Banana Cake

This is the best banana cake I’ve had. I’ll admit to trying to pass off a banana bread recipe as cake before, but friends, this is nothing like that. It’s rich and sweet and ohmyheavens, just believe me and make it for someone you love.

Aurelia is the one I love most and she took these cupcakes to school for her going away party today. We made the cake together yesterday and frosted them early this morning. One recipe makes 24 cupcakes, but I needed to take that many away, so I went ahead and doubled it and put the extra half in a 9×13 pan, just to make sure I’d have enough for myself. (Groan.) However, as luck and my waist would have it, I was out of vegetable oil and had to substitute a pureed home-canned jar of pears. The puree had the same consistency of applesauce, which also makes a healthy alternative to oil. It makes the cake a bit stickier, sweeter, and heavier. I don’t mind any of these things, but feel free to use oil or half oil/half fruit puree for a more traditional cake. The frosting must not be skipped. Must. Not.

Clementine Bakery’s Banana Cake
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef

Cake:

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup pear puree, applesauce, or oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Into a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, mash the bananas with an electric beater until smooth. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until each is completely incorporated, then mix in the buttermilk, fruit puree and vanilla. Finally, mix the dry ingredients into the batter just until thoroughly combined.

3. Pour into a buttered 9-by-13-inch or a 10-inch round cake pan or 2 – 12 cupcakes pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (18-23 for cupcakes), until golden-brown on top, a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool on a rack.

Frosting:

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons plain yogurt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and there are no lumps. Add the butter and whip until incorporated, then add the powdered sugar and the yogurt. Beat until the frosting is very smooth and lump-free. Frost the top of the cooled cake and serve.

Our last day in Boise

Today was my last day at work in Boise and thus Aurelia’s last day at school there. They had a little going away party for her and she could think of nothing else from the time she woke up this morning. Evidenced here on our drive in, carpooling with my dad, so I had a bit of time with her in the back seat. I love these moments.

House Lighting

The house construction is getting to the point where I’m picking paint colors, hardware, fixtures, and lighting. I’ve been doing this obtusely for some time, as I create my design aesthetic, but now is the time that actual, final decisions need to be made. This is both thrilling and panic inducing. Taking on a room at a time seems approachable, but selecting everything for several rooms I can’t visualize put together yet has been overwhelming. I want everything to coordinate, but not match and I want each room to feel different, but still cohesive as a whole house. Finally, I just had to pick what I liked and will make it come together the best I can.

The exterior siding and shutters have been ordered and will be put up next weekend! I’m going with a very classic color scheme, in and out. After many mock ups of different colors, paint samples, and house color books and blogs, I feel right about my choice to go with a white house with black shutters. It suits me. Call me boring, but my little house will have a bit of poise and hopefully stand timelessly in her rural surroundings.

Interior colors took longer to decide. Who knew whites could vary so?! I’m going with Benjamin Moore paints locally through Boise Paint and Glass. Swiss Coffee is a lovely off-white, a light shade of white with a touch of grey that can still read a little warm. Trim and kitchen will be Decorators White, for a bright, cool contrast, slight though it may be. And the balance for the eyes will be in the color Iron Mountain, which I intend to paint in a semi-gloss on all the interior doors and flatly on the stairs. Hopefully these layered neutrals will come together gracefully with fabrics, wood, concrete, tile, art, and color in accessories. Pictures will come once we’re painting. White paint samples on this white page is just too much to ask of your viewing.

What I’m excited to share with you now is the lighting. I set a budget of $1,000 for the lights and it’s taken some creativity and will require considerable assembly when the time comes to install everything. I still have to get the vanity lights for the three bathrooms, a pendant over the kitchen sink, and four outdoor wall mount lights. Canned lighting is going on the front porch, in the kitchen, and in the bonus room. Everything else has been delivered and I feel happy with my choices so far! Thank heavens for Overstock. I found a lot of higher-end styles that would have otherwise eaten my whole budget in two rooms. I also shopped Amazon and Home Depot. While I prefer to shop locally owned stores, I was really dismayed with the selection and service I got while browsing in town over the last few months. Thankfully, almost everything else for the house is being purchased at local businesses.

Entry Hall: Antique Copper Finish Glass Lantern Chandelier

Living Room: Iron 5-light Chandelier with Beige Shades

Dining Room: Cone Shape 4-light Matte Silver Crystal Chandelier

Kitchen Bar: 3 – New Yorker Pendant Fixtures, Flat Opal Glass and Brushed Pewter

Front Two Bedrooms: Transitional 2-light Flush Light Fixture

Master Bedroom: Winthrop 52 in. Brushed Nickel Ceiling Fan

Hallways and Laundry Room: Brushed Nickel 1-Light Flush Mount

Back Patio: Outdoor Rubbed Bronze Two-light Ceiling Fan

Everyday Cake

I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I don’t make very pretty cakes. I’ve found that when I do make sculpted cakes, they are prettiest when layered, filled and covered carefully in frosting. The frosting that looks best is a royal icing or buttercream that has a lot of sugar to it in order to keep it’s shape. I do not love to eat this kind of frosting. My favorite frostings really aren’t frostings at all, but rather ganache, lightly sweetened homemade whipped cream, or on the right cake, a very rich cream cheese one with just an edge of sweetness. And these toppings are often a sign of trying to make something special out of something simple.

My favorite cakes are simple, everyday cakes. Always made with butter, eggs, flour, and sugar. The only exception here is that my carrot cake is better with half applesauce, half oil instead of butter. But I digress …

Everyday cakes are not pretty. They don’t beg to be frosted and make an underwhelming entrance to the table. But these are the cakes you can keep on your counter. They’re better the second or even third day. They make excellent snacks, go well with tea or coffee, and you always have room for a little slice after dinner. I’ll admit to getting into a bad habit of grilling thick slices with butter on hard mornings.

Pretty cakes that lead with frosting and follow with the cake have their place. They take time and show considerable care when presented on occasions. I hope everyone has a homemade birthday cake, every year. But on the in between days, our every days, try a simple cake. Switch to whole wheat flour and start cutting back on the suggested sugar called for in a recipe. Soon, you’ll appreciate the taste of balance. Have dessert whenever you like. Sense the presence of real butter, excellent eggs, hearty grain, and just enough sweetness to make you smile.

Donut Cake
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef

This everyday cake is named such because of the flavors of nutmeg and vanilla, reminiscent of plain, old fashioned donuts. When I think of donuts, I think of light and sweet confections. This cake is neither very light or very sweet. But make no mistake, this cake is incredibly delicious. This is my kind of cake. The buttermilk balanced with the egg-y sweetness along with the texture of the cornmeal studded throughout the whole wheat … ah! I just had to go get another slice.

Ingredients:
1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup buttermilk

Method:
1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan and set it aside.

2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, then add in the vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with flour. Make sure each addition is incorporated before adding the next, but don’t over-beat it at the end. Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving warm or room temperature.

The Many Virtues of Roast Chicken

Cooking a whole chicken really is the best way to get the most you can for your meals and your dollar. Please make the effort to buy chickens raised properly, not in cages, not with hormones. Today, I roasted a bird with the leftover herb butter from last week’s steak. Here’s how it went.

I like to keep the accouterments simple. The only must is half a stick of soft butter. Add whatever herbs, garlic, and seasonings you like. Salt and pepper moderately. Mix the butter up with your seasonings and then cover the bird in the butter. I always put some under the skin as well and find that makes the meat especially moist. Put a chopped onion and/or a few celery stalks in the chicken’s cavity. The celery is a little old-fashioned, but I love the taste it imparts.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put your buttered bird in a baking dish relevant to it’s size. Put the breast side down. I had a 3 pound bird and he fit nicely in an 8″x8″ glass dish. To calculate the cooking time, multiply 20 minutes for every pound, then an extra 20 minutes for good measure. I had a 3 pound chicken, so 3 x 20 = 60 + 20 = 80 minutes. After half the cooking time is through, remove the pan from the oven, carefully flip the bird over, and continue roasting for the second half. Letting the juices of the chicken soak into the breasts for half the time makes that often-dry meat much juicier.

After the chicken is done roasting, you could serve the chicken as is and it would make a gorgeous, rustic dinner with some greens and bread. But I don’t often have a table to feed and usually want the chicken to go to many meals, so I let it cool in it’s pan for a while until it’s not too hot to handle. I believe I waited an hour today. Now, on a clean and clear working surface, set a bowl next to your chicken and a large stock pot next to that.  As you take the chicken apart, shred the meat into the bowl and discard all the bones, skin, and rough bits into the stock pot. You can do this with all the meat or reserve the breasts as I did. Once the baking dish is free of it’s chicken, pour the drippings (all that lovely herb butter!) through a fine mesh strainer into a little bowl.

Having shredded chicken on hand is unbelievably useful. It’s perfect toddler food, ideal for salads, filling sandwiches or tortillas, or added to pasta, rice, or vegetable dishes. Just a bit of shredded chicken can make a triangle shaped meal into a more filling square one. The sandwich pictured at the top of this post had sharp cheddar, grainy dijon, lettuce, sauerkraut, and shredded chicken on toasted black bread. Oh my gosh, it was delicious.

For the breasts, I like to slice them and serve with a gravy and potatoes or cold with slices of very sharp cheese. The latter makes an excellent picnic lunch with an apple and country bread.

I keep the drippings in the refrigerator where the fat will solidify and I can scoop out a tablespoon at a time for sauteing vegetables.

As for the stock pot of bones and bits, just fill it with water and a couple tablespoons of white vinegar. Bring it to a boil over high heat, then lower the flame and simmer for a couple hours. Taste and season. Strain into jars. Voila … golden, rich broth.

I ate a lot of this salad today, between and with chicken nibblings. Green lettuce and celery, topped with half an avocado, a sprinkling of hemp seeds, and a honey-like aged balsamic that I really made the whole salad up for. Yum yum Yum.

Everyday Makeup

This is my rather shoddy attempt at making a tutorial video. I didn’t think it would be so daunting! I perhaps should have practiced, but who wants to take her makeup on and off on again? Besides, Aurelia chimed in and made the whole thing sweeter.

I’m liking my shorter hair cut and trying new ways to style it. Between the shorter hair and getting my makeup routine down to essentials, my time to get ready in the morning is improving.

So what do you think? Have any suggestions or questions? I want to hear!

Products Used in GLD Makeup Tutorial:
Make Up For Ever HD Microperfecting Primer
Make Up For Ever HD Kabuki Brush
Make Up For Ever HD Invisible Cover Foundation – #115 Ivory
Estee Lauder Five-Tone Shimmer Powder
Sonia Kashuk brow and eye shadow brushes
Yves Saint Laurent Long-Lasting Eye Pencil Number 7 (on brows)
BeneFit Brow Zings in Light
Maybelline Great Lash in Clear (on brows)
L’Oreal Double Extend Lash Extender & Magnifier Mascara in Black
Christian Dior Glossy Liner in Glossy Rose
Nars Sheer Lipstick in Gipsy
Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Loose Powder

salting steak

There has been much debate (see here and here and here and here) about when the best time is to salt a steak. Some say at least an hour to a day ahead and others argue it should be just before cooking. I believe both have their reasons and because I’m used to buying steaks on my way home from work the same evening I’ll cook them, I’m more accustomed to the latter method for sake of eating sooner. But the claims of juicy, nearly aged quality out of lesser cuts has made me curious for some time. So I decided to give the advanced salting method a go to see how it compares.

I started with two large tri-tip steaks, parsley, garlic, butter, sea salt, pepper, and herbes de provence. The steak was from Costco, cost $28 and was plenty enough to serve 7 or 8 people.

I mixed a lot of salt, herbes de provence, and a bit of pepper together. I generously seasoned the meat, pressing the spices into the flesh, flipping it over and coating both sides. Each steak was about 1.5 inches thick. I covered the meat and left out on the counter to bring it to room temperature and let the salt do it’s work for 2 hours.

Afterwards, I rinsed each steak and patted them very, very dry with paper towels. They were cooked on a hot grill for 10 minutes per side.

While the meat cooked, I prepared an herb butter by mixing chopped parsley and garlic into soft butter.

Once the steaks were cooked, I put a lovely slather of the herb butter on top and allowed to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

We ate the steak with fried potatoes, leftover curried cauliflower, and grilled eggplant.

Conclusion: The texture of the meat was divine. It was so juicy and tender. The flavor was excellent, but … one of the steaks was just too salty for my taste. I think it was just not rinsed as well as the other. I’d love to try this again because I do think that it has a lot of potential. Although I used sea salt, it was ground as fine as table salt and I think a more course salt would serve this purpose better. Or, I could use a small amount of salt and not rinse it off.

Thankfully, there were plenty around that like their meat salty and all of the meat was enjoyed. Have you tried this? Do! And report back with your findings. I’d love to hear your suggestions and experiments.

I still won’t hesitate to go straight from the butcher counter to home, to unwrap a piece of meat, salt and pepper it generously, and immediately throw it into a hot skillet on a dollop of olive oil. Because there really is nothing better than a dinner ready in five minutes with a medium rare steak, a handful of greens, and a big squeeze of lemon over everything.

Maybe I’m easy to please, but I’m not taking a firm stance on either end of the when-to-salt argument. Just don’t cook it too long or douse in ketchup and I’m happy as can be.

a dozen pictures in a day

1. Aurelia has her mother’s allergies on top of cutting a few gigantic molars.  Her overnight fever over the latter gave us the gift of a whole day home together. But look at that poor face!

2. Trying to salvage some flowers in new planters. We spent a good part of the breezy morning outside. I drank coffee and read a bit while Aurelia played on a slide and with her wagon, moving toys and leaves around the yard.

3. When Aurelia went down for her nap, I made a coconut cake with a chocolate ganache and shaved coconut on top.

4. I also rushed to do my hair, my nails, and put on a face mask before she got up. It’s amazing what you learn to do in 2 hours!

5. Miss A wouldn’t eat much all day and only accepted bits of strawberries, a pickle, a cheese stick, and milk for lunch. Ah, well. We watched a bit of Dora while she did some watercolor paints and I made a broth and started dinner.

6. It wasn’t long before she was ready to help. Mixing curry spices with olive oil and vinegar.

7. Cauliflower tossed with the curry oil blend. Chopped all stem and florets for roasting. Saved leaves for later.

8. After roasting at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, added in a sauteed half onion and the reserved leaves, chopped, and tossed with lemon juice.

9. A local FFA chapter from Nyssa High School is raising Tilapia and selling them at the Red Apple grocery. These two cost less than $3 together. I still had to filet and scale them a bit, then stuffed them with lemon garlic butter and onion. Salted skins and sealed in foil parcels. Baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then opened foil tops and broiled for 5 minutes to get some color on top.

10. Dinner, first course: curried cauliflower, roasted sweet potatoes, and grilled polenta.

11. Dinner, second course: baked whole tilapia

12. The end of our lovely day. Progress happening on my house. Today, the furnace people were there starting their work. Here you can see the back patio, and if you take a short leap of the imagination, you can see it done, with me in the garden, Aurelia following roaming chickens, something on the bbq, and our glasses of sun tea sweating by the swingset.

Dos Dinners

As is often the case when we try to feed more than ourselves, we end up making versions of a meal to meet the preferences of our families. Having gone through several strict diets, I try to accommodate others as I forced many wonderful cooks to do when I wasn’t eating meat, or dairy, or grain, or sugar, or soft textures, or whatever other imbalanced trick I imposed on myself. Allergies are something else all together, but really, I do try to understand that we all prefer different things, prepared different ways, for different reasons. A good cook can do her best to adapt.

Beets are a good example of this. I adore beets. But because the sad, canned version has such a poor reputation, many people write off beets entirely without trying fresh ones. I can hardly remember living with anyone ever who relishes beets with abandon the way I do, which means they are almost always part of a meal I make just for myself. Beets are best roasted and eaten at room temperature, I think. When prepared well, beets rival some of the best earthy, sweet, textural, savory pleasures.

I start by detaching the greens, leaving the head of the beet on and slicing through the stems only. I give them a good rinse, put them in a baking pan, add a bit of water, a drizzle of olive oil, and cover them tightly with foil. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. A knife should easily slip into the beet when it’s done. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Use a towel to rub off the skin and slice off the head and tail of each beet. Slice and set in a bowl. Drizzle with red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Let sit for a bit in the vinegar before doing anything with them.

I roasted two beets like this last night, so when I came home tonight hungry, I looked forward to what I’d do with them. But, I also planned on feeding other family. And Aurelia, though offered many times, has yet to take after beets as well. So, I came up with two simple, overlapping meals that satisfied the different tastes. Win win.

In a pot over medium high heat, I made polenta by whisking 3 cups of cornmeal into 9 cups of boiling, salted water. I kept stirring the mixture until it thickened, about 10 minutes, removed it from heat and stirred in 4 tablespoons butter.

The polenta served as a base to my dinner with garlicy sauteed beet greens, the roasted beets, and feta cheese. I was the only one that ate it and I didn’t mind not sharing a bit. It was scrumptious.

About half of the recipe went into the base of the next dish for the non-beet eaters:

Tamale Pie
adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 4 oz can diced green chilies
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For polenta crust:
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
4 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter 8″x8″ square pan or 9″ pie plate.

To make the filling, heat 1 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and brown. Transfer to a bowl.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet. Cook onion, green chilies, and cumin, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes; season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Return beef to pan; stir in tomatoes, cilantro, and corn until combined.

To make the polenta crust, follow the instructions above, whisking the cornmeal into boiling water until thick. Stir butter in to the cooked polenta. Pour the polenta into the bottom of the prepared pan and cool for a few minutes. Top with beef filling and sprinkle with cheese.

Bake until filling is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Serve with salsa and lime wedges.

I put the remaining polenta in a lightly buttered 8″x8″ pan with a parchment sling, covered it in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Tomorrow, I’ll slice it up and grill the pieces for another dinner. Yea for pulling three different meals out of something so basic.

I hope this helps show how you can eat together without going through the stress of completely different meals when people want alternative to the meal plan. Be flexible, eat your vegetables, and relax!