24 February 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread

George, gazing disapprovingly at our two aging bananas, told me he was thinking of making banana bread. I yawned. Then he said he was going to put leftover chopped hazelnuts into the recipe. I perked up immediately because whenever anyone says "hazelnuts" I think "chocolate." After living with me for so long George thinks the same way. We cast about for a recipe; Julia's recipe (our standard) requires Crisco, which we don't have and don't particularly feel like having, so I looked in the Tassajara Bread Book (which Julia gave us for times like these) and voìla, we immediately found a good-looking banana bread recipe.

George altered it a little and it was extremely extremely good. I brought some slices over to Jung Min and we nibbled it with her strong ginger tea; a fantastic combination. A few days later she requested the recipe, so here it is.

A note about why the Tassajara Break Book is THE bread book to own: it was written by hippies who frequently ran out of one ingredient or another, so it is filled with suggestions for substitutions. These substitutions always work well. Despite all this helpfulness, the Bread Book is actually a very slim volume. And it has nice drawings in it, like Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook does.

Chocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread

2 Cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup canola oil (or butter)
1/2 Cups sugar (or honey)
2 eggs, beaten
2 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1/2 Cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 Cup chocolate chips -- chop them if they're too big. We used 60% bittersweet chips.

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a bread loaf pan (I used grapeseed oil spray and it worked super well).
2. In one bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. In a much bigger bowl, mix together oil and sugar. Add egg. Add a third of the sifted ingredients, mix, then a third of the banana pulp, mix, then another third of the sifted ingredients, mix, then another third of the banana pulp, mix, until it's all over.
4. Gently fold in the hazelnuts and chocolate chips.
5. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in comes out dry (this doesn't include the chocolate, which will be gooey).
6. Let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes then turn it out onto a bread board and start sawing away.

20 February 2010

Hazelnut Truffles

This is a very messy recipe to make--the hazelnuts skins fly everywhere and you get chocolate all over your arms. But then you can lick your arms, if that's your sort of thing. George adapted this recipe from one of the Moosewood Cookbooks, probably the "Celebrates" edition. The truffles were a big hit on Valentine's Day and definitely stand out as some of the best truffles I have ever eaten from anywhere.

1 pound chocolate (half Belgian semi-sweet and half Spanish 68% dark)
3/4 Cup heavy cream
1/4 Cup Frangelico or any hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico is gluten-free)
1 and 1/2 Cup hazelnuts, baked at 375 for 10 minutes and skins mostly rubbed off with a cloth

1. Pulse hazelnuts in a food processor until coarsely ground.
2. At a very gentle temperature in a double boiler melt chocolate in the heavy cream, stirring constantly.
3. When all is melted and has an even consistency, stir in the hazelnut liqueur.
4. Pour equal amounts of the liquid into glass pie plates or other shallow dishes. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours until solid.
5. Remove one pie pan at a time from the refrigerator and with a spoon, shave out 3/4 to 1 inch diameter balls of chocolate and form them into sphere with the palms of your hands. This will get very messy, but don't be too fussy about the ball shape or the chocolate will melt.
6. Quickly roll the chocolate balls in the chopped hazelnuts and place them in air tight containers with wax paper or aluminum foil between the layers--space the balls enough apart so that they don't melt together. Makes about 40 truffles. Refrigerate them. Will keep for a week or two and taste best on day 4.

19 February 2010

Simple Split Pea Soup

I was taken aback when Gavin told me he didn't know what lentils were.
I told him they looked like split peas.
"Split peas?" he said incredulously, "Like peas, but cut in half?"
When he put it like that it did sound sort of stupid. Still, I had a hard time believing that a cosmopolitan fellow like Gavin had never encountered lentils, split peas, or, as it turned out, dal.

Lentils and split peas are so cheap and common in the U.S. that they are considered sort of boring. Most U.S. citizens wouldn't even consider eating split pea soup without a luxurious helping of smoked ham, and the Internet teems with lentil soup recipes--anything to give the old standby a new life. If I had to rate types of lentils and split peas by their cachet, brown lentils and green split peas would be at the bottom of the barrel while red lentils, lentils du Puy (French lentils), or some fancy dal would be at the top.

Split pea soup was one of the first recipes I taught myself--I used to soak my rock-hard homemade whole wheat bread in it so that the bread would soften enough for me to be able to chew it. I don't really make it anymore because I came to think of it as beginner's fare, but when I considered it anew through Gavin's eyes, split pea soup became an all-American standard. So tonight I decided to whip some up.

As I expected, most of my cookbooks have at least 2 recipes for split-pea soup, but none of them were what I wanted. I had limited ingredients and limited patience for messing around. Several cookbooks suggested cooking the split peas in liquid separately and adding sautéed vegetables at the end; I didn't feel like washing two pots and besides, split pea soup is hearty enough without adding a bunch of stuff to it. Mark Bittman suggested just cooking the split peas in broth and serving with salt and pepper; I thought that would result in a rather overwhelming flavor. In the end, I cooked the split peas in half water and half broth (Imagine's No-Chicken Broth as usual), and then added the Tassajara cookbook's suggestion of fresh pepper, cumin, and fresh squeezed lemon juice at the end. It actually turned out really well, and I didn't even have to get any measuring spoons dirty.

The weird thing that happened was that I bought some "organic" green split peas from Harris Teeter, a supermarket in North Carolina, and there was all this white twisted stuff in there. At first I thought it was bits of sea shells—!!!—but in the end George and I agreed it must be shriveled up split peas skins. Luckily they floated to the top of the pot when I poured water in. The other weird occurrence was that after rinsing the peas, the water was still soapy looking. I had to wash the split peas thoroughly 5 times to get the soap look out. I've never had this experience with split peas before; it was a huge bother.

Cumin turned out to be a super-strong spice. Restrain yourself.

Simple Split Pea Soup

2 cups green split peas, thoroughly washed
4 cups water
4 cups No Chicken Broth (by Imagine)
a little bit of cumin to taste (about 1 tsp.)
a few grates of fresh black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves

In a pot mix split peas, water, brother, and bay leaves. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for about an hour and half until the split peas have become one with the broth. Turn off the heat. Take out the bay leaves. Add cumin, pepper, and lemon juice. Serve hot with a spoon and big helping of good old American love.

18 February 2010

I am Sad

I did a little sleuthing yesterday and realized that although The Goofy Gourmet is celebrating its one-year anniversary, no one has ever linked to my blog. I am sad. If you want to confirm this lamentable state of affairs for youself, go to the yahoo search engine and type in link:goofygourmet.blogspot.com. The eight listed backlinks merely stand testament to the ineffectiveness of my promotional efforts on other blogs.

On the bright side, this blog maintains a wide readership from all over the world. (To be honest, I don't have the faintest idea why people in Indonesia or Saudi Arabia would read it). So I will keep on keeping on.

I will leave you with a completely unrelated piece of advice: When buying the brand of Gefen in the Jewish section of your supermarket, restrict yourself to their tasty Passover catsup (it replaces corn syrup with real sugar) because Gefen's whole wheat couscous is quite awful. Also Gefen doesn't even put enough into one box for you to make the recipe on the back. That is lame.

17 February 2010

Bath Time with Essential Oils

George and I like a good long soak in a bathtub at the end of the day after dinner. Sometimes we like to fancy up our baths with candles and essential oils. Essential oils, if you don't know, are these very concentrated oils that emit strong aromas. They cost between $3 and $7 for a bottle, a tiny amount that somehow lasts for eons. Putting a few drops of essential oil in our bathwater adds another pleasant dimension to the bath experience. In Berkeley we alternated between grapefruit scents for refreshment and lavender scents for relaxation. In Durham we bought lilac and jasmine. However, the store allowed us to test-smell all the oils first, and we came across some unusual scents I thought I should mention: cucumber-melon, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and spicy apple. These are all food smells. When we got a whiff of those, we were revolted, but why?

There's a concept in sound studies called schizophonia, the disconnect between a sound and its source. R. Murray Schafer, the composer-philosopher who invented the term, considered schizophonia an essentially negative experience. He thought it important for people to be connected aurally to the soundscapes of their own homes. Just think: there was no such thing as background music until recording technology was developed, and musical performance in older times was a very important social and artistic phenomenon.

I don't want to go into a whole discussion of our aural experience, but when I smelled those food smells I thought of schizophonia. When we use lilac essential oil, it smells like there are flowers in my bathroom, which is nice. With food smells, it smells like there's food in the bathroom, which is, frankly, disgusting. The smell of food affects people physically; they salivate and their appetite rises. How gross for these food scents to direct your appetite toward such an inappropriate source as bathwater. You subconsciously consider eating your bathwater and it is instantly nauseating.

In short, when you buy smells for your home, remember that those smells imply that the sources of those smells are in your home; make sure the scents are appealing for the rooms they affect. And if you want to make your house smell like apple in an appealing way, mull some cider and leave the door to the kitchen open. That way you won't experience the vertiginous effects of schizoscent.

12 February 2010

Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Beer

The color of sunshine changes throughout the day. In the morning the sun's rays shine a bright yellow-white, but as the day wanes the color darkens. My soup was the color of late afternoon light and felt like someone was wrapping my innards in a cozy liquid blanket. As the golden goodness lingered on my tongue, it tasted soothing, spicy, peppery, and sweet. I asked George what ingredients he'd used.

"Well, butternut squash was the prime ingredient," he answered obliquely.

I'd gathered that when he'd referred to it as Butternut Squash Soup. The squash carcasses in the kitchen confirmed the accuracy of his label. I also espied an abandoned box of "No Chicken Broth," and George admitted to using it. He continued, "Onion, apple, freshly grated nutmeg, allspice, and…" he gazed at me intently, "beer."

Beer! Sheer brilliance. It added a touch of complex darkness and functioned as a culinary symbol of our mixed attitudes towards healthy behavior (a seesaw between pious obedience and rebellious resentment).

I was not privy to the concotion of this soup, but as for clues, the soup's texture had a smooth puréed quality, both our food processor and blender were dirty, the fine mesh strainer contained apple seeds and peel, and an apple core and onion skin graced the cutting board. Also I found a used microplane grater. Draw your own conclusions!

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Bhutanese Rice

Kabocha kicks all other winter squash to the curb, but lately George has done some frankly awe-inspiring things with North American winter squash. His latest improvisation on stuffed acorn squash dazzled us with its beauty and provided a counterpoint of deep and jeweled flavors to the usual ho-hum of baked squash. Jung-Min oohed and aahed, and I scarfed this dish down in an undignified manner. George probably enjoyed this lunch the most, though; he was pretty pleased with himself.

This dish pairs in a visually striking way with lemon-doused steamed broccoli.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Bhutanese Rice

half as many acorn squash as eaters
a few cups cooked Bhutanese red rice (or rice of your choice)
2-4 yellow onions, sliced
curry powder

1. Halve the squashes lengthwise from stem to stern. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and fibers. Place squash face down in a baking dish filled with 1/4 to 1/2 inch water. Bake at 350 until nice and soft, for an hour or more. Let cool and set aside.
2. Meanwhile sauté onions in oil on medium heat. Cover the fry pan, turn down the heat, and occasionally stir to keep from burning. When the onions take on a golden-brown color and get sticky, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 or even high.
4. Mix together rice, onions, a few raisins, and a little bit of curry powder to taste so that you have a nice balance of the ingredients. Stuff the mixture into the cavities of the squash and place the squash halves on a baking sheet. Stick them into the oven for 5 - 10 minutes until hot and serve immediately.
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