and let cool completely in pan.
Put peanut butter, butter and confectioners sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave and stir, in 30 second intervals, until smooth.
Pour glaze over top of turned out bread. Garnish with chopped peanuts. Let set for 10 minutes to set up before slicing.
When I read a post where the first thing the author does is make an excuse, I have to admit it is a huge turn off. Julia used to say something to the effect of don’t make excuses for your food whether it’s bad or good, everybody already know’s. Well, Julia, true that but sometimes life just rushes by and you get behind. The ironic thing is I have been writing like crazy, because I have so much to say! It’s the cooking and picture that seem to set me back. So here I am to catch up and I think this first one is a good one.
We finally got a little cold snap her in Los Angeles. I love to think that means we can have a fire in the fire place and snuggle up. I mean what else can you do when it is 50 degrees out (pause for groan from the east coast)? A fire in the fireplace almost always means S’mores. So tonight it meant making my own graham crackers.
I don’t know why I wanted to make my own graham crackers. There was something so intriguing to me. I imagined it would be very complicated so it never occurred to me that I would share it here, under try something new. It was super easy!
I went looking for “Graham” flour. Guess what? Its really just whole-wheat flour that is not sifted during the milling process and is ground coarsely. You can find graham flour in some health food stores. For my purposes I used plain whole-wheat flour. I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour Company. I made the first batch exactly as directed. One of my daughters is not a big cinnamon fan and I thought it could be a little more “wheaty” so I made some adjustments and the following is my recipe. It really is simple.
My advice is to be patient when rolling out the dough. You do want to get them very thin. You also will want to have a ruler handy, if measuring out as squares, which is the proper graham shape. I admit I got bored of that and made some squares and some circles with a biscuit cutter. Finally don’t forgo the pricking with a fork. This helps them keep their shape, without puffing up.
While I’m am off doing the above, I hope to be posting lots! However, I never wish to leave my devoted followers hanging. I thought there could be nothing more appropriate than giving you a recipe from Julia’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Since it is Fall and apples are abundant I am giving you a variation of a Clafoutis. Clafoutis is really just a fruit flan and is typically done with cherries. Her are Julia’s words.:
The clafoutis which is traditional in the Limousin during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven. It looks like a tart and is usually eaten warm.
Saute apples gently in hot butter, until browned. Let stand in skillet for 1/2 hour with the brandy, cinnamon and first 1/3 cup sugar.
Blend together the milk, additional 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour for a full minute until well blended and frothy. It is best in a blender, but a hand mixer will work as well.
Butter a fireproof baking dish. Pour a 1/4 inch layer of the batter in the dish and set over moderate heat for a minute or two until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat.
Spread the apple mixture over the batter layer. Pour on the remaining batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 350 and bake for about an hour. The clafoutis is done when it has puffed and browned and a needle or knife plunged in to its center comes out clean.
Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar just before serving. It is best served warm or hot. It will sink slightly in the center.
To paraphrase Julia Child you should never makes excuses for your food. Whether it is good or bad everybody already knows. After a five month absence, I’m back. This is for you Carl!
My pantry is my comfort zone, a larder that has evolved over twenty years of cooking every day. It is my haven and where I go to feel safe. I can look at my pantry and see nothing; my sister looks in my pantry and thinks, “This is where I’m going after the apocalypse.” My pantry is where I go to get my creative juices flowing. It is often where I go to have fun. I can always find a spice, or some ingredient that will spark whimsy and often a party.
There is no one size fits all. You have to start with a few rapid-fire questions. I mean it! Don’t think about your answers. Say the first thing that comes to your mind.
1- what is your (family’s) favorite home cooked meal?
2- what is your breakfast, every morning?
3- what is the meal you cook every week? This may not be the same answer as #1.
4- when asked to bake for a bake sale or office party, what is your go to recipe?
5- when you stand in front of your pantry or refrigerator, what do most often eat as a snack?
6- what is the one recipe that gets the most reaction, wow factor, when you serve it?
Write the ingredients from all your answers down. This is where you will start building your pantry. Be honest with yourself, too. When I was single I may never have thought of turkey burgers. I sleep soundly, now, knowing I have my go to ingredients on hand.
Now I face the conundrum of the well-stocked pantry. Mine is in three parts: Everyday, Panic and Entertaining. Everyday- Here I am a Mom that feeds her family. I can make lunch, snacks, and dinner for my family. This pantry makes me feel nurturing. Panic- this pantry may well have some overlap with Everyday. It has the most basic of ingredients for a quick breakfast and at least chocolate chip cookies for a last minute bake sale. This pantry makes me feel safe. My last pantry is for Entertaining. Here you may find an atypical ingredient, like cherry preserves or capers, in mine. This is the pantry that may get stocked when a specialty ingredient is on sale or as the holidays approach and you know you will be living it up. This pantry excites me. For me some days are utilitarian and on other days I just want to have fun. My pantry in three parts lets me indulge any mood.
Your Everyday pantry will be very personal to you. Here is a glimpse into my Everyday pantry
A quick breakfast item – For me this is grits. For you it may be cereal or pancake ingredients. I like to keep these items at waist high level. That way the kids can be a part of the decision.
We always have PB&J at home – that means not only the best quality peanut butter, but also an almond butter to swipe on a banana for a snack. Because this gets used so often it is on the same shelf that includes the snack items, like dried fruit, or pita chips (for hummus)
A few dinner ingredients – I always have dried pasta on hand and some sundried tomato paste. Sometimes you just have to throw it together quickly and that means dried pasta and jar sauce. I keep sundried tomato paste to stir into jar sauce and give it a richness and fresher taste. I try to keep my pastas, sauces and rice all on the same shelf.
Basics – I always keep cans of tuna (I like the Italian kind canned in olive oil). I like to keep chicken and vegetable broth on hand. They are both great for adding flavor to cooked rice, pasta and vegetables, instead of water. We love tomato soup with grilled cheese so there is usually a box or two of Pacific brand tomato soup. I also use the sundried tomato paste in here and maybe some Pomi diced tomatoes to doctor it up. These items I like to keep all on one shelf.
Baking – I always have flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder on hand. I also make sure there is always a bag of chocolate chips. This makes it easy to do a cake, muffins or cookies at a moments notice.
Spices – I am pretty selective about what spices I will keep on hand. I have small shelves built into the side of my pantry, just right for holding an array of small bottles and jars. However, spices can go bad or lose their potency, quickly. For that reason I try to only “stock up” on the ones I go through quickly. You can see I need to do a New Year purge.There are spice stores popping up that you can but in small, or customized quantities, even some farmer’s markets have spice vendors. I love flake salt so Maldon Salt is always on hand. I love the way a fresh grind of nutmeg can add a secret flavor to cheese dishes so I usually have a couple of whole nutmeg in the house. My husband loves heat so we always have a large container of chili flakes. My daughters love cinnamon and I love garlic so these are staples too. For the cinnamon I give in and buy the Cinnabon cinnamon. They love it so why not? I love a product called Garlic Gold. It is chopped, roasted and then freeze-dried garlic that has amazing flavor. You can buy it dry or packed in olive oil. I use both versions.
Speaking of oils, here is my take. I always have a vegetable oil. I don’t really have a preference of canola or corn. I have a less expensive olive oil for cooking and I have a really high-end olive oil for dressing. When I say high end, I mean you would and could just eat a spoonful of it. It taste that good. One I really like is Laudemio. It has a beautiful green color and a peppery taste.
Alright, get started! To help inspire you, here’s my recipe for Oatmeal Buttermilk Muffins. It’s one of my favorites from my everyday pantry.
Oatmeal Buttermilk Muffins
This is an easy muffin to make with your well-stocked pantry. This is also a great recipe to add some mix-ins, like chocolate chips or dried fruit.