Saturday, October 12, 2013

Banana Sweet Bread

With a great sweet dough recipe, variations are endless.  You can make raisin bread or cinnamon rolls or even hot cross buns.  All home bakers should have at least one great sweet dough recipe in their repertoire. The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook is a good place to start. 

Bread is magic and every country has its own way of conjuring yeast and flour and water into nourishment that not only sustains life but also gives many a reason to continue living.  (Thinking of my friend, Carol, here who would probably choose bread if she were only allowed to eat one thing for the rest of her life.)  From the roti canai of Malaysia and the baguette of France to the pão de queijo of Brazil and the aish baladi of Egypt, we have taken bread to heart as we learn to love the places we have called home.  Bread is comfort, from the therapeutic act of kneading the dough and the deep yeasty smell as it rises in a warm place, to the heady aroma while it bakes, drawing the family near.  I guarantee, you’ll never have so many friends as when fresh bread comes out of your oven.

This recipe is adapted from my old standby, Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, 1980 edition. 

For the bread dough:
1/3 cup or 75g sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (1/4oz or 7g) I use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise.
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2-3 cups or 315-375g flour
1/2 cup or 120ml milk
1/3 cup or 75g butter
1 egg
1 medium banana

For the filling:
2 medium bananas
3 tablespoons or 45g butter
Good pinch salt
1/4-1/2 cup or 50-100g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put your sugar, yeast, salt and half a cup of flour in the bowl of your stand mixer or other bowl if you are going to use hand beaters.

Put the milk and butter in a microwaveable container and heat until it reaches between 120 and 130°F or 49-54 °C.  If you don’t have a thermometer handy, this would feel quite hot to the touch (I mean, put a finger in it.) but you would be able to keep your finger in it comfortably.  The butter doesn’t need to completely melt.

Pour the warm milk mixture into the mixing bowl and beat until combined.

Add in one banana and one egg.   Beat well.

Add one cup of flour and beat well.

Add more flour, a half a cup at a time until you have a soft dough and it’s too stiff to beat in the mixer anymore.   Use a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula to mix in the last of the flour.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured surface.  Knead well for about five minutes.

Wash your mixing bowl out and spray the inside with a little non-stick spray or rub with butter.

Form a ball out of your dough and pop it back in the bowl to rest and rise.  Ideally, you want it to double in size.  This can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour, depending on your yeast.

Cover with a cloth and if your room is colder than 80-85 °F or °C, put the stopper in your sink and fill it part way up with hot tap water.  Set the bowl in the sink.

While the dough is rising, grease your bread pan and make the filling.

Melt the butter in a medium sized non-stick skillet and slice the two bananas into the pan.  Throw in the pinch of salt.

The butter will start to bubble up and the bananas will caramelize a little.

They are done when the milk liquids have evaporated and only the oily part of the butter is left.  Set it aside to cool.

When your dough has risen sufficiently, punch it down.  Spread it or roll it out into a rectangle (about 12x18in or 30x45cm) on top of a large sheet of cling film on a clean counter top.

Distribute the bananas and butter evenly over the rectangle of dough.

Sprinkle with the light brown sugar.  As the dough is already sweet, I used about a 1/4 cup of sugar but if your family loves things sweet, feel free to use more.  Sprinkle on the teaspoon of cinnamon.

Start rolling the dough up on the short side until you have a neat tube.  Fold the sides of the roll under.

Place the dough seam side down in your greased bread pan.  Sprinkle with a little flour and, use a sharp knife or lame´ to cut some slits in the top of the dough.  Set in a warm place - this could be the kitchen sink with hot water again, if necessary - and allow to rise until doubled.

When it’s getting close, preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

Almost flowing over the sides of the pan! 

Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped.  Turn it out on a wire rack to cool a little before cutting.  This stuff is great just as it is but it is even better when slathered with some butter.

For breakfast the next day, assuming there is any left, toast it and apply butter liberally.  Delicious!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beef Steak Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Topside steaks, grilled medium rare and sliced thinly, add delicious color and protein to a green dinner salad dressed with orange vinaigrette. Oranges add a fresh touch to any vinaigrette. They go especially well with thinly sliced purple onions to dress your favorite salad greens.

A couple of months back I received an email from a company in Australia that exports organic beef to Dubai. The nice woman on the other end expressed the hope that I would like their beef and tell my readers about it. Now, I have to say, organic isn’t that crucial to me, but after further research, I discovered that OBE Organic Australia’s beef is also grassfed and free range.

I mean genuinely free range with more than a square kilometer a head. And that is something I could support.

I was delighted to read that it is sold not at some specialty store but in one of my favorite places to shop, the hypermarket Carrefour. After further correspondence, I was offered a Carrefour gift card to make the purchase. Well, that was a kind offer but if I am going to give you, my readers, my honest impression of the beef, I decided that I needed to buy it myself. After all, we’ve got to eat dinner too, right? When I declined the gift card personally, I asked if I could have it to give away to my Dubai readers and my request was granted. So off I went to buy some beef!

The Carrefour nearest my house (Mirdiff City Centre) had a small selection. Just some topside steak and a few ribeyes, both quite thinly cut. I spoke to the butcher who was very helpful and he pulled a whole enormous piece of meat out of the refrigerator in the back and accommodatingly cut me two thicker steaks of the topside. Together the steaks weighed about 500g or a little over one pound in weight and cost Dhs. 36 or about US$10. That’s five dollars a steak.  For those of you not in Dubai, that’s extremely reasonable for here, especially for organic free-range beef. So the price was good, but would it be tasty?

Now, almost any meat is good in a stew where you can cook it until it’s tender. For me the best test is to season it lightly and grill it, either over some hot coals or on a cast iron grill pan. So I sprinkled the steaks with a little white vinegar, which is my way with beef, and some sea salt flakes and black pepper. And I cooked them till medium rare and sliced them thinly. The verdict: Tasty and tender.

I now have in my hot little hands a Carrefour gift card worth Dhs. 100 that I would like to share with my Dubai readers, courtesy of OBE Organic Australia.   Please leave me a comment on this post saying what area of Dubai you live in and what you would make with OBE beef if you won the gift card, and I will use a randomizer to choose a winner two weeks from now on Thursday, 17 October.  Be sure to sign in using a valid email (will not be published) so I can contact you when you win.

If you’d like to go give us both a Like on Facebook, it would be much appreciated.  Click on these links.

                  OBE Organic Australia                   Food Lust People Love  

To learn more about OBE Organic Australia, head on over to their website.

Just FYI, there is a bigger selection of OBE beef at the Carrefour at Mall of the Emirates and perhaps I just caught Mirdiff on an off day.  But if you don’t see what you want, be sure to ask the helpful butchers. All of their beef is also halal.

For the rest of you worldwide, my apologies about the gift card but I do have a simple but delicious recipe to share and I hope you will forgive me.

Beef Steak Salad with Orange Vinaigrette - Click here to print

Ingredients to serve two
2 topside steaks – approximately 500g or 17 oz
2 Mandarin oranges
1/2 small purple onion
1/8 cup or 30ml red wine or balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup or 30ml olive oil
4 oz or 100g packet arugula or rocket  (This doesn’t sound like much by weight but it’s a good size package of leaves!)

Season your meat by sprinkling it lightly with white vinegar, sea salt flakes and black pepper.

(I have a specific vinegar bottle for these occasions, with a couple of slits poked in the plastic lid.
The lid with holes
Use a knife or ice pick to make a sprinkler of yours, but do be careful.)  Cover with cling film and set aside for at least half an hour.  This allows the meat to lose the worse of the chill, if not to come to room temperature.

Meanwhile slice your onion very thinly.  Peel the oranges and cut the hard center off of each peg.  Remove the seeds.  Cut the orange pegs into two pieces.

Pile the onions and cut oranges into a small bowl and add about a 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt flakes and a few good grinds of fresh black pepper.  Add the vinegar and olive oil.  Mix and set aside.  The juice of the oranges will make this into a beautifully fresh dressing.

Rinse your greens thoroughly and dry in a salad spinner.  If you don’t own a salad spinner, put them in a clean dish towel and pull all the ends together.  Go outside and swing your arm around and around until the water stops flying out.  Sure, the neighbors might look at you funny, but you are going to have steak for dinner. Forget them!

When you are about ready to eat, turn on your vent hood extraction fan, because cooking the steak can get smoky.   Heat your griddle pan till very hot and cook the steaks on high for about three minutes and then turn them over.

Cook for another three minutes then turn them back to the first side for another minute, but change the angle to create the grid pattern.

Now turn them again for the last minute.  If you are keeping track, this adds up to about four minutes a side and is going to give you medium rare to rare steak.  Add a minute or two to each side total for medium. You really don’t want to cook this any more than that or it will probably get tough. Nothing to do with the OBE beef but everything to do with topside. This is not the most tender cut but that’s why I chose it. More valid test!

Remove from the heat and allow to rest for about five minutes.

To serve, slice the beef very thinly and pile on top of your salad greens.  Or arrange them very nicely.  Your choice.  Drizzle your vinaigrette all around on the greens and then add the oranges and onions.  Put salt and pepper on the table in case anyone wants to add just a little more.

Top photo is more casual and this one is arranged fancy.  Either one is delicious! 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cinnamon Blueberry Muffins #MuffinMonday

A basic muffin recipe is a great thing to have in your repertoire.  Once you have the essential liquids and dry ingredients in place, flavor changes are easy to make by swapping the fruit or adding zest, extracts or even chocolate chips.

Have you ever taken a class, whether when still in school or outside the classroom environment, where you have learned so much that when you get home, you feel like the information must be pouring out of your brain through your ears?  That’s how I felt on Saturday evening.

A couple of months ago I signed up for one-day Food Bloggers Connect workshop right here in Dubai.  Two wonderful experts would teach an eager cohort about photography, recipe development and how to improve blog appeal.  There would be individual blogs critiques and hands-on food photography sessions.  We were asked to bring our cameras, naturally, and any props we wanted to use, so I decided to bring a cake stand.  Suddenly, in the middle of the night before, it occurred to me that I couldn’t just bring a cake stand!  It needed to have something on it, right?  Who takes photos of just the stand?  Also, one of my personal challenges is always how to make photos of my muffins look interesting week after week.  So maybe I should take some of those.

Early that morning I mixed up a quick batch of cinnamon blueberry muffin batter.  I baked half in a six-cup muffin pan and half in a small tube pan.  And, powdered sugar sprinkler in hand, I raced off to class.

As it turned out, the organizers had ordered a bunch of fancy cakes for the exercises so my cake wouldn’t have been necessary but I am pleased to say my small group used it for one of the photo sessions, bless them, and another group chose to set up the muffins.  And I came away simply bursting with information about photographing food and how to improve my blog that I am still trying to absorb.

The cake, as we set it up for the photo session.
As you can see, this muffin recipe is extremely versatile, working just as well for 12 muffins as it does in a regular cake pan as a coffee cake. (Or half and half!)  Just increase the baking time to 35-40 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean, if you are making a whole cake rather than muffins.

2 cups or 250g all purpose flour
3/4 cup or 170g sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup or 240ml milk
1/2 cup or 120ml canola oil
2 large eggs
1 generous cup or about 175g fresh or frozen blueberries. (Mine were frozen.)

Optional: powdered sugar for decoration when serving

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your muffin pan by greasing it or lining it with paper muffin cups.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, the sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir well.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, oil and eggs.

Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold them together until just mixed.

Your wet ingredients will be lovely and yellow, like this. 
Fold in your blueberries.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

If you are only making muffins, use a 12-cup pan! 

Bake in the preheated oven about 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool on a rack for a few minutes and then remove the muffins to cool completely.

Sprinkle with some powdered sugar, if desired.

This was the quick photo I took before rushing off to class Saturday morning.
The one at the top of the post was taken during the workshop.