Tuesday, August 31, 2010

(Gluten-Free!) Congo Bars

My big sister is amazing. She can do anything, and does, from trail running marathons to singing, dancing and playing the cello. She also has three jobs, four if you count having a teenaged daughter (though maybe that's more like 10 jobs..) and is one of the kindest, most caring and comforting people I know.

If there are two things my gluten-intolerant sister likes best, it's booze and chocolate. I like to make her happy, so I created these gluten-free congo bars full of melty chocolate and a splash of dark rum just for her. (Not for me of course; no, this endeavor was completely selfless.)

Congo bars are blondies with the addition of shredded coconut. I normally don't care for coconut in this form, but something special happens in these bars - the butter, sugar and coconut form a pleasing 'gunginess;' a gooey, chewy, moist, stickiness that makes them extra addictive.

The dark rum adds a mysterious layer of flavor, cutting the sweetness a bit, enhancing the bitterness of the chocolate and the toasty nuts somehow, and elevating the humble blondie to sophisticated new heights.

The fine folks at Cook's developed a killer recipe that creates a bar cookie neither too thick nor too thin, chewy without being heavy, packed full of vanilla and toffee flavors, laden with toasty nuts and oozing chocolate in every bite. I've been making these bars for several years, and have come to tweak almost every ingredient to make these just to my taste - not too sweet or coconutty, packed with chocolate and full of flavor.

Best of all (for my sister), these blondies are unobtrusively gluten-free, though you would never guess that their tender, chewy texture was due to a suave combination of sticky rice and tapioca flours.

These pack well for a picnic or on-the-go snack. Or you could gild the lily by serving them warm with a scoop of ice cream (brown sugar, rum, coffee, vanilla or dulce de leche would all be exquisite). And some rum-flambeed banana slices wouldn't be amiss, either.

At least, I know my sister wouldn't object.

More gluten-free goodies:
Chocolate Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Hippy Crispy Treats
Meyer Lemon Almond Cake

(Gluten-Free!) Congo Bars

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

If gluten isn't an issue for you, you can substitute 3/4 cup all purpose, whole wheat, or whole or white spelt flour for the rice and tapioca flours and omit the xanthan gum. Sticky rice flour, sometimes called "sweet" or "glutinous," is available at most well-stocked grocers. I usually use Mochiko brand, available here. Regular rice flour may make for crumbly congo bars that don't hold together. If that's all you've got, try doubling the xanthan gum.

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
3 ounces (6 tablespoons, 3/4 stick) butter, melted and warm
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) sticky (sweet/glutinous) white rice flour
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) bittersweet (70% cacao mass) chocolate, coarsely chopped

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Put sling of parchment paper or heavy aluminum foil in an 8x8" square baking pan, or grease the pan.

Spread the pecans on a small sheet pan and roast in the oven until golden and fragrant, 10 - 12 minutes. Remove and let cool, then break or chop into coarse pieces.

Meanwhile, spread the coconut on another small baking pan and bake for 5 minutes until golden, stirring once or twice. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg. Slowly pour in the melted butter, whisking to combine, and add the rum and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk or sift together the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt. Stir the dries into the wets. Stir in the cooled pecans, coconut, and chocolate chunks.

Spread the dough evenly into the parchmented pan. (It will look like not enough, but don't worry, it will rise in the oven.)

Bake until puffed, shiny and slightly cracked on top, and a toothpick inserted comes out with a few large, wet crumbs clinging (don't overbake), 15 - 20 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before cutting (longer for cleaner-looking bars). Trim away the outer 1/2", then cut into 16 bars.

The bars are best the day they are made, but will keep, in an airtight container, for several days.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sweet Corn and Roasted Poblano Chowder

While I don't believe for a minute that the coldest winter Samuel Clemens ever spent was a summer in San Francisco (he lived on the East Coast for most of his life, for god's sake) the weather here is undeniably fickle. I began writing this post the Sunday before last, after a week of days that required long pants and shoes, and evenings spent bundled in hats, scarves and jackets. Then I panicked in Tuesday's 98º heat, wishing I'd made gazpacho to blog (and eat) instead. Luckily, I procrastinated long enough that the daily highs are firmly back in the mid-sixties, and sitting under a warm laptop in sweats, writing lovingly about a rich soup makes more sense than sitting before an open window praying for a breeze and cursing our lack of an electric fan.

I despised the fog when I first moved to SF, and would silently curse my LA friend who'd complain over the phone in December, 'It was so cold today, I couldn't even wear my flip-flops!' I would stare longingly at my closetful of neglected skirts, dresses and sandals from my days in SoCal, and resignedly pull on a pair of jeans. Again. And too often I'd get only to freeze my butt off after getting tricked into thinking it was warm out simply because the sun was shining.

A friend who moved here from warmer climates lamented one day, 'I used to be fashionable,' referring to the fact that in San Francisco one must always dress in layers to prevent overheating/hypothermia in the rapidly changing weather conditions. (I wish I could use that excuse.)

After six years of chilly Julys and Augusts, however, I've come to appreciate the fog, and think of it as a friend who I miss when when it's gone. I enjoy not having to worry about shaving my legs too often, or feeling guilty about buying yet another sweater.

Plus, it makes really great baking weather.

Or soup-making weather. This rich, creamy chowder captures the flavors of summery sweet corn and spicy chilies in a hearty soup welcome during even the coldest of 'winters.' I adapted the recipe from one of my faves, Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups. The original, which I make every summer when the corn supply peaks, uses thyme and parsley, and a swirl of smoked paprika and melted butter streaks the finished soup. The copious amounts of poblanos that have been arriving in our box compelled me to swap the herbs for cilantro and add a hefty dose of lime juice and some crispy tortilla strips for a bit of zip.

Like any hearty 'winter' soup, this one's a good keeper, so there's no need to panic at a rogue heat wave. It will be freezing again before you know it; if you live in San Francisco, that is.

Sweet Corn and Roasted Poblano Chowder

Adapted from Deborah Madison's White Corn Chowder with a Smokey Swirl, from her book Vegetable Soups

Makes 6 - 8 servings

Since poblanos can vary greatly in spiciness, taste them before deciding how much to add. Save the trimmings from all the vegetables, except the chilies and garlic; the rest, including the corn cobs, go into a pot to make a quick stock while you chop the vegetables.

2 - 3 poblanos
6 ears of corn, shucked
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of cilantro, plus chopped leaves for garnish
2 large yellow onions, finely diced
1 celery rib or 1/4 bulb fennel, finely diced, trimmings reserved
4 medium yellow potatoes
1 medium carrot, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half (or a combination of whole milk and heavy cream)
juice of 2 limes
2 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
crème fraiche, for garnish

Roast the poblanos over an open flame, or under a broiler, turning occasionally until blackened and blistered all over. Let cool until handleable, then, wearing gloves if your skin is sensitive to capsicum, peel and seed the chilies. Chop finely and set aside.

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil while you begin to prep the veg. Hold a corncob vertically in a large bowl and carefully cut the kernels off, letting them fall into the bowl. Reverse the knife and scrape the remaining corn goodness off the cob. Repeat with the remaining corn. Break the cobs in half and add them to the pot of water, along with the bay leaves, cilantro sprigs, onion and celery or fennel trimmings, potato and carrot peels. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then strain into a large bowl or measuring cup. You should have 4 cups of liquid; add some water if this is not the case. Discard the vegetable detritus.

While the stock simmers, melt together the butter and olive oil in another large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, 5 - 10 minutes, then add the celery or fennel, potatoes, carrots, garlic and paprika. Saute, stirring occasionally, 5 more minutes, then add 1/2 cup of water and the salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until most of the water is absorbed, 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add the stock, the half and half, the chilies (to taste) and all but 1 cup of the corn kernels and scrapings. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the remaining corn kernels and cook for 1 more minute, then turn off the heat. Add the lime juice to taste, and additional salt or chilies, if you like.

To make the tortilla strips, cut the tortillas into approximately 1/4 x 2" strips. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the tortilla strips and a few pinches of salt, stirring over medium-low heat until the tortillas are golden and somewhat crisp (they will continue to crisp as they cool.)

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, a sprinkle of cilantro, and some tortilla strips.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fig and Ginger Scones

My first job out of pastry school was at a renowned San Francisco restaurant in the dessert kitchen. Everyone who worked there (especially Sabrina) had a dour demeanor, including a fellow pastry cook. One day, in an attempt at camaraderie, I asked her if her friends and family thought she had the coolest job ever. I certainly thought we did.

She frowned, (actually, her facial expression probably didn't change as she was likely already frowning) and told me that, on the contrary, her people were all 'intellectuals' and looked down on her chosen profession as lowly, manual labor.

This struck me as very sad. I, on the other hand, take a probably indecent amount of pride at what I do. But I've practiced lowering my eyes demurely and murmuring 'Pastry chef' when asked. I've never had someone not respond in an excited manner when they find out that fact, including my entire post-doc holding family. (Even my raw-foodist mother is very supportive.)

People sometimes go on to inquire after my favorite thing to bake, or my 'specialty.' I am always at a loss for a good answer, as I really like baking pretty much everything. If it goes into an oven, you can bet I like making (and eating) it. As for my specialty, this somehow implies that I am better at making some things and suck at making others. I like to think that everything I bake turns out perfectly all the time, so how could I possibly have a specialty? (Kidding!) The reality, though, is that I am quite flighty, and very rarely make the same thing twice, which I think is a requisite to having a 'specialty.'

After several dead-end attempts at answering this question, I decided to start telling people that scones are my specialty. Which isn't a complete lie. Scones are one of my favorite things to bake, the sort of thing I can throw together even when half asleep, early (ok, at 10am) on a Sunday morning. I have two basic scone recipes taped to my refrigerator: buttermilk-oat scones (by Romney Steele via Heidi Swanson) and Cook's Illustrated's cream scones. From these two recipes I have made many variations over the years: apricot sage, blueberry buckwheat, maple bacon apple, huckleberry, poppyseed lemon curdcherry-marzipan, Irish soda scones with currants and caraway,  orange-coriander, bacon beer cheddar sconesstrawberry basil..

Did I mention I like scones?

When I woke up this morning I couldn't stop thinking about baked figs, so sweet and jammy, but I didn't want to hide the pretty pink and green of the Calimyrnas I impulse-bought the other day. After a bit of OCD-style pondering, I decided to perch the fig halves atop the scones and bake them that way, almost like really easy mini tarts.

I worried that the scones would puff in the oven and throw off the figs into dejected heaps, but was pleased, after much hovering around the oven, to find them resolutely intact. With a dollop of creme fraiche and a drizzle of local honey, they made a tasty breakfast.

Were I the sort of bojon gourmet to keep pretty teapots, fine china and frilly tablecloths, these little scones would be just the thing to serve to my upper-crust friends while discussing philosophy and high society during teatime.

Sadly though, most of my friends are just manual laborers (or computer programmers) so we settled for faux fiestaware and gawking at funny dogs out the window.

Fig fanatic:
Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula
Berry-Fig Financiers (pillows of vanilla brown butter almond goodness)
Huckleberry-Fig Crumble Tart

Fig and Ginger Scones

The trick to tender, craggy scones is leaving some pea-sized butter bits in the dough, and handling it minimally once the cream is added. There is really no comparison to the rich creaminess of scones made with heavy cream, but scones made with whole milk yogurt or buttermilk are still better than no scones at all. Small apricot halves could stand in for the figs in the springtime.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen mini-scones

3/4 cup whole spelt (or whole wheat pastry) flour
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2.5 ounces (5 tablespoons) cold butter, diced
1/4 cup candied ginger chunks, finely chopped
3/4 - 1 cup heavy cream, plus extra for brushing
1 to 1 1/2 baskets ripe figs, halved lengthwise

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450º. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt to combine. Work the butter in with your fingertips, rubbing it between your hands, until it has a sandy texture with some pea-sized buttery bits remaining. Stir in the ginger. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream, tossing the mixture with your free hand or a rubber spatula, until it begins to clump together and no dry, floury bits remain.

Gently press the dough into a ball and plunk it down onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into a round 3/4" thick (about 10 inches in diameter). Using a biscuit cutter (or glass) about 1 1/2 - 2" in diameter, dip the cutter in flour and tap off the excess, then cut out rounds as close together as possible until you've used up all the dough, placing the rounds on the parchmented sheet pan, 2" apart, as you go. Press the scraps together and repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Use your thumb or the back of a teaspoon to make a fig-sized indentation in the dough rounds. Brush the tops with a bit of cream, and place a fig, cut-side-up, on top of each, pressing the fig in gently. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of sugar.

Bake the scones one pan at a time on the upper rack of the oven (so as not to burn their bottoms) for 15 - 20 minutes, until the scone part is golden and juices run from the figs. Cool 10 minutes. Serve with creme fraiche and a drizzle of honey.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Vegetable Enchiladas

I am always surprised to find that there are still people out there who think that eating a vegetarian meal means leaving the table hungry. Haven't the last 3 decades been about disproving that theory? Haven't we moved beyond that by now?

When I began working at my current (part time) kitchen job, my co-workers, Luis, Gustavo and Gabriel, would often cook up a big staff lunch. Chicken chilaquiles, pork enchiladas, hot dogs, sauteed beef, often very spicy and always with plenty of cheese and sour cream, and a side of corn tortillas warmed on the grill, were some of the daily offerings. I usually took a bit of the decadence to go with the salad or sandwich I brought along. When asked why, I explained that eating a meal consisting solely of meat and starch didn't feel healthy to me - I needed some greenery in there somewhere.

After several months of this, I decided it was only fair for me to make the boys lunch. Agonizing over what to make, I decided that obviously Mexican was out, as they would mock any inauthentic attempt. I don't usually cook meat, so that was out, too. Finally I decided on penne tossed with feta cheese, onions, broccoli and pesto and a big salad. 'Everyone likes those things,' I thought confidently.

The boys sniffed around suspiciously as I brought a pot of water to boil, washed lettuce and mixed up a vinaigrette. I told them what was on the menu and Luis wrinkled his nose at the mention of pesto. 'Do you even know what it is?' I challenged. 'No,' he admitted, 'but I don't like it.'

I sighed, finished tossing the pasta and sat down to eat. Gustavo sweetly helped himself to a large plate and joined me in the dining room, devoured more food than I would imagine would fit in his four-foot-eleven frame, and even got up for seconds. Luis reluctantly took a little pasta, which he topped with queso fresco instead of feta, and reluctantly confessed to liking it, then cooked himself a hot dog in the kitchen saying, 'You don't feel healthy eating a meal without vegetables; I can't eat a meal without meat.'

Needless to say, that was the last time I tried to cook for them.

Despite many who assume the contrary, due perhaps to the bleeding-heart, animal-loving liberal look in my eyes, I am not a vegetarian (just really squeamish). Jay, on the other hand, made a bet with his first girlfriend when he was 18 to see which of them could go longer sans meat. (Er, not who would die first, just who could go longer without eating it.) Many years later, I dare say she may have finally won, as just last week I watched Jay devour an entire burger (albeit made from a cow brought up on the farm where we ate said burgers, and slathered in homemade basil aioli and grilled vegetables on homemade rosemary buns - totally unfair).

But at restaurants, Jay always orders the vegetarian option, and it amuses me no end to watch our server unfailingly plunk Jay's dish in front of me, and the chicken or steak in front of my vegetarian sweetie.

I don't eat a ton of meat; on the contrary, I try to eat as many vegetables as possible, especially when sweet corn, peppers and summer squash are in season. A boxful of veggies, including a paper bag of verdant tomatillos, inspired these enchiladas filled with tender, sweet vegetables, jack and goat cheeses, and slathered in tangy tomatillo-poblano salsa.

I guarantee they will not leave you feeling hungry or undernourished.

But I still wouldn't serve them to my co-workers.

Summer Vegetable Enchiladas with Tomatillo-Poblano Salsa

Serve these enchiladas, 2 per person, with a side of pinto beans (recipe below), slivered lettuce or cabbage, avocado, creme fraiche or sour cream, diced or cherry tomatoes, extra salsa and a garnish of cilantro.

Makes 12 enchiladas, 6 servings

Tomatillo-Poblano Salsa

Makes about 3 cups

2 poblano chiles
1 pound (about 10 medium) tomatillos, husked
1/4 large yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, washed, stems removed, a few leaves reserved for garnish
juice of 1 lime
3/4 teaspoon salt

Roast the poblanos either over an open flame or under the broiler (you can roast the bells peppers for the filling at the same time), turning occasionally until the skins are blackened and blistered all over, 5-10 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, then, wearing gloves if your skin is sensitive to capsicum, peel off the skins. Slice the peppers in half and remove the veins and seeds. Chop the flesh coarsely.

Place the tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 - 10 minutes, until the tomatillos turn a drab green. Drain and let cool slightly.

Combine the tomatillos in a food processor or blender with the poblanos (if the peppers are very spicy, you may not want to add all of them), onion, cilantro leaves, lime juice and salt. Puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, lime juice, or chile to taste. Set aside. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Summer Vegetable Enchiladas

1/2 a large, yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound summer squash, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, roasted (see above), peeled, seeded and chopped
kernels from 2 ears of corn
1 bunch spinach, washed
6 ounces jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups packed)
4 ounces fresh chevre, crumbled
12 six-inch corn tortillas
1/4 cup vegetable oil (such as sunflower)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft and golden, 10 minutes. Add the squash and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook another 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown. Add the corn kernels and the peppers, and cook for three more minutes. Taste for salt, then tip the mixture into a large bowl. Wilt the spinach in the same skillet over medium heat, 2 minutes or so. Let cool slightly, then press out any excess water and chop. Add to the veggies in the bowl. When the veggie mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add 1 cup of the jack cheese and all of the chevre. Mix gently to combine.

Line a baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels. In a clean skillet, heat a tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add a tortilla and fry for a few seconds on each side, shake off the excess oil, and lay on the towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, adding oil as necessary, until all are fried. (Frying the tortillas makes them pliable and creates a barrier for the sauce, preventing the enchiladas from falling apart immediately.)

Preheat the oven to 375º with a rack in the center. Place 1/3-1/2 cup of the filling on the bottom third of a tortilla. Roll up tightly. Place seam-side down in the bottom of an ungreased 9x13" lasagna pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Slather 2 cups of the salsa over the enchiladas.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of jack cheese over the top and bake for another 5 minutes to melt.

Let cool 5 - 10 minutes before serving with the extra salsa and whatever other accompaniments you like. The enchiladas are best served straight from the oven, but they can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to several days and reheated before serving; they might fall apart a little, but they will still be tasty.

Pinto Beans with Epazote

There are many theories surrounding the reduction of beans' gaseous qualities. To be safe, I follow all the rules: soaking the beans before cooking, cooking them with bay leaves and cumin, carrot and onion to absorb the gas-making properties (don't know if this is true or not,) keeping the beans only partially covered while cooking to allow gassy things to escape (ditto) and adding the salt towards the end of the cooking to prevent the beans from getting tough. In the end, though, my own theory is that simply cooking the beans thoroughly will prevent any unpleasantries, so I make sure they beans are super soft, almost to the falling-apart stage, when I turn off the heat.

1 1/2 cup dried pintos
1/4 yellow onion
1 carrot, in large chunks
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried epazote
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Sort the beans for any pebbles, then place in a bowl and cover with 2 inches of cold water and allow to soak for 2 to (preferably) 8 hours or overnight. Drain. Place in a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, epazote and cumin seed. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until mostly tender, adding more water if necessary. This can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. Add the salt and continue to cook until completely tender (I like to err on the side of overcooking, since undercooked beans are absolutely repulsive, akin to undercooked rice or the like. Bleh.) Pull out the carrot and onion pieces and the bay leaf. Let the beans cool in their liquid. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Banana Rum Upside-Down Cakelets

I have the pleasure of working with one of the nicest, sweetest, warmest, best-looking and most vulgar people I have ever met. He is Luciano, the bartender at the Peruvian restaurant where I make desserts. Seeing him, as I am ending my shift and he is beginning his, always brightens my day. He greets me with a huge hug, asks me how I'm doing, then shows me a picture on his iPhone of his latest conquest's erect manhood, or a shot of him in full drag. Then he moves on to flirt mercilessly with the homophobic kitchen staff before setting up the bar for an evening of mixing pisco sours and caipirinhas.

I love grilling Lucy about Brazilian desserts, mainly to hear his gorgeous accent. He taught me that 'bolo' means cake, and confided that his favorite desserts are ones made with bananas. (Then he took hold of one and spent several minutes making lewd gestures with it.) When I found this recipe for bolo de banana in Mani Niall's book Sweet!, a vibrant collection of recipes using every sweetener you can imagine, I knew I'd have to bake some for Lucy. I fell in love with Mani all over again when I turned these stunning cakelets, fragrant with rum, butter and molasses, out of their pans.

Lucy on the other hand, well, I'm always in love with him.

Aside from my meat phobias and a certain pesto incident many years ago, I am not a particularly picky eater. I am, however, picky about bananas. (Look, I didn't mean that in a dirty way, ok?) They have to be perfectly yellow for me to want to eat them. (Not dirty!) A bit green, and they taste pithy, but bespotted and soft they lose their appeal (uh.. get it?). Since there is only so much banana bread a person can eat, I often end up looking for unique ways to use up slightly overly ripe fruit.

Unlike banana bread, here there are no bananas in the batter. Instead, butter and the brown sugar of your choice (muscovado, panela, or plain old dark brown) are melted together in the bottom of muffin cups, and banana slices are arranged on the bottoms and sides.

A simple oil-based cake batter laced with rum and more brown sugar is added, and minutes later you are the lucky recipient of a dozen luscious banana cakes. (Now all you need is a hot Brazilian cabana boy to feed them to you.)

These cakelets remind me of really easy sticky buns, with bananas instead of nuts. They bake up golden, gooey and tender with the tang of dark rum in the batter cutting the sweetness of the cake. They are fun and easy to make, and would look impressive at a brunch buffet, with or whithout a Latin theme. Or serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream for a warmly satisfying dessert.

These cakes are best the day they are made, when they are handsome and golden, but they can be kept for several days at room temp or in the fridge and reheated before serving.

For other ways to use up bananas, try these, these or these.

Banana Rum Upside-down Cakelets

Adapted from Sweet! by Mani Niall

Makes 1 dozen

The bananas:
vegetable oil, for greasing the pans
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) salted or unsalted butter, cut into 12 equal pieces
1/2 cup packed grated panela (or muscovado or dark brown sugar)
4 ripe bananas, peeled, sliced diagonally into 12 pieces each

The cake:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed grated panela (or muscovado or dark brown sugar)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (such as sunflower)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons half and half or milk
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.

Lightly oil 12 standard muffin tins with the vegetable oil. Place a piece of butter and 2 teaspoons of the sugar in the bottom of each cup. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, until the mixture is melted and bubbling. Remove the pan and let cool slightly. Arrange two banana slices on the bottom and two along the sides of each muffin cup.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Whisk together the sugar, oil, eggs, dairy, rum and vanilla in a separate bowl, then stir the wets into the dries until just combined. Spoon the batter into the cups; it will come almost to the top of the pans.

Bake the cakelets for 15 - 20 minutes, until puffed, golden, and springy when pressed with a finger.  Immediately turn the cakes out onto a pan; they will be drippy and messy! Cool at least 10 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Crispy Sesame Kale Chips

One of the coolest jobs I've ever had was working as a barista at Farley's, the renowned coffee shop here on Potrero Hill. Known for its surly servers and devil-may-care customer service, we spent much of our time, between making espresso drinks and restocking, smack-talking customers we disliked.

After I served a young man his coffee one day, my awesomely hilarious Japanese co-worker, Tomo, complained that said customer was always hitting on her. Furthermore, she said, he also used to hit on the Asian barista who had worked there before her. 'He has Asian favor,' she confided. I thought, 'Asian favor. Yeah, I guess that makes sense.' Seeing my ponderous expression, Tomo put the back of her hand to her forehead and clarified, 'You know, like, I am sick. I have favor.'

You will have asian favor too when you taste this crispy kale tossed with toasted sesame oil, lemon juice and nori strips. After many years of sodden, sauteed greens, I tried this riff on a recipe from Elana's Pantry several months ago and have never looked back. If cruciferous greens seem like a punishment that you ought to endure because they're good for you, give this recipe a whirl, and it will change your mind. It's easier than making popcorn, but satisfying in the same crispy, crunchy way. We like to plunk the baking sheet down on the table and nibble the kale right off it with our fingers for a pre-dinner or late-night snack.

If you don't suffer from Asian favor, feel free to make this with plain old olive oil, salt and lemon juice, or try any other favors, er, flavors you like.

Crispy Sesame Kale Chips

Adapted from Elana's Pantry

If you have the time, bake these at a lower temperature for a longer time; they will stay greener and more crisp. Let a leaf cool for a few minutes on the counter to test it for crispiness.

1 bunch kale (curly works well, but any kale will do), stems removed, torn into 3" pieces
juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoons tamari, soy sauce, or Bragg's amino acids
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (black, brown, white, or a combination)
2 sheets toasted nori, cut into 1/2x2"strips (scissors work well for this)

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Place the kale in a large bowl and add the lemon juice, oil, tamari and sesame seeds. Toss with your hands to coat evenly. Spread the kale on a baking sheet, and sprinkle the nori strips over. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes, until beginning to brown and crisp up on the edges. (My kale never gets crisped all the way through, but it is still delicious.) Eat immediately.