Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sweet Buttermilk Banana Cake

We had a birthday in our house over the weekend! Hubby celebrated his um, well let's just skip the numbers, shall we? We'll just say that AARP has already started gunning for him. ;~)

The most requested cake for birthdays in his family, has always been my MIL's Banana Cake. Now, the last thing I want to do is to disparage my MIL's cooking or baking... She's actually a very accomplished home cook.  But, as is the case with most things in life, there's always room for a little improvement.

Banana cake recipes are often adapted from or interchangeable with quick bread recipes and can sometimes be a bit on the dry side. It's nothing that a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream won't cure, but over the years I've made a few simple adjustments to the family recipe that I think have remedied that. According to my hubby, my efforts have not been in vain and he's proclaimed my version to be even better than his mother's. We don't have to tell her that, though...

Sweet Buttermilk Banana Cake
  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1&1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Shortening
  • 2 Lg Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 Lg or 3 Med (very ripe) Bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 Cup Buttermilk

Vanilla Simple Syrup
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Salt

Kicked Up Butter Cream
  • 4 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
  • 2 Sticks Unsalted Butter
  • Vanilla Simple Syrup

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Make the simple syrup: Put the 1/2 C Sugar and 1/2 C Water in a medium, heavy based sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over med-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until all of the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add in the 1 tsp of Vanilla and the pinch of salt. Swirl the pan to combine and set aside to cool.  (you can put the whole pan in a large stainless steel mixing bowl full of ice to cool it more quickly. just don't leave it there too long, so that it doesn't get too thick.)

For the Cake: In a large mixing bowl, beat the shortening and granulated sugar together until it's light and fluffy.  In a medium bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, beaten eggs, buttermilk and the vanilla. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the flour, baking soda and salt and stir it a bit with a whisk to aerate the mixture a little and break up any lumps.

To the large bowl with the creamed shortening and sugar, start adding in the flour mixture and the banana mixture, alternating each one and beating on medium speed until all are combined. The batter will be quite thick.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased bundt or tube pan and spread it out evenly. Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest areas comes out clean. (if using a dark coated or non-stick pan, check at 30 minutes) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

When the cake is still slightly warm, make several tiny holes in the top with a long metal or wooden skewer. Slowly spoon 1/2 of the simple syrup over the entire top of the cake and allow it to finish cooling before inverting it onto a plate or cake round. (about 15 minutes at room temp)  Reserve the other half of the syrup for the frosting. Allow it to completely cool before frosting it. I put it in the fridge for about 15 or 20 minutes, if I'm in a hurry.

For the Frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter until it's a little fluffy and slowly start adding the confectioners sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time. After each addition of sugar, drizzle in a little of the remaining simple syrup and continue to beat until all is well combined and the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Frost the completely cooled cake and then you can refrigerate it or leave it out, covered, at room temperature until ready to serve. If you do put it in the fridge, take it out about 15 or 20 minutes before serving. (You can use as much or as little frosting as you'd like. Hubby likes his with a lot! You could even make a glaze or dust it with powdered sugar if you prefer! - Yup. It's that moist.)

You can serve this sweet and tangy, super moist cake with sliced bananas and an ice cold glass of milk or with a cup of after dinner coffee or tea. However, while it certainly goes quite nicely along side, the ice cream is optional... ;~) Making this cake a day ahead is a good idea, if you have the time. It gets even more moist as it sits.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Orange Honey Grilled Chicken

With summer just around the corner and the last few days so sunny and warm, I'd really been craving something from the grill.  And, since I could probably eat chicken five days out of the week and there's nothing that says sunny and bright like big juicy oranges, I decided to make a marinade that would capture the sweet flavors of a sunny summer day and compliment smoky, crispy grilled chicken. It's super simple and only needs to marinate for about 30 minutes before you throw it on the grill.

Broccoli With Orange Vanilla Butter

I'd planned to just steam some broccoli to go along with the Orange Honey Grilled Chicken that we had on Sunday night, but I wanted to bump it up a bit. Since the orange flavor in the chicken is sweet, but subtle I figured that using some of the orange juice to make a sauce would work well. One of Hubby's favorite salmon dishes has a citrus vanilla butter sauce and he's nuts about it, so I thought it might be a good accompaniment for the broccoli. I also have some of the incredible Irish butter left over from my St Patrick's Day dinner, so that was a no-brainer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Golf Widow's Breakfast

Hello. My name is Mary and I'm a golf widow.

My hubby is so addicted to the game that I had to make him put in writing that at least one afternoon and one morning every weekend are mine. The man not only plays all summer long, but since a local golf course opened an indoor golf simulator last Fall, he now plays all winter too. Thank you Bay Meadows. NOT.

Honestly, I can't complain. There are worse things that a man could be doing on the weekends. *~} He usually plays on Saturday mornings, quite early and on Sunday afternoons, so Sunday mornings we go out to breakfast. Yesterday was no exception.

One of our favorite places to get our breakfast on is The Chocolate Mill, a fantastic little cafe, bakery and chocolatier, in downtown Glens Falls, NY. Owner/Chef/Certified Master Pastry Chef Frank Vollkommer, started offering up Danish Apple Pancakes (Aebleskivers) on the breakfast menu a couple of years ago, before they became the huge hit that they are right now. (btw, becoming a certified master pastry chef is quite a distinction - there are barely more than a dozen chefs with that designation in the world at present.)  So, what does my hubby love almost more than he loves me? Yup. Aebleskivers.

*** Update:  Sadly, The Chocolate Mill is now closed. It's a huge loss to our fair city (and our bellies) but we understand that people and businesses sometimes need to move on. Best of luck Chef Vollkommer, wherever you are.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Guinness & Bailey's Ice Cream Float

Well, ye didn't think an Irish colleen, or cailĂ­n like me would have a St. Pat's Day dinner without a scrumptious Irish themed dessert to go along with it, did ye?

I don't know if this delicious Stout and Ice Cream concoction could be called traditional, but it's bound to become a favorite in many a household, as time goes by.

I can't take the credit for inventing it, nor can I claim ownership of the recipe for the homemade Bailey's Ice Cream. That credit goes to Wood & Vine for Food Network Magazine. But, no matter where it comes from, there's no denying that it's the most decadent way there can possibly be to embellish a pint of Stout.

This is how it's done...

For the Bailey's Ice Cream:
Recipe adapted from Wood & Vine for Food Network Magazine
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
  • 1 ounce Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1 ounce Irish whiskey
For the Guinness Float:
  • Dash of chocolate bitters
  • 2 ounces Guinness stout

Make the ice cream: Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale. Bring the milk, heavy cream, and vanilla pod and seeds to a simmer in a small saucepan. Slowly whisk the hot liquid into the egg mixture; strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl, then set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water. Add the Irish cream and whiskey and stir until cool. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 3 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

For each float, put a scoop of the ice cream in a glass. Add the chocolate bitters and top with the Guinness. For the kiddies, you can use Root Beer and Vanilla Ice Cream so that they don't feel left out.

Also, If you don't have an ice cream maker, fold Baileys Irish Cream and whiskey into softened vanilla ice cream and freeze until firm.

Slainte!  And always remember...

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ale Braised Beef Brisket

Phew!... I've finished! I'm finally done putting all of my posts together and ready to present the main dish on our St. Patrick's Day Menu! It's my Ale Braised Beef Brisket. The two sides that I prepared for this dinner, Traditional Irish Colcannon and Fried Cabbage With Bacon & Onions, are in the two previous posts, if you'd like the recipes for them. (or you can click on the names above) I do have one more to add later... The dessert! I just need to take a wee break to catch my breath and I'll be posting it! ;~)

Now, you might be wondering why a nice Irish lass like me didn't make the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage for St. Pat's. Well, to be completely honest, there is no such dish in Ireland. Not traditionally speaking, anyway. Some of the restaurants and pubs over there have put it on their menus in recent years, but it's not something that they are really that familiar with.

The more traditional St. Patrick's Day meal in Ireland is a boiled dinner, made with either Irish Bacon/Ham, Beef or Mutton/Lamb, with a myriad of root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnip, onions, parsnips and leafy greens like kale and cabbage. Actually, a boiled dinner is probably the most common lunch/dinner the whole year round in Ireland. There are many Irish people who've never even heard of corned beef, let alone cooked it or tasted it. I won't get into the history here, but here's a link to some quick information about Corned Beef and Cabbage and other little factoids about Irish and American St. Pat's traditions. St. Patrick's Day Symbols and Traditions  Now... On to the food!

I've made several versions of Beef Brisket and I like to change it up a little from year to year. This year for St. Patrick's Day, I decided to make my Ale Braised Brisket with Carrots, Turnips and Onions. I do not use a "corned" beef brisket to make this. It's just a flat cut of Angus Beef Brisket. No corning or pickling spices are involved. Just tell the butcher that you want your brisket "unicorned"... Um, I mean un-corned. (That's a whole 'nother St Paddy's day tradition...)

Ale Braised Beef Brisket (w/ Carrots, Turnips and Onions)
(serves 2-4 people, generously)
  • 3-4 Lbs Flat Cut Beef Brisket, trimmed
  • 2 Lg Onions, sliced thickly
  • 3 Lg Carrots, washed and cut into large chunks
  • 3-4 Small Turnips, washed, trimmed and quarters
  • 1 12oz Bottle of a good Irish Ale
  • 2 Cups Beef Stock
  • 2 Tbls Tomato Paste (heaping)
  • 2 or 3 Bay Leaves
  • Salt & Pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Start your prep by washing and trimming all of your vegetables and seasoning your beef with salt & pepper. (some of the items in these photos are ingredients that I used in my side dishes)

I take a sharp paring knife and with the tip, I make deep slits in the meat, going across or against the grain. This easy step helps to do two very important things: 1) It helps to tenderize a less expensive cut of meat and 2) It allows the seasonings and the flavors of the ingredients the meat is being cooked with, to penetrate it more thoroughly. (This method works with any kind of meat or poultry and I use it all the time. It cuts both wet or dry marinating time down to a fraction of what you might normally need, too! Win/Win!!)

I use a good Irish style Ale in my braise, but you can use a beer that you prefer. I would avoid a really bitter beer or one with an extra high alcohol content, like a Belgian Lambic. Darker beers like Porters and Stouts work well too, but I like the crispness or "hoppy" flavors of a Pale Ale. Tip: A nice cold beer for the cook is allowed... Just be careful not to get carried away, though. Dinner might never get on the table! ;~)

Place a large, heavy pot or dutch oven on medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of light olive or vegetable oil. Put your seasoned beef into the pot and brown it well on both sides. (about 5 to 7 minutes per side)

Try not to turn the meat too soon or too often and make sure that it's in a single layer if you have more than one piece. This will ensure more even browning. When it's well browned, remove it to a platter and set it aside until you're done with the next step.

Cut your vegetables into good sized pieces, so that they won't shrink down or become too soft or mushy in the finished dish. I use my thumb as a rough measurement, but if you have particularly long fingers, you might want to go for about 2 inches. ;~)

Season the veggies with salt & pepper and put them into the pot that you browned the meat in. Cook them for about 6 or 7 minutes, stirring now and then, until they just start to take on a bit of color.

Add the tomato paste and stir well to cover all of the vegetables. Don't worry. Your finished dish won't come out tasting like spaghetti sauce. The tomato paste just adds an additional depth of flavor and color to the meat, veggies and sauce.

After the vegetables have cooked for another 5 minutes, add the beer and stir well.

When the bubbles from the beer have subsided and it has reduced just slightly, add in your beef stock and the bay leaves. You should also throw in another pinch or two of salt & pepper.  Remember... seasonings each "layer" or the addition of each group of ingredients, always helps to make the finished dish even more delicious! Allow this to simmer for about 5 minutes before adding you meat back to the pot.

Add your browned beef back into the pot with the veggies, beer and stock and spoon a bit of the sauce over the meat.  Also, move the veggies out from under the meat to the sides and on top, so they don't burn or stick to the bottom of the pot while it finishes cooking in the oven.

Put a lid slightly ajar on the pot and pop it in your pre-heated (350 degree) oven. Cook for about 1 hour with the lid and then remove it and continue to cook for another hour, checking and turning the meat every half hour or so. Ovens and thickness of meat vary, so it could take a little more or less time.

Please excuse my horribly filthy oven. I'm afraid I haven't done a thorough cleaning in either of the ovens since our "two turkey and all the trimmings for 35 people" Thanksgiving celebration.  :~(

When the beef and veggies are tender, remove the meat to a cutting board or platter and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes covered with a little foil.

Slice the brisket against the grain, in 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch slices. You can plate the meat and veggies all together on a serving platter, or you can just do individual plates for everyone. If there had been guests for dinner, I would have served everything family style at the table, but since it was just me and Hubby for dinner, I didn't go all out and we just helped ourselves to what we wanted. Don't forget to spoon some of that rich, delicious sauce (which you can serve separately in a gravy boat or small pitcher) over the meat before serving.



For the sides....

For the Colcannon recipe, please click HERE. For the Fried Cabbage with Bacon and Onions recipe, please click HERE.


Want a great recipe for Guinness Braised Short Ribs for your St. Pat's Day feast? Just click HERE!

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Now it's time to link this one up to Kathleen's fantastic 2012 St. Patrick's Day Blog Crawl. Come on over with me and join the party! (This is an older link to the 2012 Blog Crawl, but I'm sure you can still find some great recipes and decorating ideas there!)

Please click HERE

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