Tuesday, October 25, 2011

it runs in the family

My family likes food. A lot. My mom, sister, and I like to make it, and my dad and brother-in-law like to eat it (okay, they occasionally help in the kitchen, too). Every Christmas and birthday we exchange various cooking gadgets, try out new recipes on each other, and eat more than we should. And when we manage to get together on a normal weekend, we devote a good chunk of our time to food then, too.

My sister Emily and brother-in-law Jon just moved to Atlanta, which works out quite nicely for the rest of our family, as Atlanta marks the halfway point between Nashville and the town where my parents live. So, we had some family time this weekend that included house hunting, furniture shopping, and lots of delicious food. We tried a couple of great restaurants, JCT Kitchen for dinner on Friday and Rosebud for Sunday brunch, but Saturday's dinner, prepared by Emily and Jon, topped them both. Something about cooking a meal yourself (or, at least, watching as it's cooked!) just makes every dish taste better.

The great thing about this menu is you can make it as easy or labor-intensive as you'd like. It's also endlessly modifiable and completely carbtastic--two features of most of my favorite meals. Feel free to tweak the recipes, but they're pretty delicious as-is.

As for timing everything, cocktails first, of course. Then I would recommend starting the pasta sauce, boiling the pasta, making the pizza, and tossing the salad last. For dessert, we had vanilla ice cream with granola (both homemade!), and that's a great ending if you're feeling ambitious (and easy to buy if you're not).

I'm calling this menu a "new Italian family feast" because, well, I have to call it something, right?

new italian family feast
serves 4-6
kir royales a la emily
tossed salad with fig-balsamic vinaigrette
pear, brie, & arugula flatbread
pasta and tomato sauce with onion and butter

kir royales a la emily (makes 5 cocktails)
1 bottle prosecco
3 oz brandy
3 oz creme de cassis
5 lemon twists, for garnish

Divide prosecco, brandy, and creme de cassis evenly among five champagne flutes. Rub rims of flutes with lemon twists and drop in the drinks to serve. (If you don't make anything else on the menu, make these!)

tossed salad with fig-balsamic vinaigrette

   2 tbsp olive oil
   2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
   2 tbsp fig preserves
   5 c mixed greens
   1 small bell pepper, sliced
   1 small cucumber, sliced
   1/4 c kalamata olives
   1/4 c chopped toasted nuts

Whisk together first three ingredients; toss with salad ingredients and serve.

pear, brie, & arugula flatbread


1 ball store-bought pizza dough (try Whole Foods), or homemade version
1 pear, sliced thinly
4 oz. brie, chilled and sliced thinly
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 c arugula

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, or as high as your oven will go. Sprinkle flour on baking surface (a cookie sheet will do just fine), and stretch dough into a thin round--or whatever shape you can make it! Place round on cookie sheet and top with pear and brie, and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake until edges are brown and brie is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Top with arugula and serve.

pasta and tomato sauce with onion and butter

simple & delicious.
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
5 tbsp butter 
1 medium yellow onion, peeled 
   and halved
16 oz dried or 24 oz fresh pasta 
   (Jon made our pasta from 
   scratch...no big deal)
salt, shaved parmesan and red 
   pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Place tomatoes, butter, and onion in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to simmer and reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes, and cook for about 45 minutes or until you're ready to eat. In the meantime, prepare pasta and other dishes. Salt to taste, and top with parmesan and red pepper flakes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"ultimate" banana nut bread

I've tried dozens of banana bread recipes over the years, and honestly they've all been pretty good. Take a few speckled bananas, add sugar, flour, butter, a couple of eggs, and some leavener, and you're basically guaranteed to turn out something at least a little bit delicious. So when I saw America's Test Kitchen's recipe for "ultimate banana bread," I was skeptical. Could it really be that much better than your typical banana bread?

So I tried it, and it's definitely impressive. The title may have gotten my hopes up a little too high, but if pressed I can't recall a banana bread that I've enjoyed more than this one. I wasn't sure if the extra steps of microwaving the bananas and reducing their juice would be worth it, but actually the smell of bananas cooking in the microwave might have been my favorite part of the bread-making process!

The only step that I found unnecessary was topping the bread with sliced bananas and sugar. They're supposed to end up caramelized and crunchy, but honestly mine just turned out kind of chewy. Next time, if I'm feeling ambitious I'll try topping the bread with some honeyed walnuts instead. I'll include those in the recipe below, but my pictures have the banana topping. If you want to stick with that (it is pretty), just omit 1/4 c of the walnuts and the honey, slice an extra banana, and top the batter with banana slices and two teaspoons of sugar before baking.

P.S. - There is something weird going on with my formatting--the font size changed for this post, and I can't figure out why or how to fix it. This is driving me crazy, so if anyone has any words of wisdom please let me know!

"ultimate" banana nut bread
makes one loaf (about 12 servings)
per serving:  304.9 cal, 14.2g fat, 47.6g carb, 3g fiber, 5.1g protein, 8+ weight watchers

1 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5 large ripe bananas
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
2 large eggs
3/4 c packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped (optional)
1 tbsp honey (optional)

instructions (I pretty much copied them straight from ATK...too lazy to type my own version!):

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk flours, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.

Place bananas in microwave-safe bowl; cover with plastic wrap and cut several steam vents in plastic. Microwave on high until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer placed over medium bowl and allow to drain, 10-15 minutes (you should have ½ to ¾ cup liquid).

Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher or fork until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in 1/2 c walnuts, if using. In a small bowl, combine other 1/4 c walnuts with honey. Scrape batter into prepared pan and top with honeyed walnuts.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.