Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ina Garten's Chunky Banana Bran Muffins

Many, many moons ago, I had a crush on Jamie Oliver.  Yup, my first celebrity chef crush.

I think the British accent had a lot to do with it, but man, he knew his way around a kitchen.  I remember watching an episode of The Naked Chef where he threw a beach party and stuffed a whole fish with lemons and fresh herbs, wrapped it in newspaper and roasted it in a beach bonfire.  At the time, landlocked in North Dakota where lemon juice came out of a green bottle and herbs were kept in rusty cans in a cabinet, roasting a fish on a beach like that seemed absolutely exotic. I never saw anyone do that with a walleye along the banks of the Missouri, that's for sure.

I'm over my Jamie Oliver infatuation now.  I still root for him with his let's-fix-school-cafeteria initiatives, but I've moved on to bigger and better things.  Namely, I've fallen for Ina Garten.

Yes, the Barefoot Contessa.  I've had Ina on the brain ever since watching this clip of Alec Baldwin on her show, shopping for veggies (luv u, Alec!).  Sure, Ina wears fancy pants in her sprawling Hampton home, and yes, she probably hit her high celeb-wise in 2007ish. But you gotta appreciate her great taste in food and her efforts to make good food accessible, with no apologies for using mayo but without the overzealous gluttony of Ms. Paula "more whippin' cream" Deen.

Lately, I've been baking breakfasty goodness on Sunday mornings, and in an effort to use up some wheat bran that's been sitting in my cupboard for awhile, I fell upon Ina's chunky banana bran muffin recipe.  With two major banana eaters in my house, it's tough keeping bananas around long enough to bake with, but I bought extra in preparation of baking up some muffin goodness.

I ate a couple of these muffins warm for breakfast, and they were good, but they taste better after they are left to sit for awhile and cool completely.  I made the mistake of adding the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture too quickly, leaving butter globs that took extra mixing to better distribute the butter in the batter.  Because well-distributed butter makes a better banana bran batter, says Betty Botter (but not bitter butter).

Ok, enough of that.

Ina Garten's Chunky Banana Bran Muffins
The recipe I followed from Barefoot Contessa at Home is exactly the same as below, except the quantities are doubled in the cookbook. I found this halved recipe on Food Network's website, and I'm lazy, so I just copied it here.  Also, with the doubled recipe, I only had large eggs, not extra-large eggs as the recipe calls for, so I added an extra egg for a total of 5 eggs.  If following the recipe below, I think 2 large eggs will be fine as a substitute for the extra-large eggs.  My raisins were dried out, so I soaked them in boiling water for a few minutes before adding them in the batter.  This recipe will make 12 muffins; double for 24.  

1 cup unprocessed wheat bran
1 cup buttermilk (shaken)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup large-diced bananas (1 banana)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners into 1 (10 or 12-cup) muffin tin.
Combine the bran and buttermilk and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, 1 at a time. Scrape the bowl and then add the molasses, orange zest, and vanilla. (The mixture will look curdled.) Add the bran/buttermilk mixture and combine.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the batter just until combined. Don't overmix it! Fold in the raisins, bananas and walnuts with a rubber spatula.
With an ice cream scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin cups to the top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cabbage and Chorizo

It's been a few years since the only good Mexican restaurant in central North Dakota closed.  It was called Los Amigos.  And I adored it.

I still see the former owner, Celia, around town sometimes.  She's doing fine - less stress, for certain, and I'm hoping the CVS pharmacy that now stands where her restaurant used to be paid a pretty penny for the real estate.  A couple times a year she'll make her amazing tamales for Catholic charity fundraisers and I stalk those events for my tamale fix.  Heck, she could be raising money for Nazi youth and I'd still probably buy a half dozen.

Los Amigos had a lunch buffet and whenever I was filling my plate with homemade Mexican deliciousness, I always grabbed an extra big helping of the cabbage and chorizo.  With nostalgia driving my appetite, when it came time to plan out our annual sausage-making day, I requested a few pounds of chorizo to accompany our usual assortment of brats, Italian, summer, and country sausages.  Kent happily obliged and this was the first thing I made with my chorizo treasure.

In my days as an exchange student in Spain, I knew of chorizo as a thin, dry, smoked sausage, but here I'm talking about Mexican chorizo, which is a fresh (unsmoked) sausage, not super spicy, just lots of paprika and some chili powder. It's a nice change from the German sausage flavors we're used to up in the Great White North. And even though I used venison chorizo, I still think Celia would approve.

Cabbage and Chorizo
It doesn't get any easier than this.  Of course, this is open to improv - chopped garlic, extra cumin or coriander, or some diced tomatoes would all be lovely.  Venison sausage folks can get chorizo seasoning at their local butcher shop; otherwise, check the grocery store for pork chorizo. I served it with scrambled eggs and some orange slices on the side - a little breakfast for dinner never hurt anyone.  

1 small head of green cabbage, cleaned, cored, and chopped
1/2 lb. chorizo sausage

Crumble chorizo in a large saute pan or pot.  Cook over medium heat until nearly cooked through.  Add cabbage and a little water or sherry if needed.  Cover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is soft.  Serve hot.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Barley and Lentil Pilaf

I know.  Barley?  Lentils?  From the title alone, it could be the most tasteless mish-mash ever.  But this is pure wholesome deliciousness.  I mean, look at this stuff.  How can you see this gorgeousness and not get a little mouth-watery?

I ate this salad for dinner last night.  And breakfast this morning.  And lunch this afternoon.  And if it weren't for a husband's pizza craving and a quick trip to Papa John's, I would've happily eaten it for dinner tonight too. 

I post a lot of meats and sweets.  Frankly, the blog world rewards sweets since they are so instantly appealing to the neanderthal carb craver that lies within all of us, and having a blog with "Venison" in the title, well, there is a certain expectation set there, don't ya think?

In reality, in our house we don't eat like that everyday.  To the contrary, meat probably makes an appearance at the dinner table about four times a week - and as a former vegetarian, I still think that's quite indulgent. I guess I'm just a sucker for moderation. For every meal of brats and kraut or venison stew, we're balancing it with a meal on another evening of pepper stir fry, a simple frittata, or, yes, even just a big bowl of popcorn and the latest Netflix arrival suits us fine for dinner.  But if I just posted all my popcorn dinners, well, I'd probably bore myself, let alone all you friendly folk that stop by on occasion (Hi Mom). 

I love my carnivorous brothers and my herbivore sisters and all the quirky people in between, including my childhood friend Kara who was allergic to "white" milk so got the privilege of bringing chocolate powder to mix in her milk everyday at elementary school lunch to make chocolate milk, which she was not allergic to, and of course us kids never gave it a second thought.  In fact, we were all a little jealous of Kara and her jackpot draw in the food allergy lottery.

In the end, I love that everyone looks different, eats different, dreams different - so here's to trying something different.  Unless you are allergic to barley.  In which case, I have some leftover Papa John's in the fridge, I'll be happy to share.  

Barley and Lentil Pilaf
Adapted from this recipe, which originally called for farro, which I couldn't find, so I used barley.  I had a bag of fully-cooked beluga lentils from a Trader Joe stop awhile back and they were perfect in this.  Alas, I haven't found beluga lentils locally yet, so I may have to wait until my next trip to Minneapolis this summer to stock up on more.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; more for garnish 
1 cup finely chopped onion
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 dried bay leaf 
Kosher salt 
1-1/2 cups pearled barley
1 tsp. dried thyme
2-1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup fully cooked beluga lentils
1 medium red onions, quartered and thinly sliced 
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar 
1 cup thinly sliced scallions 
3/4 cup grated carrots (use the large holes of a box grater) 
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
1-1/2 Tbs. unseasoned rice vinegar 
1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger 
1 Tbs. granulated sugar 

Heat 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to color, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the barley and thyme and continue to cook, stirring, about 3 minutes more. Add the broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed until the barley is tender but chewy, and nearly all of the liquid is absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the pilaf stand, covered, for at least 5 minutes. Stir in lentils while pilaf is still hot.

While the pilaf is cooking, heat the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring frequently, until limp and deeply browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, toss quickly until the onions are evenly coated, and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the onions steam for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the scallions, carrots, cilantro, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Stir the onions and about three-quarters of the carrot mixture into the pilaf. Season to taste with salt.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the pilaf, garnish with the remaining carrot mixture, and serve.