Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread

banana bread pic

This makes one of the best banana breads I’ve ever tried; it always comes out moist, and it’s a cinch to make. Assembly time is 15 mins. tops. In his Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii, Roy (yes, we’re on a first-name basis here at home) says it makes a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan, but I always get two substantial loaves out of it, or about 6 tea-loaves (making it really easy to offer as party favors). I also took his advice once and used it for a banana bread pudding to finish off a tropical luncheon for some of my friends; it was very ono!

½ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
1 lb. overripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
3 1/3 c. flour
2 eggs
1/3 c. water
½ c. chopped macadamia nuts (reserve 2 T. for the topping)
¼ c. raisins (optional)
¼ c. shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the bananas and beat for 1 min. Sift the baking powder and baking soda into the flour and stir into the banana-butter mixture. Add the eggs and water, and beat for 1 min. Stir in the nuts, and the raisins and coconut, if desired.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-45 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

(My notes: I always add the coconut, but never the raisins. I also always add 1 t. of vanilla extract. Also, I confess to using the dump method of mixing: using a really sturdy standing mixer – like a Kitchen Aid – I turn on the mixer and start adding the ingredients from the top of the list on down, except that I add the flour after the water. That’s it! No wonder it only takes me 15 mins. (or less) to assemble. Also instead of sprinkling chopped nuts on top (because I always forget and put them in the batter), I simply arrange some whole macadamia nuts on top.)

Snickerdoodles

 

I was feeling nostalgic yesterday – my daughter was traveling with friends on Spring Break, my son was visiting a college with my husband, and I was home alone for a whole day-and-night. Just the concept of cleaning the refrigerator uninterrupted was almost exciting somehow – pathetic, I know. But I also had the time to make something (and finish the process) that was self-indulgent. So, I made snickerdoodles.

cookie jar

These cookies have a history: they hark back to my first Home Economics class in 7th grade with Mrs. Bremer in Room 105. This will date me, but it was the type of Home Ec room that had six fully–supplied, complete kitchens for the class to break up into smaller groups and practice cookery. My first lesson in that class was “Summer Cooler” (basically homemade egg nog with a scoop of strawberry ice cream) and Cinnamon Toast Fingers (toasted under a broiler); but that’s another story.

home ec notebook

Mrs. Bremer gave us a lot of good, old-fashioned American recipes, and snickerdoodles was one of them. Possibly German in origin, they are indigenous to the Northeast. (Hence, I always include them in my New England-style Thanksgiving menu – yet another story.) Yes, they are self-indulgent, but fortunately, my son loves them, too. They are wonderful with a mug of coffee or glass of cold milk! Perfect for mother-son bonding (which we did when he came home from his college visit).cookie crumbs

½ c. unsalted butter
1½ c. sugar
2 large eggs
2¾ c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
2 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt

Topping: 2 T. sugar and 2 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Sift together flour, cream of tartar and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Roll into balls, using about ½ T. of dough for each ball. Roll cookie balls in sugar-cinnamon mixture and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

snickerdoodles pan

Bake for about 8-10 mins. or until just lightly browned (but still soft).  Makes about 80 cookies.

Rice Pilaf

This is a recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, a go-to cookbook that was given to me as a wedding gift. Twenty-plus years later, I still refer to this cookbook. One of the reasons I trust it so much is because of the accuracy of the Greek recipes included. (Zoe Coulson, the author, might have been Greek – these recipes are so authentic.) Anyway, this is her recipe for “Orzo-Rice Pilaf.” It’s an excellent accompaniment to any roasted or grilled meat, or fish.  I’ve adapted the original recipe a bit to please my taste buds – I hope it pleases yours, too!

¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. olive oil
I yellow onion, chopped fine
1 c. orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. regular long-grain rice (white or brown)

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add orzo and onion; cook until pasta and onion are golden, stirring often, about 10 mins. Stir in broth and rice; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 mins. or until liquid is absorbed and orzo and rice are tender.

Serves 8.

Kopenhai

If I had to pick one Greek dessert that I loved above all others, this would be it.  The filling reminds me of cakes made with marzipan, and if it makes me think of marzipan, then it has to be good!  This dessert was created in honor of the Danish prince who, in 1862, became King George I of Greece.  (Kopenhai is named for Copenhagen, the capital of his native Denmark.)  My mother got this recipe from an old family friend from Chicago.  The idea of working with filo can be scary, but it really is easy – especially when you are only using it in layers in a pan.  It is so easy that my daughter demonstrated making this dessert at a local Greek festival, after only one practice session with filo.

cutting filo 

Cake: 6 oz. blanched almonds, ground fine
1/2 lb. melted butter, unsalted
2 c. sugar
1 c. bread crumbs (Panko works well)
1/2 oz. brandy
7 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 lb. filo, defrosted

Syrup: 2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 t. lemon juice

Make the syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then allow to simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, stir, allow to cool, then refrigerate.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 375°F.  Separate the eggs; beat the egg whites until the peaks just stand up. In a mixer, beat egg yolks and add sugar slowly until the mixture is fluffy and light. Then add the brandy. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a large spoon, fold in the whites, alternating with the bread crumbs and almonds. Mix well.
Butter a large (13″ x 9″ x 2″) Pyrex dish or metal pan. Use half of the filo for the bottom, separately fitting and placing each sheet, and buttering it before layering the next sheet. Pour the mixture on top of the layers of filo. Then continue layering and buttering the remaining sheets over the top of the mixture. Cut the top layers of filo down the middle (the long way) with a sharp knife before cooking. Bake for 30-40 mins. Pour the cold syrup over the hot cooked cake.  For a traditional presentation, cut into diamond-shapes.

Roasted potatoes

This is a super–easy recipe that picky-purist-eaters (like my first-born prince) will actually request. If you’re really in a rush, increase the oven temp to 450° F, and roast for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins. The fresh herbs dress up the presentation; the dill is especially nice when accompanied by fish dishes.

2 lbs. baby red rose potatoes
¼ c. melted butter
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. lemon juice
4-6 peeled, fresh garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley to taste (optional)
Chopped, fresh dill to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash and quarter the potatoes. Spray with PAM, or grease a 12” x 7” casserole dish. Whisk butter, olive oil, and lemon juice together. Spread potatoes and garlic in the casserole dish, drizzle with the butter mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Roast for 45 mins., stirring potatoes every 15 mins., until potatoes are fork-tender. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Tsatziki

Tsatziki is a Greek classic – a cool-as-a-cucumber, appetizer dip that can be extended into the main part of the meal.  This is an excellent recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Cooking. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre with pita bread triangles, or as a condiment with roast chicken (or lamb) and rice pilaf. The secret ingredient is the fresh mint.

2 c. plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely grated
Salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 t. pure olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
3 T. chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (or a doubled paper towel) and place over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 mins. Then rinse off the salt and gently squeeze the cucumber dry.
3. In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, lemon juice, and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Cook’s notes: I use low-fat Mountain High plain yogurt; I’ve tried Fage yogurt, thinking that Greek-style yogurt would be better, but it was way too thick and heavy. I just put the garlic through a garlic press (no mincing for me!); I just sliver the mint, I don’t really chop it. And I don’t add extra salt after salting the cucumbers; it doesn’t need it. I do add pepper, of course.

Greek Easter

“Greek Easter” has always been notoriously (well, if you’re Greek Orthodox) out-of-sync with the rest of Christendom. This year is exceptionally late: Greek Easter is on May 5; everybody else’s Easter is on March 31. That’s 5 weeks! Talk about Greek-time… (as opposed to on-time). Ah well, I guess we can buy Easter treats and decorations at half-price…

Except that traditional Greeks don’t really go in for the Easter bunny thing. Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox Church, and little bunnies and fuzzy chicks don’t enhance the drama and ritual of the celebration. The closest we get to Easter baskets is red eggs and Easter bread. The Easter bread sports a jaunty red egg baked in the middle, and sometimes the dyed eggs get wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon, but that’s about it.

red egg

That said, it’s helpful to remember that Greeks are also known for independent thinking – Greece was the birthplace of democracy, after all. Translated, that means anything goes – I hope my mom is not reading this!  So, if you want a Greek menu and an Easter egg hunt for the little ones – go for it! (That’s what I do, anyway!)Greek Easter apps

Here are some of the options I’m considering for Greek Easter on May 5th:
Saganaki with french bread slices
Tyropites
Hummous with pita triangles
Tsatziki
Crudités

Barbecued leg of lamb
Rice pilaf
Roasted potatoes
Grilled sea bass
Spanakopita
Greek salad
Greek Easter bread

Kourambiethes
Karithopita
Kopenhai
Galactoboureko
Fresh fruit

Wines/spirits from Greece
Coffee
Chamomile tea
Potokalathes

Classic Tea Party

For starters, here’s my menu (and recipes) for my version of a Classic Tea Party:

Kir Royale

Yorkshire Tea (or Yorkshire Gold Tea)
Formosa Oolong Tea
Milk, lemon, sugar cubes

Smoked salmon and dill butter on pumpernickel bread, decorated with capers
Curried egg salad on white bread
Chicken-tarragon salad on wheat bread
Cucumber and watercress on white bread, open-faced

Cream scones with currants
Mock Devonshire cream
Lemon curd
Strawberry jam
Fresh strawberries

Mrs. Pettigrew’s Lemon Cake
Cherry marzipan tartlets
Chocolate madeleines
Shortbread cookies

Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry

Shortbread Cookies

This recipe comes from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ classic, The Silver Palate Cookbook. It’s simple and delicious, and my vanilla-ice-cream-preferring son is crazy about these cookies – especially with a simple butter cream frosting (right off the back of the C&H powdered sugar box). My daughter, on the other hand, who can smell a dish and tell you which spices are included, prefers them with a little sprinkle of sugar – no frosting. These cookies have seen every birthday party I’ve ever given, every Christmas, and every Valentine’s Day, too. This is an amazingly simple but elegant cookie.

¾ lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
½ t. salt
½ t. vanilla extract
¼ c. granulated sugar

Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light.
Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.
Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.
Roll out chilled dough to 5/8-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch long heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 45 mins. before baking.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Bake for 20 mins. or until just starting to color lightly; cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack.
Makes 20 cookies.

(For the record, I skip the initial chilling for 4-6 hrs. It’s easier to roll out the cookie dough on the cookie sheets with a piece of wax paper over the dough. I roll out the dough to about 3/8-inch thickness, cut out the cookies, reroll the scraps, cut out more cookies, and then I pop the cookie sheets in the refrigerator for about 20 mins. Then I bake them, usually for about 13-14 mins. I take them out of the oven just as they are starting to turn golden around the edges – ideally, they hardly turn color at all. When I make these cookies for any Hawaiian-themed or tropical event, I use pineapple- and palm-tree shaped cookie cutters and I sprinkle them with Tropical Flavored sugars – Mango or Vanilla Macadamia Nut – from the Maui Culinary Academy. The extra flavor is subtle but works well with these elegantly simple cookies.)

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This is a fabulous recipe from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s moist, spicy, and dense.  And it comes out perfectly every time.    When I’m feeling very health-conscientious, I substitute light olive oil for the corn oil; I have never been able to tell the difference, and no one has ever noticed!  The Silver Palate recommends baking the cake in two 9” layer pans; this is great if you want a round, layered cake.    And when I want to stretch the servings a little more, I use a 9” x 13” cake pan, and make it single-layer; I’ve included the proportions for either size.

Two 9” layer cakes:Carrot Birthday Cake
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. granulated sugar
1 t. salt
1 T. baking soda
1 T. Cinnamon
1½ c. corn oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T. vanilla extract
1½ c. shelled walnuts, chopped                             1 1/2 c. shredded coconut
1 1/3 c. pureed cooked carrots
¾ c. drained crushed pineapple

One 9” x 13” cake:Single layer carrot cake
4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
4c. granulated sugar
1¼ t. salt
4 t. baking soda
4 t. cinnamon
2 c. corn oil
5 large eggs plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
4 t. vanilla extract
2 c. shelled walnuts, chopped
2 c. shredded coconut
1¾ c. pureed cooked carrots
1 c. drained crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease cake pans lined with wax paper.
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots, and pineapple.
Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack and bake for 30 to 35 mins, until edges have pulled away from sides of and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool on a cake rack for 3 hrs. Fill cake and frost sides with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Juice of ½ lemon

Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.
Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be free of lumps.
Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.