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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Amazing Fluffy Roasted Banana Bread

*See the yummy banana chunks?*

I just made the most amazing banana bread I've ever had!  The texture is soft and fluffy instead of being that typical, almost excessively dense and sticky banana bread.  What's more, using chunky mashed bananas instead of puree leaves you with wonderful, flavorful chunks of banana in the finished bread.  The banana flavor is intensified by roasting, and the palm and demarara sugars give this bread such an amazingly rich flavor that you don't even need cinnamon or other spices!  Who knew?!  Take that coming from a total cinnamon freak.  The rum also aids in intensifying flavor and it, along with the yogurt, create a soft, silky texture.  I also topped the bread with some coarse demarara sugars and that created a nice crunch on the top of the bread, yum!

Whether you love banana bread or aren't all too crazy about it, I'm telling you, try this recipe!  It really is amazing!  It is infinitely better than the old school recipe.  Plus, who can complain when the process for making it is so simple and the reward is oh so great?!  Do tell me how you like the recipe or any changes that you make.  Enjoy :)!!

Roasted Banana Bread


Ingredients:
1/2 cup palm sugar (in the jar--microwave until just softened, if necessary) (if in a solid block, grate first)*
1/2 c demarara/turbinado sugar* (my favorite brand is Florida Crystals)
1/2 cup of butter, softened
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 unpeeled bananas, roasted and mashed coarsely
1 TB yogurt or sour cream
2 TB dark rum (my favorite is Barbancourt, Haitian rum)
1 TB vanilla
2 cups + 1 TB flour
3 tsp baking powder

*If you do not have palm sugar or demarara sugar, just use all regular Domino brown sugar.  The taste will be different, but still delicious.

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

2. Roast the bananas on a baking sheet while still inside the peel.  When roasting, the peel will brown and you may hear some mild hissing from some of the banana juices seeping out.  Do not be alarmed by this; it is normal.  Allow the bananas to cool.  Remove the peel and the threads.  Mash the banana by hand, leaving the mixture full of small chunks

3.Cream the sugars, salt, and butter with an electric mixer.

4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated

5. Stir in the yogurt, rum, and vanilla.

6. Stir in the flour and baking powder just until the batter is moistened and all ingredients are fully incorporated.

7. Bake in a prepared pan for 1 hour or until the bread springs up when pressed in the center. Do not use the toothpick test for doneness with this recipe.  When done, the bread will be golden brown on the tops and sides, and the sides will pull away from the side of the pan.

8. Allow to cool for at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

References: http://danicasdaily.com/brown-sugar-banana-nut-bread-recipehttp://doesnttaztelikechicken.com/2009/03/22/the-amazing-banana-bread/http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giadas-weekend-getaways/flours-famous-banana-bread-recipe/index.html

On a side note, sorry for the lack of photos lately.  My computer's SD drive is malfunctioning, and it has already damaged one of my memory cards.  Would anyone happen to know how to repair memory cards that show up with a read error when inserted in the camera itself?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Warm, Rich, and Comforting Winter Favorites

There are so many wonderful dishes that I love to enjoy in the winter time.  There's just something about a good, rich, hearty, comforting meal in the winter that just warms that soul and gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.  I wanted to take the time to compile a list of some of my favorite winter dishes for those days when you're not quite sure what you want, but you know you want some good comfort food to warm you up when it's freezing outside.  I hope you enjoy this selection of recipes for comfort foods that are especially good when enjoyed in the winter.

Savory
Warm, comforting Cuban garlic soup  

Rich and creamy tomato soup

Nicaraguan chicken soup with meatballs (sopa de gallina con alb√≥ndigas)  

spaghetti alla carbonara  

Southeast Asian carmelized sweet and spicy pork

Dominican fish in coconut sauce

Cuban tamal soup

Sweet

Rich, moist, chocolaty devil's food cake

Rich, fudgey brownies 


Chewy, sweet, salty, and crunchy toasted Korean stuffed pancake (hodduk)  

Mojo Marinated Chicharron ( Latin Style Fried Pork Belly)

For those who are unfamiliar, chicharron (Chee Chah ROHN) is a type of fried pork common in many Latin American countries.  It is prepared using chunks of the same meat that bacon comes from, but the skin is left on and it is uncured and still in slab form before being cut into pieces.  I am not much of a fried food person, but some chicharron once a year is darn tasty!  It's crunchy on the outside, the meat is tender, and the layer just beneath the crisp skin is slightly chewy, mmmmm, mmmm, mmm!  Chicharron on its own is often eaten as a street food or a snack


This particular recipe is even more wonderful because you marinate the meat and pack it with flavor before frying it.  I dare you to try eating it without licking your fingers!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  Enjoy this recipe for some out-of-this-world chicharron!


You can see my video for the process here.  It's in the middle of cooking the mofongo, so part of the video is frying plantains too.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSqcUatytmk&feature=player_embedded

*This is the same recipe that I use for my mofongo or Latin style stuffed fried green plantain mash


Chicharron     

  1. Desired amount of chicharron, marinated overnight in mojo recipe above.  You only need maybe 1/3 lb of chicharron for the actual mofongo, but I got 1.5 lbs and enjoyed the rest on its own.  It's super cheap.  Just ask the butcher to cut you some pork belly with the skin, meat, and fat all in tact.  Cut the chicharron into 1-1/2" - 2" pieces to fry. 3/4 cups water 1 tsp baking soda    
     
Procedure:
  1. Rub the marinated chicharron in the baking soda.  Cook the chicharron  over medium low heat (Skin side UP--you don't wan't to cook it in water or it'll get chewy, not crispy) in 3/4 cup water. The reason for drying it is because the marinade adds a lot of liquid and excess liquid will make your chicharron chewy.  It isn't supposed to cover the meat. 
  2. After about ten minutes of cooking on medium low (it should look very close to cooked, if not cooked), transfer the meat into a separate, ungreased, pre-heated pan to let it fry in its own grease over medium high.  Be sure to turn the meat two or three times to allow it to become crispy and brown on all sides.  
  3. Alternatively, you can also just fry it the chicharron the whole way it its own fat, rather than doing water, if you don't want to risk messing it up and getting chewy chicharron. Traditionally, the process is to cook the chicharron in 1 cup of water over medium low until the water evaporates, then it fries in its own grease.  This doesn't work for this recipe since we used a liquid marinade, not a a basic salt or salt and oregano dry seasoning.  Besides, many people end up with chewy chicharron with the water process anyway, and some opt to just fry the meat in its own grease the whole way, skipping the water altogether. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Haitian Stewed Chicken

I initially intended to write this post on the 12th, not because I planned it, but because it just worked out that way.  I hadn't had Haitian food since I was living in Miami, and I recently pulled out all of my books that had been packed away.  I've been going through a few of my cookbooks again, including my Haitian cookbook, The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking.  When I came across the stewed chicken recipe, I just had to make it!  I'm actually glad that I made this dish on the 12th.  I felt closer to a very dear friend of mine who passed in the earthquake.  I would have shared this dish with her and we would have surely exchanged stories, laughed, and listened to some music over a great meal.  This post is in honor of her and her love of life, her contagious joy, and her love and pride for her country.

For those who have never tried Haitian food, I encourage you to give it a shot.  This recipe is very easy and super delicious!  In honor of my dear friend Stephanie and of all those who perished that day and in honor of every soul that was touched by the earthquake in any way, I hope that you will be encouraged to try something new and experience a taste of Haiti.

As an introduction for those who may be unfamiliar with Haitian cuisine, it is very similar in technique to other Afro-Caribbean cuisines--it has a strong focus on braised meats in a spicy, well-seasoned sauce that is most often served with white rice or seasoned rice and beans.  Out of all of the Afro-Caribbean cuisines that I know, I would say that Haitian food is closest to Jamaican.  If you like Jamaican food, you will love Haitian food too.  Although Haitian food tastes very different from Jamaican food, the ingredients are quite similar.  Haitian meats are marinated and braised in a sauce that contains everything that Jamaican meats do except where Jamaicans would use allspice, known by Jamaicans as pimento berries, Haitians use whole cloves.  Also, Haitians also add vinegar and, like their Dominican neighbors, tomato paste.  This particular recipe is very easy, authentic, and you probably already have all of the ingredients to make it.  Haitian stewed chicken has a rich, spicy, slightly tart flavor. The cloves impart a deep, rich flavor that has a wonderful aroma.  All of the flavors combine create a very unique flavor that is sure to delight the palate!

Also, as with many other Afro-Caribbean cuisines, the meat is chopped into bite-sized pieces using a good knife and a hammer to pound the knife through the bone.  This technique, although a bit intimidating at first, is actually very convenient because flavor penetrates the meat much more thoroughly, and cooking time is significantly accelerated.

Here is a recipe that I have adapted, with some changes, from The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking by the Haiti Institute in DC.  I highly recommend this cookbook, by the way.  It is very authentic and has tons of great Haitian recipes, including baked goods, drinks, and even candies and ice creams.

Haitian Stewed Chicken
1 whole chicken, or about 8 drumsticks, chopped (bone-in) into bite-sized pieces (3-4 per drumstick)

1/2 a medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

6 whole cloves or about 1/4 tsp of ground cloves

5 green onions, minced (if you don't have them, no biggie)

1/2 tsp thyme

1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (habanero is a perfect substitute and is much more readily available in most areas) (do NOT break the skin of the pepper or your dish will be too spicy)

1-1/2 TB tomato paste + water for diluting (about 1-2 TB should be enough)

juice of 1 lime + extra juice for washing the meat (about 1 lime)

1-1/2 TB white vinegar + habanero hot sauce (traditionally pikliz vinegar, vinegar from a seasoned hot pepper and veggie pickle, is used)

1 tsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

2 TB of oil for frying

Procedure:
1. Wash the meat with lime juice and let set for about 5-7 minutes, no longer than 10.  Rinse and pat dry.

2. Crush the thyme, parsley, garlic, lime juice, bell pepper, and onion in a mortar and pestle or grind in a small blender or food processor until a uniform paste is achieved then add in whole cloves

3. Cover and rub the meat with the marinade.  Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour.  I discourage marinating overnight as acidic marinades can cause meat to become tough if left to sit for too long.

4. Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade for later use

5. Brown the chicken in the oil over medium heat

6. Add in the reserved marinade, the thinned tomato paste, and the vinegar/pikliz

7. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes until chicken is done

8. Serve with white rice or Haitian rice and beans

*Although this is not done traditionally, I like to strain out the solid onions and peppers after cooking is done.  It's not necessary, but it is just my preference because I like the nice, smooth sauce that results.