Midnight Cravings: Fudgy Coconut Flour Brownies

Sometime after 10 last night I gave in to the cliché.

There I was, curled up on my couch watching Rita Hayworth as Gilda flipping her waves of luxurious hair and prancing around on legs that looked to be about twice as long as my entire body. She was, in the words of another blogger, glorious. And I was feeling, well, not so much…

See I was missing the boyfriend pretty badly. Still am, actually, but right at that moment it was positively achey. It’s been a week and a half since he left on vacation with his buddies and though the alone time is nice, I must say, I’m over it. That’s it, let me off the ride. Keep the ball if you must. I just don’t want to play anymore.

Plus, it’s that week. You know which week I mean… The one where everything feels heavy and silence is better than conversation and the tears are quick to well up, just like that? Yeah, so it’s that week, which doesn’t make anything easier.

Since I knew there wasn’t a way to fast-forward to next weekend, when my emotions will be back to normal and he will be curled up on the couch next to me, I turned to the one that would be possible in such desperate times. That, of course, was chocolate.

Chocolate brownies, to be exact. Fudgy, moist, with perhaps just a bit of a crust and a subtle hint of something—almond, perhaps? No…rum.

I used coconut flour to make the brownies. And cocoa rouge, for that deep, sexy color. A generous pour of my homemade vanilla rum gave it a naughty kick, and (to keep the guilt at bay) I opted for agave instead of sugar.

The end result was surprising. Moist but still very crumbly, soft. Warm from the oven, they were just what I needed. The exact dose of serotonin I seemed to be lacking. But they were even better this morning (yes, morning!) once the flavors and texture had a chance to settle. Less crumbly, more fudgy. I dusted them with more coconut flour (it’s not really flour, after all; it’s just ground coconut). While photographing them, the breeze from the open window kept blowing the sweet aroma of chocolate and coconut under my nose.

This recipe makes a smallish batch. Just enough to share with a couple friends or to keep you happy during those not-so-lovely days.



Fudgy Coconut Flour Brownies
1 cup coconut flour (see my "where to buy" for a great supplier)
2/3 cup good cocoa powder (I like cocoa rouge)
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
3 extra large eggs
1 cup lukewarm water
3 tablespoons vanilla rum (or 2 tablespoons regular rum & 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
¾ cup agave syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.) In a large bowl, sift together the coconut flour, salt, cocoa, and baking powder. Set aside.

2.) Cut butter into chunks and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until melted then add the chocolate chips and mix just until they soften. Quickly remove from heat and continue stirring until everything is combined. Let cool.

3.) In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and agave syrup. Add the oil, rum, and vanilla. Followed by the cooled chocolate butter mixture.

4.) Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry. The coconut flour tends to suck moisture quickly so don’t worry if the batter clumps. Use the lukewarm water to loosen it up by drizzling a little bit at a time until it is all absorbed but the batter is still wet. If you need to, add up to ¼ cup more water.

5.) Pour the batter into a 9” square baking pan lined with parchment paper.

6.) Bake for 30 minutes until the top is dry to the touch and the batter is firm.

7.) Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before lifting the parchment paper to remove the brownies from the pan. Slice and eat right away for a warm, cakey brownie or let sit over night for a firmer fugier one (or have it both ways!)

My Omnivore's Hundred

Snails, Dulce de Leche, and a Big Mac Meal? These aren't items you'd usually find together, but they all make up part of The Omnivore's Hundred. A list of 100 foods that every self-respecting omnivore should try at least once in his or her life. During a time when just about everyone is talking about age and experience, this is definitely an interesting experiment. I scored a 76 on the list; not bad for a 25-year-old! I'm sure living in NY and having access to just about everything helped, but I tried some of these foods in some very unexpected places. Check out my list (with comments), and see how your own foodie experiences stack-up.

(And don't feel bad if you have to Google a few of these--I definitely did!)

A Delightful Giveaway!

**Spoiler Alert: Reading this entire post could make you (and a friend) very happy.**

There are some girls who love shoes. They get dizzy with delight when passing store displays and stare lustfully at other girls' feet on the subway. Their closets are a thing of wonder filled with seasonally organized shoe racks and storage boxes labeled with Polaroids. Others go for purses. Perhaps vintage or ultra-modern; giant hobos and tiny clutches. And still yet there are the girls who melt for jewelry and are loathe to leave the house without a shimmering bit of bling.

I have to admit that I’m not really any of these girls. Not that I would turn down a great pair of shoes or diamonds studs if they were presented to me, but when I go shopping, my card usually ends up being swiped for something entirely different: kitchen stuff.

Yup, I’m a kitchen stuff fiend.

I drool over madeleine pans, rubber spatulas, and pepper mills the way other girls freak over Manolos. Williams Sonoma is my Barneys and I can spend hours wandering around and around Bed, Bath & Beyond. One of my greatest shopping regrets is not purchasing a large, volcanic stone molcajete (for guacamole making & spice grinding) that was in the bargain bin at the Georgetown Dean & Deluca because my college boyfriend didn’t want us to have to spend the day lugging it around. He’s long gone, but my desire for that perfect stone basin bubbles up each time I find myself mashing avocados in a plain old glass bowl.

Naturally, these proclivities lend themselves towards a certain bit of excitement whenever I hear about great new retailers online. Shopping for cool kitchen stuff while wearing my boyfriend’s old t-shirt and watching Tyler reruns? Er…yeah, that’s kind of freaking perfect.

Delight.com is the site I’ve spent the past hour (or so…) browsing, and already I’ve amassed quite the long lust list. Number one on that list? This ridiculously adorable pig-shaped salsa bowl. While not exactly the “molcajete that got away,” it would be perfect for serving guacamole or pico de gallo at a party. And it would look even nicer next to this fish-shaped baking dish (perhaps filled with cheesy, bubbly enchiladas?).What can I say? It seems I have a thing for animal shaped earthenware...

I’m going to have to wait until Friday (aka payday) to place my order, but I’ve got a treat for you guys! The awesome folks at Delight.com want to award TWO of my readers with a prize selected from the kitchen section of their website. Not only that, but they’ll also send you a SECOND prize for your friend.That's one prize (of your choice) for you and a second prize (also your choice) for a friend!


So here’s how it works: Check out the kitchen section of the Delight.com site and then come back here and leave a comment with a valid e-mail and noting what your favorite item is and what you would get for a friend. Could be two of the same thing or two different things. Only restriction is that the items be kitchen/cooking/food related. You have until Monday, September 1st at 3PM to comment. Two winners will then be selected randomly and will each receive a prize for themselves and one for their friend.

How great is that? OK now…off you go! But be sure to come back and comment what two items you pick (and please make sure to leave an email if you username isn’t connected to an email address or valid blogger profile. If we can’t get in touch with you, someone else gets the prize!)

Can’t wait to see what you all pick!


xoxo


P.S. If you can't wait to see if you're a winner, Delight.com has extended a special 15% off discount offer JUST for readers of Always Order Dessert (Um, because we clearly rule!). It's good through September 15 on orders over $35. Just enter the code AlwaysOrderDelight at checkout. (case sensitive)


P.P.S. Besides US they ship to UK, Canada, and Germany, so the international folks can join in the fun too!

Salting the Eggplant

Of all the things I love to do in the kitchen, salting the eggplant is the one that gives me the most pleasure. There is something peaceful about the way my knife slices easily through the fruit, creating thick or thin rounds. Each slice reveals a perfect cross-section speckled with tiny seeds reminiscent of the rings on a tree trunk. I stack them as I slice, building a wobbly, reconstructed eggplant with each cut.

I wait until I'm done slicing to rummage through my cabinets for the things I need: a colander, a bowl, a jar of sale grosso (that's Kosher salt, but I like the Italian name better; it translates to "fat salt" and I can think of nothing more delightful to say). I balance the colander in the bowl, and arrange a layer of slices along the bottom. I salt them heavily and with abandon, the way I sometimes wish I could salt everything were it not for my health or my boyfriend's palate. No matter as this isn't for taste; the salt has a job to do here. The large crystals go to work immediately, drawing out the bitter juices which dot the creamy white surface like early-morning dew. I cover these with a second layer of eggplant and more salt, repeating until the last round is in place. A plain sheet of paper towel is next, followed by a heavy and perfectly-sized cast iron skillet for weight. I leave this odd little tower on the counter while I work on other dishes or--as is often the case when I'm home alone and in no hurry--wander into living room to sit on my red chair with a book.

It takes about 20 or so minutes for the transformation to be complete. When I return, the slices are flatter and slightly shriveled, the top layer creased with a ring from the bottom of the heavy pan. I lift the colander and place it under the sink, allowing cool water to flow over the eggplant and wash off the excess salt and juices. It was always this part that confused me when I first learned the method; why rinse in water after spending so much time to remove? The receiver bowl holds the answer to this question in the form of an inch or so of brownish liquid. I taste it and it's unpleasant--salty, bitter, acidic. It's so strong that I wonder if there could be a use for it. Compared with this, the cold water from the tap feels practically baptismal.

I feel protective of the wet rounds in the sink. They're not as spongy and hardy as they once were; they feel tender, softer, and much more vulnerable. Some have slight tears in the center where the flesh has constricted. I've put them through salt therapy and they've emerged sweeter, but in need of greater care. I rinse and pat each one gently with paper towels, arranging the dried rounds into neat lines on a sheet pan. They're ready to be cooked now.

In the essay "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," Laurie Colwin recounts the pleasures of consuming one as a solitary meal. I read the essay in a collection by the same name. The book is an ode to solitary dining, and it was this which inspired my own little ode to this versatile fruit. I'm not sure what it is, but there is something exciting about eggplants. I see one and instantly feel the urge to pierce the gorgeous royal purple skin. In other (ancient) cultures, the eggplant was revered. This is evident in its name. Only in English is it known by such an uninspiring, prosaic name. Call it aubergine, like the French. Or melanzana like the Italians. In Spanish it is berengena, or "apple of love," a name derived from the ancient Spanish belief that this enticing and somewhat naughty looking fruit was a powerful aphrodesiac. Regardless of name and preparation, the eggplant is hearty and versatile enough to sate the cravings of even the most devout carnivore. I am not a vegetarian, but I am happy eating eggplant as a main course.

As for how best to cook them, well, that's up to you to decide. I like caponata. I like ratatouille. Both are nearly the same thing with different names based on nothing more than my mood and what's playing on the iPod. (i.e. Paolo Conte=caponata; Edith Piaf=ratatouille.) I really enjoy rounds of roasted eggplant served with slices of Pecorino and honey. I like sauteing them and adding to a summery vegetable risotto. I like all of these things, but most of all I like to soak them in milk, dust with seasoned flour, and fry to a golden crisp. Eaten alone, straight off the draining rack while leaning dreamily against the counter these are better than chips. Or, if I'm feeling a bit more civilized, I enjoy them accompanied with a simple yogurt dip. Sandwiched with bits of cheese and basil, they make a wonderful and easy lunch. And, when I'm really feeling motivated, I layer the crisp slices into a casserole dish with herbed ricotta, grated mozzarella, and marinara (my favorite when too lazy to make my own is Rao's). I top with more cheese and bake just until the cheese is bubbly and the ricotta puffs up slightly.

It's late summer and the eggplants have never been more lovely. Here's my recipe for the eggplant ricotta bake; it's a bit involved, but the steps are easy and relaxing--just perfect for the cool evenings of a late August day.


Eggplant Ricotta Bake

To prepare the eggplant:
1 whole globe eggplant (also known as Western; that's the big ones you find most commonly in grocery stores)
Kosher salt
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 tablespoons of fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
Olive Oil for frying

For the filling:
2 cups of whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1/4 chopped roasted red pepper
1/4 chopped marinated sundried tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups marinara sauce
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano (or other hard cheese)


To make:

1.) Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds and salt to remove bitter juices (see above for instructions). Rinse then pat dry.
2.) In a shallow bowl or small baking dish, mix the flour, salt, pepper, and oregano. Be sure to taste the flour and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
3.) In a separate bowl, beat the egg and milk together. Dip each slice of eggplant in the milk mixture then drop into the flour, making sure to coat on both sides. Tap off excess flour and set on a baking sheet. Repeat with each slice of eggplant.
4.) Heat oil in a skillet and fry each slice, a few at a time. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan. Turn frequently until golden on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and place on a rack to drain. Salt the finish fried slices to keep them crisp.
5.) While the eggplant is cooling, mix the ricotta with the egg. Add the oregano, tomato, red pepper, and season to your liking.

To assemble the dish:
1.) Start with a few tablespoons of marinara on the bottom. Add a layer of eggplant, overlapping so that there are no empty spots.
2.) Cover with all the ricotta mixture
3.) Add another layer of eggplant, then top with the sauce.
4.) Finish with the mozzarella and pecorino
5.) Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until cheese is bubble and ricotta puffs a bit. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Hotcakes


I love that McDonald's calls their pancakes, "hotcakes." This fascinated me as a child when the mere mention of the word conjured up visions of something almost magical. "Hot" plus "cake" sounded delicious! Unfortunately the three bland, anaemic little circles basted in glue-like sugar syrup that were handed over through the drive-thru window were the epitome of deception for the younger me. Like sugar plums (which I'd imagined to be shimmering candy orbs instead of, well...fruit) and sweetbreads (ugh!), the reality fell disappointingly short of the name.

At home we called them pancakes and ate them fairly regularly, usually of the Aunt Jemima variety. That was all that we knew in this house where "from scratch" meant "Bisquick" and cakes came from the refrigerator case of the local Grand Union. For the first decade or so of my life, I never realized that pancakes (or biscuits, for that matter) could be made not using a box mix.

We have a bad case of the flu to thank for finally disabusing me of this idea.

In mid-February of my 12th year, I found myself miserable and buried under the covers in bed, my watery eyes glued to a still fairly new TV channel dedicated entirely to food and cooking. It was near Valentine's Day and cakes and other baked goods dominated the programming. I was hooked. I came out of the illness an inch taller, ten pounds lighter, and with a new passion. I poured through my mother's large (and mostly unused) collection of cookbooks, trying out recipes for just about anything that caught my attention.

My new hobby drove my mother crazy. I got flour everywhere. I used up everything in our pantry and refrigerator. I cut my finger and came damn well close to poisoning my entire family with undercooked chicken and odd substitutions. But I got better. Much better, in fact!.And it was around this time that I realized the truth that I wish everyone in this country knew: that mixing a cup of flour with a couple teaspoons of baking powder, an egg, and some milk is no more trouble than adding water and oil to the Aunt Jemima mix, only with results that are a dozen times better.

This is my "grown-up" version of pancakes, which uses whole wheat flour, ground flaxmeal, and cinnamon. Oh and (**decadent alert**) I use half &half instead of milk. (naughty!)

These rise up like no other pancake I've ever seen. The key to making this happen is to not over mix the batter. I repeat: don't over mix. If you're like me, you'll get the urge to beat out any lumps so the batter is completely smooth, but that will only toughen and flatten the pancakes. I like to use a rubber spatula and gently fold the ingredients together much in the same way I would with egg whites. Be delicate and err on the side of under mixing. As long as there aren't any dry spots, you'll be OK. Better than OK! Do this and your pancakes will puff up nicely and stay that way.

Try these. They're delicious, filling, and--unlike those sad little McDonald's ones--actually live up to their name (whatever that name might be). And between the whole grain flour, flax, and cinnamon, these are a hearty and healthy way to start the day. (Which is why you should feel NO guilt, about serving hot, drenched with good real maple syrup (I love Grade B for its richness of flavor), and extra pats of butter.

Oh, and will you do me a favor, please? Throw that box mix away. You're just never going to need (or want) it again.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Pancake Recipe
This recipe makes enough for two servings of three thick pancakes each. If you want more, feel free to double (or triple!) the recipe.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (I used Splenda)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (golden or regular)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup Half & Half (or milk, for the faint-hearted)
2 tablespoons melted butter

To make:
1. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, flaxseed, and salt in a large bowl and mix until combined.

2. In a separate medium bowl, beat the egg and add to this the Half & Half, melted butter, and vanilla.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine just enough to get rid of any dry spots. Do not overmix. It's OK if there are still a couple lumps in the batter. This is key to getting maximum rise and soft pancakes.

4. Let the batter sit while you heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat and melt some butter. (I like to remove the paper from one end of the stick of butter and then used the covered side to hold while I rub onto the skillet. Great way to keep from over-buttering and easy to do in between batches.)

5. Drop the batter in, about a 1/2 cup at a time making sure to leave enough room to spread. Let cook for a minute or two until the edges look cooked and tiny bubbles pop up in the batter.

6. Flip using a spatula, then use the sides to push under any extra batter that spills out the sides when you flip. It should tuck in easily for a nice, neat pancake. Let cook on the other side for another minute or two. Remove to a serving dish and (depending on how many you're making) keep hot in a warm oven until ready to eat.

Note: these freeze well in an airtight bag or container and can be reheated in a toaster. Not as good as fresh, but tasty for a quick snack or on the go breakfast (way better than a PopTart, for sure!)





Dinner for One


My boyfriend left town today. As I type, he and three friends are making their way across the Atlantic on a European adventure that was planned long before we got together. I’m excited for him, but also quickly realizing just how much I will miss him.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How easy it is to get used to being a “we.”

He took me to lunch today to say good-bye. I was working, so he rode the train to Midtown and met me in the lobby of my building—a grand sunny atrium with a three-story waterfall and a perpetual come-and-go of unusually beautiful people. He greeted me with a kiss (wearing that baby blue polo that I like most) and slipped in close behind me as we passed through the revolving doors leading out of the building. I looked up at him then, in the brilliant afternoon sun, and felt my stomach flip a little bit. Flip the way it does when I see him and realize again just how much I love him and just how much I want him and how incredible it is that he feels the same. “I don’t want to go back,” I said as he took my hand and led me around the corner. I felt myself mean it in more ways than one.

Lunch was delicious. I’d suggested Kashkaval, a wonderful little cheese shop with a wine bar and tiny restaurant nearly hidden in the back. Rustic wooden tables, small bud vases, and floor to ceiling shelves packed tight with old cookbooks and glass jars full of spices create a cozy space. The waitress was so pretty. Long brown hair and an easy air that made me wish I could spend the day running a place like this. She was helpful with suggestions. I ordered the turkey meatballs, but they were out so she suggested the chicken kabobs. I agreed and they arrived skewered with yellow peppers and sweet onions, seasoned and grilled to moist perfection. I particularly enjoyed a side of warm mushroom Bulgar that tasted better than any rice dish I’ve ever eaten, and a cool Greek salad full of generous chunks of feta and cucumber. We shared a cheese and meat plate that came sprinkled with almonds and dried cranberries. I made a mental note to repeat the trick at my next cocktail party. And, even though it was noon on a Wednesday and I had to go back to work, I washed it all down with a glass of crisp Orvieto. (Shhhh...)

When we first sat down, my boyfriend pulled his chair next to mine. I looped my arm through his and we stayed this way throughout our meal, my fingertips resting on his bicep, just beneath the cuff of his short-sleeved shirt. We leaned in close and talked about his itinerary, my editors, plans for this weekend. We listened in on a table full of German tourists. And, even though it was noon on a Wednesday and in a tiny restaurant crowded with strangers, we kissed.

I miss him already. I miss him because even though he’s only been gone a few hours, and even though we’ve only been together for a few months, somewhere inside me I’ve realized how much better it is when he’s around.

Tonight I made dinner for one. No heavy cooking. Just a salad. A salad of my favorite things—sweet roasted beets, fresh mixed greens, blueberries, Chevre, and crushed flaxseeds and pepitas. The beets look like little jewels nestled in the greens. The blueberries were a last minute addition--a glorious one! Bursting, juicy, perfect. And, because as good as it might be, I can never think of a salad like that as "enough," I topped it all off with two fluffy poached eggs and a dressing of reduced balsamic whisked with hazelnut oil and a dab of raw honey. Delicious, but I wanted even more. So I brought out the white truffle oil and drizzled it on...generously. The oil made it. Combined with the heat from the eggs, the salad seemed to breathe that sexy scent of lover's breath.

When he’s home, we eat in the library/dining room. We dim the lights. We light candles. We playfully argue over music (I like jazz; he likes, well…not jazz.)

Tonight I ate on the couch, legs crossed with my laptop to my left and Charlie Parker playing loud and tinny on my laptop speakers. I ate slowly, enjoying the blend of sweet and salty, crisp and creamy. I used too much salt (on purpose, the way I like it). I daydreamed. I planned. When I finished, I left the plates on the coffee table while I watched TV, enjoying all the shows he doesn’t really like. Afterward, even though it was already late, I went into the library and rearranged all the books by color in a kind of literary rainbow, just because.

I’m OK with being alone. I like it, actually. But I’ve learned how much nicer it can be with him around. When he gets back, I’ll show him my book rainbow. I’ll tell him stories (like how my brother sprained his ankle today by getting too excited at a Mets game and falling down some stairs). Perhaps I’ll make him my salad. If I do, I won’t use as much salt in the dressing. I’ll probably skip the flax seeds. We’ll eat at the table. He'll hold my hand. We'll go to bed early.

No real recipe tonight; just a salad made from the foods I love. Perhaps your salad is completely different. Is it? No matter, I'm sure you can figure it out. A salad of things you love...to be eaten while waiting for the one you love.

Truly Decadent


Ahh...funnel cake! Simultaneously spongy and crisp with pillowy drifts of light-as-air sugar. The loops and twists of this theme park favorite rival those of the fastest coaster. Burnt fingertips and dusts of powdered sugar on your thighs--doesn't get much better than this. This particular pastry was purchased and consumed on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ.

Can't get out to the park? Why not make your own at home?

Best Multi-Grain Banana Bread Recipe


I suspect the mice like bananas. Or perhaps it's the cinnamon that tickles their tiny pink noses. Whatever it is, they like it. I know this because not 15 minutes after I placed this banana bread in the oven to bake, did I walk back into the kitchen to find a little gray mouse perched brazenly on the kitchen counter, tiny paws poised on each side of a stray drop of batter. My entrance disturbed him and for just a second we stared at each other in what I can only imagine was a very mutual shock. It was four in the afternoon, for Pete's sake!

"Aren't you supposed to be nocturnal?!?" I thought as I watched him leap onto the floor and disappear under the cabinet, leaving me equal parts shaken and disgusted.

It's not like this was the first mouse. I've had, on occasion, a bit of a rodent situation. Nothing too severe, mind you, but every now and then--usually when it's dark in the kitchen--I'll catch one rustling near the trash or making a beeline from under the oven across the kitchen and beneath the fridge. When it happens, I scream my horror movie scream and jump and squirm like a real life caricature of a girl in a kitchen with a mouse. If my boyfriend is home he'll walk in and stomp around and wave a broom making a very manly sort of racket to spook the little creature away while I stand on the couch or chair or coffee table hugging myself and waiting for him to assure me that the coast is clear.

But this mouse. Well, this mouse was different. This mouse was brave. He smelled something that he wanted and went after it defying all accepted laws of mouse behavior.

At night I have terrifying dreams about the situation. I picture giant, dog-sized mice cheekily opening my fridge and serving themselves thick slices of brie and spoonfuls of baba ghanoush while gossiping to each other in a breathy, high-pitched squeek. I imagine that these are Bourgeois mice with international palates that seek drops of truffle oil and squares of bitter dark chocolate. They like only the best, which is why they haunt my kitchen.

But really, this isn't a post about mice. It's about banana bread. I only brought up the mouse because, as I noted earlier, he seemed to really like it. The scent of this cake filled the kitchen minutes after closing the oven door. Spicy hints of cinnamon and nutmeg plus the caramel-y sweetness of the brown sugar and that unmistakable--perhaps even nectar-like?--aroma of the bananas seemed to swoop in and fill every nook and cranny of my apartment. So perhaps I can't blame the mouse for coming out to sample the goods. He just couldn't resist.

This cake is good. It's moist, almost muffin-like, with a subtle sweetness and a beautiful crumb. The recipe is full of unexpected secrets: olive oil, sour cream, and my favorite: one single ripe and juicy peach, mashed beyond recognition and blended in with the rest of the ingredients. You won't taste it, but it'll be there, a perfectly sweet and silent partner. You could use applesauce if you wanted, but it won't be nearly the same.

Enjoy. But don't get mad if you suddenly find yourself hosting some unexpected visitors; whether human or animal, this cake is sure to bring them all out.

Best Banana Bread. Ever.

Ingredients

3 or 4 really ripe bananas, mashed into a pulp
1 really ripe peach, mashed into a pulp
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 sour cream
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
1/4 old fashioned rolled oats
3 tablespoons unprocessed bran
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh if you have it!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees
1.) In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until thick and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the olive oil, spices, and vanilla.
2.) Add the sour cream, mashed bananas, and mashed peach until combined.
3.) Combine the baking soda, baking powder, salt, oatmeal, bran, and flour.
4.) Add the dry mixture into the wet, slowly sifting in 1 cup at a time until it is all combined.
5.) Pour the mixture into a buttered and floured loaf pan (or four mini pans like I did).
6.) Bake for approximately 1 hour (based on your oven) until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
7.) Cool on a rack and serve warm or room temp.

Weird Beets: Two Ways


The NY Times food section seems to be on a bit of a beet kick lately. First there was a series of articles extolling the many, many health benefits of these sugary gems. Then they started showcasing a few recipes promising to instruct loyal Times readers in "new ways" to cook them. New ways?! Pshaw! There's nothing new or exciting about "roasted beets" or "borscht." Even "Mediterranean Beet Salad" has failed to pique my interest. Maybe it's just me, but I expected a bit more from the people who taught us how to make no-knead bread and the "world's best chocolate chip cookies." Sorry, but beet salad just isn't going to cut it.

Having recently come into a wealth of beets thanks to our in-office farmer's market, I decided it was the perfect time to try out a few experiments of my own. I usually keep a few roasted and peeled beets in the fridge as they are perfect for slicing into salads paired with tangy goat cheese, peppery arugula, and drizzles of hazelnut oil. But this time I wanted something a little out of the ordinary. The pile of gorgeous beets (torpedo beets! giant candy cane striped chioga beets! baby beets!) was growing bigger and bigger and was just begging me to do something lovely with it. And so, upon discovering a wonderful log of creamy local chevre on sale at Fairway (it's like no other store!) I decided to give beet gnocchi a shot. And I figured that while I was at it, I might also try a sweet beet ice cream.

When I IM'd my Ukrainian-born (and therefore rather beet-acquainted) boyfriend my plans, he seemed a bit skeptic.

"I just can't wrap my head around it," he said, referring to the ice cream plans and instead suggested I try a Russian salad that paired the beets with mayo and garlic.

"boiled grated beets+mayo+garlic=$" he messaged. As a mayo-fanatic I didn't doubt that this combination was, in fact, "money," but I was in the mood to be weird with my beets and couldn't be dissuaded.

"Just wait until Friday," I insisted.

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My plans for both the gnocchi and the ice cream were similar. I wanted to cut the natural sweetness of the beets with something cool and tangy. Goat cheese and sour cream are perfect and traditional accompaniments for beets and both lend themselves well to gnocchi and ice cream-making.

I based my beet pasta on a delicate (and surprisingly simple) goat cheese gnocchi recipe I learned in Florence, combining the roasted beet puree with equal parts chevre and fresh ricotta. I hand formed the nuggets and used a fork to imprint the traditional grooves on each one. I boiled the gnocchi then finished them off in a simple sage and butter sauce in a skillet to give them a slightly crisp exterior. A sprinkle of nutmeg and salt and they were ready for plating. (I served accompanied by a stuffed pork loin filled with goat cheese, spinach, and sun dried tomatoes.)

Now for the ice cream I wanted something smooth and creamy. I opted for a base of sour cream to go along with the roasted beet puree. I also added a bit of blood orange juice to the blend; a decision which I think did a lot to lift the deep flavors of the beets. During the last five minutes of churning I tossed in a handful of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate chunks which added color and an
additional depth of flavor.

Not wanting to stop there, I paired the finished ice cream with a tangy and sweet goat cheese panna cotta flecked with vanilla beans; a kind of dessert riff on my favorite salad. The final combination was wonderful. It's by no means a traditional dessert, but if you're in the mood for something a little offbeat and unexpected, I absolutely urge you to give it a try.

Oh and if you're wondering, my boyfriend said he couldn't really taste the beet flavor in the gnocchi, although he did enjoy them. And he didn't hate the ice cream! In fact, he completely finished off his portion and my own. He liked the combination of the goat cheese panna cotta with the beet ice cream, although he noted that he didn't think the ice cream could stand alone.

Here are the recipes so you can recreate your own beet meal at home:



Beet & Goat Cheese Gnocchi

1/2 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup roasted beat puree (approximately 3-4 large beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed)
2 cups flour (sifted), plus additional for flouring work surface
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 whole eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1.) In a large bowl, combine the goat cheese and ricotta until smooth. Add the beat puree and mix until evenly combined.

2.) Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

3.) Slowly add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. If your dough seems a bit too wet, feel free to add an extra 1/4 cup of flour.

4.) Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. The dough will still be fairly wet, but you should be able to handle it.

5.) Working with about a handful of dough at a time, roll out a long snake about an inch thick. Use a floured knife to cut out the gnocchi every inch and a half or so. Roll each gnocchi along the tines of a fork (or simply indent by gently pressing the back of the fork into the side of each nugget).

6.) Place the formed gnocchi on a floured baking sheet.

7.) When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the gnocchi in batches. Let cook until they bob to the surface and then cook for an additional 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to pull out of the pot and serve with your favorite sauce.

TIP: For extra crisp, finish in a skillet with a bit of butter and torn sage. Let toast on one side (the contrast make for an interesting texture) then serve with a sprinkle of nutmeg and additional torn fresh sage.



Beet Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

1 cup roasted beet puree (about 3-4 medium sized beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed)
1/2 cup blood orange juice (fresh is awesome, but I used from concentrate)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chopped dark chocolate (60% Cacao or greater)

1. In a large bowl, combine the beet puree, blood orange juice, sour cream, heavy cream, and sugar and mix until completely blended and smooth (use a fork to break down any lumps).

2. Add the sugar and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.

3. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate to chill for at least one hour.

4. Freeze and churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Five minutes before the end of the churning process, add the chocolate chips.

5. Pour into a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 4 hours or until it reaches the proper ice cream texture.

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