Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drunken Applesauce

Sometimes deciding what to make for dinner is somewhat of a backwards task.  I never seem to say, "lets have chicken" and then figure out what to make with it.  No, instead it's more like, "I feel like gravy" or "sauteed mushrooms would be nice" and then build a meal from there.  This happened the other day while staring at my overabundance of apples which, unlike my disappearing banana problem, seem to magically multiply like rabbits by some unexplained (but seriously true) phenomenon.  I am certainly not complaining; I love apples and eat them almost daily - I just have no idea why that bowl never gets empty.  Anyway, as I picked through the bowl of apples looking for a prime choice to snack on, I was struck by an incredible craving for applesauce.

Because applesauce is so embarrassingly easy to make, I am actually baffled as to why anyone (including myself) bothers to buy it in cans or in jars.  Aside from easy, and even better, is the ability to tweak it specifically to your exact taste or accompanying meal by using different varieties of apples and experimenting with a countless combination of spices, juices and/or additional fruits.  Most recently I chose wine because, as with the apples, I am blessed with an ever-flowing supply.

Drunken Applesauce

First, pour a nice large glass of dry red wine.  This is (mostly) for you to enjoy, though some is for the apples, so don't drink it all in one place.  Skipping this step is not optional; if you don't have wine that is good enough to drink, this applesauce isn't for you.  So go ahead and pour; I'll wait.

peeling apples

Good.  Now that you have your glass (cheers!), select four large apples.  I'm not picky about type, but I do prefer firm, crisp apples rather than soft, mealy ones.  Peel, quarter and core the apples, then slice each quarter in to a medium saucepan.  Add about 1/3 cup (80 mL) of your wine to the apples.  It will seem like the wine disappears (actually, I meant the wine in the pot of apples, not your glass - but by all means, top yourself up.  I'll wait). Anyway, don't worry about the seeming lack of liquid; it is more than enough to make a good saucy sauce. 

Sweetness is something you will need to determine for yourself depending on the variety of apples used and what level of sweet/tart you desire.  For average's sake I will say add one level soup spoon of sugar (about 1 Tbsp); I use less (just a sprinkle of turbinado) and you may want more or maybe even none.  My advice is to aim for the lesser side of sweet - you can always increase it later.

precooked drunken applesauce

Add a bay leaf to the pot, then cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  As the apples begin to soften, mash them a bit with your spoon.  After about 20 minutes, remove the lid and the bay leaf; simmer and stir to reduce the liquid to desired consistency.  Add a small spoonful of salted butter (about 1 tsp) and stir until melted - trust me, it's worth it.  Your applesauce will be chunky (that's how I like it) but can easily be processed until smooth with a hand blender or potato masher.

after twenty minutes

Drunken Applesauce is delicious both hot and cold.  If you are like me and have planned a meal around the sauce, be sure to sneak a little bit out of the pot for later so you can try it both ways.  Better yet, double or triple the amounts of everything - just please don't forget that you've got this on the burner (or blame me for tomorrow's headache) if you also double or triple the amounts of nice large glasses of dry red wine for yourself.  Cheers!

oven crisp pork chops | drunken applesauce | green peas | garlic roasted potatoes


Saturday, April 24, 2010

For When Next Time is Now

If your house is like my house, the most difficult part about baking anything with bananas is keeping bananas in the house long enough for them to become over ripe and perfect for baking.  It doesn't matter if we buy a bunch of four (two to eat plus two for baking) or six (four to eat plus two for baking) or eight... they are always gobbled up in their prime which results in an inevitable "oh well, next time."  If you are somehow able to manage keeping the banana munchers away from the bunch and 'next time' actually occurs, this scrumptious cake is a great way to celebrate the achievement.

Banana Streusel Cake

As a non-baker (who seems to be baking an awful lot lately), I always assemble and prepare all of the ingredients prior to mixing the wet and dry.  I am not entirely sure of the reason, but I think that somewhere deep in the back of my brain I actually learned this in Home Economics - something to do with the baking powder activation - anyway... whatever it was, it is something I just always do.  Please keep in mind that the only thing I really remember about Home Ec. is the time our entire class played indoor frizbee-tag with a massive stack of rubbery pancakes and making our teacher break down in a fit of frustration and cry (if you are reading this Ms. Walters - I'm sorry) so it might just be a self imagined baking "rule".  If you usually bake on the go, just ignore the assembly part and use your own method.  Again, I am not a baker.

First, I begin by coarsely chopping a 100g bar of milk chocolate into random sized bits.  You may choose to use chocolate chips or chunks or dark chocolate or white chocolate or no chocolate at all; whatever you prefer is right (yes, even nuts or raisins).  Set aside.

chopped chocolate

Next I cube 180g (3/4 cup) of softened butter.  I always remove the butter from the fridge the night before I need it, or first thing in the morning if I will be baking later in the day, which I suppose makes taking out your butter to soften the real first step in this whole banana cake baking process.  I find that cubing the butter makes it much easier to mix.  Place the butter in a bowl, along with 165g (2/3 cup) sugar and 150g (2/3 cup, packed) brown sugar.  Set aside.  In another bowl, combine 300g (2 cups) flour, 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Set aside.

To prepare the streusel topping, which makes this cake extra fabulous, combine an equal amount of sugar and flour (a couple of heaping soup spoons should do) in a small bowl and add a couple shakes of cinnamon.  Stir to blend, then add a tiny splash of water and a teaspoon-sized scoop of softened butter.  Use your hands to squish it together and then flail your fingers through it until it becomes a bowl of loose crumbles (you could also use two forks, but i find fingers more efficient).  Set aside.

over ripe bananas | mexican vanilla

Finally, and most importantly, mash three (medium sized) over ripe bananas with the back of a fork.  Stir in one egg and one tsp vanilla.  Set aside.

prepared ingredients | streusel crumbs

Now that everything is assembled, it is time to mix the contents of your bowls together.  Cream the butter and sugars, then add the banana egg mixture and beat until well blended.  Gradually add your flour/baking powder/salt, continuing to mix thoroughly to a proper batter consistency, then fold the chocolate pieces in with a spoon.  Spread the batter into a greased 9x13" pan and cover with the streusel crumbs.  Bake at 175C (350F) for about 35 minutes - or until a toothpick inserted in to the center of the cake comes out clean.  Fill any holes left by toothpicks with random streusel crumbs and allow to cool completely before cutting (I know, it's hard, but so worth the extra wait). 

banana streusel cake

Your Banana Streusel Cake will be moist and dense, but not quite so much as a brownie, and the crispy crumbly topping contrasts the cake texture nicely.  This is exactly, in my opinion, what a coffee cake should be.  I've given up on ever trying to save bananas for the cause, but when I go to the store and find a bin full of over ripe bananas at a reduced price, I know that my "next time" has finally arrived.

banana streusel cake

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Conversation (not) About Coconut

Some time ago my sister and I were having one of our lengthy reply/send email sessions (I really don't know why we don't use instant messaging...) which began with the topic of coconut.  During our exchange, she sent along a recipe for Coconut Bread and claimed that, toasted and drizzled with butter, it was simply to die for.  I was immediately sold on the idea, but sadly informed her that I don't own a loaf pan.  She suggested altering the recipe to make it a cake instead; a good idea, but the selling point for me was "toast" and "butter" which is hardly cake appropriate.

Fast forward to last Sunday when I happened upon a loaf pan at the local Euro-Store (like a Dollar Store, but not, because everything is regular priced - at well over one Euro).  Regardless of the cost, I couldn't stop thinking about the Coconut Bread; certainly it would be worth it.  I hurried home to send a celebratory email to my sister (who now worries that the goods won't live up to the hype) letting her know I was finally able to try.  I postscripted by adding my bonus excitement of finally being able to serve a good meatloaf.

"Speaking of meatloaf" she says, "I have this great recipe for Meatloaf Muffins that you should definitely try."  Oh!  Yes!  Err... I don't have a muffin tin.  She sent me the Meatloaf Muffin recipe anyway, with all of her notes, mentioning that a baking tray (I didn't even bother to tell her) would probably work out just fine.  Besides, I had a loaf pan now.  I could just make a proper meat loaf.

Saša and I spent a good portion of yesterday discussing dinner in that "I really don't feel like going to the store so whatever we decide needs to be made from what we have on hand" kind of way.  My mind was stuck on meatloaf and we had everything we'd need (or close enough, at least).  I naturally pushed the conversation in that direction until our rapidly increasing hunger plus far too long cooking time stacked the odds against me and nullified my plan.  My brain (or stomach) devised 'Plan B' and remembered my sister's muffins.  I rechecked my email and printed the recipe.  No muffin tin. No baking tray. I would figure it out.

glazed meatballs ready for the oven

I had not planned to blog about these little muffins (now meatballs), so I cannot share the process through pictures prior to the "just about to put them in the oven" point (above).  Instead I will provide the actual recipe, along with my sister's notes (and mine) for making these meat-loaf/muffin/balls which, of course, will depend on your receptacle of choice or availability. 

Meatloaf Muffins
2 lbs. ground beef (I've used 1lb and halved some of the other ingredients, I've also used ground turkey a lot too) (I used mixed ground beef and pork - a little short of 1 lb)
1/2 small yellow onion (I diced my onion and then completely forgot to add it to the meat mixture - it ended up as part of the side dish)
1 stalk of celery (I don't like green bits in my meat - omitted)
1 cup bread crumbs
(I don't really measure but I am sure I use less) (I hammered - yes hammered - 4 small pieces of dry bread, that we normally save to mix with the cat's food, into course crumbs.  Cat got scared from the hammering and probably wasn't happy that I pilfered her bread either.)
1 egg
1 tbsp Montreal Steak Spice
(Don't have any - so I use a few shakes each of lemon pepper, cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes and dry mustard) (Also didn't have any.  I used pepper, hot paprika, sweet paprika, vegeta, garlic powder, chili powder, dry mustard)
1 cup of BBQ sauce
(probably more like 1/3 cup in the mix and 1/3 cup for the glaze) (I didn't have any *sigh* - used some tasty spiced ketchup instead)
Worcestershire (a few dashes)
(I am generous in both the mix and the glaze) (Again, *SIGH*... did I even really make this recipe?  I used soy sauce and red wine - very tasty)
1/2 tsp Dry Mustard
Salt and Pepper

Combine in bowl the meat
, egg, bread crumbs, BBQ sauce, spices and Worcestershire sauce. Dice celery and onion very finely then add to meat mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide mixture into 12
(I make 6 larger ones since I usually use closer to 1lb of meat) balls and place in lightly greased muffin/cupcake tray. (I made 6 large ones and placed them in a lightly greased casserole dish - shown in the photo above)

Combine remaining BBQ sauce with Worcestershire and dry mustard. Generously brush sauce on to the tops of each mini meatloaf.

Place in oven preheated to 450F and bake for 18
(I bake them for closer to 28) minutes. (I baked at a temperature which can only be described as 'on' for about 30 minutes).

If you are like me, your favorite part about meatloaf is how the edges cook to a well-done crust, sealing in the juices to keep the meat moist and full of flavour.  In forming these loaves into smaller shapes,  you end up with much more surface area.  This means more crust.  It also means more glaze.  In less than half the cooking time, these tasty balls of yum ended up being better than the loaf I had originally longed for.

meatloaf muffin adaptation

So this is what came out of the conversation about coconut.  And I still haven't used my loaf pan; I forgot that I don't own a toaster.

glazed meatballs, mashed potatoes, creamy corn

Monday, April 12, 2010

Feed Back: Weird Tuna

A few weeks ago I wrote about solving my own grocery day dilemma which prompted Andrew to respond with a comment about his (self-proclaimed) weird tuna concoction involving apples and onions. I was intrigued.

half apple on cutting board

I have an odd relationship with onions.  I like them cold and raw (preferably minced very fine) or cooked, at the very least, to a completely softened state.  If they fall somewhere in between, I just can't seem to stomach them; the short cooking time for tuna melts results in warm, raw onions and this is the precise reason I avoid adding them to mine.  I decided to start with a frying pan.

sautéing onions and walnuts

As I began my onion sauté, I though about how much I love the cozy combination of apples and walnuts and wondered how they would work in this mix.  Since we were already working with weird, I crushed a few and added them to the pan.  When the onions were done to my preference point, I moved them to a mixing bowl, along with my already diced apple (skins intact for some additional colour) and a short stalk of celery that I wanted to use up.

apples, onions, walnuts, celery

This is the part where I must confess that I completely veered from the original plan and took this tuna in a whole new direction.  Already going nuts earlier, I kept building on instinct, now using the idea but making it my own.  The downside to this?  If the melts were a flop I could no longer hold Andrew responsible.  Still, I continued with confidence and worked on the dressing; a couple scoops of mayonnaise, some sea salt, fresh ground pepper, paprika, cayenne, lemon juice and a healthy dose of curry.

curried mayonnaise dressing

After stirring together the dressing, the apple mixture and one drained can of tuna, I scooped even amounts over thick beds of fresh cornbread, topping each with diced slices of cheese before popping the pan in to the oven to bake.

tuna mixture on cornbread

fresh out of the oven

The verdict?  Not weird, but wonderful.  Different flavours I would never have thought to try together, but am certainly glad I did.  Thanks to Andrew for sharing your idea; I hope you'll try my variation on your recipe.
curried apple tuna melts

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


As much as technology allows me to stay connected with family and feel close to home, there are certain moments when I am reminded of the distance between. 

My best friend got married last week and, after sharing more than twenty five years worth of monumental moments, I was suddenly stuck on the other side of the world.  Refusing to let thousands of kilometers keep me from celebrating such an important occasion, yet believing that there would likely be no sudden advances in teleportation technology (or, if there were, I would hardly be one to afford such a luxury), I took matters into my own hands and began to entertain alternative methods which would allow me to participate without being physically present.

My dear friend, the bride, is an incredibly skilled chef, a lover of all things food and a faithful follower of my blog, so an edible offering to honour their union seemed like a suitable salute.  I ran through a quick collection of ideas in my head, crossing each of them off before they could even be counted.  A wedding cake could never be trusted to my oven.  Rice would be nice, though a little bland on its own.  Perhaps a bubbly cocktail?  No, she's food, not drink.  Should I just make toast? After Googling my way around for some time, hoping for inspiration but finding everything but, I locked my laptop and took a break on the terrace, faithful that a flash notion would come.  As the church bells chimed, clarity came; I would prepare a taste of Croatia.

The dish was finally settled upon with the help of my lovely friend, Katica.  "I am desperately seeking typical Croatian wedding fare?" I queried via email (also relaying my purpose to avoid the obvious confusion it might have caused).   Soon she arrived at my door, recipe clippings in hand, to discuss the procedure and the prominence, insisting that "there is no family with self-respect in whole Croatia, from border to border, who would have traditional wedding table without sarma."

sour cabbage, minced meat, herbs, spices, onions

Saša would prepare the meal while I followed along with the camera, and so armed with minced meats, onions and a full sour cabbage, we assumed our kitchen positions.  Sun rays danced through the window and together we noticed how the tall stack of cabbage leaves was magically transformed into a delicate tower of bridalesque petals and, although Dalmatian sarma (arambašići) does not include rice, we decided to throw some in anyway (it was, after all, a wedding).  After mixing and rolling (and a quick call to Aunt Vera to confirm that everything was just right) we tucked the last piece into the pot and simmered our marriage feast.

sarma assembly

pot full of sarma

placing pork rinds

adding tomato roux

Later that evening we dined on the terrace sending well wishes across the water and, after several savoury scoops of the smokey-sour sarma and mouthfuls of mashed potatoes, sat as stuffed as the cabbage we'd eaten.  And then feeling blissfully full, not only from food, but of happiness, we raised our glasses to Hannah and Pete, thankful we could share in their day...

 "To Hannah and Pete, who both bring their own individually unique ingredients, and a perfect blend of spice, to create the ultimate recipe.  May together your flavour forever continue to develop; becoming more delicious with each passing day."

sarma dish


...with much love.