Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips & Walnuts

Banana Bread muffins to be exact. It’s not the kind of thing you can plan to make. It has to happen because you got carried away and bought more bananas than you could eat, and then you went out of town for a couple of days, and then came back to bananas that looked like this:

And that’s when you know that special time has come. It’s pretty exciting. In my own humble opinion, banana bread is a bummer without chocolate chips. We had a neighbor when I was growing up who made us a loaf one time and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Over the years I’ve tried various recipes, and finally, it’s happened – I’ve found the best banana bread recipe ever. So, check it out – it starts with 1/2 cup (100g) of unsalted butter at room temperature and a cup of sugar. Cream them together ’til they’re that nice light yellow color. Then add 2 large eggs, one at a time, mixing each one.

One. And Two.

Then mash up those over-ripe bananas (minimum 2, but I used 4 for extra moisture, sweetness, and all around banana goodness) using a fork, or a potato masher. Add it into the butter, sugar, egg mix. Also, add 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Now it’s time for the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the dry to the wet and mix until fully incorporated.

Now add semi-sweet chocolate chips (about a cup).

And chopped walnuts (or not – up to you – about half a cup).

Now you can put this into a loaf pan – you’ll probably need two, but I’m not sure because I always make them in cupcake molds. I have these super cool silicone cupcake molds shaped like hearts. They are good because they are reusable and don’t stick, so you don’t have to put any cooking spray in them.

These go into a 350ºF (176ºC) oven for 12-15 minutes until they are golden brown on top. Like this!

This mix made 16 muffins. That’s a lot of yummy muffins to have around tempting me…

Anyway, now you know what to do when your bananas get too ripe. Try it, you won’t regret it.

Now, here’s the ingredient list:

  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (more makes it more moist!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Props to epicurious.com for this one (link)

French Onion Soup

Another week has flown by. I had to go back to work. It rained a lot. I made “the” Spanish tortilla. And I also made this French Onion Soup. But before I made this soup there was Lunes de Aguas, or I guess we could say “Monday of Water”. This is a strange little holiday. It only exists in the province of Salamanca and it falls on the first Monday after Easter break, therefore extending the holiday by one last day. (Mondays are hard, we don’t want to have to go back to reality on a Monday!)

I call it a strange little holiday because of the story behind it: back in the day all of the prostitutes were obligated to leave the city limits and go across the river that runs along Salamanca’s souther border during Holy Week. On Monday, after Easter Sunday, they would go fetch the hookers and let them come back to the city. Now, you thought that was the strange part, but actually this is: at lunchtime everything in Salamanca would shut down and everyone would go down to the river and sit on the grassy bank with their families to have a picnic and watch the prostitutes return to the city. Thankfully, the only part of this tradition which remains is the shutting down and the picnic. Even the picnic food is a tradition, you must eat Hornazo.

Hornazo is like an empanada filled with chorizo, pork loin and ham. In the week leading up to Lunes de Aguas literally every bakery in Salamanca advertises Hornazos, encouraging you to order one. We picked up this sucker, which weighed about 3 pounds (1.5 kilos) at a local shop and, along with some beers, headed down to the river with some friends to picnic for the rest of the afternoon. While pretty much everyone partakes in this tradition, the river is mostly filled with young people eating, drinking, and generally enjoying usually one of the first decently warm days of the spring.

Then French Onion Soup. I had it once in Paris, but that wasn’t really why I wanted to make it. Actually, when I was in Zamora, I stopped in the village where my aunt and uncle have a country home and a huge vegetable garden. While I was there, they gave me a bunch of onions, like 6 or 7 pounds of onions! And that’s when it came to me.

So, I made this soup thinking it was 4 servings, but it turned out to be only two (but we had it as a main dish, not as the starter, so probably there would be enough for 4). Four cups of onions, sliced thinly and vertically went into a pot with a little bit of olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pot). Five minutes on medium-high heat to get them going. Add 1/4 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Then 20 minutes with the heat reduced to medium, stirring it every 2-3 minutes as the onions caramelize. Keep an eye on it, you don’t want them to get browned, just slowly wilt and turn a caramel brown color.

When 20 minutes have passed and the onions look like this, crank up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pot with a little white wine. Then add 4 cups of broth and 1/8 teaspoon of thyme. Bring this to a simmer, cover, and let it do its thing for 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours…it’s a quite time consuming soup, but during that time the soup needs nothing from you, so you can do any of the other things you might enjoy doing.

After 2 hours, turn on your broiler, and toast 4 1-inch slices of french bread and then cut them into 1-inch cubes. Divide the soup up between 2 large (or 4 small) oven-safe bowls and top the bowls with the bread cubes and some freshly grated cheese (I think the typical is swiss cheese – or something similar – but I used Grana Padano). Put them on a baking sheet and under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Be patient, because the soup is now super hot and you will burn your tongue off.

While this is a really time consuming soup, you only have to actively cook for the first 30 minutes, so it’s good for a day when you’re going to be hanging out at home all morning, you know, doing your laundry and watching TV. The flavors are amazingly rich and the onions are practically disolved. Considering there is no flour or anything to thicken it, you might imagine onions floating around in broth, but actually it comes out thick and hearty.

I got the recipe from Cooking Light and it was for 8 servings, I halved it because I didn’t want to eat this soup four times this week, but actually if you are eating it on its own, I would make double whats below for two reasons: it takes a long time and I bet the next day it’s even better!

Here’s the ingredient list for 2 main dish servings or 4 starters:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 cups sweet onions, thinly and vertically sliced (about 3 medium onions)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 4 cups lower-sodium chicken or beef broth (1 liter)
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme
  • 4 1-inch slices of french bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons of freshly grated Grana Padano or Swiss cheese

*Recipe adapted from cookinglight.com (link)

A note to my European friends: It has been brought to my attention that American measurements are not helpful and that it would be cool to have some metric measurements. I’m doing the best I can! Some things are so difficult because we use volume (cups) where Europeans would use weight (grams)… Anyway, just so you know: a “teaspoon” is a small spoon or “cucharilla de café”, a “tablespoon” is a large spoon or “cuchara sopera”, and a “cup” is like a normal drinking glass. I hope that helps!

Steamed Mussels with Saffron Cream Broth

I just came home from a wine tasting at the Escuela de Hostelería de Salamanca which is the local hotel management school. In addition to actual degrees, they do short courses, in this case 2.5 hours, for aficionados like myself. We did a “vertical” tasting of Protos Crianza wines, which are a well known Ribera del Duero wine. Vertical refers to the fact that instead of tasting a variety of wines from one year, we tasted the same wine from several years, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, to be exact. So you get to taste how they have aged in the bottle over the years.

It was pretty fun. We started out by trying to identify some smells from these little bottles – the teacher was pretty impressed that I got 4 of 7 right, more than any of the other students, but I’m not getting too excited because I have to recognize that I was the youngest, only non-smoker and one of only two females (and everyone knows the ladies have a better sense of smell) in the class of 8. 2008 was my favorite and I have confirmed what I have always known, I prefer fruitier, younger wines with less tannins. But it was fun to learn how to look at, classify, and correctly taste wine.

Yesterday I spent the morning with my dog at the doggy hair salon turning him from the rastafari man to a little french poodle.

Before:

After:

OMG he has eyes!! And spaghetti legs… But I’m so in love with him right now!

Anyway, back to those delicious mussels. I bought a kilo (or 2.2 lbs) of fresh mussels at the supermarket yesterday, mainly because they were 1.50 euros, and made them for lunch. It was raining and I’m on semi-vacation, so it was like, yeah, I’m going to eat a pound of mussels and drink some white wine!

It was a pretty simple endeavor, which I had always been a little hesitant about, not sure why. I finely chopped half an onion and sautéed it for about 5 minutes in a little bit of olive oil with a couple cloves of garlic. Then I added a pinch of saffron and then a half cup (120ml) of white wine and a cup (240ml) of broth (fish broth would probably be best, but I only had chicken on hand). Then I added about 3 tablespoons (45ml) of heavy cream, mixed it up and brought it to a boil. Once I had it at a simmer, I added the mussels, which I had previously cleaned, covered the pot and let them steam in the broth for 5 minutes. After checking to see that they had all opened, I took them off the heat and served them up with all that nice broth and a huge hunk of french baguette to soak up that yum. Don’t add any salt to it, other than what’s in the broth and if you get it “low-sodium” it’s probably better. The mussels are sea salty enough!

After eating up all these mussels and dunking my bread in the broth, I ate, or drank, the rest of the broth like a soup. Then I took a nap. Haha. Vacation is awesome.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (1 kilo) fresh, LIVE!, mussels, washed and de-bearded
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (whole or finely chopped, depending on your feelings about garlic)
  • one pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) white wine
  • 1 cup (240ml) fish or chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) heavy cream
  • white wine for drinking and a baguette for dunking and soaking

 

Spaghetti with Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Happy Easter everyone (a tad bit late)! It’s been a good week because it’s included 2 whole days of vacation! And now I’m on semi-vacation because the majority of my students have gone back to whence they came for the vacation. I’ve encountered a curious problem though with this free time. I have so many things I want to do and haven’t been able to do because of work that now I can’t decide where to focus my energy first. It’s making me almost less productive than when I am working full time… How can that be?

Ok, so I’m focused now and have decided that step one is to update my blog because on my two little days free I encountered some pretty enjoyable food. We went to Zamora on Friday with the intention of seeing Holy Week processions for which this city is famous, but also to visit with family members who I haven’t seen in ages. Unfortunately, it rained the whole day and no processions were seen, so instead we had ourselves a fantastic homemade meal and a marathon of card games accompanied by an assortment of liqueurs and firewater. Procession? What procession?

When we finally emerged, the rain had ceased and a little fresh air was needed. We took a ride into a nearby village where their underground bodegas are famous. Zamora is wine land, and these bodegas is where the wine was made and stored, deep in the ground where it’s cool and dry. Nowadays, most of them are restaurants that serve an assortment of meats grilled over an open flame, or parrilla, family style. There’s not even a menu – the waitress just comes up to the table and tells you which types of meat they have and do you want some wine.

Chorizo, pork ribs, and wine in a pitcher…

To finish it off, a little sweet flan (sadly, not homemade). By now, you’re ridiculously full and your only real option is to sip on a shot or two of firewater (it’s on the house after all) to help digest this meal fit for some type of burly lumberjack.

Only three of us were eating all of this, by the way…

But it is an interesting place to eat. It’s down in the depths of a cavern paved in stone. So you have to remember, while drinking your firewater, that you have to make it back up these stairs…

Back at home the following day (which commenced with a brutal headache from that pitcher of rural wine) two things happened. It was a holiday and supermarkets were closed and overconsumption led to a need for a lighter meal. Enter spaghetti with creamy red pepper sauce. I had a jar of roasted piquillo peppers in the pantry, so I tried out this recipe I had bookmarked a few months ago, but hadn’t gotten around to trying.

Slowly sauté a whole medium onion, sliced thinly, and a few cloves of garlic in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As always, I leave the cloves whole so I can remove them later… When it’s soft and translucent, add a whole jar (250 grams/a cup or so) of roasted red peppers or roasted piquillo peppers (these are the smaller triangular ones). Drain them and give them a rough chop first. If you’re super ambitions, roast your own, but then this will cease to be the super fast and easy meal that it is…

Give them a couple minutes more, just to get heated through, then remove the garlic (if you want to) and put the mixture into a blender or tall cup (if you have an immersion blender) and puree until completely smooth.

The finished product. This is now ready to be poured over your favorite pasta. The original recipe called for feta, but since I don’t care for feta, I decided to omit it and see what it tasted like on its own before deciding whether or not to add some kind of cheese or cream. Turns out its delicious all on its own! This is a great substitute to tomato sauce. So much so, in fact, that the next day I used the leftovers as  the base for a veggie pizza.

So there you have it! Another one of those fast and healthy meals – and this one is versatile too!

Ingredient list:

  • one medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (whole or roughly chopped)
  • 250 g/1 to 1 1/2 cup roasted red peppers/piquillo peppers, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese for topping

This makes enough sauce for 4 servings of spaghetti.

*Recipe adapted from Elli Krieger (cookingchanneltv.com) (link)

Kanelsnegle, Drømmekage, Hindbærsnitter and Other Danish Things

I spent last weekend strolling the streets of Copenhagen and eating delicious Danish pastries. Sometimes living in Europe is just. so. awesome. A good friend of mine is living there while he studies a masters, so I had to take advantage of a personal tour guide. Aside from a small hiccup in the form of a nationwide strike in Spain, planned coincidentally on the very day I was to fly, delaying my flight slightly, it was a fabulous weekend with unusually wonderful weather for this time of year. This is a picture of Nyhavn, probably one of Copenhagen’s most recognizable landmarks. Now thats enough of that, this is a food blog after all. On to pastries…

There are a lot of these store fronts in Copenhagen with these amazing, unpronounceable names. They all vary slightly, but there are some pastries that can be found in all of them. Like these:

This is Kanelsnegle – it’s like a cinnamon roll made with puff pastry instead of dough. I think this is my favorite. I mean, cinnamon and brown sugar? What is better? Oh, add frosting? Ok, now it’s perfect. BTW, Americans, I know this looks like very little frosting for our cinnabun tastes, but actually it was a very dense and very sweet frosting, so it was absolutely perfect. One thing that became clear to me after trying a couple of these things is that Danes like their pastries very sweet – which is just fine with me! Next stop:

This lovely morsel is Hindbærsnitter. “Hindbær” means raspberry, which is what the jam filling is made of. Yum! My friend tells me he does not know what “snitter” means, and google translator tells me it’s either “chips” or “chopper”, so…I’m equally at a loss. Anyway, it’s really not important. He called this a “gourmet poptart” which is a pretty accurate description, but doesn’t really do it justice. The cookie is similar to very soft shortbread and the frosting is the same one they used on the cinnamon roll above. Very sweet and very delicious. Seriously, I don’t know how my dear friend has not gained 100 pounds… Last, but certainly not least:

This is Drømmekage, which means “dream cake”. How very appropriate. Now, I actually made this one from a box mix when I got back home – I brought it as a little gift to my boyfriend who I left behind at home all by his lonesome. I didn’t actually get to try this dream cake while I was in Copenhagen because in between pastries there was beer to be drunk and friends to be met (life can’t just be strolling and pastry eating!) so I picked up this mix at the local grocery store.  And after copiously entering all of the baking instructions into google translator in order to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do, I came up with this (and this was gone within 2 days…) Number one was mixed with water and butter and looks and tastes similar to vanilla cake. Then Number Two was mixed with a tad more butter and water and spread over the top for the last 5 minutes of baking. It’s a mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, and coconut.

So that was Copenhagen in three sweet treats. It was a great weekend in a beautiful city and I thank him for showing me such a good time and all of his Danish friends for being so welcoming. Next time, maybe I’ll have a bigger budget and we can try these Michelin star restaurants, but in the meantime, wandering around on a sugar high works for me!

Here are a few more pics from the weekend. All very “hyggelig” – which is pronounced like “hoogily” – meaning “cozy”, but it’s used to describe a lot of situations and feelings, like for example having a glass of wine on a sunny day next to a beautiful lake. New favorite word.