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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Morning Banana Cake


This is my favorite banana bread.  It's moist and has a rich  banana flavor. It doesn't hurt, psychologically, that the recipe title includes the words "morning cake." 

I found the recipe on an online index of bed and breakfasts; it's from Aravaipa Farms in Arizona. I usually skip the nuts  because of family preferences, and use dried cherries just because I love them.

This particular  morning I didn't see any of the wildlife found in the desert preserve where the inn is located, but I did have our Ohio bird guide handy (the blue book in the photo). I don't remember what I saw outside our sunroom that day, because this was months ago.  Yep, I am really behind in my posts. It's just that kind of year so far.

Anyway, on to tips for the "cake."
-- Tossing the dried fruit in a little bit of flour (maybe 1/4 cup) before stirring them into the batter helps to keep them from sinking straight to the bottom of the pan. You can tell I skipped that this time.  It's not a disaster to skip the flour; I kind of like scraping them off the bottom of the pan when my husband leaves the bottom crust behind. Yum.
-- I find it easiest to mash ripe bananas by smashing them down a bit with the beaters on my hand mixer, than mixing them on a low speed. I think it really helps to incorporate them into the batter.

 My changes are in parentheses.

Morning Banana Cake
from Aravaipa Farms

3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla (I like to use about 1 tbsp.)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup melted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup dried cranberries (or cherries, chopped if they are large and tossed in a little flour)
1 cup pecans or walnuts (optional; you can add more cherries instead)

Mix mashed bananas and sugar well in a large bowl; a hand mixer makes quick work of this. Add vanilla and eggs; mix well. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and stir to incorporate.

Stir together buttermilk and melted butter and add to batter, stirring well. Stir in dried fruit/nuts.
Butter and flour 10-inch tube pan (I prefer to use two loaf pans; that way I can freeze or share one). Pour in batter and bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees until pick comes out of the center clean and cake pulls away from sides of pan (Start checking at 45 minutes). When completely cool, invert cake to remove from pan. (If the crust starts to brown too much before the middle is done, cover loosely with foil.) Cool.

It's great warm, but it will crumble (not that you will care in your rush to see if it tastes as good as it smells).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Lucky Stew (or Golden Hominy and Corn Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings)

I adapted this a few years ago from James McNair's Corn Cookbook for my husband, who lived in Alabama at the start of his journalism career. He had related to me how Southern cooks greet the new year with collards and black-eyed peas to ensure good luck.

Now, neither of us are superstitious, but food traditions are fun and interesting, and sometimes help with menu planning. And this is good stuff. 

I add collards for color, nutrition, fiber (oh, and, um, luck). I also add additional broth because the dumplings soak up some of it as they cook. That's also why I don't drain the tomatoes. I usually use potato (I used cauliflower once and was pleased) instead of turnip or rutabaga.  Don't forget to soak the dried beans/peas the night before. My changes and notations are in parentheses.

You can make the stew a day ahead, as I did this weekend because of our schedule, and reheat it to a simmer before adding the dumplings. I reheated it in a saute pan to allow more space for the dumplings, which worked well.

Also great from this cookbook (and I recommend all of his) is the Smothered Cajun Corn, or Maque Choux.

Golden Hominy and Corn Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings (and Collard Greens)

1 cup dried baby lima or French flageolet beans (black-eyed peas)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large white onion)
1 tbsp. minced or pressed garlic
4 or 5 whole cloves (1/2 tsp. ground cloves. . . didn't want to bite into on of those suckers)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. minced fresh thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 quarts homemade vegetable or chicken stock or canned chicken broth (add 2 cups)
1 can (16 oz.) golden hominy, drained
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup peeled, diced turnip or rutabaga (substitute potato or cauliflower florets)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley (I forgot it this time)
1 cup peeled, seeded, chopped ripe or drained canned tomato (28-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained)
2 cups fresh, drained canned or thawed frozen yellow corn (I used frozen white shoepeg corn this time)
(1 to 1 1/2 lbs. fresh collard greens, tough stems removed and discarded, greens rinsed well and roughly chopped)
(1 cup or so of diced ham or cooked chicken, optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Ground cayenne (I skip this so my husband will eat it)

Corn Dumplings:

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup cake flour (all-purpose works, but dumplings aren't quite as cakey)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup cooked corn (you can skip this)

Carefully pick over beans (peas) to remove any shriveled ones and foreign matter (such as rocks or an errant lentil). Place in bowl, cover with water, cover bowl and soak overnight.

Drain and reserve beans (peas).

Heat oil in a stainless-steel* stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 more minute. Add the drained beans (peas), cloves, bay leaves, thyme and stock or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the drained hominy, carrot, chosen vegetables, parsley, tomato and half the collards (only half because you need them to cook down before you can add more). Simmer until the vegetables are nearly tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rest of the collards when there is room.

When the stew is in its last 30 minutes of simmering, mix the dumpling batter:
In a bowl combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; mix well. Add egg, milk, butter and corn and stir until blended. Let stand about 10 minutes before cooking to allow cornmeal to absorb the liquids.

Stir the 2 cups of corn into the stew and season to taste with salt and peppers. (Make sure it is just simmering before adding the dumplings; boiling can break dumplings apart.) For each dumpling, drop a heaping tablespoon of batter onto stew. When all of the batter has been added, cover the pot and cook until a toothpick inserted into a dumpling comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Serve hot, scooping dumplings alongside some of the stew in a bowl.

Serves 6 hungry people. Nice with a green salad.

Note: Reheats well as far as flavor, but any dumplings already in the stew will break apart a bit.

*(Stainless steel is nonreactive; the acid in the tomatoes won't react with it, as it can with aluminum, changing the color of the stew or imparting a metallic taste.)