Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ultimate Banana Bread

I really like banana bread. My biggest complaint about it is the lack of banana flavor. I've tried to put more fruit in, but the bread becomes too hard to eat. I basically gave up on having banana-flavored banana bread, until, I saw America's Test Kitchen's video "Ultimate Banana Bread". I strongly urge you to watch it also. Here is my recipe from their video.


5 bananas, super ripe

Dry Ingredients
1 3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Works
1 stick melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons sugar
1 fresh banana


  1. Preheat oven to 350°C. Prepare 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with non-stick spray or parchment paper.
  2. What is the condition of your bananas?
    1. Room Temperature Bananas: Put 5 bananas in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Punch several venting holes. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Remove the bananas and strain to separate the liquid.
    2. Frozen Bananas: Let 5 bananas defrost in the refrigerator. Strain the bananas from the liquid.
  3. Simmer the banana liquid over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1/4 C. About 5 minutes. Mash together the bananas and syrup. 
  4. While waiting for the banana syrup, in a larger mixing bowl, whisk eggs then slowly whisk in melted butter. Mix in the vanilla & brown sugar being careful to remove brown sugar lumps. Mix in bananas and syrup.
  5. In small bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, and soda.
  6. Pour wet ingredients on top of dry ingredients. Fold together being careful not to over mix. Pour into prepared loaf pan(s).
  7. Optional topping ideas. Do either or combination.
    1. Slice a banana on the bias. Lay each half of it on the edges of the dough, keep the center free & uncovered. 
    2. Sprinkle sugar on top of the loaf. When it finishes baking, it creates a nice crust.
  8. Bake at 350° for 1 hour. Use toothpick to test for being done. Cool 15 minutes then remove from the pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hacking the Goldfish [cheese cracker]

My kids love those little cheese crackers that are in the shape of a goldfish. They are cute and yummy. (The crackers, not the kids) I don't care very much for the crackers. They need a little lift or boast, so I played around with converting the simple goldfish into a spicy pufferfish.

This recipe is one of those kinds of recipe where you add a little of this and a little of that. I made a really small batch, so you could scale up as you see fit. Since I was experimenting, I used my little toaster oven.

I'm looking forward to other variations.

Future ideas to try
  1. Soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil --> Koi
  2. Tomato, onion, cilantro --> Rio grande cuttrought
Spicy Pufferfish Recipe
2 T melted butter2 T hot sauce of your choice (see my yummy sauce below)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t garlic powder
1 t Penzeys Northwoods seasonings
1 C Goldfish crackers

Preheat your oven to 275°. Have a cookie sheet ready.

Mix everything except the crackers together. Toss the sauce with the crackers, but start with a small amount at first to make sure you don't drench your crackers.
My sauce mixture.

Lay the crackers on the cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Keep checking on these fishes. Once they are dried then try them out.
My brother-in-law picked up a bottle of Mamoun's Hot Sauce from their restaurant in New York city. It is fantastic! It is also the ONLY hot sauce I like that has vinegar in the ingredients. I loathe Tabasco sauce because of its too strong vinegar taste. Also in the picture is the seasoning from Penzeys. Did you notice it is suggested to go with fish ?!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Homemade Yogurt

There are two favorite items with my family: yogurt and popcorn. We don't eat them together, but we do go through a lot of each.

We used to buy plain Greek yogurt from Costco to keep up with the demand, until several years ago, when I learned how to make it myself. My first recipes for yogurt involved using combinations of different kinds of milk: powdered, fat-free and 2%. Over time, I have simplified my recipe to what is below. Honestly, it is going to look very complicated, but it is truly a simple process. It does not require crazy unitaskers like yogurt warmers. I will summarize the process before jumping into details with pictures. Hopefully, this approach will not scare you off, dear reader.

Quick summary

In a slow-cooker, add 8 cups of milk and set it on high. When the milk heats up to 180° (which will take about 2 hours), cool it down to 115°. Mix into the cooled milk 1/2 C of yogurt from a previous batch. Keep the mixture at about 100° for 6-8 hours. Done. You have yogurt at the cost of milk.

To make Greek yogurt, just strain the yogurt through a cloth for an hour or two to allow the whey to drip away. Stop straining when the yogurt is as thick as you want it to be. Done. You have Greek yogurt at the cost of, well, nothing.

Equipment List

  1. Slow cooker. The smaller models, which hold about 2 quarts, are best.
  2. Thermometer
  3. Oven with a light

Detailed / Photographic Plan

  1. Turn on the light in your oven.
    I'll explain later. Trust me.
  2. Measure 1/2 cup (100g) of starter yogurt into a large container.
    You need some good yogurt to get the process going. If this is your first time, then go buy a small container of yogurt, but make sure it says it contains live & active yogurt cultures.

  3. Measure 8 cups of milk into a slow cooker.
  4. Heat the milk to 180°.
    Set your cooker to high.

    This recipe is really a process of culturing bacteria. We want to make a safe & sterile home for the bacteria we want, in this case called Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These live in your starter yogurt.  By heating the milk to 180°, effectively sterilize the milk. This takes me just over 2 hours.
  5. Cool the milk to 105° - 115°.
    Now that the milk is mostly sterile & clean, we have to cool the milk down to a temperature range that supports life -- the life in your starter yogurt.

    Using 2 metal bowls, fill a large bowl with cold tap water. Pour the hot milk into a smaller metal bowl and have it float in the water. Since the metal is a great conductor, the temperature reduces to the safe zone in about 8 minutes. You want the milk to be between 105° and 115°.

  6. Mix the cooled milk and starter yogurt.
    Pour a little of the cooled milk into your starter yogurt to loosen it up first. Add enough milk and mix it up until it becomes fluid and will flow easily. Simply pour the loosened starter mixture back into the small metal bowl holding the cooled milk and mix thoroughly.
  7. Move the milk mixture (yogurt & milk) to a warm 100° resting area.
    We're almost finished. This part takes the longest amount of time.

    Pour the milk & yogurt mixture back into the crock that was used to heat my milk, put the lid on it and cover it with a towel. Place this little setup into your oven that has had its light on since step 1. The oven body is should be around 100°. This is a wonderfully warm temperature for bacteria where they will live and prosper and multiple and multiple and multiple.

    After about 8 hours, the milk will have so many Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (that's yogurt, remember?) that it will become thick and gelatinous.
  8. Cool the new yogurt.
    At this point, you are finished. You have yogurt, albeit, warm yogurt. You could move the yogurt to containers and store in the refrigerator.

    For me, I take the crock out of the oven and move it straight to the refrigerator. Since I usually make yogurt 3 or 4 nights in a row to build up a supply, I'll wait until the evening to empty the crock.
  9. Make Greek yogurt.
    Greek yogurt is simply yogurt that has been strained to remove whey -- a high protein liquid.

    Lay a cloth napkin over the top of a tall container and secure it in place with a rubber band. Push down on the napkin to create a large pocket to hold the yogurt. Thoroughly whisk the yogurt before pouring it into the strainer. This will break up the yogurt and speed up the straining process. Depending on the thickness of your cloth, the whey will stream through it and into the container. I strain the yogurt for just over 2 hours.

    Personally, I haven't found a fantastic use for the whey yet. When I do, I'll post here. Leave a comment for your fantastic uses of yogurt whey.

  10. Repeat the whole process.
    First batch is finished. I'm lazy & I don't want to wash the crock, since I make yogurt several nights in a row, I follow a simple pattern. I start at 9 pm, so the yogurt is in the warm oven at about 11:30 pm. I pull it out at 8 am the next morning where it goes into the refrigerator while I'm at work. At 9 pm, I start straining the new yogurt while I make the next batch. That means, step 9 and step 1 are happening simultaneously.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Seared Lamb Loin Chops

Happy Easter

Lamb Loin Chops with Roasted Brussel Sprouts

I don't recall ever having lamb before. I've had gyros, but that is for another story. This Easter, I thought I would cook lamb for the three carnivores in my family (the other three do not eat red meat). I bought eight lamb loin chops from a local butcher.

Since I have never cooked lamb chops before and they were very expensive, I watched many YouTube videos and let Google point out other blog postings to me. In the end, I used the technique from "Preparing Lamb Chops" to cook all eight chops, but I seasoned four of them with just salt & pepper while I took ideas from Giada De Laurentiis to create a garlic & rosemary marinade.

I think the best modification I can recommend to you is to use clarified butter instead of regular butter. As you can see from my other postings, my family loves popcorn and we use clarified butter a lot. Because its smoke point is so much higher than regular butter, I knew it would be great in my cast iron skillet for the lamb. If you want to follow what I did, just watch the videos above and use clarified butter instead of plain butter.

Clockwise from upper left: turkey ham (for the non-red-meat eaters) , salt & pepper chops and garlic & rosemary chops
Brussels sprouts preparing to be roasted using smoked paprika, salt & olive oil

Garlic, rosemary & olive olive make a simple, yet flavorful, marinade. Four loin chops with this seasoning

Four remaining chops were seasoned by applying kosher salt & fresh cracked black pepper. While I should have used more pepper, the salt did a great job of pulling the water to the surface. The effect of this is a crust that you can see in a future picture.

Searing using medium high temperature in the cast iron skillet. The clarified butter is working wonderfully.

These are the garlic / rosemary chops. Before adding to the skillet, I wiped away most of the solid herbs to reduce the impact of them burning.

After 4 minutes, I flipped them to reveal a beautiful crust.

The very last minutes of cooking were in the soldier position: standing upright on the bone. I put all of the chops into one pan just so I could the stove for cooking the ham.

Everyone needs a nap - even my lamb. They rested for about 5 minutes while I finished up the meal.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Enhanced Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

In Illinois, I grew up on grilled cheese sandwiches. From my childhood, they were made by spreading butter on bread and using Velveeta cheese. As an adult, I have remade the grilled cheese sandwich and made it a baseline to support a variety of enhancements.

Here's how I made them.

Chica's Sandwich.
Whole wheat bread with Trader Joe's Roasted Bell Pepper spread. Also adding spinach, chard & kale.

MADCookie Sandwich
Like Chica's sandwich, but add jalapenos and turkey pepperoni.

Cook the greens and move back to the plate. These are hearty greens, so they need time to cook. They reduce significantly in size and become darker and moist.

Cook my turkey pepperoni to give it a nice crispy texture. Move the pepperoni back to the plate.
My sandwich with the cooked / prepared enhancements.
Next step is cooking the whole sandwich.
Add about a 1/2 T of butter to a skillet set at medium temperature heat . Once it is melted, add the bread with cheese.

Move the bread around to ensure the melted butter is spread over the slice.
Add all the pre-cooked / prepared goodies. Here the cooked greens are added. This is it for Chica's sandwich. My sandwich had all the other items added.
Finish building the sandwich and finish with the remaining slice of bread.
Before you flip the bread to cook the other side, I use a spatula to hold the sandwich and then add another 1/2 T of butter to the skillet to melt. This is the same process as the first side of the bread. Once it's melted, flip the bread into the skillet and move the sandwich around spread the butter.
Flipped! Cooking the other side.