Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bon Appetit's Best Banana Bread

Do you have a favorite banana bread recipe?  The one your mom, grandma, or aunt made all the time?  The one they brought to each and every family gathering?

Whether you do or don't, I'm here to throw this one into the mix.  Bon Appétit calls it their favorite.  To be honest, I can't really say it's my favorite.  What I can say is it's a great option for when you want a nice, sturdy, not-so-sweet banana bread.  It really was great for toasting and smearing with a bit of butter or leftover mascarpone.  With a cup of coffee, it really was quite the breakfast or afternoon snack.

My mom is actually the one who made this back when she was here taking care of me after my surgery.  It smelled fantastic as it was baking.  We not-so-patiently waited for it too cool before cutting into it.  Then...disappointment.  All those bananas and rich mascarpone and there just wasn't much flavor.  But the next day?  There it was--a tangy, rich, banana flavor unlike any banana bread I'd ever had before.

So would I make this again?  Yes, I think I would.  I'd just make sure to fix it the night before I need it.  Because what good is banana bread if it isn't packed with that familiar banana flavor?

With four bananas and a healthy dollop of mascarpone, this sturdy banana bread is tangy, rich, and just perfect for toasting.

Bon Appétit's Best Banana Bread
from Bon Appétit, August 2014

nonstick baking spray
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/3 c. mascarpone
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
4 large very ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 c.)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 c. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Spray a standard-sized loaf pan with baking spray.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat brown sugar, mascarpone, and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until blended.

4.  Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.  Add bananas and mix until just combined.  Fold in chocolate and/or walnuts, if using.  Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth out the top.

5.  Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, 60-65 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the bread cool in the pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.  Turn bread out and let cool completely.  Wrap tightly with plastic wrap.  Let stand at least 6 hours before slicing, optimally overnight.

Yield: 1 loaf

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lebanese Chicken and Chickpea Stew

Hello winter.  I was wondering when you were going to arrive.  Now, here you are, full force.  Not that I'm complaining, mind you.  I actually really like cold weather.  I love the way cold air feels against my face and the way it makes me feel completely awake and alive.  I love bundling up to go outside, coming home to a warm house, and cooking meals that stick to my bones and keep me warm from the inside out.  This meal totally fits in that category.  

I made it for some of my girls one night.  We've started a tradition we call "sweatpant suppers."  The three of us get together at someone's house, drink some wine, chat, and enjoy a homemade meal along with each others' company.  But no cutesy, fancy outfits here!  No, no, no.  We have a strict dress code of sweatpants, workout gear, yoga pants, and the like.  Make up is optional.  It's pretty great.

We haven't had a bad meal yet, but this one may have been my favorite.  It's great for you--packed with protein and bursting with bold spices.  It smells delicious from the get go and it's a cinch to make, which means it's a great option for a busy weeknight or a fun dinner when you want to spend time with friends instead of your stove.  Plus, you'll only need one pot to make the stew.  (Two if you make the rice to go with it.)  

So celebrate winter!  Bundle up, pour yourself a glass of wine, and cozy up to this outstanding meal.

This lean, protein-packed meal is bursting with bold flavors and is guaranteed to keep you going strong, even on the coldest of winter days.

Lebanese Chicken and Chickpea Stew
adapted from Inquiring Chef

3 TBSP olive oil, divided
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 TBSP ground cumin
1 TBSP ground smoked paprika
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 (14.5-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. chopped roasted red peppers (I used jarred)
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
3 TBSP chopped fresh parsley
brown rice, for serving
plain Greek yogurt, for serving
lemon zest (from juiced lemons), for garnish

1.  In a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat, warm 2 TBSP of the oil.  Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add it to the pot and cook until well browned, 8-10 minutes on each side.  Transfer to a plate.

2.  Reduce heat to low and let the oil cool for 1 minute.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add cumin, paprika, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes.  Stir until a smooth paste comes together, 1 minute more.  Add chicken back in along with any juices.

3.  Pour 4 c. of water into the pot.  With a wooden spoon, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then add in the bay leaves.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  

3.  Transfer chicken to a plate.  Add the chickpeas to the pot and cook for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, shred the chicken.  Add it back to the pot along with the red peppers and lemon juice and cook until warmed through.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

4.  To serve, heap brown rice into individual bowls, then add stew.  Garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped parsley, and lemon zest.

Yield: 4 servings

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meatless Monday--Butternut Squash and Chipotle Chili with Avocado

I almost quit blogging.  Over the past two months, thoughts of leaving this little space behind flooded my mind and I came thisclose to stopping.  The blogging world is not at all what it was when I started Apple a Day almost seven years ago (how has it even been that long?).  Back then, there was no such thing as professional bloggers.  Nobody needed super fancy cameras, piles upon piles of props, or timed posts.  We didn't worry about search engine optimization or our social media presence.  We blogged because we liked to cook, we liked to write, and we liked to share our creations with the handful of readers we had.

Now, it is just so different.

I can't compete with people who blog as their full-time job.  While my photography has improved drastically from my very first blurry, unedited photos taken with a flash in the dark of night, I still wouldn't call it my strong suit.  I don't have a media kit or a webmaster or a slew of sponsorships.  Nobody is knocking on my door asking me to write a cookbook.  And the money...well, let's just say it ain't what it used to be.

But here's the deal--I've decided I don't care.  Might I try, once grad school is over, to increase my web presence, update my design, and create a stronger brand?  I wouldn't rule it out.  I could definitely see myself doing that.  But it's not where I'm at right now.  And that's okay.

When I started blogging, I didn't think about unique hits, Pinterest stats, or monthly revenue.  Heck, I was barely worried about what my photos looked like.  (Thank goodness that's changed a bit!)  What I did concentrate on was improving my cooking skills, how much I loved writing, and what fun it was to nourish the people I loved.  None of those things have changed.  I still have so much to learn in the kitchen.  I feel like my writing has improved just as much as my cooking and baking and that has brought me confidence beyond measure.  Most importantly, I've seen my food comfort people, make them happy, and bring them together in ways I never would have thought possible.  And that, dear readers, is what truly matters most.

So I'm still here.  And I plan to be for quite some time.  I've made us this hearty, comforting, and healthy butternut squash and chipotle chili with avocado.  It's cold outside and we could all use something to warm our bellies and get us on track in the new year, don't you think?

Seasonal butternut squash is cooked with spices and beans to create a healthy, hearty chili everyone is sure to love.  Topped with creamy avocado, it's irresistible!

Butternut Squash and Chipotle Chili with Avocado
adapted from Cookie + Kate

2 TBSP olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs.), peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
sea salt, to taste
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo, minced
1 bay leaf
1 (14-oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, including liquid
2 (14-oz.) cans low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
2 c. vegetable broth
2 avocados, diced
chopped cilantro, for garnish
chipotle hot sauce, for garnish

1.  Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, squash, and garlic and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. 

2.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add the chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir until vegetables are evenly coated, then add the bay leaf, tomatoes, beans, and vegetable broth.  Cover and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.  Taste for spice level and adjust, as needed.

3.  To serve, remove bay leaf, then ladle into individual bowls and top with avocado and cilantro.  If desired, spice it up with some chipotle hot sauce.

Yield: 6 hearty servings

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

I read somewhere that apple pie is the most popular pie during the holidays.  This definitely isn't true for my family, but who am I to knock apple pie?  I mean, it's got apples, which we all know I love.  On top of that, it's apples baked with spices and enveloped in a flaky, buttery crust.  It really can't get much better than that, right?  

Wrong.  So, so wrong.

Because this apple pie has salted caramel.  It's baked in the pie and drizzled on top of it.  And it. is. heavenly.  

Like I always do, I used my perfect pie crust recipe.  I get compliments on it every time I make it and I've gotten to the point where I know how it should feel.  I can tell if it needs a bit more flour or water or if it's just right simply by listening to the way the food processor sounds as I'm making the dough.  It makes me feel like real, honest-to-goodness grown up when I can bake like that.  Silly, I know, but it's true.

Then my perfect pie crust gets piled high (you really do need a deep dish pie plate here) with sweet, tart apples mixed with spices, partially cooked, and mixed together with a big scoop of salted caramel.  Once all of that is topped with another buttery crust and sprinkled with sugar it goes into the oven for an eternity hour.  What comes out looks beautiful, smells divine, and totally and completely elevates the apple pie game.

If ever an apple pie was worthy of a holiday table, this would be it.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie
adapted from Williams-Sonoma

1 recipe perfect pie crust

For the salted caramel:
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. water
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt

For the filling:
4 lb. Granny Smith apples, peeled cored, and cut into 3/4-in. cubes
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 TBSP tapioca
1/2 tsp. sea salt

For assembly:
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
2 tsp. turbinado sugar
flaked sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste

1.  To make the salted caramel, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a heavy 4-quart pot or saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture bubbles vigorously and turns a golden amber color, 10-12 minutes.  Stir the sugar with a wodden spoon during the first 2-3 minutes of cooking.  Do not stir after this point.  Instead, swirl the pan to make sure the mixture cooks evenly.  Watch the caramel carefully.  It will go from amber to burnt very quickly.

2.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Immediately and carefully add the cream.  The mixture will bubble up and splatter, so wear oven mitts and use a long-handled wooden spoon.  Stir until the sauce is smooth and blended.  Stir in the salt, then let cool.  Can be made up to two days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Bring up to room temperature before using.

3.  To prepare the apples, stir together with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon juice in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the apples are just tender, about 20 minutes.  Uncover and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.  Stir in the cornstarch, flour, tapioca, and salt.

4.  While apples are cooling, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 400° F.  Roll out one of the pie crusts and fit into the bottom of the deep dish pie plate, trimming the edges to make a 1/2-in. overhang.

5.  Stir 1/2 c. salted caramel into the apples, then pour entire mixture into the pie shell.  Roll out top crust and fit over apples, trimming the edges and crimping, as desired.  Brush the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

6.  Place the pie dish on the preheated baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown and the apples are very tender, approximately 1 hour.  Check pie after 30 minutes and cover the edges with foil if they are too dark.  Let the pie cool on a wire rack at least 2 hours before serving.

7.  To serve, reheat some of the remaining salted caramel in a small saucepan.  Slice the pie into 8 pieces.  Drizzle each piece with salted caramel and sprinkle with flaked sea salt.

Yield: 8 pieces

Monday, November 24, 2014

Meatless Monday--Cranberry Sauce Grilled Cheese

Have you picked out your Thanksgiving outfit yet?  You know, the one with sufficiently stretchy pants that look like you're wearing them because they're dressy?  You might want to pick two such outfits this year because you're going to want to make this sandwich day after day.

Tackling Thanksgiving leftovers seems inevitable.  Some dishes get completely devoured during the main event, while other always leave leftovers no matter how small a batch you make.  Cranberry sauce always falls in the latter category, I think.  I'm a cranberry sauce lover myself, happy to stir it into my morning oatmeal or yogurt for a holiday kick.  But this's my new favorite way to eat cranberry sauce.

The sandwich starts with two thick slices of my pumpkin yeast bread.  If you've never made it, now's the time.  The recipe makes two loaves, so you can use one for toast in the mornings and one for making these grilled cheese sandwiches.  After spreading each piece of bread with butter, you pile on creamy sliced fontina or brie and a couple dollops of leftover cranberry sauce.  What happens next is nothing short of magical.  It's like that brie en croûte appetizer everyone always loves, but you get your own entire sandwich.  Gooey, melty cheese, perfectly toasted bread, and sweet-tart cranberry sauce--it's just so right.

Gooey melted cheese and sweet-tart cranberry sauce combine to make the absolute best Thanksgiving leftover sandwich you've ever tasted.

Cranberry Sauce Grilled Cheese
an Apple a Day original 

8 slices pumpkin yeast bread or bread of your choice
butter, for spreading on bread
16 slices fontina, brie, or other white cheese that melts well
3/4 c. cranberry sauce (this is my favorite recipe)

1.  Preheat a large pan or griddle over medium-low heat.

2.  Spread butter on one side of each piece of bread.  Assemble sandwiches by placing two slices of cheese on four pieces of bread.  Top with equal amounts cranberry sauce then two more slices of cheese.  Place remaining bread slices on sandwiches, making sure the buttered side is out.

3.  Place sandwiches in preheated and cook until cheese begins to melt and bread is a deep golden brown, 4-5 minutes.  Flip and repeat.

4.  Remove sandwiches from pan and let cool one minute before slicing.

Yield: 4 sandwiches