Banana Ice Cream

nom_nom

For years I ate oatmeal with bananas every day for breakfast. But one must not get caught up in the rut of repetition. One must try new things, explore new avenues, conquer new experiences. And so at some point I switched over to eating my oats with raisins.

I still do love bananas, though. But there’s always been the issue with them going bad so quickly. The only possibility I’ve heard of for overripe bananas is banana bread (admittedly, I have not researched the subject, and surely there are many uses). But banana bread is a project, and when you’re being too lazy to eat your damn bananas, the chances of making bread out of them is no doubt diminished.

So, on Facebook I mentioned that I was eating bananas for dinner. We had a bunch that was on the edge of becoming overripe, and I was feeling lazy about preparing a proper meal for myself. It seemed a perfect idea… for the first few bananas. Ah well. Sometimes in reality, what was thought of as brilliant idea, is really just a weird dinner.

Fortunately, Matt mentioned on my FB post about “banana ice cream.” I was intrigued, especially since:

  1. the ONLY ingredient is bananas (what the?)
  2. I’ve cut dairy out of my diet, and so I have limited “ice cream” options
  3. the ONLY ingredient is bananas (no, seriously, WHAT THE?!!)

So, I tried it. The ingredients? Bananas. Seriously. Just peel them, cut them into pieces (inch or less), and freeze them for a couple hours. Then put them in a food processor.

The immediate result was very soft and creamy, but after putting the “ice cream” in the freezer overnight, it became a perfect ice cream texture. It has not gotten overly hard like ice-cream does. And it’s naturally sweet, so, although I may try adding maple syrup or sugar to future batches — I feel no dying need to.

It’s a good day to like bananas. A good day for monkey-kind.

final_product

Cinnamon-Raisin Penuche Cake

penuche_cake

For lunch I had carrots dipped in homemade hummus, then an apple for dessert. I am so healthy I could just scream. Or run several consecutive marathons.

Except for the fact, well…. somewhere between breakfast and lunch I ate 1/4 of a cake.

The cake? Well, so, I had made penuche fudge, but it didn’t set (here’s my recipe). Who knows what I did wrong THIS time, but there it is. I’ve made it twenty or so times in my life, with about a 50/50 success rate. No, it wasn’t TOO soft, it didn’t pool or drip like caramel, it was a bit more solid than that, but it wasn’t solid enough to cut into blocks.

And so I made a cinnamon-raisin cake to go underneath it, and the penuche “frosting” was perfect. Good times. Anyhow. I recommend making the Penuche Fudge. Period. And if that fails, make the cake for under it.

Ingredients!

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup butter (I use vegan butter which we make)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups raisins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Directions!

Bring brown sugar, water, butter, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and raisins to a boil in a pot, and let it boil for 3 minutes. Cool.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and flour a cake pan (I used a 9″ round pan).

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the mixture that you just boiled (again, once it has cooled).

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool (preferably on a cooling rack, but a plate will work) before frosting.

Avocado Crust, First Attempt

pie

I love making pies. Anything in the bread family, really. I love the tactile kneading of it, and I seem to have the right sense of what feels right or not — as so much of it is not a science as much as a touchy-feely thing.

But a bit over a year ago, my girlfriend and I went vegan (for ethical reasons), and baking without butter has withered my interest (which includes 99% of the margarines — as we avoid palm oil as part of that). I made a few pies after that, usually using coconut oil, and then I stopped. It didn’t excite me in texture, taste, or handling.

Which leads us to a recent trip that my girlfriend and I took down to Saratoga Springs, where we bought an avocado. It looked perfect: deep green and slightly soft and good smelling, we felt we had to get it. But sometimes an avocado can sit in the fruit basket waiting for someone to do something with it, but like a neglected child — it will eventually go bad.

Watching the little fruit patiently sit, I had the good fortune of remembering reading somewhere that you could substitute avocado for butter in a 1:1 ratio. Makes perfect sense. It’s fatty and smooth in texture. Baked goods are generally eaten at room temperature or slightly warmer, and a blended avocado has about the same softness as butter when butter is at that temperature.

So I tried it. And first let me tell you the bad news (I always eat my cake and THEN the frosting, because the frosting is what I want to remember). The resulting crust was tough. Not quite as tough as say… chewing leather, but tough. I attribute PART of that to the fact that we only had ONE avocado, so I could only make a half recipe — and then rolled it so thin it still gave me both a top and bottom crust. But also I know part of it is simply the avocado. How will I fix it? I’m not sure, but next time I think I’ll put in unseasoned crushed bread crumbs, which may break it up and make it seem more “flakey.”

The PLUS sides are two-fold. First is that the crust held together REALLY well, even when rolled super-thin. The second, and more important is this: it tasted great. It was an apple pie and the crust totally complimented the apples. I wasn’t sure what to think at first, and then I finished eating the whole damn pie in about a day.

I am excited about baking again.

I was also excited about the apples. It is near impossible to find McIntosh apples on the west coast (which until this moment I’ve always incorrectly spelled “Macintosh” like the computer). They are lovely, a little sweet but also slightly tart almost like a crabapple, which works well with lots of sugar (similar principal to that beloved stalk the rhubarb). My father gave us a bag as a housewarming gift when he and my gram visited, and after eating a few, they sat. Like the avocado, I saved them right when they were on the edge. A few of the apples, and a spot here and there, were beyond redemption — but the others hadn’t turned mealy or really gone wrong. I cored and sliced the whole bag, which ended up the perfect amount.

So, on to the recipe!

My old recipe was this:

  • 1.75 sticks butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • cold water (until it holds together)

I had only ONE avocado, which measured just under 1/2 cup. Here’s the proportions I used:

  • 1 avocado (well blended)
  • 1 cup flour
  • cold water (until it holds together)

avocado

So yes, I would suggest doubling that (unless you’re not making a top crust). Roll it to a pie-sized circle, fold it in half and in half again (which makes it easy to move it to the pie plate). Throw in the filling. Cut some slits on the top crust and put that on, and bake at 425 for 35 minutes (make sure there is something to catch bubbling filling overflow, or you may have a very sad oven).

I was very relaxed about making the filling. But for your enjoyment, it was something along the lines of:

Mix this stuff:

  • Enough McIntosh apples to fill the pie
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice sugar
  • just under a tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 to 2 tbsps cornstarch

(p.s. apologies for poor quality pictures, my camera is broken and have not had a chance to replace it yet)

Pita Pockets

I’ve been curious to try making pita bread (for Iraqi pita bread, Dan posted an excellent recipe two years ago) . I found the process to be fairly simple, but a bit time-consuming. Fortunately the delight of watching the pitas expand — literally like a balloon — was enough of a delight that I see me continuing to make them for a good while.

Recipe (makes 10-12 pita pockets):

  • 1 tsp sugar (I used evaporated cane juice)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (somewhere between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit for the yeast, my pleasing-yet-unreliable method is to stick my finger in and go, “hm, does that feel comfy for yeast?”)
  • 1 package of yeast (or if you buy it in bulk, about 2.25 tsp).

Mix these items together. Let them sit 10-15 minutes, it will form a big foamy head. This means it is happy. If there is no foam, it will NOT make your dough rise. This is because it is UNhappy. The yeast being dead or the water being the wrong temperature may also be contributing factors.

Separately, in a big bowl, mix together:

  • 3 cups flour (I like white whole wheat)
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

Form it as if you were making a volcano in a sandbox, a big mountain with a chasm in the middle. Pour in the foamy yeast mix, and begin stirring it with one hand. With the other slowly/intermittently pour in:

  • 1 cup warm water

Mix it in pretty well, and then take the whole fleshy ball and place it on a well floured counter or cutting board. Begin kneading it.

With this recipe, I continually flour the board generously throughout. I’d say I added at least 1/2 cup more of flour while kneading, in bits whenever it started sticking to everything. In fact, let’s add that to the ingredients for all of you pre-cooking recipe skimmers:

  • 1/2 cup flour

Knead it for 15 minutes. Grab the front part of the dough and fold it back, and then push down with your palms. I love this. Love it!

knead_2

This is quite a vigorous workout for your yeast, as you could imagine, and so it needs a nice warm place to relax before the final race. Oil the inside of your mixing bowl, place the ball of dough in, then flip the dough (so that both sides are greased). Cover it with a towel, and put the bowl in a warm place (I actually set the bowl on top of a yogurt maker turned on, which provides a nice low-level heat. An oven turned on for a minute and then off for a minute should work well too), and then sing it a lullaby. I have not found any lullabies for yeast, and so I wrote one especially for it:

Baby yeast, swim summer’s sea
When waves do foam, come back to me
I’ll hug you, kiss you on the head
and cover you, warm in bowl’s bed
when morning opens up your eyes
Let’s make the bread, it’s time to rise.

Let the dough rise 2-3 hours, it should be double in size. Gently punch it down, pull it out of the bowl, and then knead it on your floured surface a couple minutes. The tear it into approximately 10-12 pieces.

torn_pieces

At this point, move your oven rack to the lowest position in the oven (you will be baking there), and turn on your oven. You want it at 500 degrees. This is pretty dang hot, so listen carefully: when you open the oven, a gust/cloud/wave of burning heat will leap from the stove. So make SURE your face is turned away and you are out of the line of fire. Trust me from personal experience, this blast of heat in your eyes HURTS.

Back to the dough. Take one the pieces, wet your fingertips, and knead it with your fingertips for about 10 seconds. Then put more flour down, and put the now-rounded piece in the flour, then flip it, and then roll it out with a rolling pin. You don’t want it too thin, maybe 1/4 inch. And as round as possible. Then set it aside for baking (note: I stack mine, but the bottom ones tend to stick together, I would recommend maybe not stacking them more then 6 high).

Once the oven is preheated (don’t begin until it is), put your cookie sheet (or baking/bread stone if you have one. Hm, maybe a stone should be put in earlier, not sure) in the oven for a minute to warm it. Take it out, put some of the dough discs on it (I generally can fit 3/sheet), and then pop it back in the oven. After 4 minutes they should have blown up like a baloon, flip them. Bake them another 2 minutes. Take them out and put them on a cooling rack. Repeat until you’re done.

oven

Make these. They taste super good. Roll a few to be 3/4″ thick and eat ‘em like english muffins. Or make Hummus to go with it. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you screw up.

Peppermint Patties

peppermint_facesI’ve discovered the world of homemade chocolates. Who knew it was so easy? Melt up some chocolate and roll something in it. Voila!

That said, it’s been a challenge to come up with combinations I truly love, especially since my sweetie is vegan and so I have been trying to do it without butter, eggs, etc. I made some peanut butter cups which came out pretty good. And various “meh” attempts at non-butter toffee. Beth liked the unsweetened tahini balls, but they were too much for me.

But I finally hit one which is pretty perfect. The peppermint patty.

And it’s so simple. Here is the total list of ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp mint extract
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (I used 73% dagoba chips)

You barely melt the coconut oil, and to get rid of all the lumps: keep stirring rather than continue heating. Then stir in the powdered sugar and mint extract. If you want it super-minty, or even sweeter I don’t think upping either of those two ingredients will ruin anything (within reason, “reason” being one of those imprecise thing that can-only-be and really-shouldn’t-be left up to the individual).

The next step is personal choice: how much do you let the mixture cool. You see, you form the inside of the patty first. You do this by spooning out the white stuff into little discs on a sheet of parchment paper. If it’s still really worm and liquidy: they’ll be super thin. Which is lovely. If you wait and stir longer, they’ll be thicker. Which is lovely. I tried both and liked both. See?

peppermint_sizes

Then you freeze the white discs. ESPECIALLY if you make them super thin, because the moment you put it in warm chocolate, it’s going to start to soften and liquidize. The freezing will slow this process.

Preparing the chocolate: just barely melt it. You should do it with some sort of double boiler (we use two pots. Heat water in a bigger pot with  the smaller pot in it, a vegetable steamer thing in between, with the chocolate in it, inside). It’s important that you keep stirring it, because then you won’t have to heat it up as much to melt it. And the cooler it is, the less it will melt the inner part. Savvy?

Take it off the stove and then just drop one white disc in, flip it over, make sure no white is showing, and then spoon the patty out and put it again on the parchment paper.

In the spirit of the holiday I added jack-o-lantern-like faces by carefully spoon-drizzling the chocolate over the finished patties.

Then put them in the freezer or fridge for a bit to cool. And if you’re lucky, the hosts of the party you attend will tweet things like, “@chris__baldwin btw the vegan peppermint patties are delicious! Can we get the recipe?” And you can link them here.

peppermint_me_dip

Cranberry Delights – BFI #3

IMG_9211

I had a brilliant idea last night, and i savored it in my mind, let it roll around, worked out the recipe slowly in my head, adjusting the ingredients to and fro until I had it perfect.

Which is when I began Brilliant Failed Idea #3.

I imagined a spongy childhood-memory-invoking cake (yes, I just read Swann’s Way), not very sweet, baked in a small pool of cranberry juice, which would seep up into the dough and add a lovely light touch of red as well as just a hint of flavor. Then roll the whole thing in a heated sauce of sugar and honey, which would harden into a thin brittle crust.

Ayep. Aim high, my friend. Fall low. This is what life is made of.

The result was a cupcake tough texture, no flavor of cranberry, and the sauce remained sticky and moist — but mostly flavorless.

I started with the red sauce (in retrospect, perhaps I should have used 100% cranberry juice AFTER baking?):

  • 1/3 cup frozen cranberries
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tsp sugar

In small min-muffin tins I put one teaspoon apiece.

IMG_9201

Then the muffin batter:

mix:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp gluten

mix seperately:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

I combined these wet and the dry ingredients with each other well. Then I poured a wee bit in each cup and baked it at 375 for 8 minutes. I removed them (with aid of a toothpick, not easy) and put them on parchment paper.

IMG_9215

Prepare sugar mix:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp water

I brought it to a boil, and then dropped the “muffins” in one at a time, and then with two forks I would flip it over and then take it out and let it stick (forever irremovable) to the parchment paper (sigh). I let it sit, but alas, the “crust” remained squishy and not crust-like.

In this first end, the result was staggeringly bland. In a last ditch effort, I tried adding two spoonfulls of the cranberry sauce on top of each one and broiled them for 3 minutes. This burnt the hell out of the parchment paper but DID add the benefit of allowing me to get them OFF the parchment paper when still warm (and onto a greased plate). Otherwise, it only gave them a tad bit of color (now they didn’t look merely like lumps of hamburger, but instead, lumps of hamburger with a dab of purplish ketchup). And I still couldn’t hardly taste the cranberries.

There is so much wrong with this recipe that I think it might be best to start from scratch if I want to re-approach it.

IMG_9232Bleaghhhhhh!!!