Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Banana Muffins

  When life gives you rotten bananas......
I usually associate muffins with something heavy for some reason.  But these, based on a recipe by my sister, are anything but heavy!  Light and full of flavor, these are as close to cupcakes as you can get without adding some frosting.  But speaking of adding...
  The original recipe calls for vanilla.  I don't mind vanilla but it gets a little tedious after awhile.  (Why do we put it in practically everything we bake? )  So I decided to brighten up the flavor with a little lemon oil.  (You can try using some grated lemon zest if you can't find lemon oil.)
  This recipe makes 15 which seems odd as most recipes are put together to make 12.  But this gives me an opportunity to pass on a little tip I learned about using only a few of the forms in a muffin tin.  Fill the empty ones about 1/3 full with water.  This not only saves the tin from discoloration and burning on any residual oil that might have been left behind but also creates helps keep the muffins moist.

Banana Muffins

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F,
Line muffin tins with paper baking cups.                                                                                        Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and beat until well incorporated.
Add mashed bananas and lemon oil (or lemon zest) and blend thoroughly.
Mix yogurt and baking soda and set aside.
Add flour and yogurt mixture to sugar and butter mixture in 3 additions beginning and ending with flour taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Fill the lined muffin tins about 3/4 full with the mixture.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the muffins comes out clean.
Let cool for about 5 minutes or so before removing from muffin tins.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

   I think there must be as many recipes and variations for this  popular Brazilian corn flour cake as there are for chocolate cake.  A staple at hotel breakfast buffets, this Brazilian cousin of our corn bread varies in taste and texture from recipe to recipe.  One of the most interesting I had was at a cafe in the park across the street from my hotel in Manaus, this particular Bolo de Fubá had corn incorporated in the batter.  Some others include cheese and maybe more like a cross between a custard and a cake.  These latter ones are known as Bolo de Fubá Cremoso and are very different in texture than the one pictured on the left which, nonetheless, departs from most straight forward versions which call for the basic ingredients of flours, oils, eggs and sugar.
   A little note about ingredients:  All the ingredients except the corn flour can be found in the regular sections of the supermarket.  For the corn flour, you will have to look in the Latin section or visit a local Latino market.  Pick up the one called masa harina (Quaker makes a version of this), a finely milled corn flour used for making tortillas.  Regular corn meal is too coarse and you will not get the desired texture.

Spiced Bolo de Fubá

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups corn flour such as masa harina
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350° F.
Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside.
Sift together the two flours, baking powder and spices and reserve.
Beat sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add egg yolks one at a time and beat until fully incorporated scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
In a clean bowl (and using clean beaters) beat egg whites until they form soft peaks,
Add half the flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture and mix well scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add all the milk and thoroughly mix
Add the rest of the flour and combine.
Fold in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites until no white spots show in the batter.  Fold in the remaining 2/3 of the beat egg whites and fold in taking care not to let them deflate much.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, leveling off with a spatula and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Let cool before removing from pan.
As with many kinds of corn meal products, this dries out sooner than traditional cakes.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sicilian Bolognese

   I was always under the impression that spaghetti bolognese (spagbol) was an invention outside of Italy. (And perhaps it is outside of Bologna.) And also that there was only one way to execute this sauce properly, the method I learned from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the great author and teacher, Marcella Hazan.   But last night something happened to change my mind..
   Yesterday my mom wanted me to make spaghetti for her dinner, the kind of spaghetti we had growing up, the kind that takes forever to make and which I am not sure how to cook.  The bolognese I am used to making (the Marcella Hazan type) does not lend itself well to spaghetti. For that reason (and others...I wanted to do something different...I was bored.)  I grabbed a few books and started looking for a sauce that used ground beef.  I didn't need to look far.  
   I found a recipe in the book  La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio that I had used a number of times before but I had forgotten about which doesn't require several hours of cooking and which, it turns out, the author recommends for spaghetti as the pasta of choice.  Wow! Sicilian spagbol!  (I'd only ever used the sauce before as a filling for arancini, the tasty deep-fried rice balls so popular at the snack bars in Sicily.)  It worked wonderfully and, what's more, mom loved it.  I'll still make the longer version from Marcella's book but this is definitely in my permanent repertoire!

Spaghetti con Ragú di Tritato

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chuck
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1- 4-inch parmesan cheese rind
1 medium carrot, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a pot and add the onion and meat stirring just until the meat loses its pink color.
In the meantime, dilute the tomato paste in the water.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and let simmer for an hour or longer taking care to stir every 15 minutes or so and scraping down the sides of the pot.
It may be necessary to add a little water towards the end if the sauce is getting too dry.
Correct for seasoning, and discard the carrots and cheese rind.