Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sesame Banana Bread

I happen to be one of those people that can only eat certain things when they're in disguise.  My list happens to be pretty short, but bananas are in the top three.  The thought of eating a banana straight up kind of skeeves me out and forget about WATCHING someone eat a banana.  It's just TOO much for me to handle.  Maybe it's a texture thing, maybe it's OCD, but unless bananas are IN something, like a smoothie, I just can't get into it. 

Ironically, banana bread happens to be one of my favorite quickbreads. It's as if someone concentrated the delicious flavor of a banana but without the creepy mouthfeel. 

Conventional quickbreads are pretty straightforward.  Flour, sugar, butter or oil and whatever you want to add in.. pumpkin, zucchini, apple, banana etc..
They are great when you want to bring your neighbor, parents or friends a little snacking cake, but when it's just me, I like to switch things up a bit.

You know.. like adding sesame seeds to banana bread.

The flavor combination sounded a little weird at first.  I've only used sesame seeds in savory dishes, but have used tahini (ground sesame seed paste) in sweets and treats with much success so I decided to give it a go.

I wish I could take credit for the deliciousness of this banana bread, but it was all Heidi Swanson.  Her blog, 101 cookbooks, is a constant source of inspiration for cooking with whole foods ingredients.

A combination of whole wheat and white spelt flour makes this bread heartier than using white flour, which most of us are accostomed to eating.  Olive oil takes the place of canola or vegetable oil, and yogurt is added to keep it moist.  The sesame seeds are a welcome addition, giving the bread texture and a healthy dose of calcium. 

Sesame Banana Bread
Slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup white spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 c. toasted sesame seeds

1/4 c. black sesame seeds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (~3 bananas)

1/4 cup plain,whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350° F, and place a rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9- by 5- inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf pan, or equivalent.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt and sesame seeds and combine well.
In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, eggs, mashed banana, yogurt, and zest. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. You want to achieve beautiful color on the cake, but at the same time you don't want to bake all the moisture out of it. So the minute you're in that zone, pull it, erring on the side of under-baking versus over.
Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.
Serves 10

Friday, September 21, 2012

Green Couscous

I'm a big fan of herb(s).

Not the kind you smoke, silly... the kind you eat.  Then again you can eat the stuff when simmered in butter and incorporated into a bake good, but that's not where I'm going here.

Last time I smoked herb there was lawn gnomes, midgets and Begali tigers involved.

Let's just say that I haven't touched the stuff since that day. No explanation needed.

Fresh herbs, on the other hand, are a whole different story.

I like to keep a variety of different herbs on hand, depending on the season.  Fresh basil in the summer can be tossed with pasta or tomatoes or even muddled with some cucumber and gin for a refreshing beverage.  Sage, thyme and rosemary are great to have in the winter and fall. Add a couple sprigs to soups, roasted vegetables, or even baked goods.  Dill, parsely and cilantro are great any time of the year.  Throw a handful of chopped herbs into a green or grain based salad, mix into goat cheese, sprinkle some on scrambled eggs, or make one of my favorite condiments, chimmichuri.

Added bonus: Fresh herbs are sooo good for you!

Dill is a very good source of calcium, fiber, iron and magnesium and has the ability to prevent bacterial overgrowth.
Cilantro is a powerful anti-inflammatory, promotes healthy liver function, boosts immunity, acts as an overall digestive aid and is high in antioxidants.
Parsley is high in vitamin C, folic acid and beta carotene.  It helps boosts immunity and helps to neutralize carcinogens in the body and can inhibit the formation of tumors.

Not too bad for something that's typically used as a garnish.

As much as I love having fresh herbs on hand, I usually only use a handful here and there often times have a difficult time using them up before they are past their prime. 

I was tickled pink when I came across a recipe that would save all of the herbs in my refrigerator that were on their way out if I didn't use them asap. Couscous is tossed with a mixture of fresh dill, cilantro, parsley and extra virgin olive oil.  The addition of some sauteed red onion, toasted pistachios, and baby arugula turn this into a delicious lunch or light dinner.

Green Couscous
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
serves 4

1 c. couscous
1 c. vegetable stock
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. ground cumin

Herb Paste:
1/2 c. chopped parsley
1 c. chopped cilantro
1/3 c. chopped dill
4 T. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c. toasted salted pistachios
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 c. baby arugula

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Add the couscous, cover and remove from the heat.  Let sit for ten minutes, then transfer to a large bowl and fluff couscous with a fork.
Meanwhile, fry the onion in the olive oil on medium heat until golden and completely soft.  Add the salt and cumin and mix well. Leave to cool slightly
To make the herb paste, place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Add the herb past to the couscous and mix everything together well with a fork to fluff it up. Now add the cooked onion, the pistachios, scallion and arugula and gently mix. Season with extra salt and/or cumin if needed.
Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sardine Sandwich

It only took me 32 years to discover sardines deliciousness.

Only 32 years.

I didn't know what to expect. Are they super fishy? Do you eat the bones? Do they still have a head.. and do you eat the head?  Water packed or oil packed? What do you eat them with? Can you make a meal of them?

Just thinking about eating them gave me a headache.

Then one day I plopped a tin into my cart vowing to give them a try.

That was 3 months ago.

Sardines are high in calcium (they contain twice the amount of calcium as milk), and vitamin B12 which boosts your mood and helps aid concentration.  They are high in protein and are packed with omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fats reduce inflammation, help to lower cholesterol and have been demonstrated to protect against several forms of cancer. 

Sardines are low on the food chain, so they are very low in contaminants, such as mercury, which is the problem with most seafood. Generally speaking, the bigger the fish, the higher on the oceanic food chain, the more mercury.

These suckers had way too many health benefits for me to NOT give them a try.  I scoured the internet for some recipes but fell short.  Most people seemed to enjoy sardines as a snack, served with crackers and a bit of hot sauce. I was looking for something a bit more substantial.  I wanted to make them the showcase of the meal.  Pasta and sardines was a viable option, until I realized that I had nothing more than some bread, greens, one single egg and some condiments in my fridge.

I figured that canned tuna can make one hell of a sandwich in a pinch, so why not pile some sardines on some crusty bread? Add some grainy mustard, baby arugula, red onion and capers for a little bite and a hard boiled egg, because, well everything tastes better with an egg, and you're in business! This ended up being one of the best sandwiches I have had in a long time, and with the first bite, I instantly fell in love with sardines.

Sardine Sandwich
(Serves 1-2)

ciabatta bread
grainy mustard
sliced red onion
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1 oil packed tin of sardines, drained, oil reserved
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

Toast a couple decent sized pieces of bread. Slather on some mustard. Top with arugula, sliced hard boiled egg, sardines, a little red onion and some capers.  Drizzle with a little reserved oil from the sardines, a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper to taste.